Directed by Marc Fratto
2003 – 135 minutes/ fullscreen
DVD provided by Brain Damage Films
Article written by Craig Hamann

My goodness, all the hype! Given all the lavish praise it has received, writer/director Marc Fratto apparently struck a nerve with his SOV feature STRANGE THINGS HAPPEN AT SUNDOWN. Before I saw the picture, I read and heard many reviewers of indie releases proclaiming that this project may have dramatically revolutionized the vampire genre forever. After watching Fratto’s flick, two things immediately came to mind. First, it’s not the second coming of vampire lore. Not by a long shot. And second, it doesn’t matter because Marc Fratto sure is one talented guy who did a great job with this movie.

The vampires in Fratto’s tale are drawn differently than what we’re used to seeing on the screen or reading about in books. They aren’t really gothic at all in that they don’t sleep in coffins or come out only at night. What we get here are bloodsucking thugs, a vampiric young couple on the run, and a real ass-kicking female assassin chasing after the thugs in an effort to get to the young couple. It’s personal with the female assassin who is on a mission of vengeance. But wait, there’s more. Perhaps the deadliest fanged entity is a mysterious man in a cloak and hood called The Reaper. He too is chasing after the young couple, though only because he’s been hired to do so. Given his powers and killing abilities, he’s ultimately a threat to anyone who gets in his way, let alone to anyone who he is assigned to kill. Fratto sketches the characters quite well. In fact, his part Scorcese/part Tarantino way of introducing and fleshing out the characters is really quite interesting. I’d go so far as to say the best thing about the movie is Fratto’s screenplay, which is intermittently excellent. Because the script works so well, it gives the director and his crew a lot of freedom to be creative with their choice of shots and scene composition. As a result, this is a good looking movie, particularly when one considers it was shot on video. It’s amazing what good writing can do for a project. It’s nice to know that the production team here is aware of that. I think we’ve all too often seen SOV offerings with painfully awful scripts that flush the movies down the toilet right from the get go. Not here. Fratto serves up cool and often funny Brooklyn-esque crime dialogue, some goofy one-liners, and creatively written situations that translate quite well to the screen. About the only false note I could find in the writing was some peculiar pop-psyche religious babble. I realize that it was meant to be sarcastic, but it sure came off to me as a cheap shot that was lacking in research. But I confess that I’m nitpicking now, because as I’ve already stated, the screenplay effectively carries this movie.

Oh, how I only wish the acting was up to the standards set by the writing. This is where I differ from many other critics regarding the movie. Aside from two performances, I felt most of the character portrayals were only so-so. In some ways I suppose that still puts the acting far above most SOV flicks. Okay, maybe so, but here many times the actors seem to recite their lines by rote as opposed to actually living and breathing them. I thought Joseph DeVito clearly stood out with his portrayal of Jimmy Fangs. DeVito appeared to actually listen and react to whomever was talking to him at the time. There was something real about him, even during the more parodic moments in the picture. If he gets the right breaks, I believe he could go somewhere with his acting career. J. Scott Green took a little getting used to as Marcel, but by the beginning of the second act, I came to like what he was doing. I felt Green handled Fratto’s stylish dialogue with less effort than most of the other actors. Maybe it was the role itself. I mean, Marcel is a cool character, but I still believe a less competent actor wouldn’t have pulled it off nearly as well as Green did. There were other strong roles in the movie though the performances didn’t always hold up. Marsha Sapron was hit and miss as the female assassin. She sure as heck looked the part, but she seemed to over-amp her intensity for no real reason. I mean, she’s a bloodthirsty vampire assassin dressed in leather. Sapron didn’t need to push anything and would have been more effective had she understated her performance. I liked The Reaper a lot, though he’s more of a presence than an actual character. One hysterically funny thing about The Reaper is that his bad tempered vampire wife unrelentingly henpecks him. I was disappointed with Christopher and Cynthia, a husband and wife vampire bodyguard team that are eternally stuck in 80s fashion, as played by Jason Adams and Gina Ramsden respectively. Had the performances been more precise, I think Christopher and Cynthia would have seemed far more menacing and colorful than they do. That said, even if some of the acting performances are spotty, the characters are nevertheless presented in an interesting way and you get to know all of them as the movie progresses. Again, this is due mostly to a good screenplay that did not overlook character development.

Brain Damage Films offers a DVD with scene selections, a photo gallery, trailers, deleted scenes and outtakes. The picture and sound quality are impressive, especially since this is a SOV release. There is a director’s commentary with Fratto and several others that’s mostly a party though they still reveal some interesting facts about the making of the movie. I liked both music videos that were included in the special features as well as the score for the movie itself. Actually, the music is worth mentioning because Marc Fratto played a hand in it. This is one of those cases where the director wears a lot of hats. Fratto is also the writer, cinematographer, editor, composer, special effects whiz, and co-producer in the project. I think it’s safe to say that Fratto’s vision is realized here. And what a vision it is too. Okay, it’s a low budget production and it’s not without its faults. It’s really more stylish than scary and yet it isn’t the most bizarre vampire movie I’ve ever seen. Still, STRANGE THINGS HAPPEN AT SUNDOWN sure is good fun. For those looking for both entertainment and visionary moviemaking, this is a movie that is definitely worth checking out.