Meta Horror Film ‘Darkness Reigns’ (2017) Movie Review

When I first heard that Casper Van Dien (read our interview with the cult star here) was going to be starring in the 2017 haunted hotel horror, Darkness Reigns, I was all about it. I know the man can do action (Mortal Kombat: Legacy TV series), fairy tales (Avengers Grimm 2015, Sleeping Beauty 2014), family comedies (Army Dog 2016, Baby’s First Christmas 2012), genre parodies (Sharktopus vs. Whalewolf 2015) and outright horror (Sleepy Hollow 1999, Dracula 3000 2004, June 2015), as well as playing Johnny Rico in three separate installments of the Starship Troopers franchise. But could he play himself? In Darkness Reigns, Casper Van Dien plays Casper Van Dien. Right away, I was intrigued by the film’s meta-ness. But did it serve up the scares?

Darkness Reigns Official Synopsis:

A film crew is ravaged by a demon, who is hell bent on cashing in on a deal he made with someone on set who was seeking fame and fortune.

Emmy award nominee Andrew P. Jones (Naked and Afraid XL TV series, Haunting of Cellblock 11 2014) both wrote and directed Darkness Reigns, while Adam Boster (Slasher.com 2017), Mark Reichard (Underdog 2018) and the film’s special FX coordinator, Mike Strain, Jr. (You’re Next 2011, V/H/S 2012), produced. Naked and Afraid‘s Shaun O’Steen created the visual effects. As mentioned above, Casper Van Dien plays himself, although I wouldn’t say that he starred in the film. Zachary Mooren (Criminal Minds TV series), Executive Producer Linara Washington (Haunting of Cellblock 11 2014) and Peter Mayer (Exorcist House of Evil 2016) played main characters Daniel, Vanessa and Sidney, the last three crew members left to fight the evil demon. I also have to mention that Casper’s brand new wife, Jennifer Wenger (Tales of Halloween 2015), also had a part in the film.

Darkness Reigns
Is there someone… or something… in that bathroom?

The film begins with Daniel (Mooren) on his way to the premiere of his film, a behind-the-scenes documentary on the making of Defanatus Soul, a horror film that was never finished because the entire crew was killed in mysterious and bloody circumstances. Daniel explains to the audience that everything they’re about to see really happened. We are then sent on a found footage-type journey as documentarians Daniel and Aaron (Ford Fanter: Til Death 2017) make their way to the movie set, an actual haunted hotel, and begin interviewing cast and crew during filming. We experience things through the eyes of Daniel as his video camera catches audio and visual glimpses of the supernatural. It’s not until the first day of filming that things really heat up, both literally and figuratively.

Darkness Reigns, Casper Van Dien
The documentarians meet Casper Van Dien

What Works

There’s quite a bit going on in Darkness Reigns. You have the meta story of a film within a film and all of the backstage stories that go along with that, Daniel’s transformation from carefree cameraman to doomed documentarian, the omniscient, expositing, George Romero-esque medium Sidney Barnes explaining it all, and, of course, the demon itself and what it really wants. I loved that so much was going on and how it all dovetailed perfectly into a clever, calculated, chilling horror story. There were nods to other great horror films that had come before it, like the flies and black goo from The Amityville Horror, the hotel layout with the colorful rug, circular hallways and the ghostly bar scene from The Shining and the especially backhanded wishes from The Monkey’s Paw. The special effects were well done, most notably the fiery death of the Defanatus Soul director.

Casper Van Dien, Darkness Reigns
Van Dien gets his money shot

What Doesn’t Work

There were a few things that stood out to me as being out of place or out of character in Darkness Reigns. Medium Sidney Barnes knew way too much about what was going on, especially considering he had admitted to never having experienced anything like this in his career. He also retained a nearly Zen-like calmness throughout the film, and I felt this was completely unrealistic. The other characters did and said things that made no sense to me, like putting one of the dead bodies in the freezer and saying, “At least he’ll be preserved in here.” First of all, what about the rest of the cast and crew? And why are you concerned with preserving someone’s body when you should be worried about getting out of this hotel alive?

There was a scene where our three remaining crewmembers hear music coming from behind a closed door. After seeing the weird shit they had just experienced, saying, “Maybe it’s nothing. Just a recording,” made me facepalm. I also felt like the demon was shown in too much light and detail. I think he would have been creepier if he had been hidden in the shadows a bit more. Last but not least, Casper Van Dien was not in the film nearly enough for someone with top billing.

Darkness Reigns, demon
A demon’s work is never done

Final Thoughts

Despite the things that don’t work for Darkness Reigns, it’s still an enjoyable horror flick. The tense, creepy moments are perfectly offset by bits of humor, especially concerning Van Dien. If you love horror films about haunted hotels and deals with the devil, then you should hunt down Darkness Reigns as soon as Wild Eye Releasing delivers it unto the horror loving public on June 10, 2018.

Darknjess Reigns poster

About Tracy Allen

As the co-owner and Editor-in-Chief of PopHorror.com, Tracy has learned a lot about independent horror films and the people who love them. Now an approved critic for Rotten Tomatoes, she hopes the masses will follow her reviews back to PopHorror and learn more about the creativity and uniqueness of indie horror movies.

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