Written by Cole Wissinger
Originally posted on IndieEntertainmentMagazine.com
September 19, 2017
Quick guide to horror movie locations: Haunted amusement park is good. Haunted mansion is better. Haunted prison, hospital, or insane asylum is best. It is simple scare-onomics. If a place was scary even before it was old and abandoned, then the scare factor will proportionally increase with age and/or haunting. And so we set the stage off the I-95 in Philadelphia at the old, abandoned, and possibly haunted Holmesburg Prison.
What went down in this creepy prison and how did we get here?
In true movie form we then cut to earlier that night at a party with the same girl and eight of her friends. One friend is an amateur filmmaker/jerk and the rest just kind of blur together.
Party shenanigans take place and bad dialog is delivered until we find out that the filmmaker friend wants to produce the next Ghost Hunters and offers to pay the rest of the group $200 each to be in it. His next episode will be taking place at the Holmesburg Prison right down the road.
When they get into the prison, things don’t go according to script and they have to ask if it’s one of them or something other-worldly causing a panic in the penitentiary.
The strength of this movie is its setting. Bar-none.
Amidst the genre trappings and tropes that fill the runtime, it is the setting in the real life Holmesburg Prison that sets Against the Night apart. The building was just flat-out designed to someday be in a large-cast horror movie.
There is a central hub with a glass atrium command center and ten hallways branching off like bicycle spokes, or to match the horror motif, like spider legs. You may recognize parts of it from also Philadelphia set, Law Abiding Citizen.
What really ups the ante though for a horror movie location is the backstory. Was your set built on an ancient Indian burial ground or cursed by a spiteful gypsy? Well in Holmesburg Prison’s case, the sordid past is historical fact.
Bonus points for coming complete with its own real life mad scientist. In the 1950’s and 60’s Dr. Albert Klingman performed inhumane dermatological and pharmaceutical ‘research’ on the inmates.
One of his more infamous quotes even made it into the movie, “All I saw before me were acres of skin. It was like a farmer seeing a fertile field for the first time.”
Against the Night takes good advantage of the building’s architecture sending pairs of kids/slasher-fodder down each of the hallways. This gives the bogeyman of the movie a chance to pick them off one at a time, while still allowing for one kid to get away and tell the story to the others.
If they can find each other.
Also the antagonist is always wearing a gas mask, which is inherently creepy simulating the distorted features of a normal face. And because you can’t see the face beneath, it adds to the illusion that Detective Frank Whaley implants in your head at the beginning, that maybe one of them is the monster all along.
The reason the kids are going down these dark abandoned hallways is to set up cameras for the movie or TV show they are filming. Horror movie in a horror movie, think Blair Witch Project.
In fact, did I forget to mention that the real movie dips its feet into found footage? It doesn’t commit all the way, and if it did I would have the same why-are-they-still-filming-WHILE-running-for-their-lives criticism that I have for all found footage movies, but this toes the line well, taking advantage of the night-vision screen on the cameras while still giving the audience member real directed camera shots.
Director/Producer/Writer Brian Cavallaro has his roots in television as a show-runner. For a foray into a feature length horror I think Against the Night gives you exactly what you’d expect.
Once it got into slasher mode, I enjoyed it, but that’s because I love horror movies. From a director of documentaries in the past I would have loved his take on the real horrors that went on in the prison and those cultural impacts.
In the end of the movie we are back with Detective Frank Whaley finishing his interview with the final girl. Was this all just the result of an overzealous filmmaker, or a drunken party gone out of control, or could it really be a creature from another world haunting the dark halls and cells that were home to torture of the past.
One last and best scare lets those questions Rest In Peace.