‘Beneath the Darkness’ finds Dennis Quaid as a creepy funeral home director

The story of Beneath the Darkness, the new DVD release from Image Entertainment, starts off intriguing enough. Dennis Quaid, Hollywood’s smiling everyman, approaches a man in the middle of the night with no one else around. Mr. Ely (Quaid) looks friendly and helpful, but there’s something dark behind his eyes. Within seconds, this other man is lying flat in a coffin, watching as he’s buried alive.

Two years later…

We find out that Mr. Ely is a creepy funeral home director in a small town where all the teenagers act like extras in a John Hughes comedy. You know these school hallways very well: All the actors are a little too old to be in high school; the tough guys wear football jerseys; everyone seems like an attentive, engaged student.

Bruce Wilkinson’s script focuses on Travis (Tony Oller), Abby (Aimee Teegarden), Brian (Stephen Lunsford) and Danny (Devon Werkheiser), a group of friends who amble around town, not caring about anything in particular. It’s only when they think they’ve seen a ghost in Mr. Ely’s window that the teenagers start looking closer at the mysterious funeral director. What is he hiding in that creepy house? Are the legends true?

Beneath the Darkness, directed by Martin Guigui, has the makings of a funny horror movie similar to the Scream¬†franchise or even Peter Jackson’s The Frighteners. The problem, and it’s a big one, is that the movie is not scary enough or funny enough. In its balancing act between laughter and screams, it tilts strangely back and forth and can never find a happy medium.

The story is not terrible, and the acting isn’t that bad (especially considering how atrocious teenage horror movies can be). But Wilkinson’s script doesn’t know how to convey situations without using cliche dialogue. The banter among the high school students feels manufactured. The one-liners from Mr. Ely, especially when “evil” overtakes him, never seem to fit.

Quaid has a lot of fun with the role, but it’s fairly obvious he’s stuck in a movie that doesn’t truly work. Mr. Ely is too strange for this formulaic plot. He’s a cross between Norman Bates and the killer from Scream, but the script never lets him develop his inner malevolence. As a bad guy, he’s somewhat tepid, and this makes his outlandish acts of violence just feel outlandish.

Oller and Teegarden are likable enough as the two teenage leads. But their characters are underwritten, and their budding puppy-dog-love relationship feels like an unnecessary intrusion. There’s also a small subplot involving Travis’s dead brother that is never fully explored, and thus feels extraneous and off-kilter with the rest of the film.

At least Beneath the Darkness¬†runs a slim 96 minutes. It doesn’t take much to endure, and there’s enough kookiness to keep things interesting. Just don’t expect any deep emotional reactions. The film will unfortunately not make you laugh or scream.

By John Soltes / Publisher / John@HollywoodSoapbox.com

  • Beneath the Darkness

  • 2011

  • Directed by Martin Guigui

  • Written by Bruce Wilkinson

  • Starring Dennis Quaid, Tony Oller, Brett Cullen, Aimee Teegarden and Stephen Lunsford

  • Running time: 96 minutes

  • Rated R for some violence and language

  • Image Entertainment’s DVD release includes a behind-the-scenes featurette and trailer.

  • Rating: ★★☆☆

John Soltes

John Soltes is an award-winning journalist. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, Earth Island Journal, The Hollywood Reporter, New Jersey Monthly and at Time.com, among other publications. E-mail him at john@hollywoodsoapbox.com

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