SHF2024: Faceless After Dark Gets Vengence on Toxic Fandom

Image Courtesy of Salem Horror Fest

Typecasting is a terrible thing that happens far too often in the horror genre. Fans are often quick to embrace the idea of seeing their favorite “scream queens” or slasher icons return for new rounds of chaotic violence filled with one-liners, gore, and a possible final chapter to a beloved character’s storyline. As much as we revel in their work, many actors and actresses love stretching their abilities by tackling new challenges and improving their craft. Jamie-Lee Curtis comes to mind. The now Academy Award-winning actress of Everything Everywhere All at Once may never have found herself on the Oscars stage if she stayed in Halloween’s Haddonfield through the ’80s or concentrated on sequels for Terror Train or Prom Night. In Raymond Wood’s Faceless After Dark, Terrifier’s Jenna Kanell blurs the lines between reality and her on-screen persona when an obsessed fan takes things too far.

The poster for Faceless After Dark shows a knife pressed against a woman's upper lip.

Kanell plays Bowie, a horror movie actress recently tormented on screen by a killer clown in a low-budget horror production that received negative reviews but managed to earn a cult following among horror fans. Bowie earns money by working conventions while pursuing new acting gigs. Stuck in a world where she’s underappreciated and defined by the gratuitous scenes of blood-splattering carnage in her B-grade film, the roles are hard to book. Adding to her stress, Bowie’s girlfriend Jessica (Danielle Lyn) has just the face of a multi-million-dollar blockbuster production. Whereas all Bowie receives are anonymous calls and perverted DMs from creeps. After Bowie’s attempt to land the starring role in her best friend Ryan’s (Danny Kang) project gets nixed by the producers, Ryan suggests Bowie make something herself. The night she takes that advice, a killer clown decides to make Bowie’s old movies the basis for his plot.

It would be a great disservice to reveal anything more about director Raymond Wood and writers Todd Jacobs and Jenna Kanell’s Faceless After Dark. Without saying too much, the home invasion stalker horror you’d typically expect is subverted for the spiderweb of a Promising Young Woman. Featuring an absolutely fiery performance from Jenna Kanell, this twisty and delicious slasher-thriller hooks you immediately, taking you on an intense ride inside the mind of a frustrated star.

The irony of the film is also inherently the point. It’s a juxtaposition stemming from the belief that what you see in movies or on television is more than just somebody’s nine-to-five job. An underlying insistence that you have a say in the lives of others or ownership over a celebrity because you purchased a ticket to the film. Fandom has become so obnoxiously toxic that people think they can just get away with anything. And, with politics becoming as divisive as ever, social media has made people increasingly disrespectful, asserting their diatribe-laced opinions in places they don’t belong. So, as it becomes more blisteringly apparent that everyone wants Bowie to reclaim the role of a horror movie final girl, she’s happy to give the fans what they want and take another stab at it.

a woman with running mascara looks blankly into the camera in Faceless After Dark

Jacobs’ and Kanell’s script is bold and fun. Wood said at Salem Horror Fest this weekend that many pieces featured in the film are true to Kanell’s experience in the industry. While that seems evident in the context of, “Well, of course, it is a film about a girl who faced a killer clown in a movie!” Wood said many stories about creeps shared between her and Terrifier co-star Catherine Corcoran in Faceless After Dark’s convention scenes were just footage of the two talking.

With the film’s impetus focused on celebrity in a social media context, Faceless After Dark holds a mirror up to society, providing a nasty reckoning for those compelled to make their revolting thoughts known. You never know what someone else might be going through, and while I don’t think I’ll be changing many minds when it comes to social media discourse, maybe we should try to elevate each other instead of tearing each other down all the time. If nothing else, the movie reminds us of a rule we learn when we’re children: if you don’t have anything nice to say, then you don’t have to say anything at all.

A closeup of a man wearing a bloody clown mask

Wood coats Faceless After Dark with loud music and low lighting intensifying to neon and strobe for glorious effect. The atmosphere is rich with noir, and some of his shots also help deepen the experience. Terrifier fans will find themselves appeased by the movie’s inferences and inspirations, while those who found Terrifier a tad chauvinistic will enjoy the “good for her” highlights. I, myself, could be found in the audience at Salem Horror Fest, grinning ear-to-ear over the sadistic justice doled out. The film received a standing ovation for Wood at the festival, and rightly so. Faceless After Dark is a smart, dark, and twisted blast, filled with signature kills and a bad-ass punk-rock heroine that modern horror fans will adore. …Just don’t get creepy about it.

While much of the film will give horror lovers something to cheer about, there are some minor plot holes that Faceless After Dark overlooks. Regardless, the outcome is a lot of fun, and having Kanell in this role helps audiences ignore some of the lingering questions and illogical moments.

Faceless After Dark played Salem Horror Fest’s Weekend I. Though you won’t be able to catch it at this festival any longer, the movie has been picked up for distribution by Dark Sky Films and should be released after it finishes its festival run. However, many more f*cked up horror movies are on the way during Salem Horror Fest’s Weekend II, beginning Friday, May 3, and running through Sunday, May 5.

Written by Sean Parker

Sean lives just outside of Boston. He loves great concerts, all types of movies, video games, and all things nerd culture.

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