“POKER NIGHT” (Blu-ray Review)Movies/TV,News,Reviews Ken W. Hanley
Having last seen POKER NIGHT on the big screen, I’ve been surprised about how few horror fans have had the film on their radar. From the initially FANGORIA-presented screening, the film absolutely blew away this writer’s expectations, delivering something creepy, funny, brutal and compelling all in one sitting. But unlike several less-than-great titles that hit around the same time, there was a certain unjust preconception around the horror lot that the film wasn’t up to snuff thanks to its masked antagonist. So with POKER NIGHT’s impending Blu-ray release, this writer took the opportunity to revisit the film and see if it’s particular brand of horror held up on a second viewing in high definition.
Luckily, Greg Francis’ directorial debut definitely still leaves an impression, as POKER NIGHT is equally as darkly hilarious and horrific as it was upon first viewing. For those unfamiliar with the film, POKER NIGHT follows a rookie detective who is kidnapped by a maniac following a poker night with seasoned fellow crimefighters, and must use the wisdom bestowed upon him to figure out who did this to him and break out. And while some might find the concept somewhat generic, the film is far from it, breaking expectations left and right thanks to Francis’ sharp and gripping script.
However, the film doesn’t just break the mold thanks to the script, as Francis proves himself an adept director who makes the most of his meager budget. Francis builds up his protagonist fairly efficiently, using each actor’s natural chemistry to serve as inspiration to his lead’s more nuanced and sly moments. Likewise, Francis also pays much attention to his villain as well, giving him a colorful and humorous backstory that separates him from the cookie-cutter psychopaths in horror today. And Francis also proves that he knows his script in-and-out; the film is paced remarkably well for an indie, and every moment of bloodshed or wit feels impeccably and organically composed.
POKER NIGHT also does well to give its cast proper time to shine, with no character ever feeling particularly similar to another. Beau Mirchoff’s performance actually was much more notable the second time around, as this writer was able to pick up on many more of his learned beats, especially when he’s filling the shoes of his compadres. Meanwhile, Michael Eklund’s performance as the scene-stealing villain is a pleasure to watch, as the actor flamboyantly commits to every corrupt moral fiber of this particular character. And the film’s supporting cast also delivers greatly, with memorable turns from the likes of Ron Eldard, Giancarlo Esposito, Corey Large, Halston Sage, Titus Welliver and Ron Perlman.
Yet if there’s any issue with POKER NIGHT on Blu-ray, it’s likely the complete absence of special features: no deleted scenes, no commentary, nothing. However, that doesn’t mean you should flat out reject the disc either, as the transfer into high definition is rather great. The picture quality of the film is top notch on Blu-ray, as is the film’s excellent audio mix as well. In short, horror fans deserve to discover POKER NIGHT for the fun fright flick that it most assuredly is, and it’ll never look or sound better than XLrator’s Blu-ray, even if it is the barest of bare bones.