Exclusive Interview: DARKNESS Rises Again For Indie Filmmaker Leif Jonker

An archive interview from The Gingold Files.

By Michael Gingold · October 30, 2003, 8:27 PM PST
Darkness Jonker

Editor's Note: This was originally published for FANGORIA on October 30, 2003, and we're proud to share it as part of The Gingold Files.

It has been some years since writer/director Leif Jonker’s homegrown horror film Darkness has been available on video, and to hear him tell it, the movie has never been out in a version that met with his satisfaction. That’s about to change, as Jonker and Darkness actor/FX creator Gary Miller prepare to jumpstart their fear careers. “We’re happy to announce that we’ve moved our small production group, 13th Dream Entertainment, from Wichita, KS to Wilmington, NC to join forces with Evolution Entertainment East,” Jonker says. “Evolution is an all-purpose independent motion picture production company founded by veteran makeup artist Rick Pour, known for his work on such films as The Crow, The Night Flyer and many others. Our deal with Rick is enabling us to completely remaster and re-edit Darkness for DVD release next year in a 10th-anniversary definitive director’s edition to be known as Darkness: The Vampire Version. We’re also developing a number of genre projects with Evolution, including Darkness 2: Vampire Ferox and Darkness 3: Vampire Apocalypse!”

Darkness, which first hit video in 1994, is the apocalyptic story of vampires taking over the world and a small band of survivors fighting back, with one of the most gore-drenched finales in indie horror history. One of the first hits of the ’90s DIY horror scene, it has acquired a cult following, and Jonker promises its devotees have a lot to look forward to. “I’m currently wrapping up the Darkness remastering and have begun compiling its new bonus supplements, and it’s all looking great,” he reports. “We’ve had a number of offers for the DVD from a couple of very well-known distributors, and should be making an announcement on the final label and street date early next year. No matter what, The Vampire Version will be out next year, and if all goes as planned, by next Halloween splatter fans will also be able to check out Darkness 2: Vampire Ferox and get down and dirty with an undead double feature of skull-shatterin’, brain-spewin’, heart-explodin’, throat-rippin’, crimson-sprayin’, flesh-burnin’, full tilt vampire mayhem.”

Previously available only on VHS in the States and on assorted DVDs overseas, Darkness will see a whole new unlife on the Vampire Version disc, Jonker assures. “This new edition really is going to be an improvement,” he says. “Unlike some recent DVD releases that have simply dubbed their old analog tape masters to some digital tape and called it ‘remastering,’ we’re going back to the film and starting over from the ground up. As has been written in many places, I filmed the majority of Darkness when I was 19 years old. Funds were so low that I was driving a forklift and washing dishes to buy production gear and supplies—not to mention make rent, buy groceries, pay car insurance, etc. On several occasions, Gary and I would go to the local blood bank and donate plasma to buy film. Yep, we sold our blood to make a vampire movie.

“When we first got Darkness in the can,” he continues, “we didn’t have enough cash to do a professional film-to-tape transfer to enable us to begin editing, so we decided to do a very hurried, shoestring post to get a rough version of the film together that would hopefully show its potential. We transferred the flick to video at my friend’s house by putting a projector on his kitchen table, aimed at a screen that was actually a piece of posterboard bought at Wal-Mart and spray-painted white. We lined it all up and recorded it right off the wall with a video camera. Once it was on tape, the movie was edited together through multiple generations of standard analog 3/4-inch videotape before getting to the final 1-inch master, ultimately losing several levels of quality with very noticeably diminished color and picture resolution.

“When we took the film out looking for distribution, many of the companies who were interested didn’t have the budgets to properly post the film, with many claiming it was good enough ’as is.’ So, long story short, the pro transfer and post never happened, and this rough-assembly version ended up getting released onto the video market all over the world. Thankfully, now, for the first time ever, we’ve been allowed to do a proper wet-gate telecine transfer, executed very nicely at The Post House in Atlanta, GA, and are performing a digital edit so that I can finally, once and for all, finish my movie as I should have over a decade ago.”

Jonker states that this will be by far the definitive version of Darkness, and goes on to recount the movie’s tortured history through various foreign and domestic companies. “No matter what version you’ve seen previously, I guarantee you it’s been sourced from that first cheap film transfer done in my friend’s kitchen. Not even the previous overseas DVDs will hold a candle to this new disc. The German discs—the most recent of which is the ‘Red Edition,’ which is actually a completely unauthorized bootleg—both claim to be a ‘director’s cut’ since they run a bit longer than the original U.S. release, but in reality they are simply meandering early rough cuts that were actually sourced from the crudest of all the original masters, a HI-8 videotape, since this was the only copy in existence! This version, subtitled The Vampire Cut, was supposed to be a limited-edition VHS run of 500 or so tapes made available only for the film’s die-hard fans. Instead, two different German companies have now put it out on disc and sadly, many viewers have incorrectly assumed that these are the best the movie will ever look. Oy vey.

“Also, even though the Japanese DVD is derived from the regular U.S. release version, something terrible must have happened in the mastering, because it’s hands down the worst-looking version of the movie ever released—I mean it, ever!” Jonker exclaims. “The copies I’ve seen of the Japanese disc look worse than the dubs my second U.S. distributor, Dead Alive Home Video, put out on cheap used videotapes! That happened completely without my knowledge, of course. In fact, I didn’t find out they were doing this until a copy was returned to me from a store that was rightfully very irate about their purchase. Apparently, the cassette hadn’t been fully erased or even rewound before they dubbed the movie onto it, so when you hit Play, a hospital training film played for about half an hour, showing nurses how to change babies’ diapers, treat diaper rash, etc., and then suddenly my movie started! Of course, the store didn’t find out till someone had rented it and brought it back, angry and understandably very confused. So the bottom line is, if you’ve ever wanted to check this flick out, I absolutely recommend to anyone and everyone to wait for this new version. There will be no substitute.”

Needless to say, the new transfer (which will be 16x9-enhanced widescreen) with improved sound is only a small part of the plans Jonker has for this release. The movie will feature new songs from Apostasy, the hard metal group that provided the previous thrashing tune that played over the chainsaw sequence, plus a large package of supplements. “Those will include a music video, commentary tracks, multiple trailers, some never-before-seen behind-the-scenes footage, extensive photo galleries, poster art, promo spots for other films we have in development, deleted scenes, outtakes and bloopers, news spots, a remastering demo, a making-of featurette and a hell of a lot more,” Jonker says. “And lastly, for those who may fear I’ve gone soft on the grisly goods as I quickly approach middle age, I promise that Darkness: The Vampire Version will pack even more blood and gore than ever before—more than any previous version, from anywhere in the world!”

In closing, Jonker says, “Happy Halloween from everyone at 13th Dream and Evolution!”