Recent Reviews
By Jonathan Stryker (Twitter)
Aug 20, 2013 - 6:40:35 AM

Actress Danielle Harris steps behind the camera this time around for what is being touted as her feature film directorial debut.  AMONG FRIENDS (2012) is a thriller for genre fans that goes by the clever tagline "This dinner party's gonna to be killer".  The Internet Movie Database lists MADISON, a vignette that appears in a 2008 feature called PRANKS which includes two other short films each directed by actresses Ellie Cornell (HALLOWEEN 4: THE RETURN OF MICHAEL MYERS & HALLOWEEN 5: THE REVENGE OF MICHAEL MYERS) and Heather Langenkamp (A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET & A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET PART III: THE DREAM WARRIORS), as Ms. Harris's first professional directing job.  To date, PRANKS has not seen the light of day as a DVD release, which is curious given the talent involved in its creation.  Hopefully a DVD release is somewhere on the horizon.  NOTE: PRANKS is not to be confused with the alternate title of 1982's THE DORM THAT DRIPPED BLOOD. 

AMONG FRIENDS tells the story of Bernadette (Alyssa Lobit) who is hosting a murder mystery party. She has invited Marcus (Christopher Backus), Melanie (Jennifer Blanc), Adam (AJ Bowen), Jules (Brianna Davis), Sara (Kamala Jones), and Blane (Chris Meyer) to her house for what promises to be a fun night playing out a game and trying to guess who the killer is.

All of the participants are done up in 80s retro hairstyles: Melanie sports big hair, Adam dons a mullet, and Jules looks like she fell out of a video by A Flock of Seagulls.  A limo driver (Kane Hodder) escorts the gang to Bernadette's house. As each one of them exits the limo, he comments on them individually with an improvised litany of comical insults that elicit both smirks and laughs. 

Once inside, the group gathers in Bernadette's kitchen for some friendly small talk.  They are instructed to look for clues throughout the house and as they do we become aware of some less-than-stellar personality traits, such as Adam's grapple with cocaine despite trying to be sober for two months.     

Everyone is instructed to sit at the table and dine prior to the game, however almost simultaneously they all become numb below the waist and unable to walk.  Terrified, they all demand an explanation.  Bernadette, the sole person unaffected, has spiked their drinks and has something macabre in store for them.  Tying everybody up to their chairs with duct tape, Bernadette turns on everybody and accuses all of them of egregious behavior.  To prove it, she directs their attention to a large-screen television with footage of most of them that was surreptitiously recorded months earlier. Adams's out-and-out rape of their friend Lily, and Sarah and Jules getting it on while Marcus pleasures himself from afar are just a few of the things that turn Bernadette's stomach to the point that she administers punishment by cutting off one of the women's hair - along with her scalp.  Given that Adam committed rape, you can only imagine what his punishment entails.

She introduces ground rules which inevitably lead to a subsequent humiliation and torture of all held hostage at the dinner table. There is a twist at the end of all this, and seasoned genre fans will see it coming from a mile away, however this should not dissuade fans as Ms. Harris proves herself a capable director.    

The basic plot of AMONG FRIENDS calls to mind David Slade's HARD CANDY (2005) in which a man is lured by a young woman under the pretense of sex, only to be put through the ringer when she spikes his drink and calls him out for preying on underage girls and proceeds to make his life a living hell.  In Ms. Harris's film, a lone woman (a doctor with access to medication, no less) turns the table (in this case, the dinner table) against her friends who disgust her.  Alyssa Lobit is a striking actress and she imbues Bernadette with a sinister slant that would make John Doe of David Fincher's SE7EN (1995) smile.  The rest of the cast is also very good, and you have to be in you're going to spend ten shooting days strapped to a chair for hours upon hours. 

Ms. Harris makes a cameo appearance in her trademark clown outfit from HALLOWEEN 4 in a sequence when the drugged out Jules is hallucinating that she's in a movie.  Michael Biehn also adds to the madness in this sequence. 

The film also offers visual references to Stanley Kubrick's THE SHINING (1980) and Adrian Lyne's FATAL ATTRACTION (1987). 

The DVD comes with a commentary that consists of director Harris and actor Bowden and actress Blanc.  Their disposition is cheerful and fun to listen to.  Ms. Harris is always gracious at her convention appearances and her personality is likewise as she discusses the rigor (mortis?) of making a film in a confined space.  That being said, I do wish that her comments discussed more of the challenges of directing under these circumstances. 

A word of warning: if you hate seeing people vomit and drool (as I do), close your eyes at the 33:30 mark and the 38:20 mark respectively and count to ten before opening them again! 


AMONG FRIENDS can be ordered here and the official site is here. 


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