The Dark Backward: Special Edition – DVD Review

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Adam Rifkin


Judd Nelson Marty Malt
Bill Paxton Gus
Wayne Newton Jackie Chrome
Lara Flynn Boyle Rosarita

DVD Release Date: August 21, 2007
Rating: R
Running Time: 104 Minutes

The Movie

Marty Malt is your run-of-the-mill stand-up comic simply trying to make a name for himself. He has his material, he has his delivery, and he has his accordion-playing friend Gus helping him out. The problem is that none of that stuff works. Marty’s jokes are not funny and he just never seems comfortable on stage and rightfully so. Who could feel comfortable with a room full of people staring at you and not laughing when they are supposed to be?

Marty’s life is just not turning out for him the way he thought it would. His career is going right down the toilet and, to top things off, his girlfriend Rosarita dumps him because he’s going nowhere fast. Through the thick and the thin though, Gus always stands by his friend’s side and assures him that his material is funny and he’ll make it some day. So back to their day jobs as garbage men they go and hope to figure out what they can do to acquire fame and fortune.

It is then that the answer to their problems falls right in their laps. Actually it starts to grow out of Marty’s back in the form of a third arm. Gus thinks this is the answer to all their problems and the one thing that could make them star attractions. Talent agent Jackie Chrome thinks the same and sign the so he can make as much money as possible. Chrome thinks they are natural stars so he sends them off to Hollywood where they meet up with freaks, freaks, and more freaks for one odd ride.

I’m kind of torn as to how one should look at The Dark Backward. On one hand it has the offbeat and completely strange humor that would normally make eyes pop out of my head with excitement. The other hand holds the case of constantly wondering, “What’s the point?” And that is just the thing, there is no point. The story simply takes two down on their luck losers and through a bizarre circumstance; they have a way of becoming famous. If you’re looking for anything more to the plot, stop right now. Yet if you think there is nothing more to the film, then you are truly mistaken.

The dark atmosphere throughout the feature makes for a creepy surrounding that is constantly broken up by the oddness that is happening on screen. It has a feel of George Orwell’s 1984 with everything coming from one company and eyes seemingly always upon everyone. After that, the film reminded me of Weird Al Yankovic’s UHF. Two young men trying to make it big and all they do is screw up and are constantly surrounded by freaks. An existence that no-one would wish upon their worst enemy, but it always seemed to work for them.

Director Adam Rifkin went out and created a film that would be thrown into the bin of Donnie Darko, The Wall, and The Rocky Horror Picture Show. You’re either going to love it or you’re going to absolutely despise it. It is dark, boring, exciting, grotesque, interesting, and just downright strange – but it isn’t bad. Rifkin’s portrayal of people with Hollywood aspirations is seen in this very odd light, but it really works. The Dark Backward is an acquired taste for sure and will be one of those films that is around for decades.

The Video

The film is shown in 1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen format and it only helps to enhance the dark atmosphere. Almost the entire thing takes place at night or in dark places and does a good job of it too. Nothing is too dark and nothing looks blue or purple and out of place. Any bright colors, the few there are, stand out as they should making everything clear and perfect. When compared to the original scenes you can see in the special features; you’ll be able to tell how good it looks now.

The Audio

The film is heard in Dolby Digital Stereo Sound and something really should have been done to improve it. Utilizing only the front three speakers is a total waste considering the great amount of music, weird sounds, and people often talking off screen throughout the film. It sounds alright for what it is given, but a little more effort should have been put forth.

Special Features

Audio Commentary – Adam Rifkin, Producer Brad Wyman, Judd Nelson, and Bill Paxton are all together and talking about the film, but it sounds as if they are doing it from inside an echo chamber. Some laughing and joking about the film and Rifkin telling us who each and every person that appears in the film is. At times it is rather difficult to understand them though because of the echo or they are merely trying to talk over one another.

Deleted Scenes – Rifkin lets us know that the original cut of the film was three and a half hours long. Oddly enough there is only close to twenty minutes here that wouldn’t even put the film at two hours total but oh well. Some are pretty fun to watch and if this is all there really were then I don’t see why they weren’t left in. None greatly altered the story and they’re pretty funny. Odd, but then again what isn’t odd on this DVD?

Outtakes – Here is six minutes of flubbed lines, uncontrollable laughter, and mishaps. Quite funny at times so is surely worth checking out.

15th Anniversary Q & A – Rifkin, Wyman, Nelson, and Paxton are all on stage just answering some questions about how the film was financed and how the characters came about. Runs close to forty minutes and is pretty interesting.

Blump’s Squeezable Documentary – A thirty-minute feature full of interviews of Rifkin, Wyman, Nelson, and Paxton pieced together. Rifkin starts off discussing the film and working with Wyman and then Wyman gives his thoughts on working with Rifkin. Then the character of Marty Malt is talked about, then Gus, and etc etc… It really gets boring and rather old in short order.

Animation From The Film – A colorized version of the short animated clip from the film as done by a guy who has been an editor on both The Simpsons and Family Guy. It is a very Tom & Jerry or Itchy & Scratchy type cartoon that is extremely short.

“Catch My Dreams” Clip Compilation – A rap video showing clips from the film while the entire plot is given out in song form. Extremely odd, but quite catchy all at the same time.

Cannes Promo Shorts – Nothing but five minutes of Judd Nelson in some promo shorts that were shown to different film studios trying to raise money to make the film. Nothing special or entertaining.

Director’s Introduction – This is three minutes in length and is completely pointless and useless. Rifkin gives a slight introduction while saying nothing about the film and only saying thanks to those who have bought the DVD. Afterwards he gets rather pissy and doesn’t like how it was received. Acting rather bitter, to say the least.

TrailersSilent Hill and Clive Barker’s The Plague

The Inside Pulse

Slapping a DVD with the “special edition” label and filling it with a bunch of special features doesn’t mean a whole lot if they aren’t too enjoyable to watch. Only half of them are worth checking out while the rest are merely ways to fill up space. I don’t see the point of putting so many when the film is good in itself. As I’ve said before, The Dark Backward is truly an acquired taste and you’re either going to love it or hate it straight up. With that in mind, renting it would be your best bet because I’d hate to see you blow twenty bucks and be on the “hating it” side of things. Seventeen years they waited to put this film on DVD and it will be one that hangs on for years. You just figure they would have put a little more effort into it after waiting so long for it. I mean it isn’t like you needed three arms to get it done on time.

The DVD Lounge’s Ratings for
The Dark Backward: Special Edition
(OUT OF 10)