At first I thought the "After Dark Horror Festival" ploy was a cool and clever one. Here we have eight low-budget horror flicks that, were it not for this new and somewhat unique release concept, would have premiered anonymously on video or late one night on Showtime -- and that'd be a shame, really. No filmmaker wants his movie to debut on the small screen, and so I applauded Lionsgate and After Dark chief Courtney Solomon for coming up with a new way to showcase the smaller terror flicks. And then I actually sat down and watched the "After Dark" titles, feeling duped and stupid all the way. Putting aside Mike Mendez's The Gravedancers, I'd opine that every one of the AD titles actually deserves a direct-to-video release, but I guess there's more money to be made by slapping together a one-weekend nationwide horror "festival" -- because, as we all know, no genre fans are more loyal than the horror geeks. Way to exploit the fanbase, fellas.

If you can find one original idea, one effective sequence, or one compelling concept in J.S. Cardone's Wicked Little Things, you're officially a more astute movie-watcher than I am. This is a stunningly inert, entirely conventional, and oppressively boring little chestnut, one that just might be worthy of a Sunday afternoon visit, but only if nothing better is on and you've already seen every good horror film ever made. From the script to the performances to the resoundingly uncreative look of the piece, Wicked Little Things feels like something that was written, shot and glued together over the course of one drab and uneventful weekend.

Here's the plot we're offered: A recent widow and her two daughters (a precocious kid and a short-tempered teen) arrive at a creepy old house that they've somehow inherited. The place is (of course) a shambles; the electricity is spotty, the plumbing is screwy, and the gang of undead zombie children is ravenous. What, you thought this house wouldn't come with a throng of undead zombie children around the corner? Please. Even more surprising than the arrival of the undead zombie children is the fact that their arrival is so bland, so uneventful, and so entirely lacking in what one might call "scary." (Turns out the flesh-chompin' kiddies spung from an old mining accident, but the backstory is about as thrilling as the movie itself.) Wicked Little Things is 80% aimless blather, 10% semi-fun gore-droppings, and 10% opening/closing credits. The thing's a cinematic sleeping pill, frankly, and I find it kind of hilarious that After Dark calls this thing "too shocking for theatrical release." More like "too uneventful to even bother with,"

Director Cardone (the man behind Sniper 3, Vampires: The Turning and 8MM 2) approaches the screenplay like he just can't wait to get the flick wrapped already. Lead actress Lori Heuring is asked to do not much more than furrow her brow and search for her daughters every few scenes. Not even B-movie stalwarts Ben Cross and Geoffrey Lewis manage to add any color to a story this unremarkable, and the thing just plods along, checking off all the requisite cliches, tropes and stereotypes before winding up with a finale that just barely exhibits a pulse before wandering off into the night. You've seen it all before, only with a lot more color, energy and creativity. Plus, for all their flesh-chompin' enthusiasm, the zombie kids are about as scary as a box of puppies.

On the plus side, the audio/visual specs are perfectly acceptable, plus there's an audio commentary with Cardone and Heuring that (by default) is more compelling than the main feature -- but only a little. Word is that Solomon and Lionsgate are prepping another batch of After Dark titles for this November. Fingers crossed that the next arrivals exhibit a stronger batting average than the inaugural collection does.