We’ve all had the experience of driving on a dark, deserted highway at night. It can be quite unnerving. All you can see is the road ahead, as far as your headlights will reach. Maybe you can see some shrubbery on the roadside. Occasionally a car will pass. In the days before satellite radio or cell phones, a driver would be truly alone. If you were lucky, you could tune into a radio station to keep you awake and make the time pass quicker. The mind would wander and you ask yourself what would happen if the car broke down…here…out in the middle of nowhere. Sounds like the background for a horror movie doesn’t it?
AM 1200 (2007) has been on my radar for several years now. Desmond Reddick at Dread Media and Brother D at Mail Order Zombie have both mentioned it. While not based on an H.P. Lovecraft story, it is clearly influenced by the literary legend. It is also based in part on a true story by filmmaker David Prior, best known in Hollywood for his video documentaries on such films as Panic Room and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. David wrote a fascinating and eerie description of some real life events in 1998, which are included with the DVD. Take the time to read it after you watch the movie. Well, it’s not really a movie since its only 40 minutes long. However, it plays out longer than an average short subject. Consider this an extra-long segment of The Twilight Zone.
Our story follows investment analyst Sam Larson (Eric Lange, TV star on such shows as Cult and Lost). Part flashback, we see how he is tipped off to a potential scam by a business partner (Ray Wise, countless character roles including X-Men: First Class and as the Devil in the TV series Reaper). The setup channels Psycho as Sam is driving at night, fearing police cars and everything that goes bump in the night. He just knows he’s going to get caught for stealing the money. Trying to stay awake, he tunes into AM 1200. He hears a faint message asking for help and the call letters KBAL. Ending up on a dirt road with a dead end, he soon finds himself at the gated entrance of the radio station. The sign is rusted and it looks abandoned. On cue, his car dies and as he leaves his car, all of the insect and animal sounds in the forest beyond stop. He sees a light in the woods that suddenly disappears. Of course, he enters the gate for help. Clearly, he’s never watched a horror movie or he’d know that he’d be better off hiding in his car.
David Prior, who was the writer, producer and director, creates an atmosphere of foreboding and dread that I haven’t experienced in a film since The Woman in Black. In fact, he does so more effectively. However, there are no real jump scares to lighten the mood. We do get the crazed individual in Jonah Henry, the radio station attendant played by John Billingsley (Dr. Phlox on Star Trek: Enterprise). And, of course, there is the Lovecraftian twist. Sadly, Prior hasn’t done any more original work since AM 1200. He’s kept busy with video documentaries but he really should be making films. I think the reason he hasn’t done more is that so few have actually seen AM 1200. It is incredibly hard to find. It’s not on YouTube or streamed anywhere else on the internet. You can’t buy the DVD in stores or on Amazon. It made the festival circuit upon its release in 2008 (winning numerous awards) but only recently became available through the website www.am1200.com. At $14.95, it is a little pricy for a 40-minute flick. However, it is money well-spent and I highly recommend you track it down. Hopefully, it gets a wider DVD release so more people can see it. I’d really like to see more from David Prior. It took me back to my youth on those nights where I would play around with my AM radio trying to get signals from far away. AM 1200 is one of my favorites so far this year.