Horror movies are possibly the most difficult films to make well. I could literally count on one hand the number that have genuinely scared me in my lifetime. So many of them rely on monsters or other creatures; since we know monsters arenít real, itís hard to make audiences afraid of them. Others are simply exercises in blood splattering, with no real sense of menace. Iíve pretty much resigned myself to the fact that this will never really change. However, occasionally a movie comes by that unnerves me. Being unnerved is a very close second to being scared, so when it happens, itís an achievement. The year 2003 has been uncommonly fertile for unnerving films: the chillingly creepy May, the shocking House of 1000 Corpses, the spooky 28 Days Later, just to name three. And Iím still feeling the chill of last yearís The Ring. Whatís going on when so many horror movies start doing it right? Sure, there have been clunkers as well - Wrong Turn, Freddy vs. Jason, Cabin Fever - but the good ones have outnumbered the bad ones recently. Itís a good time to be a horror fan.
Most of the titles Iíve mentioned youíve probably heard of. One of the best recent horror flicks is one you might not have. The appropriately titled independent production Horror didnít get a theatrical release, but it is available on DVD. If you are truly interested in the genre, then this is a film you must see. It is unnerving, certainly, but it is also one of the most original and ambitious entries youíre likely to find right now.
Written and directed by Dante Tomaselli (whose previous effort, Desecration, was also covered on this website), Horror tells a mind-bendingly circular tale of several teenagers who escape from a drug rehabilitation facility. Upon escape, they decide to track down a strange priest who visited them in the rehab. What they find at the priestís farmhouse is shocking to them and to us. I wonít spoil it, because youíre better off not knowing in advance. A key figure in the weird goings-on is Rev. Salo Sr. (The Amazing Kreskin), who has the ability to control minds, a power he is not afraid to use. It soon becomes clear to the teens, headed by Luck (Danny Lopes), that some kind of evil force is originating from this place. Where it will lead is anyoneís guess Ė and their fear.
The thing you have to know about Dante Tomaselli is that he has his own style of story telling. Itís not linear, with an easily definable beginning, middle, and end. Instead, his approach Ė particularly in this film Ė is less about hitting plot points and more about establishing mood, tone, and atmosphere. Watching Horror is like having a nightmare; thereís a fundamental inability to piece everything together in a safe, logical manner. You feel the anxiety and the dread build, yet you canít exactly pinpoint how the events all relate together. This approach had me mesmerized. The filmmaker seems to believe that not everything should be explained in a film such as this, and Iím starting to agree with him. Itís the unknown Ė or, more accurately, the unknowable - that is frightening. I have a lot of respect for Tomaselliís style. He creates a horror universe that is utterly his own.
Horror really doesnít need a lot of obvious plot points anyway. Its power is in visually expressing the underlying dread that accompanies nightmares. Take, for example, a handful of scenes involving a satanic goat who occasionally appears to stare down the characters. It doesnít matter where the goat came from or what he represents. All that matters is that Tomaselli makes the very sight of him creepy as hell. The visual aspect of this movie generates the fear. You see a series of images that blend together in an unsettling manner. As with Desecration, Tomaselli proves himself a master creator of hellish visions. Probably each of them means something to the director, but heís smart enough to let them wash over you instead of trying to pound their meaning into you.
The performances add something to the tension as well, particularly the one by the Amazing Kreskin. My exposure to Kreskin has heretofore been his guest appearances on Letterman and Regis. I naturally viewed him as somewhat of a joke. However, when heís not playing straight man to a laugh-hungry talk show host, you can focus on the things he says when he is performing his acts of hypnotic suggestion. Thereís an intensity to his words that never struck me before. As the Rev. Salo, Kreskinís job is to create a sense of menace; after all, this is a man who can bend other people to his will. Kreskin succeeds surprisingly well at the task. Another side of Kreskin is shown in a tender scene with Rev. Saloís granddaugher. Bottom line: the man acquits himself quite nicely in the film.
(Even more interesting is that the acts of mesmerism he performs in Horror are not staged; he really put the extras into a trance. One of the special features on the DVD shows Kreskin putting the moves on them in rehearsal. I remain skeptical about this kind of thing, but Tomaselli assured me in an e-mail that it really worked.)
So many things Ė including excellent production value for a low-budget film Ė combine to make Horror a stunningly eerie movie. It bears repeating that this is not a linear story. Itís one that emphasizes suggestion over blatancy, mood over shock value. Tomaselliís imagery is so masterfully executed that I sat watching it in awe. When I received the DVD in the mail, the director made a simple request: he wanted me to watch Horror in the dark and in stereo. I followed that request and, boy, what an effect it makes. This movie immerses you in a disturbingly cryptic vision of hell of earth unlike any youíve seen before. Remember the name Dante Tomaselli: he is one of the most important new voices in horror filmmaking.
For more information on purchasing a copy of Horror, visit the official website: www.horrorthemovie.com
( 1/2 out of four)
Horror is unrated but contains strong horror violence/gore. The running time is 1 hour and 17 minutes.
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