An all-out assault on the senses
A young girl is kidnapped from her home. Moments before the deed, she sees an image of evil, black against the white snows of winter: a menacing, cloven-hoofed goat.
Five teenage drug addicts break out of a rehabilitation center and fueled by a gift basket of hallucinogens, aim to track down the bizarre religious figure that provided them with the pharmaceutical care package. He has promised them a new life. Good thing too, since a security guard lies dead as a result of the gang leader's itchy trigger finger.
In an ominous farmhouse in the middle of nowhere, a young girl is kept a virtual prisoner by her wicked mother and demented father, force fed a diet of narcotics and abuse. Her only solace seems to be her aging, understanding grandfather, who may or may not be deceased.
Storylines collide as we learn that the "bizarre religious figure" is responsible for the kidnapping. He is also the "demented father" of the addled young lady. When the van full of delinquents show up, looking for the sanctuary our perverted priest promised them, they learn that another entity has already taken up resident in the home: the man-goat Satan himself. And that their supposed retreat has turned into the domicile of pure evil, ready to walk them through a nightmare of terror and a never-ending vision of Horror.
There are certain aspects of Horror that, at first, will convince you this is nothing more than an amateurish experiment in atmosphere and tone. First is the tape loop lunacy of the soundtrack, which resonates with an atonal cut and paste precociousness that will have you cringing more than complimenting it. Then there is the time and space linear narrative jumps that move us into, out of, and around plot threads in a maddening attempt to circumvent straight ahead storytelling. Then there is the non-existent cast of characters: not a single actor in this film plays anything other than an age old archetype, i.e. Satanic goon, helpless victim, oversexed crazy girl, dark and dangerous juvenile delinquent, et cetera. But some strange force, call it the magic of mise-en-scène, discards all these disastrous, ominous cinematic pretenses and through a blind energy of vision and director's will, Horror comes together as a satisfying, creepy, and creative trip into hallucinogenic terror. Yes, you could argue that filmmaker Dante Tomaselli's movie is nothing more than a huge mound of pretension poured through a pop culture, European suspense thriller sensibility and accented with fascinating imagery to fool the decent spook show deprived. But there is no denying the power, the unnerving success of Tomaselli's visual style. Though riddled with plot and perception holes and not nearly as deep as the somber mood would hope to create, Horror is still an effective, eerie, and well-named motion picture.
Frankly, all the items listed before (with the exception of the soundtrack, which still reminds one of outtakes from Trent Reznor's dust bin) can be easily absorbed and forgotten, since to modify them would add undue reality to a film bathing itself in the surreal and the suggestive. From the bleak presence of the barren winter landscape to the oddly undersized house (seems the rooms and ceilings optically shrink or grow at will), Horror places its participants in a decidedly circular, dream world of the unexplainable and the inexplicable. It relies heavily on delusion and misdirection to effectively present its scare sensations. If told in a straightforward fashion (and it's hard to see how this could be done given the mübius ideal perpetuated in scene setups), the movie would more than likely dissolve into a laughable disaster. By the time we'd lived through the weird spiritualist and the demonic mom and dad, a visit from a pack of ravenous zombies, and an ebony goat would be the camp icing on a cracked cake. By using a jumbled narrative drive, however, we cement the notion that anything can happen in the next few moments of the film, an idea that reinforces the fiendish qualities present in devices of torture and possessed portraits. And if we had characters we truly understood and cared about (that's not to say that the strange, waif like daughter entity doesn't raise our concern), the direct human emotion would remove us from the unreal circumstances around to force us to concentrate solely on our attachment. And this is a prime way of destroying any piece founded on atmosphere and mood.
As for the performers, it's hard to pinpoint if they are doing an exceptional job in their acting or merely appear to be via the director's manic manipulations. It can at least be said that the Amazing Kreskin is sadly not that here, but is still above average. He gives his medium act a little too much show business glitz, but he does have a couple of quiet scenes with lead actress Lizzy Mahon that are touching and tense at the same time. The rest of the cast, with the exception of Danny Lopes, who appears to be playing every moment from just under his squinting eyelids, are non-descript and perfectly appropriate for the types they are given as roles. It's a credit to Tomaselli's ability behind the camera that we have any sympathy or connection to the characters at all. Purely through the ambience he creates in a scene, by the way he holds on images and evades a clear-cut explanation of events, he places us directly into the creepy chaos to experience it along with the others. When an individual shudders in disbelief at a sudden zombie army rising up over the horizon, we too feel the icy chill of fear run along our spine. And when we witness decaying bodies and non-sequitorial apparitions, our sense of being lost within a dizzying world of incomprehensible events is magnified. More than any other recent movie in the genre of fright that tried to get by on either tone (Wendigo) or tension (Jeepers Creepers), Horror works because it allows its weird images to build, to complement and guide one another to the next shock or horrible visage. While it may not make much clear-cut sense, it truly delivers on a visceral, iconoclastic level.
Thanks to Elite, Horror gets a wonderful DVD presentation worthy of its unique approach. The anamorphic widescreen image, here presented in an original aspect ratio of 1.85:1, looks exceptional. There is some light compression grain in a few daytime scenes, which is odd, since the little gray pixels are usually found at night. But since the movie has such an unreal look to itself to begin with, they really do not subtract from the overall picture. On the sound side, director Tomaselli oversaw a Dolby Digital 5.1 remix of the sonic cacophony he himself created for the film's "score." Made up mostly of random noises, techno blips, and industrial groans, all chopped and looped, it will either be an aural awakening for you (especially as it circles the channels) or the cause of Excedrin Headache #2003. For bonus material, Elite offers some homemade video samplings of the work that went on behind the scenes to bring this strange and startling film to light. They also add a section on how Kreskin became involved and his techniques used in the film. But perhaps the best extra is Tomaselli's solo commentary track. Though it is sparse, leaving huge gaps of "dead" air in the narrative, Tomaselli does illuminate several confusing aspects of the film. He hints that the entire movie may be taking place in either Luck's (the delinquents) or Grace's (the abused daughters) mind. He offers explanations for important images, like the keys and the zombies. There's even a link to the cult classic Sleepaway Camp that is witty when it is divulged. If you expect a full, complete dissertation on what this film means, you'll be disappointed, but if you accept Tomaselli at face value and follow his intentions, you'll begin to see the logic in Horror. Along with a brief look at an early work by the filmmaker (Desecration) and a nice photo gallery, this is a fine DVD package for a very unusual film.
Horror may not make those longing for a simple story of slasher and victims or monster and meal fodder happy. But for anyone wanting to see a distinctive, compelling and occasionally brilliant work, this terror head trip is one to experience. Horror more than lives up to its all-encompassing moniker.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Elite Entertainment
• Commentary by Director Dante Tomaselli
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