Horror (2002) — Well, the title ain’t lyin’

“You’re lying. Why would a preacher give you these things?”

Kyle’s rating: Easily the weirdest thing I ever got for $20

Kyle’s review: Horror is another perfect example of the effect the Internet has on the modern cinematic scene, especially in the realms of cult and horror. I assume that “back in the day” the craziest of cult films weren’t readily available to the common fan, so it took special midnight showings or a dedicated video bootleg underground to get the latest minisculely-budgeted non-studio flick to the most rabid of fans. People would read about this groundbreaking and unbelievably effective films in Fangoria or something, but otherwise they’ll just watch Halloweens and Friday the 13ths and the other stuff they could get their hands on and hope that one day there would be a way not only to find out about the freakiest productions from the cinematic fringe, but also a way to get them for themselves.

That day is now. I never paid attention to the VHS scene other than what I could buy at major department stores and Suncoast, but by the time I went DVD I didn’t have to work too hard to get into the crazy stuff, because it’s everywhere. If you can’t walk into a store and find the random obscure film you just read a translated German review of on some obscure movie website, chances are they can order it for you. If they can’t, or if you haven’t left your house since the 1980s, baby, you’re just a few clicks from owning the newest Dante Tomaselli movie or whatever you’re looking for. I’m being overly verbose in getting to the point that with eBay and mail order and studio websites and illegal downloading sites and odd city shops where the walls flip around so the garden hose store you walked into suddenly becomes Big Jim’s Gory MegaPlex Wonderland of Imported Region 0 DVDs, modern life is a great time to be alive if you’re a film fan. Especially if you’re into horror, sci-fi, or Misty Mundae movies.

There is a downside. Somebody like me, for example, can read a couple magazine or online reviews of some horror film that sounds like the greatest thing since sliced bread was used as a murder weapon by a inbred dude in a hockey mask (it was a deleted scene, I think). Said idiot (me!) gets so excited that life gets distilled into an Indiana Jones quest to find this film without having to resort to online ordering, because that’s no fun. Idiot does a melancholy walk on a beach, hits a DVD shop near the coast, jumps up and down because the shop has the movie idiot wanted on DVD, buys the movie and speeds home to slap the disc in just as the sunburn pain starts to kick in. What a wonderful way to watch a horror movie that someone noted has such (figurative) self-worth that it’s called Horror. Quite a bit to live up to on the title alone, let alone the baggage of the gushingly positive online reaction and the quest for an elusive copy. But it’s the journey that counts anyway, eh?

I’m glad I had a fun journey to find Horror, because now having watched it I’m kind of wishing it had remained unfound. Dante Tomaselli is the culprit, er, writer/director of Horror. Let me just warn you now that the word “horror” is going to get tossed around a lot in this review. And that’s because I’m a big horror fan. I’ve seen a lot of horror films. I personally prefer slasher movies, because they’re fun and disposable and often include some much-appreciated elements of humor and female nudity. But I’m always up for any kind of horror movie, at least to a point.

I try to avoid the ones that are so low budget and/or stupid that their main entertainment hook is their mock-able mediocrity. I also avoid the ones that I know will bum me out, including ones where I know from ominously-written reviews that the good guys don’t survive in the end and stuff like Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer. I need my beauty sleep and I want to create my own nightmares, not have some foisted upon me, you know? Which is probably why Horror wasn’t, for me, the incredible experience it was for others. The best way to describe it is as a packaged nightmare, nonsensical and full of horrifying images designed to shock you and hopefully make you watch again and again to figure out how they did. Judging by the ‘net, there are plenty of people who watched Horror and are up for repeat viewings. Not me. I think I’ll go out tomorrow and trade my Horror DVD in, maybe for something light and airy like Mannequin or What About Bob?

Maybe I should mention the film’s content, or something. But really, it’s like I said: this is a nightmare put to film. It’s circular, pays no heed to time or space, and full of horrific images and situations. With Horror, Tomaselli pretty much wears his influences on his bloody sleeves. I’ve read interviews with Tomaselli where he lists his main influences; however, even a casual Mutant viewer will catch references from Evil Dead, Night of the Living Dead, Twin Peaks, and the better Stephen King novels. Informed horror afficionados have been dropping Dario Argento’s name a lot in reviews of Horror and Tomaselli’s first horror film Desecration. I can see the similarities, but I would disagree with the idea that Tomaselli is Argento’s heir or anything.

Argento’s masterpieces, Suspiria and Deep Red being at the top of the list, are vague and mysterious and opaque and full of lengthy shots of inaction and foreboding setup, but Argento seemed to effortlessly capture our attention with his colorful and dreamlike visions. Tomaselli works a lot harder and you can sense that effort, and that awareness has a deflating effect on Horror. It’s trying so hard to be spooky and scary and respectful of the horror history it’s drawing upon that it forgets it has to draw us in before it starts throwing blood and loud jump scenes at us.

Tomaselli’s Horror is like opening the front door on Halloween night, and a kid jumps out from behind a bush to yell “boo!” at you but the costume he’s in is so clearly store-bought and plastic-ky that even the blood spots and charcoal shading he added himself can’t prevent you from giggling while you give him a few crappy generic sweet tarts from the top of the candy bowl.

By contrast, Argento’s work means answering the door and finding a small silent clown standing directly in the center of your front porch, holding a treat bag indifferently towards you. This time, you unconsciously dig to the bottom of the bowl for the good stuff so you can buy a few extra seconds to visually peruse this child, squeezing the wrapped pieces of candy a little tighter than you should because you’re slowly realizing that not only can you not tell where the make-up ends and the mask begins, or why the fake blood on this little one’s costume looks a little darker and more smeared than the fake blood you used to use, but that this clown’s physical dimensions doesn’t look like the build of any child. You toss this… clown a few more pieces than you’ve given anyone else, and without a sound or nod the clown closes its bag and walks backwards away from your house. You wait a few polite seconds before closing the door, this time locking it, and after a relieved sigh and a slight collapse against the heavy wooden door, you sneak a peek through the peephole outside. And see that the clown is walking up the street towards your neighbors to the right. And the clown is still walking backwards.

See the difference? If not, it’s because my writing skills, though fully endorsed by the Literature department at the University of Redlands, don’t match up to the powers of Argento. I wish they did. Tomaselli wishes his skills matched Argento’s as well. They don’t, though he’s certainly on the right track. Horror is worth a look if you don’t have to pay too much to see it, or if you’re so into horror that you’ll pay any price to get a look at someone else’s nightmare. For those in the middle, who have probably never heard of Tomaselli before, Horror isn’t for you anyway. When and if you’re ready for a trek to the cinematic fringes, a place of spontaneous DVD quests and purchases and secret midnight showings in seedy boarded-up theaters, then you’ll be ready for Horror. Until then, stick with the mainstream horror, yeah?

Didja notice?

  • That is one demonic goat!
  • The film’s events appear to take place around Christmas, though this has little or no bearing on the plot except as an excuse for the snow on the ground.
  • The crazy mother sure wears a lot of make-up. Even to bed. If that isn’t a sign that she is pure evil, I don’t know what is.
  • If you’ve seen Tomaselli’s first film Desecration, apparently a lot of actors from that film also worked in this film.
  • There is no explicit differentiation between flashbacks and dream sequences, so that “reality” is already on shaky ground. Not that you wouldn’t realize that anyway from the first few minutes (see: demonic goat).

One comment

  1. “…..life gets distilled into an Indiana Jones quest to find this film without having to resort to online ordering, because that’s no fun.”
    Oh Hell yes! The internet has removed so much of the thrill of the hunt. I ADORE finding cool shit in back room bins + weird stores “nobody” has heard of.

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