DECEMBER 7, 2011
My pal Scott Weinberg arranged for me to be sent a screener of Little Deaths a while back, but they sent it in PAL format. Sadly, my all-region player had recently broken down (no sound), and being that I write for free in between shifts at the last place network (besides CW, but come on, they don’t even count), I couldn’t afford a new one. So alas, I had to wait until the film hit good ol’ NTSC, and that time has finally come: Image releases the film on disc this coming Tuesday.
Now, I’m sure I could have located a more US friendly copy before now, but the film didn’t really sound like my cup of tea, dealing with graphic and sexually based “horror” instead of my preferred blend of slashers and zombies and monsters. It didn’t help that the only one of the three directors that I had any familiarity with was Simon Rumley, who was responsible for the well-made but wholly unpleasant Red, White and Blue. As I’ve mentioned a few times lately, I have grown tired of “downer” horror – I want to enjoy myself while I watch these things, the way I did when I was younger. Horror movies scared me when I was a kid, but they were still FUN TO WATCH. I know it’s a generic and overused saying, but if I want to be depressed I’ll watch the news. Especially when I “have” to review the film afterward – I have Xbox games to play, dammit! Why do I have to spend 45 minutes writing down how bummed out I got watching a movie?
Luckily, my perception was wrong. While it’s not the sort of film I’d want to program for my midnight screening series at the New Bev, it’s the right kind of disturbing horror, in that there’s a very thin layer of black humor running through it. Plus, apart from the second story (perhaps?), the “good guy” tends to win in the end, so while the things that happen might be fairly grotesque, at least it’s not nihilistic – replace their weapons with something more traditional and it’s just an old school thriller.
The first story, “House and Home”, is the closest to traditional horror of the bunch, since it has monsters of some sort (spoiler – vampires would be the closest approximation). It’s also the most predictable; as the plot concerns a couple who seemingly have a habit of bringing homeless girls to their home, drugging them up and then degrading them to get their rocks off, you can pretty much tell that THIS TIME, things won’t go as smoothly. It’s a decent enough intro to the film, and even though it’s the weakest, it’s still infinitely superior to anything in, say, Deadtime Stories (either volume).
The second is the most overtly graphic, though still rather “subtle” compared to Human Centipede 2 or whatever. It’s also a touch confusing, and I had to re-watch a chunk of it to get up to speed (and I’m still not sure I totally got it). But if any deserved expansion into a feature, it’s this, as it has more characters than the other two shorts combined, a crazy plot involving old Nazi technology, drugs made from bodily fluids, premonitions, and giant… well, I won’t spoil that one (though the name of the piece – which I’ll also withhold – pretty much gives it away). But if you feel this year (or any recent year) has been lacking in outrageously awful/hilarious “sight gags”, look no further (wonder who kept the prop).
And then we come to Mr. Rumley’s “Bitch”, the best of the lot and also the most surprisingly uplifting in a weird way. As with the other stories, our heroes are a couple with severe sexual hangups, in this case she makes him act like a dog: wearing a mask, pulling him around on a leash, rubbing his nose in a mess he made, etc. As this is a horror movie, you can guess that he eventually grows tired of being a submissive and decides to strike back. He does so in a very long montage, set almost entirely in silence save for the score (which also accompanies the disc’s menu), and it’s a wonderfully slow burn of a reveal – when I realized what he was up to I both applauded and squirmed. Both actors are terrific; Tom Sawyer (yep) manages to keep his character interesting when he’s at his lowest point, and sympathetic even when he’s approaching “sick bastard” territory, and the beautiful Kate Braithwaite certainly lives up to the film’s title, but also finds a humanity in there, allowing you to understand why Sawyer’s character would even be with her in the first place.
What I dug the most about the film is that I had no idea where any of the stories were going when they started, which is rare for an anthology. Even the first tale, by far the most conventional, I figured would be more of a straight up survival type thriller, not anything supernatural. There’s a bit of a plot hole there (if they’ve been doing this for so long, why haven’t they stumbled across any of her similarly powered friends that we see at the end?), but it’s forgivable – better a potential oversight in a unique plot than a logically sound story that you’ve seen a zillion times. Even better, it just improved as it went, with the first story being the “weakest” and the last the best. You can usually expect that one anthology segment will be much weaker than the others (even the great Trick R Treat has the underwhelming Anna Paquin scenes, though the climax is pretty fun), but here the quality is fairly consistent.
Having the same DP and production designer across all three shorts probably helped in that department. There is no real connection between the entries, nor is there a wraparound or “host” type segments, but it doesn’t feel like three movies that were just slapped together at random, either. Even with various color timing excesses (particularly in Rumley’s segment), it FEELS like a singular movie, which is even more impressive when you consider the lack of a host segment bridging the stories together. It’s more of a thematic connection – they’re all about the misuse of one’s cock, more or less (and they’re all set in London, if that counts as a theme).
The DVD has the trailer (which doesn’t have the same color timing, interestingly) as well as a 25ish minute making of that primarily focuses on Hogan, Rumley, and the middle story’s Andrew Parkinson, who talk us through the film’s development (Rumley explains that they didn’t have bookends because it felt “old fashioned”), casting, shooting, and FX, plus a bit of overall feeling of the project. They’re all a bit stuffy, with Rumley in particular coming off as an arrogant ass who looks down on horror films, but I can’t fault them for wanting to do something in the genre that wasn’t the same old tired crap. If it takes being a bit pretentious to do, so be it. I do wish they talked about the editing a bit though, as Hogan’s seemed like it was shortened in places (awkward cuts that felt like a part of a conversation was lopped out), and again, Parkinson’s felt like it could have been a feature and thus there was probably some trims here and there to keep the films all running around the same time. I also would have liked someone to explain why the chapter stops on the DVD don’t match up with the film’s openings. For example, Chapter 4 starts a few minutes before “Home” ends, and Chapter 5 starts a few minutes into the 2nd story – huh?
Oh, and who is the girl on the cover? Was there a fourth story about some hot girl who unfortunately had some giant spikes sticking out of her spine? (I am guessing they wanted to sell the basic idea of “sex and pain” but didn’t want to favor one particular entry over the others and thus made up a fourth – a shame that it’s so intriguing though!)
It won’t be for everyone, but I was happy to see something a bit out there that was still grounded in traditional horror elements, and without an emphasis on making the audience upset. Kudos to Image for bringing it here (unrated) despite the lack of any real commercial appeal.
What say you?