While extended suspense sequences and nightmarish visions tend to subjugate the film's disintegrating story, there's no denying director Dante Tomaselli has a flair for atmosphere: "Horror" is a very pretty film with some inventive shocks, and the Amazing Kreskin is quite effective as a preacher who uses hypnosis for pure evil.
Tomaselli first gained attention via a short movie shot on video in 1996, which he expanded into a rather meandering, clunky feature, back in 1999. Titled "Desecration," the video short (of which 11 minutes are excerpted on the DVD) also starred Christie Sanford, who reprised her role as an abusive mother whose son accidentally kills a nun (also played by Sanford), and unleashes a wave of demonic attacks.
The film version, released by Image Entertainment on DVD, contained an edited montage from the video short; whereas that excerpt focused on the boy's cage taunting by his evil mother, Elite's longer selection gives a better impression of the story's basics, and follows the boy's fearful wait as the ghostly nun leaves the walls of the local cemetery and heads for the country house.
"Horror" retains some of the Catholic themes from Tomaselli's first film along with his fascination with foggy landscapes, the walking dead, hallucinations, and face-shifting paintings. Incorporates elements from Romero's "Night of the Living Dead" and weird occult imagery (including a very talented goat), "Horror" is also more engaging than his largely meandering first feature. Also back from the "Desecration" film is Danny Lopes as the youth's ringleader, along with Sanford and goateed Vincent Lamberti (another "Desecration" alumnus) as a preacher couple who like to abduct pretty girls, and are parents to a sacrificial daughter (Lizzy Mahon).
Both of Tomaselli's films were shot on film, and posted on video with eerie (and lengthy) video titles for their DVD releases. "Horror" is given a nice anamorphic transfer, with good blacks and dark blue lighting effects, with some minor grain in a few high-contrast night and day shots. The film's soundtrack, designed by the director, has been mixed for the 5.1 environment, and Tomaselli's good ear for ambience ensures a constant, unnerving stream of low audio and music stabs.
The writer/director also recorded a commentary track that's largely consistent, though much of the material concerns his favourite themes, visual style, personal film references, and cast members (including a cameo by "Sleepaway Camp" slasher soprano Felissa Rose). While not disengaging, there's a wealth of production information that's just not dealt with, and it's a bit of a missed opportunity for burgeoning filmmakers to discover how an independent can produce a polished work. Unlike the percentage of thriller films designed solely to fill a hole in the rental shelf, "Horror" is an earnest work with deliberate artistic goals - to scare the heck out of audiences, but with a measured style - and Tomaselli career steps are worth examining. Beyond a mere mention in the documentary world, we know little else from where the director came, and how he managed to write, direct, produce, and co-score his latest film on a tight budget.
The "Behind-The-Scenes Footage" reel offers several glimpses of the walking dead and Kreskin/hypnosis sequences, though brief interview sound bytes reveal little of the director himself. The film's art directors, though, demonstrate their construction of the eerie Hansel & Gretel walkway, and Kreskin chimes in a few observations.
Legendary 'suggestionist' Kreskin is given his own featurette, and explains fears of acting for the first time, in spite of thirty years in front of audiences, and TV appearances on Johnny Carson and David Letterman. Perceived by most as a hypnotist, Kreskin actually went to court as a means to maintain his neverending quest to prove hypnosis doesn't exist - only the power of suggestion is real. The featurette also includes a pre-filming 'conditioning' set with 4 of the film's actors, where Kreskin (as the evil priest) convinces his flock their legs are failing, and the group collapse en masse, unable to move. Shot on home video equipment and matted to blend with the film footage, the unedited sequence makes for fascinating viewing, and is supported by several post-suggestion interviews with participating actors on what it was like to lose control of their muscles while fully conscious.
An extended "Horror" trailer (5:23) is really several sequences edited into a makeshift trailer, whereas the included "Desecration" trailer is more in line as a promo piece advertising that film's shock sequences.
Finishing off the disc is a brief still gallery, with images from the edit suite, audio looping, and on the set. Snapshots of the makeup prosthetics dominate, and there's a peculiar symmetry between amputated limbs, an actor with torn face makeup, and a box of fresh takeout pizza, resting on the catering table.
Several of the film's cast later re-teamed with Tomaselli for the director's 2005 film, "Satan's Playground."
For an interview with the director, click HERE !
© 2003 Mark R. Hasan