The Tenement (V)

It’s truly heartbreaking to trash a low-budget horror film, as
they’re so often made lovingly by people who really understand the
genre. However, Light and Dark Productions “The Tenement,” directed by
Glen Baisley, is an over-long effort that relies on straight-forward
storytelling when it could have used some innovation and a more jarring
style. Something like Jeff Thomas’ truly scary “13 Seconds” (review) proves that
a handheld camera and a few thousand dollars can be very liberating for
a talented filmmaker.

My love of the independent spirit, however, is tempered by my
opinion of the movie. Baisley shows promise, but the film ultimately
fails to excite the senses.

The film is an anthology chronicling a couple of decades in the
life of an urban tenement where bad things keep happening to the, uh,
tenants. The first story revolves around a young man (Joe Lauria) who
lives under the thumb of his overbearing, bed-ridden mother. A lover of
horror films, the young man comes face to face with his icon, horror
director Winston Korman (played by longtime Fangoria scribe Michael
Gingold), a nasty man with a dead cat in a bag. This first bit is a
prequel to Baisley’s “Fear of the Dark,” but I wouldn’t worry if you
haven’t seen that one yet. The most interesting thing about the first
(rather bloated) entry is a fun “fake-out” beginning, a horror
movie-within-a movie, that is much grimmer and a lot more fun than the
bit itself.

The second section of the tenement is probably the best, a
twisted little story about a dancing mute and her wanna-be molester.
This bit actually has a nice, plodding atmosphere, and maintains
interest throughout. The acting is better, but not great. It shows a
certain EC Comics sensibility, and would have been at home in an episode
of “Tales from the Crypt (with a little bit of a polish and better
dialogue).

The third tale introduces a man who may or may not be a
werewolf. It’s the most amusing of the bunch, but it’s length and odd
sets bring down what could have been a funny story of lycan mayhem.
The final installment tells the age-old story of boy finds girl,
boy kills girl, boy finds new girl, boy and girl fight to the
near-death. The opening of this piece is wildly tense, and shows just
what can be done on a low budget with wit and talent. However, the
remainder returns to the flat storytelling style that brings the film to
a screeching hault.

“The Tenement” toils turgidly through two long, loooong hours during
which, frankly, I could have been out jogging or at least rolling
pennies. Again, I hate to trash anything this independent and
enthusiastic toward filmmaking and the genre as a whole, but to make an
successful horror movie on a budget of this size it needs to be taut and
suspenseful, pared down to its emotional elements. If the four stories
in “The Tenement” had been sliced down to three, and the fat trimmed, it
could have been a fun little 70 minute no-brainer. The interesting
elements of “The Tenement” prove Baisley & crew knew their horror
movies, and have a wicked sense of horror and fun. Many of the special
effects and camera tricks, along with the original “fake-out” beginning,
show real promise, and a better script and pacing could have produced
something worth blowing a few bucks on. The opening of the fourth
vignette is dark and grisly, and would peak attention if it hadn’t come
so far in the game.

Films shot on video must overcome the “screwing-around-with-a-camera”
feel, and “The Tenement” lacks visual flare throughout most of its
run-time. A fast-motion flashback and a few choice camera angles are
bright spots, and suggest what Baisley has real talent. Add that to his
clear love of the genre and odd sense of humor, and I think Light and
Dark Productions may have solid future in the industry.

Official Score