Edgar Allen Poe once wrote, “All that we see or seem, is but a dream within a dream”. And that is exactly what writer/director Dante Tomaselli is giving the viewers of his second feature, “Horror”. Whether it’s the medication forced upon Grace Salo (Lizzy Mahon) by her psychotic parents (Christie Sanford and Vincent Lamberti) or the hallucinogenic drugs taken by the five escapees from a drug rehab center, among them the murderous Luck (Danny Lopes), no one in this film is ever quite sure if what is happening to them is real or the worst nightmare they’ve ever had. And the same can easily be said for those watching this film. A schizophrenic kaleidoscope of images both beautiful – the snow-covered landscape of rural New York, a fairy light-lit path of Christmas ornaments. And horrifying – being chased across that landscape by a pack of shambling undead, having “something” under the bed grab at you, “Horror” will fulfill expectations probably never even considered when viewing a horror film.
The story, actually two stories which converge, begins with the abduction of a local girl as she is removing Christmas lights from her family’s lonely farmhouse. Her abductor, who we soon learn is the Reverend Salo, Jr. (Lamberti), takes the girl back to his own isolated home where his deranged wife (Sanford) is gleefully waiting. Their daughter, Grace (Mahon), kept heavily drugged in her nearby bedroom is oblivious to the evil around her, even when a horned black goat, which has followed her father home, stands outside her open bedroom door. This is but one of the bizarre visuals that start the ever-increasing disorientation both the viewer and the characters in the film start to feel. While all this is going on, at a nearby drug rehab center, five patients have escaped, one murdering a security guard in the process. Apparently, the day before their escape, the patients encountered Reverend Salo, Jr., his wife and his father, Reverend Salo, Sr. (The Amazing Kreskin) who demonstrated the powers the mind can have for the rehab folk while his son was distributing hallucinogenic drugs to Luck (Lopes) and his friends. Salo, Jr. also gave them directions to his home, for what nefarious purpose, the viewer is left to decide. So, the five make their escape and, en route, consume any and all drugs in the large “goodie bag” the “considerate” Reverend gave them. Completely strung out on drugs and with one of the escapees having a horrific reaction to whatever he took, the five arrive at the Salo home just in time to witness the Reverend and his wife trying to inject Grace with some sort of medication. Luck, who still has the gun he murdered the guard with, doesn’t see the Salos but “devils” and shoots them both. At this point, all bets are off in “Horror”. Is Grace dreaming all this? Are the escapees having seriously bad trips and hallucinating everything? Is the viewer quite sure they know what they’ve gotten themselves in for as the images become more and more off-kilter and downright horrifying?
A portrait that keeps changing into horrific variations of the subject; a mirror which shows one a gruesome version of their own face; the walking dead closing in on the farmhouse; “something” under the bed; the black goat; a hospital with maze-like corridors; a melting doll; a mutilated ghost girl; doorways in places where doorways shouldn’t exist; a torture chamber and long, cold and barren hallways. Tomaselli wants to seriously fuck with his viewers’ minds and he does so to an extraordinary degree in “Horror”. Just when one thinks it can’t get any worse, things do. And just when one thinks they’ve figured out what is going on, Tomaselli pulls the rug out from under one’s feet… and there’s a bottomless pit waiting below.
The cinematography by Tim Naylor is amazing. Shot on Super 16-mm, I was reminded of the colors of an Argento movie with the graininess of the horror films from the 70s and early 80s – and his fluid camera work really brought the viewer into the film, whether he or she wanted to be there or not. And the score by Tomaselli, with an unnerving Bernard Herrmann-esque opening theme by Raz Mesinai, is both eerie sound design and creepy melodies to reinforce that all is not right in this world. The sound design included screams, animal noises, thunder, chanting, psychotic laughter – things you may or may not want to hear but can’t quite separate from the actual score. Very disturbing.
The production design by Jill Alexander and art direction by Maze Georges together create a cold, bleak world with flashes of “hope” in the false guises of Christmas ornaments, fairy lights and huge colorful lollipops. But most of the bright colors in “Horror” are of a red hue – Mrs. Salo’s dress, Luck’s bloody vomit, Reverend Salo, Sr.’s cloak.
All in all, “Horror” is not a film for the average, mainstream horror viewer. This is a film that begs to be watched again and again for all the little nuances that are missed in previous viewings, as there are so many things to see and take in. And try to make sense of. To VERY briefly sum up what one could say “Horror” is about, it is literally and figuratively about Luck trying to come into Grace’s life but Grace being lost to Luck in the end.