The world as we know it has ended, not with a bang but a whimper. And in the post-Apocalyptic U.S. Midwest, a bitter and crazy former fashion model, Amber (Beverly Hynds), has assumed the title of Queen of the county in which she grew up. Amber is obsessed with being loved and growing old and young girls are mysteriously disappearing from her tattered and starving subjects. Sylvie (Courtney Kaufmann Kocak), a strong and beautiful young woman who wanders the cold and desolate countryside, trading belongings for what little food is available, encounters Matthew (Carlos A. Vio), Queen Amber’s lover and Captain of the Guards. Drugged and kidnapped, Sylvie finds herself one of Amber’s prisoners, kept in a locked junked car with dozens of other young women. When summoned by the Queen to join her court, Sylvie is cleaned up and gowned, to be closely examined by Amber to determine whether she might be more beautiful than Amber, which Sylvie is. Sentenced to be frozen to death by being stripped naked and having water thrown over her in the frigid courtyard, Sylvie is instead rescued by Matthew, who convinces Sylvie to trust and fall in love with him and shares tales of the sadistic crimes Amber has committed. He returns her to her guardian, Reggie (Gunnar Hansen), an alcoholic tombstone cutter, who has some secrets he keeps to himself and concerns about all of the missing girls which he shares with Sylvie and Matthew.
“Apocalypse and the Beauty Queen” is based on the legend of Countess Elizabeth Bathory and her torture and murder of over 600 young women, all for the sake of beauty. Fashion photographer and music video director Thomas Smugala, for his first feature film, along with cinematographer Jeff Barklage, has created a visually stunning movie. Creating a fairytale atmosphere through a color palette ranging from warm reds and browns in Queen Amber’s world to a chilling bluish hue in the desolate outside world of Sylvie, the film is gorgeous to watch. The screenplay, written by Smugala and James Dean Schulte, has several shocking and unexpected plot twists as well as flashbacks to Amber’s childhood and youth where her stepmother (Debbie Rochon) berates her for being “ugly” and unlovable, thereby setting the stage for Amber’s eventual insanity.
The actors, mostly unknowns from the St. Louis area where “Apocalypse” was filmed, are an uneven lot with the exception of Kocak and Vio, who are impressive, especially when their characters fall in love. Hynds starts out way over the top as Amber but as the film progresses and more is learned of her background, Hynds seems to come into the role. Gunnar Hansen gives a touching performance as Reggie and shows how far he has come, as an actor, from Leatherface. Rapper Mack 10, as D.K., Amber’s bounty hunter and a former schoolteacher turned sociopath, is given second billing after Hansen but makes very little impression in his role.
Smugala has filled the film with bizarre and striking images, costuming his characters in pseudo pre-Raphaelite and Renaissance garments while having them carrying modern weaponry. Amber’s “castle” is filled with candles, mirrors, tapestries and taxidermied animals while she tortures girls to the piano accompaniment of a Victorian-garbed little girl. Sylvie and Matthew bathe in a clawfoot tub with a fire burning beneath it in the middle of the frozen woods, their breath clearly visible. Matthew hides Sylvie from Amber in a rusted-out car which has been elaborately transformed inside. Throats are graphically slit, Amber’s protégé, Angel (Katie Rudisel), is murdered with pitchforks, scythes and shovels by the outraged populace and the surprise ending…well, you just have to see it.
Shot on a budget of around $1 million and produced by CinemaCity Films LLC, “Apocalypse” does not have a release date as of this writing but should definitely be checked out once a distributor picks it up. It is a welcome addition to the growing number of Bathory-related films.