It used to be, a few years ago, that you could tell the difference between a psycho-sexual thriller like say, BASIC INSTINCT and your run of the mill horror film. With torture cinema making such headway in the mainstream market and recent sex scenes in films pushing the kink envelope, the time seems as ripe as any for a re-melding of the principals of sex and psychos in slasherdom.
It’s true that certain sub-sects of independent and grindhouse cinema in the 1960’s and 1970’s were pumping out adaptations of DeSade and auteurs like Rollin and Franco were busy pushing the audiences erotic buttons as much as the San Fernando Valley set were, but most of that was lost as the genres parted ways in the coy conservatism of the Reagan 80’s. This week a crew of Canadian filmmakers are offering a kind of post-modern take on the sexual sadism that once ruled the pantheons of 42nd street sleaze-houses.
Living Death is nowhere near as intensely erotic or as outrageously extreme as the films that once haunted those forgotten palaces, but Producer turned Writer/Director Erin Berry (UKM: The Ultimate Killing Machine) has managed to put together a film that touches on a few of the finer points of the thriller while upping the ante on the gore.
Victor (Greg Bryk—A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE)is the ultimate smooth talker, a rich, exciting, ruggedly handsome ladies man with a penchant for pain. Holed up in an expansive estate left to him by his father, Victor lures young women home to have “a go” upstairs in his chamber of horrors. His wife Elizabeth (Kristy Swanson—BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER) seems to far taken in by his devilish spell, until the day that she and Victor’s lawyer Roman (Josh Peace—CUBE ZERO) decide that the best place Victor can go is straight into the ground. But when their attempted poisoning goes horribly wrong, it’s liable to be the death of them all.
Director Berry gets the opening scene right as Victor’s slow seduction of his latest conquest Melanie (Kelsey Matheson—DRACULA 2000) turns from steamy sensuality to high tension in a will he, or won’t he kill her, kind of sense. The climatic moment in this sequence is one of more effective uses of the jump scare that I’ve seen in quite a while.
The problem with LIVING DEATH is that the film veers off too far into the LESS THAN ZERO lifestyle of Victor and too far away from the stalk a prey nature that the film seemed certain to assure. Elizabeth and Roman’s double-cross is part-and-parcel to the type of Jackie Collins twist that any hack writer could scratch out. But what makes it work is that the payoff is not in killing the rat bastard, it’s in what happens next. And while I thought that a few things were too “comedy of errors” once the body was taken to the morgue, the final 20 minutes of the film picked back up on the promise of the beginning. Indeed, the ending saved the film—by speeding up the pace and delivering on some much needed pain and suffering.
Not a perfect film by a long shot, most of the dialogue was weak and the sound in the film was atrocious. Entire sections of dialogue—spoken at a faint whisper—are barely audible over background noise and some sort of odd violin music. I can’t remember the last time I had to reach for the remote so often on a professionally authored DVD. Do yourselves a favor just jack the volume up to 11 and be prepared for moments when the sound does kick in—it’ll blow the damn doors off your speaker cabinet.
LIVING DEATH could have been a tense game of cat and mouse, and by the sound of the coverbox, it should have been. It’s not a bad film, just one that loses its focus trying to be too much drama and too little action. Still, what is on screen is defiantly worth a look, the performances are solid and the first 5, and last 20 make the hour in the middle a lot more bearable.