You say you want original horror, huh?
Most horror fans seem to agree that films like The Witch, Green Room, The Conjuring 2, and Train to Busan were some of the best that 2016 had to offer, but there are also many other damn good horror movies released year that sadly didn’t get much love when it came time for us to all pen our year-end ‘best of’ lists. And some of those movies, well, it seems that nobody even saw them.
Darren Bousman, who got his start directing the second, third, and fourth films in the Saw franchise, has gone on to become one of the most unique filmmakers working within the horror genre. From a horror musical (Repo! The Genetic Opera) to a serious remake of a goofy Troma film (Mother’s Day), Bousman has for years been stepping outside of boxes and making interesting career choices; and though doing his own thing may have lowered his stock in the wake of helping to put the Saw franchise on the map, he continues to be an underrated force of bold originality.
Released at the tail end of last year, Bousman’s Abattoir is one of the most original horror movies to come out in the last several years. So what happened? Why didn’t anybody see it?
Horror fans are kind of funny. We can often be found begging for original ideas, as well as bashing Hollywood for churning out nothing but sequels, remakes, and copycats, but the reality of the situation is that the major studios are responding not to what we’re asking for but rather what we’re spending our money on. And though we may constantly tweet that we want original horror, films like Abattoir damn sure seem to suggest otherwise. Why don’t they make more original horror movies? Maybe it’s because when push comes to shove, we don’t watch them.
Written by Christopher Monfette, Abattoir has a one-of-a-kind concept that by all means should’ve compelled every horror fan to give it a chance. In the film, an investigative reporter teams up with a police officer to solve the mystery of why a seemingly good man murdered her sister’s family. Well, at least that’s what IMDb will tell you. The full plot is way more interesting.
What the reporter learns in the wake of her sister’s slaying is that the family’s home was subsequently purchased and the so-called “murder room” gutted out. Furthermore, she learns that this same sort of thing has been going on for decades: a mysterious old man purchases homes where brutal tragedies have occurred, and he then removes those tragic portions of the houses and mysteriously vanishes. Why, you ask? Without giving away too many of the film’s secrets, the man is building a house that is literally constructed from rooms where deaths have occurred.
Trust me. You have NEVER seen a haunted house movie like this before.
Remember when I said that Darren Bousman is constantly making interesting choices? Well get this. As original as Abattoir may seem on paper, it’s even way more original in execution. Bousman brings the horror film to the screen as a murder-mystery crime drama, imbuing it with a film noir vibe so unique for this kind of movie that it’s almost jarring at first. The dialogue, cinematography, wardrobes and even actors are incredibly authentic to the noir genre, with a perfectly cast Jessica Lowndes leading the film as tough-as-nails reporter Julia Talban. With her bright red lipstick and take-no-shit attitude, Talban is a femme fatale ripped right out of the noir playbook. Joe Anderson is equally well cast as Declan Grady, a rough-around-the-edges cop.
Yes, Abattoir is a horror noir film about an old man who’s building the ultimate haunted house. That’s Bousman for ya. And you damn sure can’t say he’s doing what anyone else is doing.
The majority of Abattoir takes place in the fictional town of New English, which is wonderfully realized. Ravaged by the Dust Bowl of the 1930s, New English is a town frozen in time and occupied exclusively by some pretty strange folks (including a wonderfully bonkers Lin Shaye), and it’s here that the mysterious old man is constructing his haunted house. Again, there are secrets to the town that I’d rather you discover by watching the film for yourself, but it’s pretty incredible how much mythology Monfette and Bousman infused into it. Watching Abattoir is like spending 90-minutes in a world entirely its own, one quite unlike any world you’ve ever been in before.
At the center of the story is Jebediah Crone, the old man fascinated by tragedy. Dayton Callie’s performance is unforgettably chilling, and in many ways, Crone feels like a modern horror icon for today’s society. A charismatic snake oil salesman with bad hair, Crone sold New English on a lie many years prior, and he forced the distraught townspeople to do some pretty terrible things on the promise that he was going to make New English great again. They may not make horror villains like they used to, but as Crone, Callie makes a good case for being a horror icon in his own right.
So do we ever get to see the house that Crone has spent years building? Oh boy do we ever. Bousman keeps the structure out of sight until the film’s final act, which is one of the most visionary and truly jaw-dropping finales you’ll find in any horror film released in the last several years. It’s genuinely scary and oh-so-cool, and I’ll say no more about that. You won’t soon forget it.
If you truly do want to see original horror movies, look no further than Abattoir. It’s been available for VOD rental since last month, and will be hitting DVD on February 7th, 2017.