ART OF THE DEAD (October 18th)
YOU'VE GOT RED ON YOU TAKES PART IN THE 31 DAYS OF HALLOWEEN CHALLENGE; WATCHING ONE HORROR MOVIE A DAY THROUGHOUT OCTOBER. SOME OF THEM OLD, SOME OF THEM NEW, SOME OF THEM HAVE JUST BEEN ON OUR SHELVES FOR YEARS GATHERING DUST, STILL IN CELLOPHANE...
A lot of horror films take themselves pretty seriously nowadays. Which is good. Horror isn't really meant to be funny or 'light' but there's always been a place for over-the-top, trashy fun within the genre. B movies obviously filled that hole in the 70's and 80's and I guess the modern equivalent of that is the ridiculously disposable junk that the SyFy channel are responsible for. You know the ones; Sharknado, Piranhaconda, Mansquito or any of the Mega Shark vs movies. I was in the mood for something not quite so heavy today so had contemplated scanning the SyFy channel to see what was on but I knew there was a very good chance I was going to basically sit through 90 minutes of awful CGI, shoddy dialogue and wooden acting. Surely there must be something that's a bit frivolous but NOT crap? Enter Rolfe Kanefsky's Art of the Dead!
Kanefsy, a prolific film maker, was the man behind 2017's The Black Room (starring Natasha Henstridge), which we had a blast with. So my hopes were relatively high for this. Like The Black Room, the premise for Art of the Dead promises all sorts of fun. After the standard opening death sequence, the film switches to an affluent couple (played by Jessica Morris and Lukas Hassel) at an art auction. They both fall in love with a collection of paintings colloquially known as 'The Sinsations' – seven vibrant pieces, each of an animal (and each representing a deadly sin). They aint cheap either, fetching half a million pounds for the lot. 'Do you know anything about the artist' the auctioneer asks Hassel's character after he has purchased them. 'No' is his response. Imagine being that rich! Anyway, buoyed by their purchases, the couple head home where they are joined by their son who is visiting from college, who has also brought home his new girlfriend to meet his folks and the rest of his fam (teenage sister and two young siblings). Once the paintings are delivered and on the walls however, things start to get weird. You see, the paintings have something of a sinister backstory and gradually begin to exert a power and influence over each individual family member. As they all begin to succumb to the evil powers locked within the art pieces, a former priest, called Father Mendale (played by Robert Donovan) is on their trail as he knows only too well the destructive hold that the collection has on its owners. Can he help them before it's too late?
There need to be more horror films like this getting made. Horror that terrifies and leaves you cold is all well and good but Art of the Dead is a timely reminder of just how much fun you can have with the genre. It's coarse, it's sleazy, it's got buckets of blood and it never takes itself too seriously. These elements on their own are obviously a winning combination but the success of Art of the Dead is that marries these somewhat schlocky elements with a certain level of technical proficiency that's usually lacking in these kind of pictures. The direction by Kanefsky is assured – as is the editing (often one of the elements that suck in low-budget horror) by Jay Woelfel. Kanefsky's screenplay, whilst it's not going to win any awards, is succinct and droll ('It's a masterpiece...or should I say...masterpriest?!') Baggy dialogue scenes don't exist here and instead Art of the Dead races through at a pleasingly spirited pace. Special mention for the gore and practical effects, which are marvellously old school. You want to see a CGI demon or a bloke in a big ol' creepy goat costume? We know which one we prefer.
The other big reason why the film works so well is the cast that Kanefsky and co have assembled. It's something of an ensemble piece to be honest and although they're obviously all a super good looking bunch, guess what? They can all actually act! Lukas Hassel is as charming as ever (and looking like a non-threatening Hans Gruber) and Jessica Morris is fabulous too. Kudos for spending half the film just being turned on by everything. Tara Reid is always good value and Alex Rinehart does a sterling job as the outsider trying to save her potential new in-laws. Shout out to genre veteran Robert Donovan as well who plays the tortured priest with aplomb. I'm still convinced he's related to Bryan Cranston somehow. Richard Grieco also has a brilliant cameo too.
As part of this blog series, I've seen a couple of really disappointing films recently so it's nice to cleanse the palette with something so enjoyable and undemanding. It's a bloody blast and I loved every minute of it. If you like B-Movie thrills, this stuff is pure gold.