In the mock-doc segments that bookend this pastiche of a 1970s art-horror movie, a talking heads expert namechecks the Ring films and John Carpenter’s Cigarette Burns episode of Masters of Horror for dealing with the concept of a cursed film. This doesn’t mention Fury of the Demon, which took a similar approach to Antrum but didn’t go so far as to make the supposed cursed movie that purportedly caused the deaths of several festival programmers who viewed the picture when it was offered to them in the 1980s and an entire audience in Hungary when the cinema burned down mysteriously during a 1988 screening. Even the mock-doc segments don’t spend much time on the fictional characters who supposedly made the film or what their intent might have been … instead, a 77-minute chunk of this consists of Antrum, a convincing fake 1970s picture in which Oralie (Nicole Tompkins) and her young brother Nathan (Rowan Smyth) dig a hole in the woods in an attempt to open a portal to Hell in order to rescue Nathan’s dead pet Maximilian (probably damned because he was ‘a bad dog’).
This long stretch has the feel of those American oddities like Incubus or Sunburst which were pitched somewhere between grindhouse and arthouse, with a lot of Bergman influence. In a high-risk approach, it’s even as plot-lite, repetitive (much authentic wandering in the woods) and seemingly aimless as its inspirations, walking an edge between soporific and scarifying and sometimes falling on the wrong side. That said, it features a peculiar animated demon squirrel puppet that works surprisingly well. The thinness of the film within a film serves to highlight the additional effects that convey its cursed nature – Latin inscriptions, images of horned devils hidden like a ‘how many animals can you see in this picture?’ illustration, subliminal flashes of ominous (Ring-like) images, and other manipulations of sound and image designed to affect the unconscious but here highlighted just enough that the viewer takes note.
This sort of thing has been tried in mainstream horror – from Terror in the Haunted House to The Exorcist – and there’s a debate to be had about whether they’re just William Castle-level gimmickry or genuinely get under an audience’s skin to terrify the back-brain the way, say, some of David Lynch’s films do. The wraparound documentary bits, oddly, are less convincing – the talking heads types are awkward and their spiel sounds scripted rather than off the cuff. Still, it’s technically ambitious and does have a certain oneiric affect – and a few days simmering in the unconscious might up its scare quotient. Directed and written by David Amito and Michael Laicini.