Wednesday, June 10, 2015

HORSEHEAD (2014) (Artsploitation Blu-ray Review)


Label: Artsploitation Films
Rating: Unrated
Duration: 96 Minutes
Audio: English DTS-HD MA 5.1, Dolbu Digital 5.1, Dolby Digital 2.0 with Optional English Subtitles
Video: 1080p HD Widescreen (2.365:1)
Director: Romain Bassett
Cast: Lilly-Fleur Pointeaux, Catriona MacColl, Murray Head, Gala Besson, Fu’ad Aït Aattou, Vernon Dobtcheff, Philippe Nahon

Artsploitation's return recent to prominence continues to give with this French slice of surreal cinema, wherein a young woman named Jessica (Lilly-Fleur Pointeaux) receives a call from her mother announcing the death of her grandmother, Rose. The young woman returns to the family home in the countryside only to discover that her grandma's corpse is being kept in the room next door to hers until the funeral. That in and of itself would be the stuff of nightmares for some but we soon discover that Jessica in no stranger to haunting dreams, having been plagued by strange nightmares since childhood, however, the corpse next door seems to make the nightmares a bit more horrific. That night she dreams of her deceased grandmother who implores her to help find a key of some sort, but she also dreams of a scary horse headed figure that her grandmother calls The Bishop, a monstrous and frightening figure clothed in the robes of a Cardinal and carrying a razor-sharp scepter in it's clawed hands. The introduction of the Horse headed figure is stunning, emerging from behind heavy red curtains with hot breath pouring from it's over-sized nostrils, it cuts quite a terrifying figure, and then it gores someone with a horse jaw-spear, scary stuff and something you wont soon forget. 

Jessica becomes obsessed with the visions of her grandmother and the horse headed figure, believing the two are somehow linked to her mother's secretive past, she begins to further explore the nightmares through a method of lucid dreaming with the aid of a bottle of ether, which keeps her asleep where she can navigate the nightmare world and find the answers to her sinister visions. As she becomes more and more obsessed her ether-fueled vision quest threatens her health and sanity, with reality and nightmare becoming one. The nightmares have a Gothic fairytale quality about them, a Hammer inflection maybe with Jessica wearing a red cloak which cannot help but invoke red Riding Hood, anf this comes complete with a Wolf element. 

I cannot recall the last time I watched a movie that so successfully captured the surreal quality of a nightmare on film, it would probably have to go back to either vintage era Argento or Fulci to find an analog. Horsehead is laced with trippy and atmospheric scenes drenched in dread and creepiness, its unsettling stuff. As the line between reality and her dreams break down Jessica becomes even more at odds with her mother, played by Catriona McColl, from Lucio Fulci's The Beyond and City of the Living Dead. The mother is a cold woman towards her daughter from the beginning, and Jessica's quest to uncover family secrets through the lucid dreaming only further distance the mother and daughter, as it seems Jessica's nightmares seem to hold some truths that the mother wishes to be left kept secret. 

A visual feast for the yes, with lush cinematography and stylistic lighting accompanied by a harsh electronic score that got right under my skin, a great marriage of gorgeous and unsettling imagery and unnerving sound. Candy for the eyes aside if you are looking for a cohesive story that goes from point A to point B with a clear resolution and/or revelation you might be slightly disappointed, as many of the answers simply inspire more questions, navigating the nightmare world can be a tricky thing. Myself, I love a good horror film with arthouse leanings and I found it be a fantastic watch. I applaud Artsploitation for their dedication to the strange and wonderful world cinema they've focused on distributing, each title is unique and hard to categorize, and that's a very good thing. 

Special Features:
- Trailer (2 Mins) 
- Artsploitation Trailers: The House with 100 Eyes (2 Mins), Der Samura (2 Mins), The Treatment (2 Mins) 
- Inside Horsehead Making Of (57 Mins) 
- Four Short Films: Bloody Current Exchange (11 Mins), Light Drowning (1 Min), Remy (7 Mins), Faces and Landscapes of Beaujolias (3 Mins) 

Horsehead is an artfully crafted movie with some stylistic nods to both Dario Argento and Mario Bava and an unnerving Lynchian nightmare weirdness. If you're open to something strange and out of the ordinary, if you crave nightmarish cinema dripping with dread, Horsehead comes highly recommended. 4/5