WRITER/DIRECTOR: Johann Tetreault
STARRING: Joel D. Wynkoop, Jamie Lea, Anthony Wayne, Darryl Baldwin
THE DEMONIC SERIES is a trinity of films – two short, one feature-length – from the fringe-thinking mind of writer/director Johann Tetreault. The filmmaker’s particular brand of underground sleaze-on-a-budget merges grindhouse/arthouse aesthetics, the rawness of SOV horror and equal helpings of violence and sex. Tetreault’s askew-ish narrative style is perfectly suited to both the zig-zag plot of psychopathology as in his feature-length HOMICIDAL MANIAC, which I’ve also reviewed, and also the surrealist spin on the rapist-intruder motif a la HORNY FOR EVIL of THE DEMONIC SERIES. HOMICIDAL MANIAC, while exhibiting symptoms of attention deficit disorder, nevertheless was (essentially) linear in nature, plowing through a middle on its way from beginning to end. Tetreault’s tendency toward drifting narrative, conjuring thoughts of Eurohorror’s inclinations toward plot abstraction, is muted in his full-length meditation on woman-hating sociopathy. But HORNY FOR EVIL gives his obvious love for blurred reality a chance for full play. What starts out as an exercise in the bogeyman stalking the lady, with intentions of penetration by dick not knife, heats to a bubbly boil where reality moves underfoot like tectonic plates during a real quaker. Three characters, the aforementioned lady, her man, and an intimidating, husky intruder with a creepy-in-this-context clownish mask, appear and vanish, back and forth, from both the visual and narrative thread. At times, it’s as if (not actually, just as if) the boyfriend has been shifted sideways to a parallel same place, so that he is out of the way while big ol’ mask-wearing rape boy does his dirty deed to bloody success – literally. But I’m not talking the blood of life trickling with finality from a severed carotid or some such. This is less blood, a less obvious wounding, but of considerably more disturbing a nature IMHO. And this particular bloody assault focuses to laser intensity the theme of misogynistic violence that pervades other Tetreault movies. (Remember, they’re ABOUT misogyny rather than BEING misogynistic.) A baseball bat is the biggest weapon wielded during this short fright flick. The smallest weapon is nevertheless the more frightening of the two blunt objects brandished with aggression in HORNY FOR EVIL, a movie with none of the goofball sick-fuckery implied by the title. Rather, the title is still completely accurate but while there is cock-in-cunt, there is no tongue-in-cheek. At least not in any obvious way. If humor is intended it’s of the blackest and most buried away variety. (Note: The cock in cunt is not actual onscreen penetration, merely a fact of the story.) The spooky mask, a fragile, light, movable object, becomes ironically the central, anchoring symbol, even as it moves around, it and the characters as loose in their geographical and narrative reality as the central figure in Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five is unstuck in time. The rotation of figures and symbols swirls with the vortex of the film’s deliberate collapse into singularity. As with HOMICIDAL MANIAC, Tetreault’s HORNY FOR EVIL is a gradual starter that pays off with a psycho frenzy denouement. In THE DEMON HOUSE, Tetreault sets the mood with old-fashioned spookhouse shadows in the night. A group of girls creeps around a dark house while sinister figures cavort, appearing from the nothing of shadow to harry the sleeping. This is only the beginning. The film takes a certified Tetreault left turn … onto the left hand path! Demonic ritual gives way to vengeance from beyond, a purging of human filth from unholy ground. Nighttime gloom enshrouds the film, the murky visuals working for, rather than against, the movie. We see enough to witness action but grimness hidden and nudity seen through a tenebrous lense both serve to pique the relevant interests. And it does a certified metric fuck-ton for mood. Atmosphere is a strong point of this third of the threesome collectively called – say it with me – THE DEMONIC SERIES!!! It’s short, sweet and swift. The body count is tallied quick, Voorhees on speed, minus the mask, plus the cowl (you know, for the Satanic robe). As effective in its brevity as its twice-as-long companion, HORNY FOR EVIL. Take note: This short is Tetreault’s first ever flick, his directorial debut. Not bad, I say. Not bad at all. A respectable piece of out-of-the-gate art. This leaves us to explore “membership” in … THE DEMONIC CLUB. Let’s enter and find out what awaits. Opening music both minimalist and a bit frightening – and all the more endearing for it – tells us we are in for weird. You know, unless Tetreault’s other two movies in this trilogy haven’t already clued you in to that. But I tease. Of course, it’s a pitch perfect expression of Tetreault’s singular style, which manages to manifest regardless of which region of the horror spectrum (from serious to silly, surreal to straightforward) a given film by Johann occupies. In this case, it’s a balancing. A tad trippy in waxing and waning degrees, this one long-player of the three films exhibits the flourishes of cinematic narrative we now know to expect from Tetreault; it also tells a story more linear than, say, HORNY FOR EVIL. Also, humor and horror rub shoulders happily. Tell me: What would you do if, one day, somebody came knocking at your door, you peeped through the hole of peeping and saw … Satan? Not that the door is stopping him. He has a way of fading in and out wherever he pleases. Ol’ Scratch has a particularly nasty habit of phasing in to bathrooms during people’s shower time, giving them the heeby jeebies and just generally fucking with them. All a prelude to some soul-stealing, one suspects, eh? Or sinful havoc-wreaking of some sort. One guy literally finds Satan on his doorstep. Unlike Jesus, though, he doesn’t await invitation. And said guy isn’t the only one to have the devil breathing down his neck. This being a Tetreault film, there are also some ladies caught up in the shenanigans. Just what those shenanigans are keeps us watching. Just what is that clown Satan up to? That GUY!! What a kidder, right? Er, maybe not. Comedy component or not, this is a Tetreault film, which means – yes, yes, it means girls, but not just – which means, as I was saying, that shit ain’t gonna end well. ENDING WELL is not something that usually happens in a Tetreault flick. ENDING IN TEARS, though, that’s to be expected. Evil shit is afoot. You know that for a fact when the folks sitting around the diner have Hell horns on their heads. The girls are all chill, though, so this is apparently a spiritual reality unwitnessed with physical eyes. At least at this stage. It’s like a Frank Peretti novel, only less shitty. One of the demon-in-human’s-clothing dudes breaks the fourth wall, a little wink-nudge from over the shoulder of an unsuspecting human woman. Another hint of the veiling of Satanic reality from the luckily ignorant ladies. Though luck is not a word we should expect to stay in the vicinity of these poor dames. And, meanwhile, Satan interrupts more bath times. Then shit gets weird. This one tells a story through a fog of surreality – rather than being sheer elliptical surrealist narrative (HORNY FOR EVIL). But a straightforward story is there, even if it takes a bit of sussing out. Me, I like the opacity; it lends an artsy grindhouse touch I find appealing. Now, you know the old saw about Mephistophelean queries about just what all you’d give for [insert ultimate desire here]? Well, this decidedly demonic picture mixes the arcane with the technologic. If televangelists can use the teevee to preach Jeezus!!! then why can’t the Horned One use radio to reach his audience? What would you do to fulfill your desire? That’s the kind of question coming out of the speakers. Dial such-and-such a number to start down the road to ruin … I mean, to the realization of your dreams! And, uh, just ignore how distorted and Satanic sounding the voice on the other end sounds. Nothing diabolical here. Nope. *Innocent whistling* The lure that brings the babes to the brink of damnation is, of course, money, love of which is the root of all evil. And stuff. The be a tad bit more specific, the money is a million and the million is obtainable only if the ladies spend the night in an allegedly haunted building. It’s an old, picturesque building with lots of character, a groovy setting for a night of horror. So, basically, Satan lays out the lure: Risk a confrontation with the supernatural in order to obtain money. To the girls it’s a gimmick. They’ve no idea there’s a very literal analog to the devil’s cover story: Stay the night in a haunted house (willing self-exposure to the power of Satan) and win money (dough outweighs soul = greed = root of all evil). Pretty obvious, really. I love it. Soon enough, weird shit commences. A ghostly-sexy-bloody apparition scares the bejeezus out of the slimy promoter (or whatever his job title is) involved with the haunted building “contest”. A human duped, no doubt, made unwitting minion to the devil’s scheming. There’s also this angry, jealous guy running around screaming at and abusing people. He’s fucking hilarious, the best comic relief in this mish-mash of laughs and Satanic doom. I cannot assert enough that Tetreault has a unique vision, no matter what the project of particular vision may be. If it’s Tetreault’s, it’s unique. THE DEMONIC CLUB (said club being the haunted building) is another fine example of this filmmaker’s distinctive mode of Cinema Strange. I totally dig that Tetreault’s vision is his own, and completely so. Unabashedly raw creativity turns its tricks with the off-kilter storytelling, the visual style alternating from crisp video to film-looked crustiness, the tonal shifts from linear lucidity to hallucinatory mind-bending, the charming simplicity of low-tech visual and audio FX (a nostalgic harkening back born of budgetary necessity), and all the other descriptive things I could say. You get the point. You also get to see a pissed-off guy pick a fight with a demon dude. HI-larious. Angry man versus “horny” bastard. Which ties to what I was saying only a couple of lines ago about the non-Hollywood, DIY, basic approach to FX. A dripping-with-dollars production would have balls-out, cloven-hooved, red-skinned, high-cheekboned, mammoth-horned, whipping-tailed, glowing-eyed, big, muscly DEMONIC MOTHERFUCKERS. This movie? The bad guys have horns growing out of their heads. It’s not representational art – assuming that demons actually look like my florid description and thus the movie would have to make up its “demons” to look like that in order to qualify as “representational” art. No, Tetreault wisely opts for minimalism, and the simple technique of attaching horns to actors’ heads is indicative – that is, it indicates to us what these characters are. It is suggestive. The non-representational make-up FX are a conveyance for the information about the nature of these characters. The horns convey this data: Such-and-such character is a demon. Not all art is representational, nor should it be, critics and popular audiences alike be damned. (I know, ironic, right? I mean, given the demonic discussion ….) It is acceptable and more than acceptable for a movie of limited means – or, hell, for a rich filmmaker with arthouse aspirations – to embrace a minimalist approach. Horns convey the same information as high-tech make-up, just with a different method. If minimalism is bad, go chat with composer Philip Glass, who writes stripped down, “repetitive”, texture-creating song structures. [Note: He’s not the composer on this film; I cite him by way of example.] It’s fascinating to see how filmmakers of limited means decide to convey the salient data necessary for the propulsion of their stories. In some ways, without all the Hollywood money standing between the viewer and the artist, the pure passion of artistic rendering is more raw but also more bursting-forth. It is zeal beheld lucidly. And, just as Tetreault’s deliberate pacing and low-key first halves of films give room for final halves to blossom, so too does his simplicity-itself approach to FX make it that much more impressive when he ups the ante a wee bit make-up wise later in the film. Speaking of latter portions of running times, the climactic moments of THE DEMON CLUB are a great convergence of what has come before. Titillating and terrifying shots of ghostly-sexy-bloody strike our eyeballs, right on the heels of a chase involving a big, tough demon dude. The supernatural antagonists of the flick close in on the harried humans. Atmosphere mounts. And even now Tetreault finds room to maneuver grim humor into the mix by way of a spook central DANCE SEQUENCE. Involving ghosties and demons and such. And, yes, it’s all exactly as weird as it sounds. But there’s no understanding the experience without experiencing the experience. I encourage you to check out Johann Tetreault’s Facebook page and shoot him an e-mail (info below). The three films – HORNY FOR EVIL, THE DEMON HOUSE, THE DEMON CLUB – are available together on a single disc dubbed THE DEMONIC SERIES. Go ahead. Pick ‘em up. I wish you would. (Oh, and remember my speculation above regarding the nature of the scuzzy “promoter’s” involvement in the haunted club affair? Well, the truth about that comes out in an ending that finally reveals what you’ve been wondering the whole time: Just where the hell is this movie going?)
JOHANN TETREAULT’s E-MAIL: JohannTetreault@gmail.com
HIS FACEBOOK PAGE: https://www.facebook.com/JohannTetreault/
IMPORTANT NOTE: While I realize that low-tech, microbudget cinema is not for everybody’s taste, Tetreault does not charge exorbitant prices for his movies and I’m asking you guys, my readers for whom I’m grateful, to give him a shot and pick up a couple of DVDs to watch. I’m not at liberty to spread his business all over the place, but this filmmaker was recently the victim of some unfortunately semi-successful malicious intent. If there was ever a time a director needed fan support, moral support and, yes, monetary support, this is such a time. I’m making this plea of my own free will and NOT at Tetreault’s behest. And I’m NOT asking for donations. I’m asking you to support this director with some kind words and a leap or two of faith. By leap, of course, I mean DVD purchasing. Buy it for yourself or somebody else. If you don’t like micro-budget horror, snag it for somebody who does. Or for that insane horror collector who will add to his/her shelf any cool horror shit. Like, say, some wacked-out underground fright flicks.
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