Written and Directed by Matthan Harris
Starring Matthan Harris, Bill Moseley, Doug Bradley, Sid Haig
Our first Texas Frightmaker, Matthan Harris, completed his debut feature film, The Infliction, just in time for this year’s Texas Frightmare Weekend. Saturday night saw the premiere, and I was in the front row and ready to go.
The Infliction tells the tale of David O’Hara, a promising medical student who has a very nasty hobby: in a psychotic effort to replace the broken family he grew up in, he kidnaps and systematically rapes women to impregnate them. When it fails or the ‘relationship’ just doesn’t work out, they’re murdered and another victim takes their place.
David (Harris) has daddy issues, to say the least, and Daddy (Bill Moseley) is still around to aid him when things go south with his latest acquisition, Melissa. Melissa (Lindsay Hightower) has indeed been impregnated when things go wrong for David, setting off a chain of events that leaves a string of bodies and violence as David attempts to reclaim his ‘family’.
The Infliction also features genre vets such as Sid Haig, Doug Bradley, and Italian legend Giovanni Lombardo Radice of Cannibal Ferox and House At The Edge Of The Park fame.
The Infliction is Harris’ first feature, and it shows. Harris commits a common sin of beginning feature film directors: he overextends. The direction here is okay, the writing is serviceable, but anytime Harris isn’t in full-on psycho killer mode, his acting falls far short of the rest of his cast. This makes the first act particularly painful, as we see David dating Melissa and trying to behave normally around the investigating officers.
There are also some major casting missteps. Radice is certainly a cult legend, but he’s also Italian. Very Italian. Why is he a Dallas police lieutenant, broken English, thick accent and all? Doug Bradley can certainly hold his own in any role, but an FBI agent? With his standard British accent?
A little exposition might have smoothed those choices over, but as it stands we’re never told why these two immigrants are where they are, so it’s more than a little jarring.
Issues like this sort themselves out when you have collaborators. Having others working on the film gives you sounding boards to bounce things off of early on, to head off problems like this. Maybe writing and producing, but not directing? Getting a co-writer? Someone else involved in the process might have nipped these issues in the bud.
None of this is to say The Infliction is a bad film. It’s a compelling story. I was never bored, and there are some fantastic performances from Moseley, Haig, and newcomer Hightower. Harris shows quite a bit of savvy in casting Haig as a fatherly psychiatrist instead of a ghoul, and Moseley as the quiet, subdued sociopathic father that destroyed David’s world yet continues to enable him in his own crimes. Not seeing Haig as a monster or Moseley shouting and swearing at everyone allowed both actors to spread their wings a bit, and it works very well. Hightower, meanwhile, gives Melissa a great deal of life as her world is crumbled again and again by David. She has a career ahead of her, given the chops displayed here.
By the time The Infliction ends, you’re left with a story about the effects of violence on the lives of several people. Despite the subject matter, it never stoops to exploitation. While the end does violate the Return Of The King rule (you only get to end your movie once, not three or four times) it’s satisfying while leaving things open for a sequel.
Despite the very clunky first act and bumpy casting choices, The Infliction is an admirable first effort from a young creator. Harris will only get better with time, and I’m certainly interested in The Infliction 2.
2 1/2 out of 5