Little Deaths (UK DVD)
Directed by Sean Hogan, Andrew Parkinson, Simon Rumley
Distributed by Monster Pictures
The anthology film receives a twisted sexual slant courtesy of a trio of British directors in Little Deaths -- a ménage à trois of horrific tales based on perversion, eroticism, revenge and gigantic mutated genitalia.
The first story, Sean Hogan's House & Home, sees a well-to-do suburban couple invite a young homeless woman, Sorrow, into their home for what appears to be a faith-centric gesture of goodwill. Offering her a warm bath, some nice clothes and a slap-up meal at the head of their table, it doesn't take long for them to show their true intentions after Sorrow awakens from a drugged stupor and is chained to a bed in the couple's sex-and-torture dungeon. Facing a torrent of rape and degradation from the sneering partnership, Sorrow reveals that she has a little secret of her own up her sleeve -- and it's far more than these two debauchees have bargained for.
With the entire Little Deaths project obviously having been made on a limited budget, director Hogan pulls off his particular tale with remarkable efficiency. The man's grasp of pacing is admirable, with events unfolding at a perfect pace, albeit climaxing a little too abruptly (but how wonderfully thematic - ho ho!), while his villains -- in the form of Luke de Lacey and Siubhan Harrison -- squeeze every single drop of disgust from the audience that they can as the wealthy abusers who believe they can get away with anything if they only pay their victims enough. Visually, this isn't highly kinetic stuff, instead focusing on the brooding development of the situation with some excellent set design (look for Harrison's unmistakable Emmanuelle moment as she watches her husband sexually assault the helpless Sorrow) and a finale featuring some nice and nasty prosthetic gore effects and the comeuppance our villains deserve. It should be noted that this particular segment appears to have suffered the shears of the censors for the UK DVD release, missing a few shots of bodily fluid-based degradation. Still, it remains an effective and well made slice of horror.
Up next comes Andrew Parkinson's half-cocked (sorry - can't help myself) Mutant Tool, wherein struggling ex-prostitute and recovering drug addict Jen (Jameson) finds herself put in contact with the mysterious Dr. Reece (Brendan Gregory) by her drug dealing boyfriend, Frank (Brocklebank). Prescribed an experimental drug designed to help with withdrawal from her previous opiate-fuelled life, Jen begins to suffer debilitating migraines, raging sexual desire and a psychic connection to a strange, emaciated individual with a giant leg-length penis bound in a dingy bath and regularly "milked" by two attendees. All of the factors eventually converge to just about reveal what's going on with the bucketfuls of dribbling man-milk, but "eventually" and "just about" are definitely the operatives here. In trying to cram so much narrative into the short format, director Parkinson quickly loses control of Mutant Tool, flipping the film around repeatedly between the seemingly disparate individuals in the race to finally tie it all together. Within each of these divergences, however, rise more elements requiring greater explanation than the time can afford, leading to haphazard pacing, some clumsy storytelling and an ending that, while imaginative and shocking, makes very little sense. In a case of ambition sadly failing to overcome the means, Mutant Tool winds up being a slow, talky exercise in (admittedly inventive) grimness that desperately wants to shine despite clouding itself at every opportunity.
Finally, Simon Rumley delivers the twisted goods with Bitch, following the gradual deterioration of the unusual relationship between young couple Pete (Sawyer) and Claire (Braithwaite). Suffering regular emotional and physical abuse from his girlfriend, Pete also finds himself taking the submissive role in their bedroom games -- including his own kennel, mask and dog leash in the spare room which is reserved for their special playtime. Silently longing for more acceptance in his role in their relationship outside of the canine performance, Pete finally decides he has had enough when Claire openly has sex with his friend in their bed after a night on the town -- and so, in an extended final sequence played out only to the impressive musical soundtrack (and, of course, tortured screams), Pete uses Claire's greatest fear against her in a stunningly wicked manner.
While it lacks the narrative focus of Hogan's House & Home, Bitch ultimately wins out on the shock factor with an ending that won't soon be forgotten. Getting there can be a slog at points, as the central characters aren't exactly fleshed out beyond the obvious dysfunction of their coupling, while Pete's mumbling dejectedness in the early stages fails to paint either of them in a particularly likable light -- something which continues for the rest of the story and thankfully finds itself remaining throughout the finale considering the actions taken. To side with Pete (or either of the two, in earnest) come the denouement is to create a somewhat troubling viewpoint, especially considering the emotive score, feeling indicative of liberation. His actions are truly beyond horrendous, but is it Rumley's intention for them to be celebrated? One would argue ultimately not, as the man is well known for painting narratives filled with shades of grey and damaged individuals outside of our identification; yet, the possible interpretations are just part of what makes Bitch ultimately such an unsettling piece of work. You'll never look at a pot of gravy the same way again. Rumley's realist approach to visuals is out on display here, especially so with obviously little time and resources available to get wildly creative, with some seemingly hasty setups and grainy visuals compounded by overzealous blue and red filters.
Which leads us on to Monster Pictures' UK DVD release. While the first two segments look solid in their presentation -- more so Hogan's House & Home with its crisp internal visuals and considered framing -- Bitch suffers with an image seeing some external and bar/nightclub scenes rendered distractingly noisy and soft when bathed in lighted filters. The audio mix in all cases, however, is clear and free of distraction.
On the special features side of things, directors Hogan and Parkinson and producer Jennifer Handorf provide a highly entertaining running commentary for the first two shorts, focusing not only on the specifics of their films (and the failings of his own, which Parkinson is all too eager to admit) but also the trials of bringing this particular anthology to the screen due to its wildly provocative nature. Rumley appears by his lonesome for his commentary but likewise has many an enjoyable anecdote to spin -- especially regarding the nightmare casting process for his leading lady.
A "Behind the Scenes" featurette follows suit, offering plenty of interviews with the directors and on-set footage during its 22-minute runtime, bringing it far above the usual standard of slapped-on EPKs. A selection of trailers rounds out the disc. Notably, in a smart touch each of the short films can also be played individually from the main menu or in the full feature order.
• Commentary by directors Sean Hogan, Andrew Parkinson, Simon Rumley and producer Jennifer Handorf
• Behind the Scenes of Little Deaths
• Theatrical Trailer
• Monster Pictures Trailer Selection
3 1/2 out of 5
3 1/2 out of 5
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