#HoldYourBreath (2012)

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hybs - #HoldYourBreath (2012)Starring Katrina Bowden, Randy Wayne, ERIN MARIE HOGAN, Steve Hanks, Seth Cassell

Directed by Jared Cohn

Well, I’ll say this for The Asylum’s first theatrical release: I was never bored. Came close a couple times early on, but just as my attention began to wane, there would be a gruesome kill, some welcome T&A, a hokey special effect, or something would happen that made absolutely no sense whatsoever to grab my attention once more. Honestly, isn’t that kind of what we’ve come to expect from The Asylum?

Not only does #HoldYourBreath hold the distinction of being the first Asylum movie to garner a theatrical release, it could very well be the first time in cinematic history that a film’s title doubled as its primary marketing tool. That hashtag is strictly for social media promotional purposes and has nothing whatsoever to do with what little plot there is. The characters all have their cellphones confiscated in the opening minutes and remain electronically cut off from the world for the rest of the movie; if it claimed to be set in 1979, you’d barely know otherwise.

The film opens in 1956 at a California sanitarium that it would seem also performs executions. Victims and press have gathered to witness Dietrich Von Klaus die by way of the electric chair. The reading of his extensive laundry list of crimes proves almost comical: fatal stabbings with pencils and fence posts and sexual assault with a tire iron, just to name a few of his many, many sins. So insanely evil is Von Klaus that before he’s electrocuted he’ll have poked out one of his own eyes and murdered the warden.

Von Klaus proves to be yet another one of those movie slashers loosely influenced by biblical scripture, the whole “an eye for an eye” deal being his favorite psalm. Not that it will matter much in the long run since any delving into his psyche is abandoned after this introductory scene – the people he possesses later mostly just sneer sinisterly; “an eye for an eye” turns out to merely be an excuse as he specializes in ripping out and stabbing victims in the eyes. I’m fairly positive #HoldYourBreath boasts the most eye-gouging since WWE Studios’ See No Evil.

That moves me to ask why it’s always “an eye for an eye” in horror movies. How come it’s never “a tooth for a tooth”? Where’s the biblical movie maniac that goes around killing people by ripping their teeth out? Brian Yuzna’s The Dentist doesn’t count since he was an occupational, not liturgical, slasher.

All joking aside, this opening sequence was pretty effective and had me thinking this really was going to be a step up from the typical Asylum and low budget slasher offerings. Then the film jumps to modern times, and it quickly began to feel like I was back watching the sort of no-budget direct-to-video horror movie Lionsgate released by the truckload during the previous decade.

Our protagonists are the most generic carload of school friends reuniting for a camping trip. You got the pothead. You got the horny couple. You got the nerd – I think he was a nerd. If you want a good idea how little characterization there is, an actor is made up to look fairly nerdy with glasses; yet, there’s never any indication that he’s supposed to be a nerd. You got the sluts, bros, and a stoner; surely this preppy with the glasses is supposed to fill the stereotypical nerd quota? Maybe he just was a guy with glasses with no discernable traits besides wearing glasses.

Katrina Bowden of “30 Rock”, Tucker & Dale vs. Evil, and Piranha 3DD gets top billing even though there’s nothing that distinguishes her from the others aside from being the most famous face in the cast. She’s the superstitious one who practically screams at the top of her lungs for everyone in the car to hold their breath as they drive past a rural California cemetery lest they risk allowing into their body the spirit of a dead person so evil even hell rejected them, as the old wives’ tale she takes to heart goes.

Potheads are always inhaling something so it should come as no surprise that the wandering soul of Dietrich Von Klaus gets inside. It does so via a special effect that brought to mind an old Halls Vapor Action commercial.

If you’re like me, you’ll be wondering at this point if we’re really expected to believe this is the first time anyone has driven past this cemetery in over 65 years that didn’t hold their breath. There will be a somewhat vague explanation much later that kind of makes a little sense of it, but then, if you’re like me, you’ll be left wondering just how old the person explaining it to them is supposed to be.

Now you would think that once this deranged serial killer possesses someone, the killing would begin right away. Not quite.

Instead the movie takes a detour, and I really do mean a detour. They happen upon the long abandoned sanitarium from the opening and spend almost a third of the movie roaming around all because the horny couple just wants the thrill of doing it in a decrepit insane asylum. And they will via a lengthy sex scene set to a song sharing the movie’s title that sounds like it was performed by an Evanescence cover band.

The sanitarium turns out to be haunted, leading to several unexplained happenings, and I do mean unexplained. Was the place haunted, or was the supernatural strangeness due to the freeing of Von Klaus’ spirit? Probably not the latter seeing as how the possessed character never steps foot inside the building, instead spending the duration of this sequence down the road terrorizing a patrolman that happens upon their vehicle. It’s as if the script simply takes a detour and throws out some supernatural shenanigans that are never explained and completely forgotten about the moment they leave the place.

The group finally sets up camp where Von Klaus’ spirit starts body-jumping at random and seemingly realizes that this is a slasher movie nearly 45 minutes old and only two people have been killed (three if you count the execution scene) and there’s a carload of attractive young people just waiting to be slaughtered.

I must say that some of the killings have a real nasty streak to them, far more than you’d expect from this movie. A topless young woman with her eye ripped out, her bare breasts caked in her own dried blood, tied to a tree with rope and razor-wire, and then… Yikes! Felt like it might head into I Spit on Your Grave for a moment. I Inhale Your Grave?

After spinning its wheels rather aimlessly for much of the first hour, about 56 minutes in a new character gets introduced that immediately breathes life into the film. The moment Steve Hanks makes his explosive entrance as McBride, the prerequisite crazy old man who knows what’s going on and these stupid teens had better listen to him if they want to live, he steals every scene he’s in, and the film finally develops some traction as well as a noticeable boost of momentum.

The third act gets goofy as hell as McBride hatches to deal with Von Klaus once and for all a plan that I can say with much certainty you will not see coming, not in a million years – it’s just that zany. That bit of lunacy, along with some more trademark Asylum insanity (death by electric eggbeater, mid-air supernatural sumo wrestling), save #HoldYourBreath from being a total wash.

Still surprising that this would be The Asylum’s first theatrical film when compared to some of their more recent offerings that look and feel much larger and more ambitious in scope: Bigfoot, American Warships, Nazis at the Center of the Earth, and Air Collision immediately spring to mind. Director Jared Cohn’s Asylum thriller Born Bad was an all-around more polished work than this, and that film was made for the Lifetime Network.

For all of the film’s many faults, I still find myself feeling a little generous and forgiving. It probably helps tremendously that before watching this I suffered through three of the worst new genre releases I’ve seen all year: the dreadfully boring Barricade, the ambitiously awful Smiley, and the steaming dogpile that is Vampire Dog (yes, I watched a movie called Vampire Dog – God help me!). #HoldYourBreath may not be good in any conventional sense, but at least it finally becomes kind of fun. It earns an extra half a knife alone just for Steve Hanks barking out lines like, “You look as confused as a baby in a titty bar!”

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2 1/2 out of 5