Last week, I attended acclaimed horror film festival, Screamfest, in Hollywood. It was a cool scene, full of the talent themselves, Hollywood types, press peeps, and of course, die-hard horror fans! I was there to get a glimpse of the opening night movie, Parlor, directed by Devon Downs and Kenny Gage.
I've found I enjoy a good horror flick most when I have very little information about the plot, so I entered the movie only knowing the basics - I knew we were dealing with a group of college-aged kids partying in Eastern Europe. I also knew there was a twisted tattoo artist involved. What could possibly go wrong?
Before taking my seat, I noticed Sara Fabel on the red carpet, looking drop dead gorgeous and absolutely dope. I figured it had to be a pretty solid movie if she was in it.
Sidenote: I really liked that the two psychotic tattoo artist characters that were cast (played by Fabel and Robert LaSardo) had authentic tattoos, and not ones that were designed for the film.
So, anyway, let's talk about Parlor.
If you've seen the movie Hostel, you should be OK following this plot because its honestly pretty similar. However, I love how directors Devin Downs and Kenny Gage toy with the audience, playing with classic horror movie tropes while adding their own, often humorous twist.
There were multiple points in the movie when I was legitimately and heartily laughing. The film doesn't take itself too seriously, but has a sturdy enough plot to keep the audience guessing and interested. Not to mention scared!
It deals with the classic idiot English-speaking tourists who come to Europe and feel like they can get drunk, be reckless, and have one-night-stands in a foreign city with no repercussions (this time located somewhere in Lithuania). Their drunken characters are purposely way over-the-top, with the directors making sly fun of the "stupid American" (and in this case, also British) stereotype that seems to infest travel horror films, with some of their comments coming across as so crass and offensive that they actually come full circle to being funny.
So yeah, basic tropes flipped on their head: Six young people show up in a strange land, get drunk, and make stupid decisions. To get the plot rolling, two of them, innocent Amy (Tiffany DeMarco) and ultimate douchebro Brock (Ben Whalen) leave the rest of the group at a house party and follow the mysterious, strange Uta (Fabel) back to her tattoo parlor. The pair are introduced to mild-mannered tattoo artist, known only as The Artist, played by the always-underrated Robert LaSardo. But as it turns out, The Artist has something special (read: horrific) in store for Brock and particularly Amy, in whom he thinks he's recognized a kindred spirit.
Lest the humor fool you, to be pretty frank, this movie is straight-up gruesome. In fact, my Editor-in-Chief, who does not do well with torture porn, had to leave partway through because she was about to pass out - true story. That's how gory it was.
Stuff like the above is definitely par for the course with Parlor. In fact, if you don't like copious amounts of sticky blood and guts, and realistic torture scenes being filmed from very close-up, you might have trouble watching this one.
There are a lot of people chained to things. And then freeing themselves. And then getting chained up again. And people who get locked up to tattoo procedural beds. You know, your standard "someone's getting tortured" type stuff...
There are also a lot of gratuitous sex scenes that don't necessarily add anything to the plot, but, again, seemed to be thrown in with a wink and a nod by the directors because, well, that's what's always expected from torture porn films, isn't it?
There's a creepy, vaguely romantic relationship angle that plays out between The Artist, and Amy. The subtext is squirm-inducing, but also handled with the black humor that runs throughout the movie.
And this man is the main reason for that.
LaSardo is great in this role. The dialogue that he rattles off always seems to be perfectly timed. The script was written with him in mind. He's not over-the-top evil, which actually makes his calm, reasonable explanations as he's performing some horrific, unthinkable act on someone all the more terrifying. He actually has empathy at times for his victims. And again, that subtle relationship with Amy that twists throughout the film. But, mostly, he's just so dark and unaffected. His character makes the movie, and makes it worth seeing.
Would I recommend it? Yes, yes I would. I would definitely say see it - but don't go in expecting to have your mind blown. Just enjoy it for what it is, which is a gruesome, gory, blackly funny movie that finds perverse glee in taking all the overused cliches of splatter films and turning them upside-down.
Screamfest is going on in Hollywood right now through the 23rd. Go to http://screamfestla.com/ for more information.