Horror (2003)

If I had to choose one word to describe Horror — besides “horror” — that word would be “mushrooms.”

Now that your expectations are set, there’s something you need to know: Dante Tomaselli, the writer-director of this movie, is gay. This is an important fact because there are at least two billion horror movies in existence that were made by straight white men. So any time we have the opportunity to watch a genre movie made by an underrepresented voice, we should take it. That choice will not only be refreshing for the soul, but also an opportunity to make sure these voices are heard. Plus, if it wasn’t for Horror, we’d never be able to experience a movie starring crackpot 1970s mentalist The Amazing Kreskin. And a lovable evil goat that is obviously the dad of Black Phillip from The Witch.

A kid named Luck escapes from a mental institution with a bag of drugs, four friends, and a smoking gun. While driving in their getaway van, Luck and his pals chow down on mushrooms, smoke a homemade bowl made out of a toy car, and smash some brewskis. The trip comes crashing down when one of the kids transforms into a blue-faced ghoul and the van stalls. Seeking refuge from the cold, Luck and friends knock on the door of a farmhouse. Once inside, they meet Grace; a woman who may or may not be battling her own demons in the form of her preacher grandfather (Kreskin!) and a cult led by her disturbed parents.

That’s “basically” what happens in Horror. But no plot synopsis can communicate the movie’s structure, which takes the form of a meditative, non-linear collage made by someone who just chowed down on mushrooms, smoked a homemade bowl made out of a toy car, and smashed some brewskis. If this sounds like your idea of a good time, we should hang out.

It would be easy to dismiss this movie. There isn’t a prominent protagonist to follow. Most questions aren’t answered. The last third suffers from padding. But if you approach with patience and empathy, there’s a lot to appreciate. Shot on 16mm in New Jersey, Horror feels like a precursor to the A24 house style as seen in films like The Blackcoat’s Daughter (slow pacing, cryptic meanings, beautifully damaged imagery) mashed together with the extraterrestrial tone of a Neil Breen movie. In other words, it’s a galaxy away from anything else that was happening in horror during the early 2000s. Tomaselli swaps out Papa Roach songs and the butthead tone of movies like House of 1000 Corpses for hallucinatory visions and deeper themes. This forces us to process what we’re seeing as we watch, making the experience more active than passive. It’s a welcome feeling. And that, combined with plenty of blood-barfing and cheapazoid Spirit Halloween store make-up effects, is what endears the movie. This is low-budget arthouse horror with heart, ambition, and a lovely wintery mood. Sometimes, that’s all I need.

I also need more movies with credits like this:

“Dungeon props created by Rich Hanf.”

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