Directed by: Brett Mullen
Run time: 84 minutes
The Lowdown: After watching both the original Suspiria and the 2018 remake (which is far superior), it’s fair to say I was a little hesitant to dive into yet another seeming homage to Dario Argento’s magnum opus, the newly released Bloody Ballet, the first feature from writer-director Brett Mullen.
Which is why, having now watched Bloody Ballet, I must implore you not to make the same mistake, because holy mother of goddess, this is one of the craziest, coolest, bloodiest, most what-the-fuckiest flicks I’ve had the pleasure of absorbing in years.
Years, I say!
This isn’t just an attempt by Mullen to mimic the hallmarks of Argento, which have been copied ad nauseum by scores of imitators. And it’s not yet another in a long line of lovingly retro homages to the defining horror tropes of the 1980s.
Bloody Ballet is a neon-hued kick in the teeth and a psychotropic punch to the nuts. It’s a synth-heavy blast of kitchen-sink fuck-all that perfectly marries a slasher film, a ghost story and Flashdance in some unholy cinematic ménage à trois.
Is it the perfect movie? Hell no, but it’s the imperfections that elevate it to cult status and it’s Mullen’s near-perfect execution and his obvious gut instincts that make it a Must-See.
There are flashes of Argento throughout, as well as De Palma and Carpenter and even Cronenberg, but nothing on the screen feels like theft.
Bloody Ballet is the story of Adriana (Kendra Carelli), whose parents were viciously murdered when she was a child. Years later, on the cusp of achieving the professional respect that she longs for, Adriana has positioned herself to dance the lead in a revival of The Nutcracker, if only she can silence the demons in her head and quell the visions that haunt her sleep.
Adriana’s therapist, Dr. Cassinelli (scream queen Debbie Rochon, swinging for the fences in a meaty, dramatic turn), has put her star patient on an experimental psychotropic, but the drug doesn’t seem to be keeping Adriana’s night terrors from manifesting during daylight hours.
As viewers follow Adriana’s preparation for her big debut, Mullen launches a subplot involving a journalist that frustrates early on until its purpose becomes clearer in the third act.
What makes Bloody Ballet so mesmerizing is Mullen’s ability to toggle between his two storylines by creating sequences that are so striking, so vibrant and so beautifully violent that they remind viewers why we love movies like this.
Seriously, from the kills, which are fantastically brutal, to the surreal, mind-fuck hallucinations and flashbacks, to the wonderfully unnerving television programming playing in the background of many scenes, Bloody Ballet emerges as a triple threat of pulp culture entertainment.
There’s so much happening at certain points that you just want to pause the frame and walk up to your television screen to soak it all in. And don’t even get me started on the gorgeous, uber-gothic sets and the pitch-perfect score by Matt Hill and NightStop.
Bloody Ballet is a Russian nesting doll of hellish imagery that keeps surprising the deeper and darker it goes.
The practical special effects work alone is so superior to what most fans have come to expect that I suspect many jaws will be on many floors in gaping disbelief, if only for one truly insane sequence where a character’s evil inner-Id literally claws its way out of his/her gut for a sickeningly slick full-body reveal.
Even the ending haunts you with implications and questions about what you just watched.
As a critic, it’s easy to become detached and dulled, given the large number of physical and digital films we receive to review.
That’s what makes a movie like Bloody Ballet such a treasure.
This easily could have been just another money grab, a low-budget rip-off of Suspiria and Black Swan that was immediately destined for the bargain bin.
What Mullen has created, however, is something far more special, an epic slice of delicious delirium that should top many year-end Best Of lists and pave the way for a wise production company to harness his raw talent and provide him with the support and funding to go bigger, better and, yes, more bat-shit crazy with his next feature.
The Stuff You Care About:
Hot chicks – Yes.
Nudity – Gratuitous.
Gore – Holy crap yes.
Drug use – No
Bad Guys/Killers – I don’t want to give it away.
Buy/Rent – Buy it.
Mile 22 (Universal, 95 minutes, R, Blu-Ray): Mile 22, the latest collaboration between director Peter Berg and star Mark Wahlberg, doesn’t deserve a full review.
Instead, I’m going to quote verbatim from the film's own dialogue to sum up just how brainless, juvenile and god-awful this piece of garbage is:
This is such shit. This is the worst fucking shit of all the fucked-up shit we’ve ever seen. This is the shittiest most fucked up shit.
The Meg (Warner Bros., 113 minutes, PG-13, 4K Ultra HD): Back in August, I gave The Meg a dismal 1.5 stars in a blistering review for Creative Loafing Tampa Bay.
I decided to revisit the film (in stunning 4K, no less) to see whether maybe I was just having a bad day, and had unfairly lambasted the giant prehistoric shark thriller.
If anything, I was being kind.
Single White Female
Gas Food Lodging
Now on Video-on-Demand:
Lasso (Epic Pictures/Dread Central Presents, 97 minutes, Unrated, Video-on-Demand): If there’s a reason to watch Lasso, the feature-length debut of director Evan Cecil, it’s Sean Patrick Flanery.
Flanery (The Boondock Saints) plays Ennis, a one-armed rodeo cowboy who is a star attraction at Hackett Rodeo, the wild west extravaganza that a group of active senior citizens decides to visit at the start of the film.
Lasso is long on solid, gory deaths but very short on pertinent details, the main one being that it refuses to provide any clues as to what the fuck is happening or why. Cecil drops one clue about midway through where he shows several of the rodeo workers shooting up with an illegal anabolic horse steroid, which I guess fills them with a crazed bloodlust to skewer paying customers, but that second of screen-time is just not enough explanation.
As someone who appreciates the works of Herschell Gordon Lewis, who delivered many films with a similar, bare-bones approach to plot, I get that an enjoyable horror flick doesn’t need a ton of justification for the carnage. Sometimes, though, it’s nice to have, if only to help connect the audience more to the characters fighting to stay alive.
Lasso focuses on a handful of key characters. In addition to Ennis, there’s Simon (Andrew Jacobs, Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones), an aide to the seniors whose own backstory is pretty sparse; as well as a few other abductees with varying degrees of sympathy and/or selfish aims to stay alive.
The film, at least for me, played mostly as a study in contrasts between Ennis and Simon, who comes off like a disaffected, moody millennial compared to Flanery’s heroic appendage-challenged tough guy.
In one telling sequence, Simon refuses to even attempt to use an outdated computer to call for help while Ennis is busy digging himself out of a human burial pit after his other arm was ripped off by a lasso-wielding bad guy.
Where Lasso excels, and what horror fans care about, is its abundance of bloody gore. Characters are branded, drawn and quartered, killed with baling hooks and disemboweled with a double-edged saw.
BVB had the chance to speak to Jacobs by phone about his role and the film in general, and it was clear that even he had no idea exactly what to make of Lasso. Jacobs said it wasn’t uncommon for him to confer with his castmates during shooting to try to figure out “what the hell is happening” throughout the film.
“It was something, like I said, reading it, a lot of the stuff in the script, I had no idea where it was going to go,” Jacobs said, laughing.
He's absolutely right. Even after watching Lasso, I have no idea exactly what Cecil was trying to accomplish, but there's still enough here for people to enjoy.
Mrs. Claus (Wild Eye Releasing, 86 minutes, Unrated, Video-on-Demand): Of all the holidays, Christmas has spawned the most yuletide gore with a slew of iconic films ranging from the Silent Night, Deadly Night franchise to the one-two punch of successive, superior Xmas slashers, Red Christmas (2016) and Once Upon a Time at Christmas (2017).
Now comes Mrs. Claus, which is basically a low-budget riff on Black Christmas, starring genre icons Helene Udy (My Bloody Valentine, The Incubus) and Brinke Stevens (Sorority Babes in the Slimeball Bowl-O-Rama).
The film opens decently with a sorority hazing prank gone wrong (with a giant black jelly dong, no less), that is followed by a vicious stabbing and then the suicide of the girl who was hazed who did the stabbing in retaliation.
Jump forward 10 years, and Danielle (Hailey Strader), the sister of the sorority president who hazed the girl and then was stabbed, has pledged the same sorority and is even living in the same sorority house. Because, why not, right?
She immediately receives an email with a cryptic holiday jingle that ends with an ominous warning: All you sisters are going to die!
That’s followed immediately by the mother of the hazed pledge who killed herself showing up to berate Danielle for being related to the girl who hazed her daughter who her daughter then killed.
It’s a lot to keep up with, I know.
Mrs. Claus tries its best to follow the tried-and-true slasher template, and while some of the kills are inspired (a Christmas tree pole extender gets put to a workout), nothing can hide the fact that this is amateur hour, at best, despite the honest intentions of everyone involved.