by Jason Coffman
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Toetag Pictures has become a major name in underground horror, perhaps best known for its notorious August Underground trilogy of “found footage” serial killer “home movies.” Their more traditionally narrative films have been very different beasts: The Redsin Tower is basically a “teens go to a haunted place to party and get murdered” movie that veers from dull setup to extremely gruesome and disturbing violence for its last act, while last year’s Maskhead used low-quality video to tell the fractured story of a group of people involved in making snuff porn movies. Maskhead was much closer in tone and look to the August Underground and Murder Collection films, making it seem like more a step sideways than up— the film featured more narrative and character development, but had a low-tech look more akin to Toetag’s fake “found footage” works.
When Toetag announced their latest film, Sella Turcica, earlier this year along with a brief description that sounded like a take on Bob Clark’s classic Deathdream, no one quite knew what to expect. Other than, of course, some impressively gruesome special effects. Now that it’s here, the phrase “Toetag movie” is going to need some serious re-evaluation. Sella Turcica is a huge leap forward for both Toetag and director and Toetag founder Fred Vogel.
After a mysterious accident leaves him in a wheelchair and several men in his unit dead or disabled, Sgt. Bradley Adam Roback (Damien A. Maruscak) is honorably discharged and returned to his family. His mother Karmen (Camille Keaton, star of the original I Spit on Your Grave) frets and works around the house while his sister Ashley (Jade Risser) and brother Bruce (Sean P. McCarthy) help prepare for Brad’s homecoming. Tension mounts when Ashley’s boyfriend Gavyn (Harvey Daniels) shows up and decides to hang around to meet Brad, despite his somewhat contentious relationship with Bruce. When Brad arrives, he looks deathly pale and acts erratically. Over the next twenty-six hours, his condition deteriorates and his family is forced to face the fact that what has returned to them is not exactly the Brad they remembered.
Shot on high-definition digital video, Sella Turcica instantly sets itself apart from previous Toetag productions with a bright, colorful daytime opening credits sequence. This segues directly into scenes of Brad’s family preparing for his arrival, and once he arrives we spend a lot of time watching the characters interact with each other. In fact, for the vast majority of the film, Sella Turcica is more of a family drama than anything else. Knowing it’s a Toetag film, however, means that this lead-up feels like waiting for a bomb to go off. It’s only in its gruesome finale that the film finally moves into familiar Toetag territory with scenes of intense violence. However, all the time spent with the characters pays off, as the impact of the ending hits like a punch in the gut.
Sella Turcica isn’t perfect, of course— the acting is all over the place, and the deliberate pace will likely put off anyone looking for quick thrills (or, specifically, the immediate gratification of Murder Collection). Still, this is easily the best and most accessible film Toetag has released yet, proving beyond any doubt that they are more than just a particularly gifted special effects house. I can hardly wait to see where they go from here.
Sella Turcica is available on DVD from Toetag Pictures through their official site and is also available at Diabolik DVD. Special features include commentary with director Fred Vogel and actor Damien Maruscak, deleted scenes, an outtake reel, behind-the-scenes special effects featurette, still galleries and trailers for this and other Toetag releases.
Jason Coffman is a film writer living in Chicago. He writes reviews for Film Monthly and “The Crown International Files” for Criticplanet.org.
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