by Jason Coffman
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The combination of sex and horror in film has always been a magnet for controversy, allowing filmmakers to explore taboo themes and graphic imagery to uniquely unsettling effect. Little Deaths teams three UK genre directors for an anthology of sexually-charged horror shorts: Sean Hogan (director of Lie Still), Andrew Parkinson (director of I, Zombie) and Simon Rumley (director of Red, White & Blue) each turn in very different takes on the theme. Unlike most anthology films, Little Deaths does not feature a “wraparound” story that frames the separate sections. Instead, a simple title card introduces the audience to each segment in turn.
First up is Sean Hogan’s “House and Home,” in which a rich, bored couple (Siubhan Harrison and Luke de Lacey) stalk homeless women and bring them home under the pretense of offering the less-fortunate a bath and a warm meal. Naturally, that’s not what they’re really up to, or else this short film would be very out of place in this context, and when they bring home a young woman named Sorrow (Holly Lucas), they get a bit more than they bargained for. “House and Home” is perhaps the weakest of the three segments in that it is the most predictable, almost playing like an episode of Tales from the Crypt. It is also the most sexually graphic of the three entries, at least in any traditional sense. “House and Home” is competent— well-acted and nicely shot— but given what is to come it is simply outclassed.
Andrew Parkinson’s “Mutant Tool” ups the ante quite a bit. In this short, research scientist Dr. Reece (Brendan Gregory) crosses paths with Jen (Jodie Jameson), a former prostitute and drug addict, when her boyfriend suggests her as a test subject for the doctor’s latest project. The short follows parallel paths, showing Jen’s reaction to the experimental medication— “hallucinations” and psychic episodes brought on by touch— and the day-to-day reality of just where the medication comes from. “Mutant Tool” is an interesting and unsettling mix of Cronenbergian body horror and mundane realities that Parkinson similarly explored in his film Dead Creatures, with a good lead performance and some utterly bizarre makeup effects.
As tradition dictates, the best (and most disturbing) is saved for last: Simon Rumley’s “Bitch” depicts the very unusual relationship between Claire (Kate Braithwaite), a young woman who is utterly terrified of dogs, and Pete (Tom Sawyer), a quiet bartender. Claire and Pete’s relationship is based on games of sex and power, and Claire’s favorite game is Pete wearing a dog mask. Odd as it may seem, this is presented as just another part of their life together, but when Claire escalates the sexual games past what Pete can stand, he concocts a truly horrific revenge. Rumley’s segment revisits some of the same territory as his outstanding feature Red, White & Blue, spending plenty of time setting up the characters and allowing the audience in to their lives and minds before things inevitably go very, very bad.
Overall, Little Deaths is a good bet for fans of transgressive horror cinema. Each segment is stronger than the last, and the final product has plenty to offer horror fans looking for something unique. Also, anyone who enjoys the work of the three directors featured will certainly want to see how they tackle this type of subject matter, and they will not be disappointed. Little Deaths promises something you won’t see anywhere else, and it delivers. Just make sure it’s something you actually want to see— and don’t say you weren’t warned.
Image Entertainment released Little Deaths on DVD on 13 December 2011. Special features include a behind-the-scenes featurette.
Jason Coffman is a film writer living in Chicago. He writes reviews for Film Monthly and “The Crown International Files” for Criticplanet.org as well as contributing to Fine Print Magazine (www.fineprintmag.net).
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