[BAFF 2019] 'Antrum: The Deadliest Film Ever Made' may not really kill, but is effective nonetheless
Using gimmicks to promote a horror flick traces back to the very beginning of the genre. Alfred Hitchcock denying entrance after the start of his movie, William Castle pairing “fear insurance” or vomit bags with his films, and Ruggero Dedodato convincing his actors to ‘disappear” for a year to add further realism to Cannibal Holocaust. However, do the gimmicks work?...
...Sometimes. Sometimes the efforts result in the loss of money and other times lead to murder charges. It’s always a gamble when the directors and producers decide to attach a gimmick to their motion picture. Antrum, The Deadliest Film Ever Made plays with a similar gimmick as the movie advertises itself as a feature so dangerous, everyone who watches it will die. This ‘cursed’ film supposedly possess such evil, to watch the movie in its entirety will doom any viewer. Directors David Amito and Michael Laicini presented the picture at the Buried Alive Festival yesterday, and as far as I know, the audience members remain alive. Unlike the opening segment of the film, no electrocutions, riots, poisoning, or fires occurred, so it appears Amito and Lacini did not present a picture made by the actual devil. At least we hope so.
The movie begins with a BBC style documentary in which Antrum aficionados and film critics gather to discuss the mythology and urban legends which surround the picture. We learn more about the history of Antrum, but little becomes revealed about the actual plot. Instead, the first ten minutes of the movie serve as a ‘film within a film’ and provides warnings about Antrum because the images will cause seizures, anxiety, panic, and of course…death. And since the creators of the documentary have recently found the original copy of Antrum, we are about to enjoy the deadliest film ever made.
Within the documentary portion of the movie we learn Antrum came from Eastern Europe and was probably created some time in the 1970s. And I have to say, the directors do well with their commitment to stylizing a ‘found’ film. As we transition from documentary to the actual feature, the opening credits depicts two siblings clad in 70s-style clothing and even the physical appearance of the film gives the impression we are watching an older movie. Antrum does not completely erase all traces of the present day, but the grainy appearance of the picture in certain scenes does help with convincing the audience the film hails from the 70s.
The plot of the film involves Oralee (Nicole Tompkins) and her little brother Nathan (Rowan Smyth) leaving home because their dog died, and they have a terrible mother. For some reason, the sister knows the exact location where Lucifer fell to Earth and now the siblings plan to dig up the spot as an attempt to save their dog’s soul. Why? Because digging a hole leading to hell will free the spirit of their beloved pet. Following instructions from a hand-written book, Oralee explains to her little brother the various spells of protection they must perform in order to successfully dig the hole to hell. She claims a mysterious man named Ike passed all this info to her, thus making her an expert on the subject. Oralee believes she is creating a way for her brother to cope with their incredibly disinterested mother and the recent loss of their dog, but as they descend through the layers, the boundary between make-believe and actual occurrences abruptly ends.
The movie proves difficult to look away from, not because of gross displays or a particularly compelling plot, but the picture visually engages with the audience. Images relating to demons and the occult appear throughout the film (the documentary portion claims there are over 100 such occurrences) which greatly adds to the ‘cursed’ film narrative. Sometimes the images appear to the main characters, allowing the boy and girl to witness as their surroundings become more sinister. Other times visuals intended solely for the audience appear as Latin warnings, pentagram shaped cigarette burns, or gruesome displays of violence quickly flash across the screen. With the combination of ephemeral music, guttural whisperings, a satanic plotline, and demonic imagery, it is a good thing this film was actually released in present day because this movie would have broken the 70s.
And while the story of two children digging a hole to hell may seem like a family friendly outing with plenty of sunshine and beautiful nature, the brother and sister soon learn they are not alone in these woods. The movie plays with the tried and true theme of 1970s horror films that if young people venture out into nature, they will quickly discover creepy weirdos who make up for their lack of social niceties with demented murderous tendencies. It seems these woods inspire people to partake in some pretty intense acts of torture (self-inflicted and the regular kind). The directors incorporate images of seppuku and a Brazen Bull (torture device supposedly used in ancient Rome) which makes it seem these woods really do serve as some kind of meeting place for death and evil because a few different cultures convene in the forest to make some kind of death-related offering.
The Antrum portion of the movie takes a bit to find an appropriate pace and develop a connection between the brother and sister, but the slow rise of evil matches the theme of 70s films without completely leaving behind fans of present-day horror cinema. The characters, music, throw-back to the 70s appearance, and demonic surprises make Antrum an enjoyable watch, but does the gimmick of the documentary actually add to the tension and scare factor? I think it does. A couple times the documentary portion might over explain the reasoning behind some of the deaths associated with the film, but the true story aspect explained in the intro and outro allows for an interesting level of reality. Suspend your disbelief and approach the movie like any type of found footage film or feature claiming to be “based on a true story” and you will be rewarded. And rest assured, dear reader because no harm will befall you if you watch the film. I mean…I’m still alive. For now.
By Amylou Ahava