Friday 16 October 2020

Antrum: The Deadliest Film Ever Made (USA 1979/2018: Dir David Amito, Michael Laicini)

Well I'm still here. The mystery surrounding Antrum - 'The Deadliest Film Ever Made' according to the strapline - is an all too rare example of a movie surrounded by hype these days. The comparison with the fuss surrounding The Blair Witch Project (in concept if not execution), the last big release with similar pre-release mystery attached, is apt because that movie is 21 years old now.

Taken at face value 'Antrum', the movie within the movie here, is even older. Supposedly filmed back in 1979, the documentary segments that bookend the thing give an account of the troubled history of 'the film that kills': the death of film programmers after they watched it following its submission to film festivals in 1983; the first screening in Budapest in 1988, resulting in a fire that emanated from the auditorium, killing all of the 56 people in the audience; and the only other showing, in San Francisco in 1993, resulting in a riot triggered by the audience eating acid spiked popcorn; and the tracking down of the sole copy of the film at an auction, which seems to have been doctored with added subliminal sounds and images. 

"You don't jump out of your seat with scares," assesses one talking head after having watched a segment of the movie: "it just gets under your skin." And that's a pretty fair assessment of the film, which starts with that good old publicity stunt, the on screen disclaimer: Mr Castle would have been proud.

Oralee (Nicole Tompkins), her mother Amber (Kristel Elling) and her younger brother Nathan (Rowan Smyth) have just witnessed their dog Maxine being put down. On the way back in the car, Nathan asks whether the dog has gone to heaven? "No," mum replies, "Maxine isn't in heaven because she was bad." This information leads to Oralee and Nathan hiking out into the woods to an area where, according to Oralee - who seems to know a lot about this stuff - "the devil landed when he was cast out of heaven, and at that very spot, we'll find an entrance to hell; the antrum."

When the pair hit upon the location, they begin to dig, and as they get deeper, the screen flashes up with the levels that they've achieved; the intention being to re-connect with hell bound Maxine. It's not clear whether Oralee really believes any of this or whether the whole thing is for Nathan's benefit, although she has a book with her - a grimoire - which she seems to treasure, containing a lot of details about the realms of hell. But what they do eventually find is satanic, but ultimately far more prosaic than they were expecting.

'Antrum' the movie within the movie runs for some 78 minutes, after which a brief end section attempts to understand the nature of the manipulation of the print and offer an explanation for the backmasking, audio disturbances and additional images - sigil - printed onto the 35mm copy. 

The story of 'Antrum' is pretty thin, and it's really only the subliminal sequences that make it of interest. It feels authentically like a 1970s movie - the colour palette looks convincing, and the overall feel of the piece is very much of its time; it even convinces that it's a US movie when it was actually filmed in Canada. And there are some odd little tics in the movie - like the inclusion of a puppet squirrel - that suggest some fun is being had here.

Less convincing is the po faced narration - too mannered and stilted to be convincing - and the cod satanic explanations, which, when offered up with re-runs of certain sequences in the film, just expose the hokey and rather clumsy concept behind it all.

I admire Amito and Laicini for what they tried to do, and I'm a sucker for a gimmick as much as the next film fan, but there was something about Antrum that, and this seems to be stating the obvious, slightly fell apart when deconstructed. Cool squirrel though.

Danse Macabre will release Antrum in UK Cinemas on 23rd October and on DVD & Digital from 26th October, 'over forty years after its original release' (states the publicity).

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