Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Review: A Black Heart in White Hell

Text © Richard Gary / Indie Horror Films, 2015
Images from the Internet

A Black Heart in White Hell
Written, directed, edited and scored by Dustin Wayde Mills
Cumpleshack Films / Dustin Mills Productions (DMP)
32 minutes, 2015
DVD available HERE
VoD available HERE:

Western culture’s idea of Heaven and Hell is actually a relatively new concept. Oh, sure, there has almost always been a vision of the afterlife, be it hangin’ out with Ra or Osiris. However, while Heaven being a place of beauty and Hell of torment may have been sparked by the likes of the Bible that hinted at it, what we know of it comes from both later literature (such as Dante’s Inferno and Paradisio [both 1472], and John Milton’s Paradise Lost [1667]) and art (numerous paintings in the Renaissance especially were quite graphic; check out the gruesome work of Hieronymus Bosch [d. 1516]).

In our present time, Heaven and Hell have become more of a concept, with the punishment becoming honed specifically for the person to be penalized. A couple of examples of this include an amazing Richard Matheson story from the original Twilight Zone in 1960, Paul Simon selling his soul to the Devil and being stuck on an elevator for eternity as Elevator Music versions of his songs play on a 1980s Saturday Night Live, and even The Devil in Miss Jones (1973), where a virgin who commits suicide learns through multiple and varied experiences to need sex, and then is denied orgasms.

In a similar beginning to Miss Jones, at the start of this film we meet the multi-inked main character, identified only as The Woman (Reagan Root), who gets into a tub and grabs a gun after writing on the mirror, in blood (not saying whose) “Not Sorry.” As this is the slogan for the film, I don’t believe I’m revealing much. Well, the trailer will tell the story up to here, anyway.

She awakes in the room which is completely covered in white that is the locus of the rest of the film. All that’s there is an old computer monitor (with the cathode tube, which I’m guessing Dustin wisely got in a garage sale for real cheap), a couch and a garbage container.

I don’t usually do this, but due to the complexity of the story and the shortness of the film, there will be some spoilers in only the next paragraph. This is something I almost never do, so please forgive me, or just skip to after the picture.

The Black Heart of the title is reference to the woman due to her cold naturedly killing three dudes in graphic mode with various weapons, though it’s never explained why she did them in. I can live with that in a film of this length. That she has to apply those same weapons on herself I’m assuming is part of the punishment.

Mills started his career doing weird comedies like Puppet Monster Massacre (2010) and Zombie A-Hole (2012), and then did the extremely serious and excellent Skinless (2013; all three reviewed elsewhere on this and another blog). In the last couple of years, his films have turned ever darker, delving into extreme images on line with the likes of Audition (1999) with titles such as Kill That Bitch (2014), Her Name Was Torment (2014) and The Hornet’s Sting and the Hell It’s Caused (2014). I have not had the opportunity to see those later ones, as of yet. But one thing is definitely clear: Mills’ output has been vastly improving. I mean, his skill as a filmmaker was actually better than most right out of the gate, but his artistic turns here using the sharp and highly contrast black and white, with no dialog other than a clip from the public domain and appropriate Betty Boop cartoon, “Minnie the Moocher (1932; the entire short is available on the DVD among the numerous extras) are quite effective in setting the mood and the action.

Like most auteur genre directors, Mills has his tropes, which tend to crop up in his films regularly. Here you can find lots of blood, gore, nudity, and the occasional creepy and wondrous sock-and-latex-sourced monster puppets (he discusses the makings of these on his Facebook page, so again, not really giving too much info).

Two of his most common regulars also appear here, but rather than themes, they are people, namely Brandon Salkil (dude, you realize that you die in just about all of your friend’s films, right?), and actor/reviewer/director (I look forward to seeing his directorial review, Slimy Little Bastards) Dave Parka, who vlogs under the name MrParka. I’m a fan of Brandon from Zombie A-Hole Days as he is, in my opinion, the new Bruce Campbell (well, additional Campbell); Parker, a more recent Mills addition, shows that he is really improving in his acting chops, as he give a solid, albeit short performance here. Root also does an solid job holding up this movie as its central character, doing well in putting subtleties of emotion – or lack of them when necessary – still managing to make her somewhat pitiable by the end.

One of the aspects I also like about Mills’ work is the subtle way he uses themes we’re all familiar with, and incorporates them in a way that gives them a new twist so they come out as original. For example, there is the aforementioned Miss Jones opening, and also present is a bit of Groundhog Day (1993) and the Donald Sutherland version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978).

Mills gets a lot of his 30 minutes, that is both extremely simplistic in its presentation (much like Buddy Holly’s music, it is actually more detailed on closer observation), and complex in its messaging. I like the way Mills works, his trove of cast and crew members, and the way he uses latex and wool, in a fine mix of appliances and digital.

The extras on the DVD (not of Video on Demand) are plentiful, as I said, including the aforementioned Betty Boop cartoon, two original short films at 10 minutes per, and an audio commentary.

If you like some of the greasy and gooey, the monsters and the pain, then this will make a good introduction to check out and get you to jump on the Dustin Wayde Mills train, because as usual, he’ll take you on a helluva ride!

Trailer HERE 

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