Thursday, November 14, 2013

Prison Prescription: WRATH OF THE CROWS (2013)

Probably one of the most underrated auteurs in modern horror, Ivan Zuccon is a name that a surprising amount of horror fans are not familiar with. In spite of a thirteen year career making incredibly dark, disturbingly gory and unapologetically abstruse movies, several of which are loosely based on H.P. Lovecraft stories, Zuccon really does seem to be the definition of a "cult director". It seems that his choice of medium, digital video, is probably to blame as much as the fact that it seems like you have to be Anglo to be hot property in horror these days. His latest SOV production, WRATH OF THE CROWS, again does not seek out mainstream acceptance, but seems to be gathering a significant amount of attention.

Set almost entirely in a squalid, draconian prison, a group of inmates are subjected to regular beatings and cruel, deadly games by their fascist military captors. When a new inmate (Tiffany Shepis) is given a cell in the middle of the long-term cons, the gory mind-games take a new twist. That is pretty much all I can say about the plot without passing out spoilers like razor-blade apples on Halloween night. This outing, the latest from Zuccon, is about as twisty a horror-thriller as you could possibly ask for.


 Michael Segal (left) Ivan Zuccon (right)
Normally when you think "SOV" you think about a massive amount of efforts clogging our "Cinemasochism" section. Made with a couple of friends for no money and pimped-out like an alleged virgin in a white slavery ring. Crap metaphors aside, what I mean to say is that nine times out of ten, the marketing is the best part of the experience. I hate to bring up CANNIBAL CAMPOUT (1988) again, but that great box cover concealing the barely watchable movie, is the epitome of the SOV horror film. Where CANNIBAL CAMPOUT and it's ilk are sloppy, lazy and cheap, Zuccon's SOV films are wildly creative, stunningly atmospheric and well thought-out.

The cast of WRATH includes Zuccon regulars Michael Segal, Matteo Tosi, Emanuele Cerman, Debbie Rochon, and Brian Fortune who is particularly good as a lucid psychopath, incarcerated for the murders of christian saints (in an effort to save the world, of course). The characters do a great job feeling each other out, suspicious that one of them might be working for their sadistic jailers. While Rochon continues to impress, for me Shepis is the weakest link here as the only cast member who aims for a camp performance. She's licking her lips and swinging her hips in a black leather teddy as if she's in a ROCKY HORROR revival. Some folks will no doubt enjoy it, but I wish she could have dialed it back to match the subtler essays of the rest of the cast, but then again that seems to be her stock in trade.

I am not a fan of the "torture porn / home invasion" genres, but Ivan Zuccon's BAD BRAINS (2006) took those genre staples and turned them into something completely unexpected with a layer of surreal depth like nothing I've ever seen before. Much like BAD BRAINS, WRATH OF THE CROWS sets you up to think that you are headed into the realm of the tied-and-tortured subgenre, but flips it on its ear and not just once. Actually, that probably is my single gripe about the film. Zuccon may pull the rug out from under the viewer once too often and one of the twists is telegraphed very early on. Minor quibbles aside, in a time where self-absorbed hacks like Ti West, Drew Goddard, and f'ing Eli Roth are having their names thrown around as "exciting new talent", Ivan Zuccon is the real deal. West, Goddard nor f'ing Roth could ever in their wildest dreams make films as gripping, horrific, imaginative and complex as Ivan Zuccon, and yet the fanboys still champion them because they have massive budgets, twee actors and rip-off old (hence stupid) films. Pssshhhhaw, I say!

Moments of Clarity:

3 Reactions:

  1. I can pretty much count on one hand the number of sites I've seen Zuccon's name mentioned which is sad but reading stuff like this is good knowing that his stuff is being seen and appreciated. I've been eagerly anticipating this one ever since it was first announced not only because it was the new Zuccon but having Debbie Rochon and Tiffany Shepis in the same movie makes it a must see. Plus Shepis was fantastic in Zuccon's Nympha (2007) and the same can be said for Rochon in Colour From the Dark (2008).

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  2. I agree, Rochon's performance in COLOUR really made me sit up and take notice of her as an actress rather than a camp icon. There's a big write-up about it in our H.P. Lovecraft "Colour Out of Space" film adaptation retrospective here:
    http://originalvidjunkie.blogspot.com/2010/05/hp-lovecraft-week-colour-of-lovecraft_22.html

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  3. There are some great actors here, including Domiziano Arcangeli who has a track's record in Films, cult and Horror, that's quite unique, and you guys didn't even mention.

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