Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Strano Italia: HOTEL INFERNO (2013)

Experimental films by their very nature are exercises in ideas with little benefit of cashflow. Studio films are made by people who have a lot of cashflow, but very little in the way of original ideas. Art is inspired by art, but sometimes in the modern film industry the term "inspired" is used very loosely.

Necrostorm is a small digital movie production unit, based in Italy, who has made a small following based on their experimental movies over the past five years. Headed up by Giulio De Santi, their first outing was the mindblowingly insane horror/gore/surreal epic ADAM CHAPLIN (2010). CHAPLIN was made by Giulio's brother Emanuele De Santi, and when I say "made" I mean, directed, produced, written, starred, and pretty much everything else. This production brilliantly fused practical and CGI effects in a way that not only made sense logically, but looked incredible on the screen. Made for clearly very little money, it was the next stage in evolution of the shot-on-video horror movies that started back in the early '80s and evolved into back-yard shot-on-video gore flicks such as the infamous German VIOLENT SHIT (1987) series from Andreas Schnaas. While Schnass has struggled for the past 20 years to figure out how to keep up with the times, the De Santi brothers have picked up the ball and taken it places that would make Schnaas weep with envy.

While Necrostorm's second outing TAETER CITY (2012) found Emanuele De Santi absent, it firmly cemented the company's focus of pushing new ground in the near-dead SOV splatter video arena. Following TAETER CITY, is HOTEL INFERNO. This also lacks Emanuele's involvement and like TAETER CITY, it suffers from it, but it still sets precedence.

Shot entirely from a first person perspective, the movie is a video game hommage about a contract killer, Frank Zimosa (Rayner Bourton)  who is hired by an unseen (but frequently heard) client to go to a lavish resort hotel and kill a man and a woman who are accused of being notorious serial killers. The client is offering a ridiculous sum of money for this assignment, but has some stipulations that Zimosa must follow. The first is that he must wear a pair of computer glasses (clearly inspired by the disastrous Google Glass) that will not only give him HUD information but also will allow the client to record all of his movements and provide proof of the second stipulation. The second catch is that Zimosa must use only the weapons provided in his hotel room to carry out his contract.

Once arriving at the hotel Zimosa discovers that the weapons are what appear to be an ancient stone mallet and a knife and he is instructed to use them to smash open their heads and gut them, removing the contents of each. Zimosa thinks this a bit odd, but hey he's being paid a mess of money, so why not a messy kill? Zimosa quickly smashes the woman's head open and discovers that in addition to all of the blood and brains is a green liquid. He starts to freak out and runs into the bathroom to discover the male target alive in a bathtub of blood and quickly decomposing. When Zimosa starts screaming questions, the man gives him rambling barely coherent answers saying that they are just like him and he doesn't know what is going on. At this point Zimosa says "fuck you" to his client (this will happen quite a bit over the course of the movie) and tries to escape the hotel. Naturally his prolonged attempt to escape (the bulk of the movie) is hampered by the fact that the hotel is loaded with his client's strangely degenerating minions.

HOTEL INFERNO is very much a mixed bag. The use of the first person gimmick is not only original, but at times extremely effective. You could compare it to a "found footage" type of film but with the found footage movies, you know that everyone in the footage met their ultimate end, thus effectively killing any suspense. Will they live? Well, no. We already know that. Here it is much easier to suspend disbelief and a few sequences in the beginning of the movie are down-right sphincter-clenching. Also there are a few moments of inspired genius where Zimosa must improvise to overcome an attacker. The best bit comes when he rips the wires out of a light fixture, tapes the loose ends to a pair of pliers and jams them in the head of his attacker causing half of his face to literally explode off of his skull. It's a shame that there aren't more moments like that because it is one of the many bits that make the movie fun.

There is also a story that slowly unfolds which is pretty great, but unfortunately De Santi chooses to do the final exposition in two scenes in which the audience is expected to watch a guy light a bunch of candles while the plot is explained by the disembodied voice of the client. It almost feels like he couldn't figure out how to explain it during the action and just settled for two big lumps of non-action in the final act when the insanity level should be at its peak. Oddly, some of the effects seem rushed and not up to the usual reasonably high standard that has been set by previous outings. One scene in particular has Zimosa taking a chainsaw away from a subterranean gangbanger and sawing his face off. Here De Santi uses simple CG to erase the chainsaw blade, add blood and then quickly cut away. Normally we would expect De Santi to show off his mad digital skills by combining footage of the actor and a prosthetic head being sawn in half and then use CG to blend the two together to make a virtually seamless effect. Matter of fact, there are many parts of the movie that feel a little rushed, which is odd since Necrostorm is their own distributor, so they certainly don't have any deadlines to meet.

Of course this is what makes it an experimental film. Or more accurately the new film HARDCORE (2015) really defines HOTEL INFERNO as an experimental film as it is a blatant rip-off, taking the entire concept and throwing a bunch of money at it, in addition to lifting from films such as ROBOCOP (1987) and possibly even CRANK (2006). While HARDCORE (or at least its trailer) is being triumphed as the first of its kind, it's not and if for no other reason, this makes HOTEL INFERNO something of a milestone in experimental film-making and should be lauded for that.

Following Necrostorm's newly released splatter-crime epic INFIDUS (2015), Giulio De Santi has started production on a sequel titled HOTEL INFERNO: CATHEDRAL OF PAIN. Like TAETER CITY, HOTEL INFERNO has plenty of good ideas that get somewhat lost in the chaos, and it should be really interesting to see if De Santi can take those good ideas and refine them into a superior sequel.

[Edit]

After some discussion, Will did a little research and found that HARDCORE director Ilya Naishuller's video for Biting Elbow's song Bad Motherfucker actually preceded the release of HOTEL INFERNO. Bad Motherfucker was released in January of 2013 while HOTEL INFERNO was released in December of 2013. This raises the question of whether Giulio De Santi may have borrowed the first person gimmick from Naishuller, but the fact remains that HOTEL is the first feature to use it. Also, there are a few moments in HOTEL that appear to have directly influenced HARDCORE, at least judging by the trailer. We may never know whether two people had the same idea at the same time, it has happened before, but regardless HOTEL wins the "first FPS movie" badge and De Santi again has raised the bar for back-yard Euro-splatter.

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