It’s curious that David Amito and Michael Laicini’s Antrum should come around not too long after Shudder’s Cursed Films documentary series examining the troubling production and lingering aura of certain infamous horror movies. I should say that with a pinch of salt, though, as Antrum does appear to be making something of a belated debut here, having premiered in the USA as long ago as October 2018.
Some horror movies come with a character or infamy of their own. Either that, or they come with handy support from public relations experts on hand to inflate or invent that infamy in order to shift units and sell tickets. Adding to the occasional sense of hysteria is the idea that a movie itself can be dangerous. Either because of some cursed accident that befell the production or due to the violent, offensive or outright dangerous nature of the finished product. The marketing for Wes Craven’s 1972 The Last House on the Left practically appealed to the bravery, or lack of, of potential viewers by inviting them, should they dare, to endure a movie so heinous that it would be sure the induce fainting spells unless the protective mantra: “it’s only a movie” was offered up like a prayer.
Antrum’s premise is a superb one. You are watching a copy of the only existing print of a movie so dangerous that anyone who watches it meets death swiftly. The movie, so the opening pseudo-documentary section goes, was submitted to various festivals in the 70s and 80s but rejected each time, with festival directors perishing mysteriously shortly thereafter. A screening in Budapest in 1988 was followed by a fire that destroyed the theatre. A one-off screening in 1993 went similarly badly; afterwards, the movie itself seems to have been lost.
Lucky for you then, viewer, that you are privileged to watch the only copy known to exist. It has been passed around over the years and adulterated with other films, but you have now, at least, a chance to savour the most dangerous movie ever made.
Thrillingly, a legal disclaimer appears on-screen waiving the distributor’s liability in case you should die following the viewing, and a clock ticks downwards from 30. It’s at that point that everything starts to go pear-shaped for the wrong reasons.
Having built its own sense of allure pretty well in its first ten minutes, it’s perhaps no surprise that the eventual movie within the movie doesn’t live up to the sobriquet of “most dangerous”. Antrum itself is a cod folk horror which sees a woman and boy digging a hole to hell to retrieve a recently euthanised dog. The whole enterprise is made all the weirder by the boy’s insistence on using a homemade book of spells to hurry the progress along, a move which injects a sense of unreality to the venture as increasingly unpleasant images and visions impinge.
The decision to go for a slow, building sense of dread, rather than bells and whistles funhouse horror is a laudable one. You can see Amito and Laicini have a love of grim, exploitative genre cinema and have managed a relatively faithful recreation of the sort of dreck that fills the shelves of niche Instagram accounts. The issue is that you find yourself being enveloped by a creeping sense of dissatisfaction and, dare I say it, boredom, as things plod along. Had Antrum been a genuine movie in its own right, I doubt too many would be celebrating its rediscovery.
Horror | USA, 2018 | 15/18 | Cinema 23rd October / DVD &Digital HD 26th October (UK) | Danse Macabre | Dir.Michael Laicini, David Amito | Nicole Thompkins, Rowan Smyth, Dan Istrate