I’ve often trumpeted my love of films from the late ’70s and early to mid-’80s on this blog –particularly those of the horror genre — but have never taken a moment to discuss just why I find them so uniquely appealing. If I had to guess, I’d have to say that it is a combination of factors. For one, the majority of them were independently produced, and as such were free from big studio expectations. These productions were lean and mean, and not a bit afraid to tell stories that were far beyond the usual tropes. Couple this with quickly advancing filmmaking technology, not to mention a burgeoning industry of visual and makeup effects talent, and you’ve got the makings for a great deal of inspired and entertaining cinema. Also, in retrospect, I grew up on the stuff. What most folks revile as low-budget schlock and surreal storytelling I welcome like a warm and familiar blanket, temporarily distracting me from the horribly normal world.
Luckily for me, I have compatriots out there — filmmakers who were truly inspired by that long-gone golden era. Unlike the droves of direct-to-video hacks who now blatantly reproduce the same tired scenarios and cardboard characters (cue the radio music as the car filled with nubile ignoramuses flies down the backroads of Nowhere, USA, where folks tell of a killer on the loose…), these guys have got it down. They know how to tell a tale filled with tension and atmosphere, and more importantly, just how much of the Damned Thing to show beyond the shadows. In particular, I speak of Jeremy Gillespie and Steven Kostanski, and their fine little gem of a time capsule entitled The Void.
From the initial trailer shown online, I was ready for this one. Like It Follows before it, The Void showed a great deal of promise from the get-go: I immediately imagined John Carpenter’s Prince of Darkness and The Thing had a baby with good old Howard Phillips Lovecraft acting as midwife, and soon realized I wasn’t far off the mark. Thanks to the glories of modern digital technology, I was able to see the film on opening night with video-on-demand — otherwise, I would’ve probably had to wait until it was released on Blu-ray or DVD.
The Void doesn’t waste a bit of time getting the viewer into the story. Before we know it, Officer Daniel Carter (Aaron Poole) is delivering a mysteriously injured man to a nearby hospital — one which, due to an upcoming move to a newer building, is currently functioning in a limited capacity. Here a number of other characters are thrown into the mix, including Allison (Kathleen Monroe), the head nurse on staff, not to mention Carter’s wife, and Sheriff Mitchell, played by none other than Art Hindle, of Invasion of the Body Snatchers and The Brood fame. Pretty soon afterward things begin to go awry, as a number of creepy cultists (pictured above) encircle the building — not to enter but to keep anyone from getting out. Needless to say, but things don’t get any better for them from here.
The film continues along a disjointed and surreal path, filled with spectacular visions and horrific monstrosities. Major kudos as always from me for filmmakers who dare to simply show a story instead of telling it, awkwardly using characters to spew narrative instead of having the confidence to let the viewers sort out the goings-on for themselves. Gillespie and Kostanski have that confidence, and only allow what little information the audience needs to advance, and even then leaves a great deal to their interpretation. The practical effects are low-budget but beautifully applied, and create moments of abject horror and confoundment. Overall, the acting is serviceable but more than enough to carry the narrative, and amid the hypnagogic visuals and an atmospheric soundtrack including the work of personal fave Brian “Lustmord” Williams give a proper commentary while presenting a world gone horribly — and wonderfully — weird.
While not a direct throwback to past films per se, The Void takes its influences and hammers out a solid homage to the genre jewels of my youth and still manages to charter bold new territory. No spoilers here, but I would be very pleased if the success of this film granted the filmmakers with more opportunities to continue telling such ambitiously torrid tales. If you agree with any of the reasons listed above and The Void is playing in your area, I wholeheartedly encourage you to go see it. If not, do like I did and seek it out via video-on-demand. But to paraphrase Nietzsche, if you gaze long into The Void, it will inevitably gaze into you.