Review: Cassadaga (18) / Director: Anthony Diblasi / Screenplay: Bruce Wood, Scott Poiley / Starring: Kelen Coleman, Kevin Alejandro, J Larose, Louise Fletcher, Rus Blackwell / Release Date: Out Now
This latest release from the generally-reliable After Dark horror label is, if you’ll pardon the pun considering the subject matter (and especially the opening sequences which will have you squirming in your seat), a cut way above the standard of the tide of cheap and cheerless straight-to-DVD genre titles which come Starburst’s way. Anthony Diblasi’s Cassadaga, an intense and powerful combination of Italian giallo and Southern Gothic horror, is actually slick and accomplished enough to deserve a cinematic release.
Way more subtle and affecting than tiresome slashers like Saw and Hostel, Cassadaga deftly dances with familiar ghostly supernatural tropes before changing partners in mid-stream and drifting in the direction of torture porn with its depictions of mutilation and graphic body horror. But there’s more to Cassadaga than a few cheap thrills and a bit of gratuitous gore; this is a horror film with a touch of style and intelligence as well as some sturdy performances and striking, evocative cinematography.
At first we seem to be on recognisable territory. Following the death of her younger sister in a traffic accident, deaf art student/teacher Lily More (Kelen Coleman) seeks solace at the spiritualist community of Cassadaga (which really exists) in Florida. She quickly takes up with her star pupil’s single father Mike (Alejandro, True Blood’s Jesus) and a visit to a local spiritualist brings her into contact with an angry, restless spirit which sets out to torment her day and night, leading her and those around her to question her sanity. It soon appears that the vengeful spirit is directing her towards a series of unsolved disappearances which are inevitably connected to the masked figure merrily mutilating young women in a basement and replacing their limbs with doll parts so he can turn them into marionettes. This is Geppetto, the local insane serial killer…
There’s plenty of good, meaty stuff here but the film’s problem is that there’s so much going on that some elements of the plot are a bit undercooked and characters come and go from the story without much explanation. Coleman is excellent as the strong-willed, determined Lily but her new boyfriend Mike, who looks as if he’s going to be integral to the resolution of the sometimes-meandering storyline, disappears when his ex-wife gets wind of his new relationship and he never shows his face again. Geppetto too, remains a bit of a mystery. He’s a ruthless and merciless killer but he’s a bit on the bland side because the film doesn’t tell us what motivates him, why he does the things he does; as a consequence he’s just depicted as a mad butcher who, in the last reel, becomes simply another lumbering murderer chasing a pretty screaming girl. Also a bit of a puzzler is why Lily is depicted as deaf; it doesn’t actually add anything to the story, other than making her appear a bit more vulnerable than the ballsy girls who usually strut through horror films waiting to get their throats slit and much of the time her deafness is barely referenced and it’s easy to forget, such is the confidence of Coleman’s performance, that the character’s deaf at all.
Cassadaga, however, is a richly-atmospheric piece which, refreshingly, takes its time and is happy to let its characters develop at their own pace which makes them somewhat more relatable than the usual horror cannon fodder. Diblasi’s direction is bold and confident and the film only really falters because of the scope of its ambition, its desire to depict believable people whilst combining the derivative ‘ghostly figure’ horror clichés with more graphic mutilation horror without really ever allowing either element the room to breathe. The film remains a quiet triumph though and, for once, is a bit of a gem amidst the flotsam and jetsam of straight-to-DVD horror titles. It’s well worth tracking down.
Special Features: None