With mainstream multiplex horror now the domain of tedious scare-free franchises and lightweight thrillers aimed at unsophisticated teens, it’s left to the indie sector and the straight-to-DVD market (what’s left of it) to provide any hope of serious nasties for the more jaded palette. Sacrament (not to be confused with Ti West’s 2013 pseudo-found footage effort The Sacrament) is very definitely aimed at an audience at ease with slightly stronger material and, if such a thing were to still exist, would probably be a contender for one of the old ‘Video Nasty’ lists which bedevilled genre fans back in the 1980s.
Initially we’re in territory which seems worryingly familiar. Lee and Blake are a young couple enjoying a spring break along the Texan coast with a handful of friends. An approaching storm forces them to pitch up in the peaceful town of Middle Spring smack in the middle of the Bible Belt where barbecue season is in full swing – and the fanatically-religious townsfolk are quite fond of serving up meat hewn from the ‘sinners’ who unwittingly wander into their quiet and apparently-idyllic community. It all sounds fairly mundane but director/writer Ewert has taken the time to develop lead characters who aren’t the usual empty-headed bell-ends who tend to populate dumb horror movies. Lee, Blake and their friends are a bit more likeable and relatable than the typical vacuous air-heads of most generic slasher flicks; they smoke pot, one or two of them are carrying a few extra pounds, they call their elders ‘Ma’am’ and ‘Sir’ and, refreshingly, don’t wander around gazing blankly into their cell phones (which is, in restrospect, a shame because they could have done with some contact with the outside world when things get icky). Because we get to know them as real people – progressively, the lead couple are gay – we feel increasingly uneasy as the Middle Spring butchers close in for the kill. But kill they do and the death sequences are gruesome, graphic and more disturbing than we might expect because Ewert’s characters are a more amenable crew than the canon fodder who get what they generally richly deserve in cheap horror movies.
On a tiny budget – just $25,000 – Ewert has crafted a slick and atmospheric movie and populated it with an enthusiastic cast of unknowns (and special guest roles for Texas Chain Saw veterans Marilyn Burns – who passed away shortly after filming -and Ed Guinn), some creepy wild-eyed Bible-bashing nutjobs and layered on some decent stomach-disturbing gore. There are, inevitably, a couple of missteps; the concurrent narrative focussing on a Middle Spring victim who escapes the town but can’t escape its clutches runs out of steam halfway through the movie when Ewert clearly can’t think where to take it and the ending is frustratingly terse and disappointingly unsatisfying. Minor quibbles, in the scheme of things, for a tense and accomplished slasher which easily puts to shame the insipid efforts regularly rolled out by the Hollywood studios in the name of horror.
Special Features: Behind the scenes featurette / Cast and crew interviews / Audition footage / Deleted scenes
INFO: SACRAMENT / CERT: 18 / DIRECTOR & SCREENPLAY: SHAWN EWERT / STARRING: TROY FORD, AVERRY PFEIFFER, MARILYN BURNS, ED GUINN, AMANDA REBHOLZ / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW