Every so often, a new sub-category of fright film comes along that takes the horror community by surprise, generated by a one film with a simple idea, capturing it onto celluloid, and delivering it to a mass audience. When that one film that starts a revolution and re-vitalizes interest in the genre his it big, it then becomes a blueprint for other films to carbon copy it in hopes of duplicating the same interest and revenue of its successful template. When The Last Broadcast and The Blair Witch Project were made and released, a substantial amount of copy-cat films were made that intended to replicate the same, exact low budget, shaky-cam, cinema verite-style of filmmaking that are still being produced ad nauseam as this review is being written. As with the release of Paranormal Activity, there was a sudden boom in films being made that followed the same formula almost to the letter having titles that were so similar to it to purposely draw unsuspecting viewers who had been terrified by that film to buy, download and rent their little unknown low budget prospect in hopes of finding an audience.
The same could be said about the countless number of movies available at rental kiosks and on streaming sites around the world bearing titles having the prefixes, “A Haunting In…” or “The Haunting Of…” that have inundated viewers everywhere with an innumerable myriad of different stories and tales of spirits taking over homes and possessing innocent young bodies all beginning with one successful film that all of them have modeled after in one way, shape or form. In 2005, Eli Roth unleashed Hostel on the movie going public. It was a different type of film that no one had ever seen before and based on the simple premise of a group of kids traveling to a foreign country in hopes of hyper-satisfying one or more carnal urges – usually sex and drugs – and meeting their gruesome demise by locals who have more in store for them than just providing them with the simple pleasures mentioned before. The film became so wildly popular and made enough money that it spawned a new sub-genre of horror film that would soon come to be known as “torture porn” or simply, “gorno”, a term given to these films for their combination of sex and horrific acts of human mutilation, all the for sake of pleasure.
Within the next few years after Hostel’s release, we would not only get two sequels, but many films following in the same vein such as Turistas, Wolf Creek, the re-make of the 70’s classic I Spit on Your Grave, and The Human Centipede. It’s surprising how popular these kinds of movies are, especially with most of them following the same premise of a group of young Americans venturing to the other end of the world in search of fun followed by the locals using the textbook modus operandi of capture, torture, and kill and because of that, I said “good-bye” to them many years ago and gave them all a fictitious phone numbers in case any of them had the intention of keeping in touch.
So when Anarchy Parlor (also simply known as Parlor) came knocking on my front door, I looked through the peep hole and immediately claimed that the person they were looking for had moved somewhere far, far away. But after it having stood out on my porch for what felt like an eternity, I reluctantly let it in and made small talk as it took a seat in my living room. With what I’ve seen and with what I know about “gorno” films, I was expecting this to be a very quick meeting with no intentions of a second date but after a full ninety minute conversation, I discovered that the premise here is exactly the same of the aforementioned films above with a group of six young kids in their early twenties vacationing in Lithuania in search of booze, pleasure and adventure. We meet them in what appears to be a disco or nightclub doing what most college kids would do while away vacationing in a strange country: partying out on the town, boozing it up and having a good time. The first twenty minutes of the film goes from the disco to them being invited to a party by a tatted-up, tall blonde local named Uta, surrounded at both venues by some of the best and most hypnotizing mid-tempo electronic dance music I’ve ever heard in a film. Seriously, I rewound and watched these introductory scenes a second time just to listen to the music again. Uta then seduces one of the six and convinces another to come to a local tattoo parlor to get some ink that will end up commemorating the trip. It is here where we meet a man simply known as “The Artist” who has a penchant for human skin being used as “the ultimate canvas” and learn that Uta is his apprentice. Here, the thirty minute mark is reached, and the film takes off.
The film itself is lushly and beautifully photographed and it takes the conventionalities of the typical film of this nature and places them in the unique setting of a tattoo parlor and the tattoos themselves becoming part of the plot. Veteran actor Robert LaSardo was a surprise to see here as “The Artist” and many horror fans will remember him from Wishmaster 2 and Human Centipede 3. 80s kids like myself, though, will definitely remember him as Spooky from the cult classic Short Circuit 2. His demure and subtle portrayal of his character here was one of the few reasons that I stayed with the film until its finale just to see how far he was going to take it and it was unfortunate that the others in the film couldn’t come close to matching the brilliance of LaSardo’s performance. The score and soundtrack are fantastic and give the film a mood that completely mirrored what was taking place on the screen but at the same time, the oversexed and rather juvenile dialogue and gore scenes brought the film down from what could have been a fantastic and remarkable piece of art.
The best thing about Anarchy Parlor is its positively surreal and dream-like settings, thanks to directors Devon Downs and Kenny Gage and for a directorial debut, this delivers without a doubt. I was thrilled to see that an overly familiar premise from an even more overly familiar sub-genre of horror was taken in a new direction and given a unique and completely fresh perspective, even when the end result was nothing of what I had hoped for. Watch it for the original and bizarre storyline and sit in front of it to hear the music and score enjoying it at least once just for LaSardo, if nothing else. The worst was the disheartening I felt to see a beautiful piece of well directed, lovingly photographed, and well scored modern horror cinema fail to completely please due to the shortcomings of dreadful acting, sometimes laugh-out-loud dialogue and what appeared to be extreme violence of the uninspired persuasion that at times could have left a bigger mark – no pun intended – had it been left implicit for the viewer rather than explicit.