While watching a short Halloween-themed horror film on YouTube, I discovered that the director, Eric England, was also responsible for the film Contracted, which was already in my pile of films to watch. Time for another segment of Direct to DVD!
MADISON COUNTY (2011)
The same year Eric England made the short horror film “The Trick or Treater,” he released a full-length backwoods slasher called Madison County. Let me just start by saying the star of “The Trick or Treater,” one Ace Marrero, is so fricking handsome—and he’s also in Madison County! Wahoo!
On the surface, it’s a pretty standard backwoods slasher. A group of five friends heads to a rural town because one guy—the adorable Colley Bailey, who was also in Donner Pass—wants to do interviews with locals about a mass murderer from the town. Personally, I would know immediately that I was just asking to be redneck dinner and would trash the whole idea. But they don’t….
The first hour is your standard stuff: the kids get a suggestion for a great shortcut from a guy they cross paths with on the road; they meet weird townsfolk and feel out of place in redneck central; they see a creepy figure running across the road with a messed up face. And so…they split up!
Madison County isn’t loaded with victims, so the body count is low. And despite being predictable, there are a couple of unique kill setups and body reveals, some good brutality, and a cool killer that wears a handcrafted pig mask and makes awful noises.
The ending is particularly evil! But it’s also oddly satisfying because one character really gets what’s deserved based on actions earlier in the film. And it’s left wide open for a sequel.
CHILLING VISIONS: 5 SENSES OF FEAR (2013)
Chilling Visions: 5 Senses of Fear is a good addition to the horror anthology genre. Obviously, the theme running through the five stories is the senses. There’s no wraparound story in the film, but there are connecting threads if you pay attention to some of the details. Very clever. Especially since each story has a different director.
TASTE – I’ll briefly cover each story, but Eric England’s vicious tale is one of my faves. Even though Ace Marrero has a role in this story, he’s not the lead, so we don’t get much of a taste of him—but he does look good in a police uniform!
This one involves a young man being considered for a “job” that he wasn’t looking for. We don’t know exactly what’s going on here…until the last few moments of gory insanity! Now this is a horror story.
SMELL – Tinged with humor, this one is about a cute young man given a fragrance that is supposed to turn his life around. It turns it around, upside down, and inside out. This is another good and gruesome story.
SEE – An eye doctor relives what his patients experience by extracting the visions they’ve seen from their eyes. But he fucks with the wrong patient. This has a nice Twilight Zone feel to it.
TOUCH – This is a great suspense tale of a young blind boy who, after his family gets into a car accident, feels his way to a house to get help…the wrong house.
LISTEN – The final story is more along the lines of a found footage film. It’s about some guys trying to reconstruct a performance video of a song that is rumored to kill anyone who listens to it.
I’ll get the bad news out of the way immediately; Eric England’s go-to hottie Ace Marrero is not in Contracted. But considering the subject matter, that’s probably a good thing.
Having already seen the body horror film Thanatomorphose, which I blogged about here, I’m amazed at how similar these movies are. They’re both about an unhappy woman who starts to rot physically in a way that matches how she feels on the inside, and if you watch them back to back, there are endless parallels between the situations. Contracted, however, mixes in paranoia about sexually transmitted disease and…zombie infection through necrophilia? That seems to be the case. And the results are not pretty.
Leading lady Samantha is already a mess, with a past using drugs and cutting herself. Plus, she’s in the midst of exploring her sexual orientation, previously with a guy, now dating a chick, and having her best female friend and a cute dude crushing on her.
It’s almost like Samantha brings on her own downfall. Or is she a victim? She goes to a party, her girlfriend blows her off, she gets drunk, and she starts talking to a guy we never see in full focus. He hands her a drink—did he slip her something so he could rape her? As they talk about her sexual orientation, she first taunts him with it, then seems to start doubting the whole lesbian thing is right for her—and finally looks at him as if thinking about hooking up with him.
Next thing you know, he’s screwing her in a car. Is he raping her? It sounds like she went voluntarily when she says, “Stop, we shouldn’t be doing this.” As she continues to tell him to stop, she doth not protest enough, because her requests never become a panicked pleading. When her palm hits a steamy car window, it mimics a typical horror cliché of a victim clawing to get away. But again, she’s not in hysterics. Is that because she’s drunk or drugged? Not sure.
Unless she’s just so beaten down by unhappiness that she accepts being the victim, her behavior during the days that follow doesn’t point to someone who was violated. She doesn’t tell any of her friends that she was assaulted. When she’s checked out by a doctor, she’s hesitant to talk about having any sexual relations. Guilt for having been raped? Guilt for having unprotected sex? Guilt for being with a man and cheating on her girlfriend? Or all of the above?
When her friend says cops have been asking about the strange guy at the party, she doesn’t see it as an open invitation to file a report or even to reveal to her friend what happened to her. Perhaps the disgusting physical symptoms (and they are gross) and humiliation overshadow her concern about having been raped. Or maybe she really just doesn’t remember because she was drugged.
It’s a pretty smart move on Eric England’s part not to make clear what Samantha has really gone through or what she’s thinking. It allows us to feel all her inner conflicts and fears about sex. Aside from being a thrill for gross-out hounds, Contracted, just like Thanatomorphose, does give you the chance to think about the state of the person rotting if you are looking for something deeper in your horror film. Is it a cautionary scare tactic? Should lesbians be up in arms because a “lesbian” is portrayed as being punished for her immoral behavior? Considering Samantha is currently fluid in her orientation and actually caught her disease from a man, the message seems to be more of a warning for lesbians to stay away from men and heterosexuality!
Maybe it’s a tale about the loss of innocence and the dangers of adult responsibility. Samantha has temporarily moved back in with her mother who is, not surprisingly, driving her crazy and robbing her of her freedom. It’s when she breaks away and goes to the party to drink and have sex (parents’ worst fears) that she gets the infection. And when her mother, who says she won’t have any of the drama in her house, still tries to help, Samantha becomes secretive and withdraws from her like a typical rebellious teen. But once things get really bad, the person Samantha turns to for protection is her mother—who welcomes her with open arms (bad idea).
In fact, Samantha doesn’t appear to appreciate any of the people who really love her and thrives instead on destructive relations. She begs for her girlfriend’s love, even though the chick treats her like shit. She hooks up with a stranger. Yet her female best friend and the guy crushing on her—the ones who truly care about her—meet horrible ends. Samantha even seems to be willing to poison them with what she has contracted.
And who is the mysterious man? Are the cops looking for him because of the nasty thing he does in a morgue in the opening scene? Is he intentionally infecting women? Was he specifically targeting Samantha? We see him again later and it looks like he’s up to his old tricks, so how many women has he done this to? Is he just a necrophiliac who wants to spread disease to other immoral individuals or is he some sort of grim reaper considering he isn’t infected with what he’s giving to others?
All the over-analyzing that can be done aside, Contracted suddenly feels like more of a conventional horror movie in the last few minutes when it finally shows its “zombie” or “infected” side. Because it’s such a last minute turn of events, viewers have over an hour to embrace the moral issues being presented in the film. I learned my lesson. When you sleep with a man, you’re also sleeping with every corpse he’s ever banged.
All that thinking gave me a horror headache. So letting go of the heavy subject matter to appreciate trivial matters, there’s an appearance by an MTV personality circa 2000 in the film. Also, the mysterious blurred infection spreader is played by a man named Simon Barrett, who has written numerous horror scripts, including You’re Next, Dead Birds, and segments of V/H/S and V/H/S 2.
THE TRICK OR TREATER and THE TRICK OR TREATER II
These two short holiday horror films are each 5 or less minutes of scary fun.
THE TRICK OR TREATER
Ace Marrero looks fantastic in the first one, which is the more macabre of the two.
THE TRICK OR TREATER II
The sequel is more dark horror humor (perverted humor) than all out horror, but Ace does have a cameo!
And finally, Eric England has another film called Roadside (starring Ace Marrero!) that is not available on DVD yet.