Considering I’m always on the lookout for new indie horror hitting Amazon Prime as well as horror with gay elements, when a bunch of horror shorts and a couple of full-length features by director Armand Petri hit the streaming service all at once, I cyber tossed them right into my watchlist.
When horror directors clean up nicely.
Petro’s passion for telling stories despite the challenges directors face in a fundless film industry these days shines through as he delivers everything from serious supernatural tales with commentary on gay issues to campy, sexy horror.
TUJUNGA HORROR STORY (2013)
This 7-minute, humorous short is about a couple moving into a new home once owned by a silent film producer and meeting a few characters – an energetic real estate guy, a hot handyman, and a crazy neighbor with an ominous warning for them.
I was left confused by the disconnected ghost ending, but then I discovered this is just the pilot of “season 1” of what is probably a web series.
On imdb, it’s listed as a 4-episode season, so I’m not sure why just the pilot was put up on Amazon Prime.
THE NYMPH (2014)
Another one that seems to fall short of delivering a full story, The Nymph is a bigger tease. Running 20 minutes, it gets us much more involved in the plot before coming to what feels like an abrupt, incomplete ending.
A seemingly happy young woman has a dark secret…she’s some sort of non-human that must feed on flesh. And apparently she’s feasting on the men she dates.
Things get darkly comic when she hires a man to help her clean up her latest kill and he shows her how to make the food last longer. Director Armand Petri himself plays the cleanup man.
Just when she thinks she’s got control of her urges, two detectives come snooping around. The conclusion could be read as one of those “you know how this is going to turn out” endings, but the main character is so lively and dynamic you just want to see more of her…eating cute guys…
This 15-minute short focuses on a man experiencing nightmares as a result of the guilt he feels for giving his ex HIV then leaving him.
But when he goes to that ex for comfort, he discovers the dark truth behind his sinister dreams.
Undetectable comes with a bit of a Twilight Zone twist at the end.
BAYOU GHOST STORY (2017)
Instead of going the Paranormal Activity copycat route, Petri takes a different approach to creating suspense and atmosphere with his full-length supernatural tale Bayou Ghost Story.
Structured as a documentary, it has a paranormal investigator down in Louisiana interviewing people about a family curse. While there’s a lot of dialogue as a result, there are flashback sequences to what the individuals experienced, and some of the scene are quite creepy – beginning with the opener.
Although we never see much in the way of apparitions, Petri demonstrates a great ability to create atmosphere and build suspense and tension. Particularly when you realize that a majority of the scenes are shot in full daylight, and it’s the use of camera angles, sun and shadows, and music cues that are so effectively delivering the foreboding feeling.
An old tree in particular plays an ominous role in the film, its presence felt in a way reminiscent of how inanimate objectives used to be brought to life on camera in horror movies back in the 1970s. There’s no telling what Petri could accomplish with a bigger budget.
And while this isn’t a “gay horror” film, it’s pretty much a gay horror film.
Most of the male characters give off a gay indie film vibe—especially since they spend plenty of time shirtless, showering, and showing off ripped, glistening bods.
REEL NIGHTMARE: BOOK OF WITCHCRAFT (2017)
This is Petri’s most conventional film, sort of a low budget play on the Night of the Demons/Evil Dead plot that also flirts with found footage structure but doesn’t lock us into first person camera perspective.
A group of college film students enters an old mansion to shoot a thesis about the history of the woman who once lived there with her daughters…the three of them accused of witchcraft.
Before the group can get much footage, the lights go out and they find the book…you know the one…and read from it.
And you know how it goes from there.
Kids start getting those black demon eyes. Friends start killing each other. There’s plenty of old school neon lighting. There’s some campy humor. And there’s even a sexy gay guy.
The three witches make very limited appearances, and only come together when the film sends us a bit of a message about the pain of being ostracized by society.
Once again, due to the budget, this isn’t all out “demon” horror, so the kids just have black demon eyes, but Petri definitely captures the spirit of the movies to which he’s paying homage. However, there is noticeable restraint you don’t usually see when indie directors make horror comedies in the tradition of movies like Evil Dead and Night of the Demons.
Aside from the lack of gruesome makeup, there’s no gore, sexual situations are virtually non-existent beyond the gay guy flaunting his stuff, and even the humor, which is quick and clever, is still subtle and low-key rather than fast and furious.
In fact, Armand Petri himself plays a role in Reel Nightmare, and he’s great with comic timing and delivery, so I’m surprised he doesn’t exploit himself more. I feel there’s this wild horror animal in him just dying to let loose a crazy full-length feature. Perhaps he’s just holding onto that one until he can really get someone to throw the money behind it. I sure hope so.