The cream of contemporary feature-length cinema isn’t always found in theaters. These days, smaller and more niche films often implement a same-day launch, simultaneously premiering in a select-city theatrical run and on video-on-demand (VOD) services. Moreover, streaming services are now offering original films of their own. Given the dire and disposable state of the horror genre at the multiplex, these release strategies are particularly suited to reaching a wider, more appreciative audience for cinematic chills. For horror fans in a mid- to small-sized movie market such as St. Louis, online streaming and digital rental/purchase are increasingly vital means of accessing noteworthy features. What follows is a brief assessment of the major new horror (and horror-adjacent) films that have premiered on VOD within the past month.
Peter Strickland (Berberian Sound Studio, The Duke of Burgundy) is a director known for his heightened aesthetics and retro sensibility, but his latest feature – the hallucinatory horror-comedy In Fabric – is the closest he’s ever come to crafting a style-for-style’s-sake curio. The film is bifurcated into two standalone stories, although these tales take place in the same Berkshire suburb and revolve around the same demonic red dress (yes, really). Neither half of In Fabric makes a whole lot of sense – according to any logic save that of surreal 1970s Euro-horror – and the second part is markedly weaker. Yet there’s no denying that Strickland’s latest effort looks and sounds like no other genre film in recent memory. From the dark, uncanny visuals to the preposterously stylized dialogue to the bizarre, cacophonous soundscape – which includes an experimental rock score from Cavern of Anti-Matter – all the film’s elements seem designed to bestow the sensation of a waking dream, one that’s disturbing (and often funny) rather than outright scary. Rating: B [Now available to rent or purchase from major online platforms.]
There are two nice things that one can say about Jen and Sylvia Soska’s distressingly slapdash remake of David Cronenberg’s 1977 cult feature Rabid. First, star Laura Vandervoort is better than the film deserves in the role of a wannabe fashion designer who undergoes experimental plastic surgery following an accident. Second, most of the new film’s practical effects are genuinely ghastly, convincing, and (in some cases) literally jaw-dropping. As for everything else, Rabid is crummy direct-to-VOD horror at its worst, which is especially disappointing coming from the writer-directors of American Mary (2012). The new film is a thematic muddle, diluting the gangrenous premise of the original with gristly bits from The Devil Wears Prada (2006) and The Neon Demon (2016). It’s conceptually dubious, but the execution is where things truly go off the rails. The Soskas' gorehound enthusiasm – as well as the Cronenberg references they slather everywhere – can’t overcome the feature’s low budget, sloppy editing, and cringe-worthy dialogue. Rating: D+ [Now available to rent or purchase from major online platforms.]