Review first published by CineTalk
In the wake of the Credit Crunch when cash is in relatively short supply, if you are an independent genre filmmaker who hopes to advertise your wares to the market in the hope of attracting investment for your future full-length projects, one of the best approaches is to contribute a short piece to an anthology film. This is a different discipline from feature filmmaking, of course, requiring far greater economy in both financial outlay and storytelling technique – but it can also be a memorable calling card, allowing the director to make a strong impression without breaking the bank. The most successful recent examples of this have been V/H/S (2012) and The ABCs of Death (2012), both now franchises in their own right as well as showcases of cutting-edge genre talent at tawdry, boundary-pushing play – but before either of these was made, there was Little Deaths, a tripartite compendium whose very title (a metonymic phrase for orgasm and post-coital tristesse) promises a transgressive admixture of sex and death that the three films certainly go on to deliver.
If these kinds of films are a product of belt-tightening times, then it is only apt that the first instalment in Little Deaths should foreground issues of class, focusing on the parasitic relationship between the haves and the have-nots. House & Home, directed by Sean Hogan (The Devil’s Business), concerns Richard and Victoria Gull (Luke de Lacey, Siubhan Harrison) – a predatory couple who are firmly entrenched in the haute bourgeoisie and convinced of their entitlement to take whatever they want, including young homeless women whom they lure into their opulent abode on the pretext of charity. It is a scenario that involves not just drugging, humiliation and rape, but also a good deal of putting their victim in her place on the economic food chain – only tonight the Gulls are going to see the (dinner) tables turned, as young, hungry Sorrow (Holly Lucas) reveals her own special dietary needs and ‘expensive tastes’. For if she does not touch the main course, she certainly savours the just desserts.
In Andrew Parkinson’s Mutant Tool, the appetitive Jen (Jodie Jameson) struggles to put prostitution and drug-taking behind her, only to find herself unwittingly drawn into psychedelic experiments conducted by Dr Reese (Brendan Gregory) on a monstrous captive (Rob ‘Sluggo’ Boyce) who has an oozing, oversized penis and a taste for human kidneys. In part out-there science fiction involving Nazi research and mutant human studs, in part an allegory of addiction and exploitation, this is the weakest of the three instalments, leavening its psychological intensity with some misplaced comedy – but it certainly earns its place in the collection for its sheer, unflinching perversity, and for the absolute horror of its final image (where the episode’s two parallel storylines are finally stitched together).
Pick of the pack is closer Bitch, in which Britain’s unsung genre master Simon Rumley (The Living and the Dead, Red White & Blue, ‘P for Pressure’ in The ABCs of Death) typically eschews the supernatural and the fantastic for excesses that are all too recognisably human – not to mention canine. It is a mostly blue-filtered tale of a BDSM relationship gone to the dogs, as cynophobia-afflicted Claire (Kate Braithwaite) takes her abusive, humiliating treatment of boyfriend Pete (Tom Sawyer) too far, leading the reluctantly obedient worm finally to turn. Playing upon the literal and metaphorical meaning of his title, Rumley first unpacks the many psychological layers of these lovers’ strange pact, before showing the cold, calculated process of a horrific revenge that in many ways seems the uncomfortably logical ‘climax’ to so much cruel foreplay – in a relationship which, like all relationships, is defined by give and take, smack and tickle, dog eat dog.
“We all have appetites, Richard,” Victoria tells her randy husband in Hogan’s introductory instalment to Little Deaths. “Some of us just have different tastes.” These are words that might apply to any of the three films in this collection, all of which expose (and exaggerate) the deviancy, depravity and dependency hidden within our carnal drives.