November 3, 2010

Sella Turcica (REVIEW)

Sella Turcica  (2010)

Director: Fred Vogel

2 / 5 zedheads

I have just returned from the Canadian premiere of Fred Vogel's Sella Turcica, presented by Horror in the Hammer at the Staircase Theatre as part of the Hamilton Film Festival. While I hate to be hackneyed in a review relating to the Hamilton Film Festival, I feel that only a horrible pun will truly prepare you for Sella Turcica. So let me put it this way: Sella Turcica is over an hour and a half of boredom ending with ten minutes of spectacular goredom

I feel dirty making that pun -- Gene Shallat dirty. But it's true. Sella Turcica is an insufferably boring family drama that explodes in its final moments with a shower of spectacular and brutal gore effects. The gore is impressive and shocking but not worth suffering through the rest of the movie to experience. 
Oh, the pain! The pain of it all!
Sgt. Bradley Roback (Damien A. Maruscak) returns to his family from duty in Iraq where he suffered an mysterious accident that has left him paralyzed from the waist down and in an increasingly degrading state. He's deathly pale and in chronic pain. He's hungry but food repulses him. Black goo is beginning to ooze from his orifices. Through it all, he feels a constant pressure in his sella turcica, the depressed structure of the skull that houses the pituitary gland. Although he attempts to hide his condition from his mother Karmen (Camille Keaton of I Spit on Your Grave), sister Ashley (Jade Risser), and brother Bruce (Sean McCarthy), his condition worsens until he eventually transforms into a violent, blood-thirsty zombie. 

Sella Turcia is clearly inspired by films like Deathdream (1974), Zombi 2, and Combat Shock. The comparisons with Deathdream are unavoidable: both feature a soldier who returns home from war as a violent zombie. Sella Turcica wears its other inspirations on its sleeve by openly name-checking Troma's Combat Shock in an exchange of dialogue and by naming the family pug "Fulci." One would expect TOETAG films to draw such inspiration from Fulci's gory Italian zombie films and Troma's independent "feel-bad" fare. One would not expect Sella Turcica to be such a family drama. It is a very different beast compared to Fred Vogel's past work on simulated snuff films like August Underground. Sella Turcica focuses more on family drama, character performance, and dialogue instead of the extremely graphic and brutal gore for which TOETAG has become infamous. Unfortunately, the film's drama is fumbled by unimaginative direction, a clunky script, shoddy acting, and painful music. The last ten minutes are an outright gore-hound's dream and guaranteed to please/shock horror and zombie fans, but you have to sit through over an hour and a half of painful dialogue and repetitive shots to get there.

Fred Vogel doesn't seem to hire many professional actors, and that may work in his other films but not when he builds a film on character and dialogue. The script is already clunky and overwrought, but the acting is flat and delivered with the disconnected line-to-line rhythm of bored porn stars and amateur high school play actors. The first two-thirds meander like a soap opera drained of its melodrama; a judicious editor could shave in excess of half an hour off this film and it'd be no worse for wear.

The only notable performance in the production is courtesy of Damien A. Maruscak as Bradley Roback. His line delivery may be stilted, but he turns out a commendable physical performance as a man tormented with mental and bodily pain. Watch for a dinner table scene in which the unspoken tension builds as Roback's family attempts to ignore his terrible sickness and the mental and physical strain he suffers when trying to tell a simple story. Throughout the film, we see Roback lose his grip on himself until he he transforms into a zombie. Jerky and stiff, powerful yet lumbering, Maruscak's zombie performance comes close to capturing the same level of commitment and intensity that David Emge showed as Flyboy in Dawn of the Dead (1978). The physical subtleties in his transformation scenes and his final emergence as a violent zombie are enough to garner this film a rating of two zedheads. Unfortunately, there's not enough horror in this horror drama. The drama itself is paper thin. This film, unfortunately, is not worth watching even for its arguably impressive, albeit short, zombie sequences. 

I'd hate to see those linens under UV light.
This November, Horror in the Hammer's Fright Night Theatre -- our monthly horror movie screening -- coincided with the opening night of the Hamilton Film Festival. We partnered with the Film Festival and chose to present Sella Turcica as our November pick for Fright Night Theatre because we love to support independent cinema and give exposure to all sorts of fringe and low-budget productions. I support independent film, for sure, but that doesn't mean I can always recommend independent films. Despite its lofty ambitions, Sella Turcica is a terminal bore. I get the film's latent metaphor about the pain and trauma that soldiers bring home from war. I get the subtext about the ways war turns men and women into destructive monsters. What I don't see, however, is any of these themes handled with any subtlety or visual artistry.

With a shorter running time and a more professional script, Sella Turcica could have been an impressively understated critique of war and the treatment of veterans. Instead, it's going to end up as a clip on Youtube in which someone uploads only the final scenes because these scenes are going to be the only scenes people will care to re-watch.