It’s a rare thing when something that’s shown in a movie shocks me. The British horror anthology, Little Deaths, managed to do that on three separate occasions. Broken down into three chapters, this devilishly clever low-budget gem features three directors – Sean Hogan, Andrew Parkinson, and Simon Rumley – each offering their own twisted and unique vision of the potential for darkness, despair, and depravity in modern relationships.
The first chapter, “House & Home” introduces us to Richard and Victoria (Luke DeLacey and Siubhan Harrison) – an upper-crusty London couple whose one-sided relationship sees Richard constantly clamoring for affection from his detached wife. Victoria, it seems, can only be aroused by one thing, and that’s the young homeless girls Richard abducts for their amusement. For Richard, it’s a purely sexual, as he drugs the women and has his way with them, giving him a release his wife doesn’t afford him. For Victoria, however, preys on their degradation and humiliation, lashing out at these creatures she considers subhuman. When it appears that Victoria is once again ready for some fun, Richard brings home Sorrow (Holly Lucas), a transient teenager who falls for Richard’s phony good Christian act. As is their charade, Richard and Victoria make the girl feel welcome in their home, offering her a good meal, a warm bath, and some potently drugged wine. However, Sorrow isn’t like their previous playthings, and, for Richard and Victoria, the game may be at an end.
Sean Hogan’s short is fairly typical of these sorts of films, recycling some old horror tropes, and finishing it off with a deus ex machina ending that few won’t see coming. That being said, House & Home is much better than the sum of its parts, thanks to some surprisingly graphic sex and violence, as well as excellent performances from its three leads.
Andrew Parkinson’s offering, Mutant Tool, is a bizarre mélange of Cronenbergian body-horror and Frankenstein farce, focusing on prostitute and recovering drug addict Jen (Jodie Jameson, who’s undergoing an experimental rehab program prescribed by her boyfriend Frank’s (Daniel Brocklebank) mysterious employer, Dr. Reece (Brendan Gregory). What Jen doesn’t realize, however, is that the miracle drug she’s testing is culled from the semen of a massive zombie penis developed by Nazi scientists over seventy years prior that’s sewn onto new “hosts” as the previous ones die off.
Darkly funny and occasionally squirm-inducing, Mutant Tool is pure gross-out horror that would have made for a brilliant 10 minute short but, at thirty minutes, feels far too drawn out. Much of the running time is dedicated to leering shots of the mammoth dong oozing goo into a bucket, and what would have been shocking in a shorter film is so overused that it becomes sort of routine.
The third and final chapter, Bitch, is my favorite of the lot, and tells the story of the domineering Claire (Kate Braithwaite), her submissive boyfriend, Pete (Tom Sawyer), and the S&M lifestyle that (literally) binds them. Claire – who suffers from a crippling phobia of dogs – parades a dog-masked Pete around their home on a leash, dons a strap-on to show him who’s boss, and verbally lashes him to the point of tears, yet Pete is somehow okay with this. He loves Claire, and, despite her abusive behavior, thinks that, deep down, she loves him, too. Even Pete has boundaries, however, and when Kate oversteps them by bedding Pete’s best friend right in front of him, this once-obedient “dog” turns on his master with a vengeance.
Shot with a vérité style and a grainy, grimy aesthete befitting its subject matter, Bitch is a short that would be as equally at home in an arthouse compilation as it is in a horror trilogy. The performances are both fearless and gut-wrenchingly authentic, with Sawyer, in particular, positively radiating heartache in every scene. Rumley’s direction is nothing short of inspired, especially the dialogue-free last quarter of the film in which the titular character’s gruesome fate is revealed, juxtaposed with a gorgeous, lifting score that represents Pete’s emancipation from his keeper.
Little Deaths comes to DVD courtesy of Image Entertainment. The 2.35:1 transfer is a bit rough around the edges, with abundant grain, occasional blooming, and some blocking in darker scenes (of which there are many), but the transfer is a product of the film's budget rather than any sort of technical deficiency on Image's part. The 5.1 Dolby DTS soundtrack is potent and well mixed, with some gruesomely implemented atmospheric effects that nicely complement the carnage onscreen. Image has included a smattering of extras, as well, including a short behind-the-scenes featurette, and trailers for this and other Image releases.
Fans of horror know that the British have a knack for these sorts of anthology films, and Little Deaths, while certainly not a traditional entry by any means, is a welcome and worthy addition to the fold. As with all anthology films, some of the tales suffer from a few shortcomings, but Rumley’s brilliant closing chapter more than makes up for them. Little Deaths is a daring and provocative experiment that pays off for its creators, and is one of the year’s most welcome surprises. Highly recommended!