Just when you think you’ve seen everything that the horror genre can possibly throw at you, along comes a film like Red Velvet to completely pull the rug out from under your feet. Equal parts blood soaked slasher flick and oddly affective romantic comedy, Red Velvet is one of the funniest, strangest, and most original horror films I’ve seen in years.
Meet Aaron (Henry Thomas); belligerent loner and self-professed “storyteller”. Aaron spends his nights scrawling in notebooks and waving his fists at the heavens while he is forced to listen to his neighbors, Linda (Kelli Garner) and Kyle, argue incessantly through his apartment building's paper-thin walls. After a particularly big blowout between the couple, Aaron spies Linda heading out to do laundry, gathers a bag of his own clothes, and follows her. When he arrives at the laundromat, he pretends not to know Linda. However, as she attempts to engage him in some small talk, Aaron grows increasingly antagonistic, and the two begin a heated verbal sparring match that...somehow leads to a lunch date at a nearby Thai restaurant!
During lunch, Linda opens up about the reasons behind her and Kyle’s latest fight, explaining how her sister and some friends are celebrating one of said friend’s birthday at a cabin in the woods while she’s stuck at home because Kyle didn’t want to miss a football game on television. It's here where Aaron reveals his talent for spinning grisly yarns, and, in an attempt to make Linda feel better, he concocts a macabre tale in which Kyle meets his demise. Linda’s not impressed, however, and challenges him to come up with something better. A flustered Aaron suggests another story; this one involving a deranged killer stalking Linda’s friends in the woods. Angry that her friends are having a good time without her, Linda embraces the idea, and even offers a few suggestions of her own. As the two go about fleshing out their fiendish tale, the line between fantasy and reality becomes increasingly blurred, and a once contemptuous relationship blossoms into something more.
Red Velvet is a film that takes so many chances and does so many of the "little things" right that I just couldn’t shake the feeling that I was witnessing something truly special. While Anthony Burns story as a whole has its flaws, the screenplay, co-written by Burns and Joe Moe, is a firecracker, filled with quotable bits and laugh-out-loud funny one-liners. The thing that really surprised me, though, was how compelling Aaron and Linda’s twisted courtship proved to be, and that success falls squarely on the shoulders of Thomas and Garner. The actors thoroughly inhabit these characters, displaying a level of chemistry rarely seen in star-studded “romantic” comedies let alone in an independent horror film!
Of course Red Velvet’s not all witty repartee and people making goo-goo eyes at each other. This is one seriously gory flick! Heads are lopped off, bodies are sawn in half, gorgeous naked women are eaten by alligators (seriously!), but it’s all presented as sort of a winking homage to the glorious excesses of 80’s horror. Even the killer - a white jumpsuit wearing, tool wielding maniac with LED lights on his mask and a Polaroid instant camera mounted on his head – punctuates his kills with the same sort of groan-inducing witticisms made famous by Freddy Krueger and company.
Visually, this film is just a total gas. Dario Argento fans, in particular, will look at the crazy camerawork and color saturated sets and be instantly taken back to the films that marked that director’s creative zenith. Director, Bruce Dickson, and cinematographer, Jim Dickson, deliver a master class in atmosphere and shot composition, here, making expert use of color, light, shadow, and architecture, crafting a film that is, quite simply, a visual knockout, and a welcome departure from the desaturated/puke green aesthete that’s become de rigueur in horror over the last several years.
Red Velvet comes to DVD courtesy of 3MAC, and, as of this writing, is an Amazon.com exclusive title (click on the link to the left and buy it through us, dammit! We gotta eat, too!), so don’t go rummaging through your local big box store expecting to find it. Presented in 1.85:1 ratio, the transfer is fairly solid, but I did notice some digital noise and color bleed while watching it on my 47 inch Sony LCD. I’d love to see this film on Blu-ray (or, better yet, on the big screen), but only time (and decent sales) will tell if that ever happens. Extras include a filmmaker commentary, two short featurettes, a music video, and stills gallery.
Red Velvet is indeed a gem, however it’s not a flawless one. Some of the jokes fall flat (an especially tasteless and borderline racist bit involving a Thai waitress is especially bad), a few of the performances are on the stiff side, and the film’s ending (featuring another nod to Argento) feels a bit rushed and uninspired. Still, these little imperfections are more than made up for by the film’s elegant visual style, excellent performances from Thomas and Garner, and a whip-smart script, all of which combine to make Red Velvet a gloriously gory good time.