SXSW Review: ‘Little Deaths’ is Dirty, Vile, But We Like it Anyway

By  · Published on April 4th, 2011

Lots of great stuff comes from Great Britain. Fish and chips, the Beatles, history, and the basis for all American television are but a few of the treasures that we’ve looked on with jealousy…and then shamelessly imported. Of course, movies and horror in particular are no exception, but perhaps one of the greatest things that the British perfected was the horror anthology. Amicus made a name for themselves with great anthology films like Tales from the Crypt, From Beyond the Grave and Asylum, films that starred fine British actors like Peter Cushing and Donald Pleasance. Taking a page from the past, three crazy directors have banded together to produce a new British anthology film, Little Deaths.

It opens with Sean Hogan’s story entitled House & Home. Richard and Victoria are a typical couple, solidly upper middle class, maybe even more well to do than that. It’s clear from the get go that Victoria is in control of the relationship, but it’s also clear that something not quite right is going on. Richard’s been more or less stalking a young homeless girl, and finally approaches her posing as a Christian interested in her well-being. He invites her home for dinner. The couple drugs her wine and, after she bathes, make small talk until she passes out. She wakes naked and bound to a bed with a gag in her mouth. Richard and Victoria prepare to have their way with her, but they’re in for a big surprise themselves.

Next up is Andrew Parkinson’s short, Mutant Tool. Jen, a young ex-prostitute is having a rough time making sales for her drug dealer boyfriend, Frank. She gets mugged after a full day of sales and we find that this isn’t the first time something like that has happened. In addition to the drugs, Frank also does some strange, underhanded work for a doctor named Reeves. Concerned for Jen’s health, Frank speaks to the doctor and sets up a meeting for her. But Reeves has his own agenda and the pills he gives Jen aren’t for her health. He’s manufacturing a new drug made of certain secretions from a man whose more primal and animal than human, kept locked away in a basement and watched over day and night. Jen gets worried when she starts to see visions of the imprisoned man.

Last but certainly not least is Bitch by Simon Rumley. Pete and Claire are a young couple living together in a two bedroom flat. Only thing is they’ve turned the second bedroom into a BDSM room complete with doghouse for Pete who wears a dog mask when they play. Claire is a domme who slips on a strap-on and punishes Pete when he’s been a bad dog. The problem is, their relationship outside of that room is already falling apart and adding deeply emotional power-exchange sex to the equation is volatile. When Claire decides to sleep with Pete’s best friend despite how clear it is that Pete is upset and uncomfortable with the situation, things unravel quickly.

Unlike many of the Amicus titles, Little Deaths doesn’t utilize a framework. It has no overarching story connecting all of the shorts, like say the little boy reading the comic book in Creepshow. Instead, the three stories are told one right after the other, connected by theme and idea but not be a separate plot. It’s probably a good decision as a framework likely would have felt shoehorned in instead of flowing naturally. As it is, there’s plenty in the stories themselves to keep the viewer interested.

House & Home is probably the most straight-forward of the three shorts and that’s not a knock at all. I like what it does, despite some truly uncomfortable moments. On initial viewing I wasn’t wild about Mutant Tool, but the more I think about it, the more interesting that section becomes. Fellow critic and friend John Gholson mentioned that he would like to see a feature length version of it. I think he’s right. There’s a lot of really interesting stuff going on in this section that I’d love to see fleshed out a bit more. There’s a brief reference to the imprisoned man and his particular physical anomaly being a Nazi discovery, a power they tried to harness. There’s a lot of potential there for engaging backstory.

Rumley’s Bitch is pretty harsh and brutal. The ending in particular is a punch in the gut. Overall, while certainly not for everyone, Little Deaths is a well-balanced quick and dirty display from some fine up-and-coming directors working under the radar across the pond.

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