Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #304
Number of Views: One
Release Date: September 2014
Country of Origin: United States
Running Time: 31 minutes
Director: Spencer Gray
Producers: Sheri Davis, Spencer Gray
Screenplay: Spencer Gray
Special Effects: Gerald Crum, Spencer Gray, Jeremy Mitchell, Jason McRoberts
Cinematography: Anthony Gutierrez
Score: Wyzae, Kevin MacLeod, Junk
Editing: Michael D. Head, Jeremy Mitchell
Stars: Marv Blauvelt, Sheri Davis, Billy Blair, Melina Lyon, Sheril Rodgers, Glenn Turney, Vandi Clark
Suggested Audio Candy
Jack Horner “The Name of The Rose”
I don’t watch anywhere near enough short films which is rather bizarre when you consider that you don’t have to put aside an evening to take one in. The reason for this is that, more often that not, they just leave you wanting. There’s less time awarded for character development or complex narrative structure and it often feels as though an hour glass is overturned the moment you press play. However, as any aspiring filmmaker will tell you, they offer their own exclusive benefits to one learning their trade and aspiring to greater things. Short films provide the perfect opportunity for directors to cut their teeth and often lead to a broader vista. If you need further convincing, take a look at Sam Raimi’s The Evil Dead. What started out as an ambitious shoestring short named Within The Woods soon turned into one of the most iconic pictures in horror history.
Occasionally a short film comes along and challenges my indifference. John Stewart Muller’s Last Halloween, Tate Steinsiek’s Clown, and Jason Eisener’s ludicrously entertaining Treevenge all burrowed their way beneath my heart’s burly fortifications and found their spot to languish, and now there is another to add to that list in the form of Spencer Gray’s explicit and thought provoking first foray into film curiously titled Snake With a Human Tail. Gray started his journey by gaining years of make-up experience before turning his hand to directorial duties. Grueheads will soon be aware of a film bearing the name Left Hand Lords, due for release in the next twelve months, which features one of my favorite actors Bill Oberst Jr. among others and I have no doubt that Snake helped pave the way for this massively mouth-watering prospect.
Here he has thirty minutes to state his case and, while that may seem plentiful for a story about murderous fern trees, it’s precious little when dealing with some particularly thorny themes such as corruption in the Catholic hierarchy and child molestation and its long term effects. That’s right folks, this isn’t a comfortable view and neither is it intended that way. Gray obviously feels strongly about these topics and handles delicately, whilst not shying away from showing just how they manifest at the risk of alienating those of a weaker disposition. Anyone misguided enough to cry misogyny really ought to get a fucking eye dog as it is clear which side of the fence he is perched on and also that he considers these relevant and necessary topics of discussion. When you consider how the almighty Catholic church conveniently sweep indiscretion beneath their bulging rugs, it is a brave man who tackles something which exposes the problem for what it is and does so head-on, aided by some emotive cinematography by Anthony Gutierrez.
After opening with a stylish exposé of society’s sleazy underbelly, the film comprises of three distinctive acts, each introduced by a relevant quote. The first resembles confessional and focuses on just two characters. We are flies on the wall of a disquieting therapy session attended by sexual deviant Father Fulci (Marv Blauvelt) and orchestrated by the seemingly impartial Dr Bloom (Billy Blair). Clocking in at around ten uncomfortable minutes, it chooses not to cut away from the characters and I’m positive this is intentional as Gray isn’t offering an easy escape. He demands that we face up to some pretty glaring issues and applies no powder puff to hide the bruising. Blauvelt’s performance is particularly unsettling. His nonchalance when relaying his sacrilegious exploits makes Fulci the very worst kind of offender and certain facial expressions and wry smiles just serve to hit the point home all the harder. This is a wolf in sheep’s clothing, we’re talking the big bad variety. The kind that molests grandma then follows it up with a glass of Apothic Red.
The second act hones in on the long-term effects to his cause. We are introduced to two hookers; one of which, the transgender Karma (Sheri Davis), has a particular axe to grind with Fulci in the form of a rather large burden placed on his/her shoulders at an impressionable age. Davis shows huge commitment to Gray’s cause and tackles a character which few would be able to get a significant handle on with gusto. On the flip side to any revelation here, we are also offered insight into Fulci’s nocturnal activities which include necrophilia and bursts of shocking violence. It is the middle portion which ties the entire film together as it shows, not only how deep the scars that he leaves in his wake, but also that he has no real intention of changing his ways or being rehabilitated. Having said that, he is still hopeful of being saved and sees one relationship in particular as his ticket to redemption, poor deluded soul that he is.
The final act is pure meat and potatoes. This represents what I like to refer to as judgement (or the hail Marys if you prefer) and will shock all but those with a strong disposition. No spoilers here of course but let’s just say that Gray’s parable is brought to a particularly potent head. If you reach this point then it is possible that you will be left appalled and, should this be the case, then it is very much job done. This isn’t PG-13 entertainment for the masses, this is exploitation at its most grim, presented by a man who evidently grew up residing at grindhouse drive-ins and jerking off to Pam Grier just like Keeper did. He’s challenging his addressee and it is easy to forget that film is a powerful tool not only there to titillate with lavish CGI and big-name casts. Most critically, here is a filmmaker with a voice and one not afraid to get a little blood on his nose when informing his audience.
I can’t sit here and openly recommend Snake With a Human Tail to everyone as many will find it hits a little too close to the kidneys. For those of you frowning right now I would suggest Treevenge or Fist of Jesus. However, should you possess a gut of wrought-iron and the desire to be challenged, you have my blessing to check this out post-haste. It reeks of bravery, both in the actors’ commitment to exploring some fairly hateful characters and in Gray’s insistence that his story be told the way he believes it should be. This is the guy you don’t play chicken with on a deserted Texan road if you value your fender. Is it perfect? No. Am I bothered? Not at all. The simple fact is that, in thirty minutes, we are provided the affecting show reel of a director with a very bright future ahead of him.
Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 8/10
Grue Factor: 3/5
For the Grue-Guzzlers & Pelt-Nuzzlers: There’s ketchup on this wiener and rather a lot considering the brisk duration. The stand out for Keeper is a shot-in-reverse throat cut where the crimson trickles into the floor cracks beautifully but there is plenty more besides. Sins of the flesh are facilitated also and those with a penchant for women of the cloth in compromising positions may well need the confessional after viewing and perhaps a little counseling. Dr Bloom will see you now.
Richard Charles Stevens
Keeper of The Crimson Quill
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