Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #503
Number of Views: One
Release Date: March 15, 2015 (SXSW), June 5, 2015
Sub-Genre: Haunted House/Splatter
Country of Origin: United States
Running Time: 84 minutes
Director: Ted Geoghegan
Producer: Travis Stevens
Screenplay: Ted Geoghegan
Special Effects: Marcus Koch
Cinematography: Karim Hussain
Score: Wojciech Golczewski
Editing: Aaron Crozier, Josh Ethier
Studio: Snowfort Pictures, Dark Sky Films
Distributor: Dark Sky Films
Stars: Barbara Crampton, Andrew Sensenig, Larry Fessenden, Lisa Marie, Monte Markham, Susan Gibney, Michael Patrick Nicholson, Kelsea Dakota, Guy Gane, Elissa Dowling, Zorah Burress, Marvin Patterson, Connie Neer
Suggested Audio Candy
Fabio Frizzi “The Beyond Suite”
It didn’t take long for me to realize that I wasn’t your average eighties child. While most of my class mates were setting up shrines to George Lucas and memorizing the layout of the Death Star, I was discovering the likes of Italian Godfather of Gore, Lucio Fulci, and shaking hands with all number of maggot-infested zombies. Fulci had a long and colorful career as a filmmaker and, while many are critical of his later output, there can be no denying that the late seventies/early eighties were very much his stomping grounds. His Gates of Hell Trilogy, in particular, represented this man at the pinnacle of his game before budgetary constraints and eventually poor health continually hampered his vision. Sadly, he died before this three-piece received the true credit it deserved but his influence is arguably stronger now than it has ever been. In this respect, Fulci is still here.
I’m not alone in my assumption either as first time writer and director Ted Geoghegan clearly has a lot of love for Fulci. He openly admits to drawing inspiration from The House By The Cemetery and The Beyond when breaking his duck, in some style it must be said, for We Are Still Here. Indeed, he leaves a trail of breadcrumbs all the way down to his similarly ominous basement. His debut also calls to mind Ti West’s glorious The House of The Devil as it treads a similar path. Belonging to a sub-genre I like to refer to as retro-grade, these films place the viewer in a different time period entirely and do everything in their power to appear historically accurate. West achieved the unthinkable by creating a piece of art which is simply from another place and Geoghegan has the very same idea.
We Are Still Here wastes precious little time in establishing its tone and, less still, making us at right at home in 1979. Set in the snow-laden rural outreach of New York, it manipulates its sparse setting in order to roll back the years and does so decidedly well. West was a little more blatant with his reverence, throwing in the old Sony Walkman and bright yellow title cards to make his point, but it is clear what Geoghegan is driving at and he ia aided, in no small part, by Karim Hussain whose lush widescreen cinematography captures both the chill and the time frame exquisitely. As we attempt to warm ourselves up, he invites us inside and, trust me, heat is never going to be an issue here. You see, the Dagmar House makes Amityville appear like a far more attractive freehold and it gets mighty toasty when placed directly over the gates of hell.
Our tenants are wedded blow-ins Paul (Andrew Sensenig) and Anne (Barbara Crampton) and there is evidently a great distance between them. Struggling to come to terms with the sudden death of their beloved son Bobby, the Sacchettis reflect their polar pastures and crave a little warmth to thaw their grief. The opening act rightly sets up patiently and hones in on the exclusive sounds of an old build such as the Dagmar House and the dubious shadowy alcoves in their sub-basement. Audio is all important here and is implemented cunningly to fill the air with ever-burgeoning woe as the pair settle in. There’s a throb, a buzz, a feeling of desolation and it is masterfully captured for a director in the process of finding his voice.
It isn’t long before the neighbors start sniffing around. Dave (Monte Markham) and his lily-livered wife Cat (Connie Neer) stop by for a house visit and impart a little local history on our occupants. The Dagmars were clearly up to no good and every thirty years, like clockwork, they return to claim a family as sacrifice. Should their request not be granted then mass forfeit is on the cards and, with Paul plus Anne making two and number three already worm-meal, that makes them most unwelcome visitors as they just don’t fit the family criteria. Markham plays the smiling assassin devilishly well and the sniveling Neer is also priceless. Time to call in the reinforcements as numbers are evidently decidedly against them.
The doormat soon sees four more prints as Anne’s close friend and self-professed medium May (Lisa Marie) and her quirky stoner spouse Jacob (Larry Fessenden) pay the Sacchettis a visit and Geoghegan cranks up the boiler some. During the middle act, subtlety increasingly gives way to excess, and established SFX maestro Marcus Koch is waiting in the wings to paint the white red at any given moment. When that moment arrives, it is possible that We Are Still Here may aggravate purists as the make them die slowly approach serves it remarkably well up to this point and is soundly replaced with make them die most painfully. This is where we need our Fulci bifocals on Grueheads. To sustain the level of tension that it does for so long is admirable but he has every intention of showcasing both sides of his allegiance to the Italian master.
The closing act makes no bones about its unruly behavior as the shit quite literally hits the back door. Lassander Dagmar and his smoldering sidekicks are overdone in the most magnanimous way and their piercing milky peepers make the snow appear positively giallo. Deep red is the color, with Koch supplying most gleefully, filling the pallid palette with crimson geysers and all manner of human surplus. Fulci would have teared up and I’m assured he’s watching on from his subterranean peep spot, proud as punch to see his fine work so respectfully reinvented. I cannot guarantee that you will feel the same way and We Are Still Here may take back-to-back views to find its welcome mat with certain audiences as its contrast is vast and unapologetic. It’s up to us, the addressee, to fall into formation or step away from the splash zone. You know me, my maw was wide open the very moment the first eyeball was gouged.
Grue aside, there is another reason why the film works on more than just one level. It is delightful to see Crampton leading an ensemble as she does so with poise and grace. Wilted and wistful, there is an ethereal edge to Anne and the veteran scream queen has rarely been better than she is stripped away of all feeling. Numb she may be but a thousand entrenched emotions ripple from her every sullen movement and Sensenig provides a thoughtful and equally measured turn as her more than significant other. It would have been easy for him to offer little more than a token Doubting Thomas but excellent writing coupled with marvellous delivery and any shared synergy ensures that he is never simply expendable. Meanwhile, Marie and Fessenden provide the ideal erratic foil for the somber Sacchettis and aid in heralding the sudden shift towards all-out bedlam.
We Are Still Here is as much of a love letter to times passed from Geoghegan as it is a statement of intent. You aren’t required to don your X-ray glasses in order to spot affectionate nods towards such classics as Peter Medak’s The Changeling and Mario Bava’s Shock and all homage cards are played openly and respectfully. To think that this is his first foray into full-length filmmaking fills me up with a warm, hopeful glow as he has evidently done his homework and appears to have the correct personnel on-board to push on to great things, should he so choose. Hot and cold is somewhat ironically the best way to describe his winter bone of discontent and, the next time he steps behind that lens, I will still be here.
Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 8/10
Grue Factor: 4/5
For the Grue-Guzzlers: Koch is something of a dirty bandit and the final act provides him the perfect hellish playground for his schlocky dessert. Heads are popped like primed pimples, eyes thumbed, flesh charred, chests punched through, throats stabbed and sickness spread right across the wide frame without so much as a make yourself at home Marcus. Should his allegiance to Geoghegan continue to bear fruit such as these, then Fulci is still very much here.
Richard Charles Stevens
Keeper of The Crimson Quill
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