As a horror fan, I’m always neck-deep in the kind of cinema that pushes a lot of people out of their comfort zones; I’m not just talking about blood and gore, I’m talking bold filmmaking. Using shooting styles or color schemes that are out of vogue; making an art-house film that is also a horror film; these kinds of things sometimes turn away the casual viewer, and I know very well that we Fellow Fans can often be turned off by such buzz over a horror flick.
Released by Brain Damage Films, City Of Lust (originally Yellow, which is giallo in Italian; I’ll mention that again) is a unique and challenging indie film I’ve had the pleasure of viewing that I was originally quite leery of, but found to be a very provocative and entertaining watch.
Ariana is a young cosmetologist who’s a bit of an introvert. We’ve all known the type: young, pretty, but not very self-assured; usually single, and until they either come out of their shell or happen upon that special someone by twist of fate, they’re likely to stay that way. Turning to a 900 sex line for companionship, she begins talking to a woman that actually seems to listen to her, to get her. This interaction makes her nights become a bit more bearable, although some suppressed terror from her past often finds her waking in the closet. Her days are bit of a waking nightmare as well; the salon she works in is populated by a cast of truly assholish types, save for her transvestite friend Renee, who offers friendship and loyalty to the otherwise friendless girl. As we move forward in the story, Ariana finally meets Jackie, the voice on the other end of her nightly phone conversations, and the two young women begin a passionate, if somewhat edgy love affair.
Just when things seem to be looking up a bit for poor Ariana, she loses her job on some trumped up charges of stealing from the salon, and unbeknownst to her (but not us), her brother has been “released” (we’re not sure from where, but typically being released doesn’t mean being absolved of our sins; his attitude toward his mother confirms this nicely), and seems to have a very unhealthy desire to find her. Worse still, people around Ariana start dying in gruesome ways, from her abusive and tyrannical ex-boss to poor Renee, her one friend with whom she had disagreeable misunderstanding. As events begin to swirl more rapidly (and the police are knocking on her door), secrets begin to be revealed all around, from Ariana’s new love to her own past, and who will survive these revelations becomes the big question…
I’ll come right out and say that the budget limitations of this film show pretty early on; there’s a “club” scene that looks like a dressed out, furniture-less apartment, ninety percent of the sets are very minimalist, and the special make up effects are pretty low-end. Next I’ll say that not a damn bit of that mattered to me, for two important reasons. One, this movie (which I told you was originally titled Yellow) is an homage to the old Italian giallo films that I so enjoy, and if you’ve seen as many of those as I have, you’ll note immediately how well this film’s cinematography captures that old style.
Director David A. Holcombe obviously has a love of the giallo, and he plays it to perfection; his angles and maneuvering were adept and confident, and his use of sharp contrast made for a very bold visual style. Secondly (and far more importantly), the story grabbed me very quickly, and positively would not let go; the plot was bold and tight, and what you think are obvious twists are not. The color palette (focusing, naturally, on the color yellow, with subdued greens rounding out the background with reds for contrast) was simultaneously vivid and stark; some would call it oversaturated, but for the sake of this film I thought it worked wonderfully (and again, I direct you to the source material for comparison). The principal actors, particularly Margaret Grace as Arianna and Jill Oliver as Jackie, turned in outstanding, convincing performances, and the rest of the cast, while at times deliciously over-the-top (and I keep referring to the old giallos; they had a lot of over-the-top acting as well) complemented the story very nicely, adding a touch of the avant-garde to the overall narrative. The effects were reminiscent of the old-school flicks, but contextually they worked well, and the blood flows pretty damned freely once things get going.
I’ll say again that I went into this film with some trepidation; given that it comes out of the box saying its intent is to be a modern giallo film, I had my doubts. After watching it twice now, I have to say these were most unfounded; the film impressed me on many levels, and it’s one o’ those I’ll watch again just to pick up on any little nuance I missed.
If you share my passion for the old Italian films or are just interested in a very different, very artistic take on a horror/thriller, I highly recommend this one.