Screenplay : Dante Tomaselli
MPAA Rating : NR
Year of Release : 1999
Stars : Irma St. Paule (Matilda), Danny Lopes (Bobby Rullo), Christie Sanford (Mary / Sister Madeline), Salvatore Paul Piro (Mr. Rullo), Vincent Lamberti (Brother Nicolas), Gene Burke (Father O'Leary)
It comes as little surprise that first-time feature director Dante Tomaselli admires German director F.W. Murnau, who is best known for helping to introduce expressionism into the horror genre with his 1922 film Nosferatu. Like Murnau, Tomaselli is drawn to horror and its expressionistic depiction through well-placed shadows and lingering fog, symbolism and inky darkness.
Tomaselli's feature debut, Desecration, was made for $150,000 and shot over four weeks in New Jersey. It is a small gem of gory gothic creepiness, and even though it lacks heavily in the story department, it more than makes up for it in eerie atmosphere and startling imagery. Having already been compared to the stylish, operatic filmmaking of Italian horror maestro Dario Argento (Suspiria, Inferno), Tomaselli proves to have a keen sense of what makes your skin crawl.
Desecration plays on themes of religion, repression, and family curses. It freely mixes Catholic symbolism, well-worn horror cliches, and Freudian deconstructions of the psyche, and if none of it really makes sense in the end, you don't feel much loss because the film is more about style and sensation than it is about plot. Like Argento, Tomaselli's seeming inability to tell a coherent story probably has less to do with a lack of skill than it does with his purposefully avoiding a traditional narrative because it might get in the way of his imagery.
The paper-thin plot involves a 16-year-old boy named Bobby Rullo (Danny Lopes) who attends a private Catholic school. Bobby is haunted by the presence of his mother, who died in a room with him when he was only four years old. Having been raised by his angry father (Salvatore Paul Piro) and his loving, but superstitious Italian grandmother (Irma St. Paule), Bobby is confused and alone in the world. Early in the film he is involved in the seemingly accidental death of a nun when his radio-controlled airplane flies out of control, and this sets off a chain of horrific events that may involve his mother's tormented spirit.
Of course, this plot is just a clumsy vehicle through which Tomaselli can display his visual prowess. More than anything, Descecration plays as if Tomaselli put it together as a demo reel of horror sequences designed to prove his adeptness at the genre (in this way, it reminded me of David Lynch's Eraserhead, which was also a deeply personal first film that was filled with horrific imagery and a thin plotline). Working with a limited budget and a 16-mm camera, Tomaselli and director of photography Brandan C. Flynt create and sustain a mood of hypnotic dread that is punctuated from time to time with quick flashes of graphic violence and surrealistic dream imagery.
In one particularly relentless scene, a woman is attacked again and again by a pair of scissors that have become possessed. In another scene, Bobby imagines himself (or possibly remembers having been) trapped in a dog cage while his mother taunts and torments him in a room straight out of a child's nightmare. These scenes in particular, and Desecration as a whole, are greatly aided by Flynt's smooth camerawork and a haunting soundtrack of creepy, nightmarish electronic music by Michael Tomaselli and a creative mix of sound effects and human voices.
The individual scenes in Desecration have power and vigor, even if they don't come together to form a larger narrative. Tomaselli seems to like working with themes--Desecration is filled with suppressed memories, the handing down of familial violence, the often hazy intersection of dream and reality, and the role of religion and superstition in a modern world that no longer has room for such beliefs. Tomaselli is definitely talented, and at 30 years of age, has a great deal of potential ahead of him. A test of his artistic growth will be if he can pull together his expansive imagination and his sense of thematic grandeur and wed it to a coherent narrative.
|Audio||Dolby 2.0 Surround|
|Supplements||Excerpt from Tomaselli's short film Descecration|
|Even though Desecration was shot on a limited budget using 16-mm film and the transfer on this DVD is not anamorphic, the image quality is still quite good. The inherent grain in 16-mm celluloid is evident throughout, but it is in no way distracting or unexpected. Colors are generally good, if a bit muted, and they sometimes change slightly in intensity from shot to shot. Black levels remain steady throughout, with only a hint of grain. Detail level is relatively high despite the fact that the overall image is a bit soft, perhaps in an attempt to reduce the amount of visible grain.|
|Presented in Dolby 2.0 surround, this soundtrack on this DVD is fantastic. Tomaselli has asserted that he places a strong emphasis on sound mixing, which is readily evident in the finished product. The creative mixing of creepy electronic music and clever sound effects heighten the intensity of each scene and create an enveloping aural environment that draws you into the nightmarish imagery. The musical score has a heavy bass line that plays from time to time, and it sounds deep and solid. Dialogue is clear and easy to understand, and the overall soundtrack is clear and free of any artifacts or distortion.|
|The only included supplement is a brief excerpt from Tomaselli's 23-minute short film version of Desecration, which was made in 1996 and shot on digital video. The excerpt from the short film is a scene that is redone very closely in the feature-length film, and it offers an interesting insight into Tomaselli's progression as a filmmaker. I wish, however, that they had included the entire short film, rather than only a three-minute excerpt.|
©2000 James Kendrick