The availability of cheap digital equipment is a double-edged-sword, especially with regard to the horror genre. It democratises film production. The fact that almost anyone can make a film, however, has the knock-on affect that a huge amount of unambitious - and frankly amateurish - slasher-type films slip through the cracks. THE ATTENDANT (2004) is one such film. It attempts to change its tune halfway through, though, but is it too late?
The film begins in the vein of the original TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE, with a group of obnoxious twenty-somethings taking a break from city life. Alison, Jack, Marco, Grace, Deuce, and Zoe are driving through an unspecified area of the country, looking for a suitable campsite. They run out of petrol, but are warned away from the nearby gas station and its bizarre attendant.
Naturally, they ignore such warnings. After the weird old man services their vehicle, he frightens Deuce, who has been showing off and mocking him. After calming down, the attendant, too, warns them away from a particular part of the woods, later discovered to be the site of numerous suicides. Needless to say, his warnings are not heeded (there’d be no film otherwise).
As they make their way to the desired spot, unusual things begin to occur. Zoe, who seems to be psychically sensitive, has a strange vision. The map, given to them by the title character, vanishes out of the blue, only to reappear out of reach atop a huge tree. As the group settles down for the night - in the very area they have been warned away from - they begin wandering off alone, and are confronted by various ghostly apparitions, including a little girl and an old man. Needless to say, a bloodbath ensues...
THE ATTENDANT begins badly. The use of a Digital Video camera becomes apparent immediately. The equipment struggles to cope with even moderate light levels, and viewers are consistently made aware of the camera. Some filmmakers - such as Ivan Zuccon, who made THE DARKNESS BEYOND (2001) - can use video effectively. This in particular was done by taking advantage of the unnatural, metallic glares inherent in the format and by using these traits to enhance the film’s surreal atmosphere. In the case of THE ATTENDANT, however, there is no way of masking the use of video. Throughout the picture - which takes place in the real world, thereby requiring a measure of verisimilitude (appearance of reality) - viewers cannot but be reminded of the film’s cheapness. We are kept at a distance, and, unable to believe in the fiction, there is little to captivate our attention.
Perhaps a consequence of this technical shortcoming, the film is keen to assert its ’badness’ at every opportunity. Characters, in particular the appalling Deuce, deliver crass dialogue and show off at every opportunity. Excessive, stupid references to other films, like the similarly backwoods DELIVERENCE ("we’d better get out of here or we’ll all be squealing like pigs"), as well as THE SHINING (the oft-imitated "Here’s Johnny"), are made by the wise-ass characters. We are bombarded with clichés, such as the crusty old men at the roadside diner who warn the youngsters of the impending danger; and inundated with parody, represented by the excessive eye rolling and OTT facial expressions. Instead of attempting to overcome limitations and making a good film, the immersion in kitsch and intertextual elements is akin to the filmmakers giving up.
Despite being a very bad film, THE ATTENDANT is not completely without interest. The narrative is built around several oppositions and inversions, giving evidence of some story-telling ability. The film, which initially appears to be a slasher movie about a psychotic gas station attendant, becomes a ghost story. The excessive comedic and kitsch elements shortly give way to a tone of gruesome seriousness - punctuated by images of Jack forcing an axe handle down his throat, and of Zoe bashing her face onto a rock surface. Jason, who cannot swim, is possessed by a ghost and drowned, and Grace, an independent woman who once in her life had fought off a rapist, cuts her own throat.
The shift from parody to serious horror reminds one of Toshiharu Ikeda’s EVIL DEAD TRAP. But whereas that film assaulted us with clichés only to thankfully turn them inside-out and give the viewer something unexpected and wholly cinematic, THE ATTENDANT’s shift in tone only manages to exhibit one badly-staged, home-movie type gore scene after another. However many times the narrative displaces itself, it cannot hide the absolute lack of effort and originality involved. THE ATTENDANT, then, simply isn’t worth your attention.
Directed by Corbin Timbrook
English Language / USA / 2004 / 81 mins / Colour
SPECIAL DVD FEATURES
A Screen Entertainment DVD release
All region / Pal / widescreen 16:9 / Dolby mono