This bleak and depressing SOV is the voice of experimental filmmaker Eric Mattimore whose narrative debut, THREE STORIES, hearkens back to the EC comic horrors of the 60s and 70s with their downbeat endings, replacing their middle class settings with industrialised working class surroundings involving destitute characters. But that’s where the similarities end, for, unlike many exponents of modern horror, Mattimore fails to lighten proceedings with an injection of twisted humour which leaves the film’s underlying themes of loneliness, depression, addiction, and masochism to remain as bruises on the viewer’s brain long after the end credits have rolled.
There aren’t many fresh directions for the modern horror film to take, so Mattimore, in common with the USA’s best directors of underground transgression, delivers his shocks by placing his victims in realistic environments and speaking natural dialogue, and just when we have accustomed ourselves to the desperate atmospherics on screen, he provides a denouement that shocks despite all that has gone on before.
The THREE STORIES themselves are introduced simply with black title cards bearing the numerals 1, 2, and 3. In the opener we see industrial factory clearer Dave (A. Jackson Ford), a recovering alcoholic struggling to come to terms with his father’s illness, and whose monotonous life of loneliness causes him to express a child-like inquisitiveness when attempting to clear an old workhouse, with disastrous results.
The second tale has shy Brian (John Michael Lander) nervously cruising an industrial estate for sex. He picks up a dishevelled looking prostitute called Amber (Sarah Maria-Drake), who takes him back to a gloomy hut that serves as her home, and discovers a sinister truth.
The final “story”, is the best and features director Mattimore as Dave, a masochistic “cutter”, whose failure to respond/comply to psychiatric treatment recalls the activities of real-life Californian psycho Richard Trenton Chase. We are given insights into Dave’s condition with a visit to his psychiatrist, Dr. Pearl (Ernie Rowland), and follow him as he steps towards an even darker obsession.
Despite a running time of 22 minutes, THREE STORIES manages to engage audience sympathy for its series of believable characterisations that hit home due to sterling performances from a cast mainly comprised of local stage actors. It came as a surprise to learn that Mattimore himself hadn’t acted before for both he and Sarah Maria-Drake are especially good, and it’s to Mattimore’s credit that he managed to assemble the talents of the remaining cast who are all excellent. Another standout is the script that delivers acute observation concerning the unfortunates of society whose circumstances often lead them to venture into dark corners. The Fagin-like budget of $400 doesn’t allow much in the way of impressive effects, (maverick Mattimore even provides the film with its two minor gore sequences), or stylish photography, but the very best use is made of Dayton and Cincinnati, Ohio, location shooting, with its eerie, depressive landscape consisting of polluted, industrial factories and wasteland where the constant din of machinery, trucks, and barking of dogs add to the insanity that serves as its inhabitants reality.
In common with a few cinematic auteurs, such as Douglas Buck and Mitch Davis, Eric Mattimore’s grim depictions may prove difficult to watch due to the fact that they reveal to us glimpses of the real horrors that pervade our lives. For the uninitiated these mirrors may be an unacceptable reflection. Thankfully, Mattimore doesn’t shy from filming through a black lens, so watch out ’cos he’s dangerous.
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Carl T. Ford
Directed by Eric Mattimore
USA / 2002 / 22 minutes.
VHS / NTSC