An American Terror Movie Review
Written by Joel Harley
Released by Silversheaf Media
Written and Directed by Haylar Garcia
2014, 85 minutes, Rated 18 (UK)
Released on 6th March 2017
Graham Emmons as Josh Levin
Louise Macdonald as Tasha Baldwin
Brian Thompson as The Junker
Joe Abplanalp as Ray Falk
Are they still making horror movies about underground torture basements? Apparently so, and here’s the latest – a super low-budget one about nerds trapped in a serial killer’s lair when a plan to get revenge on their bullies goes awry. In this case, the nerds are of the grunge variety (no-one cares about the maths geeks these days), and the serial killer is a topless tubby fellow wearing a hooked-nose plague-style mask.
As for the rest, it’s hard to tell, as the rest of the film is so pitch black it’s hard to tell what’s going on at any given time. Even rooms outside of the torture basement are barely lit, with cinematography which often looks like a pirated Cam version of a real movie. It makes Aliens vs Predator: Requiem (hitherto the King of too-dark horror movies) look like animated Disney. At least you’ll always hear it, though: the roaring of chainsaws, wet splatter of bodies being chopped up, and guttural grunting of the film’s antagonist contribute to a sensory overload which starts with the cheap and obvious heavy metal soundtrack and doesn’t let up until the end.
Into this loud, pitch-black-and-red nightmare descends our heroes, who eventually attempt to rescue the kidnap victim held captive down there. The noise and darkness is at least part of the plan, contributing to the kids’ helplessness and palpable discomfort. It makes for a genuinely creepy atmosphere, but not necessarily a good film, bordering on incoherence at times. The effect is also ruined by everything outside of the killer’s lair being just as dark, making the horrible visuals seem like incompetence rather than an artistic choice. Seriously, the school dance is just as badly lit as the serial killer’s junkyard torture hole.
Still, there’s an undeniable energy to An American Terror, and a pace that many low-budget features could really benefit from. Its story is far from revolutionary, but it’s not exactly predictable either, and it’s admirably unusual (if an anti-climax) that the story carries on past a certain point. Contrary to what you might expect from a torture movie of this scale and budget, it’s about more than just chopping up kids in the dark – while still being quite a lot about chopping up kids in the dark.
An American Terror has some of the worst visuals I’ve ever seen in a horror movie, but it does have plenty going for it too. Its villain is delightfully weird and unhinged, the story more than your average slasher movie (just about). While the gore and the scares are nothing to write home about, there is one great set-piece gag during the second half which had me grinning like a buffoon. It’s surprisingly uplifting too, ending on a note which… well, let’s just say I didn’t see that one coming. Maybe if they’d turned the lights on.