Kolobos (1999)

Author: J.T. Jeans
Submitted by: J.T. Jeans   Date : 2011-08-15 09:54

Written by: Nne Ebong, Daniel Liatowitsch, David Todd Ocvirk
Directed by: Daniel Liatowitsch & David Todd Ocvirk
Starring: Amy Weber, John Fairlie, Nichole Pelerine, Donny Terranova

Reviewed by: J.T. Jeans

How about a nice hot cup of shut the fuck up?!"

The 1990s was a rough decade for the horror genre, and the slasher subgenre in particular. Until Wes Craven dropped Scream on us, the genre was more-or-less in a state of premature hibernation. After Scream, it seemed to be trendy to be in the horror business again, and the genre boomed in the obvious venue: direct-to-video. No example of good direct-to-video slasher fare left more of an impression on me than 1999's Kolobos.

Released in the small stopgap between a plethora of Scream knock-offs and a sudden surge of interest in supernatural horror (Final Destination would see release in 2000, with The Ring following soon after), Kolobos is an effective throwback to slasher films of the 1980s, yet manages to be slightly ahead of its time in terms of plot hook: the story follows five young adults who have responded to a news paper advertisement for "adventure seekers". Descending upon a fully stocked house with top-of-the-line televisions and a rad rec room in the basement, our hapless cast believe themselves to be involved in the taping of a new prime time reality television show. Think Big Brother meets The Real World.

Such a premise wouldn't seem that far removed from the world in which we live -- reality TV currently reigns supreme on primetime television across the world -- but in 1999, such programs were slightly less common and a lot more niche. This setup works well in that it efficiently strands the cast in a location that otherwise feels fairly safe. The house in question isn't exactly a cabin in the woods; it's located in scenic suburbia.

For a low budget picture produced by a company almost no one will have heard of, everything within is surprisingly effective. The core cast -- headlined by Amy Weber, who would go on to have a brief career in WWE -- is surprisingly good, with very little in the way of shoddy performing. You won't see anyone winning an Oscar here, but considering the shambles that the direct-to-video market is capable of producing, this is good stuff. The characters are likable and believable, although in my opinion the film would have benefited from a little more breathing room to allow the characters more development (I suspect this won't be a problem for most people. There's been thinner character development in more successful films.) With the exception of Amy Weber's character, what little we know about these people is fed to us through "audition tapes" that the characters shot for the reality show's producers. It works as a springboard, introducing them quickly and in an orderly fashion, but that's pretty much all there is.

Where the film really shines is in its ability to build tension. There aren't a lot of movies that can still make me edgy after 11 years, but Kolobos pulls it off. William Kidd has written a fantastically spooky score which is often minimalistic in approach and very effective as a result. It feels like an odd mix of Danny Elfman and early Harry Manfredini. And while the music enhances the atmosphere terrifically, the images on screen aren't half bad either. Credit has to be given to cinematographer Yoram Astrakhan for making the best of what was surely a shoe-string budget. Coming from a man with Unsolved Mysteries on his professional CV, you don't know quite what to expect going in. While the work isn't perfect, the way he photographed the dark, moody halls of this otherwise very normal house does a lot for the scary factor.

Apart from atmosphere, there are also the kills. Considering the relatively small size of the cast, this isn't what might typically be considered a body count film. The deaths are inventive -- and in fact the very first kill is surprising simply by being unexpectedly weird. I certainly didn't expect it to go that direction when I first saw it, and I don't think any of the people I've watched it with did either. There's a fair amount of gore in the picture, although how well it works is subjective. Some of the kills are weaker than the others, but they're all different from the kill before.

When it comes to good-ol-fashion T&A, you might be surprised to discover that there's none at all. It's rare for direct-to-video slasher films to skimp on the flesh, but Kolobos skips it entirely. Sorry flesh fans: this one is a dry well.

I won't say much more about the film's story because while this is primarily a slasher film, there is an element of psychological horror as well. While it doesn't always succeed, the script at least tries to be intelligent. We've got a classic Unreliable Narrator situation going on here, and while this leads to the film's conclusion feeling a little less than perfectly clear, it does help build tension throughout the picture. By the time the ending credits roll, you won't really know for certain what happened in the house. Whether that's a good or bad thing is largely down to personal taste. Me personally, I would have liked to have had a little more clarity in the narrative, but that's really a minor gripe.

The DVD was released by York Home Video in 2000. This is a region free affair, and I'd be lying if I said it couldn't be better. The transfer is dark and noisy -- I wouldn't expect to see this film re-mastered for Blu-ray -- and while it is presented in widescreen, the transfer is matted so that the picture has to be zoomed in to fill a widescreen TV properly, otherwise it looks like a 4:3 image with black bars on the top and bottom. The audio track is a not very dynamic 5.1 surround mix, but there are no English subtitles on the disc (although bizarrely there are Spanish subtitles). The upshot of such a cheap presentation is that you can get the film brand new for a song. I purchased my copy new on Amazon for $3.00.

For me, Kolobos was a breath of clean air when every film on the market seemed to want to smother itself in Scream's shadow. It was fresh, it was original, and most importantly it was scary. For a very long time my sixteen-year-old self had nightmares about this film, and I was the sort of kid who'd grown jaded against Jason's and Michael's and Freddy's ability to frighten. Will it have the same effect on everyone? Certainly not. I've done a fair bit of hyping here, and a part of me hates that because I don't want to ratchet expectations too high. Having said that, I do think all fans of the genre ought to at least give it a try. At $3.00 a pop, you've got little to lose. Buy it!

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