Have you and a friend ever brought out the crisps, got some cold beers and put your feet up to watch a mediocre horror movie? The answer’s probably yep; we’re genre fans after all. Ok, so when you watch said movie do you try and guess the plot before it happens? If it’s bad do you tear it a new one? Right, and do you also make low brow jokes about all a vast array of often fairly taboo topics? If the answer are still ‘yep’ then I’m not surprised; this is probably the way that horror movies have been enjoyed since they first invented the VHS player. And in this new independent horror, director Jim Hickey attempts to recreate this fans ritual.
The premise is simple. Two Scottish blokes, Dougie and Robbo watch a trashy horror entitled Sacrifice and talk over it. Extensively. What this means is anyone wanting to watch the movie-within-the-movie will have to view it at least twice. Unlike when there’s guests round you can’t tell them to ‘shut the fuck up’, and there’s no option to simply rewind it and see the bit you missed. Unfortunately there’s not too much a likelihood that you’re going to want to either. Sacrifice is substantially less entertaining than the riff track on top of it.
While I am not sure about the making of process, I can only assume that Sacrifice is intentionally weak material. Set inEdinburgh, it follows a cult of women that kill, collect magic statues and go to a big Scots’ mansion to engage in occult practices. The problem is that in doing a movie that is essentially based upon two guys watching a bad movie then The Download Horror runs into an obvious narrative constraint; that one way or the other the audience are essentially being asked to watch a knowingly bad piece of cinema. And Sacrifice does such a good impression at being a bad movie that it’s almost unwatchable. By the time the final fight sequence happens, an Asian woman with nunchucks (of course) duking it out with a sword-brandishing witch, then its kind of hard not to grudge the movie-makers for having you sit through it all for the sake of a joke.
Dougie and Robbo are a tad more entertaining. Their riff track covers topics as diverse as Italian horror, sex with teddies and a particularly amusing chat about lesbianism during one of the death sequences. They point out tropes, say casually sexist things and even pause the movie at one point to try and see a nipple. And all in a very pleasingly Scottish way (though I appreciate this aspect may not translate well). The trouble with this narrative device is that the riff track is not thematically linked to the action on screen – we’re not going to get the equivalent of Sadako crawling out the screen, or even the same kind of movie-audience relations explored in Man Bites Dog or The Last Horror Movie.
As such, this riff track aspect really becomes a fun but ultimately pointless exercise. Throughout, I was waiting for the bit where the movie would turn it on its head and Sacrifice would begin to blend with Dougie and Robbo’s world. But it never happens. There is nothing about Sacrifice that requires this audio. Really, this same kind of track could be applied to any movie and it wouldn’t make a difference to the sort of things the characters talk about. And while this surely gives it sequel potential, I don’t know that I would want to see this gimmick carried out across another whole movie.
Another big constraint on the movie-makers’ approach is that the riff track can’t really leave the territories of the movie and topics vaguely related to it. This means that we don’t get a lot of context for Dougie and Robbo as characters and since we don’t ever see them then, by necessity, there are no obvious character arcs or signs in to what their life consists of when watching downloaded horror movies. Sure, it’s a comedy so who cares – as long as it’s funny? But such an approach means that their dialogue becomes ultimately very repetitive in tone. The riff track also becomes significantly less relatable with the inclusion of some casual racism and sexism throughout. Sure, maybe among the populace that these characters represent, perhaps these attitudes are commonplace. Problem is that without a context then the just become a little less likeable.
I feel that I’ve spent this whole review tearing The Download Horror a new one, in much the same way the Dougie and Robbo tear Sacrifice a new one. In fairness, it does have a very novel premise, and I applaud it in trying to really capture what it is to be a horror fan. The trouble is that unless the movie being watched is worthy of our attention (which for the riff track aspect to work, it can’t really be) then its fighting an uphill battle. Worse than that, unless the antics off screen relate to those onscreen, or don’t work to create well rounded characters, then it just becomes a poor substitute for the real thing. Needless to say that if I watched this movie with friends, then I’d probably be talking over it. Say, now there’s an interesting piece of form underlies meaning.