DVD Review: ‘Little Deaths’

'Little Deaths is mostly just @#$%ed up, incomprehensible, and weird.'

Devon Ashbyby Devon Ashby

If you’re a fan of completely jacked up, unrepentant gore movies that make you want to hurl your guts up all over the floor, and/or curl up in a ball in the shower for a few leisurely hours after watching them, then boy howdy, has Image Entertainment got a fancy, shiny new DVD for you to covet. The bizarre new anthology horror collection Little Deaths hits the shelves this week, and the world of insular, sadistic sex perverts may never be quite the same.

A lot of people use the term “torture porn” to describe movies with a loose plot structure that basically exists to support incidents of extreme, orgiastic violence. Personally I don’t understand why this is such a totally different concept from the slasher film, but I haven’t actually seen anything from the Saw franchise, so what the hell do I know about it. Maybe the tone and plotting of those films is seriously distinct enough from comparatively snuggly and adorable canon staples like Friday the 13th and Nightmare on Elm Street to warrant its own, vaguely alarmist subcategory, or maybe it isn’t.

Regardless of the widespread overuse, and probable misapplication, of the phrase “torture porn,” at least one film clearly exists in the universe that legitimately deserves the label, and that movie is Little Deaths.

Little Deaths is a horror anthology in the tradition of Creepshow and Trick ‘r Treat, but unlike most other memorable examples, it lacks a campy framing device and appears to strive for straightforward, nuanced delivery of slightly more challenging subject matter. As the anthology title suggests, the theme that joins together the three vignettes on the disc is sexual kink, and the attendant fears and anxieties about loss of control, emotional vulnerability, and personal identity that it generates. It’s rich material, but even in the hands of somebody skilled and experienced, pretty easy to f**k up.

The contributing filmmakers may have had good intentions, and I guess it’s good they were willing to attack such a challenging subject, but it’s obvious they didn’t know what the s**t they were doing enough to really handle such weighty themes in an effective way, and consequently, despite interesting ideas and some apparent degree of artistic integrity, Little Deaths is mostly just f**ked up, incomprehensible, and weird. The first and last segments both have a porn-infused vibe that makes me suspect their real target audience is BDSMers in the market for decent, niche-appropriate softcore, and that’s fine with me, except I bet the people who watch the movie for sexy reasons don’t really care whether or not it also has flesh-eating ghouls or Nazi-engineered penis mutants in it, so the inclusion of both elements (over-the-top, mindf**k horror tropes and intense sexual bondage and humiliation) seems odd and inconsistent. Unless I’m totally wrong the goal of the filmmakers was merely to shock people.

The quality of the individual shorts is a mixed bag, but none of them are totally successful. The first short, House and Home, is a revenge story that plays like an X-rated Tales From the Crypt episode, and the second one, Mutant Tool, incorporates a lot of abrasive, paranoid medical imagery, but doesn’t ultimately cohere enough, either narratively or texturally, to support its own weight.  The third vignette, by director Simon Rumley, is the most disappointing, because the first two-thirds are actually really well developed and expertly handled, so the uncomfortable genre payoff at the end feels even more forced, gratuitous, and inadequate than it would have otherwise.

The DVD is pretty stripped down, but it includes a trailer and a 25-minute making-of featurette that mostly involves the directors being sat down and forced to explain themselves, plus some footage of the other crew members goofing around with naked, bloody foam-rubber torsos on the set during filming. The actual movie is presented in widescreen, so all the original framing and composition is gloriously intact.