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Hardcore Poisoned Eyes   A-

Profound Images

Year Released: 2001
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Director: Sal Ciavarello
Writer: Sal Ciavarello
Cast: Christine Gallo, Wendy Allyn, Jessica Hester.

Review by Michael Scrutchin

Hardcore Poisoned Eyes may be the scariest film since The Blair Witch Project. Like Blair Witch, it knows that what we don't see is often far more terrifying than anything that could be shown on-screen. It's thrilling the way it builds tension to its breaking point with the mere threat of danger, shocks us with sudden bursts of violence, and keeps the suspense building even after you think it couldn't possibly continue at that level of heart-pounding intensity. Luckily, it's as smart as it is frightening.

The movie finds three girls in their early- to mid-20s on a weekend getaway at a cabin in upstate New York. While Sarah (Wendy Allyn) and Ellie (Jessica Hester) start chugging Coronas almost as soon as they arrive, Angelique (Christine Gallo) has other things on her mind. Angelique's grandfather was the victim of an unsolved murder in the cabin not long ago. He was writing a nonfiction book about a satanic cult before his death. Looking through her grandfather's notes, Angelique discovers that he had a contact within the cult who was supplying him with information. As the night at the cabin wears on, all three girls end up getting drunk. Sarah, feeling kinda pranky and stupid, decides to call Angelique's grandfather's contact within the cult, whose phone number is among the notes. Boy, she done fucked up.

To reveal more would be unkind. Watching how the events unfold is one of the film's many pleasures. Just when you think the movie is about to succumb to lazy horror clichés or resort to having the characters do something stupid in service of the plot, it shatters your expectations. The characters actually have common sense, which is a refreshing change from horror movie idiots who split up when they should stay together or go outside when a killer is out there lurking in the shadows.

But Hardcore Poisoned Eyes isn't merely about three girls in peril. It explores issues of faith and religion while never taking a definite stand on one side or the other, encouraging us to think about things and make up our own minds. Angelique is an atheist who claims that if there is a God he's an asshole. After all, why would a benevolent God allow innocent people to suffer? Sarah, however, stands on the other side of the fence, while Ellie never gets too involved in their philosophical debates. It's nice to see such smart, engaging dialogue in a recent horror film.

This is the first feature-length movie by writer-director Sal Ciavarello. Working on a shoestring budget while shooting on digital video, Ciavarello has managed to create a gut-wrenching nightmare that recalls the low-budget ingenuity of films like Halloween, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and Night of the Living Dead. Ciavarello makes the most of his single location, a cabin in the midst of snow-filled woods, and focuses on character interaction and building suspense rather than gore and violence. Likewise, the cast is good, with Wendy Allyn in particular giving an exceptionally strong performance as Sarah.

It's not often that a horror film leaves me as emotionally drained as I was after watching Hardcore Poisoned Eyes for the first time. I can't recommend it highly enough. The DVD, which is self-distributed by Profound Images, contains an interview with writer-director Ciavarello conducted by Roy Frumkes (director of Document of the Dead) and an amusing and informative audio commentary by Ciavarello, director of photography Huy Truong, and producer Anthony Fariello. It would have been nice to hear a commentary with the actresses, but it's still a nice package, especially considering its micro-budget origins. This one's a gem.

Review published 05.01.2002.

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