"WORK IN PROGESS" Version

BACKMASK (Not Yet Released)

MARCH 26, 2014

Ever so often I get invited to see films before they’re released or are in earlier stages of production. Recently I saw a “work in progress” screening of Marcus Nispel’s (THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE, CONAN THE BARBARIAN) new film BACKMASK, which is an entertaining horror/comedy/spaltterfest that illustrates the perils of performing a DIY exorcism. 


I’ve always enjoyed movies that take a chance and blend genres, which is something that this film has the nerve (or maybe audacity) to do. It’s always a slippery slope because not only does it make the film trickier to market, but it can alienate fans on both sides of the spectrum. Some hardcore horror fans don’t appreciate a wink and a nod that can dilute the terror and conversely, those expecting a comedy might be surprised at the extreme level of gore and violence. 


I prefer films that have enough balls to try something different because it gets laborious watching the umpteenth version of the same film over and over again. 


BACKMASK not only does a terrific job blending horror and comedy, but also 3 different genres as well. What begins as essentially a teen party romp ala PROJECT X, devolves into a meta-possession film with direct references to THE EXORCIST which then escalates into a balls to the wall splatterfest in the vein of last year’s EVIL DEAD (which was one of my favorites of last year). 


The plot itself is fairly simplistic. A group of teens have a party in an abandoned mental hospital and unwittingly through backmasking (Google it, folks!) unleash a demonic force that terrorizes them… or did they? Could it also just be the drugs and alcohol causing a trick of the mind? 


Nispel has done a great job balancing the different elements and the movie works because of this crossbreeding. I can imagine a version without the comedic approach and it would have made the film a pointless exercise in “been there done that” genre filmmaking and I would have checked out almost immediately. 


This is not to say that the film is perfect, there are a few missteps along the way in regards to too much exposition at times and even though the cast of mostly unknowns (except for AVATAR’sStephen Lang in a key role) does a fine job portraying characters I actually care about, they still suffer from some genre clichés of making somewhat unmotivated and/or “stupid” decisions, but I’m willing to cut the film some slack as what I saw was an early cut. 


But these are minor complaints, because as a gore film it delivers the goods by the bucketful containing some seriously brilliant Make-Up FX (courtesy of Shaun Smith) that even made me stand up and take notice. 


BACKMASK is not as scary as you might want, but I don’t find that problematic. Not all horror movies need to be scary to be effective. Contrary to what people think or expect, horror is a genre that’s meant to heighten your sense of fear and dread and get under your skin. It can also be a roller-coaster ride. I could sight you a laundry list of horror films that aren’t “scary” but they make up for it with pure entertainment. Watching this film, I never felt I should be scared, just entertained and I was. Mission accomplished. 


If you're a fan of the horror genre, I encourage you to check out BACKMASK when it's eventually released. I believe they might make some more nips and tucks to the film, but even if they released it as is, it’s still worth your time.