What there is to say about horror movies tends to be in inverse proportion to what they gross. Take The Twilight Saga: Eclipse, the latest in that juggernaut of anemic vampire romances. To its credit it has an actual horror film director, David Slade (30 Days of Night), at the helm, so that element is more forceful than in its lifeless predecessor, New Moon. And Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart contribute a cheeky commentary track on the DVD. (“Why do I have to be carried everywhere?” asks Stewart at the exact same moment I was thinking the same thing.) But, boy, Gods and Monsters Oscar winner Bill Condon will have his work cut out for him sustaining the climactic Breaking Dawn through two installments.
Leaving Twilight to the teens, pull your chair up to the table and let me tell you about Bitter Feast, new from producer-hyphenate Larry Fessenden’s Glass Eye Pix, the makers of the 70s-styled The House of the Devil and the period piece horror comedy I Sell the Dead.
Synopsis: Bitter Feast is foodie horror with a depressingly pertinent message about blogger responsibility. Following a family tragedy frustrated writer J.T. Franks (Blair Witch Project alum Joshua Leonard) has walled himself off from his concerned wife Katherine (Amy Seimetz) and funneled all his negative energy into his food blog, dispatching chefs, restaurants, and trends with alacrity. A favorite target is TV chef Peter Grey (James LeGros, an indie mainstay since at least 1989’s Drugstore Cowboy), who draws the bullseye just as his contract is being cancelled. (As “Gordon,” a celebrity-conscious restaurant financier, Mario Batali delivers the death blow.) Blaming the acid-penned Franks for his misfortune the obsessed Grey kidnaps the blogger and serves up just desserts, forcing Franks to boil the perfect egg and prepare the perfect medium-rare organic steak, on pain of starvation and worse. Call it Misery on a stick.
While the film references others (LeGros’ artist chef reminded me of Vincent Price’s critic-killing thespian in 1973’s Theater of Blood, and a gourmet rat sequence recalls 1962’s What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?) it’s more Paring Knife than Saw in terms of explicit gore, though things do get messy in and out of the kitchen. Thematically it’s kind of like Christmas in Connecticut (1945), where Barbara Stanwyck’s butterfingered food writer is obliged to prepare a holiday meal for her employer, only that this ordeal doesn’t end with hugs and smiles. The tightly wound aesthete and his emotionally and creatively stifled prey come to be two heads of the same rusty coin, even resembling one another as the sadism winds on (and at 104 minutes, with the opening credits cleverly placed well after the opening, it does come close to boiling over, though Joe Maggio’s scripting and direction are on balance spare and taut). Much credit due LeGros especially for refraining from caricature, which put this blogger on alert. Watch what you type, a lesson for all in these overheated times. (I hasten to add that the film isn’t didactic about this; it’s there among the throat slashings and gastronomical terrorism.)
Audio/Video: A strong anamorphic transfer (1.78:1 aspect ratio) handles DP Michael McDonough’s low- to no-light shooting (it’s a horror film after all) with relative ease. An English 5.1 mix is equally proficient and benefits an astringent score by Jeff Grace…and a few screams.
Special Features: Glass Eye Pix releases are usually strong on extras and Bitter Feast is no exception. There is a teaser and a trailer, a nondescript deleted scene, and an alternate ending that extends the film in a predictable if momentarily satisfying way. A half-hour making of explains the film satisfactorily but to make it a full-course meal a tech-oriented commentary with Maggio, Fessenden, co-producers Peter Phok and Brent Kunkle, and sound designer Graham Reznick is included. Maggio sits down with Batali for a seven-minute conversation. No admirer of the genre the celeb chef says he doesn’t have the time to do as Grey does with his critics…but he doesn’t rule it out, either.
Bottom Line: Red meat for discriminating horror fans.