And now, from the Park City at Midnight section, we bring you Simon Barrett –  writer/director/executive producer of the feature film S-VHS. Sundance describes the Midnight section as such, ”from horror flicks to comedies to works that defy any genre, these unruly films will keep you edge-seated and wide awake. Each is a world premiere.”

Barrett is one of S-VHS’s five directors, four executive producers, and six writers. Add to that, six DP’s and only five cast members and this already sounds like an interesting set-up. According to imdb.com, the plot is described as, “Searching for a missing student, two private investigators break into his house and find collection of VHS tapes. Viewing the horrific contents of each cassette, they realize there may be dark motives behind the student’s disappearance.”

S-VHS is a sequel to V/H/S, which was at last year’s Sundance festival. The fest staff elaborates on the film.

Inside a darkened house looms a column of TVs littered with VHS tapes, a pagan shrine to forgotten analog gods. The screens crackle and pop endlessly with monochrome vistas of static—white noise permeating the brain and fogging concentration. But you must fight the urge to relax: this is no mere movie night. Those obsolete spools contain more than… » just magnetic tape. They are imprinted with the very soul of evil.

From the demented minds that brought you last year’s V/H/S comes S-VHS, an all-new anthology of dread, madness, and gore. This follow-up ventures even further down the demented path blazed by its predecessor, discovering new and terrifying territory in the genre. This is modern horror at its most inventive, shrewdly subverting our expectations about viral videos in ways that are just as satisfying as they are sadistic. The result is the rarest of all tapes—a second generation with no loss of quality.

Watch the S-VHS trailer.

Interested? We are too and very excited to have a little background on Barrett and his filmmaking influences straight him the man himself. We asked if he’d guest blog for us and he didn’t disappoint.

I was excited about this [guest blog invite] just because I’ve always wanted to write about a Miramax release that has likely gone under the radar for a lot of young film fans: Philip Ridley’s The Reflecting Skin. I myself have never seen the film on the big screen – Miramax released it in theaters in 1990, but it played nowhere near my hometown of Columbia, Missouri, and at the age of 12 I probably couldn’t have snuck in to see it anyway. The Reflecting Skin was released on DVD for the first time in December of 2011 by Echo Bridge, 21 years after its release; until then, I’d had to make do with my old Miramax VHS tape, which had traveled with me from apartment to apartment throughout my teenage and adult years.

The reason The Reflecting Skin so galvanized me as a teenage filmmaker is that its fusion of horror genre elements with a serious coming of age story was totally unique to me; I was an obsessive fan of the horror genre, but The Reflecting Skin was something different. The film takes place in a nightmarish version of rural Idaho in the 1950s, all cornfields and sunny, slightly askew tableaus, its Dick Pope cinematography reminiscent of an Andrew Wyeth painting, with decay and madness beneath the surface. Our young protagonist prays to a dead infant in a wasp nest that he believes is a fallen angel. He suspects that his veteran brother, Viggo Mortensen, is gradually being transformed into a vampire by a mysterious neighbor, when in fact the brother has been exposed to radiation during his WWII military service and is increasingly ill. And in one of the film’s least disturbing elements, which is really saying something, a car filled with child rapists and murderers is going around town picking off our hero’s friends. The plot is utter nihilism, but never pointlessly bleak and depressing, and not without hope; instead, the film beautifully encapsulates the confusion and frequently terrifying powerlessness of being a child.

At the time that I saw The Reflecting Skin, my only exposure to anything like the “art horror” sub-genre was movies like Tetsuo, Eraserhead, Santa Sangre or The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover (the last, another excellent Miramax production), films that were amazing but in many ways inaccessible to a young viewer seeking entertainment over art. I also had not yet seen films like The 400 Blows, nor had I read The Tin Drum or The Painted Bird, obvious influences on The Reflecting Skin. The film was unlike anything I’d seen before; captivating, with compelling characters, but utterly suited to my cynical teenage tastes. As such, The Reflecting Skin became the first “art” movie that I studied, watching it enough times to begin to deconstruct its camerawork and editing and think about what it took to get the film’s disaffected, heartbreaking performances onscreen; it was my early version of film school, and far more educational that most of the classes I eventually took.

The writer and director of The Reflecting Skin, Philip Ridley, has only made two films since, 1995’s occasionally brilliant but confounding The Passion of Darkly Noon, starring Brendan Frasier, and the more genre-oriented Heartless in 2009. (He also wrote the cult gangster drama The Krays.) Ridley remains a relatively obscure director, beloved by connoisseurs but certainly not mentioned in the pantheon of great Miramax filmmakers of the ‘90s. To anyone who has not seen The Reflecting Skin, I urge you to do so immediately; even if its dark sensibilities might initially seem alienating, the film remains a hidden masterpiece, one that exposed my young brain to the possibilities of fusing various genre archetypes to create a unique forms of storytelling. In my personal opinion, it is one of the best movies of all time.

Watch the trailer to The Reflecting Skin.

The next S-VHS Sundance screening is on Sunday Jan.20, 9pm at the Tower Theatre in Salt Lake City. You can buy tickets for this or three of their other screenings on the Sundance website.

The Reflecting Skin is available on DVD.

The Sundance Film Festival runs January 17-27 in Park City, Utah.

Thanks to our Guest Blogger, Simon Barrett.  Next up: Meet Darci Picoult, screenwriter of the feature film, Mother of George.

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