Review: An exercise in subtle horror

BY JORDAN RYDER | APRIL 02, 2015 5:00 AM

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I knew that Upsidedown Cross was not going to be a happy film when I sat down to watch it. What did surprise me was the quiet dread and disgust it inspired. It has been a long time since I have hated a character as much as I did the Preacher, played by Scratch Acid and Jesus Lizard actor David Yow.

But when you screen a film featured in a series called Late Shift at the Grindhouse, you should prepare yourself for some horror.

Ross Meyer, the head projectionist at FilmScene, 118 E. College St., said he was excited to see the latest film from horror director William Hellfire, who recently won the Arizona Underground Film Festival award for Best Exploitation Film for Upsidedown Cross.

“I was a fan of William Hellfire’s work and was excited to see his return to filmmaking after a long hiatus,” Meyer said. “… I also figured that with all the music fans milling around town for the Mission Creek Festival that people would be excited to see David Yow in a way they’ve perhaps never seen him before.”

Upsidedown Cross is one of several films playing at FilmScene during Mission Creek — which, in addition to music, literature, and art, has a growing film aspect. FilmScene hosted the Iowa Sceendance Festival on Tuesday and I Dream of Wires on Wednesday. Today at 6:30 p.m., guests can see the black comedy I’m Not Patrick, and stick around for a Q&A with writer and director Eric Obenhauf following the show. The sold-out program Sqürl Live Film Score will take place Friday, while the movies Memphis, Dragonslayer, and Who is Bozo Texino will screen Saturday.

Though Mission Creek is limited to this week, FilmScene hosts a new bloody movie for the Late Shift at the Grindhouse series every Wednesday at 10 p.m., to which Upsidedown Cross is a worthy addition.

The film follows Nadine, a young woman returning home after running away years before. Since she ran away, she had been abused, exploited, and become a drug-addicted prostitute. Her mother decides that the only explanation for Nadine’s behavior is demonic possession and hires the Preacher to exorcise her. His initial efforts go nowhere, and he resorts to increasingly more abusive and violent tactics.

Not horrifying in the traditional sense of hack and slash, blood and gore, this film is more about slow-cooking horror: Dreading the Preacher’s next barbarous torture method. Being disgusted with the mother for standing by and allowing it all to happen. Feeling sorrow for Nadine …although, as badly as I felt for her, Nadine is by far the film’s weakest link.

The protagonist is very closed off and withdrawn, as survivors of traumas usually are. This the actress captures very well. However, her acting abilities fell short whenever she had express anything else. For example, in one early scene her mother hits her hard enough that Nadine starts bleeding. Nadine doesn’t seem fazed in the slightest, but her dialogue certainly seems to indicate that she should be upset.

The movie also seems to just skip over the drug-addict part of her character. She has one scene of withdrawal symptoms and then entire idea is dropped, and Nadine is troubled no more by it.

Upsidedown Cross is a predicable, by-the-numbers film about religious mania and abuse. In some ways this helps it, adding to the horror factor. There were several moments where I thought to myself “I really don’t want to be right” and found that I very much was.

In the end, this was an interesting film to see, just far from a happy one.

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