No doubt about it, Ti West is a promising horror filmmaker that has, in the past decade, turned mere potential into a burgeoning brand of his own. Dude made an instant mark with his feature debut THE ROOST in 2005, and in the 10 year interim between then and now, is starting to become more of a household name as a dedicated purveyor of ultra gory and grisly entertainment. Hell, when you start off as a young indie hopeful and graduate to helming a stint of Scream The Series for MTV, yup, you’ve arrived!
Not that it’s all been a primrose path of a career for Mr. West. After ruling THE ROOST in ’05, Ti has maintained control of his own material by continuing to direct scripts he writes himself, which, let’s be real, sets him apart from a lot of filmmakers right there. The authorial voice has translated (more clearly than others) in subsequent work including TRIGGER MAN, CABIN FEVER 2: SPRING FEVER (which he’s since disavowed), HOUSE OF THE DEVIL, THE INNKEEPERS, THE SACRAMENT, as well as anthological chapters of V/H/S/ and ABCs OF DEATH. Some hits, some misses, but one thing remains clear…the arrow on West’s career is most certainly pointed north. So join us folks, we’re giving Ti an apt Dissection of his 10 year career thus far!
Based on the aggregate of critical mass and wide-spanning metascores – whatever they’re worth – HOUSE OF THE DEVIL seems to be considered West’s best. However, we here at AITH don’t quite cotton to such a belief. Don’t get it twisted though, I love the 80s throwback feel of the flick, and do think the final 20 or so minutes pack a seriously unexpected wallop. But for the first hour…nothing! So, it’s with a bit more discretion that we bestow THE INNKEEPERS the highest honor among West’s work. I really think it’s his most accomplished piece. Here’s why…
Not only was THE INNKEEPERS shot in the real establishment of the Yankee Peddler Inn, built in Connecticut back in 1891, but it’s a place long said to be truly haunted. So right off the bat there’s an inherent eeriness and pent-up history of ghastly vibes and ghoulish energy that really permeates the film. There’s a musty antiquity to the joint that feels genuine. No need to try to manufacture the creep factor when you have the real thing right there. A wise move on West’s part.
As for the story, I just really love how it takes its time to get going. The plot features two quirky Innkeepers who, in the last week before the Hotel closes for business, decide to prove or dispel the long-running theory that the place is indeed haunted. Sara Paxton, a bona fide scream queen in her own right, stars alongside Pat Healy as the two hoteliers. And really, their droll interactions are good enough to entertain without the fright night they end up enduring. Kudos to Ti for creating three-dimensional characters who aren’t merely meant for grisly victimhood. These two have a depth, a rapport, and the banter between the two before anything of horrific note goes down is really refreshing for a horror picture. The deliberate pace that so hindered HOUSE ON THE DEVIL was used to much better effect here, as the time taken to establish the characters and the slow brooding horror really pays off in the spectral spectacle of a finale.
Speaking of which, the final shot of THE INNKEEPERS might have been too subtle for you to even notice. But if you were lucky enough to spot it, man, the reward is great. Not to spoil much here, but there is a very cool use of a CG ghost in the final frame that really is the best representation of a specter I’ve seen on film. It’s exactly how I’d imagine a real life ghost would appear, almost translucently vaporous. Hardly noticeable. Then, when detected…yup, you scat your f*cking trou!
It’s easy to castigate Ti’s second feature TRIGGER MAN as undoubted sophomore slump, though it’s paltry $10,000 budget and slight 80 minute runtime hardly constitute a full-length credit. So will cut him some slack on that one, particularly since it attempted to tell a real life story. Instead, even knowing full well how West utterly disowned his involvement with CABIN FEVER 2: SPRING FEVER, we’re chocking up the entire debacle as his worst filmmaking experience. And really, I suppose it starts with West failing to pen his own screenplay for the much anticipated flesh-eating sequel. Probably put him behind the eight-ball from day one, despite the fact he hold story credit for the film.
The story goes that once West wrapped production, producers and editors came in with every intent to kill the originally envisioned movie. Massive reshoots and reedits all but rendered West’s version unrecognizable, so much so that West wanted his namesake stripped from the credits in place of the alias Alan Smithee. No such luck however. Nope, I’m afraid this an permanent blemish on West’s record, even if he had little to do with the final output. The horrors of moviemaking!
Is there such a distinction as the first horror hipster? Oh we jape and jest, and would never cast a pejorative tone on that word when it comes to West being a cool young filmmaker. Not just for rocking flannel and beanie anyway. Truthfully, at this point I’d say the West calling card is writing and directing his own original material. I mean, the man has 12 writing credits and 12 directing credits, all of which align to reverberate one true authorial voice. Whether its essaying a creature feature, zombie yarn, Satanic worship, a flesh-chewing virus, a haunted hotel, or even suicidal occult brainwash…as diverse as that net spans…there’s only a single brain-trust behind it all. Ti’s!
Beyond the diversity and maintaining authorship of his own material, it’s clear West has a deep romanticism for halcyon horror of yore. HOUSE OF THE DEVIL was conceived and shot as if it were really made in 1983. As such, the flick almost plays less as a vintage throwback and more of a nostalgic love-letter to when the genre was at its most fecund.
Taking it even further, casting recurrences of West’s also include a small coterie of actors like Tom Noonan, Larry Fessenden, Sean Reid and a few others. Nothing like making movies with your friends, right? F*ckin’ A!
It’s not often a filmmaker’s latest release is considered their most sub rosa, but that’s exactly what I’m posting with West’s mass-suicide occult picture THE SACRAMENT. I mean, how many of you have seen it? Well, if you haven’t, you should. Not only does it feature one of the most charismatically creepy turns from any actor I’ve ever seen (Gene Jones), it has a raw, unvarnished, documentary quality that, aesthetically, is really quite different than West’s other pictures. It’s also a daytime horror joint for a lot of the time, which is also a nice change up. The flick follows three pals trying to locate one of their sisters, who ran off to find solace at Eden Parish, a rural cult-community deep in the heart of unknown foreign country. Civil by day, bat-shit brainwashing by night, THE SACRAMENT is a hard to swallow potable of unparalleled terror. Really, the final sequence of this film is f*cking bonkers!
Luckily for us, West has a pair of wildly diverse but equally intriguing genre joints barreling down the lane. On the big-screen, a vengeful western with an A-list cast comes in the form of IN A VALLEY OF VIOLENCE. John Travolta and the great Ethan Hawke headline an ensemble that also includes Taissa Farmiga, Karen Gillan, old favorites Larry Fessenden and James Ransone, Toby Huss, Burn Gorman, K. Harrison Sweeney, Jeff Bairstow, James E. Lane and Tommy Nohilly. Peep the simple logline that’s bound to be subverted by the Direction West:
A revenge Western film set in the 1890s, where a man arrives in a small town seeking vengeance for his murdered friend.
Sounds so tired, right? Well I’m willing to bet bucks for bra-straps that the flick will be anything but. My guess is such a monastic premise is only meant to keep the real story out of the presses hands and thereby preserve a bit of mystery. Well, I guy can hope, can’t he?
As for the small-screen, I’m rather loaded with agog to echo the fact that West will direct one of the final two episodes of Scream The Series, which we’ve been reviewing with great enjoyment each and every week. And if the following tweet is any indication, West sounds pretty pumped as well:
“The first movie I drove myself to see when I got my license was @wescraven’s SCREAM. Now I’m directing part the TV Series. Life is weird.”
Weird indeed. But I seriously can’t wait to see if and how much of his own trademark verve he brings into the ultimate or penultimate episode of Scream. After-all, HONEYMOON director Leigh Janiak helmed episode 7 of the series, and the sheer brutality and cinematic qualities she brought to the table resulted in the highest score we gave the show so far. My guess is West will push all of his chips to the center of the felt and call all bluffers. Shit better get gnarly!
Like it, love it, despise it…Ti West has taken the horror world by storm over the last 10 years or so. It started with a pair of short flicks before escalating to THE ROOST, TRIGGER MAN, HOUSE OF THE DEVIL, CABIN FEVER 2, THE INNKEEPERS, THE SACRAMENT, V/H/S and ABCs OF DEATH. And while his newest venture is a Ti Western, IN A VALLEY OF VIOLENCE, the director is on record saying the film features the most disturbing stints of violence in any of his movies. So even out of genre, dude’s bringing the unapologetic gore. Gotta love it. I’ve certainly come to, and genuinely look forward to see what West has in store in the future. Keep killing ’em Ti, keep killing em!