Soho Horror Film Festival: Red Screening, Cassette and Alchemia

Ricardo Islas as Come Ojos in Red Screening

Red Screening was the second feature of the penultimate week of the Soho Horror Film Festival’s Shockdown Saturdays events featuring the theme “the silver scream,” horror films featuring other films within them. Far different than what was witnessed in our first feature, A Little More Flesh, Red Screening was a straight-up popcorn-munching slasher flick and, by comparison, a far more relaxing affair. As with every film at Soho, a pair of thematic shorts introduced the film.

The first short, Ilya Polyakov’s Cassette, brought us into the Cinefile video store. You can find just about any title you’re looking for, but you also won’t find another soul in the world. Inquiring inside about the “Now Hiring” sign in the window, Oz (Tony Bartele), a burgeoning screenwriter, hopes to have the opportunity to watch films and become inspired to write at the store. The interview process doesn’t last long, but the shop’s owner (Joseph Miller) speaks passionately about how the store is a cathedral while feeding the shop’s pet snake a helpless mouse. The foreshadowing is palpable and makes for an intense atmosphere in the late-night location, ramping up as the lights begin to flicker and Oz finds a mysterious tape with his name on it.  Polyakov has a great eye on the technical side and uses horror overtones and genre posters to great effect. The short is quite menacing, but like the video store, I craved a little more.

the store owner stands with his hands open in front of Oz, who has backed himself up into one of the video shelves that surround the two men
Joseph Miller and Tony Bartele in Cassette

Natacha Thomas’ Alchemia, the second short of the evening, was quite avant-garde. The story of two lovers (Leslie Carles and Iván González) who go on a killing spree unfolds through a techno beat and a neon-infused montage. Alchemia is based on a real-life serial killer couple, but unfortunately, if you blink you could miss an entire section of the plot. Thomas’s idea, cinematography, and editing skills are absolutely commendable, but the entire short hits your eyeballs as if you’ve just been subject to a Manchurian experiment. It’s frighteningly immediate over a far too intimidating pace. 

The second feature this week I was really excited for, Uruguayan slasher film Red Screening (Al Morir la Matinée), and it did not disappoint. The film started with high-production value ariel shots and I was impressed right away. These kinds of production values are rare in independent cinema,  and I was taken with that and the loving Hitchcockian credit sequence that followed our killer’s (Ricardo Islas) arrival at the cinema: Cine Opera. Our Killer strolls to the ticket booth in his dark rain slicker and up the stairs of the cineplex, helping a boy retrieve his spilled candy on his way by holding a piece in the center of his black glove. The whole scene is quite giallo-esque as the camera shows its antagonist but never his face, centering on the ominous nature of the character and the bag he carries with him.  

Ana searches the theater with a flashlight
Luciana Grasso in Red Screening

The film sets up its protagonist, Ana (Luciana Grasso), whose only interests are to study and help out her sick, projectionist father, making her a pretty obvious contender for the final girl. The film also introduces the theater patrons seeing the film: three drunk teenagers, a couple on a date, and a few other loners there—one in particular fighting with an usher (Pedro Duarte). My favorite character set up of them all was a reference some genre fans may not have caught. Maximiliano Contenti’s use of Tomas (Franco Duran) sneaking into the cinema and watching the screening of Frankenstein: Day of the Beast is quite reminiscent of how Toto sneaks into films in Cinema Paradiso. Where both films contain the love of movies and memorable movie-going experiences, Red Screening takes that affection of film from Cinema Paradiso and allows Tomas to experience the blood-soaked romp of the horror genre on the silver screen through the cracks of the fingers covering his eyes.  

Red Screening’s plot is pretty straightforward. In a theater showing a late-night monster movie, a killer begins murdering the audience. Slowly and during the louder, more action-packed sequences, the killer methodically picks each patron off and removes their eyes. The giallo fashion of the killer is something the film gives credit to Dario Argento for, touting Tenebrae promos in the projection booth, an Opera poster in the lobby, and even naming the cinema Cine Opera. I, however, found the film has a weird connection to Bigas Luna’s 1987 film Anguish. In Anguish, filmgoers in a theater are stalked by a killer as they watch the diegetic film The Mommy unfold on screen. In The Mommy, a murderous ophthalmologist steals his victims’ eyes to bring to his telepathic mother. He barricades himself inside a theater and then begins to murder its patrons. See the resemblance?

Ana retrieves a weapon to fight the killer with and holds it up like a sword under the light of the projector
Luciana Grasso in Red Screening

The best part was looking up the on-screen film that was playing in Red Screening, though, mostly because I was curious to know its legitimacy. Frankenstein: Day of the Beast is real (and available to stream), but it was the fact that the movie was directed by Ricardo Islas, Red Screening’s eye-stealing slasher, that really got me. Though Red Screening says it takes place in 1993, Frankenstein: Day of The Beast was not released until 2011. It’s a silly nitpick, but it does make me wonder if the director had originally tried to use Opera or Anguish instead. If Anguish had been the original film, it would have been three layers of movies with movies, making me question if maybe I too was in a movie. All of these connections and nods to other films make Red Screening a lot more fun to watch, plus it moves at a great pace, has a fantastic score supplied by Hernán González, and has plenty of great, gory kills. 

With the exception of The Last Thanksgivingwhich also featured murder in a cinema, there hadn’t been a lot of slashers at Soho. I’m not complaining, the range and span of the genres that have been presented have been amazing, but slashers hold a very high place in my horror-heart. They’re an extremely difficult subgenre to pull off well, but Red Screening made it feel effortless, and with that, I will be on the lookout for future efforts from Maximiliano Contenti. 

the killer holds up a melon baller as he makes his way toward Ana, Tomas, and Angela
Ricardo Islas, Luciana Grasso, Franco Duran, and Julieta Spinelli in Red Screening

Shockdown Saturdays are continuing next week with Browse and Dementia: Part IIalong with the Strong Language Violent Scenes Live Podcast for their final weekend. If you’d like to be a part of the festival, all you have to do is become a member of the festival’s Facebook page and click the links in the announcements section when the films become available on Saturday. All showings are based on local time in Soho, England—check with their website and Facebook page for times (often they leave the links open until Sunday at midnight). The festival is free, but Soho Horror Film Festival is operating solely on viewer support donations and entirely without sponsors. So, if you like what you see, I’d strongly encourage you to support them so we can all indulge in future events.

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Written by Sean Parker

Living just outside of Boston, Sean has always been facinated by what horror can tell us about contemporary society. He started writing music reviews for a local newspaper in his twenties and found a love for the art of thematic and symbolic analysis. Sean joined Horror Obsessive at it's inception, and is currently the site's Creative Director. He produces and edits the weekly Horror Obsessive podcast for the site as well as his interviews with guests. He has recently started his foray into feature film production as well, his credits include Alice Maio Mackay's Bad Girl Boogey, Michelle Iannantuono's Livescreamers, and Ricky Glore's upcoming Troma picture, Sweet Meats.

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