ANTRUM: THE DEADLIEST FILM EVER MADE: The Spirit Is Willing, But The Film Is Too Weak

“The antrum, the lowermost part of the stomach, is somewhat funnel-shaped, with its wide end joining the lower part of the body and its narrow end connecting with the pyloric canal, which empties into the duodenum (the upper division of the small intestine). The pyloric portion of the stomach (antrum plus pyloric canal) tends to curve to the right and slightly upward and backward and thus gives the stomach its J-shaped appearance.” — Encyclopædia Britannica

Can Films Really Be Cursed?

In the episode of Shudder’s new series, Cursed Films, on The Omen (1976), there is a conversation with Michael Shermer (founder of The Skeptics Society & editor-in-chief of Skeptic magazine) about how the human mind willfully blinds itself by focusing on a singular category while conveniently ignoring counter-categories that might challenge one’s belief. He separates various films into four categories: horror films that are cursed, horror films that are not cursed, non-horror films that are cursed, and non-horror films that are not cursed. By broadening the focus out, his point is to show how willfully ignorant people are in believing that some horror films are cursed in any real, material sense. Especially since one could make a case that cursed horror films make up the smallest percentage of those four categories.

ANTRUM: THE DEADLIEST FILM EVER MADE: The Spirit Is Willing, But The Film Is Too Weak
source: Uncork’d Entertainment

Whether Shermer’s argument works is up for debate—it has a surprising similarity to an argument for belief in a divinity by Blaise Pascal which Shermer would most assuredly reject—but what it does show is that the idea of a horror film being cursed remains a real belief that people on both sides of the movie screen hold regardless of how seldom a film actually fits that category. This belief illuminates a couple of cultural assumptions. First, that horror inherently glorifies evil, demonic forces, and any other negative elements that may exist in the world. Second, that humans continually grasp for something beyond themselves and a simplistic materialist construct.

I Saw Satan Fall Like Lightning

It is within this ambiguous cultural milieu of imagination and religious belief, that filmmakers, David Amito and Michael Laicini, have stepped into with their film, Antrum: The Deadliest Film Ever Made. The film is part faux documentary and part faux-seventies style horror film. The film opens with all of the clichés of a typical informational documentary. Experts, magazine writers, filmmakers, academics, etc. are asked about this obscure film that led to the death of several people directly after viewing it, including the death of many within a movie theater in Hungary that burned down after a showing. The actors and filmmakers play it straight during this opening introduction to this cursed film which has been recovered and is about to be shown.

The remainder of the film is Antrum, the cursed film within the film, which involves a brother and sister who set off into the woods to find the antrum between our world and Hades (or hell, if you prefer). Oralee (played by Nicole Tompkins) tells her younger brother, Nathan (played by Rowan Smyth), that they are going to dig in the spot where Satan fell like lightning from heaven—referring to The Book of Luke, Chapter 10, Verse 18. Why are they descending into the cavity of the earth to reach the netherworld? It is so Nathan can see his dead dog once again after being told by his mother, whether in reality or in a dream, that his dog’s soul was damned.

ANTRUM: THE DEADLIEST FILM EVER MADE: The Spirit Is Willing, But The Film Is Too Weak
source: Uncork’d Entertainment

Each part of Antrum is marked by Dante-esque book chapters notating each of the five levels of hell that the brother and sister dig to. During their adventure, Nathan encounters more and more visions of dark, vaguely humanoid forms that reach out from the natural fauna of the forest. There are shapes that swim along in the water. They also happen upon a couple of men, deep in the forest, that seem to be sacrificing and demeaning people and animals inside what appears to be a demonic brass goat idol. As their digging continues, the natural world around them begins to devolve into madness. As Nathan becomes more and more convinced of the truth of their endeavor even when his sister confesses that she made it all up as a form of catharsis for him. The world’s madness begins to saturate their minds and bodies as well.

It’s Films All The Way Down

One of the gimmicks of the film is the supposed images that are spliced into the film that show a seemingly more modern scene of violence and dehumanization which is otherwise not given any explanation. The film’s sound periodically cuts out allowing for effective moments of dead air as our protagonists look out into the wilderness or witness something strange in the distance. Transposed images in specific scenes make the film feel like it is alive with subliminal dread. In these small ways, Amito and Laicini are able to tie together both elements of their film. We, the viewers, witness the oddities described in the documentary that was the main feature’s prelude.

For all the singular moments of effective use of seventies-style filmmaking and visual effects that call back to worn, projected celluloid, there is a central conceit that is alluded to by the title and is briefly spoken about by one of the “experts” that isn’t fulfilled in any satisfactory way. The antrum notes a chamber or cavity in an anatomical structure like the stomach. The title fits perfectly with the descent into Hades that the film portrays.

However, the documentary alludes to the idea that a film can physically and psychologically affect the human body and mind. That it can transcend its celluloid prison and infect the flesh. This, itself, is a truly fascinating concept that largely gets forgotten by the end of the whole experience and, because of this, what the film has to say about how film interacts with its viewers is largely nullified. It ultimately becomes an enjoyable exercise in seventies horror nostalgia.

ANTRUM: THE DEADLIEST FILM EVER MADE: The Spirit Is Willing, But The Film Is Too Weak
source: Uncork’d Entertainment

When we want to explore the connection between film and technology and human flesh, it is hard to go to any other source than David Cronenberg and especially his 1983 sci-fi/horror film, Videodrome. There is a transgressive element to Cronenberg’s film where videotapes are placed inside of a vaginal slit in the abdomen of James Wood‘s Max Renn, an abdominal “antrum” in its own right. Cronenberg coerces the viewer to gaze on the transgressions of technology upon humanity, showing that the media content we consume, we will become. This is Cronenberg‘s visions of cursed technology and while the imagery probably will never become a material reality in our world, the meaning that bolsters it remains ever so immanent.

Conclusion: Antrum: The Deadliest Movie Ever Made

Amito and Laicini had an opportunity to play with these concepts they introduced and the levels of imagery are ripe for the picking. The natural tie between the cavities of the flesh and this cavity in the earth where Satan fell and all of the traditional religious symbolism that resides in those various layers of metaphor. Not to mention, the various political and cultural arguments made against certain types of cultural products, like horror films and heavy metal music, in the political and religious spheres of influence.

Many paths could have been trodden and subjects explored and commented on in the visuals, dialogue, and formal construction of a film like Antrum: The Deadliest Film Ever Made, yet what we have is an entertaining, but largely empty exercise in metanarrative and nostalgia.

Do you agree with this take? Did you find the imagery and formal construction of the film to be more meaningful? Let us know in the comments! 

Watch Antrum on Amazon.

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