The Hubrisween That Wasn’t: D

D: The Dead Center (2018)

I hate the holidays.

I admit that I don’t hate the holiday itself, but for some reason the forces of fate keep making the run up to Christmas horrible for me. This year its workplace drama and, of course, the Arctic Blast coming through these parts in a couple of days. Houston, indeed, much of Texas, is not good about such things. I fully expect to lose power again, and people will die again, and Ted Cruz is probably already in Cancun. So bah and humbug and all that.

This was the second of the movies I watched I watched and never wrote about. The Letterboxd film diary says I watched it on August 28th. It made enough of an impression that I might only have to skip through my copy for some details, but just barely, and probably only because I knew I was going to be writing about it, no, really.

The movie opens with a body being wheeled into a hospital morgue. No sooner is the gurney placed in a refrigerated room and the light turned out than there is a animalistic growl and the body in the bag starts convulsing. Later we’ll see a dazed man (Jeremy Childs) walking through hospital corridors, shivering. He finds an empty bed, covers himself with a blanket, and passes out.

Next we’ll meet Dr. Daniel Forrester (Shane Carruth, yes, that Shane Carruth, Primer and Upstream Color Shane Carruth), a psychiatrist at that very same hospital who is having some problems of his own. After this mystery catatonic man – who we will learn is named Michael Clark – is discovered in the hospital bed, Forrester bends the rules yet again to get him put in the psych ward under his care. Clark snaps out of his catatonia but remembers nothing, so Forrester begins the process of trying to regain his memories.

Our last proactive cast member is Edward Graham (Bill Feeheely), an investigator with the Medical Examiner’s office. He finds the initial stage of his investigation into Clark’s apparent suicide is a bit hindered by the fact that the body disappeared from the morgue. He continues on, heading toward the scene of death, and finding a motel room covered in blood and a bathtub filled with same. Draining it yields the kitchen knife Clark used to slash his wrists (photos will show Clark did it the right way) – and a mysterious spiral cut into the bathtub’s floor. A similar spiral-shaped weal was on the corpse’s back.

Forrester tries hypnosis on Clark, who can still remember nothing, except that he did die.

” I died, and I came back, it wasn’t the first time. I can’t kill it, it came back with me in the fire. It wanted into this world, it’s inside of me now. It comes back at night, moves around inside of me. I kept cutting cutting until I was dead.”

Graham has backtracked Clark’s timeline to that aforementioned fire, which almost completely consumed the house. Continuing to the home of Clark’s parents, he (and we) find out that the fire killed his wife, but somehow spared Clark and their two children. The parents took them in and Clark’s mental state declined precipitously, until he ran away in the middle of the night, leaving his children behind. Clark’s room at this house has the traditional wall of newspaper clippings about unexplained mass deaths throughout history, and an engraving from an old book, with the caption “I am the Mouth of Death, none are beyond my reach”, which is also the suicide note Clark left behind, although Clark appended “Forgive me.”

I think you all know where this is all headed, and the fun is going to be had in getting there. Clark is going to beg Forrester to kill him again, because when he tried to do it himself, “I just made it stronger.” Clark is trying to hold back the Mouth of Death, but will lose control enough times to get some people in the ward killed. Clark’s actual identity will be determined, and his father will show up at the hospital demanding his release. Graham won’t get there in time to stop it, either, and all we can do is watch the tragedy take its course.

The Dead Center is not a bad movie, by any definition of that word. It is competently made, well-shot, and very well acted. I truly love it when methodic investigation slowly uncovers what is going on in any story, and when it’s in service of a horror story, I am ecstatic. It delivers on that aspect.

You may looking at the plot synopsis and thinking, this is a whole bunch of people talking in rooms, isn’t it? Sounds abysmally low budget and yes, you would be correct. It doesn’t look low-budget though, and it looks like most of the money was spent in the final act (where, according to Sam Fuller rules, it should have been), where a panic-stricken Forrester is running through a twilit neighborhood full of houses with the front door ripped off its hinges, full of fresh corpses harvested by the Mouth of Death.

There are several of The Mouth’s kill scenes in the ward where there were more explicit versions filmed, but writer/director Billy Senese felt that went against the “grounded approach” he wanted to take to the story. Unfortunately, that is likely where Senese will lose quite a bit of his audience, who look for such visceral thrills, and will just add to the complaints of low budgetry.

But it’s not a bad movie, not at all, especially if you’re kind of into lo-fi horror.

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