Evan Marlowe’s new film Abruptio may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but for certain horror fans who take their tea extra-gory, this puppet-driven descent into insanity will be a real treat.
“Well, I’m a huge fan of David Lynch, Buñuel, surrealism is in my blood. I like anything that kind of breaks down rules and says ‘Let’s try something new and see how that works.’ All this was kind of an experiment,” Marlowe says.
Written by Marlowe and produced by Marlowe and his wife and partner in cinematic crime Kerry Finlayson, Abruptio features the vocal talents of horror titans Sid Haig (House of 1000 Corpses) Robert Englund (the Freddy Kreuger) and even Jordan Peele.
James Marsters of Buffy The Vampire Slayer fame plays Les Hackle, a man going through the motions in life, who wakes up to find a bomb has been implanted in his neck at the base of his skull.
He knows the threat is real when he witnesses a fellow implantee lose his head for not obeying the cryptic messages commanding him to commit crimes escalating in heinousness and depravity.
And that’s the least insane event of the film.
From the very jump, Marlowe’s vision is unnerving. He might as well be mayor of the “uncanny valley,” the place a puppet, robot, or illustration inhabits when it is human enough to be recognizable as a portrayal of a human being, and yet inhuman enough to evoke feelings of fear and anxiety.
“As far as the aesthetics…I was telling the fabricator, really kind of maintain that puppet-y look just so it falls within that unreal valley that makes people uncomfortable when they’re looking at it,” Marlowe says.
A sphincter-tightening combination of master puppetry, Crank Yankers-esque mechanics, sex doll anatomy and the lifeless eyes of the animatronic shark from Jaws, Abruptio’s puppets nonetheless somehow demand a bit of empathy.
Chelsea, in particular, voiced by Hana Mae Lee of Pitch Perfect and the Babysitter, might be a horrifying creation of latex with eyes, but Marlowe’s script is meaty enough that actors can dig in and give soul to characters that push the rock bottom of inhumanity just a bit lower.
Less of a gimmick, the puppets are part of the film’s central theme. As Les Hackle is controlled by outside forces and denies any moral culpability for his actions, it seems someone outside of him is pulling the strings. The more the audience is shocked by the plot twists and bonkers story developments, the more they may question reality and its hold on Les Hackle.
Hackle himself is the type of enigma that explains America’s fascination with serial killers like Edmund Kemper and Ted Bundy; the kind of nowhere man whose exceedingly unremarkable life he blames on the whims of domineering women, all while committing horrifying violence and claiming his actions are not his own, but the result of some outside force.
“I would say he’s more than just just a loser. There’s definitely some anger and hostility towards women in this character,” Marlowe says. “That was intentional because this is a person that doesn’t relate to people in general, but particularly women.”
Hackles’ violence against women may at first blush seem a manifestation of misogyny and male wish-fulfillment that has reared its ugly head in the horror genre, especially due to the use of sex dolls as part of the film’s puppetry.
Marlowe says initially the choice to use sex dolls came down to their ready availability, but as a director he wanted to comment on the type of person who is so depraved they refuse to take accountability for their choices.
“Good filmmakers always demand their audience pay attention and participate in the process and not just be a passive recipient,” Marlowe says.
Without being preachy, the film examines power, control and coercion in a way that forces the audience member to participate, to think critically and examine the frame, even if only for clues as to what the hell is going on in Marlowe’s insane puppet abattoir.
Aug 26 & Aug 29
Mt. View Showplace ICON, Mountain View