Tuesday, 15 July 2014

Discopath (2013)

Canada gave us some of the most notable slashers back in the sub-genre’s early 80’s Golden Age: ‘Terror Train’ (1980), My Bloody Valentine and ‘Happy Birthday to Me’ in 1981, ‘Visiting Hours’ (1982) and the more obscure entries ‘American Nightmare’ and ‘Curtains’ in 1983. The first of the bunch though to see the light of day in the wake of the phenomenal commercial success of Sean S. Cunningham’s 1980 slasher template Friday the 13th in the same year was ‘Prom Night’. It memorably featured extended disco sequences during the climax of the prom to capitalize on the then just about still in dance music craze. Now we have ‘Discopath’ the low-budget independently produced directorial debut of French Canadian filmmaker Renaud Gauthier who also serves as writer and producer. It is a retro throwback to this heyday of the slasher film actually using disco for its premise in the period settings of New York City, 1976 and Montreal, 1980. It was actually screened together with ‘Prom Night’ when it had its US premiere at the American Cinematheque in Los Angeles of October last year.

In the first act set in New York, ’76 the young and handsome yet timid Duane Lewis (Jérémie Earp-Lavergne) changes completely when he is introduced to the sound of the new dance music sensation that is sweeping the nation - disco. Although the throbbing rhythmic beats do not turn him into an extroverted dance sex machine like John Travolta in John Badham’s classic 1977 disco drama ‘Saturday Night Fever’, but instead triggers violent malevolent behaviour that stems from a traumatic childhood incident turning him into a deranged psychopath - a “discopath”. After brutally murdering a young woman in a nightclub and stealing money and a passport from the nightclub’s owner, he gets the next plane out fleeing to Montreal to go into exile. Flashing forwards to 1980, he is now living under the identity of the nightclub owner’s name and working as a janitor in a Catholic girl’s school. He wears a hearing aid that in essence makes him deaf so he can avoid every sound and therefore the urge to kill again from hearing music particularly disco. However, it is not enough to block out the sound of the 70’s dance music coming from the room of two hot sexy teenage girls who are getting it on with each other. Can Duane now a dangerous serial killer be stopped?

If the movie proves to be a commercial success with its target audience - this is a genre work made for genre fans by a genre enthusiast - then I can see it causing a divide within the horror community becoming a marmite topic… and I like a bit of marmite. It has a very knowing campy tongue firmly in cheek humorous approach at times with its dialogue and visual gags resulting in intentional cheese that is hit or miss clashing with the more dark serious approach of the murder set-pieces making the tone all over the place uneven. In addition, if you like the idea of a period set retro slasher that harks back to genre filmmaking of yesteryear while paying tribute to this era of music then there’s a good chance you will like it but otherwise it might be a bit of a turn off. It is certainly one of the better entries in the slew of genre throwbacks to be made encompassing various sub-genres since Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino’s 2007 double bill ‘Grindhouse’ and the period settings are captured perfectly.

I loved the atmospheric believable recreation of the 70's disco scene in NYC with its mise-en-scène of accurate fashions and an authentic looking nightclub sequence of the era accompanied by the equally authenticated soundtrack. Although when the setting shifts with an abrupt change of environment to Montreal, ’80 including French speaking Canadians just as this genre of dance music was on a decline it loses that atmosphere with a 70’s disco vibe and the gritty look and feel it had with the NY scenery although the down to a T accurate fashions remain. The film was actually shot entirely in Montreal and that is testament to how good the production values and the attention of detail are in recreating New York. To be fair the nature of this low-budget Canadian production was not going to allow for a story set entirely in this American city. With a bigger budget, I would have loved to see a grimy mean spirited slasher set entirely in the nightclubs and on the streets of 70’s NYC. It pulls it off much better than when the abysmal 1989 slasher sequel ‘Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhatten’ tried to pass off Vancouver for New York in its third act.

The story arc is similar to Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984). The first 25-minutes in the 70’s NY setting is the strongest for what I stated above but also because we see the events from Duane’s point of view; a personal subjective narrative depicting the backstory of a traumatized character portrayed as a victim who becomes the full blown slasher villain for the rest of the proceedings. The story is then seen here from the perspectives of the police detectives investigating the case and the schoolteachers at the Catholic girl’s school. The scenes of the police investigation into Duane’s murders are of little significance adding nothing substantial to the plot other than setting up the entertaining chase sequence in the climax heightened greatly by the immensely effective use of the fantastic KISS hit ‘I Was Made for Lovin’ You’ leading to a very surprising finale. Slasher fans will appreciate the sleazy set-pieces depicting the graphically gruesome slicing n’ dicing of  very attractive young women akin to the supposed misogyny of William Lustig’s Maniac (1980) and Lucio Fulci’s The New York Ripper (1982). These gory grisly sights feature excellent special make-up effects work by Rémy Couture executing very creative kills aided effectively well by the stylish visuals and solid editing making for highly memorable macabre imagery. Earp-Lavergne is convincingly creepy and intense in his insane murderous madness as Duane. 

In spite of its flaws, ‘Discopath’ still manages to be an extremely cool little movie. It is impossible for me not to like with its irresistible nostalgic genre charm aping the early 80’s golden age of the slasher sub-genre with much genuine love for it rather than coming off as something just faux lacking the authenticity that some so called love letters do with no passion for the material. If you can dig this genre nostalgia drenched in the 70’s disco culture it also pays homage to topped with a heavy layer of cheese with its nudge, nudge, wink wink approach that sometimes hits the mark in contrast to its darker serious leanings with its kills then it is overall a very enjoyable good time for its demographic. This is a confident debut by Gauthier whose talent evident here promises greater things to come. I hope for a sequel that could be set around a different music scene like New Romanticism and with the events here ending in 1980, maybe this could be a set up for that.

'Discopath' is currently only available on DVD in Canada but if you are in the US, you can watch it on Amazon Instant and you can also watch the first 4-mintues of the film here -

*** out of ****

Dave J. Wilson

©2014 Cinematic Shocks, Dave J. Wilson - All work is the property of the credited author and may not be reprinted or reproduced elsewhere without permission.

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