Have you ever found yourself staring, mouth agape, at one of those weird horse masks, the ones mirroring your gaping maw and bulging eyes as you stare? You know, the ones that make you laugh and feel a little nervous at the same time.
Now imagine an empty-eyed horse head, resting on an unnatural humanoid body, as the titular monster of a horror film. Pretty awful, right? This British horror film captures and delivers that peculiar, uncomfortable feeling in the pit of your stomach and so much fucking more.
The story focuses on a beautiful young woman named Jessica (Lilly-Fleur Pointeaux), who visits her parents when her grandmother dies. She suffers from intense, phantasmagoric nightmares that often involve a creature with long, skeletal fingers and a horse’s head. When she arrives at her parents’ home, things get weirder: her grandmother is displayed on the bed – in the funerary fashion of the good old days – catalyzing a surge in the intensity of Jessica’s dreams. The line between dream and reality begins to blur as she begins to unravel a mystery involving her family and the Horsehead creature, birthing – literally and metaphorically – a very intense and unsettling finale.
Don’t let my plot-in-a-nutshell fool you, there’s a lot more to this movie than a cool monster. For starters, this movie owes very little to its British legacy. Horsehead goes for a more Italian feel, straying from the straight-forward style of British greats in horror film and literature like The Wicker Man, Night of the Demon, Frankenstein, Dorian Grey, and Jekyll & Hyde. It uses experimental and bizarre lighting techniques to demonstrate reality with intense yellows, reds, and oranges. Jessica’s dream world is contrasted with reds, blues, and whites. Many horror fans will recall the works of Mario Bava and Dario Argento’s Suspiria. This film could have been the love child of Mario Brava directing under Hammer Studios.
There is a lot of homage to fairy tales as well; Jessica even dresses as Little Red Riding Hood during some scenes. The film is full of erotic and incestuous undertones and has a good dose of Catholic guilt written all over it. The acting is pretty superb, with Fulci veteran Catriona McColl stealing the movie. Her role as Jessica’s mother would get her an Academy Award nomination if there were any justice in this world.
But there isn’t.
The only aspect of the film that came up short was its uneven soundtrack. For the most part, the film is permeated by an atmospheric mix of orchestral and electronic music that recalls some of Tangerine Dream’s best work. Then, at times, there is a weird incorporation of dubstep. For me personally, it doesn’t work in horror; it takes away all the suspense the scene might have created.
If you want a movie that’s full of style, is well-written, and plays out like a thrilling mix of A Nightmare on Elm Street and a Mario Bava giallo, you should give this film a chance. It’s definitely different from your usual horror flick and and brings an old style to a modern delivery.