Short Film Review: Hell to Pay

Directed by:  Patrick Rea
Running Time:  14 minutes
Body Count:  1

I’m beginning to love the independent horror film scene – its like a neverending Creepshow – segment after segment of horrifying plots and premises.  Targeted dead-aim on the meat and potatoes of the story, they trim the fat and unnecessary filler of what could be a longer film and focus on the dark issue at hand.  Enter Hell to Pay – from director Patrick Rea and SenoReality Pictures – a 14 minute series of images that played like a well written short story, packing in a great amount of character development that garnered this creation and gave it its strength.

Agnus (played solemnly by Jeanne Averill) is an oppressed housewife, who keeps her home in nice shape and has dinners ready for her beloved husband when he gets home.  In between the nine to five, when she’s done with her daily chores, Agnus likes to sit in front of the television and knit clothing for her dolls.  Upon first sight, she is very drab looking – her hair undone, no makeup, her face down and drawn with the lines of stress and misery.  A glance at the clock on the wall tells her its 4:40!  Herb will be home in about 20 minutes – time to put dinner together.  Its turkey casserole and cherry pie.

Herb (played convincingly enough by Robert Campbell) upon arrival, is fat, bald, and grumpy.  He sits at the table and insults his wife left and right, while she sits patient and attentive, waiting for the least bit of approval.  All Herb can do is belittle her.  “Turkey!?”  “yuch – cherry pie?”  And to top it all off, “Your ass is getting fat.  Maybe you should skip dessert.”  He even implies talking to the fine-looking lady down the street, and how she’s older but looks better than Agnus, maybe because she works out – mentioning how damn good the neighbor looks to boot.  Bastard.  Agnus, frustrated and being forced into depression, begins to fantasize about harming this piece of crap for a mate.  Visions pass through her thoughts – of stabbing him in the top of his skull with a long kitchen knife, instead of serving him his pie.  Jabbing him in the eye with his keys, that she instead hands him on the way out the door.  Agnus, even still, waves goodbye from the doorstep smiling, and he doesn’t even look up from his dashboard.

The next day the same daily routine begins.  The only difference today is the television show Agnus is watching, which presents a professional, world-renown dollmaker named Queen Victoria (played by Victoria Barbee).  She’s famous for making “voodoo” dolls.  With a shirt from the person you’re mimicking, she explains, and some hair from their head, you can make a doll, and cause pain to the miserable soul that deserves it.  Agnus’ eyes light up – she gets a shirt from Herb’s closet, picks some hairs from his clothes with tweezers, and begins to sew the effigy.  She sews feverishly, until realizing once again, that time is up, and it’s 4:40 pm again.

This time, as Herb is on his drive back home, Agnus enters the kitchen with her curiousity boiling, voodoo doll in hand, pin in the other.  Two reluctant stabs to the chest and neck area and Herb is squelching like a bitch.  Back home, Agnus grinds pepper over the head.  Herb begins to sneeze.  She pours Wesson vegetable oil over his head, and Herb feels uncomfortably oily, wiping his face frantically.  Soon he begins to sweat profusely.  Agnus has him over the boiling pot of water in the kitchen.  Herb gets home and staggers through his doorway – and startles Agnus enough to drop the doll into the pot.  Herb falls to the floor, squirming and squealing, his skin red with steam burns.  Agnus gets the doll and wraps it in a dishrag, throwing it in the freezer – runs to the foyer, and finds her husband in shockingly bad form.

You can tell that Agnus may not feverishly want to kill her husband – just cause him pain, like he has done to her.  Putting him up into bed, Herb wraps himself in sheets, shivering uncontrollably with blue lips.  Downstairs at some point, Agnus takes the doll from the freezer, thaws it, and places it on the mantle with the rest of her doll collection.  The next morning, Herb rises refreshed, and prepares to go to work as usual.  But where’s that yellow shirt?  He looks to no avail, and then proceeds towards the mantle, calling for Agnus to help him find his clothes.  Overnight, the doll had fallen to the floor, so when he walks through the living room, his eyes notice it right away.

He begins to redden with anger, and picks up the doll from the floor, walking with it into the kitchen muttering under his breath, “I’ll show you…”  As Agnus enters the kitchen, Herb is already shoving the doll into the garbage dispensor.  Before she can say a word, click, he flips the switch.  All you see is Agnus’ shocked face, as its splattered with gore and chunks.  You can only imagine what might have happened to him as he stood in the kitchen.  The story finsihes with Agnus back in front of the television – dressed immaculately, hair done, makeup applied, glowing with happiness.  In essense, the evil that sucked the life from her heart and soul was destroyed, and now she can go on to live happily ever after.

What is a basic story on paper is well played out on screen.  The actors and actresses involved won’t win any awards for their play, but not one of them was transparent enough to cause this short film any damage whatsoever.  The acting was solid.  Ryan Jones did the original score for this movie – and it plays a great part throughout the film – setting an excellent pace and cueing moments for dark material and delicacy alike.  I found the film had a Martin-ish feel to it, and the soundtrack reminded me of Phantasm – but these are not mimicked in any way shape or form.  Perhaps these are films that shaped the tastes of Rea and Jones.  Either way, Hell To Pay is a promising glimpse at what is to come from Patrick Rea in the future.

Hell to Pay has been shown at the Palm Beach International Film FestivalShriekfest, Central Nebraska Film Festival (where it won Best Short), Kansas City Filmmakers JubileeKAN Film Festival, Conestoga Film Festival (where it won 1st Place Horror Short), and most recently the 2005 New York Horror Film Festival.  The film is also planned to be screened on FangoriaTV.

As of this moment, Partick Rea is working on a series of 2 minute shorts called “Cell Shock”.  Its billed as a horror/suspense series – short stories of the unexpected, made for the hands of the mobile cell-phone world.  Each episode delves into a strange and mysterious world, where a shock is around every corner.  The first installment of this series, called Bad Apples, is showing now at N8 Studios.  Its a “lighthearted” horror episode, preceeding a more terrifying entry to follow, called “Pay the Toll”.

Final analysis:  Patrick Rea takes a basic premise of voodoo dolls and marital revenge and scores with a short that is well built around good character development and story pacing.  The violence is not very graphic – moreso implied – and added to the story instead of being the only redeemable quality it had to offer.  Its voodoo 102 – with prerequesites in confident filmmaking and novel-like storytelling.  I’d recommend this to someone looking to kill the better part of a half hour in horror form – especially if you’re sitting at home, waiting for Mr. Man to get back from work with his less than complimentary attitude and degrading, disrespectful mouth.  If thats you – Hell to Pay is a must watch.

To watch Patrick Rea’s first episode of his Cell Shock series, visit N8 Studios website, and click through the video selector until you get to CELL SHOCK.

For more information on SenoReality Pictures, you can visit their website here.


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