Wednesday, July 7, 2021

Review: Lillith


You really can't be a true horror fan if you don't also include schlocky horror among your passions, imho.

Scary movies have also often been cheap movies throughout the history of cinema. They were they original B-movies, low-budget flicks played on a double bill with the more expensive main feature. The Hammer horror films were famous for their low-end production values, putting all their dough into creature makeup and special effects. The great-granddaddy of the modern horror flick, "Night of the Living Dead," was shot on a shoestring.

Filmmakers having to work without a lot of the tools of their counterparts often had to rely more on their imaginations and inventiveness, resulting in a lot of truly cool, but also some truly awful, horror movies. People who grew up on horror of all spectrums like me learned to appreciate the schlocky stuff, even when it wasn't that good.

"Lillith" is a horror with a lot of comedy elements that definitely belongs in the schlock corner. It's about a college student who summons a killer vixen from hell to exact revenge on her cheating boyfriend, then has to deal with the torrent of bloodletting she's unleashed.

It doesn't have any fancy sets or costumes or lighting; it looks like they just shot it in some college dorm rooms with the actors wearing whatever they had on them. It doesn't star anybody you've ever heard of, and it's hitting VOD a couple of years after it was made.

Still, I liked plenty of things about it, especially the cast, even while I was realistic about the things that aren't good. They obviously sunk a lot of their budget into the creature effects for the titular character, a succubus played by Savannah Whitten, when she appears in her demon form. It's a horned, greenish-black deal where she's naked but all the naughty bits are covered up with prosthetics, a la Jennifer Lawrence in the X-Men movies.

For my money, Lillith is actually much scarier in her human form, with flaming red hair, a toothy smile and a glare that looks like she's trying to decide whether to feast on your entrails or throw you into bed. Occasionally her eyes glow red for a second, a subtle (and inexpensive) visual trick that keeps us unnerved.

She was summoned by Jenna (Nell Kessler), who was just dumped by her boyfriend of five years, Brad  (Michael Finnigan) after catching him cheating on her -- on their anniversary, to boot. She's a good girl type but is righteously motivated toward some bad feelings. So she recruits her Wiccan friend, Emma (Robin Carolyn Parent), to perform ritual using her own menstrual blood to summon a revenging succubus.

I really liked Parent in this role, who with her short brunette hair, freckles, sardonic expressions and unwavering gaze reminded me of a young Winona Ryder. I kept wondering why we needed the Jenna character and didn't just make Emma the main attraction.

Hanging around the fringes is Taylor Turner as Charlie, Jenna's geeky friend who secretly pines for her. It's a classic movie love trope, and I liked the way director Lee Esposito, who also co-wrote the script with Luke Stannard, takes us through the expected romantic story arc and then disposes of it in a way that's both funny and authentic.

Lillith's M.O. is to seduce men and then slay them, a lady mantis for whom sex and death are inextricably intertwined. It seems she's been away from earth for awhile and is a little flummoxed by the new prevalence of out gay people, though she quickly surmises that it just means her potential victim pool is doubled.

Somehow Jenna thought that Lilly, as the succubus refers to herself, would just scare Brad back into her arms or something. But of course she makes a meal of him, and then their professor (Langston Fishburne), and then keeps on going, deciding she likes it away from Hell. So Jenna, Emma and Charlie take it upon themselves to go up against the demon.

I kept feeling like this movie wanted to pivot away from the scary and gruesome stuff and go straight into comedy, but never quite gets up the nerve. The last act in particular gets straight-up bloody/messy, and then when it remembers to find its funnybone again the audience doesn't have time enough to react to the shift. 

Is "Lillith" an excellent piece of horror? No, but if you are into schlock starring a solid cast clearly enjoying their roles, Whitten and Parent in particular, then it has enough entertainment value to justify a look. It's a little bit funny, a little bit scary and a smidge sexy.

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