It was called Antrum, a largely forgotten low-budget film believed to have been shot in Eastern Europe in the late seventies, a tale of two siblings spending the night in the woods and encountering danger both earthly and supernatural, but its reputation within the horror community gave it another name to those few who knew of it: The Deadliest Film Ever Made.
Never widely distributed and overlooked by the mainstream, Antrum was allegedly submitted to several film festivals where it was rejected, each of those who responsible for the decision dying within hours by an unexplained seizure, electrocution, or in the most unusual circumstances by stonefish venom.
A 1988 screening in Budapest led to the deaths of fifty-six people when the theatre burned down; the 1993 San Francisco screening caused only the death of one woman and her unborn child, but thirty more were injured, and since then all prints were thought to have been lost until a 35mm original was found at an estate auction in Connecticut, now prepared for wide release.
But beneath all this, what is Antrum? Its name meaning “the entrance to Hell,” it follows teenage Oralee and her younger brother Nathan, he grieving after his beloved dog Maxine has been put to sleep, Oralee trying to comfort him by performing a ritual to ensure Maxine’s redemption after their mother cruelly told Nathan that Maxine wasn’t going to Heaven “because she was bad.”
A dreamlike haze of sunshine and the colours of the forest, there is an undercurrent of decay, in the passage of summer into autumn as the flies buzz over the mud even as Maxine decomposes in the earth; her death a conscious action over which she had no veto, in contrast the audience are given a choice over their fate, whether or not to watch the notorious Antrum despite the warnings of those who know its history and reputation.
Written and directed by David Amito and Michael Laicini, the surrounding story of Antrum is as fictional as the film itself but their recreation of their chosen period is admirable, in the clothes, hair and performances of Nicole Tompkins and Rowan Smyth as Oralee and Nathan and in the style of shooting and editing, long takes of shifting light and lens flare captured on fuzzy celluloid whose scratches tell another story.
Amito and Laicini playing a game of deception on their audience as much as Oralee does for Nathan with her stories of make-believe, they create atmosphere with the passage of shadows across faces, with half glimpsed faces in clouds and figures behind branches, with words burned into the frames and inserted images, but their principal selling point is the self-created mythology of the deaths linked to the film.
The success of The Blair Witch Project having been built upon a similarly constructed pretence in the days when the Internet was in its infancy, Nathan may be a naïve child but an audience is not so credulous in an era when disinformation is weaponised, nor is Antrum sufficient by any measure to engage as a standalone feature without that support, tepid and timid when the implicit promise is of a work so transgressive it can cause bodily harm.
Antrum will be in UK Cinemas from Friday 23rd October and then available on DVD and as a digital download from Monday 26th October