From the Greek word κολοβός meaning “docked”, comes the name of the colobos monkey whose thumb is a vestigial stump; from this root comes the title of the 1999 horror film Kolobos, directed by Daniel Liatowitsch and David Todd Ocvirk from a script co-written in three weeks with their friend Nne Ebong and filmed almost entirely in Omaha, Nebraska for the modest sum of $500k.
An almost-forgotten oddity now remastered and released on Blu-ray by Arrow, it is perhaps unsurprising that Kolobos remains the only feature from the duo as it does not bear the hallmarks of an unjustly neglected classic, but nevertheless there are many far worse films whose directors have inexplicably hacked and carved careers for themselves in the minefield of straight-to-video rip-off sequels.
The invitation is for applications to participate in a “ground-breaking experimental film,” and a group of strangers are invited to move into a suburban home and get to know each other on camera: artist Kyra Mitchell, student Gary Robbins, actress Erica Tyler, wannabe comedian Tom “Gangster of Love” Galloway and manic pixie girl who works the drive through Tina Alvarez are selected.
What they do not realise is that Erica is a ringer; that “director” Carl is in fact her boyfriend, another actor, that behind the scenes it is in fact someone else who is calling the shots, a stranger who has revealed himself only in grainy video shots and through his actions, a series of deadly booby-traps within the house in which the five would-be reality stars find themselves trapped.
Shot on 35mm celluloid in 1992 but not released until seven years later, it is inevitable that Kolobos felt out of step with the time both then and now; Erica a horror movie bit-part player, the housemates watch her greatest hits and comment on the genre in a scene which pre-empted similar post-modern observations in 1996’s Scream by four years, while the puzzle-house of murderous traps technically beat 2004’s Saw to the killer blow by well over a decade.
The intention and ambition outstripping the talent and resources – microphone booms are visible, the supposedly impervious external barricades are quite obviously plywood which almost comes away from the door frame – the worst offenses are committed by the dialogue which veers between pretentious and desperate attempts to be cool, the ensemble doing their best with little substance to work with.
As the prospective victims, Amy Weber, John Fairlie, Nichole Pelerine, Donny Terranova and Promise LaMarco are variable from scene to scene but can on occasion be good; as Faceless, Ilia Volok is little more than an overwrought presence while the less said about the doctor and the detective in the framing story the better; in fact, that whole superfluous section was scripted and filmed after the original film was edited and found to be underrunning feature length by twenty minutes.
In their commentary track, Liatowitsch and Ocvirk are frank and considerably enhance the entertainment value of Kolobos as they recall the writing and filming process, some moments more vaguely than others, though they are clear in their influences, Ocvirk recalling a housemate on MTV show The Real World who was “so annoying (he) wanted her to die,” and creating the characters as stereotypes based on that as well as the more genre-specific Dario Argento and Lucio Fulci.
Apologising for certain moments and profuse and honest in their thanks to the absent Ebong for her contributions (“if there are words of more than two syllables it was probably Nne”) and helpful hints for first-time filmmakers: “Find someone with a friend who has a house like this,” Ocvirk says of their location, apologising to the homeowner for shards of broken glass left behind and to the artist who provided Kyra’s sketchbooks for defacing the originals rather than first obtaining copies.
The package also including a brief “making of,” an early short film from Liatowitsch and interviews with actor Ilia Volok and composer William Kidd, the latter is most interesting for namechecking Krzysztof Penderecki and György Ligeti but not the soundtrack to Suspiria despite Ocvirk having stated unambiguously in the commentary that it was used as the temporary soundtrack and that anyone who felt the final score had ripped off Goblin “would be right.”