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Film Review: ‘Cassadaga’

This silly throwback to the post-'Psycho' shockers of the '60s offers a sluggish giallo-like murder mystery spiked with grotesque sadism.

Hitting theaters two years after its fest circuit debut, “Cassadaga” turns out to be a throwback to the lurid ’60s shockers that followed in the wake of “Psycho”: those in which some perverse childhood trauma miraculously explains decades later why the climactically revealed killer has been recently hacking up fashion models, or whatever. The psychology here is as arbitrary and silly as it often was back then, and between flashback and unmasking there’s a sluggish giallo-like murder mystery unappetizingly spiked with jolts of grotesque sadism. Anthony DiBlasi’s indie horror-thriller is more likely to stir interest (if not enthusiasm) from genre fans in concurrent VOD release.

After a decades-ago prelude in which a young boy is punished by his shrewish mother for wearing a dress, then punishes himself in rather more grisly fashion, we are introduced to grade-school art teacher Lily (Kelen Coleman) and her little sister Michele (Sarah Sculco). The two orphans have had only each other for years, but a few seconds later they don’t, as Michele is fatally struck by a car. Grieving Lily withdraws into her painting at some kind of rural retreat center in the titular town, an actual Florida burg billed (on its own city-limits sign) as “Psychic Capital of the World.”

Her hostess (a briefly seen Louise Fletcher) warns that some parts of the antebellum mansion are off-limits to all but her adult son (Lucas Beck), who “keeps to himself.” Naturally he begins to seem suspicious when Lily, hoping to contact her late sister via one of the many local spiritual mediums, gets a disturbing message linked to recent unsolved missing-person cases. Soon she’s experiencing unpleasant visions and more, at one point throwing up a mouthful of live maggots. (This gets the attention of her new boyfriend, Mike, played by Kevin Alejandro.) As she tries to piece together clues, we see the masked perp stalk and abduct women whom he imprisons in some sort of mad-scientist lair, severing and reattaching their limbs in nasty marionette-like fashion.

The screenplay is a bit of a muddle, with too many elements that seem superfluous or underdeveloped, both of which apply to Lily being deaf, something the plot barely utilizes and Coleman doesn’t render very convincing. The revelation of the killer’s identity does nothing to explain how possible childhood gender dysphoria might lead to adult serial torture/murder of women; of course, a similar gist didn’t make much sense in “The Silence of the Lambs,” either.

Result is equal parts gory mayhem, convoluted mystery and rote romance, none of which gel together very well. The feeling that all this could have been managed more cogently in a shorter running time is underlined by an unnecessarily long, slow end-credits crawl. Design and tech elements are adequate.

Film Review: 'Cassadaga'

Reviewed online, San Francisco, Sept. 27, 2013. Running time: 112 MIN.

Production:

Directed by Anthony DiBlasi. Screenplay, Bruce Wood, Scott Poiley, from a story by Wood. Camera (color, HD), Jose Zambrano Cassella; editor, Kristian Otero; music, Dani Donadi; production designer, Nicole Balzarini; art director, Kyle M. Wilson; set decorator, Keiko Kasai; costume designer, Beverly Safier; sound, Pete Wesenberg; sound designer, Lee Riley; re-recording mixers, Tom Carrigan III, Riley; visual effects supervisor, Diego Torroija; special makeup effects, Lee A. Grimes; assistant director, Heath Reece; casting, Andy Henry, Mark Mullen.

Crew:

Kelen Coleman, Kevin Alejandro, Louise Fletcher, Rus Blackwell, Hank Stone, Lucas Beck, Lucias Baston, Amy LoCicero, Sarah Sculco, Rachel Durose, Avis-Marie Barnes, Hank Stone, Christina Bach Norman.

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