LIST CANDIDATE: THE ATTIC EXPEDITIONS (2001)

This post was originally lost in the Great Server Crash of 2010; the article was partially recovered from Google cache, and the rest of the text was recreated. Sorry, original comments were irretrievably lost in cyberspace.

DIRECTED BY: Jeremy Kasten

FEATURING: Andras Jones, Seth Green, Jeffrey Combs, Beth Bates, Ted Raimi

PLOT: Awakening from a dream to find himself on an operating table, an amnesiac is

Scene from The Attic Expeditions (2001)

informed that he is a schizophrenic murderer who has been committed to a private institution and is now being sent to a halfway home—nicknamed “the House of Love”—to be rehabilitated.

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: The Attic Expeditions sounds echoes of some (better) weird movies: Jacob’s Ladder (in the way that the script offers different possible explanations for the protagonist’s hallucinations, and jerks the viewer back and forth between those theories) and Donnie Darko (in that it seems the director intended to tell a fantastical story that “made sense” on a literal level, but lost control of the story when he took it one paradox too far).  An interesting, confusing, out-of-control picture, it’s as fascinating for its misses as for its hits.  It falls just short of a general recommendation, but it is recommended to anyone interested in psychological, mindbending horror seasoned with heaping doses of confusion and who isn’t a stickler for great acting.  This is the kind of curious, singular picture that could wind up filling one of the final slots in the List.

COMMENTS: Trevor Blackburn may be a schizophrenic murderer, or he may be an amnesiac sorcerer, or he may be the victim of an unethical psychological experiment; or he may be all three.  It’s impossible to tell, especially since The Attic Expeditions is full of contradictions and contains segments where the timeline suddenly resets and the action repeats itself with slight variations.  The mystery promiscuously throws out clues, but every possible explanation for Trevor’s woes seems chained to its own refutation.  Trevor is an unreliable narrator in triplicate: he’s a definite amnesiac, a possible schizophrenic, and, to top it all off, his state-appointed guardian appears to be deliberately playing with his loose grip on reality.  Psychiatrist Dr. Ek (played by Jefferey Combs as a variation on Herbert West as a pot-smoking, skin-popping headshrinker) uses Trevor as a case study for an experiment in housing madmen together, with hidden cameras studying their movements, “Big Brother” style.  Ek is either searching for a cure to schizophrenia, somehow, or else spying on Trevor to try to discover the occult secret locked away in his mind.  Trevor keeps having flashbacks to a bloody Crowley-esque sex and death ritual that ended the life of his girlfriend and sent him to the madhouse.  Of course, as the only convicted murderer in group therapy, suspicion naturally falls on him when his fellow residents start turning up dead.  Amateurish Andras Jones, unfortunately, wasn’t ready to play the tormented protagonist here; in fact, though cast as the lead, he may be the least expressive actor in the entire movie.  Fortunately, Seth Green is around as a fellow paranoid pensioner to take up the thespic slack. The twitchy Green has “R” and “L” written on the appropriate hand and shows an uncomfortable attraction to Trevor. He simultaneously feeds the recovering madman’s conspiratorial delusions by suggesting that everybody in his life may actually be an actor performing for his benefit; he simultaneously acts as Trevor’s only ally in the House of Love, encouraging him to explore the spooky attic with the locked chest that keeps showing up in Trevor’s nightmares. Inside that trunk lies either the traumatic secret to Trevor’s amnesia and lunacy, or else a paradox that will make your head spin and eyes roll. In the end, the film makes no sense, though it appears to want to believe in the occult resolution. What we get instead is the paradoxical spectacle of a movie that uses hallucinatory storytelling to mask and muddle a mystical but comprehensible plot, but botches the serious explanation by including too many leaps of logic and irreconcilable red herrings. The result is an irrational experience that’s legitimately, but not intentionally, a surrealist film. And, fortunately, there are a few great horror images embedded in the mess of a script: there’s little that’s more horrifying than the idea of suddenly waking up on an operating table and gazing up at nurses wearing non-standard uniforms—their faces unnecessarily masked by what appears to be fishnet mesh pantyhose with homemade eye holes cut into them. It’s shivery stuff, one of a set of curiosities that make Attic worth the expedition for horror fans who can overlook uneven acting and aren’t hung up on their nightmares making rational sense.

The Attic Expeditions script had an odd genesis that may help to explain its ramshackle and nearly incoherent final form. The screenplay began its life intended to be the fourth installment of the direct-to-video Witchcraft series, the soft porn/horror line that was a staple of video stores in the late Eighties and early Nineties. Director Jeremy Kasten though the script had potential to be more than just another sexy exploitation horror, so he sent the script to his film-school buddy and writing partner Rogan Marshall for retooling. Here, things get interesting. Marshall claims that he didn’t trust Kasten’s intellect and that he made the script deliberately hallucinatory and incoherent because he recognized that the director was only good at one thing: shooting dream sequences. Kasten, on the other hand, claimed in a podcast interview that Marshall’s script was written in five days, on drugs, and that he had to cut out a lot of the writer’s unsuitable ideas, as well as adding new central elements, like the character of Dr. Ek. So in the end, we may have three different visions of The Attic Expeditions embedded in the movie: Kasten’s occult puzzle fighting Marshall’s hallucinatory nonsense, with the ghost of the original “boobs and broomsticks” exploitation movie occasionally peeking through.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…an overly ambitious slice of Grand Guignol that is none too grand in conception or execution… doesn’t make it as horror, sci-fi spoof or psychological thriller, despite strained efforts in each direction.”–Ken Eisner, Variety (contemporaneous)

(This movie was first nominated for review by “Holly,” who said “I love it every time I watch it; and it has always struck me as strange.” After the initial review disappeared, it was re-suggested by “engineerd2011”, who called it “a total mind trip…” Suggest a weird movie of your own).

2 thoughts on “LIST CANDIDATE: THE ATTIC EXPEDITIONS (2001)”

  1. I think I may have commented on this before the system crash.

    I like the movie. It’s clearly a low-budget b-movie festooned with Crowleyism for some odd reason. The “Abbey of Thelema” and the “House of Love.” Occultism for no real reason, kind of like “The Ninth Gate.”

    I got a kick out of it. List-worthy? Not really. Entertaining? Yes.

    1. Yes you did. I believe you advised people to pay special attention to Seth Green’s character, which is good advice for understanding the film (as much as it can be understood). I do think it might be List-worthy. It don’t think it quite succeeds with what it tries do on the plot level, but it does stick with you long after other (more successful but less ambitious) movies have been forgotten.

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