The new issue of the RUE MORGUE magazine, which hits the stands on November 1st, has a spotlight on Serbian horror films, which includes: an introduction to the real-life horrors which gave birth to the cinematic ones, a very thorough interview with Srdjan Spasojevic (the director of A SERBIAN FILM), a brief presentation of another recent Serbian shocker (THE LIFE AND DEATH OF A PORNO GANG) laced with the talk with its director, Mladen Djordjevic, and an overview of all Serbian horror films made up to date (more than a dozen gems waiting to be discovered by the Western audiences).
            In order to announce this Serbian horror-special, I'll point out some of the more memorable and lasting impressions made by the Serbs upon the international horror scene.

- During the silent era, Iván Petrovich (real name: Svetislav) was a big star: he had major roles in such horror films as The Magician (1926) and Alraune (1928). 
Also, in the Austrian-Hungarian film The Death of Dracula (1921) female lead was played by a Serbian actress Lene Myl. Sadly, all prints of this first screen adaptation of Dracula (made before Murnau's Nosferatu!) seem to be lost.

- In the curious Incubus (1966), a horror film entirely in Esperanto, the titular character is played by Milos Milos (!), a Serbian actor who soon after that film shot and killed the estranged wife of Mickey Rooney, Barbara Ann Thompson Rooney, and then killed himself.

- Srdjan Zelenovic 
played Sacha (aka The Male Monster) in Paul Morrissey's Flesh for Frankenstein (1973), as a representative of the Serbian uber-male who was supposed to father the master-race. 
If only he weren't impotent...

- Olivera Katarina 
played Vanessa Benedict, a waitress with a stunning buxom in Michael Armstrong's Mark of the Devil (1970). Her other genre credits include Devicanska Svirka (A Maiden's Music, 1973) and Carlston za Ognjenku (aka Tears for Sale, 2008).

- Rade Serbedzija 
had a memorable role in Serbian disaster-horror film Variola Vera (1982). Later he had a successful international career, with roles in Eyes Wide Shut, Snatch, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, etc. 
His genre credits include: Mighty Joe Young (1998), Stigmata (1999), The Fog (2005), The Eye (2008) and Quarantine (2008).

- Milla Jovovich
the star of the Resident Evil series, is born of a Serbian father and Ukrainian mother. Her other horror credits include A Perfect Getaway (2009) and The Fourth Kind (2009).

- Bojana Novakovic 
is another hot actress from Serbia whose horror outings so far include Drag Me to Hell (2009) and Devil (2010).


PS: - The French actress Simone Simon (pictured at the very top of this article) played a character named Irena Dubrovna, a Serbian cat woman in the original Cat People (1941). The legend of the cat people, as presented in the film, is a complete invention and has no correlation with Serbian folklore, just as her surname isn't even remotely Serbian.


T. T. Syndrome (2002)

(T. T. Sindrom)


105 min

Director: Dejan Zecevic
Dejan Zecevic
Cast: Nebojsa Glogovac, Sonja Damjanović, Nikola Djuricko, Branko Vidakovic, Dusica Zegarac
Producers: Milan Peca Nikolic, Pedja Milojevic

A group of young people try to score some weed. They go to the Turkish baths within the ancient Belgrade fort to meet a pusher, but end up trapped there and mercilessly killed one by one by a mysterious slasher clad in black leather. It all seems to have some connection with a strange and very rare T. T. Syndrome, but will they solve the mystery before they're all gone down the drain?

Zecevic creates a rather effective collage of slasher stereotypes mixed with an Argento-like whodunit (close-up fetishism of gloves, door handles and various sharp weaponry, plus the typical giallo motifs of a strong mother figure, childhood trauma and a haunting nursery rhyme). Relentless claustrophobia and tension in an inspired setting at their most effective resemble the highlights of early John Carpenter's and Tobe Hooper's films, while the vivid flashes of gore invoke the spirit of vintage Lucio Fulci. 

T. T. Syndrome is the first Serbian horror film which does not feel obliged to justify itself with elements of more respectable genres or motifs. It does not imply a political allegory, although placing (and killing off) its youthful cast entirely in a public toilet might have been a statement about dashed hopes of post-Milosevic Serbia, after all! But above everything else, the movie uses motifs and style of slasher, plain and simple, to scare its audience. It is a horror fan's brainchild made first and foremost for other horror fans.
In spite of its shoestring budget, T. T. Syndrome can stand next to most American low-budget efforts without feeling inferior. Zecevic makes a most inventive use of his limited setting, the decrepit Turkish bath and public toilet. Through his directorial skill he creates a palpable menace within such a banal setting which, by the end which takes place in the fort's catacombs, attains almost mythical proportions. The film's technical side is quite competent, and the same can be said for the acting ensemble, including a few veterans from Variola Vera. T. T. Syndrome became a cult film in Serbia and even managed to get into several international genre festivals: Brussels, Sitges, Barcelona, Puchon, Luxembourg, Neuchatel, Ravenna, Trieste.



Country: Japan
Genre: Sci-Fi / Horror
Running Time: 97 min.

Producer: Hideo Nishimura
Director: Hiroki Yamaguchi

Cast: Luchino Fujisaki, Yoshiichi Kawada, Ryôsuke Koshiba, Kae Minami…


Story: 17-year old schoolgirl Luchino has a smoking problem. In an oppressive, futuristic society where smoking is prohibited, her attempt to violate this rule accidentally sets off a fire and explosion in one of the corridors. Running away, she ends up in an elevator, which is the main means of transport within the crammed megalopolis (which we never see, but so we’re told). Pretty soon she gets trapped there with a group of unusual characters, including two convicted rapists being escorted to their execution. Of course, they are not in chains for long, and then… blood splatters the sickly-greenish walls and floor…

Review: The title HELLEVATOR makes this sound like a cheesy Charles Band production (say, about a killer elevator in a ‘modern’ high-rise; or, a gateway to hell posing as an elevator, or some such); however, the original title BOTTLED FOOLS doesn’t make it sound much better. Under any other name, this rose would still smell low-budget but, luckily, this is not the type of flick the title(s) would make you expect. HELLEVATOR belongs to a subgenre that fat encyclopedias usually define as ‘a bunch of unsympathetic caricatures (or was it ‘characters’?) confined to a single set, yelling at each other for at least 90 minutes’. Being trapped in an elevator is bad enough; but, to be trapped with a gang of hysterically screaming Japanese provides a totally new definition of Hell - so I guess the American title is accurate after all. Add a couple of rapists and a mad scientist to liven up the proceedings, and you get bottled fools too.

The futuristic design and claustrophobic setting led some to compare this effort to a budgetary-challenged Canadian SF-horror CUBE (1998), and to be honest – some similarities are there: one main set, poor acting, lots of screaming, quite a lot achieved from the limited resources, etc. The main difference with CUBE and other members of the ‘confined claustrophobic quarrelling’ subgenre is that there is no immediate threat in the setting, or from outside. Horror comes mostly from inside the elevator. Freud said something like ‘A man is a wolf to another man’: or, to put it simply, it’s people giving hell to one another in this film. And not just the usual suspects (or convicts) either! Torment also comes from inside, since our main character, Luchino, is plagued by the memory of killing her abusive father (talk about Freud!), and – to add insult to injury – her telepathic abilities which enable her to peek into the unsavory minds of her fellow passengers. 

HELLEVATOR was directed by Hiroki Yamaguchi, revealed in the additional features on the disc as a likable young man in his mid-twenties. Orson Wells he ain’t, but let’s say he could become a solid Japanese Don Coscarelli. Shot on digital video, with a group of unknowns, using (literally) discarded waste material for the sets, HELLEVATOR does not (and cannot) hide its very low budget origins. Yamaguchi uses all kinds of editing tricks to overcome the limitations of his setting and make the rhythm faster. Decent lighting and framing make the grainy images palatable, although the pea-soup-vomit color of the inside of elevator may become too oppressive after a while. In spite of no budget, Yamaguchi even managed to squeeze in an amazingly accomplished bullet-time sequence, and the ‘Making of’ documentary reveals the unbelievably simple way it was done!

All this is very well, but how much fun is there to be had on this HELLEVATOR ride? Let’s see. Gore is flowing freely: no complex latex effects here, but red spells red. The obligatory rape scene is there, too. What, you thought the Japanese would make a SF-horror without one? Hey, that would be like a good old American slasher from the ’80-ies without a shower scene! Cool gadgets made of scrap? Check! Uber-cool characters? There’s this guy with dark shades and a walkman, sitting in a corner, unmoved through most of the carnage; how’s that for ‘cool’? Heroine, on the other hand, is pretty, but bland (let’s say: pretty bland). All the rest are the kind you cannot wait to see dispatched ASAP. Any subtext for your intellect to chew on? Well, you might read some into it, what with the oppressive society of the future as imagined by a teenage boy who hasn’t read much else than manga, but that’s as far as it gets. The ‘twist’ ending might give you some food for thoughts, provided you freeze-frame it to see what’s there for 15 frames (non-Japanese viewers are advised to watch the interviews on the disc for further explanation. Note: that blink-and-miss image was NOT the Eiffel tower!).

The end result is a watchable, occasionally entertaining, but mostly underdeveloped and uninvolving film. It is a great showcase for its director: we should pray that he gets more money, and more inspiration, for his further films, for he certainly showed a considerable technical talent here. In the future, let’s hope for more substance to his stories, and more budget and style to his direction. Till then, you may want to rent this, but I’m not sure how much it deserves to be owned and re-watched.