To say that Dustin Mills is a difficult director to pigeonhole is an understatement. Although primarily a horror director, his extensive back catalogue includes films in a variety of sub-genres, that deal with a diverse array of subjects, ranging from Satanic monsters in Heart Attack (Night of the Tentacles) to psychotic puppets in Snuffet and just about everything in between.
He is probably best known for his slasher/exploitation films Her Name Was Torment, The Hornet’s Sting and the Hell It’s Caused and personal favourite Kill That Bitch however and Haley Madison and Allison Egan, the stars of those films, have gone on to appear in Mills’ latest output Applecart which is in an entirely new genre of its own – silent horror.
If you wondering about the strange title – it comes from the phrase “upset the applecart” or to “tip the applecart,” meaning to scupper the plans of something planned out in a well established, tried and tested way. It’s a fitting idiom for a film that pushes the boundaries of what a horror film can be.
Shot in black and white, with zero dialogue and all of its actors wearing perverse white masks, Applecart uses the characters’ physical gestures and techniques like lighting and setting to convey what is happening, whilst a soundtrack of silent movie piano music, inappropriate sitcom laughter and canned applause (think David Lynch’s Rabbits) creates an unsettling atmosphere of tension and suspense.
Divided into four separate but connected parts, each with a disturbing tale of dark Americana to tell, Applecart deals with explicitly taboo issues such as domestic violence, rape, abortion, incest and elder abuse with an unflinching eye and peels away the safe and friendly facade of society to reveal the rotten core at its centre. It’s certainly an artistic film; elements of Hitchcock style voyeurism and a burlesque approach to showmanship and sleaze are present, along with a playful sense of humour too often lacking in art house cinema.
Applecart’s strength lays not only in its originality and the way it isn’t frightened to try new things, but also in the way the emotional depth present lends resonance to its theatrical elements. It provokes not only our sensibilities, but our preconceptions and moral viewpoints too. But the real question is – do you dare lift your mask of sanity and take a bite of the forbidden apple?
4 / 5
APPLECART is directed by Dustin Mills.