I was sent an online screener of The Torment of Laurie Ann Cullom by the director earlier this week. In the initial conversation he let me know the film was influenced by Ti West’s 2012 feature film, The House of the Devil, and it recently received a “Best Actress” award at the Freak Show Horror Film Festival. This was the first time I’ve ever heard of this title, but I decided to throw caution to the wind and give it a shot. Here’s my review.
The Torment of Laurie Ann Cullom is written and directed by the debuting creator Mark Dossett. Cast members include Shannon Scott, Vicky Schomp, Mark Dossett, Jason Abbott, and Jacob Bradley.
Set in 1988, “A woman who suffers from agoraphobia soon realizes her fear of the outside world is nothing compared to what she finds in her home.”
I’m going to go ahead and disagree with Mark Dossett on this one. The only similarities I see between The House of the Devil and The Torment of Laurie Ann Cullom lie in the fact that both films were produced to appear as if they were made in the 1980s. This means odd clothing choices, odd decorating choices, fun attitudes, great music, and a nostalgia not always visited in the current phase of film making. This also means that Laurie Ann Cullom (played by Shannon Scott) falls victim to all the cliché “do you want to die, bitch?” pitfalls including hearing strange noises but taking the time to do your hair up in a towel and investigating dark rooms where you think someone may be hiding. Of course, The Torment of Laurie Ann Cullom takes place in 1988, so all of the ways to survive a horror movie aren’t as well known yet. We can cut her some slack!
Speaking of Shannon Scott, I think she was the perfect choice to play the lead actress in this title. She was a complex character – to say the least – one who had an untapped inner strength but was too frightened to leave her home. She was fun and wild in her own way, but very laid back and conservative. The acting behind her was very fluid and realistic, and it brought about a liking to her that I compare to Laurie Strode in Halloween. Hell, both Lauries even use wire hangers as their weapon of choice during first confrontations. My other favorite character, the other lead – Sheriff Parks (played by Mark Dossett) – is probably the most encouraging version of a cop in a horror flick that I’ve seen in some time. He’s a really well put together character, bad ass in a subtle way like Laurie, thorough, and in the right line of work. I really rooted for them both during my viewing. I think you will, too.
Mostly, what will really resound with horror viewers is the film’s use of old school basics to scare the audience. Right now, no matter if it’s ghost movies or slasher flicks, the current state of the film industry is revolving around shock factor. Almost all of the horror titles out these days are quick to throw some fucked up shit around the screen, whether it’s cringe-worthy gore or kids getting dragged to the ceiling by their hair. I can applaud The Torment of Laurie Ann Cullom for going back to basics and using practical film making techniques to bring the fear. And, yes, this movie put fear in me at one point. During a big reveal in the kitchen, I actually let out a yelp of fright, which hasn’t happened in years. The other elements used to nudge the viewers’ senses include strange noises, items being moved around, shadows, and the best game of cat and mouse I’ve seen in an indie flick in a while. The good, red stuff isn’t shown until the end, so I’m glad that this film was able to pull off the spine-tingling, suspense-building scare tactics to keep the interest going. I can most easily find similarities between The Strangers (2008) and The Torment of Laurie Ann Cullom. Just really tangible, throat closing suspense.
What also impresses me as a film reviewer is realizing that The Torment of Laurie Ann Cullom appears to be a grassroots effort. By this I mean that the cast is very small, the locations aren’t wide-scale, and the few cast and crew members interchanged and juggled jobs while filming. Together, however, they were able to make a product that is awesome. The special effects (from Michelle Mulkey) are astounding, the set decorations (from Shannon Scott) were on point… Really, everyone involved put in such a great effort that this is one of the best independent releases of the year. I am so thoroughly impressed. The Torment of Laurie Ann Cullom is a triumph for old school horror; a chilling out of body experience; a vehicle to show new horror fans how it used to be done; and a title that truly deserves to be seen by many. I’m rating this a 10 out of 10! You can download or stream it here.