The latest from B-movie horror vet J. Horton promises a bizarre, splattery-good time— if you're into that sort of thing.
The vast ocean of microbudget horror is one I’ve only ever dipped my toes into—the occasional indulgence with friends in college or an accidental encounter on YouTube. It’s not something I would ever claim to be well-versed in, nor is it generally a flavor I tend to include in my cup of tea.
In fact, I wasn’t even familiar with director J. Horton—who has been working in this arena for close to two decades—until I came across his latest, Craving, thanks to my friend and colleague Richard Propes. That ignorance should ring as a pretty strong indicator, to fans of the genre, of my perspective going into this.
In short, I’m a casual.
Having said that, it’s clear even to my outsider’s eyes how Craving might be a spiritual awakening, of sorts, for some young, budding splatterpunk. The sheer amount of carnage (and ground beef) on display, and the tenacity with which Horton wields it as a tool for rapid escalation, is truly a sight to behold. You just have to be willing (no, eager) to wade through about an hour of genre-defying, all-encompassing, entirely incomprehensible plot to get there.
The premise, from the outset, is not the sort of thing you’d expect to serve as the basis for a monster slasher. Without explaining too much (because, really, it’s best to go in cold): a group of bar patrons get penned in by a handful of armed drug addicts who are fleeing from a ruthless band of killers. As the addicts and patrons wait it out together, tensions rise and withdrawals set in, and a dark secret emerges, threatening everyone in the bar.
It’s certainly an ambitious movie. There are probably a dozen characters with extended speaking roles, many of them having histories and complex relationships with multiple others. Flashbacks saturate much of the film’s second act, for the purpose of piecing together how each character got here and how they’re all connected. It’s a story that deals with grief, addiction, resentment, romantic relationships, supernatural entities, and more. And it’s essentially indecipherable.
But that doesn’t mean it isn’t fun. At just 85 minutes, Craving clips by, thanks to a diverse set of performances from Felissa Rose, Al Gomez, Rachel Amanda Bryant, and many others—including my favorite, Gregory Blair, who plays the most comically bewildered cowboy in recent memory. The sloggiest portion is the rabbit hole of flashbacks in the middle, but whenever the film focuses on what’s currently happening inside the bar, it cooks with gleeful absurdity and some wonderfully silly character dynamics.
But it’s the finale that makes Craving worthwhile. Once the aforementioned dark secret is revealed, all lives are on the line, and most of them don’t last. What we’re subjected to is a grisly slaughter-party complete with blood punch and meat confetti. Character after character is annihilated with brutal pizzazz, as hilariously mismatched sound design and hip-fire editing threaten to take the whole thing into fever-dream territory. Horton lets loose with blood, guts, and fake limbs to give us a finale so demented and unexpected that you’ll be questioning if your memory of the prior 60 minutes is intact.
When taken as a whole picture, Craving is disjointed, to say the least. Tragic backstories, flashbacks within flashbacks, and sprinklings of social commentary give way to over-the-top monster mayhem. In any of those scenarios, the ways in which characters conduct themselves barely resemble actual human behavior. Plot threads precipitate and dissipate out of and into thin air. But when it all leads to a bunch of screaming people splashing about in a playpen of blood-marinated deli meat, none of that seems to matter.
Again, this type of movie isn’t really my thing. I can’t say I loved Craving, or that I think many reading this will. But you know who you are, and if you’re grinning with confused desire to see how this macabre mosaic of malice operates, then it’s probably the movie for you. And hey, it might just open you up to a whole new world of cinema. Enter, if you dare.