Color, 2008, 100m.
Directed by Ramzi Abed
Starring Kristen Kerr, Lizzy Strain, Masumi Max, Trent Haaga, Sarah Scott, Julie Strain
Halo 8 (DVD) (US R0 NTSC) / WS (1.78:1) (16:9) / DD2.0
The most eternally fascinating murder in Hollywood history remains the gruesome fate of Elizabeth Short, aka the Black Dahlia, whose 1947 murder inspired everything from pulp novels to movies from directors ranging from Brian De Palma and Ulli Lommel, not to mention an episode of American Horror Story. Offering perhaps the most unusual take on the material is The Devil's Muse, a sort of meta-exploitation/art film meditation on what has become a major part of Tinseltown yore.
The story here essentially riffs on a modern-day counterpart to the scenario with Lisa Small (Flight of the Living Dead's Kerr, who also has a small part in David Lynch's Inland Empire) going after the role of Short in a film based on her story to celebrate its sixtieth anniversary. The director (played by Abed, the actual helmer of this film) has someone else in mind, but someone's going around torturing and knocking off modern day Dahlias. Faster than you can say The Legend of Lylah Clare, Lisa's own perception of reality is being distorted by her environment and the influence of the famous crime, an obsession which seems to be seeping into her consciousness and splitting the narrative itself into hallucinatory splinters.
Sexy and uneasy in equal turns without ever becoming particularly graphic, The Devil's Muse might best be described as Mulholland Drive overtaken by punk rockers. There's oddball casting galore here including a supporting turn by Julie Strain and none other than Trent Haaga, best known as Killjoy in the Full Moon series, as Lisa's ominous ex. You could probably watch this as a straight thriller with surreal overtones and probably come away pretty satisfied, but it's better appreciated as an extended mood piece thanks to its lush visuals (which are about as sumptuous as you can get with a video camera) and a striking soundtrack, sort of a woozier and sleazier version of Angelo Badalamenti, provided by Bauhaus and Love and Rockets alumnus David J. In a nice touch, the DVD even comes with a bonus disc containing the whole soundtrack on a CD.
The Halo 8 DVD looks pretty comparable to other films shot in what is presumably HD video in recent years; it definitely doesn't have the sumptuous blacks you find in 35mm or higher-end productions, but colors are vivid and detail looks solid enough for what it is. The two-channel stereo track is also good considering the limited nature of the sound mix, mainly a mixture of dialogue and music with a sparse smattering of sound effects here and there. Amusingly, the back of the packaging boasts this is not rated but "contains violence, nudity, and deranged musings."
Special features include "Black Dahlia: The Making of The Devil's Muse," a 27-minute featurette trotting around behind the scenes as the actors and crew talk about getting their hair done, prepping for love scenes, and winding up with their gigs on the film, plus a pretty grisly bit of makeup work at the end. The 24-minute "An Evening with the Devil's Muse" is a live music show at Safari Sam's in Hollywood, where participants from the soundtrack put on a spooky, eccentric cabaret act that would make David Lynch proud. "A Conversation with Mary Pacios" is a 10-minute chat about the real Dahlia including thoughts on how she's been exploited by people through history, while a trio of minor deleted scenes are mainly interesting for a glimpse at some additional Bettie Page-style kink involving black garters, rope, and a knife. You also get two music videos ("Devil's Muse" by David Jude Thomas and the director's "Black Dahlia Theme"), plus a video message from Abed about the extreme agony involved in making the film (and be sure you don't watch it on a large TV or the ending will get really disorienting) and trailers for the film itself, Pink Eye, Threat, and Exist.