Welcome to today’s first and (likely last) edition of Big Easy Magazine’s Mike Mauls the Movies, where I ask and even sometimes answer the burning questions, “When is a good time to disembowel someone on film, and when is it more of a faux pas? Is it okay to kiss your sister if it’s sci-fi? Why are there no full frontal nudity scenes involving William Shatner? And as an adult, is it okay to cry watching cartoons?” Go see “Up”–the answer to the last one is absolutely, yes.
Before we go on this magical journey of depravity together, a brief background on my pedigree. I make movies. I’m not great at it, hell, some of my projects have outright sucked, but when I talk about filmmaking, I know what I’m talking about. This gives me a way of tackling movies that some simply can’t: Can a movie be artistically well made without being good? Can a bad film still be a quality view? In other words, I’m going to tell you about films from multiple angles.
This week I hung out at the New Orleans Horror Film Festival. Time spent there renewed love not only for movies but for my own creative projects. I saw many movies that made me feel insecure, made me wonder if I could ever make something so good. But I also saw films that filled me with optimism, “I can make shit better than that.”
Then a movie like “The Moose Head over the Mantel” (https://vimeo.com/224270033) comes along.
Taking place over a century, directed by separate filmmakers for each era, it’s narratively an absolute masterpiece. The story really begins when a young couple and their child who seems to show signs of autism, move into a house with, you’ve got it, a moose head over the mantel. It plays as one of our main perspectives for experiencing many of the peak emotional moments of the film.
The couple arrives at the house, and things quickly go awry when the wife, Lillian Hoffhienze-Bachman, played brilliantly by Jessi Gotta, discovers old journals describing the history of the house. What could have been simply another supernatural film about an evil house or a cursed object, becomes, instead, a story of mental illness and evil. And it is a masterpiece. “Tastefully” tackling suicide, incest, dismemberment, and serial murder, it presents itself as a perfectly connected serial anthology of familial evil.
Not since “Lo” ( https://www.drexelbox.com/lo/) have I seen a low budget, single-room movie accomplish so much. The entire film takes place in the living room of the house, yet it manages to interest us intellectually, as the audience pieces together one era and another, a la “Cloud Atlas.” It also manages to connect with us on an emotional level–despite the characters various deficiencies, we want them to be happy, we want them to succeed. This makes the willing suspension of disbelief easy.
I believe that horror, executed correctly, can achieve the same artistic, intellectual merit of any other genre. “The Moose Head over the Mantel” proves it. For those who have friends that don’t watch horror movies, because they’re just gory garbage, “The Moose Head over the Mantel” is that gem that argues that low-budget horror, when done well can grip with an emotional intimacy that often seems missing in its blockbuster cousins. It’s truly an inspiring film.
As far as cinematography goes, it does the job. When it was time to choose a film across all categories for an award at the film festival, it didn’t make the cut. When I saw one of the first scenes in the film, pentagrams and 666 written on walls, I was ready to be bored by old-hat demonic clichés. The lighting, where the grain and gain had been upped to compensate, didn’t excite me. And the color grading, like the lighting, did its job, nothing more. It was the characters, the writing, and the carefully placed acts of violence that pulled me in.
The music is special, as well, with ambient sound being the majority of the music, a loud, booming noise, in a bass tone being played. You will either like it or be annoyed by it. Perhaps both. But in various scenes, when music is played, it’s done in the context of actually being part of the scene–a record player tells us we are in the early 1900s.
Somehow, with near necrophilia, hints of sadomasochistic incest, and multiple murders, it achieves all of these things surprisingly tastefully.
The film is running through the festival circuit right now, garnering many awards. If you have a chance to see it, I highly recommend it.
When I first started watching it, I expected, and hoped, for supernatural thrills. But it didn’t have them and didn’t need them.
The moment that decides whether a film is good, or if it’s great, is the third act, including the conclusion. The seemingly best films can disappoint, and if this act falls flat, everything you’ve watched loses its value. The final moments of “The Moose over the Mantel” are excellent, pulling everything we’ve experienced together. I cannot recommend this movie enough.
I would love to give it a perfect score, but due to the quality of cinematography, and my conflicted feelings on the music, I can’t. Rating: A-.
And about William Shatner…