Ed. note– A few years before he made the feature length version of EXCISION, director Richard Bates Jr. made a short version. I only hope Jeremiah Kipp gets to expand “Slapface” in similar fashion. Horror fans the world over would greatly benefit from that.– P.F.
When I had the great pleasure to interview Hell of Fame inductee talented indie director Jeremiah Kipp two years ago, I asked him what his dream project was. His answer fascinated me, as he told me he’d love someday to do a take on the Frankenstein story. Given how many other directors have tackled this tale since Thomas Edison produced the first version way back in 1910, what would versatile, challenging filmmaker Kipp do with such a great concept? When he sent me the link to “Slapface” last night, I got to find out. I can very happily say it’s as beautiful and simultaneously horrific as the rest of his body of work, and it frustrated me greatly, only because Kipp deserves the chance to make a full length film out of “Slapface.” Rarely has a work left me wanting so much for more.
It begins with a young lad walking through the woods. He calls out, which draws the attention of a monster. The monster chases him, and catches him in a hug. But it’s an overpowering hug, and it looks to kill the lad. Straight off my mind went back to Whale’s FRANKENSTEIN, when Karloff’s Monster innocently tosses the little girl into the water. Especially when the scene transitions and Kipps’ lens captures a body of water. But things take a turn when the boy’s father comes out and finds his body prone on the ground. The boy isn’t dead after all, and the father’s introduction takes the film in a different direction. It’s here where Kipp’s trademark talent in challenging his viewer comes into play. The concepts of medicating children, abusive relationships and what our definition of a monster is all bubble up to the surface, and Kipp as per usual doesn’t provide any easy answers. In our interview, Kipp mentioned how he’s fascinated by Mary Shelley’s monster constantly trying to connect with others, and how poorly it goes for him. The human connection between father and son here has gone terribly awry (in the absence of a mother, in true shades of Shelley’s novel) in this horrifying world that is, as always with Kipp, visually gorgeous.
Kipp’s built a crew of talented accomplices, who he brings to this beautiful horror with him. Cinematographer Dominick Sivilli does a masterful job creating a depth of field in the woods, and the sunlight through the trees is striking. Kipp and Sivilli don’t let their low budget restrain them from some amazing visuals, which are on par with Kipp’s catalogue. Actor Lukas Hassel, who starred in Kipp’s “Minions,” is powerful in his role as the Ogre; the monster, detached from humanity, is confused by the boy, and in a violent scene between father and son, he’s angered. Not easy stuff to emote under makeup, but Hassel holds his own admirably. Hassel is a striking looking man, who I wouldn’t hesitate to call easy on the eyes, and it’s impressive he was willing to hide those looks under prosthetics. I’ve only seen him in Kipp’s work, where he has a haunted quality which makes me want to see more of him. Kipp’s team did his vision well here.
All of this frustrates me greatly, because at 8 minutes, it’s not enough. In a world where THE BYE BYE MAN gets a full length film and Faye Dunaway, “Slapface” deserves 90 to 100 minutes to stretch out and tell a full story. Horror fans who love great films from visionary talent deserve as much. I can still hold out hope that one day Jeremiah Kipp will get the chance to deliver that to us.
In the meantime, I’ll revel in his short film “Slapface.” Kipp did right by Mary Shelley in directing his unique vision of a Frankenstein tale, and I’m so happy for him he finally got to fulfill his dream project. That he did so masterfully and beautifully only sweetens the bargain.