{Blu Review} She Sees Red: Kolobos on Blu-ray

“Just tell yourself it isn’t real, and the demons will go away.”

The film opens with a POV shot of a woman stumbling through a dark alley in the rain. A bloody hand strikes a brick wall, the formerly-shaky camera suddenly still as the hand slides away, leaving behind a red print. The woman is hit by a car, a smear of blood covering the headlight. As the driver of the car attempts to comfort her, the woman whispers one word: “kolobos.”

According to the film, “kolobos,” when “distilled into ‘90s slang,” means “mutilated.”

“Some would say it’s what Zeus did when he severed the first creatures who roamed the earth in two,” actress Amy Weber, perhaps better known as a WWE diva and unlikely wrestler, says in a voiceover near the end of the picture. “But others believe he created divine beauty, for in severing the beast, he created man and woman.”

Sound a little pretentious? That’s certainly an accusation that has been leveled against Kolobos, a 1999 independent horror movie that represents virtually the only directorial credit of duo Daniel Liatowitsch and David Todd Ocvirk. And, frankly, it’s not an accusation that the film has a very solid footing to deny.

Kolobos was almost a movie called Trapped, instead, and while the basic setup would have been similar, that “pretentious” label may have been a bit harder to apply.

In its original form, the script for Trapped followed a couple of “film school wannabes who were looking to make a statement by taking film and reality TV to the next level,” as Ocvirk recalls. The duo (perhaps reflections of Liatowitsch and Ocvirk themselves) trap a bunch of contestants on a show like MTV’s The Real World in a house filled with deadly traps, filming the whole thing.

Straightforward enough, and plenty topical in the early days of reality TV, especially given that both Saw and My Little Eye, which also jammed together reality TV and slasher conceits, were still several years away.

However, the filmmakers quickly found that their ambitions outstripped their modest budget of around $500,000, and so they were forced to adapt, jettisoning the sinister film students in favor of a more abstract villain.

The story that ultimately became Kolobos still concerns a group of five individuals recruited to stay in a camera-rigged house together to record a “ground-breaking experimental film.” (“Are there cameras everywhere?” one of the impending victims asks suggestively in her on-camera audition tape.) And there are still laser-triggered traps in a house that seals itself off with metal shutters, including spring-loaded saw blades and showers that spray acid.

But what’s actually going on becomes a whole lot less clear in Kolobos than it was going to be in Trapped. Blame that on the Italians, I guess. The back cover of the Arrow Video Blu-ray calls Kolobos, “The Real World meets Saw by way of Suspiria,” and while that last comparison may not come out in the descriptions, it’s certainly there as soon as the film starts rolling.

While the opening credits unspool over shots of spooky sketches and anatomical drawings intercut with black-gloved hands wiring up the house, the film’s main theme plays, and if that theme, by composer William Kidd, sounds almost exactly like Goblin’s infamous score from Suspiria, that’s not an accident.

“Due to budgetary and time constraints,” Ocvirk says in the booklet accompanying the Blu-ray, “we had a specific temp score and asked [Kidd] to stick to that as closely as possible. Goblin was featured pretty heavily.”

It isn’t just in the score that Kolobos hearkens back to the Italian giallo films, either. Besides the mechanized traps, there’s a black-gloved killer in the house, his disfigured face straight out of an Argento film—as is the ambitiously low-budget gore.

There’s a straight razor that acts as a major plot element, and there are kills which would have felt right at home in a giallo, as victims are impaled on antlers or have their faces smashed against the corners of marble counter tops.

The dream-logic of those films is here, too. Before the body count starts, our prospective Final Girl (and possible suspect) Kyra is already having hallucinations, and the question of what’s real and what isn’t extends well beyond the film’s ambiguous ending.

You can blame that partly on budget, too. Apparently, when the film was originally shot over 18 days, it came up more than twenty minutes short of feature length.

That original ending—which, by all accounts, wasn’t a whole lot more definitive than what we ultimately get in this version—was eventually left on the cutting room floor, replaced over the course of an additional five days of shooting with an even more surreal ending which hints at a cyclical nature to what we’ve just seen—or possibly that what we’ve seen hasn’t happened yet at all.

Released just a few years after Scream, Kolobos is definitely a part of the post-Scream crop of self-aware horror flicks—there’s even a reference to it in the film’s marketing, with its tagline of “Scream… you’re on TV.”

In the movie itself, this comes partly from one of the contestants/victims. Erica, played by Nichole Pelerine, is an actress whose body of work mostly involves playing the villain in a series of slasher films called The Slaughterhouse Factor, which she defends by arguing that they have a female killer, saying that “the women in these movies are usually just screaming victims.” Foreshadowing of the ending of Kolobos? It’s tough to say.

Fortunately, Kolobos is also self-aware enough to give fodder to its eventual critics. When another character comes to Erica’s defense, saying that misogynist jerk Tom just “doesn’t appreciate cinema,” Tom replies back, “Especially when it sucks.”

According to Wikipedia, the critical reception to Kolobos was “mixed to negative” when it was released, with critics panning the film’s acting. Which makes sense. The characters in Kolobos never even feel like slasher movie approximations of real people, let alone actual people.

But is that actually a fault of the actors—most of whom, admittedly, don’t have a ton of other credits under their belts—or the screenplay or is it, in fact, an intentional decision, deployed as a send-up of the marked unreality of reality television?

That it’s almost impossible to answer that question is part of what makes Kolobos such an enigma—guaranteed to annoy and frustrate some viewers, while others find “a fierce intelligence at play,” as Phillip Escott does in the booklet which accompanies the Arrow Video release.

As for which camp you’ll find yourself in, well, that’s also difficult to say, but if you’re intrigued, maybe it’s worth giving Kolobos a shot to find out…