Like his big brother Rob Zombie, Spider One has long been influenced by horror and sci-fi. So perhaps it’s no surprise that the Powerman 5000 frontman would also turn to writing and directing. Allegoria, a collection of horror tales about tortured artists, marks Spider One’s debut behind the camera. His foray into directing stands as a solid horror anthology. Each short feels carefully crafted and clever, offering a dark take on the creative process. Though each segment stands on its own, the characters’ lives intertwine. This is one anthology with a focused vision.
Allegoria just may mark the beginning of a promising new voice in horror. This is an immersive and creative debut. It’s also quite different from the gory flare and often bombastic nature of Rob Zombie’s films.
Allegoria’s Tortured Artists
Allegoria starts with an unsettling sound design, specifically a few seconds of flies buzzing and a haunting piano melody. The piano carries more significance by the film’s conclusion and repeats throughout most of the shorts. These initial eerie noises play against a black screen, before the title and Spider One’s name ever appear.
The writer/director was careful here to create several links between the shorts, not only in the sound design but also in the characters. All five shorts feature a creative. We have a painter, an actress, a sculptor, and a punk rock frontwoman, among others. The first focuses on Brody (Krsy Fox), a shy, young actress who takes a class with the esteemed John Ennis (Robert Anderson Wright). The acting coach is a loudmouth who belittles his students. He’s frequently shown center frame, shouting at the class. His techniques should be shown in education classes as an example of what not to do. All he does is berate the class, especially Brody. He forces her on stage and asks her to conjure a monster by imagining being raped thousands of times. This leads to a shocking but well-deserved ending. Both Fox and Wright give solid performances here.
In one of my favorite shorts, genre favorite Scout Taylor-Compton plays a sculptor named Ivy with sinister intentions and quite the take on performance art. This turns into the first date from hell. She plays both a seductress and a twisted artist. It’s one of my favorite performances from her. The scenes where she tries to explain to her obsessive-compulsive date the meaning of art are golden. She takes the idea of “feeling” to a whole new level, leading to quite the ending. In what may be the strongest short, the fifth and final one, everything loops back to that first segment with Brody and John Ennis. Brody’s bestie summons a demonic entity by playing those creepy piano notes. It’s quite a wrap-around, explaining Brody’s possession shown in the first story.
Allegoria and the Search for Inspiration
Allegoria constantly tackles the struggle of chasing the muse. Brody is an actress who frequently doubts herself. She hopes that taking a class with the renowned John Ennis will unlock her full potential and land her the role of her dreams. The second short features her boyfriend, Marcus (Bryce Johnson), an art snob you want to punch in the face. You wonder why Brody would ever stay with him. His inspiration comes in the form of the demon we see in the final entry. It allows him to finish a large painting he’s been working on obsessively.
The demon is perhaps a reflection of Marcus’ worst traits, his true, ugly self. When Brody tells him that she got into the class, he downplays acting. He doesn’t even consider it true art and tells her she’s playing “dress up.” What a jerk! Yet, like his girlfriend, he also doubts himself. At one point, he looks at himself in the mirror and says, “Who are you, man?” He struggles to finish the painting and feels guilty that he’s going to make money on it.
Even in the last short, Brody’s best friend, Hope (Josephine Chang), fronts a punk band eager to craft the right song that will launch their careers. At one point, after her bandmate takes a few hits of the bong and rambles on about summoning a series of mystical musical notes, which Hope later plays on the piano, she questions if that would make them famous. It’s another bit of levity but also another take on summoning the muse. Literally.
In the funniest short, screenwriter Eddie Park (Edward Hong) pens a screenplay about a deranged serial killer called The Whistler. Eventually, the character comes to life not only to butcher the artist but also to lambast some of the writer’s choices. Why the heck would a slasher whistle? Adam Marcinowski does a great job, providing levity and a few laughs to an otherwise dark anthology. His character’s also a good metaphor for every writer’s inner critic. Talk about killing your darlings. There are also some clever references to Park’s films sprinkled throughout the rest of the anthology. It’s another neat connection.
Allegoria’s Morality Tales
At a lean 70 minutes, Allegoria passes in a breeze. There’s no weak short among the bunch. And though entertaining, and oftentimes heavy, the anthology has some true morality tales in it. Marcus’ story is one such example. He gets what’s coming to him after his constant disparaging comments. Who’s to say what art is or isn’t? Marcus is the type of art snob no creative should ever want to be. The same could be said about the acting coach.
Overall, the anthology’s characters offer some cool takes on how they view art. I especially enjoyed Ivy’s speech about emotion, feeling, and creation. I would just never invite her into my house. I don’t want to end up as one of her sculptures! Allegoria is an impressive first film from Spider One with a determined vision. This anthology has a highly effective sound design, intriguing characters, and thoughtful concepts. The effects are memorable too, including some gory kills and creepy creatures. This is one dark dive into the tortured psyches of various artists. I look forward to seeing what this writer/director does next.
Brian Fanelli is a poet and educator who also enjoys writing about the horror genre. His work has been published in The LA Times, World Literature Today, Schuylkill Valley Journal, Horror Homeroom, and elsewhere. On weekends, he enjoys going to the local drive-in theater with his wife or curling up on the couch, and binge-watching movies with their cat, Giselle.