In the 1980’s the landscape of horror films changed drastically, the 70’s era of raw and shocking horror seemed to be over, and we entered a time where we rooted for the killers instead of rooting against them, we started adding extreme amounts of gore but not to scare people, to add more comedy to the movies. That’s right folks, the era of horror comedy was upon us. I will say the 1980’s was the greatest decade in horror movie history, and though there were movies that brought us to our knees in fright, or had us turning our heads to hide our eyes, the decade wasn’t as raw as the 70’s and lacked any sort of realistic approach that makes a movie truly frightening.
That’s what brings us to today’s review, a film that went against the standard that was set way back in the 80’s and 90’s, and that shows us the disgusting side of a maniac and doesn’t let you root for the killers like we do Jason, or Freddy. Today I will be reviewing the infamous August Underground.
This was my first experience with the August Underground trilogy and I will eventually be reviewing all three of them, but as of now the first film simply titled August Underground, is all that I have seen. It follows the lives of a murderer named Peter (played by the director Fred Vogel) and his friend who stays behind the camera the entire time, the two go on adventures picking up hookers, going to concerts, and of course brutally torturing and killing the innocent. That’s about it in terms of plot.
August Underground is presented as a home movie, the picture quality is extremely poor which it’s supposed to be. There is no score in the film, simply a man with a camera filming his buddy. The two of them are sick individuals who act like children the entire movie, just instead of playing with their toys they play with kidnapped women chained up in the basement. The set design is something I considered to be pretty amazing, the upstairs of Peter’s house seems pretty normal for a person who is in lower middle class living out in the country, it’s when we follow him to the basement that we are taken to what can only be described as hell. The ground is filthy, covered in human excrement, an innocent girl chained naked to a chair with one nipple sliced off. Cut outs from porn magazines cover the walls, the picture quality prevents you from seeing the details but you can only imagine the sickening things that could be there. A dead body rots in the bathroom. It’s grimy and gross, but perfect for the movie.
August Underground is terrifying, it may not hit you while watching, but after thinking about it the fear sets in. The fear that we live in a society where our next door neighbor may be raping and killing random people, and that you could be next, or even worse, your wife or child could be next. The truth about real world horror is that serial killers don’t just stalk camp grounds or come out on Halloween, they’re completely unpredictable and that’s horrifying.
Most people know August Underground for the gore and to be honest the first one doesn’t contain that much, but what’s there is disturbing. The lack of blood and guts helps in my opinion, it makes you focus more on two things, the victim, and the pain they have endured. When a movie is packed full of gore I find myself just waiting for the next money shot, but in this I find myself cringing on the thought of what might happen next. An example of why the gore is unnecessary comes from one of the films scariest scenes in my opinion, where the main character Peter randomly decides to help an old lady carry in groceries from her car. The camera man proceeds to enter afterwards and we see the poor old lady laying on her back, blood is visible on her face and that’s about it. What makes it scary isn’t the gore but the impulsiveness of the attack itself.
With Fred Vogel’s direction and his experience in special effects everything in August Underground falls perfectly into place, you feel the dread of each victim, you sense the immaturity of the main characters, the acting at times was a little spotty from a few, but overall a great output considering the level of experience they had. Fred Vogel created the most realistic, and horrifying look into the lives of two mentally unstable serial killers that I have ever seen. August Underground strays away from the beaten path and doesn’t glamorize the heinous acts that take place, it presents them the way they really are, dirty, brutal and senseless. I personally can’t wait to review the rest of the August Underground trilogy, and dive deeper into Fred Vogel’s filmography.
P.S. Buy the 2 disc and watch the special features, they are great and really put things into perspective.