[Review] Belladonna (Wreak Havoc Horror Film Festival 2018): Lust and Greed Lead to Deadly Consequences in Splendid Horror Short

Rich in atmosphere and a treasure to watch, the short horror film Belladonna is a marvelous effort. From its terrific performances to its mesmerizing cinematography, this latest effort from director/cinematographer/editor Brett Mullen (Bombshell Bloodbath [2014], Fantasma [2017])  is an absolute gem.

Opportunistic, smarmy Sam Franco (Sterling Hurst) sees a beautiful blind woman at a social gathering, and discusses with an older man how best to pick up her up. To his embarrassment, the man is wealthy business owner Sylvester Rumberg (David Price), and the woman in question is his younger wife Meridiana (Alyson O’Keefe). The awkward conversation leads to Sylvester offering Sam a job, and the latter begins seeing Meridiana in secret. When greed collides with lust, the pair devise a plan to go after Sylvester’s wealth, but sinister secrets await.

Mullen once again uses lighting and other touches inspired by the films of Italian filmmaking legends Dario Argento and Lucio Fulci, as he did in Fantasma, but here he also adds a gothic element reminiscent of Hammer Film Productions classics and a bit of a vibe from 1960s and 1970s Eurohorror. It all blends together beautifully, coming across as a modern take on beloved elements, rather than mere pastiche.

Bill Mulligan’s (cowriter of Fix It in Post [2014] with director Christine Parker) screenplay is perfectly paced, including crisp dialogue during the initial meeting between Sam and Sylvester. Later developments in the story add a film noir feel to the horror tale. Whenever Sam and Sylvester are on screen together, the dialogue is engaging, their relationship feels real, and Hurst and Price, respectively, absolutely nail their characters. O’Keefe shines during her onscreen time, as well.

Mullen paces the drama and suspense in Belladonna admirably, letting viewers get to know the complex relationships between the three main characters while building toward a fitting climax.  His cinematography is gorgeous, with familiar Italian horror lighting styles and engrossing framing, aided by beautiful set design.

Belladonna screened at the Wreak Havoc Horror Film Festival at the Crown at the Carolina Theatre in Greensboro, North Carolina during the fest’s September 21—22 run, where it picked up the Audience Choice Award, along with the awards for Best Cinematography and Best North Carolina Film. This stunning effort is bound to pick up many more awards during its festival run, and is a short film that deserves to be sought out by fans who love modern takes on classic European horror.

4.5 out of 5 stars (4.5 / 5)

Joseph Perry
Joseph Perry fell in love with horror films as a preschooler when he first saw the Gill-Man swim across the TV screen in "The Creature from The Black Lagoon" and Mothra battle Godzilla in "Godzilla Vs. The Thing.” His education in fright fare continued with TV series such as "The Twilight Zone" and "Outer Limits," along with legendary northern California horror host Bob Wilkins’ "Creature Features." His love for silver age and golden age comic books, including horror titles from Gold Key, Dell, and Marvel started around age 5.

He is a contributing writer for the "Phantom of the Movies VideoScope" and “Drive-In Asylum” print magazines and the websites Horror Fuel, Diabolique Magazine, The Scariest Things, B&S About Movies, and When It Was Cool. He is a co-host of the "Uphill Both Ways" pop culture nostalgia podcast and also writes for its website. Joseph occasionally proudly co-writes articles with his son Cohen Perry, who is a film critic in his own right.

A former northern Californian and Oregonian, Joseph has been teaching, writing, and living in South Korea since 2008.