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“CITY OF LUST” (Movie Review)

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The indie thriller CITY OF LUST was shot under the title YELLOW; you know, “Giallo” in Italian. Obviously that titular nod should spell out exactly what kind of films were going through writer/director David A. Holcombe’s head when he began sculpting this stylish, sensual and amusing sex-stained psychodrama. A deliberate quote on some of the early 1970s, non-Argento (think more Martino) murder mysteries that overflowed from Italy like a cauldron of spaghetti, CITY OF LUST is bereft of budget but high on energy and imagination, and is absolutely worth a look.

The film begins by fetishizing one of the most fascinating, deceptively mundane rituals, that of a woman preparing herself for the world; meticulously applying make-up, dressing, perfecting her image to step out onto the societal stage. Except here, our main character Arianna (the wide-eyed, doll-faced Margaret Grace) goes the distance getting pretty for an audience of none, instead retreating to her bedroom, picking up the phone and dialing a lesbian sex-chat line, looking desperately for some kind of connection to another human being.

Arianna is a haunted woman and Grace sells her perfectly. The young, pretty and obviously disturbed lass is affected by an unnamed incident in her past that’s caused her to hide in the bowels of the inner city and get a job as a lower-tier cosmetologist, a job that is causing her to show symptoms of formaldehyde poisoning. Escaping her woes, she finds comfort in her autonomous relationship with a purring woman on the other end of that aforementioned line. When, after a lengthy verbal courtship, they agree to meet, they instantly begin a sweaty, emotional and physical affair. But Arianna’s problems don’t evaporate. On the contrary, they ratchet. Colleagues and friends end up vanishing or dead and then, there’s the mention of her brother who has been “released” from some unnamed confine, a plot turn that pushes Arianna to the psychological limit.

On the back of the Brain Damage-released DVD, there’s a quote from HorrorMoviesAndStuff.com that sums up exactly how this critic feels about the film. “CITY OF LUST is what indie horror should be: smart, risk-taking and edgy.”

I concur. Holcombe has fashioned a work of style and wit, circumnavigating his lack of funds with nifty visual ideas, deft editing and rough, elegant edge. The filmmaker takes the germ of the gialli and graftsit onto something grittier. It is not without its flaws, of course—how could it not be under the budgetary circumstances—but its strengths, which include a sloppy/cool garage rock score by Chris Emmons and Sean Foran, vastly outweigh is shortcomings. At its best, CITY OF LUST feels like De Palma for the video age. And that’s a good thing.

I can’t wait to see what Holcombe does next.

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About the author
Chris Alexander
Author, film critic, teacher, musician and filmmaker (not to mention failed boxer) Chris Alexander is the editor-in-chief of FANGORIA Magazine. He got his first professional break as the “Schizoid Cinephile” in the pages of Canadian horror film magazine RUE MORGUE before making the move to FANGO in 2007. His words have appeared in The Toronto Star, Metro News, Wired, Montage, The Dark Side, Tenebre and many other notable publications and he appears regularly on international television and radio.
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