Studio: Brain Damage Films
Director: David A. Holcombe
Writer: David A. Holcombe, Rory Leahy, Nicholas Reise
Producer: David A. Holcombe, Nicholas Reise
Stars: Margaret Grace, Jill Oliver, Derek Ryan, Shelley Nixon, Kyle Greer, H.B. Ward, Joette Waters, Antonio Brunetti
A shy young hairdresser is drawn from her lonely shell when a strange new relationship coincides with the mysterious murders of people in her life.
It’s sleazy whenever a reviewer unnecessarily remarks on a movie’s sex and nudity quotient as if those are meaningful gauges for judging a film’s overall quality. I usually imagine anyone criticizing a lack of T&A as a frustrated teenager with a misguided sense of what makes a movie “good” in the first place. At the same time, it would be negligent to not point out that a title like “City of Lust” implies a level of erotic sultriness that this movie does not actually include. A quick topless shot during a brief and tame lesbian interlude is virtually the entirety of the lust that this particular city provides.
Maybe that has more to do with the fact that before it was renamed for its home video release, “City of Lust” went by the title “Yellow,” as it purports to be in the vein of the Italian film subgenre “giallo,” which shares its name with the eponymous color. How accurately “City of Lust” captures the same feel as the movies inspiring it is a matter of debate. Plenty of red, yellow, and green lights drench scenes with rich, yet impossible colors. Characters include a reality-questioning heroine, unfocused police inspector, and unidentified slasher in the shadows. Many of the expected elements of giallo are here, but a micro-budget look and fledgling filmmaking abilities ensure that no one will confuse this for a lost Argento classic.
This movie is weird in most senses of the word. It is weird like an experimental student film focused on existential philosophy as a theme is weird. It is weird in the same way that one would use the term to describe the work of David Lynch or John Waters. And it is weird that even though it is populated by inexperienced actors, fumbled story structure, and the overall feel of a rookie effort screaming its low production value from the rooftops, I was nonetheless fascinated by the hypnotically peculiar little world manifested onscreen.
Unfortunately for anyone looking to this review as a fencepost tipper on whether or not the film befits him/her, “City of Lust” makes it strangely difficult to fully evaluate my thoughts. Confronted by technical limitations and scripting drawbacks at several turns, I consciously questioned, “why am I still engaged?” Despite specifically looking for an explanation as it was happening, I never could quite pinpoint how I was being drawn in to “City of Lust,” yet somehow I was.
It could be that I enjoyed lead actress Margaret Grace as Arianna. Grace plays mousy and sweet with an undercurrent of frazzled tragedy clouding her unconfident smile, which is perfect for portraying a lonely hairdresser with a dark past. Surrounded by perverted men and catty coworkers, Arianna turns to a 1-900 sex chat line and finds companionship in the mysterious voice of Jackie. Jackie soon enters Arianna’s life in physical form as well, and that arrival coincides with a series of murders involving the people plaguing Arianna’s life in various ways.
Conversely, many of Grace’s co-stars, most of whom have little to no previous acting experience of note, leave more to be desired. As Jackie, Jill Oliver seems preoccupied with spitting out dialogue as quickly as possible, as though concerned more about simply delivering her words than putting convincing spirit behind them. Other characters are an offbeat assembly of transsexual best friend, skeezy Italian maintenance man, and aspiring author/homicide detective, among others, so the inherent personality of the roster at least evens out some of the less inspired performances.
It could be that I appreciated the cinematography. While unrealistic, the vibrant colors are visually alluring, and a colossal contributor to creating the inexplicable tractor beam pull that the movie’s environment seems to have.
The music, on the other hand, can have the opposite effect. A specific sequence during the finale is crazily annoying when a synthesized chorus drones “bum-bum-bum-bum” for several consecutive minutes.
It could also be that no matter how choppily the story comes together, it is still oddly interesting. The movie doesn’t play fair with the clues it leaves regarding its mystery though, which makes for a somewhat befuddling narrative. For instance, it isn’t clarified that certain scenes are flashbacks until well after their meaning is relevant. Arianna confusingly wears the same nightgown/dress in present day setups as she does in what turns out to be the past, which would be highly unlikely given the circumstance. Inconsistencies like this make it hard to tell what “City of Lust” is trying to do much of the time.
Still, it helps that the movie is only 75 minutes brief. The required time investment is small enough that the problems are more nuisance than insult. And I’m still at a loss for how to accurately summarize the experience.
“City of Lust” is flawed, occasionally bewildering, and often cheesy. Yet somehow, it has a “je ne sais quoi” appeal I can’t quite put my finger on. Don’t expect the lust promised by the title, or too much of the giallo alluded to by the description. Instead, go in with an open mind and you could come out the other end of the strange trip bemused, possibly even entertained.
Review Score: 50