Directed by Fred Vogel
2010 - 106 Minutes/Widescreen
DVD Provided by Toe Tag Pictures
Article written by Mark Engle
Toe Tag Pictures has already been around for about a decade, making their mark with the very controversial AUGUST UNDERGROUND. Known primarily for their extreme violence and disgusting gore effects, which Toe Tag fans love, the company was criticized by other genre fans for the lack of story and character development in their projects. With a glut of copycats working in the goreporn and stylized fake snuff film arena, director Fred Vogel and the Toe Tag team needed something to rise above the competition. I believe SELLA TURCICA is a step in that direction. Destined to be a title that is both hailed and detested by genre fans, it’s a strange depressing drama that packs a horrifically violent finale, which also delivers the gory goods. Gorehounds will love the final 15 minutes, but will they enjoy the entire ride getting there?
The emphasis is on dramatic story with the plot focusing on Sgt. Bradley Roback (Damien Maruscak) who finally comes home from his tour in the Middle East. He's wheelchair bound and not doing so good, looking rather sickly green, very listless, and at times has black gunk seeping out of many orifices. The doctors say he should be walking and are stumped as to what is wrong with him. All he remembers is being on patrol with his platoon when there was an attack and a sudden flash. Later he was found unconscious several miles from where the platoon was ambushed. Despite his ill appearance and memory lapse, his family, consisting of his mother Karmen (Camille Keaton) and sister Ashley (Jade Risser) among others, welcome him back with open arms. They can tell something isn't quite right, but delude themselves into thinking that if he just gets some time and rest, he'll get better. If this all sounds familiar, it’s because of the many similarities the story shares with Bob Clark's DEATHDREAM aka THE NIGHT ANDY CAME HOME.
Eventually, even Bradley realizes something is beyond his control. His tongue gets all nasty, the leaking black stuff worsens, and the taste of food causes him to convulse every time he tries to eat. He suffers jolting spasms when he tries to sleep, and tends to get either violent or mentally unresponsive whenever he’s awake. Not wanting to burden his family with his problems, Bradley attempts to hide his agonizing condition. This leads to a run in with Ashley's annoying boyfriend that violently ends just after Bradley eats the family dog appropriately named Fulci. From that point, the drama ends and the gore begins as SELLA TURCICA stops being a message parable about the anguish of war and turns into a full fledge horror movie.
Given the limited budget, the special effects are extreme and effective, but that’s to be expected from this team. The question is: can this film please everyone? Are there enough gory effects for Toe Tag’s loyal fans while at the same time being enough plot development for genre fans wanting a decent story from the movie? The film is a bit of a mixed bag, offering an abrupt change when the family drama suddenly flies out the window for the sake of violent gore. That’s not to say that the dramatic content is completely lost, but because the film’s tone changes so drastically, it just didn't matter anymore. On the other hand, since the unraveling of the events lead to an inevitable graphic conclusion, perhaps it’s the visual delivery that jars the viewers and disconnects them from the emotional storyline. If this is the case, it must be attributed to the direction and the acting of the key players.
On a critical level, this is where we run into the main hurdle. Let's face it, the acting is very rough for something that depends on drama to drive the story to its conclusion. Most of the actors really try, and if this was a standard stalk and slash or serial killer outing, they would be adequately up to the task for an independent feature. But the subject matter here depends on subtlety and key acting chops to pull it off. While we've seen worse from productions that are less challenging, this still feels like it requires more than what is delivered. On another note, it is nice to see Camille Keaton again. Probably best known for her lead role in the original I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE, I personally enjoyed her work in WHAT HAVE THEY DONE TO SOLANGE? and TRAGIC CEREMONY.
I walked away from SELLA TURCICA impressed with what Toe Tag tried to do. The gorehound in me loves the final act while the dramatic critical side of me needs subtle story changes to make the film more emotionally sound. There's more resounding and disturbing terror in the conclusion of something like COMBAT SHOCK (another movie dealing with an ex-vet that came to mind while watching this), while DEATHDREAM, which SELLA TURCICA can never replace, is more haunting. Even so, I can recommend SELLA TURCICA to genre fans. This is a good movie by Toe Tag and if they continue this trend, then they may strike gold with their next outing.