In the late ‘90s, Robert Altman (M.A.S.H, Nashville, Quintet) transitioned into television with an innovative approach to the anthology-narrative format: Gun, which aired on the ABC-TV network. Each unrelated episode—with new plots and characters for each story—followed a .45 semi-automatic pistol on its travels from person to person.
In Wicca Book, writer-director Vahagn Karapetyan’s seventh short film, we have an intelligent amalgamation of the Altman concept plopped into the Sam Raimi universe—unfolding as a Hieronymus Bosch, medieval triptych: a garden of Greek horror centered on an ancient grimoire (convincing-beautifully crafted by artist Maria Alvanou) that passes from owner to owner. However, while there’s a Raimi connection via an ancient text (that Raimi pinched wholesale from 1970’s Equinox; sans the Dave Allen and Jim Danforth creatures), make no mistake: There’s no Bruce Campbell hammy buffoonery: a Rob Zombie-styled, Dario Argento homage snared in Karapetyan’s fisheye lens.
Film, at its core, is a visual medium. It’s an art form based in “showing” and not “telling”; for film is 90% visual and 10% dialog (and the stage is the reverse). Images tell the story though props, an actor’s body language and, most importantly: that your actors are not skilled in the craft of acting—but “being.” This is an art at which Karapetyan and his actors excel: there’s no dialog across his film’s 22-minute run time. While, at first glance, Wicca Book may be a bit longer than a short film should be, in this case, there’s not one superfluous frame on screen: every minute is artistically warranted. It’s masterfully edited.
In addition to a film’s dialog-barren image, music can also induce emotion in those frames. And all of the film disciplines are at their finest in Wicca Book as Karapetyan formulated a solid, celluloid-symbiotic relationship between cinematography Nick Kaltsas, Foley artist Enes Achmet Kechargia, and musician Christoforos Koutsodimos. He proves you do not need any title card preambles or voiceover prologues—or any dialog—to bring on the fear and dread.
And the terror unfolds in the triptych’s first panel: A frantic knock and doorbell ring at the apartment door of a young architectural student (Christos Diamantoudis) reveals the ancient text stuffed in a plastic garbage bag with a note saying, “It’s yours.” And as he turns the pages, it seems the book was written especially for him. And, it seems, the cries of children rise from its pages. He tries to destroy it; the pages won’t tear or burn. Then something presses at the front door; it wants in . . . . And he becomes one of book’s ink-scratched pages.
In the longer, second panel: The now unbound demon comes to the dreams of Mia, a young archeological student (Kika Zachariadou), and inspires her to discover the book while spelunking. Upon opening the book, her name appears in blood on her bathroom mirror and, the book instructs her to “give it away.” Then we learn the truth: Mia was the frantic knock and doorbell ring opening the film; she passed the book onto the architectural student. But it was a trick: By giving the book away, not only will she sacrifice the receiver: she’ll transform into a witch. So, to save them both, she breaks into his apartment, steals the book, and tries to return the book from where it came. As she runs from the apartment, she runs into her neighbor: the book’s instructed third sacrifice is complete. Mia will become a witch, after all.
The Bosch garden rots in the third panel of this supernatural triptych, as Mia returns to the cave (with an inspired POV shovel-in-the-dirt shot) for a final knife-wielding showdown with The Devil. . . .
Wicca Book is a horror film of old, not of the modern film world that wobbles on the crutches of shock-scares and motion-captured, CGI-grafted gore. This is a film that reminds of Gloria Katz and Willard Huyck’s feature film debut, 1973’s Messiah of Evil (a movie so good, we reviewed it three times: HERE, HERE, and HERE), L.Q Jones’s Brotherhood of Satan, and Burt I. Gordon’s Necromancy. Wicca Book is a classic, shot-in-camera ‘70s-styled suspense-horror flick, like those Dan Curtis ‘70s U.S TV movies of old (shameless plug: check out our Exploring: Dan Curtis featurette). (Also, please note that there’s neither reference of nor an appearance of Hieronymus Bosch’s medieval triptych in the film: that is my personal interpretation of the film’s narrative structure.)
While attending Aristotle University, Karapetyan, an Armenian director and writer based in Greece, wrote a thesis paper: “How a Traditional Myth Becomes a Horror Film,” so he knows his material. While I haven’t seen Karapetyan’s six previous horror shorts, based on what I’ve seen with Wicca Book, I wait in anticipation for his first international English language feature film, Go Dark, currently in its pre-production stages. I also believe all of the parts are there for Wicca Book to be expanded into a feature film as well.
Referring to my comment regarding the runtime: 30-minute programs are actually 17 to 22-minutes in length. Once you add commercials, you have a half-hour program; so again, the length works in that regard and Wicca Book could become a television series. Another goal is to turn Wicca Book into a web-series, using elements of time travel to explore the book’s birth in 16th century New England and how the book came to be in the cave explored by Mia. The concept—in any form—is exciting and worth following its development.
It may take some time, but Vahagn Karapetyan is on his way to becoming a voice in Euro-horror. And all good things take time. Wicca Book is currently under the wing of Film Freeway, so let’s hope it comes to a U.S film festival sometime soon near you. It’s worth the price of admission. You can learn more about the film at Darkstream Entertainment on Facebook and Vahagn Films on Facebook.
Disclaimer: This movie was sent to us by its PR company and, as you know, that has no bearing on our review.