Thousands gather in upstate New York for a forgettable revamp of the legendary Woodstock festival, as the unforgettable (for all the wrong reasons) Star Wars: The Phantom Menace hits theaters on every corner of the globe. Bill Clinton is disgracefully readying himself for one of the most controversial exits from the White House, and Woody Allen is three years into an equally controversial marriage he entered with his own daughter. That’s right, punk; we’re talking about 1999.
At the time, reality TV was in its infancy, with shows like The Real World becoming massive hits that would soon change television and American culture as we knew it. Big Brother would come the following year, with countless bad ideas trailing in it and The Real World’s paths, like an entire brood of ugly ducks following their mother. Things were about to get incredibly weird for television, to say the least. While we’re on the topic of reality TV, have you ever watched one of these awful excuses for entertainment, and found it so unbearably pointless, with such self-absorbed and mindlessly deluded contestants, that it had you thinking something along the lines of, “Wow! Wouldn’t it be great if all of these people suddenly died?” A few young filmmakers fresh out of college did, turning this into an idea for a screenplay which went on to become the birth of a little not-so-well-known horror film from ‘99 by the name of Kolobos.
Kolobos follows a group of 20-something year-olds who volunteer to take part in an experimental, reality TV-esque documentary film. It’s essentially the The Real World or Big Brother, only without the competitive aspect that those shows tend to go in for. A group of young adults volunteer to live with one another under one roof and have their daily lives documented on camera, only in Kolobos, the unsuspecting volunteers are being targeted one-by-one by an unknown “guest” stalking them from within the shadows. His attacks come in the form of both booby traps rigged throughout the house, as well as pure brute force. I’m doing my best here to be concise, as there is quite a bit more to the premise, though to avoid any spoilers for those who have yet to see the film, I’ve chosen to omit further details.
Kolobos rejects ’90s horror themes with a premise that, albeit simple, is nothing if not original. It is apparent in every way possible that this is a film made by lovers of genre cinema. This is most noticeable through its undying homage to Italian horror, and the giallo films of the ’60s and ’70s, which so very clearly inspired the filmmakers behind it. At many times, the film sparks images of Dario Argento’s Suspiria, not in a rip-off sort of fashion, but in one of reverence. Other times, and in the same vein, it is reminiscent of the works of Lucio Fulci, in its use of gore, and Mario Bava, with its elusive black-gloved killer, known simply in the film as “Faceless.” Through a love and respect for these three filmmakers especially, Kolobos hits its mark in being an American horror film very motivated by, but not a copy of, the Italian films that came before it. I will say that the theme for Kolobos is a blatant and unapologetic rip off of Goblin’s Suspiria theme. As much as I tip my proverbial hat to it for maintaining originality, this is a fact that simply cannot be ignored. I honestly have no idea how they even got away with doing this.
The performances from the cast are quite weak, with Ilia Volok as Faceless being the only honorable mention. Still, I couldn’t help but find myself wondering if his voice and accent were what made this role work so well for him, and if they couldn’t have found literally anybody else with some brief experience in theater to do just as good a job. Amy Weber as the lead character, Kyra, comes close to hitting her mark at many times throughout the film, but it sadly just never happens. The rest of the cast make their characters about as lifeless as a pair of socks. It’s the type of cast that could have honestly been filled by pretty much any collective of aspiring actors with moderate experience; the final product would have still turned out the same.
Kolobos maintains an ability to move smoothly without any poor acting getting in the way and causing a mess, however. Though to reiterate my former point, most of the performances are laughable at their worst, and simply not-terrible at their very best. The story structure is poor at times, but overall solid and coherently crafted. This is especially apparent when you take into account that the original script, once shot, ended up being entirely too short to make into a feature film, which required some impromptu rewrites and additional scenes thrown in to really stretch out the length of the movie. Unfortunately, this does add some unnecessary bullshit to the story, such as a final act that feels too drawn out, begging to be shortened and simplified. All of this could have probably been executed more adequately had the crew been more experienced in the craft of filmmaking. It’s most definitely a display of a group of amateur filmmakers in their attempt at their first feature film, but their collective love for the genre, and the work put into their film, shines through every frame like light through clean glass, making its flaws pale in comparison to its quality overall.
The use of practical effects (especially when you take into account that it had a budget of just around $100K) is something I really appreciated. Most people reference the scene where one of the characters has her ankle snapped by a claw-like trap that grabs hold of her as she attempts to flee down one of the hallways of the house. This is indeed memorable, but my personal favorite use of practical FX is during a scene where one of the characters has his face smashed into the corner of a bathroom sink counter. It’s a scene that truly had me squirming uncomfortably in my seat like a child receiving a Tetanus shot.
Now, let’s be clear, the SFX in Kolobos may not be on the same level as John Landis’ An American Werewolf in London (SFX work by Rick Baker) or David Cronenberg’s The Fly (SFX work by Don Bies), but it still deserves the credit and respect it’s due in this department. There are a few scenes that appear cheaply executed and disingenuous, and I understand the ridicule there, but I can’t allow myself to jump in that boat. I just cannot be too critical of a film made on such a low budget by a group of no-name filmmakers with zero credibility and limited resources. Had they received a higher budget allowing for more room to work with, only the most pretentious and jaded would be willing to drag it through the mud.
Kolobos is no anomaly, but it’s also not a film that should be dismissed as simply another independent horror film of the ’90s. It has heart and originality, which I feel is a redundant statement for me at this point, but it needs to be made clear. It’s something that can go a hell of a long way in this genre. Unfortunately, it is also a movie that came at just the wrong time for it to have really made much of an impact. Being released at the end of the Slasher era, and right before the dawn of what came to be known as “torture porn” (following the release of films such as Saw and Hostel in the early 2000s). Kolobos kind of hung in the middle of these two eras in horror cinema. Had it been made around the same time as Saw, for instance, it most likely would have received a much higher budget, a lot more attention, and a decent run in cinemas. Sadly, it came at just the wrong time, flying right under the radar of even diehard cinema lovers and horror film buffs. Thanks to Arrow Video however, many fans of the genre are being introduced (or reintroduced, for those who did see it back in ’99) to this forgotten gem.
Kolobos was written by Nne Ebong, Daniel Liatowitsch, and David Ocvirk, with the latter two helming the directorial wheel. It was originally shot on 35mm, with Arrow’s release presenting a 2K restoration from the original negative in 1080p widescreen format. Along with the video restoration are two audio options: stereo sound, and DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1. The latter is obviously the better option, but due to the low-budget equipment used to capture the original audio, I really couldn’t find anything especially notable about this feature.
As for the video, the transfer adds a quality to the lighting and colors that really bring out the film’s visual aesthetic without any over-saturation, adding necessary improvements in these aspects, while maintaining the kind of dull and flat palette that makes the film stand out from its contemporaries. It has a graininess that is still present in Arrow’s release, which I absolutely loved. Many have criticized this grainy look, but I personally find it fantastic, as it provides the film with a feel that is akin to late ’70s and early ’80s Horror cinema. Arrow’s restoration helps bring out the movie’s greatest quality, which is its visual language. I honestly cannot stress how much I love the way this transfer looks.
Along with what may be one of the ’90s most underrated independent horror films are a myriad of bonuses that come with this release, including Real World Massacre: The Making of Kolobos; Face to Faceless: An Interview with actor Ilia Volok, which I found incredibly insightful; Slice & Dice: The Music of Kolobos (an equally insightful interview with William Kidd, who created the score for the film); behind-the-scenes set photos; “Superhelden,” an impressive short film by director Daniel Liatowitsch, which he made as a kid in Switzerland for a public access TV show; Rediscovering Kolobos, which is a short featurette from the films theatrical premier in the UK in 2018; the original trailer as well as a 15th anniversary trailer; and audio commentary with directors Daniel Liatowitsch and David Todd Ocvirck. Basically, Arrow’s release is packed to the lid with special features, and one every fan of ’90s horror absolutely needs in their collection.
Author’s note: exactly how many times can a person use a film’s title in one single review? Mother of God, forgive me…