In our previous article on underrated horror films from the current decade, one of the most perplexing, disturbing, humorous and heartbreaking titles to make the cut (no pun intended) is Richard Bates, Jr.’s feature debut EXCISION — which also quite rightly made several horror sites’ Top 10 lists during its release year of 2012.
Though more of an art-house entry than an underground release, that film is nevertheless one of the most subversive horror titles of the past decade, transcending standard modes of storytelling in favor of a surreal, downward-spiraling journey into the mind of deeply disturbed teenager Pauline (played to the hilt by AnnaLynne McCord), whose bizarre, sexually-tinged acts of bloody self-expression and a growing obsession with DIY surgical procedures collide in horrific ways — leading to a shocking and painfully tragic climax.
The feature-length EXCISION is actually a larger-budgeted expansion of a short film of the same name, written and directed by Bates in 2008 — and you can clearly see the rough but solid framework the filmmaker had already established; it’s not hard to imagine this short making a dramatic imprint on potential backers as well.
Played superbly by Tessa Ferrer (niece of TWIN PEAKS’s Miguel Ferrer), this Pauline prototype is also a social misfit, given to frequent flights of horrific fantasy — and while the depiction of her bloody, necrophiliac daydreams is limited here by a tiny budget, the short conveys the same impression of the dark desires trying to burst through her social repression.
Ferrer’s Pauline is more grounded in realistic behavior than McCord’s broader take on the character, and less given to wisecracking cynicism — she tends to internalize her bitter distaste with the “normal” world, while McCord’s Pauline is infused with flourishes of outrageous humor and a more operatic approach to her dream-self, given freer rein to do so by the more expansive script of the 2012 version.
While the feature film’s jaw-dropping dream sequences are drastically reduced in scale, the central plot of the original film is very much the same: neglected by her neurotic mother Phyllis (Karen Tiegren) in favor of chronically-ill younger sister Grace (Carly Hobson), Pauline twists her resentment into an intense determination to save the ailing girl’s life — thus proving her true worth to her Mom.
There’s only one slight problem with this otherwise noble pursuit: Pauline has no medical knowledge whatsoever. More to the point, she has absolutely no idea how the human body works, and instead invents horrific surgical scenarios from her terminally-twisted fantasies.
If you haven’t seen the feature-length version yet, the short will serve as the perfect gateway to Bates’ gorgeously gruesome vision, and progressing from this version to the mind-blowing 2012 expansion. If you’ve already experienced the latter, the short provides a fascinating alternate angle (plus a fine showcase for Ferrer’s talent), and serves as an effective mini-film-school lesson about the importance of a solid story and compelling characters, before extra layers of style and visual flair are applied.
Check out the short film below, then immediately proceed to the 2012 feature and view EXCISION from an entirely new, equally fascinating (and disturbing) perspective…