Sunday, December 8, 2013

TOAD ROAD (Artsploitation Films) - 7 Gateways to Hell and the Drugs that Unlock Them

Toad Road has been getting an abundance of attention, rightfully so, and I want to advise you first to enjoy the picture before reading any reviews about this movie including this one. I get quite a few recommendations come across my desk for films to watch or requests to review. Some of them I delve into, deeply, trying to find out just what I'm going to be seeing on screen before I actually view it. Research and research and watch the trailer, but typically I'll avoid reviews until after viewing. Other movies I just let wash over me, fresh and untouched. These are usually movies that I haven't internally hyped or haven't been slammed down my throat by the usual mainstreams sources. Toad Road from Spectre Films as released by Artsploitation Films caught my attention because everyone seemed to be talking about it and because Artsploitation has been lighting up my radar like a V formation set of bogies over American soil carrying "the bomb". With Wither and Hidden in the Woods impressing me and the general positive buzz from some close friends, I stepped onto Toad Road blindly and was shocked in the best way possible though there were moments where I felt the story to be a little too familiar.

Synopsis from Artsploitation:

A different kind of American independent horror film, the hypnotic Toad Road, presented by Elijah Wood and his SpectreVision production company, unfolds like a hallucinatory cross between the sexual candor of Larry Clark and Harmony Korine, and the backwoods creep-out of The Blair Witch Project. Young James kills time with his small town druggie friends, engaging in excessive chemical intake, until he meets sweet new arrival Sara. But just as James wants to abandon the narcotics life, Sara wants him to take her further into mind-altering experimentation…and she also wants him to introduce her to the sinister local legend of Toad Road, a spot deep in the forest that is apparently home to the Seven Gates of Hell.


As a younger man I used to enjoy quite a few substances. We won't go into depth as to which ones or when or how but the result, while sometimes overly positive, could have ended me. When you watch a movie like Toad Road and realize that you've taken some of the very same steps as the protagonists in the film, you let the film in; you allow it to access those particular sensitive memories that often haunt or inspire fear or sadness; some memories that you've locked away in time capsule waiting for your own kids to be old enough to warn them. Toad Road got into my head and touched all the parts that sting even after years removed from the deaths of friends and the parties that started off with the best of intentions but ended with devastation of one type or another. Some of the memories brought about from watching Toad Road were actually quite positive; acid trip flashbacks I hadn't thought of in years (mini-movies just for me like dreams) or faces that I haven't smiled upon in such a long time, some now long since passed. I do not regret my younger years or the experimentation I did during that time, but I do miss the ones we lost and the lives that were hurt. Toad Road can open you up whether you're ready for that experience or not.

It can be seen as a cautionary tale if you let it, but it can also be keen insight into the minds of young, crazy youth, invincible and wild. It doesn't have to be an overtly negative experience because for me it was not. There are genuine moments of pure love and pleasure and hedonism that let us remember that we were all young and free at one point. I hope we all loved that way and kissed that way and blew drugs into each others' eyes that way (who though making mock-Adrenachrome was a good idea in that damn apartment anyway)? Is Toad Road a horror picture? It isn't one, but it is horrifying. There are some genuinely creepy moments, and I sat on the edge of my seat waiting for the devil to appear before my eyes. I think I saw him at least once, but you'd have to look carefully to understand how.

Fans of Larry Clark's movies will appreciate the honesty and raw effectiveness of Toad Road. The minute I started watching and enjoying this movie I felt like I was watching a fresh version of Kids with a different sort of story to tell even checking the back of the box to make sure I wasn't watching a Larry Clark movie (not that I've seen enough of them to know his filmography). In scouting out a bit of understanding about some of the scenes in Toad Road afterward it seems that people agree on that point (it's even in the Artsploitation Synopsis posted above). Jason Banker delivers a creepy side of the really real world and he goes by it by being as honest Abe as a piece of near documentary/near fiction can. There are extras on the Artsploitation disc that will fill in the gaps between what is real, what is fiction and how this whole thing was woven together from story to stark bleak painful reality. These include Audio Commentary from  Jason Banker, James Davidson, Jamie Siebold, Scott Radar and Jorge Torres-Torres. There are also deleted scenes, an audition video featuring James Davidson and Sara Anne Jones as well as a Behind the Scenes featurette that is absolutely eye opening, a DUI Story, a Shotgun Beer Clip and trailer. Experiencing the movie and these features and the realizing that you are watching two people (Davidson and Jones) might as well be like watching a show like Intervention but without the psychodrama or narrative or TV glitz and glamour...  if Intervention actually cared about the people on the screen s much as they wanted to sensationalize them. Okay, it isn't anything like Intervention. Watching these two on screen is like feeling high and sad and loved and maybe even a little dead at times. The nerves are open.

If you've ever walked down a deserted road in the middle of New Jersey trying to find Demon's Alley or maybe Blairsden or perhaps Colby Mansion before it burned down... you'll appreciate Toad Road (Ghost Lake, Shades of Death Road, abandoned Greystone or even the Sanitarium in Fairfield wanderers too). If you've walked down any of those roads on drugs, you'll probably completely identify with this picture and I encourage you to watch the movie even more so than I did at the opening of this review. Some of these images were spot-on glimpses into my own memory banks, and all of mine were more humorous; seeing the other side of the coin is fascinating but unsettling. I suppose this movie being filmed in York, PA helped it to feel like my own stomping grounds (Northwest New Jersey) and yes, I've been to the Henryville House.

Make sure to enjoy both covers offered from Artsploitation (it's reversible). Also, appreciate the eight page insert that has some words from Elijah Wood (a producer on the film) and Michael Tully as well as some still images.

Toad Road will be out December 17th. Come take a look at the Artsploitation site for more info about screenings and to see how Toad Road effected others. There are plenty of links to places where you might purchase the film or pre-order it.

Artsploitation Films is picking up some amazing films. Make sure to check out their catalog (Wither is tremendous and Hidden in the Woods is disturbing).

-Doc Terror

Note: Lucio Fulci, we still love your vision of the gateways to Hell too.

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