From “The Exorcist,” to “Blair Witch,” “Let the Right One In” and “Don’t Breathe,” Vito Dinatolo’s “Face of Evil” has that WTF-factor

On the run from his demons, real or not
“You infect them, then you save the world, make a little profit, oldest trick in the book…”
“Can you imagine people’s reactions if they really knew what was going on?” — Face of Evil, quotes

What the hell did I just watch? Face of Evil, which is described as a psychological thriller/horror by director/writer/auteur Vito Dinatolo, well, it unsettled me.

I like to be scared while being entertained. I love classic horrors such as The Exorcist. I also like psychological horrors from Rosemary’s Baby to Blair Witch to last year’s surprise chiller, Don’t Breathe.

Then again, I always wanted the stereotyped horror characters to be a little self aware of their stupidity: could the Jock display his feminine side; could the tarty Blonde not chew gum and say she’s saving herself for God; could the Black guy have voted for Trump and not get killed off early; could the Redneck with the Confederate flag on his truck, have voted for Hillary…just asking.

Anyway, I especially like horror with a WTF-factor, with a bloody splash of clever irony like the Swedish movie Let the Right One In.

FOE Director Dinatolo makes an “eye-catching” cameo appearance a la Hitchcock

And the more I think about it, Face of Evil, with its incredibly spooky poster and mish-mash of genres, may indeed have that WTF-factor. It sort of masquerades as a genre zombie scarefest, then its second half twists like a dagger in the ribs, and deals with the horrors of PTSD and general societal paranoia about Big Brother, terrorism and even Trump’s own Pandora’s box of what-the-fuck-just-happened?

And FOE is generating some buzz, recently screening at a host of indie film festivals (Los Angeles Independent Film Festival Awards, and New York City International Film Festival), while also scoring several “Best Horror” and Best Director Horror”awards. It next screens in LA at the Silicon Beach Film Festival.

Its premise is simple: Private Williams returns home from the Middle East to find out hell is home, as an epidemic turns his surprise party into tragedy. But his night has just begun…and then the paranoia and more fun kicks in.

I know the director/writer Dinatolo, as Vito and I have shared many coffees together talking film, and about a much earlier, less genre-bending draft of FOE. So I’m chuffed Vito persisted and is telling his psych thriller/horror tale to excited audiences.

Okay, it’s not The Exorcist, which was nominated for 10 Academy Awards, winning two, and was brilliantly directed by Billy Friedkin, who I’ve been lucky to have dined with, with my French Connection pal, Sonny Grosso.

But with Face of Evil, I’m still wondering what I saw — black comedy, cheesy spoof, another zombie movie, then something shifts, even the camera-work, when “Sarge” turns up and the over arching paranoia spins out of control. It’s like two movies in one, and Sarge has some lines that just cut to the core of Trumpian America and maybe even to Le Pen’s France.

Dialog like: “Don’t you know how to kill zombies? It’s pop culture…It’s called TIME and it sucks — it’ll heal all wounds but in the end it’ll kill you…This is Hell, son…Trust nobody, that’s how you stay alive…The magic word is Power.” And, also, “They want to control everybody but I ain’t no sheep!”

Private Williams and Sarge (R): “This is Hell, son…”
A spooky, sexy songbird — FOE’s score sets an unsettling tone

So, I’ll let my friend Vito tell us about FOE:

“I was going for a cross genre movie, to draw a broader audience and give different emotions. The movie starts as a comedy, like most typical horror movies with a bunch of young people hanging out, the perfect setup for what’s to come — the film becomes scary when the mysterious infection outbreak starts. Yet I still wanted to keep the sarcasm layer, which makes the difference in a good horror movie, as people always want to laugh a bit, even in scary moments — kind of like a bitter/sweet symphony. In the second half, as we start guessing about the real truth behind the epidemic, it becomes a road movie, a parody with spikes of scary moments, to recall the main nature of the movie, a psychological thriller. And, it’s here the movie touches contemporary issues like epidemics, paranoia, PTSD, Big Brother conspiracy, and mass shooting rampages. Yet, it’s always about the inner journey of a person on the run from his demons, real or not, from an unknown enemy, who may attack anywhere, anytime. Or perhaps it’s just the story of a victim, a scapegoat in a devious system.”

I also enjoyed the guerilla style filmmaking, all creatively done on a tight budget. Vito, who makes an “eye-catching” cameo appearance a la Hitchcock, explains the challenge:

“I divided the film in two separate productions — almost two different movies. The first half takes place in a house I found in the San Fernando Valley. It was perfect as the owner was a hoarder so all I had to do was re-arrange the mess in a way that made sense for the action. The second half was shot around L.A. like in Skid Row, with some permits, some guerrilla style. For example, they wouldn’t let us officially shoot at the gas station scene, so we went through the blocking in another gas station, already knowing the map of the actual gas station that denied us. Then we went back to the actual gas station, and while one of us was in the market buying something, acting as a decoy, we promptly parked, shot with the two actors, and split in five minutes! It came out great. As for the desert scene, it was a homage to Sergio Leone’s spaghetti westerns. We were just outside LA where I saw an area which looked exactly like a destroyed Afghanistan town, even better than what I was expecting, so we stopped and we shot. We got lucky.”

Check out Face of Evil at the Silicon Beach Film Festival 2017, screening on Monday April 24, at 10pm.