Starry Eyes – USA, 2014

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‘Dreams require sacrifice… and so do they’

Starry Eyes is a 2014 American horror feature film written and directed by Kevin Kolsch and Dennis Widmyer. The movie stars Alexandra Essoe, Amanda Fuller (Red, White & Blue), Noah Segan, Fabianne Therese (John Dies at the End), Shane Coffey, Natalie Castillo, Pat Healy (The Innkeepers), Nick Simmons, Maria Olsen, Marc Senter and Louis Dezseran.

The film’s electronic synth score was composed by Jonathan Snipes (Room 237; Excess Flesh; Haunters).

A hopeful young starlet uncovers the ominous origins of the Hollywood elite and enters into a deadly agreement in exchange for fame and fortune…

Review One:

Sarah, played by Alex Essoe, reflects the pinnacle of human ambition and gives a believable, if not darkened glimpse into the mind of a novice actress seeking her big break. Her struggles are demonstrated in the opening scenes with a string of audition failures and Sarah scrutinising her body in the mirror. She hates her waitressing job, has no family and lives as somewhat of an outcast, with the exception of her housemate, Tracy (Amanda Fuller) and her group of friends – of which the girls are typical bitches that condescend Sarah at every opportunity. They’re clearly jealous when Sarah lands an audition for a movie titled, The Silver Scream, led by a well-known production company.

The audition is judged by a panel of unenthusiastic pricks and, disappointed in herself, Sarah has a tantrum in the toilets and tears out chunks of her hair, unaware that the casting director is listening outside. Intrigued by Sarah’s trichotillomania, the woman gives her another chance to shine and asks her to perform her ‘fit’ in front of them. After screaming and rolling around on the floor Emily Rose-style, Sarah leaves as confused as we, the viewers, are.

Sarah receives a callback from the production company and quits her job. At her second audition, she’s made to strip naked while they take strobe-like photos of her in the dark. Though reluctant at first, the casting director prompts Sarah with the line, “If you can never let go, how will you transform into something else?” This is a glaring clue as to what might unfold during the next hour. As if these guys aren’t weird enough, Sarah notices that one of them is wearing a pentagram necklace – at which point, most people would put two and two together and leg it from the building. For the purpose of the film, it confirms suspicions that the occult is involved.

Sarah is eventually taken to meet the producer, who offers her the leading role in return for sex. After freaking out and running off, Sarah goes back to her day job and is invited to star in her friend’s movie. There’s an unintentionally funny moment when karma strikes and one of Tracy’s bitchy friends slips over by the pool and busts her nose. Sarah laughs, only to receive an admonishing scowl from Tracy, but they continue to party together and the drugs begin to circulate. Sarah still believes that she was destined for more and made a huge mistake in passing up the chance to star in The Silver Scream. Still under the influence, she goes crawling back to the pervy producer and performs oral sex on him to ‘open the gateway’ while surrounded by cult members dressed in robes and masks.

We discover over the next few days as Sarah’s body deteriorates that she’s unwittingly sold her soul. She’s given a vision of her future self and what she could become if she gives into the transformation – which, of course, is all she’s ever wanted. Her hair and nails begin to fall out and she vomits maggots until she’s practically comatose. Somehow managing to regain her strength, Sarah goes on a killing spree and takes out all of her not-friends. I assume this was to destroy remnants of her old life – and for the directors to get in some 80s gore, which may or may not be necessary depending on the viewer’s preference for psychological or slasher horror. Without spoiling all the fun, the remainder of the film consists of hacking people up, smashing faces in with weights and a hilarious scene where one guy makes a run for it, only to skid on a piece of scalp that Sarah pulled off earlier. Some might consider it a slow burn up until the very end, but really it’s more of a build-up. We already know that Sarah’s slightly unhinged from her earlier behaviour, and this makes her willingness to go through such drastic lengths all the more credible; what’s more, she manages to keep our sympathy.

Finally, it’s time for the ‘rebirth’ where Sarah writhes around naked and bloody beneath a plastic sheet; meanwhile, the producer shouts a cheesy line and his minions stand around chanting. Sarah’s buried and emerges from the earth the following morning in her shiny new form, minus her soul … and her hair, it seems.

Starry Eyes delivers a plot with a message, entertaining characters and some great special effects; pros aside, it definitely won’t appeal to everyone. If you’re into bizarre indie flicks about satanic cults, the Hollywood elite and rotting bodies then it’s certainly worth a watch.

Rae Louise, HORRORPEDIA – A version of this review first appeared on Horror Headquarters

Review Two:

Starry Eyes might be too difficult and nihilistic a film to appeal to mainstream audiences craving safe teen horror, but for genre fans, that should be a recommendation. This is a fascinating, grim, brutal and sometimes blackly humorous film that deserves rather better than to vanish into straight-to-video oblivion. Seek it out.

David Flint, HORRORPEDIA

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Buy: Amazon.co.uk

Other reviews:

‘Cementing Essoe’s performance is the masterful direction and writing of Wdmyer and Kolsch. There’s a subtleness to the film, even when it dips into full on gore late in the third act, that just puts it a cut above it’s modern horror contemporaries. The pair crafted a well thought out tale and were able to present it in a completely organic and masterful way.’ The HD Room

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the darkly insightful screenplay also “nails” the Hollywood aspirant archetype perfectly, the flick never stays in one place for too long, and it closes with a third act that works as psychological horror, Grand Guignol, and a nightmarish tragedy all at the same time.” Scott Weinberg, FEAR.net

“There’s quite a lot to take in, as the filmmakers are plainly attempting to pack the film with all the monstrousness they and their team have likely experienced in the trenches. The result is partly ironic, as the character suffering so much to be a star doesn’t feel as if she fully gets the spotlight, despite a gross, gripping journey and a superb turn from Essoe.” Samuel Zimmerman, Fangoria

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Buy: Blu-ray | DVD | Instant Video from Amazon.com

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“Even if you take the film’s underlying metaphors and ignore them completely, what you’re left with is an outstanding horror film that starts with a creepy-crawly atmosphere and gores its way to the finish line, leaving nothing behind but bloody remains under the bright lights of Hollywood.” Rhino’s Horror

‘ …this is one of those rare instances where you can absolutely believe all the hubbub and hoopla. Starry Eyes is at least as good as everyone’s been claiming,  and maybe even better. The over-used cliche “game-changer” comes to mind. Kolsch and Widmeyer have set the bar for indie horror very high indeed. I’d be damn surprised if anyone else surpasses it this year.’ Ryan Carey, Trash Film Guru

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