07th Oct2019

Grimmfest 2019: ‘Dead Dicks’ Review

by Phil Wheat

Stars: Heston Horwin, Jillian Harris, Matt Keyes, Kristina Sandev | Written and Directed by Chris Bavota, Lee Paula Springer

dead-dicks-poster

Genre cinema has often been used as an allegory for societal ills – Night of the Living Dead was an allegory for the inherent racism of the time; Deathdream was an allegory for the horrors of war and the effects of PTSD (before PTSD was ever a thing really); and Dead Dicks follows the same path – despite the silly title and the comedic aspects of the films, it is an actually an allegory for the effects of mental health.

A relatively small-scale film, Dead Dicks has some loftier ideas than its simple black horror comedy set-up would suggest. The film, on the surface, tells the story of Becca a would-be nurse, who receives a distressing call from her suicidal brother Richie. Having problems with Ritchie is nothing new, but the urgency of his call see’s Becca rush over to his apartment, where she finds him alive and well – surrounded by copies of his own dead body, and with a giant arsehole-looking growth protruding from his bedroom wall. An arsehole that gives birth to a new Ritchie every time he dies!

Of course the idea of an odd situation (in this case the arse-on-the-wall) isn’t that new. Most recently we had the likes of Curtain, in which a portal existed in a woman’s shower. However with Dead Dicks the bizarreness of the growth, the fact Ritchie can’t die and the general all-round weirdness of this story is only a hook on which to hang one of the most touching, powerful, emotional tales I’ve ever seen in horror cinema.

Thankfully those aforementioned lofty ideas work BRILLIANTLY: the idea of horror films reflecting societal trends is at play here, mental health is in the cultural zeitgeist right now and Dead Dicks taps into that – but not to use it as exploitation fodder but instead to talK about what effects mental health issues have to those suffering from it but also to those around them; touching upon the hardships and struggles that abound in relationships and families of those that are dealing with mental health issues.

As I said previously, Dead Dicks is one of the most touching, powerful, emotional stories I’ve ever seen told in the genre. In fact never has a horror movie made me cry. Ever. Dead Dicks did. Not because I was terrified but because in the short time we are with Becca and Ritchie we see the love the two have for each other, we see the problems they have and so when – in the final scenes between the brother and sister – we know what is to happen, we hear what Ritchie feels he needs to do, it has a deeply emotional resonance that isn’t seen in genre films. And it touched a nerve within me that NO OTHER horror film ever has.

It would seem that “The only way out is through” is a trend in horror this year – with a number of genre films putting their characters through situations both emotionally and literally. In the case of Dead Dicks and how it discusses mental health, it posits that the only way through this process is to work through it – which is what Becca and her brother Ritchie do. But also “the only way out is through” is presented literally as Becca has to crawl through a tunnel in the arse-wall (what a thing to make the centre of such touching drama!), escaping the shackles of he brothers problems and finding her own freedoms. Interestingly, whilst “the only way out is through” ties into mental health in particular here, it also translates to current socio-political climates across the globe too. So even if you cannot relate to the mental health aspect of the story, you can certainly relate to the day-to-day struggles (such as the widening generational divide, culture clashes, etc.) society is going through right now.

Going into Dead Dicks I wasn’t expecting to be hit so hard emotionally by a film that looked, for all intents and purposes, like a black comedy. But I was. In fact the idea of horror, comedy and drama came together perfectly in the film, making it my favourite of this years Grimmfest, and a contender for Top Ten of the year for me.

***** 5/5

Dead Dicks screened as part of Grimmfest 2019 on Sunday October 6th.

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