TARNATION is Armstrong's fourth feature-length film following his wonderful Murderdrome, From Parts Unknown and Sheborg Massacre, and in my mind it qualifies as his best. Taking all of its cues from Evil Dead, the film pays a reassured homage to Raimi's iconic movie and exploits the familiar set-up with an abundance of unexpected twists and turns, all of which make it identifiably Armstrongic (I made that word up and I am not afraid to use it).
The story follows Oscar, a British rocker chick who is simultaneously kicked out of her band and dumped by her boyfriend. Her roommate convinces her to tag along for a weekend in the woods, at a shabby cabin with a saucy hot tub, and no sooner do they arrive and they are preyed upon by a demon unicorn and a satanic cult hellbent on raising the devil. A night of blood-soaked mayhem ensues as demonic corpses chomp at flesh, winged cherubs swoop from above, and diabolical rappers taunt our heroine. Needless to say TARNATION is a deliberately mad-capped exploit of cliché, tropes and platitudes, and makes no apologies.
What makes Armstrong's work so distinguishable is his reassured visceral mastery. Working on a micro-budget, he relies on his own creative know-how – along with the skills of his crew – and understands how to paint the screen with maximum effect. With a reliable amount of smoke and an abundance of colour, his production design pivots on smart composition and ingenuity. It's clear that Armstrong's vision is engrained into the script, and the result is a beautifully handled horror movie which showcases an indispensable team-effort, including everyone from the director himself to his cast, crew and all others involved.
The cabin location, as well as it's terrific interiors, are brilliantly conceived and give the story its focal point. Their rustic and decrepit textures enhance the production value and allow the lighting design to bounce shadows and colours in all kinds of cool and kooky ways. The kaleidoscope of fluorescent colours, having no practical purpose other than adding to the surrealism - create a fantasy that serves the horror perfectly. This is the definition of bang-for-buck guerilla filmaking!
The performances are wonderful with many of the players returning from previous outings. Daisy Masterman headlines the movie as Oscar, and with a fantastic Wonder Woman-inspired costume design, she kick-ass with style and commands the screen with authority. The supporting cast are all good and embrace the nature of the material. Danae Swinburn is an obvious stand-out as the sex-crazed roommate who gets turned into one of the undead. She relishes the horror and amps her performance up to eleven, and inevitably adds a whole lot more fun to the mix.
Forty years ago TARNATION would have played to cinema audiences and carved a niche during that legendary period of Ozploitation, but now that the market is swamped with streaming services, cable networks and a cesspool of illegal platforms, it will be lucky to find a small DVD release before falling into obscurity. With this in mind it's all the more important to rally behind filmmakers like Daniel Armstrong and support what they do. Theirs is a creative force driven by passion, for love of the craft, and certainly not for any sort of financial gain. GET SOME!
TARNATION HAS ITS WORLD PREMIERE AT MONSTER FEST (MELB) ON NOV 24.