Color, 1999, 54 mins. 28 secs.
Directed by Tina Krause
Starring Jessica Krause, Vincent Hager, Mike Sand, Suze Daufler, Mike Lisa, Tina Krause, Barron, Sean Farrell AGFA / Bleeding Skull! (Blu-ray) (US R0 HD)
A veteran of many, many micro-budget horror and exploitation films in front of and behind the camera in a variety of capacities since the mid-'90s with titles ranging from Sixteen Tongues to Blood and Sex Nightmare, Tina Krause took her one and only stab at feature directing with this experimental fever dream shot on S-VHS, which has been essentially unseen since its completion apart from a very below the radar, self-distributed run on VHS from Krause's Fracture Films.
At a dive bar, Elizabeth (Jennifer Krause) is assessed and hit on by a variety of men but wards them all off until one guy with a strange hand who says things like "Your vision is distorted" manages to sit next to her for a while. Her surroundings seem to constantly trigger flashes or hallucinations involving static, jittery distortion, and various apparitions, and she spends her time at home watching snow on her TV. From there she plunges into a trippy ordeal that could be a literal trip to hell, a drug-fueled nightmare, or a full-on mental breakdown, all accompanied by a wild soundtrack that crescendos in the final fifteen minutes into full-blown horror territory involving a robed cult and a breakdown of personal identity.
Borderline plotless shot-on-video films have been a dime a dozen, but occasionally you'll get one that rises above the norm (a la several titles by the Wicked Pixel gang). Despite its very ragged technical nature, the project has some interesting visual ideas with lots of double exposures, color manipulation, and spooky interplay between sound and image, which can be disorienting at times but does pay off in that final stretch. This isn't the kind of film you can rate in any sort of traditional sense (and it certainly doesn't require any impressive acting beyond looking tormented), but it has a nice lived-in feeling that captures the feeling of a single woman in the city constantly under psychological siege (whether real or imagined). The bar sequences are especially interesting as a kind of fly on the wall look at how a woman is perceived in an environment, such as the "two reasons" speculation over why she might be wearing sunglasses.
For Limbo's first professionally distributed home video release, AGFA and Bleeding Skull! have gone back to the "original S-VHS master tape" for its stacked Blu-ray release; a disclaimer asks that you be gentle in assessing the a/v quality, so just know going in that this is a fairly typical SOV '90s look and actually a lot closer to low grade VHS than S-VHS in appearance. The sound recording is pretty rough as well when it comes to the dialogue, but the music track is a different story and sounds great. Some very welcome optional English yellow subtitles are provided, which not only help clarify a few muddy lines of dialogue but include designations like "(groovy rock music)." An extremely lively audio commentary with Tina Krause and Bleeding Skull!'s Annie Choi and Joe Ziemba clearly having a blast covering the story behind "Fracture Films," the perils of casting your sister as the lead, the very DIY methods used to shoot and edit the film, the guerrilla-style shooting in public (including a brush with the law filming in a subway), an unfortunate three-day accidental drug trip that inspired the film, and plenty more. You also get a 2019 Fantastic Fest Q&A (27m20s) with Krause and Choi giving a more bite-sized overview of the film's unorthodox production including the drug story (and it's fun seeing the pair chatting on camera here), followed by an archival featurette, "Constructing a Psychological Horror" (12m43s), with Krause being interviewed about her narrative intentions, the impact of Scanners, and more, plus brief contributions from actors Mike Lisa and Sean Farrell. Finally the disc contains an unreleased minimalist Krause short film, "Answering Machine" (7m11s), which tells its story entirely through a string of increasingly dysfunctional voicemails, and "Eaten Alive! A Tasteful Revenge" (35m11s), a hilariously insane shot-on-VHS short for mail order production company W.A.V.E. Productions starring Krause in a pretty out-there example of the company's wild, nudity-laden sensibilities. Just watch this one without any advance warning and prepare to be astonished.