Dead Dicks is a dark and surreal mental health-themed comedy-horror curio from Canadian directing duo Chris Bavota and Lee Paula Springer. The film takes us on a wild, suicidal journey through one man’s mental state and apartment. An otherworldly cycle of death and rebirth put unforeseeable pressure on the already taut relationship between tortured artist Richie (Heston Horwin, as the ‘Dick’ of the title) and his younger sister Becca (Jillian Harris).
The story begins with Becca, part-time bartender and promising nursing student, preparing to leave town to pursue an exciting future in neuroscience. Her departure is kept quiet from her brother Richie, an artist and creative with a history of mental health problems. Their relationship has been problematic, and it’s nothing new when she has to leave work to check up on Richie at his apartment after receiving a series of panicked voicemail messages. This time, however, the worse has happened, and she discovers that her brother has committed suicide.
When Richie is also alive and standing behind her, naked and eating cereal, things get seriously interesting – and very weird. There is some sort of bizarre Lovecraftian portal in Richie’s bedroom wall, which looks either like a vagina or an anus (there is genuine discussion on the subject). It mysteriously births a new fully grown Richie every time he dies. Unfortunately, his corpses aren’t going anywhere, and his little sister will once again have to clean up his mess… albeit a much bloodier mess than usual.
Cue a bloody avant-garde almost-art project (look out for Richie using his own cloned severed arm as a paintbrush) soundtracked by obnoxiously loud rock music blasting from the apartment. This drives uptight upstairs neighbour Matt (Matt Keyes) into a heated confrontation, not just with Richie and Becca, but also with something uncanny and otherworldly.
Dead Dicks is full of wild ideas, however, the humour lies not in its ridiculous flights of fancy but in its relatable portrayal of internal turmoil and deep sadness. We know – sounds hilarious. This film owes more to eccentric cinematic oddities, such as Being John Malkovich, than it does to any sort of crowd-pleasing knockabout horror. As well as being an entertaining piece of offbeat cinema, it actively contributes to the current societal discussion about depression.
The influence of body horror maestro David Cronenberg is well on display here. This is arguably a far more interesting ode to the director than the recent Rabid remake from the Soska Sisters.
Add into that heady mix elements of quirky fantasy comedies like Dave Made A Maze and you might come close to getting some idea of what Dead Dicks is all about… possibly.
Relative unknowns Horwin and Harris make a relatable double act, guiding us through family strife and various successful suicide attempts with fragility and depth. However, the real impressive duo here are behind the camera – married writer/directors Bavota and Springer manage to craft a fully immersive universe located essentially within an apartment and apartment block. They keep the action deadlocked and intimate while delving into some seriously dense thoughts and ideas, executed with understated aplomb.
During their recent Q&A after the Dead Dicks UK premiere at north-west horror movie festival Grimmfest in early October, the filmmakers were noticeably moved by the audience’s response. The couple got visibly emotional when discussing sensitive moments regarding mental health.
The buzz and pride that they felt from getting to see their humble creation on a giant multiplex cinema screen was palpable. Though it may lack the visual polish of more expensive productions, there is enough storytelling ambition here to merit bigger and better projects in the future. Indeed, rather excitingly, the team are currently developing a creature feature loosely based on H.P. Lovecraft’s short story The Outsider.
With a low budget but a big heart – and buckets full of ambition (and body parts) – this is an important film presenting a well-rounded yet completely left-field picture of what it is like to love a family member that can’t quite love themselves.
You can catch Dead Dicks at the following upcoming festivals:
Night Visions, Helsinki – 20/11/19 Wednesday 16.00
Blood in The Snow, Toronto – 23/11/19 Saturday 19.00 (Toronto Premiere)
Other Worlds, Austin Texas – 5-8/12/19 (Schedule TBC)