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Lovesick: Sick Love (2004)
Director: Wolfgang Buld

review by Paul Higson

The British digital horror revolution is developing at a pace and inexorably the key proponents are going to be matched to the heroes of the past as we anticipate who might be the new Terence Fisher or Michael Reeves, the latter preferably without the premature death. So apologies in advance to Wolfgang Buld as we declare him the new... well... who of British horror? In truth, and paradoxically, it's both difficult and easy to make a comparison with the golden age horror mavens. There's a feel of the mod horror of the turn of the 1970s in this, his second film, Lovesick: Sick Love, but no singular past director figures in overall comparison. His first film Penetration Angst was high fantastic horror, whereas Lovesick, by the end of its 94 minutes turns out to be a savage, down and dirty nasty in the Robert Hartford-Davies mode a la turn of the 1970s' horror heyday. But Buld also reminds us of contributions made by European directors to British horror of the period, shock tacticians Jose Larraz and Peter Sasdy, for example. Whatever way one looks at it, Buld could yet prove to be that crucial link between film old and the digital new, a position preferable to being twinned with a fondly recalled name director of yore shot and style.

Lovesick: Sick Love does not begin too promisingly. Indeed the first hour is grim and rude drama with a smattering of the comical and one begins to wonder if it was correctly programmed as a horror. Michael (Paul Conway) is the put upon mummy's boy hotelier, but it all, the building, the business and the money, all belong to his sick mother (Jessica Barnes) who is in and out of hospital. Love never comes calling for Michael. That is until he encounters, puts up and gives a chambermaid position to catch-and-a-half Julia (Fiona Horsey) who then pretends romantic interest in him. Drowsing him, she blames it on the drink when cannot put pictures to the sex they never had. The lie having taken hold she then continues to sleep over only piling on excuse upon excuse rather than grant him a 'second' mucky wrestle that he might actually remember this time. She's not for it as Michael is nobody's type and any contact more intimate than a hug would displease her Eastern European lover Istvan (William Rowson). Istvan is on the run from thug moneymen and while she does her best to provide him with the cash to pay them off she suspects that most of the money is going up his nostrils. On the close circuit cameras Michael sees her act the octopus with Istvan in the corridor and tracks them to one of his hotel rooms were the real sex is happening.

Peeved, he appropriates some of his mother's tranquillisers and drugs Julia, video groping and raping her. The lie is perpetuated but she begins to suspect all is not right when her legs don't always work, a dizziness she blames on the Margate fairground rides. There are bruises on her thigh but before she can puzzle that she finds the camera with the sickening evidence. Julia becomes a vengeful monster, tells Michael she is pregnant and she is going to take him for everything he has. She brings Istvan home, informs Michael that he is vacating his bedroom for the two of them and piles on the taunts. Mother has already been sent home and fatally laughs off his claims to able sex, never mind the joke of an impregnation. Threatening to redraft her will out of his favour she is re-roomed in the cellar where her suddenly imposed deadness won't bother anyone. Istvan tells Michael the truth about the pregnancy and the tables are turned, Julia shackled in the cellar submitted to more drugging and rapes with a twin-set of corpses in a cupboard to convince her of the seriousness of her predicament.

One hour in and impatient drumming of fingers should not be in the unexpected as at this stage this is a slim drama painfully stretched. The digital pace, close-quarters camerawork and clean editing are just about fluid enough to keep you into it and continue as very useful support in the last half hour. The acting is also of a generally good standard. All the important factors, technical and foreground have been wisely secured. Some of the dialogue is so cruel and strong that it comes like a sucker-punch to the ribs and it is to the merit of Buld that you actually want the leads to, strange as it is to say... behave better. One is a loveless geek who you originally wanted to triumph while the other is an acceptably bad beauty getting unpleasantly worse. Taunting Michael on the circumstances of his own conception, did his father, Julia snarls, for instance, drug his mother to conceive their only child? To that sharply adding: "Up the arse, more likely, otherwise she wouldn't have given birth to a piece of shit like you." Fiona Horsely, in portraying Julia, is a game actress, the star also of Penetration Angst, she is key to the relative success of these films, her perfect prettiness is in shocking contrast to her activities, the dingy dialogue spat out by her and the ferocity of her rage are very real and spiteful.

Cinematographer Uwe Bohrer and the lead actress are to be praised in particular for never allowing the close-up furies to escape medium close-ups. The budget is low and props are carefully introduced. A hospital ward is more A&E cubicles but still passes in a fast scene. The only major prosthetic body part (made up by rising makeup effects' artiste Siobhan Harper Ryan) is left for the final murder and as the story has moved up and stayed in gear by then most might not notice it until it is aflame. There is one final twist, nothing big, subtle enough in movie terms that most might like to balk at it, but it is devastating when contrasted with the penultimate shot with the same surviving character and should be anyway. Further applauds therefore for something not seen coming. Had the end been slacker an expert viewer could have anticipated it. It is a smart exercise in low-budget digital storytelling and the graduation of quality in the final third saves this from being a mediocre thriller, and makes of it a greatly needed perverse and sexy horror.

Wolfgang Buld, with two horror features under his belt, is suddenly a contender. This is a UK-German co-production, and that could foretell his returning to Germany full-time to make films for the German market. Naff and nasty German fare is in abundance currently and the wisdom not to get tarred by it, the ability to make solid little horrors for the English language markets and a current reliance on the stunning Fiona Horsey might keep him at least shooting in England for the time being. Purple Orange Films and Dark Black Films have also secured an extensive death metal and industrial soundtrack (including several tracks from Strapping Young Lad and Skinlab, and numbers by Tiamat, Moonspell and Arch Enemy) with enough numbers, admittedly largely going unnoticed in the film, for CD album merchandising. It is not a great film but there could be a great future in British horror if Wolfgang Buld continues his relationship with England. I am pleased to note that Buld and Horsey are engaging in a third vehicle together, Salomania, based on the Oscar Wilde play. The film was screened on Saturday 21st August at the 15th Festival of Fantastic Films in Manchester.
Lovesick - Sick Love

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Paul Conway
Paul Conway as Michael






Fiona Horsey
Fiona Horsey as Julia

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