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Bad Acid, a short horror film written and directed by David Chaudoir, tells the tale of Marvin Maskelyn (Tristan Beint). Marvin is a professional entertainer; a hypnotist, in fact. Years ago, in a more wide-eyed time, he was very popular. Photographs of Marvin rubbing shoulders with Peter Stringfellow, Tony Blair, The Spice Girls adorn the walls of his home. Those days are gone.
These days, Marvin gigs from working man’s club to working man’s club. He performs in front of a glittery curtain, a fez on his head, his assistant Amanda (Madeleine Bowyer) cueing in clichéd smoke effects and traditional middle-eastern music. Sim Sala Bim! His audience are unreceptive to his shtick, and heckle him frequently. His waxed, twirled moustache bristles like the whiskers on a cat. Sometimes, he can hold his ire; the show must go on, and all that. Sometimes, he can’t.
Marvin has a friend, Milton (Paul Croft), a dealer in unusual antiquities and curiosities. His shop looks like the place wherein one might purchase a copy of De Vermis Mysteriis, or one of those Lament Configuration boxes from whence sprang the Cenobites in Clive Barker’s Hellraiser series. What’s your pleasure, sir? Milton has an item which may be of interest to Marvin; a box containing a lamp procured from a 17th century excavation of ancient Babylon, previously owned by a prominent occultist and satanic rock musician who, like Milton, was an avid collector of the arcane. “The arcades??” Asks Marvin, more a David Brent-style figure of pity than the awe-inspiring Houdini he once was, and wants to be once more. “It looks like a stash box,” he says doubtfully. And indeed it is. Our departed rock musician has left inside the lamp a sheet of acid. Well, Marvin was a bit of a cheesy quaver back in the day and decides to roll back the years by indulging in a tab. Why not?
Why not, indeed.
Marvin experiences a vivid, terrifying vision in which he confesses his all-encompassing desire for a return to the height of his fame, and in which he is convinced to utilise the lamp in his act. That’s easily done; he already has a segment wherein he suggests to a hypnotized audience member that they can see a genie sprouting from a lamp, with “…green pantaloons, a big-barreled chest and a silk turban”, and he lost his previous prop lamp in a brawl with a heckler. But what exactly is going to come out of this lamp?
Bad Acid‘s writer/director David Chaudoir has at the time of this writing only directed a couple of shorts, but he is clearly not new to the art of filmmaking. This is an extremely accomplished piece of work. Whilst Mr. Chaudoir definitely isn’t messing about in wanting to find the horror of the piece, Bad Acid is presented with a devilish gleam in its eye too, reminiscent of the 70’s horror pics turned out by Tigon and Hammer; indeed, a reference to Tigon’s The Blood on Satan’s Claw (Haggard, 1971) confirms that lineage, although Bad Acid is contemporary, not a period folk-horror. In fact I could easily imagine Bad Acid taking its place in an Amicus portmanteau horror, wedged somewhere ‘twixt Tom Baker and Terry Thomas. It has that serious-about-horror, serious-about-humour retroactive charm to it. Tristan Beint is revelatory in the central role of Marvin Maskelyn; where has this guy been? He should be swiping half of Reece Shearsmith’s jobs off of him. And Tristan is supported wonderfully in his endeavour by Paul Croft as Milton, by Tiffany Haynes as Bella and especially by Madeleine Bowyer as Marvin’s put-upon assistant Amanda. The mystical, Arabian Nights-style score by Peter Diggens is excellent as well, perfectly complementing the tribulations of a man who’s faking it whilst simultaneously mocking him for what he doesn’t understand, too.
With its drug-themed title and equally evocative tag-line (“Fancy a trip?“), one could be forgiven for assuming that Bad Acid will at some stage during its runtime devolve into a surreal, extended burst of random psychedelia; some may be attracted to it via that assumption, just as some may be discouraged from it for exactly the same reason, but that’s not what Bad Acid is at all. Bad Acid is an expertly crafted, gleefully told supernatural cautionary tale, and comes highly recommended.