Obscure Horror Cinema: Deadline

by William Burns

The supposed connection between horror films and human behavior has long been an albatross around the neck of the genre. The notion that the violence, sadism, and terror that informs some horror movies and novels will inspire real life crimes and corrupt minds has been debunked countless times over the last 100 years and still society uses horror as its scapegoat. Unable to admit to the imp of the perverse that informs the human psyche, people project their own repulsion towards and attraction to darker impulses onto art, both inspiring and condemning transgressive expression, of which horror is the most ubiquitous.  And yet the horror genre hasn’t exactly helped its own case with films and novels about deranged artists who use their indulgence in the macabre to justify their own evil actions. The Dark Half, In the Mouth of Madness, Color Me Blood Red, and A Bucket of Blood are only a few examples of horror’s masochistic impulse to explore the psychology of the artist/writer who steps across the line between fantasy and reality.  An interesting spin on this theme is the 1984 film Deadline. Deadline is the story of Steven Lessey, a horror novelist and screenwriter, whose works have become immensely popular and profitable. Though he is quite affluent, not all is well in his life. His wife is unfaithful and a drug addict, his kids are neglected, and his work demands are driving him crazy, literally. As he struggles with writer’s block, he imagines possible scenarios, each one more disgusting and morally questionable than the next: nuns killing a priest and eating his heart at communion, suicidal fetuses that destroy their mothers from inside, a Nazi using a punk band to play the infamous “brown note” and kill listeners, and two kids tying their grandmother to a bed and setting her on fire with gasoline. Clearly, the film is satirizing the effect of horror on culture but there are a few moments where Deadline does question how far is too far when it comes to the media’s influence on children, specifically when Lessey’s kids see one of his movies and decide to stage a hanging. Is it the film’s fault? Is it the fault of two selfish and absent parents? Lessey is not a likeable character by any means and his descent into delusion is not caused by the genre he works in but it does seem to enable his bad choices. Director Mario Azzopardi does an amazing job of bringing Lessey’s sick imagination to life but also brings a world weary credibility to the scenes of real life horror that has become Lessey’s family and professional lives. One of the most brilliant scenes in Deadline is when Lessey speaks at a college and he is attacked by students, calling him a socially irresponsible degenerate that profits off of misery. Ironically, Lessey can defend his artistic choices but can’t defend the personal choices he makes that directly affect the lives of those around him.  Deadline is a fascinating deconstruction and exploration of the horror genre (much better than the overrated Scream or The Cabin in the Woods) and deserves much more attention and adulation:


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