It’s a crying shame we live in a world where fans of hardcore horror know all about The Human Centipede, Flowers of Flesh and Blood, August Underground, and every goddamn Saw sequel…but no one seems to be talking about Dustin Wayde Mills.
Look, I get it. You probably don’t know the name. And why would you? It’s not like indie filmmakers get the credit they deserve even when they exceed our expectations and grab the genre by the balls. On top of that, review sites don’t typically do more than pat indie filmmakers on the back and say “Attaboy” in a 200-word-or-less review before burying them beneath hundreds of other fluff pieces and letting their careers die in obscurity. I’ll take my share of the blame; most of the time when I’m reviewing indie work, I’m half-watching the movie with a pen and paper on my lap and struggling to be optimistic about the experience. Maybe it’s because a lot of cheaply-made horror movies are grab bags of genre tropes with poor sound quality, lazy writing, and godawful acting from self-described “scream queens.” Maybe I’m just a film snob who gives the thumbs-up or thumbs-down before the opening credits even roll.
Whatever the reason may be, sometimes gems get overlooked.
And you’d better strap the fuck in, because Mills’ The Hornet’s Disciple and the Scars She Left is one of those rare and beautiful masterpieces.
The Hornet’s Disciple is Mills’ super-meta follow-up to his 2014 film The Hornet’s Sting and the Hell It’s Caused. It has a similar relationship to its predecessor as The Human Centipede II has to The Human Centipede, where a cult film’s obsessive fan emulates a fictional villain and recreates the most disturbing scenes. In my opinion, Mills succeeds in this ambitious concept where Tom Six failed. We’re not just getting a more violent version of the first movie, but a continuation of the original’s themes with improvements in places that actually matter.
The main character is Finley, a down-on-her-luck young woman who’s hitchhiked across the country to be in an amateur porn video. The lure of a large paycheck helps her quickly overcome her discomfort when she meets Rose, the gorgeous woman who makes tons of money from online subscriber videos which include masturbation, bondage, and girl-on-girl sex. I expected the film to turn immediately gory once this basic premise began and both the hero and antagonist were introduced, since that’s the standard order for movies like this. And this is where I started to really like the movie: Rose nearly lets Finley go. Finley goes through the motions of shooting her amateur porn video, gets paid a lot of money, and is invited by Rose to return if she wants to do it again or call it quits, no hard feelings either way. This had me wondering at first if Rose was really going to be the villain, because she comes off as so damn charming, even to viewers who recognize some of her cryptic dialogue as word-for-word recitations from The Hornet’s Sting and the Hell It’s Caused, which she seems to base her entire personality on. We get to know Finley a little better in the next scene, and we can clearly see how the temptation of easy money and the possibility of a better life causes her to trust Rose absolutely and walk willingly into the torture chamber.
Mills’ sequel is pure tension for the first half-hour or so, and it works very well. Unlike the first movie, The Hornet’s Disciple takes time to make you care about the hero and the villain for more than just the size of their tits and their well-rehearsed torture-porn moments. I’m not gonna lie, I legit worried for these characters. Remember the old stories about Cannibal Holocaust? How the movie was perceived as so realistic that audiences thought it was a thinly-veiled snuff film, and the director was arrested until he proved the actors in the movie were alive and well? I now understand those worries; these actors weren’t overacting lines for the camera and waiting to cash a check, they were truly in the moment and absolutely believable as their characters. If you’ve seen the first movie, you’re on the edge of your seat as you watch the two leads interact during the opening scenes.
And Mills doesn’t phone in the tension once the violence finally arrives. Instead, he gives us some real nail-biter scenes of life imitating art. The gore effects are impressive, and the editing is a character of its own, but neither of these things drown out the story development or make us so numb to the suffering that we stop caring. Rather, these tools are used with the precision of a surgeon’s scalpel and sewing kit, creating a visual monster that’s hard to look at but impossible to turn away from.
Audience members who are only watching Hornet’s Disciple for the tits, gore, and bondage fetish won’t leave disappointed either. Although Mills doubles down on storyline and self-referential critiques of “sickos and perverts” in the niche horror world, he doesn’t lose sight of who his audience is: sickos and perverts. Hey, I loved the movie, so don’t take that judgment on my part. All I can say is, don’t make the mistake of watching this movie on an airplane or near your family…no amount of explaining the movie’s artistic merits will keep the uninitiated from scooting far, far away from you.
Dustin Wayde Mills is a name to look out for, and I’m excited to see what he releases next. Slaughterhouse Slumber Party (his next planned film, currently being funded) looks pretty damn good, and maybe it will be enough to finally grab the rest of the horror community’s attention.
Film Rating: 4/5
Link to Slaughterhouse Slumber Party Kickstarter: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1599563112/slaughterhouse-slumber-party-feature-film