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  • Rev Horror

August Underground: Penance

Dir. Fred Vogel (2007)

A couple goes on a killing spree in their area.

Closing out the August Underground series is Penance, a seemingly less-brutal finale to a series that is hard to imagine being more brutal than it already is. Focusing a little more on the story side of the plot, though with certainly more than enough blood and guts to go around, Penance deals with the relationship between Crusty (Cristie Whiles) and Peter (Fred Vogel) as their romance is pushed to its limits by Peter's refusal to make Crusty the only woman in his life. Of course, these other women are his murder victims, but, ya know, c'est la vie. While the film does tone back a bit on the gore (though that's extremely relative for the AU series), it does feature one of the most disturbing scenes in the entire trilogy. More on that in a bit.

Normally, I reserve the second paragraph in my review for a little discussion of the plot of whatever film I'm reviewing, but that's really hard to do for the August Underground films because there is usually little-to-no plot to discuss. The films are largely found-footage faux-snuff films, though their quality as such speaks a bit to why the films have become such cult classics in the extreme horror community. They really do come across as very real, and it's easy to imagine how one would feel coming across a bootleg copy of the films. While Penance does seem a lot more scripted and focuses more on the plot than the previous entries in the series, it's still a straight-up gore film that is hard to imagine on the shelf of any but the most ardent gorehounds.

All that said, Penance is also the most watchable of the AU films as well. Whiles and Vogel do a great job in their role, with Vogel delivering more than just his normal screaming unhinged psychopath and Whiles actually conveying a good bit of emotion as the scorned (but still psychopathic) lover. The duo's crazy culminates in an ultra-disturbing home invasion the night before Christmas, wherein they attack and kill an entire family around the Christmas tree. The involvement of a child, who is present for the worst of the attack, elevates this scene psychologically in a way that was otherwise unattainable by the films in the series, try as they might have to attain that level of disturbing content. The scene is jaw-droppingly effective, as is another where Whiles' character begs her man not to murder women without her in a twisted display of a woman who wants her man to be faithful... in her own way.

The August Underground series is not one that will be appreciated by very many. Vogel knows that, seeking throughout to display his brand of gore and effects work as the sole focus of his trilogy. With Penance, however, he exhibits a bit more storytelling panache than he previously has, showing that he may have some actual filmmaking chops underneath his super bloody facade. Don't get me wrong, this is still a film where most viewers won't make it through the first sequence, totally by design. Nonetheless, it teases a bit more expertise than fans of the series are used to, and I'd be interested to see what Vogel could come up with if he went more mainstream horror. As it stands, the August Underground series has claimed its rightful spot in the disturbing horror pantheon, and as such won't be for everyone. If you've got it in you, however, Penance is by a long shot the best of the bunch.

Who this movie is for: Extreme horror fans, Disturbing cinema lovers, Women scorned

Bottom line: August Underground is a hard-to-watch cult series only for the most serious gorehounds. Penance is the best film in the trilogy from a watchability perspective, but it's still exceptionally gory, and it's definitely a film that most people won't make it through. If you're a fan of blood and guts and have a strong enough stomach to manage it, and if you're only gonna watch one of Vogel's films, this is definitely the one to check out. You can grab your copy now at Unearthed Films, and if you're a collector of extreme and macabre horror films, I definitely recommend you do so.

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