The House of Choade is an avant-garde burlesque theater run by the infamous Mr. Choade. After a tragic “accident” leaves the theater short a performer, the young and innocent Linda gets hired to be the new dancer. As she goes deeper into the darkness of Choade’s little world, Linda realizes that some of the onstage kills may be more real than they appear. What’s worse is that Mr. Choade is behind these deaths. He has made a deal with the Medicine Man for fame and fortune, but what the Medicine Man gets in exchange is quite diabolical.
The Cruel Tale of the Medicine Man is a bizarre, twisted film with a very unique plot. Unfortunately, the plot left me with more questions than answers. I found myself throughout the film confused about simple things such as when the film was supposed to take place. There were also random characters thrown into the story that were never really explained, making the plot seem more and more nonsensical. The overall storyline involving Linda and her journey as a performer at the House of Choade was very interesting. While that was enjoyable, it was hard to look past the parts that felt random for randomness sake, as opposed to adding to the story.
The performances were definitely the high points of the film. Some of them were very campy, but it was clear this was on purpose and worked well with the feel of the film. One of the stand-out performances for me was Mr. Choade, who happened to be played by the director, James Habacker (How He Fell in Love). His delivery was hilarious in the way it was incredibly monotone and lacked any real emotion, no matter what the occasion was. I also really enjoyed the Medicine Man, played by Joe Coleman (Don Peyote), for the exact opposite reason that I loved Mr. Choade. Every time he spoke it was in a sing-songy, poetic manner. It was almost as if he was casting a spell on you with each word he spoke. I also greatly appreciated that actual burlesque performers were used in the film. It added an extra layer of authenticity to this fantastical story.
There was a healthy amount of gore in this film, both fun fake blood used in the burlesque performances and various body parts in the real kills. Like many of the performances, much of the gore seemed to be done in a purposefully campy way. There was only one practical effect that even now I can’t get out of my head: Mr. Choade’s nose. Mr. Choade has an extremely long nose. This nose prosthetic was not applied very well. You could see the edges in the makeup at all times. This could have been fine, except I was never really sure if Mr. Choade’s nose was supposed to be real or fake in the film. If it was supposed to be fake, then the poor appliance would have been fine and only added to the bizarre look of this character. If his nose was supposed to be real, then more effort should have been put in to make the nose appear natural. Since I don’t know what the intention was, it will always be something that bothers me about the film.
While this was a visually appealing film with different aspects that I liked, there were definitely more aspects that I didn’t enjoy. Aside from the issues I had with the plot and the practical effects, there was something about the general feel of the film that did not seem like a horror movie. If anything, it felt more like a dark comedic fantasy film. This made quite a bit of sense during the Q&A after the film, where the director said he actually wasn’t really a fan of the horror genre. He was using it more as a way to break into film making. Hearing this after seeing the film helped me to understand why there was something that simply felt “off” about the film for me. Looking past that, The Cruel Tale of the Medicine Man is a visually stimulating acid trip of a film dripping in dark humor. Just don’t go into it expecting a film that really fits into the horror genre.
OVERALL RATING: 5/10