DIRECTOR Renaud Gauthier WRITER Renaud Gauthier STARS Jérémie Earp-Lavergne; Sandrine Bisson; Ivan Freud DVD 4 May

DiscopathWith its admittedly ludicrous plot concerning the bloody exploits of a serial killer whose rampage is triggered when he hears disco music, one could be forgiven for thinking this French-Canadian slasher will be a jokey, deliberately trashy affair. While it certainly has a trashy aesthetic and dark humour coursing throughout, it actually takes itself rather seriously and is best viewed as a soiled love letter to grindhouse exploitation shockers such as Maniac and Don’t Go in the House. With its retro-sleaze appeal, low budget charm, practical FX and vintage-sounding synth score, it perfectly emulates the creepy, gritty atmospheres of these psycho-on-the-loose flicks, while also echoing exuberantly violent Eurohorrors such as the Italian giallo.

Beginning in New York, Discopath initially sets itself up as something of an oddball character study; Duane Lewis (Jérémie Earp-Lavergne) is established as a sensitive loner on the edge. He meets a girl and is taken, against his better judgement, to a nightclub where the music unhinges his already fragile mindset and sends him into a spiral of psychosis and murder. A scene in which he stalks his date through the nightclub and beneath the glass dance-floor is tautly constructed. From here the story relocates to Montreal as Duane begins working as a handyman at an all-girls Catholic school, where his killing spree continues with aplomb. It’s here the influence of the giallo becomes more apparent, as the narrative is pierced by flashbacks, elaborate deaths — notably the scene in which two scantily-clad teens engaging in Sapphic experimentation are stabbed to death with shards of shattered vinyl records — and a renegade detective attempting to track down the killer. The creepy electronic score, courtesy of Bruce Cameron, harks back to the likes of Goblin and Fabio Frizzi — there’s even a funky disco version of Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Flight of the Bumblebee” which adds an impish tone to proceedings — while the splattery FX are provided by Rémy Couture.

After the initial set-up, characterisation all but ceases, and Discopath treads a very fine line between violent melodrama and tongue-in-cheek pastiche. Despite the low budget, director Renaud Gauthier exhibits a keen eye and employs various stylistic flourishes to striking effect. This is particularly evident during a strobe-lit murder in a packed nightclub, and the almost Bavaesque scene in which Sister Mirielle (Ingrid Falaise) awakens in the night and slowly descends the stairs in a dreamlike state to the basement where a violent demise awaits…

There was a strong anti-disco backlash at the end of the 70s. While Discopath makes no reference to “the day disco died” — a violent anti-disco demonstration that took place in a baseball park in Chicago on 12 July, 1979, which gave rise to attacks on non-white, non-heterosexual cultures embracing disco — there’s still a hint of something subversive in its central concept. Social commentary is not the aim of Discopath though, and the idea of disco music instigating madness and murder is used purely for the sake of novelty; its instigation of the killer’s psychotic rampage is revealed in a grimly humorous flashback.

With its bizarre tone and pacing, odd humour and gory mayhem, Discopath should please those who like their horror unapologetically over-the-top and backed by a killer score.

Posted by James Gracey

James is the author of Dario Argento (Kamera Books) and a monograph on The Company of Wolves (Devil’s Advocates). He contributes to Diabolique, and has also written for Paracinema, Film Ireland, Eye for Film, Little White Lies and The Quietus.