The Special review – a very grown-up and thought-provoking horror

By Alix Turner
Published: October 8, 2020 (Last updated: February 10, 2024)


Addiction, sex, and the complexity of mistrust all feature strongly in this simple yet abstract horror from B. Harrison Smith. Fascinating and horribly delicious.

I’m not sure why, but I was expecting something a bit like Society when I read the description “Fatal Attraction meets The Blob”, as The Special has a reputation of being about sex addiction with body horror thrown in. It doesn’t have Society’s coarse humor, but rather a sly, dark alley wink instead.

No two-sentence summary can represent this film well; you have to see it. It’s about Jerry (Davy Raphaely), who is distraught to think his wife could be unfaithful, and so his friend persuades him to visit Madame Zhora’s parlor and indulge in “the special”. Once is enough, says Mike, and you’ll feel much better. But for Jerry, one visit is enough to get him addicted. Addicted to what, though?

Directed by B Harrison Smith (Camp Dread), and written by James Newman and Mark Steensland based on their novella, The Special presents a simple story of a man who finds he is not in control of his compulsion when he’s had the first taste. It’s an unpretentious low budget horror film, with minimal back story and very basic acting. The absence of any frills works very much The Special’s favor, letting its essential qualities rise to the surface with ease.

The all-consuming nature of addiction is The Special’s warning message, which strengthens as Jerry’s story progresses. It’s clear on his expression, on his skin, in the way he can think of little else, and then in his increasingly desperate actions. The state of Jerry’s relationship with his wife Lisa (Sarah French) deteriorates: sure he had a serious flicker of mistrust that set all this off at the start, but it becomes callous and aggressive. Interestingly, it’s not just his wife that he treats differently, but women in general, as though he only has genuine feelings about the one thing he idolizes: women are either available for Jerry’s pleasure or an annoyance in The Special, and it seems as though this misogyny worsens as his addiction does. No matter what one’s vice is, addiction can change a person.

Matt Nease’s cinematography also heightens the nature of Jerry’s decline, focused almost entirely on the Special and what it does for him. Every moment he spends in its company is imbued with warmth and rich colors, with harsh daylight when he leaves. John Avarese’s smooth score adds romance even to those scenes, so you can almost understand that Jerry himself doesn’t see the negative side of his new feelings.

The Special is as compulsive and inviting as its subject, but why did I give it four stars? On top of everything else I’ve already mentioned, it comes down to the ending: it was surprising, emotional, and effective. The world premiere is at Grimmfest on 8 October 2020: watch it and I’m sure you’ll see what I mean.

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