“Tobacco is a loaded pistol; time pulls the trigger.”
Can cigarettes be your god, your religion, or at least the little voice within you that is as powerful as a god anyway? Even before seeing Nicotine Stains, I would have answered with an expected, resounding yes. After seeing the movie, I will yell “Hell, yes!” louder than ever before!
Nicotine Stains (the latest film from writer/director Gennaro Desposito), introduces us to a man who could be any of us, transforming into one who could hopefully be but a few of us. Charlie Lewis (Matt Fowler) is a crude but well-educated man, not always responsible, and well-intentioned but unable to control his impulses. He is subject to stress and temptations more so than the rest of us (or so, I’d like to think). Sound like anyone you know? Perhaps a friend, a neighbor, someone you dislike, or all to the above? Even as we meet Charlie, initially, he is the type of man whose typical nature is uncomfortable for the viewer, precisely because it is “typical.” He’s the type of man we want to distance ourselves from because we sense—even before we know the worst—that his weakness will lead him to ruin…at least. From the beginning, he is vulnerable and prone to self-destruction; his type is everywhere, and parts of his unlikeable, flawed character are within us all—that is, if we are honest.
Charlie’s less than likeable traits don’t stop there. Oh, no! That’s just everyday reality for many of us. If that was all there was, we’d have difficulty moving this story in the direction it’s headed—horror! “Where does the horror begin?” you ask. It begins, quite simply, as it can for us all, with an addiction—that inner voice of unreasonable urge that tempts us always to the worst of places. What is it? Charlie is a smoker, and that is where his horror only begins. Nicotine is his god, and he must worship it daily by inhaling the carcinogens from the cigarettes he cannot live without. Ironic, isn’t it? (Yes, you can tell I don’t like smoking. Sorry.)
What’s worse? Yes, we all know this has to get a lot worse (and trust me, it does). Just smoking cigarettes and worshiping them as a god is too common for such a unique horror film. Sugar (Renee M. Sher) is a woman whose job it is to make people try (and hopefully get addicted to) the latest lines of cigarettes. The only thing sweet about sugar is her appearance; otherwise, her words are the devil’s voice when it comes to hooking the next nicotine fiend. In Nicotine Stains, Sugar must also be selling the Devil’s brand—Vallero Ultimate Extremes. In this case (or pack) “ultimate” is an understatement that understates all others! Yes, we’re talking some serious nicotine here, and Sugar sells it well!“…my whole family smoked—grandpa, grandma, my mom, my aunts. I was always just fascinated by it….It was like all the adults had some sort of superpower…like they could breathe fire.” ~ Charlie Lewis
“You know you wanna light me up, Charlie.” ~ Sugar
“Does Charlie get addicted?” you ask. In the interest of not spoiling an awesome ride into madness, mayhem and insanity, I’ll only say the obvious: “Yes, he does.” Nicotine Stains is a brooding, downward spiral into the darkest places we must call “human,” like it or not. The process of Charlie’s deterioration is precisely what makes Nicotine Stains such a standout movie in the genre. Charlie’s change from a mildly unlikeable but typical character to one at the extreme of all that is human is made all the more convincing and realistic by the performance of Matt Fowler.
Yes, Nicotine Stains is a great story, filmed well, directed well, with all else that makes a great movie; but, in this case, a performance like one delivered by Fowler is the glue that holds it all together—or should I say, the paper that holds the tobacco together? Acting like a person going crazy and finally being all out insane is not easy. Realism, realism, and more realism is the necessary ingredient. But here, Fowler makes child’s play of it. Watching him react to voices inside his head (and if outside, being all the worse) is, indeed, a cinematic tour de force, unlike what I often see in such films. I have seen Fowler play such a part before, without saying a word in Bryan Ryan’s Trespasser (also reviewed on Space Jockey Reviews), and he has done it with perfection here again. In the hands (or mind) of a lesser actor Nicotine Stains could not have been the success it is; without Fowler as Charlie, it might not have been crazy enough to be committed to the genre.
Included in the story and Charlie’s life are his girlfriend, Jen (Lacy Hornick), his best friend Ryan (Chris Ehling), Ryan’s girlfriend Christie (Sunny Williams), and the would-be homeless roommate Max (Kyle Duncan Graham). They all live, not-so-harmoniously, in one apartment, dividing the rent—as long as Max produces his share. The dynamics of this quintet alone are enough to spawn a sitcom, if Desposito ever chose to take it in another direction. However, as the plot unfolds in Nicotine Stains, things are anything but humorous.
I have seen Lacy Hornick before in the first episode of Zombie Whisperer (also from Gennaro Desposito, starring Matt Fowler). In Zombie Whisperer, Hornick plays a distressed woman with an unruly zombie in need of—you guessed it—zombie whispering; she adds loads of great humor to the episode, like the best of Saturday Night Live performers I’ve seen. (Honestly, I think she’d make a great addition to the SNL cast!) In Nicotine Stains, Hornick plays a serious role as Jen, Charlie’s girlfriend—and what a great job she does of it, showing her awesome versatility as an actress! Always believable in her roles, never conscious of the camera, absorbed in the character like a chameleon, Hornick is always a joy to watch. As I said before, I look forward to seeing her in the many more roles I’m sure she’ll have in the future. I’d wish her luck, but I don’t think she’ll need it.
“Okay, enough with all the plot and well-deserved praise,” you say. “Is there enough gore and blood to make this one satisfy a gorehound’s sweet tooth?” Absolutely, positively YES! If you have an appetite for show-it-like-it-is, don’t-watch-it-till-the-kids-are-in-bed (or not in the house at all) horror films, then Nicotine Stains is enough to overload your calorie count for the day…and then some! Yes, you might even need to go on a movie-watching diet for a few days after you see this one! Desposito holds back nothing, with a movie reminding me of the best in old-school special effects and in-your-face visuals that truly stick to your stomach. Yes, I’m still thinking of a certain decapitation scene unlike anything I’ve seen before, even as a veteran of [seeing] such things. The gore is graphic, while still leaving room for the imagination; a most cutting effect is the result. While not too much for my taste, it is definitely not for the squeamish or those with a weak vagus nerve; so be forewarned. However, at times, there is an ironic but effective dark humor slicing its way into you, as you watch some of the most graphic scenes. Or, maybe it was just my subconscious attempt to find relief from the otherwise effective realism—indeed, quite a compliment for a horror film, I’d say.
And who is the one deserving extra praise for the special effects and makeup in Nicotine Stains? Kelsey Boutte, that’s who! Yes, with a horror film that delivers the gore so copiously (and so realistically), with blood and guts aplenty, this horrorhound gives a high five to Boutte! Kudos to Boutte for making the movie so visually disturbing, giving it a cringe factor of 10 Rockets in the gore department alone! Yes, in a horror film I can actually thank someone for making something “disturbing.”
I don’t always mention soundtracks or scores in a movie review, but there are some films that require it to properly praise all who deserve credit. Nicotine Stains is one such movie that truly owes a huge amount to the composer. Ian Flux has done an insanely awesome job of creating an original score that captures the ever-darkening madness in Charlie’s mind. Increasingly disturbing sounds and lingering, heightening notes accompany the exact moments when things are getting worse visually (for the viewer) as well as mentally, for Charlie. A soundtrack is always a monster part of what makes a movie work; Ian Flux delivers the goods in Nicotine Stains, making its effect, like Charlie’s madness, slow burning but powerful, and more than addictive.
Writer/director Gennaro Desposito has created a most original story about cigarettes, in a time when I thought everything had already been done—at least everything so original. I am a fan of Desposito’s work, and Nicotine Stains is yet another example of why. He pushes the boundaries and defies the odds to find something new and horrifying in the most ordinary things. For more of his work, also check out the Zombie Whisperer series (also featured here on Space Jockey Reviews, and also starring Matt Fowler.)
In case you haven’t figured it out already, I highly recommend that you seek out Nicotine Stains. It’s a movie I will definitely add to my own collection; I will add it even though I’m trying to cut back on movie buying in order to leave at least minimal living space in my home. Yes, there are always a few movies that make me look for extra space on my movie shelf, and Nicotine Stains is one of them. It’s a slow-burning ride into madness, mayhem, murder, and more; and the gore smokes, unfiltered, from its smoldering story, making us oddly happy we inhaled it in the end. Yes, there’ll be no urge to stop this one “cold-turkey” halfway through it. If you’re lucky it will only stain your psyche with nightmares vicariously lived, without transforming you as well. Now, enough with all the cigarette similes and movie metaphors, I’ll say; enough with all the addicting details before your first puff. Just see the movie, before you kick the habit! But, whatever you do, don’t let your cigarettes talk you into it.
“…once I got a taste for the blood, what a goddamned rush!” ~ Charlie
Nicotine Stains is written and directed by Gennaro Desposito, form Brooklyn West Productions, Inc., Starring Matt Fowler, Lacy Hornick, Chris Ehling, Sunny Williams, Kyle Duncan Graham, Renee M. Sher, Donald McCutcheon, and Chelsea Collins as the lead cigarette, Produced by Gennaro Desposito, Kimberly Desposito, and Chris Ehling, with Associate Producers Megan Powers, Terie Desposito, Joseph Desposito, Don McCutheon, and Alicia McCutcheon, Assistant Director Megan Powers, Director of Photography Graham Robbinson, Stunt Coordinator Matt Fowler, with Special Effects & Makeup by Kelsey Boutte, and original music by Ian Flux.
Now, go ahead and check out the trailer! Go ahead! You know you want to!