Consumption, or, The Decay of Dreams (1988)
By Orrin Grey
Directed by: Andrej Giurescu
While most people who remember this movie at all probably remember it under its more common title Consumption—the one under which it played frequently on Showtime late at night in the early 90s—the video rental section of the grocery store in the town where I grew up had a copy with hand-painted box art under the much more evocative, if somewhat nonsensical, title The Decay of Dreams. The box art showed a picture of Dimitri, the film’s main character/villain, standing over an old-fashioned coffin—the kind with six sides, and an ornate metal cross in the middle—surrounded by brightly-colored mushrooms. As was so often the case with VHS cover art, it was cooler than most of what happens in the movie.
A producer’s credit from Charles Band and the Empire Pictures logo up front give you a pretty good idea of what you can expect from Consumption, though it adds to its handful of diminutive stop-motion creatures and shooting locations near Bucharest a particularly effective score by Pino Donaggio, and some mostly-unrealized pretensions toward artsy-ness, as well as one wonderfully bizarre sequence near the end of the film.
The only feature by first (and apparently last) time writer/director Andrej Giurescu, who has no other credits on IMDb, Consumption actually looks remarkably good (if a bit poorly-lit), given its low-budget, direct-to-video pedigree. The somewhat confusing serial killer/cannibal/vampirism plot concerns a proto-Goth named Dimitri (played by an unfamiliar actor credited as “Nicolai Schreck,” doing his very best Anders Hove impersonation) who quotes graveyard poets and goes around killing attractive young women with a straight razor while they are “in the midst of passionate feeling.” (As good an excuse as any for loads of otherwise-unmotivated nudity.)
According to Dimitri, “Passions are our body’s dreams.” Whereas I guess normal dreams are the dreams of the mind? He is unclear about this. Anyway, Dimitri then collects the bodies and takes them to an old ruin that he says has been in his family for generations. This ruin, which is referred to by name only twice in the movie, is apparently Exham Priory, leading one to wonder if Dimitri’s never-revealed last name might be some variation on Delapore.
In Exham Priory, the bodies are interred in lidless coffins buried in the dirt floor of the basement, where Dimtri is using them to grow some sort of fungal garden. While the scenes of Dimtiri stalking and killing his prey are impenetrably dark and often feel interminable for a movie with a running time of only 82 minutes, it is the scenes of the priory basement where the film attains whatever power it possesses. In several short sequences that would probably have been more at home in a music video, we watch as unlikely, vibrantly-colored mushrooms grow in time-lapse from the coffins. The mushrooms are brought to life with Claymation-like stop-motion, and are so garishly colored as to almost glow in a film that is otherwise mostly suffused with blacks and darker blacks.
What’s more, when Dimitri isn’t present, we are treated to a scene of completely inexplicable diminutive monsters moving around amid the fungal beds. Odd little things with hunched bodies and lantern eyes, their arms dragging on their ground, their thick tails lashing in that uniquely stop-motion manner. These creatures are never explained, and never have any bearing on the plot. One gets the impression that they were created for a different movie, and shoehorned into this one because, well, Band was never one to waste a good effect (or a bad one).
One of the oddest aspects of Consumption is that it doesn’t really have a protagonist besides Dimitri himself. The closest it comes is in a young woman played by Marsha Keyes, who has vivid, prophetic dreams. Toward the end of the film, Dimitri kidnaps her and takes her to the priory where he holds her captive and exposits to her as much as we ever learn about his motives. Apparently, he’s raising the fungal gardens to eat the fruiting bodies, which will give him access to the minds and passions of his victims. We see him pluck a mushroom from one of the corpses and pop it in his mouth with relish, at which time the style of the entire sequence changes, the hitherto haunting score suddenly pounding with intensity, the basement saturated with candy-colored, Mario Bava-esque lighting.
It is unclear whether Dimitri plans to kill his captive and add her to his garden, or whether he believes that she will somehow understand his motivations and join him, because before he is able to do much more than explain his goals, the film reaches its abrupt and somewhat inexplicable climax. In what at first seems a hallucination brought on by Dimitri’s odd psychedelic experience, the corpses in the priory basement suddenly clamber out of their coffins, still sprouting new mushrooms even as they creep forward. In spite of the handful of earlier effects sequences, it is clear that this moment is what the whole movie was built to showcase. Crawling on hands and knees, weighted down by the larger and larger mushrooms that burst forth in vivid colors from their backs, the corpses swarm over Dimitri and drag him down to a fate that the dim lighting leaves primarily to our imaginations.
In the ensuing carnage, Dimitri’s captive escapes, and in the film’s closing shots we see her scrambling down the rocky hillside, with the rising sun providing literally the only daytime shot in the entire film. Just before the credits roll, the camera closes in to show a patch of brilliantly-colored fungus growing on her shoulder, an ending that would probably be ominous if it were any less incomprehensible.