UK Release Date – TBC
An anthology like this knows exactly where to aim for in both style and content, with a title that evokes lurid pulp magazines featuring fantasy and horror. The classic George A. Romero and Stephen King team up Creepshow did this with aplomb after all, and there are countless others out there from the likes of Richard Matheson and Robert Bloch. For such what is often such a throwaway genre it has a certain pedigree, at least in terms of cult favourites and genre cinema. So where does this one stand amongst all of these big names? Does it aim high enough or miss the target?
Keeping with the overall pastiche theme there’s a Crypt Keeper style character called ‘The Collector’ introducing each of the four stories here. It’s obvious the film makers wanted to include some level of charm and to keep it all a little tongue in cheek, which I approve of. While the make-up for this decrepit guide isn’t very inspiring there is at least some nice lighting at work in his lair which is full of candles and macabre props. If there’s one overall fault however it’s that this sort of focus on style should have been less important than the writing of each segment, as I will get to soon enough.
In terms of the production though it does look appealing a lot of the time. It’s not perfect but some dark shadows and a few coloured lights go a long way. There’s a grainy effect on much of the movie which is unnecessary when it’s clearly not shot on film, but it’s a consistent detail at least. The music on the other hand feels distracting when things go awry. There’s a bootleg Flock of Seagulls song playing in one instance, a real instrumental cover of Berlin, and a few good dramatic stings that sound like classic John Carpenter. But there’s also a lot of modern synthesized music that clashes with all of this by just sounding like the score from indie-platformer Fez or a New Retro Wave playlist you’ll find all over YouTube these days.
It may be a nitpick but these sort of details are noticeable. There’s no point in using cassette tapes, LPs and yellowing plastic house phones if modern video cameras and cellphones are in the shot. It’s all clearly Stranger Things inspired of course but if they’re going to try this sort of vague late 1970s or early 1980s aesthetic with the colour correction and the general b-movie vibe then they should go all the way without any distractions. They sure didn’t skimp on showing their influences elsewhere.
In terms of the chapters themselves a lot of it is passable, but it’s often a bit flat and the tone is never particularly absurd or particularly chilling. Part one, ‘Goodnight Daddy’ is a mash-up of both Halloween with a masked killer, and Stand By Me, with some teenagers looking for dead bodies. One idea would have been enough, but this is still probably the strongest segment. There’s a school dance plot, some dorky comic fans, some nice POV shots… and a silly ending that lets things down. Again a lack of focus is the problem when things need to be short, sharp and to the point.
Part two, ‘Night of the Sitter’ suffers from this issue the most in a story that starts out as a babysitting tale with a monster but includes a ventriloquist dummy for no reason at all. It doesn’t help that the kid being cared for overnight is the same age as the other actors. It seems intentional but is addressed only once and never explained, so I guess they just couldn’t get any child actors? There’s a boogeyman that is barely seen and a bunch of weird scenes in which a character wears pyjamas and war paint while talking to a doll. A big fiery showdown is missing altogether for budgetary reasons, begging the question why it wasn’t just written out altogether.
Part three, ‘The Incubus’ is a basic vampire story with a new interesting ideas stemming from a guy being infected during a porno shoot and a prying neighbour who may or may not know what is going on. There’s a great dream sequence used to depict the undead transformation which uses a lot of purple and a solar eclipse surprisingly well. Unfortunately the rest looks very over lit and flat considering the story material. Girl next door Missy (Torri Bouslough) has the most screen presence in the whole movie, but she’s never used elsewhere which is a bit strange when most of the other cast members show up in every chapter no matter how wooden they are.
The fourth and final instalment, ‘Cosmic Terror’ is an alien visitor story where two girls April (Isabella Rodriguez) and Paige (Rylee Prenatt) are left home alone when a visitor from Mars shows up. It’s desperately asking for the Xtro treatment. You know, I’d even take the Nightbeast treatment at this point. At this late stage all the teen drama becomes incredibly redundant, and it definitely feels like the slowest story included. It’s cute that the visitor nicknamed ‘Squid’ lives in a tent to hide his alien appliances, but other than that it lacks either friendly charm or sinister atmosphere beyond a couple of shots with people puking up extra-terrestrial goop in front of a green light and a smoke machine.
Ultimately the heart of this is in the right place, but it’s never quite enough. The Incubus is shown in a cropped aspect ratio to imitate cropped Pan and Scan movies, complete with a VHS distributor name appearing on screen. The opening of the movie itself imitates the good old ’80s version of the New Line Cinema logo. But there’s more to making all of these ideas come to together than just aping the stuff from old videos. The best anthology collections feel varied and have a certain kind of texture, a sort of diverse patchwork that the overall bookends hold together. Here it’s the same style and the same actors doing the same schtick four times over, regardless of whether it’s a vampire story or an alien invasion. Kudos for trying, but it needs more pizazz.