Tag: anthology

Scare Package

Scare Package (2019)
★ / ★★★★

The horror anthology “Scare Package,” composed of seven shorts and a unifying narrative that takes place mostly in a video store, is for viewers who require only minimal brain power for it offers a relentless barrage of obvious and unfunny jokes that get tired—real tired—mere thirty minutes in. The point is to introduce and then subvert horror tropes (i.e.: the use of excessive gore, women being used as props to exploit or make a statement, the idea of “the final girl”), but the material seems content in pointing at familiar motifs without communicating why they exist and how they can be effective tools of storytelling—or function as limitations. The work is given purpose but not imagination, notes on a page without the music. It’s a bore.

Perhaps the best short, if I were to choose while under duress, is Chris McInroy’s “One Time in the Woods,” a gore-heavy creature/slasher flick that gets by somewhat with sheer energy. I enjoyed the practical effects surrounding a monster that had been stopped mid-transformation (the setup) while it is able to retain the ability to speak (the punchline). Everything else around it is uninspired; it involves doltish campers (actors in their thirties or forties playing teenagers—ha-ha) running away from a masked serial killer. Slicing, dicing, and tearing up limbs lead to the caricatures on screen being hosed down with red goo and such. It is meant to look cheap. And it does. It’s breezy fun and it ends just when it is starting to wear out its welcome.

That’s more than I can say about Courtney and Hillary Andujar’s “Girls’ Night Out of Body” which involves a haunted… lollipop that one of the women stole from an Asian convenience store. Prior to the start of the short, the VHS—the sole VHS—is shown under the “Post-Modern-Feminist-Slasher-Body-Horror” aisle. I got a chuckle out of that one. But that’s the best bit. In this day and age in which feminism—sometimes blind feminism—is celebrated, you might think the material would strive to make a statement about the female sex, traditional gender roles, and what is expected of a young woman in horror movies (taking off her clothes, screaming and moaning as if she were having sex when she is actually being pursued and tormented). But no. It simply features girlfriends hanging out in a motel room as they wait for a masked man to knock on their door. I think it is the worst of the bunch—quite a feat because nearly all of them are equally egregious. (Baron Vaughn’s body snatcher “So Much to Do” is a close second.)

I recognized potential in the wraparound narrative “Rad Chad’s Horror Emporium” directed by Aaron B. Koontz. Or maybe I just miss being inside video rental stores. In any case, I enjoyed watching enthusiastic performers (who clearly took inspiration from Mike Judge’s “Office Space”) Noah Segan (as the clerk who may or may not be what he seems…), Hawn Tran (as the new employee whom the clerk has dubbed to be his “little Pikachu”), and Byron Brown (as the customer who is desperate to get hired in a place he loves) wringing out every bit of smile, chuckle, and laughter from the audience. There is an awareness to their performances that comes across endearing for they embody familiar personalities you’re likely to bump into at Blockbuster or Family Video. I wished the entire movie is just hanging out with this trio.

It is a complete miscalculation to take these characters and jam into yet another short—which is supposed to be ironic, I guess, because the thirty-minute “short” called “Horror Hypothesis” (also directed by Koontz) is the longest. “Breakfast Club” archetypes running around a research facility as yet another serial killer aims to kill them off is just boring. By this point, the movie is out of steam and I was out of patience. Must we endure another set of cardboard cutouts attempting to flee from another towering assailant? Horror movies vary so wildly and yet this anthology is stuck doing the same thing. By the end of it, I was convinced the filmmakers should be forced to watch foreign horror cinema. Because what’s at offer here is child’s play.

Tales of Halloween

Tales of Halloween (2015)
★★ / ★★★★

“Tales of Halloween” is composed of ten horror short films, about nine to twelve minutes each, which range from an egregious bore to downright worthy of becoming a full feature film. This is expected given the varying talents, experiences, and strengths—or lack thereof—from behind the camera.

There are four standouts. The first short film titled “Sweet Tooth,” directed by Dave Parker, tells the story of a little boy who is visited by a supposedly fictional character based on the story young people tell each other during Halloween throughout the years. According to the story, if the visitor was not given candy, he would go as far as to eviscerate someone just to get some sweets. This segment is strong because there is a clear structure: the exposition, the rising suspense, and the inevitable release. There is an appropriate amount of gore to satisfy gorehounds.

Equally strong is Adam Gierasch’s aptly titled “Trick.” It plays with our fear of willingly opening our door to a stranger and that stranger harming us in some way. Initially, I felt sick by the idea of children doing the harm—even though the brutal attacks have, for the most part, a sense of humor to them. But the twist is a good one. The reveal is so good that by the time it ended, I found myself wishing that the segment had run longer. This sentiment is also reflected in Neil Marshall’s “Bad Seed,” the third of the good ones, commanding a wonderful use of special and visual effects.

“Grimm Grinning Ghost,” directed by Axelle Carolyn, is by far the most fully realized. A litmus test of horror films: close your eyes and listen to the dialogue, score, and sound very carefully. If having done so made the hair on the back of your neck stand up at any point, it signifies that the work is almost always effective. It begins with Lin Shaye telling a scary story of an apparition that follows. The director understands the art of patience and using the background to generate a creepy feeling. Not one drop of blood is shed. There is no slashing and hacking. There is only a sensation that the protagonist is doomed.

There are always rotten apples in a horror anthology. One can argue that “The Night Billy Raised Hell,” directed by Darren Lynn Bousman, is far and away the worst of the bunch. There is no enjoyment to get out of it, just a rotten feeling when a trick-or-treater begins to wield a gun and starts shooting people. The lack of imagination offended me. Halloween is such a magical holiday that when something as tired as shooting a gun is introduced in the story, I begin to wonder why the filmmaker chose making movies as a profession.

But I argue that Andrew Kasch and John Skipp’s “This Means War” is the most unworthy of anyone’s ten minutes. It tells the story of a man who loves Halloween so much that when his neighbor across the street sets up decorations far better than his (with accompanying metal music), he becomes so upset that he goes up to his neighbor to start a fight. The climax is the brawl between the two. That is it. There is no ghoul, demon, alien, or serial killer. Just a fight between two people. I found myself glaring at the screen with such animosity for having to sit through something I could have seen at a nearest bar. And that would have been more exciting.

“Tales of Halloween” shows a lot of potential when taking clichés and turning them upside down. “Friday the 31st,” directed by Mike Mendez, appears to be just another slasher flick knock-off: the final girl discovering her dead friends’ corpses, dropping the weapon on the ground after every time the killer is attacked—the works. But there is a twist—charmingly bad visuals and all. But what separates the average from the aforementioned standouts is when an idea is taken to such a degree that we wish we are watching a full feature film.

Trick ‘r Treat

Trick ‘r Treat (2008)
★★★ / ★★★★

Written and directed by Michael Dougherty, “Trick ‘r Treat” is a whole lot of fun to watch and it’s a shame it didn’t get a proper (and well-deserved) theatrical release. The film was an anthology of four stories that featured what would happen if the traditions of Halloween were broken: a virgin (Anna Paquin) who gets teased by her sister and friends for being awkward with men and saving herself for that “special someone,” a high school principal (Dylan Baker) who poisons his candies and has an even darker secret inside of his home, a group of friends (Jean-Luc Bilodeau, Isabelle Deluce, Britt McKillip, Alberto Ghisi) who pulls a prank on a lonely girl (Samm Todd), and a couple (Leslie Bibb, Tahmoh Penikett) whose first scene didn’t make much sense but became pretty important as the film started wrapping up everything. “Trick ‘r Treat” wasn’t particularly scary for me other than Sam, a child-looking sack-headed treat or treater with button eyes, but I thought it worked because all of the mini-stories had a commonality that was explored from beginning to end. However, don’t get me wrong because even though I didn’t think it was scary, it still had an element of darkness. For instance, the film was not scared to kill off children and even show the audiences their dead and sometimes mutilated bodies. This movie reminded me a lot of “Tales from the Crypt” because even though it explored morbid subject matter, there was always that element of humor and campiness which often remind us that it’s just a movie. I also liked that it referenced some of the other actors’ works through their characters outside of this project. For instance, Brian Cox’ independent film called “Red” and Anna Paquin’s popular television show “True Blood.” I admired that self-awareness because it didn’t get distracted from the storytelling, which is very difficult to be achieved, especially by Hollywood mainstream horror flicks. My only complaint about it is that maybe it could have used one more storyline for a slightly longer running time. I was so fascinated with what was going on so when the credits started rolling, I felt a bit sad that it was over. I will not be surprised at all if this eventually becomes a cult classic because it has a purpose, is smart and not afraid to be different. I wouldn’t mind adding this to my film collection.