Tagging along on the anthology revival fronted by the likes of the collaborative efforts in V/H/S & ABC’s of Death, Scary or Die is a seemingly extremely low-budget spin on the Creepshow format, presenting 5 loosely interlocked stories set in and around Los Angeles. The intermediate segments show a person browsing scaryordie.com, bringing up the individual shorts. Very little happens here, with some cool shots of the decaying hand of the viewer before an appalling ending “scare” rounds off the film in a massively underwhelming manner, so let’s just forget all about that and look at the shorts themselves.
First off is The Crossing, a tale of a pair of hillbilly redneck types who spend their free time patrolling the Mexico/USA border, accompanied by [generic attractive female]. A painful amount of time is spent establishing that the two are entirely unlikable characters mostly through crude comments made about and to the woman, with a loose promise that they’re “only going to scare” those they think might be illegal immigrants. Obviously their true intent soon becomes clear, but it’s taken so long to get here, with no attempt at creating tension or giving anything else to keep us engaged that you really don’t care what happens. The film makes it’s big reveal as to what it’s really about, which could have been somewhat interesting had there been any effort made. It just feels so lazy, as though just the idea was enough to carry the short, with no care paid to the presentation. It ends on a morbidly humorous note, but all I felt was relief that it was over. 3/10.
Next up is TaeJung’s Lament, which in wild contrast to The Crossing is a stylishly shot, well written & acted short about a middle-aged Korean man who lost his wife a number of years ago. A great air of mystery carries through this film, with a number of elements appearing that may or may not become more important as the plot develops; he seemingly follows young women who appear to look like his deceased wife in creepy voyeuristic sequences that also manage to elicit sympathy for TaeJung; at night he is seemingly visited by the ghost of his wife; and he prevents the abduction and attack of a young Korean woman. The actor playing TaeJung does a great job instantly, silently portraying the sense that he’s completely lost, and the climax of the film comes as a surprise. The final moment will make most viewers go “oooohhh” out loud as certain pieces fall neatly into place from one simple image. 9/10.
Re-Membered is a more humorous piece about a crooked policeman who has taken a job to murder an unnamed man & has just finished hacking the body into pieces and stashing them in a sports bag to dispose of them, if only they would remain inanimate. Some crafty time-jump editing helps to lazily pad out the run time, but also works brilliantly in providing a creepy moment near the beginning that would have been lost had the film been entirely chronological. The film is carried by the actor playing the cop, whose bemused, stressed reactions provide the understated comedy element that makes this short enjoyable. It’s a simple concept pulled off quite well, with a somewhat unsatisfying ending. It provides some extremely vague explanations that create a decent intrigue without risking being boring by explaining anything in great depth. 6/10.
Clowned is the short that forms the basis of most, if not all, the marketing of this film, featuring Corbin Bleu (yeah, him from High School Musical) as muscly drug dealer Emmett, who has some troubling side effects after getting bitten by a creepy clown hired for his little brother’s birthday party. It’s an unashamedly ridiculous concept, but dedicates to portraying Emmett’s transformation with a straight-faced, Cronenberg-esque perspective. Brilliantly tackled, the short is truly grotesque in moments (as is Emmett’s final form), and manages to be incredibly funny in it’s absurdity whilst simultaneously being quite emotionally affecting. It’s one of the oddest horror experiences I’ve had, where such conflicting emotions are elicited at the same time. The plot is mostly unpredictable and could have been dragged out to feature length, but retaining the short run time has prevented it from outstaying it’s welcome, remaining enjoyable until the predictable, but gleefully satisfying and absolutely necessary final scene. 9/10.
The last short, Lover Come Back, is a beautifully shot soliloquy from a woman who has risen from the grave to take revenge on her cheating, abusive husband. It’s incredibly short, and I feel it could have been developed much more as it tackles an important theme that I haven’t seen taken on so directly in many horror films. What we have is very good though, and perhaps the fact that it leaves you wanting more is a good thing, again preventing it from running dry. 7/10.
Like most anthologies, this is a mixed bag, but thankfully the good just about outweighs the bad, with each short offering up very different ideas, thematically, tonally and artistically. I couldn’t find a figure for the budget, but it’s apparent that it was extremely low, as thetechnical quality of the film suffers at time, but they seem to have done well with what they had, and allowed characters and plot to take precedence over effects in most of the shorts. It’s a bizarre decision that what I consider the weakest short by far is placed at the beginning, which on one hand gets it out of the way, but on the other hand may risk VOD or TV viewers giving up before getting to any of the following four shorts, that all at least have something good to offer. Persevere through The Crossing however, and you’re left with an enjoyable hour-and-a-bit, with Clowned being the obvious cult favourite, but TaeJung’s Lament tying for my personal pick. I’d take the individual shorts’ ratings as a better indication of the quality, but this as a rough overall score…