Deadtime Stories, Vol. 1 is a horror anthology produced and presented by zombie maestro George A. Romero, following in the tradition of his own ‘Creepshow’ (1982; scripted by Stephen King). It contains three terrifying shorts. Terrifying, that is, in all the wrong ways…
1.) Valley Of The Shadow (Jeff Monahan, 2009)
Life as an undercover narcotics cop should really teach a person something about subtlety – about the revealing nature of the smallest facial tick, or how to detect the proximity of an enemy spying from afar. You’d think that attention would be paid to details, wouldn’t you? Well, that’s certainly not true of ex-narc turned writer/director Jeff Monahan, whose debut short Valley Of The Shadow (buggered if I know what that means, there’s not a valley in sight) is a stockpile of horror cliché’s strung together by an unoriginal story (an expedition becomes a cannibal chowdown) and incoherent direction. The biggest problems stem from the screenplay, which feels like it started life as a feature and was later compressed into a short. Lead ‘character’ Angela (Amy Marsalis) seems to undergo a personality change every five seconds, in the opening scenes appearing a smart independent woman, but soon devolving into your typically air-headed scream queen…
This film literally made me shout at the screen with anger, erupting with rage at her idiotic and, well, just plain illogical actions. For example, the final set-piece sees her chased into the jungle by cannibals, so she decides that the best way to evade them is to scream at the top of her lungs and wave a huge flaming torch around in the air (yeah, because that won’t attract attention in the dead of night). Her stupidity crescendos right up to the film’s double anti-climax, showcasing some of the worst CGI I’ve ever seen. Honestly, it looks like a cutscene from a PS1 game. We’re off to a bad start…
2.) Wet (Michael Fischa, 2009)
The killer mermaid sub-genre of horror is a pretty limp niche market – She Creature (Sebastian Gutierrez, 2001) being a recent example – but it’s one that I like, so it was with raised expectations that I embarked upon Wet, also scripted by ex-narc (that never gets old) Jeff Monahan. Boy, were my hopes soon crushed.
It’s a significantly better film than Valley Of The Shadow, I grant you, but Wet is still a big old mess. Monahan himself stars as Jack, a boozy potter who unearths a valuable jade box on a nearby beach. Its contents are more valuable, however, as within the box lies… a decomposed mermaid hand. Enter some routine exposition about mythologies and you get a pretty workaday setup – there are some creaks, jolts and jumps but none are especially well executed. The mer-monster does turn up for a while at the end (her oral fixation is disturbing), but the final twist (it involves a bath) is laughably silly. Much like Monahan’s own short, this one is just cliché ridden.
“Just because it’s a cliché Jack, don’t mean it ain’t true“, declares a grizzled seaman-turned-antiques dealer. Fair enough, but just because it’s true, don’t mean it’s any good either. In fact, it’s a load of old cod…
3.) House Call (Tom Savini, 2009)
I’m almost tempted to recommend the anthology for a scene in this short, in which the high-pitched shriek of a suspected vampire (he could just be a horny teen) is revealed to be the whistling of a boiled kettle. “I thought I’d make us some tea“, says the vampire’s concerned mother. It’s hysterically funny, bordering on parody, and what makes it funnier is that Savini – an excellent cult actor, best known for his roles in Romero movies – plays it completely straight. His directorial sensibilities are actually pretty solid, and the old-fashioned feel of House Call, with its flickering, boxed-in aesthetic and creaky sound design, is pretty convincing.
The film is entirely dialogue driven, which given Monahan’s work on the previous two shorts (yes, he scripted this one too) should be a cause for concern. Yet the dialogue here is actually pretty well developed and the actors convince for long enough to make the daft last-ditch twist somewhat plausible. It’s the darkest and bloodiest entry on the disc, and doesn’t completely fall on its arse, but it still feels too much like a cobbled together student film. Given that Savini has spent his acting career in low-budget horror/exploitation flicks helmed by maestros such as Romero and Robert Rodriguez, I’d have expected more from him. Certainly anything which comes after the kettle scene is bound for failure…
For the record, this bears no relation or similarity to the 1986 movie ‘Deadtime Stories’, written and directed by Jeffrey Delman. That’s pretty rubbish too, but IMDB interestingly describes Delman as the “not-so-distant cousin of the great film composer Bernard Herrmann.” Trust me, that trivial tidbit is more entertaining than this entire anthology.
All shorts are pretty well presented in terms of image and sound, or at least considering the shoestring budgets on which they were all filmed. No extras, not even a trailer. I suspect embarrassment from all parties…
George A. Romero’s Deadtime Stories, Volume. 1 is out on DVD 3rd October 2011.
Directors: Michael Fischa, Jeff Monahan, Matt Walsh
Writer: Jeff Monahan
Stars: Bjorn Ahlstedt, Amy Lynn Best, Carla Bianco