Monday, July 31, 2017

Deadtime Stories: Volume 1

George Romero serves as executive producer and host for a trio of horror shorts in the anthology Deadtime Stories: Volume 1 (2009), but not even his presence can shake the enterprise's overall hokiness.

In "Valley of Shadows," a young woman leads an expedition to the jungles of South America to find out what happened to her missing husband. "Wet" tells the story of a lonely alcoholic who finds a strange object in the beach outside his home and learns about the legend of mermaids. The finale is "House Call," the best of the lot, about an old doctor in the countryside paying a visit to a patient who may have been bitten by a vampire.

I don't know how involved with the production of Deadtime Stories Romero actually was. Executive producer is a nebulous term, but I doubt he did more than let the filmmakers put his name on the movie to help sell it. As a host, he delivers some lame puns but lacks the ghoulish glee the Cryptkeeper would have brought. It doesn't help he delivers his lines from a comfy armchair in what looks like his living room.

Deadtime Stories is the brainchild of Jeff Monahan, who acted for Romero in The Dark Half, Two Evil Eyes, and Bruiser. Monahan has an interesting background. Before becoming an actor and filmmaker, he worked as an undercover narcotics officer. He's worked in film, television, and theater; taught college course; and written a book. Here, he writes all three shorts, directs one of them, and stars in another. I only wish the movie was as accomplished as he is.

Obviously shot on a low budget, Deadtime Stories rarely comes off as anything more than amateurish. It aspires to be an anthology in the style Tales from the Darkside or Tales from the Crypt but lacks the professionalism and resources to pull it off.

"Valley of Shadows" opens the proceedings with a dud, at no point able to convince the viewers it's really set in a South American jungle. Monahan directs this one, but it's flat and dull. It doesn't feel complete; characterization and scene transitions are missing, and the gore and makeup effects look like the kind of thing you could get from a local Halloween store. Worst of all, the one cannibal savage we see is clearly a white actor in makeup; I thought this would mean the lost husband had gone native but apparently not.

"Wet" is an improvement. Monahan stars as the doomed Jack, and director Michael Fischa does an OK job conveying some mood and atmosphere without dialogue. The performances are better than in "Valley of Shadows," I liked how the mermaid's presence as she stalks through the house was initially suggested though sound rather than shown. and the beach setting gives this a somewhat Lovecraftian vibe. Plus, it looks like they really filmed this at a beach house. Not great, not terrible, but it loses focus by the end.

Tom Savini, Romero's longtime special effects wizard, directs "House Call," and I thought this one was pretty good. Savini convinces us of the period setting and has fun playing with light and shadows, and as he did in his episodes of Tales from the Darkside, he crafts some cool compositions. One monstrous yet sensual shot shows the young vampire feeding on a victim, and the camera follows a line of blood as it streaks down her naked body, visible only by moonlight. Additionally, Creepshow and Two Evil Eyes veteran Bingo O'Malley gives a solid performance as the tired old doctor.

One out of three. A good average for baseball but not an anthology movie. If this were a student production, I'd be more forgiving, but with Romero's name and apparent approval, it's rather shocking he'd be a part of something so shoddy while his presence on camera is downright embarrassing. Savini's bit is worth checking out, but the rest you can skip.

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