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When done right, anthology horror films are one of my favorite ways to kill an evening in front of the tube. Honestly, what's not to love about a collection of bite-sized nuggets of monsters, madmen, bloodshed, and of course, scares? Tonight's film, The Horror Vault, is one such collection that features nine stories, each of which has a central theme of madness, insanity, and the cruelty of mankind. As is always the case with such collections, the end result was a mixed bag.
Review by Chad
Added: April 28, 2008
Before we get into the feature film itself, we're presented with two fake trailers (ala Grindhouse) for a pair of "upcoming" movies. These trailers - for The Executionator and Satan Claws - were created with the mindset of making the most cheesy and over-the-top trailers imaginable, and at that, they succeeded. They're certainly entertaining in a campy sort of way, but they're definitely not representative of what's to come as the rest of the film is as serious as can be (well, with one exception).
We now find ourselves watching the feature presentation, and the stories... wait, let me say something first. Some of these stories are extremely short and others are impossible to describe without spoiling them, so the descriptions that I write up may be a little on the vague side. This is not a fault of the film - I'm just wanting to let you, the viewer, experience these twists and turns for yourself should you decide to add this to your collection. With that said, the stories go a little something like this:
When John Met Julia (directed by Kim Sønderholm)
Labeled as a modern twist on Romeo and Juliet, the opening story seems to have been heavily inspired by the revenge tactics found in Tales From the Crypt. It's a simple story, really; John (Kim Sønderholm) picks up a stranded Julia (Claire Ross-Brown) who has been left by her boyfriend in the middle of nowhere, and we quickly discover that one of them doesn't have the purest of intentions. Violence, and ultimately revenge, ensues.
This one was a safe way to open the film, as you really can't go wrong with a supernatural tale of revenge. I enjoyed the Romeo and Juliet nods that Sønderholm added in as I thought that this twist made things a little more interesting, and there is some damned fine camera angles and shots on display here that transform what could have been mundane scenes into something memorable. This opening story was enjoyable, but not the best of the bunch. 7/10.
Delusion (directed by Mark Marchillo)
If Hitchcock and Poe decided to collaborate on a tale of madness, the end result would be something similar to Delusion. Taking place in the early twentieth century and shot in glorious black and white to showcase that, this one centers on a young man named Flynn (Jonathon Trent) who arrives with his sister at a party of some sort. The kicker here is that Flynn has a secret to hide, and when paranoia turns into madness, things get ugly for all involved.
First, I just have to say it: the visuals here were fantastic, and the filmmakers really captured the look of a forties or fifties film with this effort. One never gets the impression that this was a modern film shot with a retro feel in mind; I'd fully believe that this movie had aged well past the fifty year mark if I didn't know better. If I were judging the film as a whole based on visuals alone, this piece would easily be the pick of the litter. Of course, there's also that Hitchcock / Poe reference that I made up above, and the storyline does both men justice with its various twists and turns. 8.5/10.
Alone (directed by Kenny Selko)
A young lady (Mandy Amano) finds herself alone in her sorority house one night when a detective (Guy Nardulli) comes banging on her door. It seems that there has been a murder in the neighborhood, and the killer is still on the loose in search of more victims. He demands that she come with him to the police station, but - apparently having seen her share of horror films - our heroine chooses to keep a locked door between her and this stranger. It's a good thing, because her friend (Jerod Edington) soon shows up and lets her know that someone has just been murdered by a man pretending to be a police detective. As the hours tick by, things get a little tense for all involved and it becomes harder and harder to trust anyone.
This entry was a little disappointing, because the vast majority of the storyline is great. Why the disappointment, you ask? Well, viewers will get a good idea as to how this is going to play out early on as the twist is blatantly obvious, but there's always the thought that there will be a swerve thrown in to catch us off guard. That swerve never comes, and it ends exactly as we thought it would. Technically a good story as it does have some tense moments and a couple of good scares, but the predictable ending could have used a rewrite. 6/10.
Mental Distortion (directed by Kim Sønderholm)
Pete (Kim Sønderholm) is having a bit of a bad day, as he wakes up to discover his wife dead in the bathtub. What happened here? We're not exactly sure (although signs point to suicide), but what we do know is that Pete is distraught over his loss. A couple of nights later, he wakes up to the sound of a woman crying in the bathroom, and upon investigation, he discovers... nothing. Just a bad dream? Maybe, but when Pete meets a new woman and brings her back to his house, things get interesting.
Mental Distortion was just downright creepy, no doubt about it. It showcased some amazing directorial talent, as our man Sønderholm managed to transform some scenes that may sound tame on paper into something that will send shivers down your spine. This is also enhanced by some great camerawork and a solid performance by our leading man, and it wraps up with an ambiguous ending that will definitely leave audiences thinking. 10/10.
Dead To The World (directed by Russ Diaper)
In terms of storyline, there's really not much to this one. Ted Bundy (Russ Diaper) is the centerpiece for this story, and we watch him rape and murder a few girls while cutting back and forth to his police interviews. This goes back and forth a couple of times, we get a couple of facts about the real Bundy, and that wraps things up.
This piece really seemed out of place here, truth be told. I mean, I get the whole "madness" thing and I agree that it fits in because of that, but otherwise... well, this one didn't do a whole lot for me. It sort of seemed like we were watching a brief highlight reel of another film as there's really no sort of introduction or closure; we simply get a couple of kills and a couple glimpses of the interviews before moving on to the next story. Dead To The World could have worked with more time, but as is, I can't recommend it. 4/10.
Disconnected (directed by David Boone and Josh Card)
Imagine waking up strapped to a chair in a place you've never been before. That's what happens to a fellow named Mr. Blakes (Adam Boone), and if that wasn't bad enough, he soon discovers - courtesy of hearing her screams - that his wife is sharing a similar fate in another room. Oh, and just to make their day a little less pleasant, a handful of strangers soon arrive to mercilessly torture our helpless victims in various grisly ways. Why are they doing this, and what do they want? The answer will surprise you.
When I first started watching this story, I was thinking that it was going to be just another piece of "torture porn" trash. Granted, I enjoy that sort of trash, but nevertheless, that was the impression that I got. There's actually more to this story though, but to reveal what it is exactly would be a huge spoiler. With that said, those of you who enjoy copious amounts of violence and bloodshed will be pleased to know that there are some disturbing moments sprinkled in here with some great effects, and gorehounds will certainly lap these torture methods up. Then, there's that twist... my God, that twist. I absolutely refuse to ruin it for you, but I will say that it comes out of nowhere and completely shocks you. This one easily ties with Mental Distortion as being one of the best of the bunch. 9.5/10.
The Demon (directed by Thomas Steen Soerensen)
Picture this: you've just woke up, you've made your way to the bathroom, and you've finished your daily morning duties. With your hair combed and a fresh shave in place, you decide to get started on whatever it is that you have to do today, but when you step out the bathroom door, you find yourself not in your own house, but in a damp, medieval dungeon instead. Oh, and there's a robed madman with a huge knife who has taken a keen interest in you. That's the setting for this story, and we soon discover that not all is as it seems while also discovering that this story plays up on the insanity theme to perfection.
The Demon was a fun little story that may not have been the best of the bunch, but it's definitely great regardless. As the story progresses, we're left in the dark much like the main character, and it becomes difficult to distinguish what is real and what is not. This concept wouldn't work in every story, but here, the filmmakers made it work and the results couldn't have been much better. Then, when everything comes together in the final scene and all is explained, you'll realize how this one fit in with the theme and it'll put a smile on your face. 8/10.
Echoes (directed by Gabriel Dowrick)
As the story begins, we see that a man (Sean Seuthorp) has been handcuffed to a bed in what appears to be a hospital. Why? We don't know and he's as clueless as we are, but what we do know is that there's some freaky shit of a supernatural nature going on in here. I won't spoil anything, but I will say that there's a nurse here than manages to transform my fetish for the ladies in white into a phobia.
The Australian addition to this set feels a little similar to the story that came before it (you'll know what I mean when you actually watch them), but at the same time, they're two completely different beasts. I can't say too much more about the similarities and differences without spoiling both stories, but I will say that I enjoyed this one just a little bit more than The Demon, mainly because it felt more "real" and had some extremely memorable scenes. 8.5/10.
Retina (directed by J.P. Wenner)
The press material for this final entry describes it as such: "Finally, "Retina" by JP Wenner starring Rachel Grubb and Heather Amos, is a black and white and extremely absurd and nihilistic story about.. well - you're the audience - you decide! :-)" I'm copying that over instead of writing my own little synopsis because to be honest, I don't have a clue in hell what the story was trying to convey. It certainly plays up on the insanity theme and there are some extremely interesting ideas here, but again, the message of the story was completely lost on me. I will say that I really enjoyed the grainy black and white look of the film and some of the lighting decisions were excellent, but it's sort of hard to recommend otherwise. 5/10.
So, after tallying up the individual scores, we find ourselves with an average rating of 7.3/10. I'm going to go ahead and bump that up to an 8/10 as that was actually the score I had in mind when the credits started to roll, and I'm also going to give this one a solid recommendation for fans of anthology horror. It's currently available for purchase through both Amazon and the film's official site, and I advise you kids to check it out.