This week's DVD release Deadtime Stories, Volume 2 is a damned sight better than Deadtime Stories, Volume 1, but that’s mostly because the first movie sucked so hard. The anthology of horror shorts got off to what we will politely call “an inauspicious start” with the first installment, which contained three unrelated and completely forgettable horror tales of low, low quality, with only an amusing sequence of a mermaid chasing a man around his house and biting repeatedly him on the crotch to its “credit.” I’m not sure what happened, but Volume 2 is a marked improvement, with a few memorable – albeit hardly classic – short films that actually make it a halfway decent viewing experience.
As with the first release, the three films included in Deadtime Stories, Volume 2 have no relation to each other and the framing device of Night of the Living Dead director George A. Romero sitting in a comfy chair, whilst spouting lines of dialogue that would make The Cryptkeeper groan, does nothing to create the illusion of a feature film. So let’s review each short film individually, in order of appearance.
The first film in the anthology, The Gorge, is a minimalist horror exercise in more ways than one. A young couple goes spelunking with a friend/guide and gets stuck in a cave-in for weeks and – you guessed it – resort to cannibalism. Dialogue is sparse, which is a good thing since for some reason the soundtrack to this installment is calibrated extremely low, to the extent that I had to turn my volume almost all the way up to hear it. A bizarre technical gaffe, particularly since the sound effect of their feeding frenzy is the most striking moment in all of Deadtime Stories, Volume 2 (and by definition the first one, as well). The gruesome squishing and lip smacking from their orgy of grotesquery is likely to stick in your head for a while, and it’s so palpable that you’ll almost forgive The Gorge for its terminally weak characters. It’s a little over the top, but at least memorably so, and of all the installments in this series so far – across both volumes – it’s easily the scariest.
CRAVEONLINE RATING (The Gorge): 6.5/10
ON SABBATH HILL
Not the scariest Deadtime Story thus far, but easily the best, is On Sabbath Hill, about a fascist college professor (teaching about the Third Reich, no less) whose mistakes come back to haunt him in the form of an actual haunting. Confidently paced, well shot and boasting strong performances across the board, it’s a fine short film by any measure, although hardly of Oscar quality. It pushes too far for shock value towards the end, but at least there's a reason for that, justifying a course of action that culminates the story in a satisfactory fashion. A solid, memorable short film despite a calmness that makes it feel out of place in this otherwise lowbrow series.
CRAVEONLINE RATING (On Sabbath Hill): 7.5/10
The final entry in Deadtime Stories, Volume 2 is the weakest by far (although still better than any of the entries in Volume 1), despite a strong opening that promises fun times in the Tales from the Crypt vein. A security guard at a laboratory learns one of the new test subjects, dust from Mars, has healing properties that might cure his wife’s terminal cancer. Naturally he steals some, reviving his wife’s health but turning her into a sexual dynamo with whom he simply cannot keep up. The effects wear off and he’s forced to steal more, resulting in a rash, regrettable crime and an ending that tries to be apocalyptic but instead feels tacked on. The promise of good old-fashioned “Careful What You Wish For” scares dies early on, since Dust fails to commit to a single theme. The sexual themes are unexplored but clearly considered important, and the actual horror is minimal. A good idea for a short, but a weak finished product.
CRAVEONLINE RATING (Dust): 5/10
All in all, this is a vast improvement on the limp Deadtime Stories, Volume 1 but hardly a knockout on any level. Horror fans should be pleased, although probably not ecstatic about the first two entries in particular, and about the inclusion of a short “Making Of” featurette that’s worth watching if you liked the films.
CRAVEONLINE RATING (Deadtime Stories, Volume 2): 6.5/10
Photos Courtesy of Millenium Entertainment