There is probably no better match between medium and genre than horror and the short film. Most memorable fright flicks are not wall-to-wall chills and thrills, (well, some are - more on this some other time) but a hodgepodge of exposition and excess, linked by several mini-moment set pieces of shock. Psycho is a perfect example of this philosophy. The shower scene, the killing of Arbogast, and Mrs. Bates final "revelation" are the major macabre sequences that sell the movie. They would work (perhaps not as well, though) without the narrative linking them together. But Hitchcock's Freudian field day would sure be deadly dull without them. The Exorcist is another example of a fairly straightforward domestic drama interspersed with some of the most sensational, horrifying moments in movie history. Few people remember the divorce dynamic to the film. But no one looks at a crucifix or a can of pea soup the same way after its sinister segments. Fear can be measured out in small packages and still be successful. So when Fangoria, the premier magazine of horror and gore, announced a short film contest, the concept seemed like genius. Many major figures in the field of fright (Sam Raimi, Clive Barker) got their start making shorts and, if handled properly, the results could be not only experimental and inventive, but very strange and eerie. Finally arriving on DVD from Koch Vision, the Fangoria Blood Drive does indeed deliver on its promise of presenting a fresh, fierce view of fright "for the fans, by the fans". This does not mean that every installment offered here is an apple of gold. Indeed, what the Fangoria Blood Drive showcases is that, when it comes to tales from the crypt, not every new filmmaker is a grand gravedigger. Some are equally as amateurish as the individuals ridiculed for their mediocre mainstream scary moviemaking.
Made up of seven short films, the Fangoria Blood Drive is a DVD compendium of the winners from the horror magazine's recent movie contest. Hosted by Rob Zombie (on the menu screens) and offered in a play all, or individual installment method of viewing, the subject matter here ranges from the standard (zombies, ghosts) to the downright daffy (monster music videos???). Each short is dealt with separately so as to highlight its positive and negative aspects. We begin with:
Directed by Drew Rist
Plot: A rash of killings leaves a local man on edge, especially when he picks up a bizarre hitchhiker along the road.
For the most part, The Hitch is a novel, new look at the hairy old story about a dark road, a strange hitchhiker and the hideous horror that results. Director Rist somehow manages to find a way to resurrect the idea without it seeming overly familiar or foolish. He also finds inventive ways to create a creepy set-up; the radio voiceover explaining the mass grave and the human remains truly helps cement the tone. There are a few instances here that just don't work: the jet spray blood bathing, the final black and white "memory" of the psychopath's first murder. And why, oh why, do writers insist upon wasting valuable slaughter time by infusing their serial murderers with "talking killer syndrome" (you know, "I'm doing this because...blah, blah, blah") But overall, this is a nice way to begin a series of homemade horror shows and indicates the promise inherit in the entire set. Score: 3 out of 5
A Man and His Finger
Directed by Patrick Rea and Ryan Jones
Plot: A man accidentally cuts off his finger. It starts to have a mind of its own.
Our second short film and our second reliance on a hackneyed formulaic plot device: the reanimated body part. Sadly, our co-directors are so busy bumbling around with lame ass jokes, stupid sight gags and illogical plot developments that nothing really "scary" happens. Aside from the fact that no one - especially not first thing in the morning - would be chopping LETTUCE, to the irrational resolution of the detached digits "loneliness", this so-called black comedy delivers few laughs (unless you count the unintentional ones) and really has no place on a disc devoted to fright flicks. The attempt to create a "character" out of a severed finger is noble in its effort, but really fails as an overall horror idea. By the way, that noise you hear is Sam Raimi and .Evil Dead 2 asking for its premise back. Score: 1 out of 5
Directed by Christopher P. Garetano
Plot: A family is found dead, the apparent victims of a suicide pact. The only survivor has weird visions of the events leading up to the tragedy.
Creepy, creative and very carefully constructed, Inside shows how horror can work even when obvious elements are missing, like a linear narrative drive or a rational explanation for what is going on. This is fear as administered through suggestion and inference. The images thrown at the screen via fancy directorial moves and mixed-medium experiments work because we are dealing with the faded memories of a near comatose young woman. The tone is maintained very well throughout, and just when you start feeling confused the director hands us a few more pieces of vital information. From the eerily staged suicides to the final moment when the police "investigate" the mysterious basement, Inside delivers a solid shocker. This is one of the very best films on this DVD. Score: 4 out of 5
Shadows of the Dead
Directed by Joel Robertson
Plot: A doctor is worn out after treating victims of a zombie plague. His attempts to escape the living dead are thwarted by an accident.
One of the ways you can tell a tale of terror works as a visual as well as a narrative medium is the lasting impressions and mental images it provides you. Shadows of the Dead is filled with them: the hospital room tableaus, the disturbing figure standing in the road, the final shots of "feeding" all make for perfectly spine-chilling nightmare fodder. Like Inside, director Robertson allows the audience to fill in a great many of the more menacing movie blanks. He understands that imagination can be as powerful as direct explanation. There is no narration or distinct dialogue shouting statements like "here is what's happening" (aside from the old standby – a radio report that seems lifted, intact, from Night of the Living Dead) and the "twist" finale is unnerving. The zombie genre is ripe for overuse and abuse (just see the final "music video" here) but Shadows of the Dead manages to find a novel way of approaching the material. Hands down, this is the best, most ominous short film on the disc. Score: 4.5 out of 5
Directed by BC Furtney
Plot: A young woman is being viciously attacked by the ghosts haunting her house. She calls on an expert to help her battle the ghouls.
Mister Eryams is an attempt at a haunting story that has a lot of potential. And when the actors aren't massacring their lines with their less than professional thespianism, the atmosphere of dread and angst is expertly maintained. But then, just like The Hitch, the performers open their yaps and basically blunder the entire mood. At least in the first film here, the actors actually attempt to enliven their roles. In Mister Eryams, every time our lead actress tries to emote, she slams head first into a wall of wobbly weakness that makes her performance mannered and miserable. It's obvious she was hired for her lax view on short film/ gratuitous small screen nudity (the only bare bodkin on the whole set), but the weird waxing of her costar defies easy justification. He seems to be acting in his own private film, channeling some silent film stiff from The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. He has never met a facial gesture he couldn't make go over the top. If actual actors had been used and a final rewrite had straightened out some of the sheepish plot twists (was it a haunted house, or the memories of an insane killer???) Mister Eryams could have worked. In its current state, it's all style over shrill substance. Score: 2.5 out of 5
Directed by Patrick Rea
Plot: A woman accused of killing her young sons is haunted by a presence in her home.
As if to make up for the rotten ridiculousness of A Man and His Finger, Patrick Rea is back, solo this time, to tell a visually interesting, suggestive story about a crazy mother and the "crime" that haunts her. The use of "trick" elements (fast motion, video interference, peripheral framing) helps to bolster the basic premise, while the overheard nature of the storyline (told via a TV report) makes the mood very intense and spooky. The ending, however, does not work. The strange "bone entity" just doesn't register right and we never understand enough about the initial crime to see any significance in this so-called "creature". Still, the final few seconds where our heroine is dragged into a room and the door slams shut does offer an intriguing bit of shock. Otherwise, this is a nice attempt, hampered by a couple of odd creative choices. Score: 3 out of 5
Song of the Dead
Directed by Chip Gubera
Plot: A camper runs into a zombie in the woods. He has a song to sing about the encounter.
"He has a song to sing about the encounter"...nothing more than that needs to be said, really. This lame as a lugnut musical monster mucus is perhaps the single biggest waste of 240 seconds that a human will ever sit through. You can hear the bass-ackward brainstorming now: "What if I cross Dawn of the Dead with Les Misérable?" BRILLIANT!" More like bull...shit! The zombie makeup is dopey (the gore effect is pretty good, though) and the song is so awful, so "I'm going to tell you everything that is happening in verse and chorus style" that is makes the canons of Jessica Simpson and Hillary Duff seem stellar. Director Gubera can be forgiven for trying something new. But just like garlic ice cream or chocolate-covered ants, some strange combinations (show tunes and singing corpses) just don't work, either as horror or camp. Score: 0 out of 5
Overall, the Fangoria Blood Drive is a decent first attempt at a short film collection. With two stellar examples (Inside, Shadows of the Dead) two above average offerings (The Hitch, Disturbances) one misstep (Mister Eryams) and a couple of crass, complete pieces of garbage (A Man and His Finger, Song of the Dead) there is something here for everyone and all proclivities. You want pure dread, you got it. Like your scary on the silly side? That's here too. Fans of a more modern ironic idealism in horror will definitely enjoy the more irreverent takes on terror, but for the most part, it's only the works of directors Robertson and Garetano that show any authentic promise. As a matter of fact, you can easily imagine both of these visionary filmmakers creating full-length motion pictures out of their offerings. Personally, a fully fleshed out Shadows of the Dead would be awesome. It's also interesting to note the lack of direct homage applied by most of the moviemakers here. Aside from the obvious lift (the finger even "talks" like Ash's severed hand) or the inspiration of other classic films, the creators here attempt to re-imagine the genre they're working in, borrowing only the elements necessary to advance their plots. A few of these spooky shorts will stay with you long after the rest of the set fades away. Here's hoping that Fangoria continues to offer such a sampling in the future.
Because of the divergent nature of the disc (seven films, seven filmmakers) the visual presentation of this title is equally scattershot. A few try for faux-letterboxing (this DVD is non-anamorphic) and the completely cropped nature of the picture is painfully obvious. Others (The Hitch, Song of the Dead) let the full frame do the scaring. Quality wise, most of the "movies" have good to excellent image transfers. Some are direct from digital video clear. Others (Shadow of the Dead) are purposefully grainy and gritty. While it would have been nice to see some actual film (this is mostly a camcorder production, kiddies) the overall impression is professionalism on the smallest of budgets.
One of the keys to successful mood and atmosphere in a horror film is the use of sound, and all the mini-movies here apply this maxim expertly. Even in the horrible ending song and dance, the musical elements are perfectly realized (too bad the sad songwriting couldn't match the recording). The overall disc is offered in a Dolby Digital Stereo mix that captures the voices and the ambiance perfectly. Only Mister Eryams seems overly low, perhaps to try and set a non-hysterical tone for what is about to happen.
Fangoria understands that offering 60 minutes of short films without much in the way of bonus material would be a hypocritical attempt at ripping people off. So they load up this DVD with lots of interesting substance. First and foremost is host/horror fanatic Rob Zombie. He walks us through each menu selection (even sub-sections) with wit, insight and some wonderfully sarcastic comments. Make sure to check out the "Credits" screen to see some hilarious Mr. Zombie "bloopers". The hour of special featurettes provided here offer glimpses into the current career path and past accomplishments of two Fango faves: author/painter/ director/ horror master Clive Barker and F/X God Stan Winston. Barker's behind the scenes special deals with his latest creation, a book/painting series called Abarat. We get to see the transplanted Brit creating art in his LA studio as he discusses the inspiration for his strange, enigmatic fiction. The Winston career walkthrough is a series of short commentaries about the movies he has been involved in over the years (he skips a lot of fan favorites). While a guide takes us through the actual Stan Winston Studios, our main man discusses his early work with...Disney (!), his quick success (and Emmy wins) and his desire to concentrate on character, over design. While it's amazing the projects Stan has been associated with (The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman, The Star Wars television special) the focus on his more mainstream work prevents insights into some specific fan faves (Pumpkinhead, Edward Scissorhands). Along with a 13 minute Easter Egg with more Winston whimsy, the bonus material here increases the 'must-see' elements of this disc.
When someone is really trying, utilizing everything at their disposal to create something special or significant to them, it's hard to hurl harsh criticism in their direction. Surely, it is deserved in a few of the cases here, since a couple of the creators bite off more premise than their imagination can eschew. Still, the Fangoria Blood Drive is well worth a look, especially to see some of the sensational directorial flair on display. Sure, it can be overt and obvious, perhaps even annoying in its desire to draw attention to itself. But we are at the threshold, witnessing the birth of a couple of certified potential players in the future of horror. Christopher Garetano and Joel Robertson are names to pay attention to, fiendish forces that will be reckoned with in the still on life support cinema of scares. If retread retardation like Dawn of the Dead (2003) and the Suspiria remake (Why GOD? WHY?!?!) can still get fans in a financial lather, then an independent studio would be crazy not to sign these guys up for a little actual reinvention of the fright flick. Throughout the course of its publication, Fangoria has stood at the forefront, making sure readers knew the latest information and insight in the world of fear. Thanks to Blood Drive, they put their moxie where their mouth is and actually help in horror's rebirth. While far from perfect, this is still a varied and entertaining look at the shape of scares to come.
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