Experiments In Terror 3:
Horror aficionados know that short form horror (or terror, as the case may be) is a lot harder to pull off than it looks. The flipside, of course, is that it's way easier to consume that its beefier counterparts - novels or full-length movies. But I love these little nuggets of fear, mmm, eat 'em up like candy. Munch. Munch. Munch. (You can hear my sharp little teeth grinding.) Experiments In Terror 3 proves the point; when short-form horror works, it can kick like a mule, and when it doesn't work so well it's still easier to sit through than an entire lousy movie. Happily, this collection starts out strong, real strong.
At six harrowing and hilarious minutes, The Psychotic Odyssey of Richard Chase (1999) uses ludicrous kid's dolls (ala Todd Haynes' Karen Carpenter/ Barbie epic Superstar) to maximum effect. Chase was a Sacramento psycho who felt he needed to kill, cannibalize and drink blood - the guy was seriously nuts, i.e. unfit to stand trial, yet he ultimately did. Director Carey Burtt seemingly trivializes Chase's crimes through made-up and mutilated dolls and soupy terror-narration. In actuality he's doubling the true horror and pathos through brilliant misdirection.
J.X. Williams' three-minute Satan Claus (1975) is an hallucinogenic nightmare crafted and perverted from two other sources (see if you can pick them out) to enact revenge on a bad boss. Originally screened at a children's Christmas matinee, the simple, sweet and strangely terrifying mess probably destroyed more than a few unfortunate young minds.
Jason Bognacki's Loma Lynda: The Red Door (2008) is a 10-minute excerpt from a 40-minute vision that hasn't seen much light of day. Though the excerpt is almost all credits, it's the type of horror movie Frank Booth might like; that is, it's the most horrifying thing I've seen committed to film in a long, long time. Immensely stylish, this psychotic break into serious delirium tremens recalls Barton Fink through dimly gas-lit rococo madness, while breaking out serial sex-murderer totems and reverb-laden music that's as wrong as it is hauntingly beautiful. Unrelenting, astounding and - yep - cathartic - Loma Lynda: The Red Door alone is worth the price of the DVD.
Ben Rivers' Terror! (2007) takes 24 minutes to meta-trump nearly all horror movies. Rivers has fused almost identical bits from numerous movies (Evil Dead to The Beyond, and then some) to form a nearly wordless, narrative-free template of terror. This journey is arch, archetypical, too clever and ultimately reassuring. Sure, horror movies can be numbing in their sameness, but it's all for a good cause. Though the penultimate orgy of violence rivals anything seen in those ubiquitous YouTube mash-ups, Rivers reminds us that these campfire tales are meant to provide solace: nobody's really going to slowly lobotomize us with a drill press, right? Plus, extra points for a sound collage scream festival to give even the most horror-hardened pause.
'60s transgression maven Mike Kuchar's Born of the Wind (1961, 24 minutes) comes off as an 8mm silent film throwback that's more tedious goof than anything else. Bearing in mind that I haven't seen Kuchar's famous efforts like Sins of the Fleshapoids, I'll admit there might be something I'm missing. However this campy tale of an ill-fated love triangle involving a resuscitated Egyptian mummy who needs blood to survive certainly isn't terrifying, and overstays its welcome by about ten minutes. However, its preservation and historical status makes it at least a curiosity for fans of '60s avant-garde cinema.
Continuing our journey back in time, the next short, Manuelle Labor, (2007, 10 minutes, Marie Losier & Guy Maddin) mimics old-timey silent films with the odd tale of two sisters, five brothers and the birth of a pair of hands. This exercise in surrealism is certainly rife with symbolism, but to what end? Its one joke isn't adequate to sustain the full ten minutes, as creepy reaction shots morph into labored mugging from the actors who play the brothers. Though unsettling, there's not enough here to motivate viewers to look deeper.
As with any shorts collection, video quality varies wildly. Everything comes in 1.33:1 fullscreen, though some bits are letterboxed. From state-of-the-art color saturation (Loma Lynda) through faux-deterioration (It Gets Worse) to genuine shopworn grit (Born of the Wind) it's all here. Transfer-wise, this package is great, with no artifacts or other problems readily detectable.
Digital Stereo Audio (when applicable - I'd be surprised if Kuchar's soundtrack is in stereo) is workmanlike, strong and decently mixed, though again, sources vary a great deal.
Previews for two other Provocateur releases manifest as the one true extra here, because the other extra can't be considered anything more than an additional long, bizarre capper to the series of films you've already seen. It's another short subject, the half-hour-long It Gets Worse (2008, Clifton Childree). Continuing in the archaic vein, It Gets Worse also takes the silent film route in detailing the travails of passengers and crew on a very strange boat. It does indeed get worse, as corny humor barrels into a murder scheme, fecal funnies, lots of bottomless male nudity and enlarged testicle torture. Suffice it to say my wife was baffled and more than a bit disturbed by this, and you will be too. For better or worse, you'll also be enthralled.
Not everything here is an experiment in terror, in fact only three or four could be called truly scary, though every feature here is unsettling in its own way. But they're not all winners - after a super strong start Kuchar's piece and Losier & Maddin's work are something of a letdown. But that's about par for the course where collections of shorts are concerned. Terror fans will enjoy some really solid work and be at least amused by the rest, making this box of evil delights Recommended.
- Kurt Dahlke
~ More of Dahlke's DVD Talk reviews here at DVD Talk I'm not just a writer, I paint colorful, modern abstracts, too! Check them out here KurtDahlke.com