Put together by Pierre Di Sciullo, the French animated film Fear(s) Of The Dark brings together five comic and graphic artists from various parts of the world to each deliver a short film dealing with a single subject - fear. Each of the artists has a very unique style and so the film changes tone from one short to the next but there's a really cool macabre sensibility to all of it that, along with its theme, joins it all together nicely so that what might seem to clash on one hand actually works really well together. The fact that it's all illustrated in stark black and white helps to offer up some cohesiveness to the whole package, but really, this is, at its core at least, a fairly traditional anthology film made unique by the styles employed.
The first offering, from Blutch, begins when an obviously evil man lets loose the sinister hounds he has leashed with appropriately dire consequences. Blutch's style makes excellent use of mid tones and charcoal style illustration, giving the short a sketchy quality that makes it seem a bit more chaotic without disrupting its flow or its style. Charles Burns' shot is next, and tells the story of a young man who has to deal with his repressed sexual feelings and who inevitably finds himself in rather dire straits. Those familiar with Burns' style know that he uses a lot of thick, solid lines and that his style, even when illustrating the macabre and the morose as is often the case, always looks very clean. Seeing it appear here in an unusual animated form, you're left wondering what took so long getting the man's work to the big screen as it works perfectly.
Marie Caillou's short tells the story of a girl named Sumuko who attends a new school where she's picked on by her classmates, while dealing with the ghost of an angry samurai. Caillou's style is almost primitive compared to the first two shorts, but not necessarily in a bad way. Her art has an almost childlike quality to it that makes for an interesting contrast to the genuinely creepy story that she tells here. Lorenzo Mattotti is next, weaving a story about a monster who lives in a swamp and makes life difficult for the various locals who populate the area. His style feels epic in comparison to Caillou's, making the most of what the big screen and animation allows by stretching his style out to really fill the screen.
Last but not least is an offering from Richard McGuire, the best of the five stories which puts a lone man in a haunted house where he has to deal with the spirits that inhabit it and, as the title implies, develop a healthy fear of the dark. This is the most 'animated' of the stories here and it works incredibly well. It's eerie, stylish and just very simply cool. In between the five stories are brief animated bits that come courtesy of Pierre Di Sciullo that don't really add much but which are interesting enough to see.
So we're left with five very different stories, all of which play off of the same theme of solitude and creeping horror with varying degrees of effectiveness. While the last story might be the scariest, each of the five is undeniably cool in its own regard, and each has its own unique style that lends itself well to animated form. The voices of the various artists involved all shine through pretty strongly here, and it's to art director Di Sciullo's credit that this is the case as these five unique talents all bring something different and entirely worthy to the picture. It's not always a good horror film in the literal sense, but it is an interesting experiment blending animation, sequential art and horror movie clichés into one often times enthralling and even beautiful package.
Fear(s) Of The Dark is presented in a nice 1.78.1 anamorphic widescreen transfer in glorious black and white, just as it should be. Detail varies, as does style, from one short to the next but generally the image quality here is quite good. Contrast levels are strong and balanced while blacks have a nice inkiness to them that helps set the mood and tone properly. There aren't any problems with mpeg compression artifacts or edge enhancement issues to note though some mild line shimmering can be spotted periodically if you're so inclined as to keep your eye out for such things.
The sole audio option on this disc is an French language Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound track with optional subtitles provided in English SDH, English and Spanish. Channel separation is pretty good and the levels are properly balanced ensuring that the dialogue is easy enough to understand amidst the music and the sound effects used throughout the movie. This isn't a particularly aggressive track but it's as atmospheric as it needs to be and leaves little room for complaint.
IFC have supplied a decent array of extra features starting with an Exhibition Tour Of Fear(s) Of The Dark In Angouleme By Etienne Robial (9:07). Here the film's art director talks about the various techniques used in making the film and about how the production process was broken down into five different parts which he then briefly explains. The interview takes place in a museum of sorts where a lot of the artwork from the various people involved is on display. Up next is From The Drawing To The Film, Diaporama Of Working Documents (24:18) which is simply an interesting collection of pre-production sketches and rough animated bits that we can assume were done to help flesh out the finished version of the film. They're presented here without commentary or narration unfortunately but some of the bits included here are interesting which makes this worth sifting through. There's also some bits that demonstrate the voice actors doing their thing and some more candid behind the scenes bits included in here.
From there check out the Winner's Videos And Drawings Of The Fear(s) Myspace French Contest (8:58), which is a collection of a few bizarre animated bits submitted online to help generate publicity for the film when it was opening in France. There's also an Extended Module By Pierre Di Sciullo (0:33) which is a quick alternate take from his short..
Rounding out the extra features are both English and French theatrical trailers for the film, animated menus and chapter stops. Trailers for a few other IFC releases play before you get to the menu screen.
While it may not be particularly frightening, and therefore not as horrifying as it was probably intended to be, there's enough atmosphere and unsettling texture to this collection of shorts to make it worth a look, particularly those with affinity for comic book art. IFC's DVD release benefits from a very strong transfer and nice audio quality as well as a few decent extras, making this release of Fear(s) Of The Dark recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.