Deadtime Stories is a noble effort on the part of Millennium Entertainment to bring back the EC Comics/Twilight Zone anthology horror vibe of shows like Tales From The Darkside, so who better to host and executive produce than George A. Romero? Well, it probably wouldn't be too hard to think of someone better, actually - George has made some pretty creepy movies in his career but as a horror host (he provides introductions to each of the three stories - and much of this content is actually recycled, verbatim, from his intros recorded and edited for Volume 1!), which is really his main role here, he's too kindly looking and grandfatherly to scare us, even if he is shown through some retro style filters that make it look like he's talking to us out of an old TV.
Regardless, what we get with this second volume of Deadtime Stories are three short horror films (roughly twenty-twenty five minutes each) from three different directors. Here's a look:
The Gorge: Our first story follows a trio of hikers who head out into the middle of nowhere to do some relaxing spelunking but soon find once they're underground that they're not alone - something is in there with them and it wants to eat them. This is a fairly unabashed rip off of The Descent, with the key difference being that The Descent was tense and exciting where this take is boring and poorly made. It gets some bonus points for a few good gore scenes, but that's about all it's got going for it.
On Sabbath Hill: The second story tells the odd little tale of a professor who has an unnatural obsession with his students each having a perfect attendance record. This is all well and good and noble and such until one of his students kills himself, at which point our professor starts having very vivid daydreams that relate to the suicide and to the professor's own motives. This second chapter is an improvement in terms of production values and camerawork and as such it looks quite a bit better but on a narrative level it's not nearly as interesting as it thinks it is and the acting is still a few notches below here it probably should be.
Dust: The third and final chapter is the best of the bunch but that's not saying very much. When it begins, some high ranking scientists have gotten their science loving mitts on some dust that came from somewhere deep in outer space. They study it and figure that it's got to have some healing properties but after experimenting on themselves find out that what it actually does is send their respective libidos into overdrive. This leads to various characters screwing other characters and, of course, the consequences of that screwing can't be good. This last entry is amusing enough simply because it starts off serious and then turns into very softcore porn very quickly only to finish with one of the coolest and simultaneously most ridiculous 'eye injury' scenes you'll ever see. It's still not very good though, rather, it's interesting and entertaining because it's completely wacky.
The first three stories contained on the DVD release of Volume 1 of Deadtime Stories were far from modern horror classics but they were at least passably entertaining if you went in with low expectations. You'd think this second attempt would be a step up, figuring that those involved might have found their stride, maybe learned from some of the missteps and mistakes made the first time around and improved their work with a bit more experience now under their belts. That didn't happen. Amazingly enough, this is actually a fairly big step down in quality. Not only is George recycling his horror host bits, but the stories here are just uninspired, and uninteresting. The fact that the series is being made with noticeably low rent production values doesn't help anything in that department and the lackluster performances and bland look of the three shorts are just the icing on the cake.
Deadtime Stories Volume 2 was shot on digital video and it looks pretty good in this 1.78.1 anamorphic widescreen presentation - except in The Gorge where for some reason things get almost unwatchably bad looking any time the lights go dim. Aside from that, colors are reasonably natural looking and the image is stable enough. Detail is fine throughout and there are no problems with any dirt or debris on the image as this was obviously a digital to digital transfer. Some mild compression artifacts pop up in a couple of darker scenes but aside from that, the picture quality here is good.
The only audio option on this DVD is an English language Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound mix, with optional subtitles provided in English SDH and Spanish. The quality of the track is pretty good, with some well placed directional effects heightening tension in a couple of the murder set pieces and the score adding a little bit of emotional depth to a few key scenes. Levels are well balanced and bass response is pretty good, offering a solid low end without burying the dialogue.
There are no substantial extras on this disc aside from a making of featurette that runs sixteen minutes and is more or less made up of a bunch of fly on the wall footage shot during the production with a few very brief on set interviews thrown in for good measure. Other than that? Just a menu and chapter selection, though a few previews for unrelated releases play before you get to the menu.
The first installment of the series was amusing enough in a low budget and low expectations kind of way, but Deadtime Stories Volume 2 is a noticeable step down in quality from what was already a fairly dicey show in that regard in the first place. Romero completists might feel the need to own this one but anyone who falls outside of that demographic can probably sleep soundly at night never having bothered with this release. Skip it.
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.