Ah yes, the horror anthology. It's the genre equivalent of a sampler platter. There's usually something for everyone. In recent years, anthologies like V/H/S and The ABCs of Death have left their mark with segments that feature shocking and often gory twists. Compared to them, Locker 13 feels like a bit of a throwback. Tonally, it seeks kinship with the Rod Serling classics The Twilight Zone and Night Gallery, with perhaps a slightly nastier edge in spots.
The film opens by setting up its wraparound device. Skip (Jason Spisak), an ex-con on parole is interviewing to be part of the night cleaning staff at a Wild West themed park. The job is pretty much his but his supervisor Archie (Jon Gries) has a ton of wisdom to impart before Skip's first shift. Archie speaks in platitudes like ‘know thyself' and ‘the choice is yours' with an easy charm but underscores them with short stories that are often unsettling.
The first tale, Down and Out, is about a washed up boxer named Tommy (Ricky Schroder). He can't win a match to save his life and his manager (Jon Polito) has pretty much given up on him. In a moment of desperation, Tommy borrows a pair of old boxing gloves from the creepy janitor at the gym he spars at. They work. In fact, they work too well. Pretty soon, Tommy is winning matches but his opponents are left in comatose bloody heaps. Tommy's going to have to decide what fame is actually worth to him. And if he says he is done with the deadly gloves, will they feel the same way about him?
The next story, The Byzantine Order, takes place during the meeting of a secret society. Eugene (Bart Johnson) has tagged along with his pal Clifford (Curtis Armstrong) who is a member of the society, in the hopes that this is the night when he will be initiated as well. Much to Eugene's surprise, the group is full of odd ducks. At best, they're socially awkward goofballs. At worst, they've lost touch with reality and are taking the ceremonial cloaks and swords too seriously. It all comes to a head when a senior member (David Huddleston) from the national chapter shows up to whip them into shape. Events threaten to take a bloody turn. Exactly what kind of initiation is this?
The film's third segment, Suicide Club, amounts to a tense conversation between two men on a rooftop. William (Alexander Polinsky) just wants to jump off the building and end it all when he is stopped by a stranger (Jason Marsden) who claims to be from the Suicide Club. The stranger doesn't care if William jumps. It's just that he placed this bet, you see, and his win depends on the exact time of William's death. With a few minutes to kill, he forces William to examine his life with a gun pointed at his head. Will the stranger win his bet or does he have something else up his sleeve?
Archie's final cautionary tale, The Author, involves a hitman Armando (Rick Hoffman) who has taken three women hostage. He just killed a man (Thomas Calabro) after being hired by someone who kept their identity a secret. He's pretty sure it was either the man's wife (Krista Allen), mistress (Marina Benedict) or secretary (Carmen Perez). Since Armando has decided to write a book chronicling his escapades, he'd like to know the truth about his latest kill so he can give the story a proper ending. He promises to release the woman who hired him if she confesses. If not, they all die. Will the culprit step forward and more importantly will Armando finally get to publish his life's work?
Just because Archie stops telling tales, it doesn't mean that Locker 13 doesn't have one final twist in store for us. I'm talking, of course, about the culmination of the wraparound story The Other Side which goes to some surprising places when Skip peeks inside Archie's locker (despite being warned) on his very first night on the job. I won't spoil any more of this story since it hinges on a crucial reveal and builds from there. I will however mention that this segment stays true to another very loose tie that binds the stories together. Almost all of them feature a locker numbered 13 that contains something crucial to the plot. In one case, there isn't even a locker but the events take place at the intersection of 13th Avenue and Locker Street (like I said, a very loose tie).
When a movie can be broken down into discrete chunks, the unavoidable tendency is to make a tally of which bits worked and which ones didn't. In my eyes, The Byzantine Order and The Other Side are the star attractions here. The former takes a quirky setup and efficiently blends menace into the mirth. It kept me on my toes and I appreciate that. The latter brought the finale home in a big way by being the most Twilight Zone-y of the whole bunch. I loved what it did with a simple premise and a focused performance by Spisak. The Author gets it mostly right by showing an unexpectedly brutal edge (in relative terms…still not a gore show) from the over-the-top Hoffman but botches its ending a tiny bit.
Down and Out fell a little below average for me despite a suitably tortured performance from Schroder. A few too many ancillary characters make it feel overlong and underdeveloped. Why the heck is Tatyana Ali in here as a hooker / instant love interest when she's given nothing to do? With that said, it still worked in parts. That's more than I can say for Suicide Club which was just a sluggish, chatty piece that only succeeded in killing the film's momentum and feeling out of place with the significantly more interesting segments surrounding it.
I've already highlighted a few of the more engaging performances but kudos also go to Jon Gries as the film's Anti-Crypt Keeper who's got nothing but good advice (and a few secrets of his own). All things considered, Locker 13 still fits the Twilight Zone mold. It just happens to skew closer to the 2002 Forest Whitaker fronted revival rather than the timeless original. That's not a knock since any Twilight Zone is better than no Twilight Zone at all.