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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Cradle of Fear
Cradle of Fear
Image // Unrated // February 18, 2003
List Price: $24.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Adam Tyner | posted February 14, 2003 | E-mail the Author
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The horror anthology was once dominated by British studio Amicus, and between 1965 and 1980, a variety of their anthologies splattered across screens throughout the country with movies like Asylum, The House that Dripped Blood, Tales from the Crypt, Vault of Horror, The Monster Club, From Beyond the Grave, Torture Garden, and Dr. Terror's House of Horrors. Alex Chandon, the writer/director behind Bad Karma and Pervirella, pays homage to the largely-ignored feature-length anthology format with his latest, Cradle of Fear. While mainstream horror films seem to be trying to out-PG-13 each other at every turn, shying away from so much as the faintest glimpse at breasts and gore whenever possible, Cradle of Fear isn't nearly as bashful. The two-hour movie is drenched in blood, and it doesn't avert its eyes from the healthy dollop of gore or the chests of its ghostly pale, topless female leads.

Notorious child murderer Kemper is hellbent on exacting his revenge on the people who put him away, and from his padded room in the local asylum, he commands The Man (Cradle of Filth's Dani Filth) to slaughter the families of those responsible. Detective Nielson, who'd had his own unpleasant run-in with Kemper, is faced with an increasingly large pile of mutilated bodies and tries to make some sense of the savagery.

The first tale is centered around a goth gal who trots back to her flat with the Dark Prince of her dreams after a night of clubbing. Their drug-fueled one night stand leaves her feeling used and discarded, and a bloody shower and the subsequent sight of a bunch of grotesque faces around town doesn't make an unpleasant situation any more cheerful. She turns to her pal Nikki for some much-needed support, and shortly after telling her about her trippy experience, Mel begins to have some tummy trouble. She's short a morning-after pill, and a pair of scissors might not be quite enough to stave off the evil growing inside her.

Another pair of ladies are featured in the second story. After hearing from her sister about an elderly man with a mess of cash in his home, Emma and her friend Sophie decide to wait till he steps out and pilfer his nestegg. They fumble around in the dark aimlessly, but they finally find a tinful of dollars under his bed. Over his bed, however, is the deaf old man, who startles and attacks the thieves. Sophie repeatedly whacks him over the head with various blunt objects and stabs him, but no matter how much damage she inflicts, he doesn't seem to want to stay down. Needless to say, things don't entirely go according to plan, but Sophie nonetheless manages to sneak out the next morning with an armful of cash. She doesn't have long to enjoy her ill-gotten gains, however...

The third story follows Nick, an amputee whose lack of a left leg makes him feel like an incomplete man. As much as his girlfriend is into the stump-'n-hump fetish, Nick can't pass up the opportunity when his doctor tells him that it should be medically feasible for him to once again walk on two legs. Donor limbs are in short supply, so Nick looks up an old buddy and asks him for help. Well, Nick doesn't ask so much as he just hacks off his pal's leg. The grafting operation appears to be a success, and the after-effects seem to be limited to some disturbing dreams. These sorts of operations can be touchy, and there's always the risk of the body rejecting the limb. Even riskier is the limb rejecting the body, and his newfound leg is determined to wreck Nick's life.

The final installment features Detective Nielson's son, a researcher of depraved content for an Internet service provider. He stumbles upon a snuff site called The Sick Room, where members can whip out their credit cards to remotely mutilate and murder over the web. It's kind of like that grating Progressive Auto Insurance ad with the voodoo doll and cheating boyfriend, only...not. To keep one step ahead of the authorities, The Sick Room's virtual location changes constantly. Richard becomes obsessed with trying to track down the site and get his murderous rocks off, losing his job, all his worldly possessions, and something a bit more prized in the process.

"It's not if they die, it's how..." is Cradle of Fear's tagline, and it's well-deserved. Before the first tale even begins, Detective Nielson strolls into Nikki's bedroom, glances at a pair of corpses, and grabs hold of one of Mel's breasts, shortly before a neat dissolve into the past. Depending on the viewer's perspective, this approach isn't necessarily positive or negative. Knowing that the majority of the characters in every story will meet a grisly end dampens the suspense, but at the same time, it does build some anticipation towards their impending deaths. Gore is what Cradle of Fear is all about, and atmosphere, suspense, and dialogue take a back seat. Among the highlights are a head being torn in two, a spider-baby bursting from a woman's stomach, an eye gouged out with a broken liquor bottle, a leg being sawed off, gnawed off fingers, and a knife stabbed through a cheek. Every story features some variety of mutilation, and breasts are bared in each of the four main tales as well (if only briefly in the last). Almost as prevalent as the nudity is vomiting, and, yes, it appears to be genuine.

Cradle of Fear is likely to polarize the horror fans that see it, due in large part to its tiny budget. First of all, giving it a look I've never been particularly fond of, the movie was shot on video. As impressive as some of the effects look in the disc's still gallery, they don't always translate well when in motion on screen. There are several sequences, such as Nikki becoming acquainted with Mel's offspring, a CGI car wreck in the third story, and the showdown between Kemper and Detective Nielson, that are difficult to watch without having to stifle a chuckle. Some of the Foley work is comically over-the-top, particularly noticeable in the prologue, the nightclubbing story, and the evisceration of a cat. "Over the top" is a phrase that's hard to avoid when describing Cradle of Fear, particularly when it comes to the gore and acting. None of the cast members are so bad as to make me recoil with horror, but some of it is definitely unpolished. I think the rough edges contribute to much of Cradle of Fear's charm, though it's certain to turn off many viewers. The lengthy two-hour runtime generally moves briskly, only bogged down by the more repetitive portions of Richard's search for The Sick Room. The framing story is better fleshed out than the threadbare connectivity in similar anthologies as well. Viewers who go in expecting stellar acting, big-budget special effects, and sterling dialogue are almost certainly going to be disappointed. On the other hand, those seeking out splatter and T&A will have a tough time finding anything remotely comparable from the past few years. Cradle of Fear is a lot of fun for those willing to give it a shot, and I'd definitely recommend it as a rental.

Video: Cradle of Fear is letterboxed to an aspect ratio of 1.66:1 or so. Unlike a number of other 1.66:1 releases from Image Entertainment, this disc is not 16x9-enhanced. As Cradle of Fear was shot on video, the sorts of flaws occasionally present with film-based transfers are noticeably absent. Some of the movie's more dimly lit sequences, as well as a handful of moments bathed in smoke, are noisy in appearance, though presumably this can be traced back to the original photography. There's a brief digital stutter around the 1:00:08 mark that I was able to reproduce both on my set-top player and my DVD-ROM. The data side of the DVD is clean and unscuffed, so this doesn't seem to be a problem with my particular disc. Cradle of Fear is generally sharp and colorful, and a couple of quibbles aside, it's a good presentation.

Audio: Cradle of Fear includes a plain stereo mix. The rears remain dormant throughout, and the subwoofer doesn't get an extensive workout. No praise and no complaints. There are no alternate soundtracks, nor are there subtitles or closed captions.

Supplements: There are a pair of trailers on this DVD release of Cradle of Fear. One is a preview trailer compiled before the movie's initial release, and it runs a couple seconds shy of two minutes. The other, labeled Cradle of Fear: The Sick Room, is a 1:13 promo for an unrated director's cut of the movie available exclusively through CradleOfFear.com. Presumably this is the same version of the movie that's presented on this DVD, but it's not made clear. Like the movie they preview, both trailers are letterboxed and not enhanced for widescreen televisions.

"Some Making of Cradle of Fear" features twelve minutes of behind-the-scenes footage, taking a detailed look at a victim of The Sick Room getting hammered, the club scene and grisly demise from the first tale, and some smoky exteriors of The Man from the film's head-crushing opening sequence. A still gallery rounds out the extras, featuring eleven and a half minutes of production stills and behind-the-scenes shots.

Though the DVD reviewed here hasn't even hit stores as I'm scribbling all of this down, a 2-disc special edition is already in the works. Alongside a multi-channel remix are documentaries, interviews, additional behind-the-scenes footage, hidden Easter Eggs, and apparently quite a bit more. The plan is for this new release to only be made available through CradleOfFear.com, and since Alex Chandon and company are based out the UK, I have no idea how likely it is that an NTSC/R1 version of the upcoming set might arrive on this side of the pond.

Cradle of Fear sports animated 4x3 menus with lengthy transitions, and the movie has been divided into eighteen chapters.

Conclusion: Cradle of Fear is a tough one to blindly recommend, especially when a much more impressive release appears to be lurking in the wings. Give the trailer a peek, and if it looks appealing, I'd suggest scouring any nearby mom-and-pop video stores for a rental or adding it to your NetFlix queue. Rent It.

Related Links: The official Cradle of Fear web site has more information on the movie, including a trailer.
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