Look, kid, your Uncle Mike (Michael Mesmer) ain't so much the babysitting type. It's late, and the guy just wants to kick back with a cold one and gawk at some titties on premium cable. Oh, you want him to tell you a story? Okay, uh...Little Red Riding Hood: a nubile teenager (Nicole Picard) strips down to her skivvies and feels herself up, gets her cherry popped by her asshole boyfriend in the deliberately least sexy way this side of Fast Times, and squares off against a werewolf (Matt Mitler). See, Willie usually dopes himself into a stupor when he's about to wolf out, but his pills got switched with Rachel's grandma's prescription, so he tries to track her down an'...it's a whole thing. What, you're still scared of a monster in your room and are crying for another story? Fine, Goldilocks and the Three Bears, only these
For better or worse, Deadtime Stories is hardly just another horror anthology. Picture a kid with a copy of Grimm's Fairy Tales on his nightstand, atop a stack of whatever the latest issues of Fangoria, Cracked, and Playboy were in the summer of '85 or whenever, and you're somewhere in the ballpark. Co-writer/director Jeffrey Delman doesn't set out to craft some grueling descent into horror. Blood, boobs, a fair amount of gruesome effects work, a playful and unapologetically goofy sense of humor -- I mean, this was my first time giving Deadtime Stories a spin, but I can absolutely imagine picking this up off the shelf at the video store down the road when I was twelve and loving the hell out of it. Even though I'm a long way from a twelve year old these days, I acknowledge this anthology's flaws but find it irresistibly fun and charming just the same.
...but, yeah, let's talk about those flaws. Deadtime Stories' biggest missteps lay with pacing and payoffs -- that there's so much setup for each story, and just when you think all hell is about to break loose, it's abruptly over. Its three segments (plus the obligatory wraparound story with Uncle Mike and wee little Brian) are somehow too short and too long at the same time. The driving story of "Peter and the Witches" is the resurrection of a long-dead witch. It builds and builds and builds and builds, she's revived for something like twenty seconds with seemingly no magical abilities to speak of, and then...wham! Over. Even Billy complains about what a total misfire of an ending that is, setting up an awesomely meta sight gag, but that payoff isn't commensurate with the long journey to get there. "Little Red Runninghood" is the most satisfying of the segments from a storytelling standpoint, but I would've cheerfully traded the interminable, not-the-least-bit-alluring sexual fantasy that opens the segment for some more werewolf havoc. "Goldi Lox and the Three Baers", meanwhile, careens deliriously over the top. I can't get enough of its manic energy and Mad Magazine sense of humor, although I can certainly picture someone picking up Deadtime Stories based on its spectacular cover art and wondering how this segment fits into a horror anthology at all. The most puzzling thing to me is the near-total lack of conflict. Goldi Lox's psychokinetic powers don't meaningfully impact anything that happens. She and the Baers are immediately thick as thieves. The Keystone Kops hunting down the escaped lunatics are never presented as any sort of credible threat. A gaggle of psychopaths wind up together, like each other a whole bunch (attempted rape and all!), get exactly what they want, and everything accidentally goes even better than they ever could've hoped with no hiccups whatsoever! Yay! Beyond the somewhat sloppy storytelling, there's some decent-to-solid effects work throughout Deadtime Stories, but it's more sparse than you might expect, and some of the action -- a swipe of a werewolf claw, a witch konking someone on the noggin -- is cut together clumsily.
There's always a risk with grown-up versions of fairy tales that they'll be too adult for kids yet too kiddie for adults. We're talking about a horror anthology, after all, so it kinda goes without saying that Deadtime Stories' grotesque makeup effects and nudity aren't so much for the junior set. At the same time, it goes more for thrills and Cracked magazine-style laughs than white knuckle horror. Between that and some significant pacing issues, I'm not exactly optimistic how well Deadtime Stories will play for your average twenty or thirtysomething. Warts and all, though, I genuinely dug it. I'm a sucker for genre anthologies in general, but I appreciate the fact that Deadtime Stories sets out to have fun, is very much its own thing, and bucks convention to the point that it can't help but be unpredictable (well, mostly). Your mileage probably will vary, but this is my review, so I'm rolling with Recommended right here in bold and italics anyway.
Beautiful, isn't it?
Yeah, yeah, I'm clearly talking about Scream Factory's shiny, new remaster of Deadtime Stories and not that nightmarish hag. Its oldest shots date back to 1982 and cut together perfectly with the remainder of the footage from '85. There are so many moments that could pass for a film many years more recent than that, even. This strong, filmic presentation is superhumanly detailed and boasts colors that are often a total knockout. While not every last frame is pristine:
...somewhere in the neighborhood of 99.9% of them sure are. Reactions to Deadtime Stories as a movie may skew negative from most folks out there, but what Scream Factory has delivered...? Top shelf all the way.
Deadtime Stories and its extras unspool across a BD-50 disc. This presentation is lightly letterboxed to preserve the film's theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1, which I believe is this anthology's first time in widescreen on home video.
I can't imagine Deadtime Stories' 24-bit, monaural DTS-HD Master Audio sounding any cleaner or clearer than this either. There's no background noise, clipping, dropouts, or flaws of any sort to gripe about. It's packing a low-frequency heft that I wasn't quite expecting, and the ridiculous original songs come through well enough. For a fiercely independent horror anthology that rang in its thirtieth anniversary last year, this lossless soundtrack delivers everything I could ever hope to hear.
Also included are English (SDH) subtitles and an audio commentary.
There's no slipcover or newly-commissioned artwork this time around, but Deadtime Stories does get the combo pack treatment.
The Final Word
I found myself completely charmed by Deadtime Stories, a horror-ish anthology favoring giggles over trembling fear as it skewers childhood fairy tales. It's so fun that I could easily shrug off its many, many issues with pacing and lackluster payoffs. Poking around some of my favorite horror message boards and re-reading Kurt Dahlke's review here at DVD Talk, I seem to be in the minority there. While Deadtime Stories as a movie may be too divisive to recommend all that enthusiastically as a purchase sight-unseen, there's no denying that Scream Factory has assembled a hell of a Blu-ray release, from a beautiful new master to its two and a half hours of extras. If you see those "however..."s and "except..."s and are still onboard, I'd go with a Recommended here, although anyone who's on the fence should really consider renting or streaming Deadtime Stories first.