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Tales of the Dead
My cheery glow from watching Faces of Schlock has well worn off, what with watching writer/director Kemal Yildirim's Tales of the Dead, a well-intentioned but risible effort in the low-budget horror anthology sweepstakes. Schlock is funny and fiercely original in its sassy, slacker way, while Tales is dour, talky, melancholic, slight, short (only 70 minutes) dangerously open-ended, and only slightly scary at the very end.
Strangely enough, all of this is counter to Tales' wraparound sequence, a Halloween party atmosphere finding a few British youths sitting around joking, smoking, drinking and attempting to scare each other with their most terrifying tales, all conveniently prerecorded on DVDs. In other words, after an ominous introductory trick-or-treat sequence, it all goes downhill fast. Though our partiers naturalistic (likely ad-libbed) dialog sets a realistic tone, it seems that short money means they didn't actually have microphones with which to record that dialog, most of which is inaudible. And so the scary stories begin.
Less Is More focuses on a seriously depressed woman, unhappy to the point of despair with her relationship, and so into severe abnegation she wants to have her limbs amputated. Flash-forward sequencing pretty much gives away the trick, as we see her (in utterly unconvincing SPFX) already getting her limbs sawed off. If it's not too hard to grasp, she gets more than she bargained for. Slow pacing and crushing morbidity tag this as another in the trend of Great British Downers, but it's not much of a fun scary story for Halloween.
Wolf Cry is probably the most autobiographical of these tales, as a daydreaming young man battles his constantly nagging mother, who doesn't appreciate his desire to do nothing but make horror movies. He even goes to the local job shop, where he hallucinates while a civil servant berates him for wanting to be a director. But soon, he realizes that his intense desire to create scary movies might just have unleashed a horde of zombies or something.
By the time Penance rolls around, you might wonder, how can such a short movie, even when padded by a wraparound sequence, feels so long? Well, when a serial killer attempts to draw a disgraced, alcoholic detective into a game of cat-and-mouse, you'll find out. There's more in the way of quiet talk, lots of really quiet talk, punctuated by insanely loud musical cues, and followed by yet another head-scratcher of an ending.
Lastly, Missing finally works up a bit of mild tension, maybe even the threat of fear, when a group of friends investigate a cursed and haunted street in London. Told mostly in Ghost Hunters fashion, our heroes creep around in the dark, whispering to greenish night-vision cameras. As things start to go sideways, a Blair Witch feeling of panic sets in. But not content to play things too obviously, Yildirim concocts yet another open-ended conclusion that totally deflates this effort.
In fact, amongst all the melancholy, psychological chitchat and a general air of quiet desperation, there isn't really an ending to be found. Each story just sort of vanishes inconclusively into the mist, leaving the viewer wondering just what happened, but not in a good way. From the inappropriate wraparound - a drunken girl notes, "guys, I just saw something well freaky up there," and we wish we had, too - to totally misleading packaging, probably foisted upon Yildirim by Chemical Burn Entertainment, Tales of the Dead misses the mark. Yildirim clearly has talent and drive, he just might need to pick more appropriately downbeat material, work in a longer format, and remember to come up with some kind of an ending.
Dimly lit, fairly grainy and with so-so colors, this DVD doesn't look great. The picture switches from 16 X 9 widescreen to letterboxed 4 X 3 fullscreen between subjects, so if your set doesn't automatically correct ratios, you'll be a little nonplussed. As a super low-budget disc, this looks as good as you'd expect, i.e. pretty grim, but doesn't suffer from a ton of compression artifacts, which is a plus.
Dolby Digital Stereo English is distortion-free, but that's about it. Dialog is often way too quiet and muffled, due to bad room sound, to be able to discern easily, and music cues are mixed more loudly than they need to be, unless this is a trick to wake you up during the slow parts, and there are lots of them.
Two extras, the five-minute Making Of "Wolf Cry" and 16-minute Making Of "Penance" amount to simply a bunch of on set footage. A Trailer is also included.
Kemal Yildirim's Tales of the Dead misses the mark as far as low-budget horror anthologies go. It's too quiet - literally and figuratively - too ethereal and confusing, not scary, and pretty monochromatic, which you get when one director helms every short subject. This DVD reads more like Yildirim's demo reel than a fun Saturday night of shivers, so we'll be reluctantly say Skip It.