Millennium Entertainment // 2011 // 76 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Clark Douglas // July 8th, 2011
"I'd like to tell you a deadtime story."
Though the films of George A. Romero have been increasingly frustrating in recent years (let's face it, Survival of the Dead was pretty awful), I'm always willing to check out anything his name is attached to in the hopes that he's recaptured a bit of his former glory. The concept of the straight-to-DVD anthology series Deadtime Stories sounded promising enough, despite the terrible title: Romero introduces a batch of three 25-minute horror tales, each one directed by a different filmmaker.
I'm a fan of the anthology format in general, and with the demise of Masters of Horror it's just about time for another one to pop up. Granted, I never expected this new series to match Tales from the Crypt or Alfred Hitchcock Presents, but I would have been perfectly content if Deadtime Stories: Volume One was essentially the Romero equivalent of Freddy's Nightmares. Unfortunately, the series ranks as one of the most underwhelming horror anthologies I've witnessed to date.
The problems begin with Romero's introductions, which should have been an easy way to score a few points upfront with horror fans. Romero seems alternately hammy and bored from sentence to sentence, flitting between faux-pompous storyteller, devious demon and disgruntled conveyer of general information for no immediately obvious reason. The introductions are curiously disjointed and they certainly aren't helped by the weird staging (Romero's head bounces around between a series of static-filled televisions stacked on top of one another).
Still, Romero's contribution takes up maybe five minutes of the 76-minute running time, so what really matters is the quality of the short films. Sadly, to call these pieces "sub-par" would be generous. Even by low-budget horror standards, these short films are frustrating experiences marked by genuinely terrible acting and stilted screenplays. Here's what you get:
Valley of the Shadow
A story about a woman traveling into the deepest, darkest parts of the South American jungle to search for her missing husband. Alas, there are some very nasty surprises waiting for the worried wife and her crew once they arrive. After a laughably weak introductory scene, this short primarily consists of a tedious jungle march occasionally punctuated by bits of graphic gore. The whole thing concludes with an ending that will have most viewers howling with laughter ("If you're done screaming, we can continue," Romero chimes in a moment later).
First, let me take a moment to shake my head in dismay at that title. Anyway, it's a story about a poor sap who happens to learn a few particularly nasty things about mermaids. While the "horrifying killer mermaid" conceit has promise, the short doesn't do much of interest with the idea. Obviously, I'm not expecting an expensive extravaganza ala Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, but it would be nice if so much time weren't spent on simply watching the characters stand around and engage in vaguely ominous dialogue.
This vampire-centric piece comes the closest to success, as it delivers the most consistently engaging story and a turns in a nice little plot twist late in the proceedings. Additionally, the acting occasionally approaches something resembling credibility. Still, the film's overheated final moments deliver chuckles instead of chills, and you can't help but feel this piece could have hit the mark if only everyone involved were a little bit more polished.
The transfer is decent enough, as the level of detail is impressive throughout (particularly during the jungle trek of Valley of the Shadow) and blacks are respectably deep (a major asset during the visually murky House Call). However, the audio is pretty abysmal -- some dialogue sounds distorted, sound design is wildly inconsistent and other moments of dialogue seem to drop out abruptly. Only the music sounds sturdy, but it's typically generic horror-movie stings and banal sound design. There are no extras included on the disc.
I like the basic idea presented in Deadtime Stories: Volume One, but the execution is disappointing in a wide variety of ways. Here's hoping things improve with Volume Two.
Review content copyright © 2011 Clark Douglas; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Millennium Entertainment
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 76 Minutes
Release Year: 2011
MPAA Rating: Rated R