Millennium Entertainment // 2011 // 101 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Clark Douglas // September 23rd, 2011
After the remarkably disappointing Volume One, I figured this George A. Romero-hosted horror anthology series had nowhere to go but up. After all, the three short films presented in the first installment are remarkably crappy tales that rank as some of the most shoddily-made horror I've experienced in recent years. Unfortunately, Deadtime Stories: Volume Two somehow finds a way to make a terrible series just a little bit worse.
The only thing the producers of this series could have done to make Romero's stilted, corny, uncomfortable hosting bits worse would be to simply recycle the same footage the second time around. Amazingly, that's precisely what happened, as a large portion of Romero's lines are ported over from the first installment. Sure, there are a few story-specific bits recorded particularly for this release, but Romero clearly couldn't even be bothered to deliver a new cornball poem at the beginning of this set. The man looks immensely unhappy to be saddled with this gag; perhaps someone behind the camera is waving some blackmail photos at him? At any rate, here are the short films you receive:
Three friends go spelunking and eventually find themselves trapped. This terribly directed tale is a clumsy rip-off of The Descent early on (completely lacking that film's tension and sharp craftsmanship) before transforming into an even clumsier tale of cannibalism. Much like the jungle story that opened the first volume, this story offers seemingly endless moments of bland down time punctuated by occasional splashes of gore. The film's construction is so sloppy that it's likely to leave many viewers thinking, "Geez, I could make something better than this." Indeed you could, even if you had nothing more than a bottle of ketchup, six hours of free time, and a iPhone.
On Sabbath Hill
This piece is a good deal more polished than The Gorge, but that's a bit like saying that rusty nails are tastier than razor blades. This pretentious little story concerns a sleazy yet stern college professor who insists that every student in his class have perfect attendance. When one of his students commits suicide, the professor soon begins experiencing haunting visions. This is such a tedious short film, blending ridiculous faux intellectual monologues with dumb, trashy, B-movie theatrics. One can see precisely where this tale is headed early on, and the journey there is tedious.
What begins as the most promising story of the bunch (a scientist discovers that some dust from outer space may have unusual healing powers) quickly turns sour, as the plot developments take an unfortunate turn into Cinemax territory (the space dust transforms one character's wife into a lusty sex machine, leading to some laughably staged love scenes) and cheesy melodrama. Also, it contains one of the most unconvincing deaths I've ever seen: one character gently hits another character over the head with a bottle, causing the poor victim's eye to pop out and his head to turn into a pile of mush. Dust is 35 minutes of ridiculous "WTF?," which I suppose makes it the highlight (if such a suspect outing as this anthology can be said to contain such a thing). If you happen to watch Volume Two (not that I recommend it), answer me this: couldn't the central challenge of the story have been solved by a vibrator?
The DVD transfer is mixed, offering respectable levels of detail yet suffering a great deal during darker scenes. Anything overcast is frustratingly murky; The Gorge sports numerous scenes which are visually incomprehensible. Audio is even worse, with dialogue which drops out, terribly sloppy fusions of sound design and music, lines of dialogue which sounds distorted, music which is cranked up too loud and boisterous scenes which lack much punch. Frankly, the sound is amateurish. Supplements are limited to a a brief making-of featurette.
Even by the very low artistic standards of low-budget horror, Deadtime Stories: Volume Two is garbage. This series has proven creatively bankrupt and irredeemably tedious; a vastly greater disgrace to Romero's name than the very worst of his recent zombie outings. Please, someone put this ill-advised franchise out of its misery.
I'm afraid it's deadtime.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Millennium Entertainment
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 101 Minutes
Release Year: 2011
MPAA Rating: Rated R