Allumination Filmworks // 2007 // 90 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Daryl Loomis // February 29th, 2008
Luck never gives. It only lends.
Growing up watching endless reruns of the original The Twilight Zone, I developed a love for that type of short story with a twisty ending. Not all of them were great, but there was always another one on next. Short film collections are good, if for no other reason than if one of the entries is bad, you don't have to wait long for the next story to start. Because the subjects are narrower, filmmakers can deal with stories that they could never stretch into a 90-minute feature. Allumination Filmworks has offered us The Unknown Trilogy, a collection of three Twilight Zone-like stories about how easily obsessions can overtake lives.
"Frankie the Squirrel": Frankie (Sal Mazzotta), has been on a cold streak. He's just lost his last dollar on the roulette table, and the loan sharks want their money. After a couple of thugs toss him into a dumpster, a guy named Lucky (David Proval, The Sopranos) comes from nowhere to give him a stack of chips. Frankie agrees to take the stack on the condition that, no matter how he spends the money, he must involve the number 22. As long as Frankie bets on 22, he wins, but when Frankie gets cocky and thinks he's lucky and not the number, he learns what it means to keep an agreement.
"Fear": John (Damian DiFlorio) is a normal 12-year-old boy, except that he has a crippling fear of everything. It consumes his life, try as he may to appear normal. One day, against his better judgment, he invites his new girlfriend and his best friend over for the evening, and that night, his buddy surprises them with two beers. It's true, two beers. The firewater makes them think crazy thoughts and they agree to break into the neighborhood funeral home. There, John must face the origin of his fears in the form of a creepy mortician with a limp.
"Gone": On Christmas Eve, James (Sal Mazzotto) and Donna (Angie Everhart, Bordello of Blood) celebrate the first anniversary of the death of their son. Their grief overpowers them, and while they do everything they can to keep their minds off of him, the thought of their baby drives them to oblivion. That afternoon, James goes downtown to run some errands, but strangely, finds the streets completely empty. He gets messages from his wife, but the phone never rings and she doesn't pick up. Either his grief has sent him over the edge or something really weird is going on.
Dr. Saul Rubin (Robert Costanzo), behavioral psychologist and Dom Deluise look-alike, presents these stories as case files that show how people react under different types of crises. It's quite a stretch to connect each short by this thread, and it's completely unnecessary. The doctor's inclusion nearly ruins the film. Had it simply been presented as three short films by the writer/director team of Brian Cavallaro and Sal Mazzotta, viewers would not have the undue expectations that the interludes with Dr. Rubin present.
"Frankie the Squirrel" is a disheartening way to start. This story tries the hardest to be like Rod Serling's classic show and really fails as a result. The story of a gambler selling his soul for a little luck is far from new, and this film adds nothing to the story. As it unfolds, all the twists quickly become obvious. It would have been a disappointment by itself but, after an ambiguous ending, Rubin comes back to explain away everything that just happened, adding unnecessary details that were never hinted at in the body of the film. It looks cheap, the acting is amateurish, and the story doesn't make sense, yet it's made worse by this conclusion.
Things don't get better in "Fear." Definitely the worst of the bunch, the poor acting takes on a whole new meaning in this segment. I don't mean to bash on child actors; I'm sure they're trying their best, but it's really bottom of the barrel. "Fear" is blandly directed by Sal Mazzotta, who I would otherwise recommend should stick with acting, except that I'd just seen "Frankie the Squirrel." On the plus side, this is the most unintentionally funny segment of the bunch. The dialogue and style are ridiculous, especially in the slo-mo montage of the three kids getting soused on two beers. If there's anything out there to show kids that underage drinking is for losers, this is it. The short is almost worth seeing for this scene alone.
I witnessed a lot of bad filmmaking for the first hour, but in a shocking conclusion, the final installment changed everything. "Gone" is a fantastic exploration of the effect of a child's death on his parents. Mazzotta may not do so well as a director in the second film or as an actor in the opener, but he does show dramatic chops here. His sadness is palpable, and his desperation to forget about the death of his young son, if only for a second, is sometimes hard to watch (in a good way this time). Angie Everhart is billed as a guest star and has very little screen time, though this is likely a benefit to anybody familiar with her work. Here she is simply somebody with a voice to leave messages and plays that part fine. The depressed mood is accented by Christmas carols, which lend a chilling overtone to this otherwise happy time.
Allumination Filmworks' release of The Unknown Trilogy is presented in a non-anamorphic transfer that is acceptable but unspectacular. Shot in low-budget digital video, there are some artifacts and line separation. It isn't very distracting, but is certainly present. The stereo sound is fine but, again, uneventful. There aren't a lot of sound effects or music in the film, so it doesn't detract from anything. The only extra is the film's trailer, though it would have been nice to hear a commentary from the directors on what was clearly a labor of love.
If the only film on this disc was "Gone," I would recommend it highly. With the other two entries, however, it is an extremely tedious first hour for an excellent payoff. I would like to see more independent short film collections on DVD, but would also like to see an attention to quality less like the first two films and more like the final one.
Two-thirds guilty and one-third innocent provide reasonable doubt, I guess. Case dismissed.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Allumination Filmworks
* 1.66:1 Non-Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 90 Minutes
Release Year: 2007
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
* Theatrical Trailer