Judge Neal Solon can't get this hour of his life back, unfortunately.
"What I see in your face is not a desire for sleep; it's a desire for death. The two are twins, you know."—Gregory, the innkeeper
Gregory Horror Show—The Nightmare Begins… opens on a hazy night, walking through a dark wood. At the end of the wood is a dimly lit hotel called Gregory House. The door opens. The inside is desolate, until suddenly the camera is jolted by the discovery of Gregory, the proprietor of the hotel.
Gregory is a cockeyed rat, a self-described "washed-up water rat." He also happens to be a computer-generated 3D image. Gregory and nearly everything in his horror show look like flashbacks to early '90s video game graphics. To further simplify things, nearly all of the characters in the show have heads that are some variation on the shape of a cube. The intentionally boxy, stilted animation is arresting at first, until one is distracted by the content of the show itself.
The show centers on an unnamed, unseen protagonist. You, as the viewer, see the world in first person, through his eyes. As the narrative progresses, it will become apparent that this protagonist is meant to represent you; you, through his eyes, find yourself trapped in a hotel so far removed from reality that your fellow guests include a gun slinging cactus, a lizard nurse with an erotic attraction to blood, and an anthropomorphic machine known as "Judgment Boy," whose sole purpose is to pass judgment on your decisions—past, present, and future. A lizard nurse with an erotic attraction to blood, you say? Yes. One of the characters in the show is a lizard who looks somewhat like a geometric, female version of Barney the dinosaur, who also happens to audibly excited at the thought of blood. The nurse, Catherine, seems to have been popular enough to spawn her own mini-series, but that will be addressed further in a discussion of the extras.
The layout of the show itself is formulaic. The program consists of 25 episodes. Each "episode" is between two and three minutes long. It starts with an opening sequence that shows the doors of the hotel from the outside, accompanied by a voice-over by the protagonist giving a hint of what will transpire in the episode to come. Most of the episodes that follow are based around one action or decision by the protagonist and its surreal consequences. They are meant to have a message that makes you contemplate your life and the choices that you make. Most, however, do not.
Perhaps the ineffectiveness of the series as any sort of moral edification or sustained entertainment is due, in part, to the rapid-fire nature of the episodes themselves. Many of the rare moments in the film that might otherwise be cause to consider choices in one's own life are insubstantial, because they are quickly glossed over by a series too concerned with its own conventions of story-telling to pause and give emphasis to any one thought. In other words, the show is too caught up in its own quirkiness to give any insightful characters or moments much weight.
One great example of an unfulfilled opportunity is a fish skeleton that appears near the middle of the program. The fish skeleton has a television in the place of its skull. The television shows static-filled images from the protagonist's memory. The seconds of fleeting images in the television are among the less than 3 minutes of live-action footage in the entire program, and the irony is clear. The television, which normally serves as an escape from reality, is now our protagonist's only link to the real world and to his past. This is also the first moment that establishes that our character has a history, a life and a family outside of this mixed up fantasy world. The implications, despite seeming intentional, are ignored, and the fish serves only as a simple way to establish a point of fact—that the protagonist has a family—so that his attempts to contact them can drive the plot of the next episode.
The Gregory Horror Show—The Nightmare Begins… is just over an hour in length. The episodes do manage to feel a bit more connected as the show progresses, as there seems to be some focus to the plot. Sadly, by the time this focus develops, the show's formulaic nature and the resulting choppiness will have long since eroded the average viewer's interest in, or tolerance for, the show. Perhaps the most annoying thing about the show's format is that of the main program's 62 minute running time (listed as 73 minutes on the package), approximately one-sixth ends up being the introductory animation for the episodes, repeated 25 times.
As a presentation of intentionally dated animation, the video on this disc is solid. After seeing the open sequence a few times, one of the fog effects begins to stand out as being especially pixelated, but it is more likely that this is a result of the original animation than any effect of transferring the program to DVD. Aside from that, there were few noticeable defects, and certainly nothing that distracts from the show. The audio, too, serves its purpose well. Dialogue is clear, and the program's soundtrack comes across well. It should be noted that the dialogue is dubbed in English. While I tend to be a proponent of original language audio tracks and subtitles, the dub was not a distraction, as it seems quite natural.
Included on the disc as extras are four bonus episodes, three Geneon previews, a Gregory Horror Show action figure preview, and DVD credits. The only substantial extra here is "The Bloody Karte," which is a collection of four episodes centered on the nurse, Catherine, and the drama in her hospital. Always at the center of the episodes is her blood fetishism, which, though it drives the plot, is not outwardly discussed. The episodes are at once mildly amusing and mildly disturbing. Also curious to note is that this ten and a half minutes of extra episodes seems to be where Geneon got the phantom 11 minutes included their 73 minute "Feature Running Time" listed on the back of the package.
The additional supplements are comprised of previews for Geneon DVD releases Submarine 707R, eX-Driver the Movie, and Gad Guard, a "preview" of Gregory Horror Show action figures, which consists of two stylized pictures of the Gregory figurine, and DVD credits, which haven't comprised an "extra feature" since about the time that DVDs with chapter stops were rolled out in the late '90s.
Upon first viewing, Gregory Horror Show is likely to capture one's attention as a curiosity. Despite its attempts at depth, it rarely succeeds at being anything more than just that, a curiosity. Gregory Horror Show—The Nightmare Begins… tries to present itself as a show about choices; about the perils of escapism. It is about how our choices define and affect our reality, and having seen the show once, I cannot imagine choosing to spend another hour of my life on it. Taken in doses, the show might be more successful. I, for one, do not plan to find out.
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• Bonus Episodes: The Bloody Karte
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