Dreadtime Stories (2015)

Dreadtime StoriesStarring Bonnie Ann, Jordan Bruster, Cary Cadena, Autumn Caro, Max Caruso

Directed by Jacob Grim

We’ve entered a new era of independent filmmaking. The availability of low-cost high-definition camera and digital editing suites has changed the scope of what can be accomplished with a very small budget.

Gone are the days when low budget movies inherently looked awful, sounded awful, and held back even the most talented young director. Anyone remember how lousy Kevin Smith’s Clerks looks? That wasn’t so long ago, but he spent around $10,000 just to achieve even that washed-out, overexposed result.

Dreadtime Stories is evidence of these changing times. According to director Jacob Grim, this movie only cost around $2000. It’s full color, HD, and not found footage with a cast of three. Rather, it’s an ambitious anthology film featuring nine different shorts and a wrap-around tale with a large cast and a decent amount of visual effects.

And let’s just get this out of the way: it does NOT look like a $2000 movie. At all. For first-time feature makers Grim and his writing/producing partner Sal Hernandez, this is a really incredible achievement. I’ve seen films with ten times the budget that don’t look or feel as technically capable as Dreadtime Stories.

The structure of Dreadtime Stories is simple: a kid gets a at a mortuary and after being admonished to respect the dead, he promptly steals a book he finds on the first corpse he helps prep for burial. The stiff is an old creepy hermit into spooky stuff, so it’s no surprise that the book contains a bunch of tales of horror. As the kid and his friends take turns reading the book, we get our nine tales.

These tales offer a surprising amount of variety. From ghostly tales of the paranormal to gritty werewolf crime dramas to classic slasher pieces, Grim and his crew cover the gamut of short form horror. Given the sheer number of vignettes, even when one misfires, it’ll only be a minute before another comes along.

That’s the good news.

The bad news is that the film, overall, collapses under its one weakness: the acting.

Given the scope of the film, the cast is very large. Given the budget, it appears they were unable to afford any actual actors and mostly or completely relied on friends to fill the roles. As such, 90% of the acting is about high school drama class quality. Other than two or three standout performances (one of them being writer/producer Hernandez in two roles) the acting is just really, really horrible. Sometimes, the action overcomes it. Most of the time, it doesn’t.

That’s a real shame, because I can’t state this enough: there’s a huge amount of creativity and raw talent on display here. Pound for pound, every short in this film is better than the shorts in the most recent ABC’s of Death, for example. They tell their stories better, don’t get bogged down in art school hijinx and focus on the scares better. Some have Twilight Zone twists, some are just straightforward horror.

I want to like this movie far more than I do. I definitely want to see STX Productions (Grim and Hernandez’ company) do more films with better budgets. If they could hire professional actors and reshoot a good 90% of this movie, they’d have a real gem. I wish they’d made two or three of the best shorts and used those to launch a crowdfunding campaign to raise enough cash to cast real actors.

Should you watch it? If you can be forgiving of the performances, there’s fun to be had here. The wrap-around story is the weakest point of the flick, but the shorts are very strong. Overall, though, this stands as a promise of better things from these young Texans. If I were a financial type, I’d throw them a few hundred thousand to remake Dreadtime Stories with real actors and a new wrap-around story, and I’d make money on the deal.

As it stands, though, despite the earnest efforts of their cast of friends, I can’t recommend Dreadtime Stories to a broad audience. And that just makes me sad.

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Mr. Dark

A man of mystery. An enigma wrapped in a riddle wrapped in a low-carb whole grain tortilla. A guy who writes about spooky stuff.

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