Deadtime Stories (Blu-ray/DVD)

Deadtime StoriesStarring Scott Valentine, Nicole Picard, Matt Mitler, Cathryn de Prume

Directed by Jeffrey Delman

Distributed by Scream Factory

Whether he is actually a blood relative or not everyone seems that have “that uncle” who, because he is not a parent, lacks the mental filtration most adults employ. His jokes are a little crude, he is more permissive when it comes to “having fun”, and his stories are usually of the not-so-wholesome variety – and sometimes, when mom and dad need a night out on the town, he is charged with watching over their little tikes despite a clear aversion to playing parent. This sort of awkward avuncular scenario lays the groundwork for Deadtime Stories (1986), an underrated little gem of an anthology, featuring three twisted fairytales that have been updated to reflect then-modern times. While none of the three segments stand out as particularly well done, the overall film has a strong D.I.Y. ethos; that homebrew quality suggesting that, even though it might not be the best horror has to offer, the folks behind the lens were fully committed to making the most out of their project. Think less Creepshow (1982) and more From a Whisper to a Scream (1987).

Little Brian’s (Brian DePersia) parents are out for the night and he is left in the care of dear old Uncle Mike (Michael Mesmer), the perennial bachelor type who wants nothing more than to put his nephew to bed so he can suck down a six-pack and watch some late-night programming. But Brian doesn’t do to the land of nod that easily, and he’s soon whining for “Uncle Miiiiiikkkkeee” to sit at his bedside and regale him to sleep with some fables. Mike, to his credit, tries to weasel his way out of storytime by proclaiming he has to “press the cat” and “vacuum the ceiling”, but Brian isn’t letting him off the hook that easily. Knowing his night can’t continue until this little booger is deep in a pillow pocket, Mike makes up a couple of his own – sort of – leading us into a great opening credit sequence and getting this triumvirate of tales underway.

In the first fable, Peter (Scott Valentine), is a young man held in slavery who has just been sold off to two wicked witch sisters. They have plans to make a potion that will bring their long-dead sister back from the grave but first they need to acquire some necessary ingredients – the brain of a black cat, heart of an eel… the severed hand of a holy man. All the standard witches brew ingredients. The two sisters kvetch and quarrel as much as they collaborate and connive but eventually their plan comes together and a new heart is installed in the vacant cavity of their departed sister’s chest. All they need now is to sacrifice a young girl. Their grand scheme goes awry, however, when Paul decides to make a break for it, taking the would-be sacrifice in the process.

The story here – as in the other segments – feels rushed and sloppily executed. So much of the plot here is dedicated to resurrecting the dead witch and once that moment comes it seems like the story can’t wait to be done with itself. I can cut some slack, though, because in a deliciously meta moment Brian complains to Uncle Mike of the “mushy and icky ending” – due to some kissing and happiness – so Uncle Mike quickly retells it to be more horrific. The real highlight here: the FX work, which caught me off guard since one of the witches sports some terrible dental work. But then the Dead Witch Resurrection happened and there is some visceral reverse photography going on there, with her body slowly returning to live like Uncle Frank in Hellraiser (1987).

Next up, a howling retelling of the old “Little Red Riding Hood” tale, this version featuring a sexy runner in red and her would-be suitor with a serious need for some specific medication. Willie (Matt Mitler) spends a lot of time at his local pharmacy, in constant need of his pills. On a trip there he makes chit chat with Rachel (Nicole Picard), an attractive brunette in line. Due to a mishap by the pharmacist, Willie winds up with medication intended for the Rachel’s grandmother (Fran Lopate) while old granny winds up with his. This would normally be nothing more than an accidental mix-up but Willie really needs those pills. After threatening the pharmacist he gets the address for Rachel’s grammy and hoofs it over there, just in time to be greeted by a full moon… unleashing his inner beast.

The first story is closer to actual horror while the third is played totally humorous, and this falls somewhere in the middle – oddly fitting, given the next story is based upon “Goldilocks and the Three Bears”. The acting here – and, really, overall – can leave plenty to be desired. At the very least some of it, like Grandma, is so awful it transcends bad and becomes unintentional hilarity. It doesn’t help that she looks like Adam Sandler on “SNL”, back when he used to don a wig and pretend to be an old Jewish grandmother. Once again, the real highlight here is the FX work. The wolfman makeup is well done, with bladders and facial appliances giving the longer-than-expected transformation sequence a sense of spectacle.

Finally, the film deflates on a low note, ending on a rework of “Goldilocks and the Three Bears”, or in this case Baers. The Baer crime family, to be exact, consisting of Judith “Mama” Baer (Melissa Leo), “Papa” Baer (Kevin Hannon), and “Baby” Baer (Timothy Rule). After Mama helps bust her boys out of the clink, they go head to an old cabin in the woods to lay low. Unbeknownst to them, Goldi Lox (Cathryn de Prume) has taken over the cabin and filled it with dead bodies. Yep, Goldi is a certified nutjob who likes to mutilate all the cute boys. When the Baers show up instead of a bloody showdown they wind up welcoming the cute blonde into their family with open arms. Did I forget to mention Goldi is also telekinetic? Nothing about this segment works at all, and it has virtually no horror elements aside from Goldi’s affinity for killing young men which is only seen once.

At least the film itself ends on a slightly higher note, with a nice zinger coming little Brian’s way once Uncle Mike has tired of speaking. The stories might not hold up to any sort of scrutiny due to some clearly poor writing but the atmosphere has a fun, low-budget, “crank it out with your buddies on free weekends” vibe – and that feeling is comforting and infectious.

The 1.85:1 1080p picture is impressively strong, especially when the micro-budget and passage of time are both taken into account. The image is clear and free from major dirt and debris. Definition and fine image details are often sharp and well defined. Colors are natural and vibrant. Film grain does occasionally spike up during darker scenes but overall it adds a nice filmic touch. Black levels appear suitably dark and rarely hazy.

The English DTS-HD MA 2.0 mono track is a little workhorse that gets the job done. The opening theme song is all kinds of ‘80s awesomeness, especially paired with the inventive credits. The score itself sounds excellent as composer Larry Juris rifles through different sounds to score each segment distinctly. Dialogue comes through loud and clear, no hissing or dropouts. Subtitles are available in English.

Co-writer and director Jeffrey Delman provides the audio commentary. Tracks like this are usually a highly informative lesson if you want to know the ins and outs of low-budget moviemaking.

“I Like the Grotesque: A Conversation with Co-Writer and Director Jef Delman”- This is a fun and breezy chat with Delman, who is a true dyed-in-the-wool horror fan.

“A Band of Gypsies: The Making of Deadtime Stories” – Members of the film’s cast and crew sit down to cover a few of the usual topics related to making a movie.

“The Black Forest” is an alternate version of the first segment, almost more like a short film.

A couple of deleted scenes, two theatrical trailers, and a photo gallery are also included.

Special Features:

  • NEW High-Definition Transfer From the Original Negative
  • NEW Audio Commentary with co-writer/director Jef Delman
  • NEW I Like the Grotesque – an interview with co-writer/director Jef Delman
  • NEW interviews with and actors Cathryn de Prume, Melissa Leo and Scott Valentine
  • The Black Forest – an alternate cut of the first story
  • Deleted Scenes
  • Theatrical Trailers
  • Still Gallery


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Anthony Arrigo

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