Reviewed by Evil Andy
Starring Henry Gibson, Dick Miller, Richard Ian Cox, John Saxon, Lara Harris
Directed by Sean S. Cunningham, John Gaeta, Monte Hellman, Ken Russell, Joe Dante
Take the guys who collectively made The Howling, Altered States, Friday the 13th, and The Terror and the guy who invented bullet time, let them each direct a segment in an anthology horror flick written by a living library of film who spent thirteen years programming at the American Cinematheque, and you’re bound to end up with something worth watching. Trapped Ashes is the result, and while it doesn’t reinvent the genre, it is an admirable entry in the pantheon of anthology horror, worthy of sitting beside the likes of Creepshow, Two Evil Eyes, Trilogy of Terror and Twilight Zone: The Movie.
Joe Dante directs the wraparound segment tying together each of the other four stories. In it, a diverse group of tourists visiting an aging Hollywood studio get stuck in a haunted house set and have to tell horror stories in order to escape. The premise is classic Dante goofiness and gives him a chance to showcase legendary character actors like Henry Gibson, Dick Miller and the still ass-kicking John Saxon. Unfortunately Dante isn’t given a lot to work with since the EC Comics punch lines to his segment (which the title gives away already) are the weakest part of the film.
In Ken Russell’s segment we’re introduced to a ditzy blond who thinks she’s missing out on stardom due to her less than hefty bosom. She decides to give her career a lift by getting implants, and ends up with tits that have a mind, and more distressingly, mandibles, of their own. I strongly suggest that if you are a straight male, a lesbian female, or a breast feeding infant that you avert your eyes during this chapter, lest visuals from this episode sour future breast encounters. Trust me, you don’t want these suckers to “pop-in” the next time you’re searching for material.
Next up is Sean S. Cunningham, a guy that hasn’t directed squat since Friday the 13th. His section tells the story of a couple who travels to Japan to stabilize their shaky relationship. Before you can yell “Bonzai!”, the ghost of a local monk has seduced the wife and her husband has to travel to the depths of Buddhist hell to rescue her. The finale is a cool mix of anime and makeup effects. Assuming Cunningham didn’t just fob the directing of these segments off to the animation and effects houses, he’s to be commended. His story is the most straightforward horror of the bunch, but in terms of visuals and setting, it’s the most unique.
Monte Hellman, another guy who hasn’t directed much in the last decade or two was tapped to direct the John Saxon episode. Yes, you heard right, the John Saxon episode. I said it earlier, but it bears repeating; John Saxon is 72 years old, but I’d wager he could still kick your ass. Unfortunately, much of the episode deals with a young Saxon in love (played by “Battlestar Galactica”’s Tahmoh Penikett), so more hearts than faces get broken. It’s a quaint little tale, but ultimately the snoozer of the bunch.
The last and arguably the best segment is helmed by John Gaeta, the visual effects supervisor on the Matrix trilogy. This is Gaeta’s first time in the directors chair and if he had something to prove, I’d say he’s done it. His episode is the strangest, but eerily enough, actually has a basis in reality. Screenwriter, Dennis Bartok apparently knew a girl whose mother had a tapeworm when she got pregnant. Since the treatment at the time was known to cause spontaneous abortions, the only choice was to let the baby and the tapeworm grow together. Under Gaeta’s direction we get to see the effects of having a parasitic twin via some psychedelic in-vitro shots that show the fetus in a Herculean grapple with its serpentine sibling. Needless to say, the offspring of such a pregnancy doesn’t have a normal childhood.
All in all Trapped Ashes will appeal to anyone that likes anthology horror and understands its pitfalls. Does it feel like watching a TV show sometimes? Sure does. Do the segments end rather abruptly? Yep. Do we lack any connection to the characters, and are they all just “types”? Definitely. Then again, you get five stories for the price of one, and popcorn/bathroom breaks are built in. Trapped Ashes is easily as good as Creepshow II, and given its repeatable premise and fun host, is worthy of a TV adaptation ala ‘Tales from the Crypt”.
3 out of 5
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