Horrorshow (2008)


Reviewed by Johnny Butane

Starring Axelle Carolyn, Roger Robinson, Louis Raynes, Rachel Mitchem, David W Hall, Zoe Grisedale, Tom Hare

Directed by Ben Robinson, Ben Steiner, Sophie Cowles, David W. Hall & Giles Edwards

Where have all the good anthology films gone? There was a time you couldn’t spit without hitting at least one good one in this genre, but now it seems like anytime they’re made, they’re just safe, boring retreads of what’s come before.

A bunch of Brits with the same viewpoint got together and decided to make their own anthology film, but instead of overstaying their welcome, another typical problem with the recent anthology output, they decided to each make a short film (none is any longer than 6 minutes) about whatever the hell they wanted and see what kind of reaction it’d get. And thus Horrorshow was created.

The wrap-around segments feature Alien Prey/Horror Planet director and 70’s horror legend Norman J. Warren as the owner of his own private theater who likes to watch sickening displays of humanity at its worst to soothe himself. These segments are by far the cheesiest of the entire show, but it’s forgivable because you know from the get-go that was their intention. And Warren hamming it up lends some humor to what is overall a pretty bleak collection of short form horror.

“Neon Killer” is our first entry, the tale of a veteran cop on his last day discussing the identity of the titular serial killer with his partner. The two of them chased this psycho for years, but neither could’ve guessed his true identity until it was far too late. Through flashbacks we see some of the Killer’s handiwork, the first glimpse of practical effects that belie the collection’s meager budget.

I dug this one a lot; director Ben Robinson does a great job giving the whole thing a disjointed 70’s/80’s feel through his filmmaking techniques, not to mention just-barely-off dubbing so you get the feeling the actors may have just been saying their lines phonetically with the intention of dubbing in post, a common practice in Italian horror films of that era. This segment features the lovely Axelle Carolyn on the receiving end of shocking death and CG used to great effect.

On to “The Flea”, which opens with a scene that will undoubtedly grab your attention. A woman is out in the park with her baby, and when she looks away for a second to light up a cigarette, a masked madman approaches the baby’s carriage and proceeds to try putting a stake through the infant’s heart. It’s an implied staking, of course, but shows just what lengths this particular vampire killer will go to in order to do what he thinks is right.

We soon find out this fearless vampire killer used to have a partner who wanted out of the vampire killing business when he started to suspect that maybe there weren’t any real vampires to begin with. When his former partner shows up at his front door, though, they both find out the grisly truth.

I liked director Ben Steiner’s entry not just because it had some shocking moments in it, but it told a better vampire story in 6 minutes than most films can squeeze into 90. And really, I don’t think I’ve heard of this kind of vampire hunter, one who targets children rather than adults, so some points have to be given for originality.

Next up is the shortest entry, Sophie Cowles’ “Smile”. Essentially we have a super bitch on the phone with her friend, explaining how badly her break-up with her most recent boyfriend went, especially when he started blubbering and telling her he’d do anything to see her smile again. She laughs at his weakness and lack of spine, but of course but she’ll get what’s coming to her, and he’ll get his wish to see her smile again. “Smile” is a quick but effective morality tale that’s sure to give anyone who’s suffered through a broken heart some grim satisfaction.

David W. Hall then steps in for “The Initiation”, which at the end of the day teaches a very valuable lesson: Never get involved with a woman whose family lives in the middle of nowhere and insists on meeting their offspring’s mate through a process referred to as an “initiation”. It’ll only end in tears.

Well, in this case it ends in a man, thought to be pure and chaste, being eviscerated and feasted upon before his killers realize the error of their ways. Definitely the most gore-soaked of the entries, “The Initiation” is also one of the most fun, telling a very “Tales From the Crypt”-esque story mixed with a modern love of over-the-top gore.

Finally we come to Giles Edwards’ “The Incursion”, the story of a simple burglary gone horribly wrong … for the would-be thief, of course. It starts off with a cryptic phone call being made by a killer who, while seemingly feeling some shame for what he’s done, has no remorse at all and looks forward to the next one.

Then we follow the aforementioned burglar who, when the killer finds him, is beaten, stabbed and garroted before being tossed in a basement with the rest of this killer’s slowly growing collection of victims. Of course the killer’s true identity is the biggest surprise of the short, and may just illicit a laugh or two when it’s revealed, but the overall grim tone of “The Incursion” will wipe the smile off your face pretty quickly.

In terms of style “The Incursion” is up there with “Neon Killer”; not that the two are very similar, but they’re the two in which the directors showed the most desire to work with camera angles and lighting to give their entry a feel reminiscent of the heydays of horror.

Horrorshow does a great job showcasing the talents of up and coming directors; indeed everyone who helmed a piece in this anthology showed some great promise for doing good in our genre, so I hope this isn’t the last we hear from any of them, and I really hope there are more Horrorshows down the road. The concept of anthologizing short films isn’t a new one, but rarely have I seen it done so well as it was here.

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4 out of 5

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