The Forces of Horror Anthology: Volume I (2017)

Forces of HorrorIt wasn’t that long ago that horror anthology films were far less common than they are today. They never went away entirely of course but once the 90s rolled around they were pretty much relegated to cheap, straight-to-video cash grabs, most of which have been deservedly forgotten. That all changed with the success of modern anthology horror like Trick ‘r Treat and The ABCs of Death which revitalized a subsection of films that seemed destined for irrelevancy. As someone who is a big fan of anthology films, I couldn’t be happier with the unprecedented quality and abundance of these films today. Of course not all films are created equal and today we’ll see if The Forces of Horror Anthology feels more like a product of the modern anthology renaissance or a throwback to the dark days of the ’90s.

As so many anthology films do, TFoHA uses a wrap-around story as a framing devices for the shorts contained within. In this case, it centers around a 7th grade girl named Libby (Gracie Whitton) meeting with her therapist Dr. Svengali (Lance Eakright). The short films themselves consist of the four disturbing dreams that she discusses with him throughout the session.

Putting aside, for the moment, any discussion of the actual quality of the writing or acting, the first issue I need to address here is the film’s length. Clocking in at the incredibly awkward fifty-six minutes, this can neither be considered a short nor a feature, which tends to add an unnecessary level of additional difficulty when trying to distribute a film. Honestly, at this point writer/director Roger Sampson would be better off shooting additional footage to expand it to feature length or even chopping it down to short film levels of under thirty minutes. As it is, it doesn’t feel like there’s enough there to be satisfying as a feature but is still too long to pick up and watch as a short.

I wish I could say that the length of this film was the only significant issue here but unfortunately that’s just not the case. I wouldn’t say the acting is bad but as so often happens with indie films this one is yet another example of “everybody’s trying but nobody’s killing it”. TFoHA isn’t exactly killing it in terms of cinematography either, as the flat lighting and static camera give the film a look that’s more ’90s than modern day. Given that the core of the story is focused on dreams themselves, it would have been nice to see Sampson apply a bit more experimentation and creativity to the visual style, especially during the dream segments. This would have also helped to juxtapose them with the visually stark office of the therapist.

On a positive note, this film does get some important things right. I was initially skeptical about the seemingly low-stakes concept of having all the central action being confined to a series of dreams but the wrap-around story actually ties them in in a way that justifies the concept. The effects here are clearly DIY but solid overall and result in some nice use of blood and severed body parts.

In any anthology there is bound to be a range of quality and this one is certainly no exception. The first dream may start out a bit slow but builds to the best and most horrific ending of the four. The second dream, involving zombie parents, is the weakest of the group while the fourth, featuring a man and young girl whose car breaks down, is merely adequate. However, the third segment does utilize the concept of a little girl being terrorized by a monster in her room to create the most effectively ominous and creepy moments of the entire film. So, while it may not exactly be The Theatre Bizarre or V/H/S it’s not Snoop Dogg’s Hood of Horror either, and there’s something to be said for that.


Three Tears on Bloodstained Flesh (2014)

Three TearsIt takes an unbelievable amount of work to make a feature length film and of course the longer your film, the more work it requires. This is why it’s unusual to see films venture past the standard ninety to a hundred five minute window, and downright rare for scrappy indie productions to attempt it. But this is exactly what writer/director (Jakob Bilinski) did with his ambitious and, uh, interestingly titled Three Tears on Bloodstained Flesh. Now, ambition is good, but it’s only half the battle so the real question here is, “how well does he pull it off?”

When a young woman named Lexie (Sidney Shripka) is murdered near her small town home, her last act is to get a letter out to her uncle Dominic (Bill Gobin) asking him for help. Now Dominic, with his unwilling teen daughter in tow, must return to the place he thought he’d left for good and figure out the truth about what happened to Lexie.

The title seems intended to evoke the idea of this as a kind of American giallo. However, this doesn’t so much read authentic giallo to me as just “revenge thriller with a dusting of horror.” Still one thing that’s apparent right from the beginning is that this film has a real visual flair. Some scenes feature quick cuts and use handheld to great effect to give a stylish and authentic sense of movement. Other times the scenes are appropriately stoic and carefully framed but throughout, the film maintains a rich quality image with excellent and inventive use of color.

I also appreciate that this film doesn’t shy away from violence and a couple of scenes in particular that feature graphic disembowelment and fingernail torture stand out as delightfully grotesque. However, for a film so willing to go all in on the blood, it remains perplexingly chaste about the nudity. Despite featuring multiple sex scenes and spending a significant amount of time in a strip club, TToBF never quite manages to get up the courage to bare any flesh, bloodstained or otherwise.

Of course, the amount of nudity in a film is a minor factor, but length and pacing on the other hand are major ones. While there are certainly a lot of positive aspects to this film, the most significant issue it bumps up against is the runtime. Clocking in at a staggering two hours and twenty minutes (!) this is one film that is absolutely begging for an aggressive re-cut. The story itself is interesting and enjoyable to watch unfold, which is why it’s frustrating to see it weighed down by an excessive amount of scenes that are redundant and/or don’t advance the plot in a meaningful way.

Gobin puts in a solid effort as the lead but just isn’t quite able to get to the point of coming across as a genuine character rather than an actor going through the motions. This makes the multiple scenes of emotional torment that Dominic goes through feel more like a chore than a journey and I wish that Bilinski had taken a leaner, subtler approach and trusted the audience more to connect to the story without being led by the hand. In general though, a lot of solid casting choices and Jim Dougherty’s portrayal of the abrasive small town sheriff stands out as a highlight.

Overall, certainly a film worth watching and viewers who do take the journey will be treated to a great visual experience with some satisfying, brutal kills. This is a solid movie with an even better movie buried inside, just waiting to shed it’s fat and come out.


The Hallow (2015)

HallowCreating a film that inspires a genuine sense of dread and tension, with a small cast and limited locations, is no easy task. There is no sure-fire recipe for success with this, but there are two components that are required if a film is to have even a remote chance of working. The first is a genuine sense of realism, regardless of how fanciful the story, and the second is characters you can truly connect to as human beings so you are invested in their struggle. It sounds simple yet it’s amazing how rarely it’s pulled off effectively. So, does director Corin Hardy (great name btw) manage to succeed with his Irish folktale inspired film, The Hallow? Well, let’s discuss.

The film centers around Adam (Joseph Mawle) a British scientist whose work with plant and fungal life requires him to move to a remote Irish village along with his wife Clare (Bojana Novakovic) and their baby son. Adam is initially dismissive of the locals’ warnings about the supernatural presence inhabiting the woods near their house, but before long finds himself and his family in a fight for survival with malevolent forces they can scarcely comprehend.

Right from the opening shots, this film does an excellent job transporting the viewer into the world of the story, through the gorgeous cinematography that showcases the emerald forest of Ireland in exquisite detail. As I previously mentioned, realism is an essential part of immersing the viewer in the experience and the rich, detailed image quality found in every shot is largely responsible for the excellent sense of realism that Hardy brings to the project. Of course, a quality image is only one piece of the puzzle but luckily the entire cast, down to the smallest role, is able to deliver top-notch performances that keep the viewer thoroughly engaged in the story as it unfolds.

Since the film itself is built on such a strong foundation, the scares have far more impact and I felt myself genuinely invested in the horrific ordeal the characters were facing. I am a firm believer that practical effects should be utilized over CGI whenever possible and this film is a shining example of how well that can work. Because of this, the creatures have a tangible, living quality to them that is far more menacing than the cartoony CGI abominations that pollute so many other films.

On top of all these other important attributes, this film has the most important of all, a tight, well-paced script that will keep you engaged and entertained throughout and makes you care about the characters without resorting to cheap, melodramatic dialogue. Overall, a great film that hits all the marks and will make you think twice the next time you want to take a walk in the woods.