Anthology horror series often work as a paradox - the tone changes throughout, making it always an uneven work of art, but if a feature is terrible, you can rest assured that something better lays ahead.
The Field Guide To Evil (from the minds behind the ABC’s of Death) varies wildly in quality and competence, with all stories reflecting on a folkloric myth or theme that differs from country to country. Most of the tales are devoid of dialogue, which works well in the folkloric tradition - the forebear of the horror genre, a genre that works more on primal urges, our hidden psyches and most universal fears, easy to package into a story of morals, whilst also speaking to our sense of horror as exercise in storytelling.
Austria’s Veronica Franz (Goodnight Mommy) opens the anthology with a compellingly strong start. A fairytale-esque vision of Europe long ago, virtuous maidens in dirndls in an isolated forest, absent from any men, struck by lust, which happens to signal the appearance of “Die Trud” - Pennywise the clown after having his mouth shot off. The short satirises the punishment of the sexually active female with folklore but with a defiant strong lead, hellbent on willing the monster to come so that she may defeat him (via a scene of aggressive masturbation that recalls The Exorcist and that crucifix).
Ashim Ahluwalia’s segment, Palace of Horrors, is a beautifully drugged, black and white shop of horrors, shot like a documentary of a prince and his lair of monstrous curiosities from the 1930s. Some pieces do not work quite so well. Agnieszka Smoczynska’s (The Lure) ice-kingdom Labyrinth-esque evoking Angela Carter, but being ultimately too confusing to follow.
Soon, we are led to ultimate farce in a feature called The Melonheads (Calvin Reeder), a bizarre amalgamation of Coneheads and Children of the Corn, and then a baffling and incoherent tale of an abused goblin in Vangelis Mourikis’ Whatever Happened to Panagas, the Pagan?
The highlight of the entire ordeal is Peter Strickland’s homage to silent movies, German Expressionism and British Gothic horror, evoking the stylised ‘70s aesthetics of films such as Blood and Black Lace, The Whip and the Body, Vincent Price movies, and the hallucinatory and kaleidoscopic visuals of Giallo and avant-garde cinema. In The Cobbler's Lot, he tells the tale of twins - both doppelgängers of Cesar from The Cabinet of Dr Caligari - vying for the affection of the rich princess. Strickland uses the fairytale setting to create something mystical and familiar at the same time, while also seeming like a history of cinema, as well as folkloric traditions.
Overall, the feature - like most anthologies - is overly long, with only a few stories working coherently, but elicits a cosy, Tales from the Crypt fireplace feel.
FIELD GUIDE TO EVIL / DIRECTOR: VARIOUS / SCREENPLAY: VARIOUS / STARRING: JILON VANOVER, BIRGIT MINICHMAYR, SARAH NAVRATIL / CERT: TBC / RELEASE DATE: TBC