A crazed lunatic kidnaps a man and his family whilst out on a road trip. After he wakes up, the lunatic regales him with three horror stories in the anthology film Terror Tales.
The anthology concept is certainly not a new idea, with recent examples like cult hit V/H/S and its sequels, but it can be highly effective when done right. Terror Tales unfortunately fails to hit the mark, possibly down to the high workload taken on by solo director Jimmy Lee Combs. With previous anthologies, multiple directors have come together in collaborative efforts which see a multitude of styles converging to create something unique, whereas this particular film sadly feels like a repetitive chore at times. Although commitment is clearly on display, a mixture of lacklustre storytelling, questionable sound and visual effects and, at times, over the top or uninspired delivery of dialogue leaves the whole experience feeling empty.
The overarching story, as is the norm in anthology tales, is fairly basic at best. Our antagonist known as The Drive (portrayed by Christopher Showerman) is - by a great amount - the most positive aspect. His performance is the right level of powerful, crazy and insane that you would expect from an individual that would commit the kind of crime that he does. However, the reasoning behind him telling the stories that transpire feels somewhat lukewarm. As far as the stories go, let’s break them down one by one...
By Proxy is the story of acclaimed author Susan McKay (Lynn Lowry) who, after the birth of her son, struggles to recapture her writing talent and slowly spirals downhill. After her son commits suicide after suffering from recurring illnesses, she herself is killed by a stranger and begins to go on a journey of self discovery. She is soon visited by one of her creations, the “Ink Monster”, and sees her life from a different perspective. Out of our three tales, this is probably the most inventive (taking ideas from a reassuring story like A Christmas Carol and spinning it on its head by adding horror elements), but it unfortunately suffers from being far too elongated in its message and contains some of the most jarring acting in recent memory. There is a clear lack of chemistry between Susan and her husband, and the best performance comes from Susan's spirit guide (Matt Block), who also looks great due to the solid blend of practical prosthetics and minimal CGI.
The second story, Radical Video, is by far the best portion of the film. Set in the 80s and coated from head to toe in nostalgia from the soundtrack to the clothing, this tale follows a detective who is investigating a string of murders that seem to be connected to a video rental store. This short film takes a lot from classic 80s slashers/serial killer stories while also reminding viewers about the form of physical media that died many moons ago. The standout performance comes from Miranda Byers who plays video rental store co-owner Tiffany. Byers utterly steals the show and nails the vintage lingo of the era. Maybe Combes should take this idea and create a feature length version of this story in the future, as it would make for a much more entertaining film.
The final tale, Epidemic, is most definitely the most tedious one to sit through. A priest must face his worst fears as his wife and everyone he loves start to become possessed by the devil. It’s a highly unoriginal concept, and drags on far too long with wooden acting and ludicrous dialogue. As with anything that touches upon religious aspects, one may presume that, depending on the audience, this particular one may not be to everyone's taste.
At the end of the day, the film clocks in at a whopping two hours, and you can clearly see why a vast majority of this feels more of a chore rather than an enjoyable and unique experience. It is clear that Combes had some terrific ideas in mind and some of them - particularly those in Radical Video - are successful, but one feels like this was too much of a mountain of a task to undertake with the budget and equipment at his disposal.
TERROR TALES / CERT: UNRATED / DIRECTOR & SCREENPLAY: JIMMY LEE COMBS / STARRING: JENNIFER RUNYON, FELISSA ROSE, LAURENE LANDON / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW