Horror anthologies are this reviewer’s cup of tea. There’s just something about a number of good, short tales that get in, get out, then on to another. The formula used to be a wraparound bookending five or so tales of terror, perhaps best exemplified in Romero and King’s Creepshow. Newer anthologies have tweaked the tried a true a bit. V/H/S used the Creepshow template but interspersed the wraparound throughout the film and used the beyond-tired-at-this-point conceit of found footage. The recent Southbound attempted to interweave its five tales to less than satisfying results. The ABCs of Death (and it’s far superior sequel) united wildly disparate tales under the umbrella of the letters of the alphabet.
The Horror Network is slightly different still. It’s a collection of five short films from different directors, curated by Douglas Connor and Brian Dorton. That’s it. No wraparound, no gimmicks – just five stories presented sequentially that escalate from the mildly scary to the truly transgressive and horrific.
The first tale “3 AM” is a somewhat standard tale of the supernatural showcasing a young mother alone in a house with spooky shit occuring. It’s not highly original, but it is effective due to accomplished use of sound design which makes for a decidedly tense atmosphere. The second tale, “Edward”, is the weakest of the bunch. It’s meant to be a discourse on the nature of good and evil, but it’s marred by some seriously spotty acting. The dénouement, however, implies but doesn’t show something truly horrific which sets the table nicely for the nefariousness to come.
And when The Horror Network gets good, it really gets good. While the first two tales deliver an effective spook or two, they’re staid and safe compared to the abject depravity to come. Perhaps the filmmakers wanted to lull the viewers into a false sense of security before ripping their respective souls asunder with some truly hard horror.
The third tale, “The Quiet”, is a perfect buffer between the film’s first and latter halves in that it starts relatively safe but tightens like a tourniquet before shocking the viewer out of any complacency with a dark and disturbing coda.
And then the lights truly go out, for the last two films are only for those with an affinity for the more extreme stripe of horror, featuring disturbing images that will discombobulate the senses and ensure that your next bit of REM respite will not be a comfortable one. These are films that make you think “I can’t f’ing believe they’re going there!” But go there they do.
“Merry Little Christmas” is a Spanish entry which details the psychological scars that a horrifically abusive father has inflicted on mother and daughter. This is heavy, real-world scary stuff. Taboos are sloughed aside like the wrapping on an opened present in this decidedly non-festive entry. The directors, Ignacio Martín Lerma and Manuel Merin, combine surreal imagery and camera angles with shocking scenes of depravity which suggest an unholy mating of Luis Buñuel and Srdjan Spasojevic in a masterful gut punch of debauchery.
And then we get to “The Deviant One”, the most perturbing and powerful of the bunch. Presented in stark B&W, Brian Dorton’s examination of religious interpretation gone terribly wrong is all the more effective for eschewing dialogue in favor of inserts of biblical verse which alternately comment on and condemn the events depicted. (For an interesting point of comparison, an extended version with dialogue is offered as a DVD extra.) This is Jörg Buttgereit territory, both in its artfulness and it’s capacity to shock and deeply disturb. Audacious, bravura horror at its finest.
While the last two segments of The Horror Network are easily 4 and 5 star, the earlier, weaker segments do bring down the aggregate somewhat. Nonetheless, The Horror Network is a definite must see (albeit, only for those with the constitution to do so). Another stellar offering from Wild Eye Releasing.
***1/2 (out of five)