DVD Review: George A. Romero's DEADTIME STORIES VOL. 1

It’s a depressing exercise in how not to make horror, or any indeed any film…ever. Put your wallet away, your money would be better spent on socks than this tripe.

Oh dear, where do I begin? George A. Romero is something of an idol of mine. I€™ve always been mesmerized with his early zombie movies (you know the ones I mean), so my ears picked up immediately when I found out I€™d be reviewing this new DVD release. Suspecting an Internet slating, I purposely remained ignorant of the general online consensus until after my first viewing in the name of impartiality (and my own attempts to preserve the nugget of hope I had that it€™d be good). After all Romero€™s involved and the man has earned the benefit of the doubt in my eyes. The proof is in the pudding as they say. Deadtime Stories is an anthology of horror episodes, much in the vein of Romero€™s own Creepshow (1982). Romero himself introduces each story in turn as well as providing a general thread through which the stories are joined together. He seems to angle towards an eerily disjointed delivery of the weird, corny intro/outro monologues, but in truth he just comes across as confused, meandering. It seems he also footed at least some of the bill too, as he€™s attached as Exec Producer. The first of the three stories, Valley of Shadow (directed by the overall writer Jeff Monahan), follows a team of seemingly unrelated explorers, searching a supposed foreign jungle, for something that€™s never specified. The group is led by Janet Weaver (Carla Bianco), who we learn very little of other than the fact that she€™s looking for her husband; he went missing previously in their area of expedition, as explained by some truly inane flashbacks. And Jesus, I€™m boring myself writing about it. There€™s just no discernable story, tone or style to this whatsoever and when the crew start getting mysteriously picked off by the angry natives, it€™s hard to muster even derisory glee. The actors are terrible, like drama school dropout bad, and their performances (or the shoddy script, or both) belie the drama of the characters and instead deliver€well, nothing. It goes from bad to worse though, and the final twist - if you can call it that - is just idiotic, and most certainly not in a good way. Wet is a little better but it€™s still way sub-par in terms of an actual funded production, even on a shoestring budget. We follow Jack, an alcoholic beachcomber played by Monahan (in fact the whole thing seems like his vanity project) as he pursues the dismembered corpse of a mermaid, despite warnings of €˜paying the ultimate price€™. One of the running issues with Deadtime Stories Vol. 1 in its entirety is its amateurish production value and an instance in this particular episode illustrates this perfectly: at one point during the supposedly chilling warning scene, I heard what sounded like a phantom car pulling away in the back of the sound mix. It€™s hard to believe that this bungle got past the amount of people that it did- the importance of effective sound is taught in Film Studies 101 within the first week. At its core, Wet has a vaguely interesting premise but it€™s executed poorly at almost every other level, suffering from the same lack of tone or any attempt at visual style as the first debacle. The third offering, Housecall is by far Deadtime Stories€™ stand-out episode, although in itself that says very little. Directed by visual effects guru Tom Savini, Housecall has a distinctly punchier flow and boasts at least some semblance of a story. That€™s not to say it€™s particularly any good either though. It€™s a period piece, set presumably some time pre 1920€™s, about a doctor€™s house call on a hysterical woman who fears her son is sick. Not all is what it seems though, and she reveals her son€™s blood thirsty side through a series of flashbacks. Again, it€™s an interesting enough premise, but like much of the rest on offer here, it€™s all set up and no pay off. The awkward, crime reconstruction-like flashbacks get old fast, doubly so thanks to the droning expository monologue of the frightened mother. Yes it€™s clearly the best on offer, but only within the rigid confines of this DVD. You€™d only need to move your eyes an inch across a DVD rack to find something infinitely better. When they made these episodes for Deadtime Stories Vol .1, they threw the rulebook out of the window. Not in that exciting, innovative way, like the Coen Bros., but in a way that casts doubt on whether or not they bothered to read it in the first place. The first two episodes are actually worse than something guffed out of a children€™s horror show like Are You Afraid of the Dark or Goosebumps. The third short is admittedly better, being the only one with any sort of tone or visual style, but it never really has a chance to fly (due to Monahan€™s script I suspect); it€™s like that one semi-decent metal band on at a college gig in a working men€™s club. Don€™t be fooled by the ghoul master€™s name on the tin, Deadtime Stories Vol. 1 will only disappoint. With its mainly terrible cinematography, poor direction, film student editing and wafer thin characters, it fails to pop at every available level. It€™s not that tongue in cheek, low budget horror that you might think it is, it hasn€™t a tenth of the charm. It€™s simply an exercise in how to baffle and bore an audience. Film: 1/5 I€™m not going to sugarcoat it, it€™s terrible. Episodes one and two are lacking any sort of technical or artistic film-making prowess whatsoever; they€™re an orgy of nasty editing, sound errors, continuity goofs and plot holes. With only the third episode attempting anything in the way of actual story-telling (and never really getting hold of it), Deadtime Stories Vol .1 is a huge waste of your time and money. Presentation: 2/5 The box is interesting enough (if not a little misleading), but the menu looks as banal as the stories it presents. It€™s just a still image with some options typed in Courier New font. It€™s flat, unimaginative and overall, uninteresting. Extras: 0/5 There€™s nothing here except scene selection. I€™m sure someone€™s selling these DVD€™s out of a garage. Overall: 1/5 Deadtime Stories Vol .1 is so badly made in general, that I can€™t actually believe someone threw money at it, and continues to do so. It€™s a depressing exercise in how not to make horror, or any indeed any film€ever. Put your wallet away, your money would be better spent on socks than this tripe. George A. Romero's Deadtime Stories Vol. 1 is out today on DVD. WhatCulture's 31 Days of Horror 2, a month dedicated to the horror genre in the run-up to Halloween has begun. Check out our articles so far here; Mr Fear€™s Games You Can€™t Play Alone #1: PROJECT ZERO II: CRIMSON BUTTERFLYSHARK NIGHT 3D Review: A Toothless Mess Of A Film12 Most Over-Used Horror Clichés
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