From the demented minds of Brian Dorton and Douglas Conner, “The Horror Network” anthology has set sail on it’s first volume maiden voyage, shipping five petrifying and on the edge of your seat horror shorts right to your television set. Stories so darkly atmospheric and spine tingling that leaving the lights off while watching would be a horrible mistake. Each tale tells a different kind evil including demented demons, child stalking predators, family abusers, and a sadistic plaster saint. Certainly not intended for the faint of heart or the easily offended for each episode turns up the intensity, the fear, and the scares. Leave the lights on, take a blanket to hide under, and make sure you grab a couch partner to watch with you and then ask yourself, are you ready to tune into “The Horror Network?”
A young woman named Georgia drives through the English countryside to get away for a few days. When she arrives at her remote farm house, a strange sense of foreboding overcomes her and weird, sporadic noises emit from all around her throughout the day and into the night. When the digital clock nearly reaches 3:00 A.M., she hears a concerning noise from downstairs and when she investigates, a ghostly presence lies in wait.
Before the anthology’s credits even begin to roll, the Lee Mathews directed film “3:00 A.M.” will for damn sure kickstart anybody’s heart. The atmosphere is violently tense when Georgia explores the strange occurrences downstairs and even before the night falls. Initially, the main focus kind of misguides you through much of, what were led to believe to be is, Georgia’s imagination from the one after the other false jump scares: a branch scratching at a window, a cat jumping out of the shadows, a jack in a box toy. Okay, maybe that last one is a bit obvious and not so much a surprising jump scare, but the toy does tie into the story near the end, giving the toy a reason to exist and a hint of menacing. Many of the jump scares are accompanied by screeching sound effects, like fingernails across a chalkboard, which would make any poor soul, who fears the dark and supernatural, jump out of their skin.
“3:00 A.M.” is a good introductory 10 minute short that sets the tone for the four other films in tow; a tone with a subtle message that insinuates the maturity of this anthology. Despite being a little redundant with the classical jump scares, especially with the cheesy jack in the box jump scare that could be seen coming from miles away, for director Lee Mathews, with “3:00 A.M.” being the only credit to his name, creating a nail biting short of that magnitude is fairly impressive and inviting.
Hal has mental problems. He can’t sleep. He can’t stop sleepwalking. He can’t seem to stop dreaming about death. Psychiatrist Dr. Aleksey is determined to root out Hal’s issues, but when Hal informs him about the news of a school friend named Alice being murdered, the good doctor decides to put Hal under hypnosis and determine just what’s going on in Hal’s mind. Under the semiconscious state, Hal recounts his last dream and sleepwalking incident where he describes in detail a man coming into his room from outside his window. The man has Hal follow him into Alice’s room, the same Alice Hal said was brutally murdered prior to going under hypnosis. When Dr. Aleksey discovers the truth about what happened to Alice, Hal’s hidden inner demon named Edward reveals himself, leaving Dr. Aleksey at wits end in trying to cure the incurably evil.
“Edward” is a gothic tale that isn’t too overly gothic in setting onscreen. The ominous presence, whether through the acting of Hal played eerily and perfectly by Nick Frangione or the chilling atmosphere, remains always present in the confined space of Dr. Aleksey’s office. The “Edward” short is a stray genre short from director Joseph Graham, a San Francisco based director who has been credited in directing feature films about homosexuality and the cultural-based stigmas – reminds me a little of the work helmed by Gus Van Sant. Graham’s “Edward” has an pitch black aura that seeks to let loose the horror-elements, yearning to be freed, because everything about the story of “Edward” is well told and well shot, as if you yourself were standing in the room with Hal and Dr. Aleksey, experiencing the fate of both men. However, Dr. Aleksey’s fate could have, and probably should have, contained more exposition, especially when the doctor arrives back home to his wife and sleeping child.
Alice, a partially deaf young school girl who particularly loves the quiet instead of using her hearing aid which eventually to taking the brunt of the cruel jokes from her classmates, rides the bus home from school. When she’s being dropped off at her remote stop, she forgets her cellphone on the bus. With her mother no where in sight, Alice decides to walk home alone, but when a suspicious blue van seems to be stalking her, she makes a break for the woods where she unfortunately loses her hearing aid. Lost in woods and unable to hear good, a cat and mouse game ensues between her and the man with the blue van whose on her closing in on her.
Unlike “Edward” where dialogue catapults the film into a tension-filled frenzy, “The Quiet” lives up to the title with the duration containing no dialogue until the twist ending. The built-in weakness of our protagonist Alice and the constant bullying of her helps the audience sympathize with her character more, making Alice a relatable person rather than a whimsical character everyone wishes instant death upon. The story has a strong beginning, continuing to build once the blue van man is introduced, but there are moments of unclarity that create more confusion than add value to the story; for example, the scenes of a padded room, a tortured little girl’s doll, and someone whispering, “I’ll love you forever,” don’t seem to connect up or match with the rest of the story, making the scenes seem out of place and unnecessary. The twist ending also becomes mysterious and diluted when were giving more information about the man in the blue van, but his intentions still aren’t made crystal clear, leaving way too much to the imagination and not in a good artistic way. Imwiththemproductions is behind the production of “The Quiet,” that’s supposedly based on a true story about a young girl being kidnapped when walking home with friends, and has a runtime of 21 minutes.
“Merry Little Christmas”
Christina and her mother Lola have lived many years with the scars bestowed upon them by Christina’s father, Lola’s husband. On the Eve of Christmas many years back, Christina’s strikes Lola unprovoked, continuously beating her, slashing her face with a straight edge razor, stabbing her, and raping her. Christina’s inner struggle constantly fights to restrain her internal, monstrous-illustrated hatred and self-destructiveness while Lola’s alcoholism and self-inflicted cutting addiction amplifies every Christmas Eve and this year, the mother and daughter grapple on keeping it together for one more year, but that battle will be lost in a fierce tragedy when they receive a phone call from the man who hurt scarred them for life.
“Merry Little Christmas” is the 20 minute Ignacio Martin Lerma and Manuel Marin visually graphic directed film from Spain. Surprising and suspenseful, “Merry Little Christmas” isn’t your old fashion gay and jolly-filled holiday film where Saint Nick brings all little boy and girls toys. No. In fact, Christmas is defined as a terrible point in time for Christina and Lola, a time when pain and fear are symbolic for tis the season. Lerma and Marin deconstruct the mother and daughter down to reveal their complexity and they’re characters are filled with various demons that become flesh in Christina’s mind when their abuser makes an unexpected phone call. A bravo should be awarded to Blanca Rivera for her bathtub scene, exploring her cutting addiction as well as attempting to learn to lover her body fully in the nude. The demon special effects are downright nasty, frightening and fantastic from “[REC] 2” and “[REC] 3” special effects guru Juan Olmo and the Doug Jones of Spain actor Javier Botet portraying the Demonio, or Demon. “Merry Little Christmas” is callous and cold without any remorse and no apology is needed for the cynicism or the brutally that it portrays.
“The Deviant One”
A young man becomes the victim of a suburban sexual sadist who lives a facade life of scripture and holiness. The atrocities committed might be the misinterpretations of the good Lord’s holy book and no one is safe from the deviant’s hungry claws and thirst for sexual and murderous gratification.
Perhaps my least favorite short from “The Horror Network” anthology, “The Deviant One” is helmed by the anthology’s co-creator Brian Dorton who also starred as the deviant neighborhood sadist. In the 8 minute black and white story of a young man’s death, body desecration, and body disposal, a lack of story glorifies the private life, but just doesn’t tell the tale fully of the deviant’s public church-going life. While the deviant walks up to a church, I wanted scenes of him standing at the pulpit, in front of shoulder-to-shoulder filled pews, opening the bible, and reading from the book, preaching his version of the scripture upon those ears listening. An opportunity was missed to strike at the heart of church hidden hypocrisy. On a positive note, Dorton, as the deviant, plays and looks the part so uncomfortably well that it’ll be hard to distinguish his off-camera self from his on-screen character.
“The Horror Network” material is nitty gritty with loads of passion behind the camera and from the crew of all the shorts. One of my favorite anthology releases of 2015 from Wild Eye Releasing. The DVD contains shorts that were shot in various formats and aspects ratios so I won’t be too harsh on the quality of the picture, but I will say that the noticeable posterization in “The Deviant One” and “Edward” stood out from the rest. The audio tracks do need fine tuning as there was some faint, but obvious feedback and the dialogue tracks were slightly overpowered by the soundtracks. The extras include an extended cut of Dorton’s “The Deviant One” which contains dialogue and additional scenes of Dorton, but the short works better without the clunky, kindergarden dialogue and Dorton’s testicles as he makes love to a severed head – yup, testicles. An image gallery and trailers for the shorts round out the rest of the bonus material. The DVD art, from “Merry Little Christmas’s” demons, amazingly exhibits and sells this release and stays true to form from the disturbing short. I expect volume two to exceed the fear bar!