Let’s talk about anthologies. No fun discussion of horror should be without it; it’s always a challenge to successfully pull off a short story, as you’ll see when we dig into another batch of Severin Blu-rays, this time thematically tied together by a love of the format. (Clever of me, or lazy? You decide. Wait, don’t.) These discs are for all the shorties out there.
Family Portraits: A Trilogy of America (2003):
I thought we’d start with the dark before we get to the light. Family Portraits is pretty much Bleak City, yet brought to life by writer/director Douglas Buck in ways that are surprising, and even touching. The film is actually three separate shorts shot at different points in his career, put together and released as a feature with the subtitle “A Trilogy of America”. Not since “You’ll Believe A Man Can Fly” has one been that apt.
“Cutting Moments” (the mid-’90s festival sensation that started it all), “Home” (made a couple of years later), and “Prologue” (done to complete the trilogy for release) are the three tales of Americana gone awry, with a spotlight on the internal workings of cracked familial cores. All three deal in trauma; in fact, they are smothered by it - reprieved mainly by Buck’s empathetic nature towards his characters, if not necessarily their actions. But he wants us to feel the pain too; Buck chooses the chasm of silence between spouses in “Cutting Moments” to house their torment after the wife finds out the husband has been molesting the son. Heavy stuff, made all the more so by an uncompromising finale of regret and anguish literally made flesh.
“Home” offers a different kind of dread; whereas the first segment deals with the insidious and hidden nature of sexual abuse, the second plays the long game: Can a cycle of childhood abuse be broken or is it doomed to be repeated? Well, since we’re talking worst case scenarios (with a proclivity towards family mental illness) and horror films the answer is a resounding ‘nope’, although one wishes the protagonist could take another route. Such is the creeping dawn of inevitability - brilliantly paced by Buck - that permeates the first two shorts. “Prologue” is precisely that, and one that hopefully leads to a form of peace for its main character, a teenage girl who was raped, beaten, and had her hands cut off. When she returns home to her small town a few years later, she recognizes the man who did it - a retired postal worker. The confrontation proves to be cathartic for both. “Prologue”, with its longer length and quiet strength, is my favourite of the shorts and proves that he could temper a feature. (I have not seen his remake of Sisters yet.)
Plenty to get through, that’s for sure; and while I haven’t listened to the commentaries as of yet, the interviews from ‘98 about “Cutting Moments” are terrific and give a lot of insight to Buck’s filmmaking and the team around him. “After All”, Buck’s student film that he found and polished up, is actually pretty funny and shows that he could interject humour if he chooses to in the future. One thing is for certain: if Buck keeps making films, Severin will be there to put them out and afford them the permanence they will most likely deserve.
Movie Score: 4.5/5, Disc Score: 4/5
The Theatre Bizarre (2011):
Okay, time for something a little less anxiety inducing, The Theatre Bizarre. An anthology film centered around a run down theatre with a mysterious host (Udo Kier), TTB has seven filmmakers offering up their own takes on what the Grand Guignol means to them, in any way they choose (within a certain timeframe and budget). With that broad palette to work with, the shorts within are varied in scope and tone, and adhere to the general themes of the Guignol - passion, rage, jealousy, bloodshed (and a fair bit to boot). These are themes easily fuelling most horror, so Grand Guignol is vital to the bloodline and these artists will tell you why: Richard Stanley (The Mother of Toads), Buddy Giovinazzo (I Love You), Tom Savini (Wet Dreams), Douglas Buck (The Accident), Karim Hussain (Vision Stains), Severin co-founder David Gregory (Sweets), and the very effective wraparound by The Attic Expedition’s Jeremy Kasten. As with any anthology film, the highs and lows may vary from viewer to viewer; I personally found myself drawn to Giovinazzo’s marriage drama gone wrong, Buck’s existential look at death through a little girl’s eyes, and Gregory’s supergross - yet pretty fun - cannibals and candy finale. Again, the democracy at play will not leave everyone happy, but that’s the chance you take when you let seven artists have free reign; that in itself is its own reward.
This disc is stacked folks; I didn’t get through everything, but the full length BTS doc is a thoroughly engrossing look from conception to (troubled) release, and I’m sure the other features are up to the same high standards. There’s a little bit of something for everyone in The Theatre Bizarre, or a whole lot of nothing to nobody; it will polarize, it will shock. But I promise you, it will entertain.
Movie Score: 3.5/5, Disc Score: 4/5
Tales of the Uncanny (2020):
Who says nothing good has come from all of our current madness? Everyone actually, and they’re mostly right; but, Severin has decided to make a tribute to the anthologies of yesteryear done in-house with their own resources called Tales of the Uncanny, and it turns out to be the perfect tonic for the horror troops. Severin Film’s David Gregory, along with House of Psychotic Women author Kier-La Janisse, chat through Zoom with more than 60 horror writers and directors including Joe Dante, Mick Garris, Ernest Dickerson, Ramsey Campbell, David DeCotea, Jovanka Vuckovic, Jenn Wexler, and many, many more.
What we’re given, with their resources, is a wonderful look back at the history of the anthology, punctuated by enthusiastic interjections from an eager bunch - steadfast in the belief that their choices for best anthology and segments are correct and true. And the film works well on collective nostalgic muscle memory, as it veers from silent film to talkies and TV, that while being informative and fun, it also acts as a big warm blanket of goodness. (Intentional or not, it’s my favourite side effect of watching the film.)
Two whole films - that’s correct - that show the evolution of the form; both are fascinating in form and execution, and welcome finds for the anthology connoisseur. The beautiful thing about a project like this is the only true goal is a celebration; one of collaboration and imagination. At that it succeeds, and at a time to be welcomed.
Movie Score: 4.5/5, Disc Score: 4/5