October 29, 2016
Nathan Thomas Milliner
John William Holt
Nathan Thomas Milliner
Justin M. Seaman
A couple plan to purchase an old home but would like one last tour before the closing. They’re guided around the estate by a creepy realtor that may have more in store than they bargained for. Searching floor by floor, they begin to discover the remnants of its sordid and terrifying past…
A popular 80’s franchise gets a modern upgrade, but at what price? On Halloween night a teen left home alone meets a trick or treater that wants more than just candy. A door to door insurance salesman makes a Thanksgiving house call with monstrous consequences. Andrew and Sara are happily married and plan on spending some quality time together, but something sinister has other plans for their evening. Carol’s Christmas Eve turns into a fight for survival when a vengeful stranger isn’t feeling the holiday spirit. Lastly, a birthday party turns bloody when some unexpected guests drop by at the wrong time. Seven interwoven tales of terror, how many stories does your house have?
Last year the movie Volumes of Blood was released, and it effectively broke the internet. Bloody Disgusting declared it “the best damn anthology of 2015”. In short order, Blood Moon Pictures has released a sequel, Volumes of Blood: Horror Stories. Is this one any good? Well…
There are seven interlocking stories. The majority of them center around an old house with a horrific history. If you’re going to watch a movie with “volumes of blood” in the title, you probably know what to expect. In that regard, gorehounds delight. This movie delivers on its title. Unfortunately, a lot of the other elements are not as satisfying.
First, a minor technical note. This movie is best enjoyed on a small screen, such as an iPhone or laptop. This might seem like a slap in the face to your bitching home theater, but Volumes of Blood: Horror Stories suffers from weak cinematography. It’s not that the three cinematographers, (Alexander Clark, John William Holt, and Austin Madding), don’t know what they are doing. Low-budget digital cameras have their limit, which is a shame. The sixteen millimeter of seventies grindhouse, such as the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre, evokes seediness and the Zapruder film. But digital looks like a cheap home video.
It’s also a case of one hand not knowing what the other is doing. The first twenty minutes feels hijacked from a completely different film. There is an intriguing set-up in the first short “Murder Death Killer” involving two amiable roughnecks, (Barbie Clark and Chad Ray). They have taken the job of robbing construction equipment from a warehouse. The man who hired them, (Thomas Dunbar), is eager to leave before nightfall. Supposedly the ghost of Atticus Crow, a union organizer murdered by the boss and strung up like a scarecrow as a warning, haunts the warehouse. Everything ends bloodily, with Crow showing up like The Wizard of Oz from hell, but it’s the relationship between Barbie Clark and Chad Ray that really stands out. They have onscreen chemistry and they are funny. You feel like their friendship is genuine. It’s a nice, three-dimensional touch that’s completely missing from the rest of Volumes of Blood: Horror Stories.
The second short inverts the first, turning “Murder Death Killer” into a slasher film from the eighties, beloved by two nerds disgusted by the sorry state of modern horror movies. “It Follows. More like It Swallows.” Parking on the couch, the overactors proceed to “watch”…well, what else? The rest of Volumes of Blood: Horror Stories. It’s meta, man.
Alright, here is my main complaint. There is not one, not two, but three framing devices in this film, (later on it’s established that all the events in the old house took place over holidays). This should have been streamlined. Instead, the narrative becomes so opaque you can’t invest in it. I realize shorts are meant to be self-contained, but once you string them together there must be some semblance of rising action.
That’s not to say Volumes of Blood: Horror Stories doesn’t have its virtues. Without a doubt, the gore effects are great. Cassandra Baker and her crew have outdone themselves. Some skin prosthetics are noticeable, another casualty of the uneven cinematography. But the visual inventiveness is refreshing. A serial killer “digs” out a man’s intestines with a retractable shovel. That could become as iconic as a glove of knives. A young woman gets her head “curbed” on a coffee table, (à la American History X). Her bloody, broken teeth mingle with Halloween candy corn. An effective moment, but it would have been more effective if the actress playing the corpse could have kept her eyes from fluttering.
“Fear, For Sinners Here” is the one real bright star, the crown jewel in this otherwise lackluster anthology film. For the most part the acting is amateurish throughout Volumes of Blood: Horror Stories, with the exception of this one. It’s set during Christmas, and it involves a young woman named Carol, (Jessica Schroeder), mourning for her young son. The first half is studied and free of dialogue, a surprisingly melancholy juxtaposition of Yuletide expectation with the harsh realities life throws at us. It’s a nice turn of the screw, which sadly gets brazenly silly in the second half. That being said, Julie Streble chews the scenery nicely as the most demented soccer mom you will ever meet.
A runner up would be “The Deathday Party” directed by Justin Seaman, (one of the seven who worked on the film). It’s got a neat, ironic twist, but it doesn’t know when to end. This is a common problem throughout Volumes of Blood: Horror Stories. In trying to raise the stakes for the sequel, Blood Moon Pictures has ignored the fine details in service of spectacle.
The ending is a bloody, pulpy, incoherent mess. The movie basically devolves into a Looney Tunes cartoon, throwing every tired slasher trope it can think of at you. There is a lawnmower mauling, and it’s only slightly less absurd than it was in Maximum Overdrive (1986). Some scares might have worked in 1978, but now they come off as quaint. A little girl brings a masked man home to mommy because he asked to “play” with them. Really, movie? Don’t you know that would never happen today, with all these helicopter parents. Horror movies have taught us too well. It didn’t follow, and I didn’t swallow.
Volumes of Blood: Horror Stories is currently available on VOD.