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Wednesday, January 21, 2009

VHS Vednesday: Deadtime Stories

DEADTIME STORIES (1986). Directed by Jeffrey Delman. Starring Scott Valentine, Melissa Leo, and Cathryn DePrume.

The horror-anthology format is, almost by definition, a mixed bag in terms of quality. Even when the stories are consistently well-done, the tone can vary widely from story to story...even the all-time classic of the genre, Dead of Night, offers a light comic-relief story to contrast with the more chilling tales. The 1986 B-chiller Deadtime Stories is one of the most inconsistent of the type, veering wildly from one style to another.
The framing sequence sets up the premise, as a young boy (Brian DePersia) begs his Uncle Mike (Michael Mesmer) to tell him a bedtime story. The irresponsible, slacker uncle (one of the worst babysitters imaginable) regales the lad with a series of three inappropriate tales.
The first story is the most gruesome, as a young man (Scott Valentine of Family Ties fame), raised from childhood as a slave to two witches (Phyllis Craig and Anne Redfern), reluctantly assists them in their rituals to resurrect their long-dead sister. This sequence exists primarily as a showcase for the admittedly-impressive special effects, culminating in the stomach-turning spectacle of the skeletal sister's step-by-step regeneration of sinew and tissue. Apart from the visuals, there's little of interest to this one--although there is a nice gag in the framing sequence, when Uncle Mike offers an alternate ending after Little Brian complains about the "mushy" conclusion. It's sort of like the Fred Savage/Peter Falk scenes in The Princess Bride gone really, really wrong...
The second story is a modern-day update on "Little Red Riding Hood," reimagined as a teen in a red jogging outfit. Instead of a basket of goodies, "Red Running Hood" Rachel (Nicole Picard) is sent to the pharmacy to fetch her grandmother's medicine. Unfortunately, her prescription gets mixed up with that of another customer (Matt Mitler), who desperately needs his sedatives to knock him out--before the full moon rises. (I think you can figure out the reason why.) The wolfy guy waits outside Grandma's house (after an unsuccessful attempt to persuade the old lady to let him in), but unfortunately, Rachel is dallying with her boyfriend, a country-club athletic pro (not exactly a "woodsman," but close enough for this story...), and so doesn't arrive until after moonrise. The punchline, though predictable, is satisfying in that "Well, how else would you end the story?" way. All in all, it's a reasonably clever interpretation of the legend, though it's definitely no Freeway.
The final story is also the silliest: A psychotic teen with Carrie-like telekinetic powers (Cathryn DePrume) crosses paths with a notorious outlaw family (Melissa Leo, Kevin Hannon, and Timothy Rule) when they find her squatting in their hideout. The teen's name is Goldi (actually "Golda") Lox, and the outlaws are the Baer family. Okay, groan now and get it over with. Thwarting our expectations, Goldi and the three Baers decide to join forces in a crime spree, pursued by lawmen Jack B. Nimble and Jack B. Quick. Okay, you can groan again.
The arrangement of the three stories seems almost backwards, beginning with the darkest and ending with the lightest. Apart from its effect on the movie's pacing, it also seems inconsistent with the framing-sequence premise; if Little Brian's supposed to be getting more freaked out by each story, shouldn't they be told to him in order of freakiness?
Who's Leaving This Off Their Resume?
Oh, Melissa Leo. I really hope you get an Oscar nomination for Frozen River when they announce the nominees tomorrow. Not only because it would be well-deserved, but because it would show just how far someone can come from such humble beginnings.



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