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Scary Tales
The Wiseguy Geekboy Bad Movie Review
Reviewed by Jason Myers, © 2001

Format: Movie
By:   Michael Hoffman (director, writer) and Bill Cassinelli (writer)
Genre:   Horror Anthology
Review Date:   December 05, 2001

This week's target: Scary Tales
Directed by: Michael Hoffman
Written by: Bill Cassinelli and Michael Hoffman
Genre: Horror Anthology

This is the part of the column where Phillip usually gives an intro to the movie based on an examination of the video jacket, but Scary Tales has no such jacket. It's a screener copy sent to me direct from the director, with a label on the spine of the tape that says Scary Tales in red lettering - in scary red lettering.

Okay, so the movie is an anthology - a descendant of Twilight Zone, Outer Limits, Tales from the Crypt, Amazing Stories, Tales from the Darkside, and various and sundry late night "gotcha with a twist ending" movies and TV shows (I'm partial to Creepshow myself).

Scary Tales is also a bad movie, a purposely bad movie. The lameness is usually pretty fun, but sometimes even intentional lameness is just plain lame.

For a horror anthology in the form of a movie, you really should have a frame story, and Scary Tales gives us one of the most original frame stories (and by original, I mean uniquely and amusingly ridiculous): Dennis Frye needs a job. So he goes to an employment agency. The agent is a creepy, fleshy, bug-eyed guy named Mr. Longfellow. Imagine this: you go to an employment agent, and instead of giving you a rundown of jobs, and telling you the skills you'll need, the guy says, "Our office is a little different from all the rest. We like to give you an idea of what's in store for you." He then launches into long, detailed accounts of what will happen to you if you take various jobs, and each story involves at least one unpleasant death.

Why would anyone do this? Furthermore, why would anyone actually sit in someone's office and listen to such unpleasantness? Because the movie needs a frame story, dammit.

So, for his first hypothetical job, Dennis takes a job at a caterer. He accidentally runs over a little girl who's playing with her dolly alongside the road. Shocked, he lights a cigarette, smokes the thing, and comes up with a brilliant plan: he drives off. Ol' Dennis ain't exactly the swiftest ship in the fleet. Since this is the Scary Tales zone, Dennis is not brought to justice by the police through a tip from one of the many witnesses who might have seen Dennis' car idling near a fresh corpse, but by (BRACE YOURSELVES FOR THE INSIDIOUS TWILIGHT ZONE TWIST) the little girl's doll, who haunts Dennis with the kind of mind-chilling terror that only a diaper-wearing molded piece of plastic can inspire.

In the second tale, Dennis works at a book shop. He's infatuated with a regular customer who's clearly not interested, and he stumbles across a book on astral projection. You can see where this is headed, and, if I give you two bits of info that he reads from the book, you'll know exactly how it ends. Ready? 1) While in astral form, you can influence the mind of a dreaming person. 2) If, for some reason, your spirit doesn't return to your body within four hours, your body will die. Right, so Dennis goes into astral form, checks the time on his alarm clock, goes to the chick's house, and whispers to her "You love Dennis. You love Dennis. You love Dennis." After some ado, he makes it back to his own bedroom, with three minutes to spare. But when he tries to jump back into his body, he realizes that his wristwatch was several minutes behind his alarm clock. D'oh!

Lastly, with the help of Mr. Longfellow's winding narratives, Dennis learns what would happen if he decided to be a screenwriter. And it turns out that he would be a serious failure. After endless humiliating rejections, Dennis sits in a motel, drinking, and staring at a picture of Edgar Allan Poe. "Oh why can't I be like you, Edgar?" he says. Later on, Edgar shows up. "I'm here to inspire you," he says. So, the father of horror shows up at your place to inspire you, what do you do? Well, Dennis decides that Edgar must have somehow traveled through time to get there, so he thinks If I kill Edgar, then I can write all his stories and take credit for them. Perhaps it didn't occur to the filmmakers that holding Poe captive and pumping him for story ideas would make a lot more sense. More likely, it did occur to them, and they are paying tribute to those stories where someone imprisons a muse or a god or a literary figure so they can get fame and fortune. In any case, if Dennis wasn't so colossally stupid (As he is dragging the body away, he says, "Wait a minute - if he's dead, then how do I figure out what stories he hasn't written yet, so I can write them?"), then there would be no setup for the twist ending, which is this case was actually pretty unexpected.

Stuff I Noticed

-Bad news for carnage fans. There are three trailers, and pretty much every bit of blood and violence has been shoehorned into those trailers. Sorry, that's as gruesome as it gets.

-The people who worked on Scary Tales also worked on something called Dirty Cop, No Donut, which, based on the title alone, seems like something I should be watching. The film is associated with Twisted Illusions, owned by Tim Ritter, who has directed several movies. Evidently, there's some sort of underground B-movie community in Florida.

-Production values do matter. Scary Tales was shot on digital video, so, the whole way through, I kept thinking about the class project I did in 7th grade about evil beings. The climax involved messing with the camera focus until the image got blurry, to simulate a burning house; then my mom started writhing on the floor, and we suspended a black spidery cloth on the end of a fishing pole to show that the demon was escaping from her body. Or the one we did for health class where the first-person viewpoint camera smokes some PCP. Then we laid the camera on its side, pressed pause, put Halloween masks on my friends, plugged in some pulsating disco lights, and then unpaused the tape, all to teach the class about the mind-altering effects of illegal substances. Point is, even if Scary Tales did involve a little more planning and technical knowledge than that horror movie you and your friends made in high school, it still looks a hell of a lot like that horror movie you and your friends made in high school. According to the director, the budget for Scary Tales was $30,000. Aside from buying the camera, I'm not sure what they spent money on.
[Note: According to the director, Scary Tales has recently been "film-looked". Not sure exactly how they go about doing that, but it now, I'm told, looks like 16 mm.]

-Star Bill Cassinelli has an amiable goofball charisma which helps to carry the movie through its rough patches.

-There is some funny stuff in here. When Dennis does astral projection, and then goes to Jamie's house, he tosses off this aside: "Good thing I'm obsessed, or I never would have found this place." There are also some good visual jokes, such as the time Dennis, with murder on his mind, goes to a counter lined with kitchen utensils, but always manages to pick up the non-lethal ones.

-In the end, they actually give an explanation for why the employment agent's summaries of job opportunities always end in death. It's too bad, because the explanation takes away from the 'what the fuh?" ridiculousness of the situation.

-The girl's doll in "Hit and Run" recruits some of her friends. Among them is a Cabbage Patch Kid. Nothing scarier than a Cabbage Patch Kid muttering indecipherable chant-like whispers.

-At the end of "Hit and Run", (I'M GOING TO SPOIL THE ENDING FOR YOU IF YOU DON'T LOOK AWAY), Dennis meets a bad end. He's carrying a knife, and he slips on the little girl's dolly, and the knife flies up into the air and lands (Thock!) in his chest. According to my girlfriend, death due to a pratfall caused by a strategically placed demon doll with malevolent intentions is not without precedent. She related to me, complete with eerie voice recreations, the plot of the Talking Tina episode of The Twilight Zone. A doll with a pull string ("I am Talking Tina, and I love you") goes from bad ("I am Talking Tina, and I hate you") to worse ("I am Talking Tina, and I'm going to kill you"). After a bit , some little girl finds her dad dead at the bottom of the stairs, and a doll who now makes threats ("I am Talking Tina, and you better be nice to me."). Anyway, since pretty much everything in recent sci-fi/horror anthologies is just a retelling of something from the original Twilight Zone and Outer Limits, and since those were pretty much all retellings of stuff from 30s pulp magazines, we won't worry too much about plagiarism.

-There are two leading ladies in Scary Tales. One plays the Jamie, the object of Dennis's affection, in "I Ain't Got No Body", and the other plays Annabelle, Dennis's girlfriend in "The Death of…". I like to think that the actresses, Lindsay Horgan and Thorin Taylor Hannah, are actually the girlfriends of Michael Hoffman (the director) and Bill Cassinelli (the guy who plays Dennis). This may not be the truth, but it sure is fun to imagine. "Come on, honey, please be in my movie. The nudity is brief and tasteful." It also helps to explain their acting talents. Neither girl goes so far as to glance nervously at the camera while delivering a line, but I kept expecting that to happen. When Dennis gets into a fight with Annabelle, the actress's posture and gestures indicate that she attended the "Guest on The Jerry Springer Show" school of acting.

-In "I Ain't Got No Body", there's a hilarious daydream sequence in which Dennis spends some blissful time on the beach with his beloved Jamie. This is probably the best bit of parody in the movie. "I Ain't Got No Body" is the strongest segment, because of its consistency in tone. It's the least "scary" of the tales, but it also plays to the film's strength, which is sheer goofiness. Jamie manipulates that poor bastard into giving her free stuff, then gives him a humiliating dropkick to the ego.

-In the book store, Dennis reads a copy of Man's Body, the book from which, if I remember correctly, I first learned that the angle of each guy's, um, "lightsaber" when it's "fully ignited" is different from person to person. You've got, for example, the 15-degree-er, the 45-degree-er, the 90-degree-er, and so forth. Which, when you think about it, makes that protractor you bought for geometry class a heck of a lot more practical.

-There was evidently a cut of this movie which didn't have full-on mammariffic nudity. But the filmmakers subsequently decided that a few reshoots were necessary. I'm not sure if Lindsay Horgen's shower scene involved the use of stunt breasts, but Thorin Taylor Hannah's scene definitely did. How do I know this? Because the credits list, as her body double, one Chesty Lamour (I guess that Hootie McBoob was unavailable). In any case, if you're looking for a few loving close-ups of breasts, this movie is for you.

-Ah, the sex scene in "The Death of". Dennis's come-hither look to Annabelle, accompanied by "I know what would make me feel a whole lot better." The most horrific thing in the whole movie is the Annabelle's POV camera shot of Dennis doing his business from the missionary position. What's even funnier is imagining the time the director spent lying down on a bed in a cheap motel room with actor Bill Cassinelli straddling him, just so he could get that shot.

-There was a scene in "The Death of…" in which some random guy watches Dennis drag away the body of Edgar Allan Poe through the viewer of a digital camera. Instead of calling the police, he just says something like "I'm not staying around here." It's complete randomness signaled to me that this was the director's cameo, but the guy in this scene turned out to be someone else. Which makes me wonder, "Why was that scene in the movie?"

-The Poe reference is pretty smart, since Poe's stories are at the root of every horror anthology movie or series ever made.

-Elements of "The Death of…" seem pretty likely autobiographical. In it, Dennis is a wannabe horror screenwriter, whose works include "The Cannibal Carpenter" and "Night of the Drinking Dead". Dennis goes from agency to agency, and is disdainfully told that he has no talent. One guy files the script in a box labeled "Shit." Dennis's descent into depression-fueled madness is conveyed through some sharp editing, camera tricks, and close-ups of Dennis's eyes rolling around in his head. It's disconcerting, and it's funny, until you realize that some guy in Florida sent you this screener tape as a way of getting the good word out about his film-making prowess, and then you think about how one day you might be taking some time off from giving movies a merciless drubbing to make your own movie, which will in turn be given a merciless drubbing by some self-important wiseass who not only insults your movie, but also batters the self esteem of your favorite aunt, Chesty Lamour, by making untoward comments about her hoohaas.

Bottom Line: Scary Tales will be available through b-movies.com, but I'm not sure I can recommend buying it. However, director Michael Hoffman is also trying to get some distribution through Blockbuster and Hollywood Video. If he's successful, I do recommend that you rent it when you get together with your friends for your bi-monthly Bad Movie Night.

Crap Factor: 7
Camp Factor: 7
Final Verdict: B-

Click here for the interview with Scary Tales director Michael Hoffman.

RevSF Film/DVD editor Jason Myers waited in vain for David Lee Roth to make a cameo in "I Ain't Got No Body".

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