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
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,
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
[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
-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.