Directed by Brad Sykes, Anthony Catanese, Tim Ritter, Amanda Payton and Todd Sheets.
Starring Kristen Adams, Kate Durocher, Jensen Jacobs, Craig Kelly, Todd Martin, Thomas Kindler, Christopher Preyer, Fabiana Formica, Julia Vally, Jay Sosnicki, Nick Randol and Eve Smith.
A collection of five low-budget horror shorts, linked by a pair of young women embarking on a ‘Terror Tour’ around Los Angeles.
There’s a real joy to the concept of the horror anthology. The genre works very well in shortform, with scary stories almost precision-tooled to work as mischievous, simple little tales culminating in a savage twist or explosion of terror. From the Amicus collections of the 1960s and 1970s through to more recent examples such as the excellent Tales of Halloween and Ghost Stories, the portmanteau horror has been a fixture of big screen terror for many, many years. The latest example is Hi-Death, which brings together five rising stars of the genre for a selection of very different stories.
A framing device, directed by Brad Sykes, follows two young women as they explore LA via the medium of a slightly sketchy smartphone ‘Terror Tour’ that guides them around the sights, as long as they watch a selection of scary videos. There’s a junkie tormented by a skeletal demon in a motel room, a true crime obsessive forced to confront the dark escalation of his fascination, a DVD store clerk tormented by a mysterious disc, an actor facing a rather aggressive audition process and a painter held captive as part of a demonic ritual.
As is always the case with an anthology, these segments are very much a mixed bag, with peaks and troughs of quality. However, there’s a broader issue at play with Hi-Death in that most of the stories are lacking a crucial element of what makes a short horror story work – that killer twist in the tale. Often, these segments build to a simple, gory image. While these images are mostly well-crafted and effectively nasty, they are a mark of the story progressing exactly as expected, without even a modicum of surprise.
It’s notable that the most effective segment of the film is the audition-themed ‘Cold Read’, directed again by Sykes, which does relish its ability to wrongfoot the audience. Fabiana Formica is excellent as the desperate young actor determined to impress the wannabe Hitchcock director – he even makes her wear a blonde wig – for whom she’s trying to perform and the story escalates to a killer final punch.
Unfortunately, that flair is almost entirely absent from the rest of the stories in the anthology. Climactic segment ‘The Muse’ has an effective supernatural conceit and a sinister creature performance, but simply works through the expected story beats en route to its conclusion, while ‘Night Drop’ squanders its Ringu homage on a cheap final shock. ‘Dealers of Death’ has perhaps the most interesting premise, and the time is certainly right to skewer those with a slightly unhealthy penchant for serial killers, but it’s overlong and never really has the ability to surprise.
There’s something to be said for Hi-Death‘s admirable focus on old school make-up effects. Indeed, the 10-point list of rules for submissions listed in the credits specifically forbids the use of CGI or green screen. Often, though, it feels as if this ethos and the notion of pushing budgetary boundaries to construct gruesome spectacle has been placed ahead of telling coherent and satisfying stories.
This is a lot of sound and splatter, signifying nothing but a slightly queasy stomach.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★
Tom Beasley is a freelance film journalist and wrestling fan. Follow him on Twitter via @TomJBeasley for movie opinions, wrestling stuff and puns.