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By Shane M. Dallmann

Over the past few weeks, our local arthouse (the Osio) has been showcasing various independent horror movies. That’s the good news–the bad news (for me) is that these films are consistently scheduled for a week’s run with only one nightly showing at 9:30PM (when I can’t actually get to them). But as it happens, each and every film they schedule in this manner is simultaneously available on-demand for less than the Osio’s ticket price (this was precisely the case with HOBO WITH A SHOTGUN and the HUMAN CENTIPEDE films in the past). So… I didn’t see any of these on the big screen. But I did see them.

john dies

First up was Don Coscarelli’s long-awaited JOHN DIES AT THE END, based on a story by David Wong. To make a (very) long story short, it’s a ‘trip’ odyssey in which slacker Dave (Chase Masterton) tries to explain how his life was turned upside down thanks to an accidentally-injected street drug of which he became aware thanks to a supernatural visit from his currently-deceased (but still quite active) friend John (Rob Mayes), who manages to maintain voice contact even when his body isn’t available (you know, almost exactly like the “Jody sphere” in the PHANTASM movies). Hallucinations, alternate dimensions, a great supporting role for Clancy Brown, gratuitous nudity, bountiful gore–it’s all there, but (I hate to say it), it still… meanders. I could never get caught up in the proceedings the way I wanted to, and for my money, the best scene came far too early (it involves a hilarious phone call to Father Angus Scrimm at a desperate moment). I’ve heard significantly better reviews… maybe it’s just me, but JOHN never quite clicked in my case.

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THE ABCs OF DEATH was one hell of an ambitious project: twenty-six acclaimed genre filmmakers were each given $5000 to make a short film about death: each was assigned a specific letter of the alphabet for a theme (or at least a title) but was given completely free rein from there. This doesn’t need a review–it needs an episode guide, and obviously I can’t cover all twenty-six segments here (oh, and sometimes it’s unfair to even give away the title of a particular segment as it’s actually the ‘punchline’), so feel free to ask questions if you’re interested. In brief, however, A & B get things off to a fine start, and “D is for Dogfight” (directed by DEADGIRL’s Marcel Sarmiento) is brutal, compelling and oh-so-satisfying… so thanks to the alphabet, the project peaks MUCH too early. As it continued, I was distressed by how many segments focused on scatology (you wouldn’t believe how many trips to the toilet are covered in this project, including BOTH of the animated segments), and we’re also forced to deal with pedophilia, extreme fetishes, animal abuse, etc. while every conceivable human secretion is rubbed in your face–with tone and attitude changing every few minutes. Among the more interesting segments you’ll find ‘H’ (a Tex Avery influenced WWII sketch between a heroic British bulldog and a Nazi stripper, both sporting costumes straight out of MEET THE FEEBLES); ‘Q’ (Adam Wingard in the first of two self-referential segments in which the filmmakers themselves struggle to come up with their contributions to this very project–this is easily the funniest segment and a welcome respite from what surrounds it); “S is for Speed,” a MAD MAX chase thriller with a truly heartbreaking finale; and ‘V,’ which makes the absolute most of its tiny budget with a dystopian science fiction shocker. Srdjan Spasojevic, director of the infamous A SERBIAN FILM (which I haven’t seen and have no immediate plans to) contributes the brutally efficient “R is for Removed,” which plays as an extract from a much larger work as a mutilated ‘patient’ makes a bloody break for freedom in an unspecified future; while other segments like “X is for XXL” (detailing the self-loathing of an overweight woman) are undeniably excruciating and well-executed… the only problem being that you already “get” them well before they’re over. We end on a hyper-outrageous note with MACHINE GIRL and TOKYO GORE POLICE’s Yoshihiro Nishimura’s “Z is for Zetsumetsu” (Japanese for ‘extinction’): essentially a hentai come to life in all its NC-17 glory. With an anthology this extreme and varied, there are definitely treasures to be had, but the tonal shifts and truly revolting material left me feeling physically ill when I took the whole thing in at once. We’re promised MORE ABCs OF DEATH for 2014, but frankly, I’ve had enough. Don’t miss “D is for Dogfight,” however.

would you rather

Ending its run tonight at the Osio is WOULD YOU RATHER, from director David Guy Levy. Brittany Snow is desperate to provide unaffordable treatment for her cancer-stricken brother and takes advantage of a supremely generous ‘grant’ opportunity that holds the potential to erase all of her problems permanently. Uh-oh… it’s being offered by Jeffrey Combs! Our heroine is just one of eight guests at the mansion of the ‘philanthropist,’ who actually wants them to participate in an increasingly sadistic, bloody and, of course, ultimately deadly series of games based on the time-honored title concept. (John Heard appears just long enough to serve as proof that the game is no joke.) Okay, the ‘game’ segments themselves work and work very well (and Combs is dependably terrific), but the film still falls short in its obligation to provide original and/or compelling surrounding material, instead substituting extraneous characters (Combs’ obnoxious grown son seems destined for a payoff that never happens; and I would have appreciated learning more about the Sasha Grey character, to give but two examples). It all builds to a finale hearkening back to O. Henry and Rod Serling: predictable but inevitable. WOULD YOU RATHER isn’t bad, but it could and should have been so much more.

Whew. And now I’m caught up.

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