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Cremains   B- / Video Outlaw

Year Released: 2001
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Director: Steve Sessions
Writer: Steve Sessions
Cast: Kimberly Lynn Cole, Lilith Stabs, Jeff Dylan Graham, Wanda Plimmer, Chris Williams, Rebecca Allen, Chester Delacruz, Dawn DuVurger.

Review by Michael Scrutchin

Sometimes it's the little touches that make an impression. Like country music playing in the background as a naked woman in a bondage hood and shackles struggles to free herself before a psychopath comes back for her. Or the focus on a lava lamp in a scene where a sicko torments a teenage boy he's about to kill. It's things like this that add something special to the horror anthology Cremains, giving an intimate realism to some scenes and a surrealistic flourish to others. While the stories in this anthology may be an uneven batch, writer-director Steve Sessions shows a knack for delivering clever twists and creating creepy atmosphere so thick that you can almost touch it.

The frame story concerns a funeral director (Chester Delacruz) in a dark room being interrogated by two faceless captors (one of whom is voiced by B-movie starlet Debbie Rochon). The guy has been accused of mixing the ashes of two cremated bodies, but before relating his story he's forced into telling them a trio of morbid tales that he's heard over the years. It seems the death business ain't all sunshine and roses. The first story involves a woman who takes a wrong turn and winds up traveling through a strange town in the middle of the night. The next tale involves a kidnapping and a murder with a sick twist. The third story -- the obligatory lesbian vampire outing -- has a woman (Kimberly Lynn Cole) believing that her best friend (Dawn DuVurger) has become a vampire and is out to get her. Things wrap up with the funeral director's own story, which shows why mixing ashes from two dead bodies isn't a good idea.

It's an uneven mix, but overall it delivers. For my money, the first story is the most effective: very creepy and pretty darn scary. For anyone who's ever felt a slight twinge of fear while driving through an unfamiliar place in the middle of the night, this one hits close to home. While the payoff didn't sit well with me, everything preceding the climax worked. Steve Sessions knows how to build suspense, rather than relying on shock tactics to get a reaction. The second tale is also good and a bit unsettling, but the third and forth stories don't compare favorably to the first two. I'd say ditch the third story, but then people wouldn't get their lesbian vampire fix and all the shameless nudity that comes with it. Oh, well. The final story picks things up a bit and is pretty creative (there's a graphic head-squishing you gotta see), but it runs a bit too long and could have been tightened up in the editing room.

But a few missteps can't obscure the film's thick atmosphere, which just drips of dread and unease. The movie was shot on digital video with virtually no budget and it's a little rough around the edges, but that may be part of its ghoulish charm.

The DVD has a bloopers featurette and something called the Vampire Elabatorium with behind-the-scenes footage from the third story and commentary by Dawn DuVurger, who is completely nude almost throughout (and yes, she's plenty nice to look at). But the most time-consuming extra on the DVD is the massive trailer vault with trailers for tons of Video Outlaw, Seduction Cinema, and Shock-O-Rama titles.

Anyway, horror fans who want a micro-budget flick that delivers on its promise of T&A, violence, and a little gore, while also building some nice suspense and displaying an atmosphere of genuine creepiness might do well to give Cremains a look. It has so many nice little touches.

Review published 01.11.2002.

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