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Scary Tales   C

Twisted Illusions

Year Released: 2001
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Director: Michael Hoffman Jr.
Writers: Bill Cassinelli, Michael Hoffman Jr.
Cast: Bill Cassinelli, Joel D. Wynkoop, Lindsay Horgan, Lee Pinder, Thorin Taylor Hannah, Ria Rampersad.

Review by Michael Scrutchin

[The review below is based on the pre-release cut of Scary Tales. Perhaps in small part because of my "nary a glimpse of nudity" comments, they went back and added some skin. They also tightened up the editing, so that the pacing is a bit snappier. Overall, the new cut is better. Not so much better that it warrants a higher grade, but at least now those of you who think a B-movie isn't a B-movie without breasts won't bitch (like I did) about the film being a tease. -10.05.2001.]

While watching Scary Tales, a micro-budget comedic horror anthology, I was reminded of something Rob Vaux wrote in his review of Along Came a Spider. Since I doubt that I could express these thoughts as eloquently as Rob, here's a direct quote from the first paragraph of his review:

In some ways, seeing a bad movie is preferable to seeing a merely mediocre one. With a bad movie, you have a story. You can find your friends afterwards, buy them a drink, and say, "You'll never believe the gobbling turkey I just saw!" It becomes memorable in its own sad way, something you can laugh about for a long time. A mediocre film, on the other hand, simply comes and goes. It occupies two hours of space in your life for comparatively little return.
The relatively mediocre Scary Tales begins with hopeless loser Dennis Frye (Bill Cassinelli) visiting a job placement agency, where he meets with Mr. Longfellow (Joel D. Wynkoop), who suggests three jobs that might be suitable for him. With each proposed job, Mr. Longfellow offers his predications as to what may happen to Dennis if he chooses that particular job. And, to be honest, it's more comedy than horror.

In Mr. Longfellow's prediction for the first job, Dennis runs over a girl who was playing with her doll in the street. Dennis high-tails it away from the scene of the accident, but he soon finds himself stalked by the girl's doll. Or is he just going mad?

The second job prediction finds Dennis working at a used bookstore, where he lusts after a female customer (Lindsay Horgan) who wouldn't give him the time of day in his dreams (okay, wait, make that only in his dreams). The funniest moment in the film comes in this story. After being rejected by the girl of his dreams, an elderly woman approaches Dennis, slips him a piece of paper, and says, "Don't worry, I'll go out with you. Give me a call tonight." It's funnier in the movie, but I digress. Dennis finds an old book that reveals the secret to leaving your resting body and wandering around unseen, where you can influence the thoughts of those sleeping. Do you see where this is headed?

The third story finds Dennis dealing with the hardships of being a struggling screenwriter (and shopping around a script called Night of the Drinking Dead). I don't want to give too much away, so I'll just say that a certain legendary horror writer appears to Dennis in a pills-and-booze induced state. Before that, however, Dennis gets it on with his hot girlfriend (Thorin Taylor Hannah), but we don't get to see anything.

That's right: Scary Tales gives us two shower scenes with different girls and even a sex scene, but there's nary a glimpse of nudity to be found. Yes, there are the obligatory navel close-ups in the shower scenes, but that's all we get. Even the sex scene carefully avoids showing anything. May I ask, then, why even include these scenes if they're just going to be a pointless tease? Man, I feel so used.

The film was written by star Bill Cassinelli and director Michael Hoffman Jr. Each of the stories feels like a typical horror anthology tale, but with a more obvious focus on humor. Indeed, with Bill Cassinelli and the always-hammy Joel D. Wynkoop leading the cast, there are a few chuckles to be had here. Scary Tales is not always as funny as it wants to be, but it's lightly enjoyable, if sometimes a bit slow. I guess some of you may be wondering, well, was any of it scary? And to that, I must answer a resounding no. It always felt like more of a comedy to me. Even the dolls in the first tale weren't creepy. But what do I know? Maybe the dolls will creep the hell out of you.

It's always toughest to review films that don't make a big impression one way or the other. For me, Scary Tales is one of those movies. It's not bad, but it's not good, either. It's just kinda, you know, there. Kudos should be paid to director Michael Hoffman Jr. for his admirable attempt at making a good old-fashioned comedic horror anthology, even if the results feel distinctly run-of-the-mill and lacking punch. But, I must admit, the final scene in the wraparound story has a wicked kind of satisfaction.

Review published 08.22.2001.

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