“There’s certainly potential here.”
First things first: this isn’t a movie. Oh, it looks like one and it’s packaged to appear as a new anthology film, but it’s not except in the sense that someone’s pasted all the episodes of the web series Twisted Tales into one longer piece of film. True anthology films have a linking device (Creepshow’s comic guide, for example, or the superb Dead of Night’s architect arriving at a party and being told stories by the guests) that ties the various, often disparate sections together and creates a unified whole. Twisted Tales makes no effort to do this, simply presenting each tale individually (to the degree that the animated production logo irritatingly appears at the beginning of each one) and lets them stand entirely alone. If you approach this expecting an anthology movie you’ll inevitably be disappointed, but if you approach it as simply a cobbled together web-show, you might find things to enjoy here.
Twisted Tales is the brainchild of Tom Holland, the director of the original Fright Night, and he introduces each episode. To be honest, the introductions are written and delivered a little flatly (a surprise, given that Holland, as well as writing the material, was originally an actor, lacking the wit or gravitas of Rod Serling) and they bring nothing in the way of tension or interest to the proceedings. The individual stories range from good to merely passable, and the show’s budgetary limitations are often evident (some of the CGI, in particular, is very weak). The acting is mostly okay, sometimes good and sometimes truly awful, the story ‘Bite’ containing the worst of the offenders, and the writing (all by Holland) variable but never great. Holland’s strength is his direction, which is mostly effective, and he does manage to create some decent tension and scares on occasion, but there’s not much to engage the viewer in most of the stories and watching them feels a little like eating day-old pizza: tasty, but lacking freshness.
In fairness, there are flashes of good things in Twisted Tales too, for which you can’t help but hope he carries on making them. Holland has managed to gather some decent actors together in amongst the weaker cast (Ray Wise, Amber Benson and Angela Bettis, for example) and there are some neat ideas on display, as well as some smart approaches to old-fashioned storylines. ‘Cached’, in particular, makes good use of modern technology to create an interesting approach to the ghost story, and contains some genuinely unnerving moments as the protagonist is chased by a raging dead man he can see on his iPhone’s Facetime app but not in reality. The problem, as with a lot of episodic shows, is that when the writing isn’t sharp enough the stories don’t engage, the characters are unsympathetic and the plotting weak or predictable. This, coupled with the obvious low budget, means that Twisted Tales comes dangerously close to being holed below the waterline on more than one occasion and means that some of the tales told are flat or, worse, dull.
Ultimately, and while it’s always nice to see a horror anthology even when it’s not on the level of the old Amicus movies, or even Romero’s Creepshow, Twisted Tales probably won’t make anyone’s top ten (or even top twenty five) of this particular kind of movie. Perhaps, given a bigger budget and with some work sharpening his scripts, Holland might do something better with future episodes because there’s certainly potential here. Here’s hoping, as there’s always space for intelligent genre shorts, but this isn’t quite there yet.
SIMON KURT UNSWORTH
Director: Tom Holland.
Starring: Angela Bettis, AJ Bowen, Ray Wise, William Forsythe, Amber Benson, Sarah Butler
Release date (UK): DVD 15 June 2015
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