Anthology Schmanthology: Fun Size Horror: Volume One (2015)


Fun Size Horror: Volume One (2015)
Various directors (20 short films)

I often have a hard time tackling anthology films. It is difficult for me to accept shifting directorial styles within what is supposed to be thought of as a conceptually bound set of films. This is especially true if there is a really strong short up front that makes me wish that the more substandard ones that follow didn't take the earlier film as an example. This is a ridiculous thought, of course, because these films are not (in the vast majority of cases) churned out on an assembly line, nor can quality – and especially an instant classic – be triggered automatically whenever one wishes. Even the greatest directors have their small (and sometimes major) misfires.

In recent years, the anthology flick has made a strong comeback with titles like The ABCs of Death and V/H/S becoming quite popular amongst the horror aficionados. None of the titles have really captured my attention thoroughly, but I chalk this up more to the hit-or-miss nature of these affairs than anything else. It's just the way things go. If you take any famous anthology series, such as The Twilight Zone or Alfred Hitchcock Presents, while there may have been a very high bar set for excellence in the series overall, every once in a while, you ran across an episode that was only so-so. This is true of most television series, but in a weekly series where the characters recur each episode, you can gloss over a dud episode a little easier than an anthology. In an anthology, each new film starts from square one and works forward, and usually has little or no connection to previous stories. It has to stand on its own, but it is still going to be identified with that which preceded it in the collection.

It is for this reason that I had to adopt a new strategy when watching anthologies. I couldn't just watch them straight through and let the entire piece wash over me, because in most cases, none of the films really have anything to do with the others. There might be an overarching theme that the producers draped over the proceedings to make it look as it there were a common theme, but I have to watch them as individual short films and judge them that way. It is much the same way that I watch collections of cartoons. It's not the collection that is important, but the individual films.


And so it shall be with the first volume of Fun Size Horror, a creepy little anthology that came out last year and which is playing currently on platforms like Hulu and Amazon for the Halloween season. No really big names in this, though favorites of mine like Lance Reddick and John Ennis do show up briefly, Fun Size Horror takes its name to heart, delivering chunks of dark devilry each no more than a few short minutes in length. Enough time to take a good, bloody bite and move on to the next one.

To stay true to my word, I am going to assign each short piece a temporary rating based on how it came off for me independent of the others. Then I will average out the ratings, and modify the result (only slightly) based on how all of the shorts played together as a collection. It might not seem fair since they don't seem designed to play off each other (and they aren't), but Fun Size Horror was released as a collection, so the final rating will be in how it played that way.

There are twenty shorts in this 85-minute feature:

When They Say You're Alone 
Dir.: Grant Olin
Rating: 6/9

Kind of a pretentious start, though I know these weren't planned to go in a certain order. This one certainly hits the "creepy" factor, as it would be hard for any of us to fall asleep if we knew for certain that things like this might occur when we were at our most vulnerable. I like director Grant Olin's (who did the animated opening for the collection as well) use of time lapse and the lack of any dialogue, and those strange sticky flowers are a nice detail. A nice way to tell a story with the briefest of information but still squeeze every inch out of the visuals. Very simple but effective.

Knock Knock
Dir.: Anthony Lund
Rating: 5/9
An asthmatic kid attempts to do battle with a monster in his closet but loses his sword on the way. This one is really built around its final shot, which is fine, I guess, but leaves the clip a little dull and a little standard. So much more could have been done with this and it left me pretty cold. Not bad, and fairly well shot... just generic.

Happy Birthday
Dir.: Erin Stegeman
Rating: 6/9
I am kind of wrestling with this one in my head. It's solid "sick" humor of the sort in which E.C. Comics specialized and its nice to see it practiced in these politically correct times. However, the "sick" punchline involves puppies, which does make Mr. Animal Rescue me a tad squeamish, so consider this a warning if you don't want to see such a joke taken a little too far. (Don't worry... as far as I know no actual puppies were harmed, but I would not be all that upset if I found out if a certain overly precocious child actor got really horrid nightmares from the experience.) There are a couple of dialogue lines and details in the party that do not ring true given the outcome, so it almost ruins the party for me upon reflection. It should be acknowledged, however, that they do go for the comically gruesome in this one, and I do appreciate that. (By the way, the dog that plays the "puppy" is almost a dead ringer for my beloved dog Trouble when I was a kid.)

Entity
Dir.: Matthew May
Rating: 4/9
A guy helps two girls move into a new place, but the lights are out. For whatever reason, they end up looking in the attic with flashlights and find a creepy doll. Soon, they hear a thump, and then weird stuff starts happening in quick order. The three actors actually aren't bad, and almost make you want to settle into a longer story with them, but then it is over before it even started. As for the scary stuff... move on, please. That aspect is not even worth further mentioning except to say it is thoroughly bland, though in line with current tastes. Tastes that are not mine at all, I'm afraid.

Bad Eggs
Dir.: Max Isaacson
Rating: 6/9

A very silly sight gag that kind of works, especially in the payoff of what comes out of where. Señor Wences-type humor taken to the Lovecraftian level (but, you know, without the ventriloquist in sight, thereby making it mere puppetry). It feels the sort of thing that might have shown up in something like Spike and Mike's back in the '80s if it had just been animated instead. Very slight and sophomoric, but I rather wish that I had thought of it.

The Screaming
Dir.: Dick Grunert
Rating: 5/9
I really hate the final shot on this one, but I am having a hard time discerning just why. I just know that I don't like it. Until then, this mostly dialogue-free quickie is based around the notion of a "chain" horror, that quickly seems to cascade closer and closer to the person perceiving a certain sound but trying to understand the possible (?) growing terror. It's an interesting concept that I wish were handled better in its closing.

Persephone
Dir.: Lisa J. Dooley
Rating: 6/9
On a personal level, I was instantly on a protective edge with this short because the title is also the name given by two of my friends to their recently born daughter. Strange how we react that way to something as simple as a name. And I haven't even met the baby yet. Outside of that, this is a mostly successful short that follows the efforts of a young woman to free herself of a coffin. She's not the Bride in Kill Bill, but she still has to figure a way out. But will it be enough if she does? A decent payoff and acting in this one.


Voice
Dir.: Mali Elfman
Rating: 3/9
Either this one is a clever spoof of a community theatre acting workshop or it's actually a short play developed in a community theatre acting workshop that was put onto film that never should have been. I am going with the latter scenario. Awful acting from the beginning took me straight out of the only barely interesting premise. I mean, really subpar "I don't know what to do with my hands" acting. This is a shame, because the director is the daughter of Danny Elfman (she also has a small role in Persephone and is a producer on other shorts), and one of the actresses is Diva Zappa. Because of these factors, I gave Voice another shot – and yet another shot – and it still came up short for me. Ugh. Easily my least favorite of the lot.

Somebody's Watching You
Dir.: Ben Rekhi
Rating: 4/9
A reality show with murderous consequences, from which we are always about fourteen seconds away in real life anyway. I was willing to go along with this for a little bit, however staid the idea already is to me. The forced drama does ring true to what we expect from such shows, but that doesn't mean that I want to see it replicated onscreen. Didn't want to see such phoniness the first time, why do I need to see someone double down on it in an even falser version? Drama, drama, drama, drama, drama... splat. Done.


Trust
Dir.: Jerry Pyle
Rating: 6/9
I was loving this short for the first five-sixths of it, and thought it was well shot and the reactions of the two actors to each other were divine. It was, to this point, the first time in the film where I was genuinely thinking that someone was on the way to a great short... but then the final gag failed me. It didn't kill the film, because I knew that was exactly where the film was meant to go from the start. I just wish it had cleverness to match the wit of the rest of the short to that point. A really nice try, though the final gag knocked my rating down a peg.

The Lover
Dir.: Anisa Qureshi
Rating: 7/9
And then The Lover showed up next and showed 'em how its done. Probably the best composed cinematography of the lot thus far. A much better showcase for Mali Elfman, who is extremely effective and believable here as the spurned girlfriend who slightly self-destructively seeks to clear her life of all traces of her former lover. A really evocative character piece with a great ending.

The Creepy Fucking Kid in Apartment B
Dir.: Eric Pereira
Rating: 7/9
For the truly fun and original, turn to this one. The little psychic kid hanging around next door is indeed creepy, but not so creepy as what he portends. This is the first one that got a genuine "aha" moment out of me, though I wish the ultimate payoff were handled a little more deftly. It's another example of what used to be called "sick" humor, but the less said about the details, the better for your enjoyment.


A Dog and His Boy
Dir.: Zeke Pinheiro
Rating: 5/9
When I saw the title, I immediately thought of Harlan Ellison's controversial short story (and its subsequent cult classic film) A Boy and His Dog
My first guess was that Mr. Pinheiro had not read Harlan Ellison, given that this short is similar in ultimate outcome, albeit without the post-apocalyptic trappings. Then my second guess is that Mr. Pinheiro was at least made aware of Ellison and his litigious tendencies, and so transposed the title elements thusly. But this film is not about Ellison at all. It's a tribute to an entirely different source, one that I won't reveal here. Does it work? Well, I have some serious problems with the hows and whys of what occurs late in the film, and how even the location plays into those hows and whys. On the tribute and black humor levels, it almost works. But not quite.

Quad
Dir.: Ali Presley Paras
Rating: 6/9
No, it's not about a slasher in a wheelchair who has a murderous mind-meld with his helper dog Rottweiler. Four characters and four camera angles. You would think four different POV, but you would be wrong... almost. A pretty inventive short, based around three friends watching a slasher flick – and a secretive love triangle to boot – while something is wandering about the house around them. Because I have been rewatching The Wild, Wild West series recently, the images of the split screens constantly changing and sometimes combining reminded me of that show's graphics for going to and coming back from commercials. A packed little film that is actually a nice addition to the slasher canon. I don't know if it would work as a longer film, but for an experiment, it's pretty cool.

Let Me Go
Dir.: Glen Murakami
Rating: 6/9
This one gets the Super Overly Arty award for this movie. Gorgeously shot, though the effect comes off suited more for a Chanel No. 5 ad than an horror anthology. I almost wish that this dialogue-free piece were done fully as a silent film of the old school, because some of its imagery is entirely suited to the style. It's a lovely piece, but it is as ethereal as its ghostly female lead, and wisps away from the mind in direct contrast to how she doesn't depart from the mind of her former lover.

Mother
Dir.: Zeke Pinheiro
Rating: 7/9
Ooh, boy... I like this one. So, if you were expecting a baby, and the ultrasound revealed a whole bunch of spiders inside you instead, how do you think you would act? And what do you think would happen to your mate? That's what I thought. Very quick and very different, but the creepiest film in the entire bunch, especially if my wife were to have watched it (which she never would). Nice job, Mr. Pinheiro. (Don't worry, he's going to show up one more time here.)


Evil Voices Lie
Dir.: Grant Olin
Rating: 5/9
Someone watches a videotape of a man being interviewed who had been the captive of a famous serial killer. But something strange is happening during the tape. A very odd piece, and I honestly don't have much of an opinion on it. The film almost seems like it is a clip out of a longer piece, which may be its intent, but I don't really have an angle on this one. I may have to watch it again.


Paramnesia
Dir.: Michael May
Rating: 5/9
This one is far more ambitious but also more pretentious than director May's other short (Entity), and it is nicely shot for the most part. Once again, though, stiff acting undoes some of its effect, and there is just not enough here overall to really intrigue me.  


Bitter
Dir.: Ned Ehrbar
Rating: 6/9
A comedy short that at first seems like it has a nice reference to Richard Bachman (i.e. Stephen King) when one character seems to mockingly curse another much larger character with the word "Thinner" at the very beginning of the film. Then we discover it is a battle of two witches who each use single (or near single) word curses ending in "-er" at each other: the title word "bitter," "liver," "Hitler," with generally comic results in most cases. My favorite is "The Millers" and then the other character discovers to her horror that her entire DVR is now filled with nothing but recordings of the movie "The Millers". (I guess somebody had it in for that film; I still haven't seen it, but I like the joke.) Very light but a nice tonic after so much darkness.


Mr. Hendrix
Dir.: Zeke Pinheiro
Rating: 5/9
Another monster in the closet tale, this time with a scared kid who enlists his parents to check out the fiend. When the kid mentions that the boogeyman goes by the name Mr. Hendrix, this triggers bad memories for the father, who encounter the boogeyman in his youth. For me, this short is enhanced briefly by the presence of John Ennis (from Mr. Show) who plays the father's dad in a flashback, and the acting is solid throughout, even by the kid. But it is just too predictable a riff on previous work with the boogeyman character, including Stephen King's.


The Collection
Dir.: Josh C. Waller
Rating: 7/9
The director of Raze (the female fighting film, which I thought was a solid drive-in-style film, starring Zoe Bell) helms this short, which features Fringe's Lance Reddick as a professional photographer who has an agenda that goes beyond being merely sleazy. It turns out he has an antique camera that takes a "special kind of picture"... but what type of picture would that be? That's what innocent models with their eyes wide shut are for, silly... As far as a polished, finished piece goes, this one is aces.

And don't forget to sit through the credits...

Overall TC4P Rating: 6/9
The twenty films averaged out to 5.3 for me overall, but in discarding the films that I rated as "5", which is my middle rating, it turns out I enjoyed more of these films (11 films rated as "6" or "7") than I actively disliked (only 3 films rated as "3" or "4"). I am greatly surprised by this, as I honestly expected to dislike and even outright hate more of them. As a viewing experience, I have to rate this film a small success, and bump its rating up to a "6" overall, which is "good" on my personal ratings chart. I hope that Volume Two, which I will be reviewing in the coming weeks, will turn out so well.

RTJ

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