Dark Stories: Tales from Beyond the Grave (pt. 1)
Overview: A collection of vaguely tinted stories that aren't so much from beyond the grave as they are from the low-income housing block just down the street from the grave.
Directed By: Various New Zealanders, 2001.
The Case For: Each of these short films has some merit. A few of the directors actually show quite a bit of promise.
The Case Against: Each of these short films has some massive, glaring flaw. None of them actually justify the title of the whole movie.
Ever since filmmaking fatty Peter Jackson hit it big with the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy, New Zealand has been hailed as the number one hot spot of the cinematic world. And why not? Personally, I loved the "Rings" films, and I was recently lucky enough to see Jackson's early masterpiece, "Dead Alive" on the big screen. Yes, New Zealand has the perfect locations for any sort of scene imaginable, which is why I thought it would be a nice change of pace to see seven young directors get in there and really fuck it up. Hence, "Dark Stories: Tales From Beyond the Grave." This collection of shorts is described thusly:
In the tradition of Creepshow, Tales from the Crypt and Bordello of Blood come terrifying stories of horror, mayhem and destruction leading you down a frightening path to the depths of hell!
Right. Well, "Bordello of Blood" is a "Tales from the Crypt" presentation, so that part is basically filler, but at least this gives us some sort of idea of what to expect. I'm sure you all remember the classic "Tales from the Crypt" shorts. The movies sucked, so we'll just ignore those, but the actual shorts followed a great formula: a person does something dark and sinister and profits from it, then in the end there is a disturbing twist and their deed ends up coming back to haunt them. Usually the person would end up going insane or getting killed. The point is, there was always a dark twist to begin with, then a much darker twist at the end. The seven short films that make up "Dark Stories" are only united by the fact that they all attempt some sort of "Tales from the Crypt"-ish twist, only they're not nearly as good. Certainly they don't meet the requirements for what I would consider being a "Tale from Beyond the Grave." Being a tale from beyond the grave needs a certain amount of good ol' scares and chills in my opinion. These stories barely pass for horror, and that's only because it would be too much of a nuisance to classify them in any other genre. Since each of the shorts was written and directed by a different person, I am going to review and score them all separately. This will keep things fair and unbiased while allowing me to take up space with those huge scoring grids, thus giving the illusion that I put more work into this than I actually did. Also, since all of the directors also wrote the screenplays for their own pieces, I can deduct points from the directing category for bad writing! Everybody wins!
Eau de la Vie - written and directed by Simon Bare
The first of the shorts features lush cinematography, a hearty supporting cast, and a number of failed attempts to shock the viewer with depravity spoiled by the fact that the script beats you over the head with it. Three friends sit down to eat in a very fancy restaurant. Grant and Sarah have been here before and are treating their new employee, Catherine, to a meal to celebrate her new job, whatever it may be. The Maitre D' comes to their table and asks Catherine to select a performer for the evening's show from a group of four scared-looking people wearing nothing but white bathrobes - one adult and one child of both genders. Not knowing what the show is, Catherine picks the adult male, a man who possesses the amazing capability to keep the same confused expression on his face at all times, regardless of what is happening to him. The robed man thanks Catherine as he is led past her, which gives us the impression that either he doesn't know what's in store for the person who is chosen, or he's goddamn retarded. A singer takes the stage in front of a string quartet and begins to sing a French song. I might even be able to believe it was really her singing and really the quartet playing if the voice didn't sound like it was coming straight off of vinyl and if the string quartet played horns.
The man is brought to a glass tank on a stage where all the diners can see. He is stripped of his robe, leaving him naked, and then sealed inside the tank. A tube then begins to slowly fill the tank with water. Okay, so there's your "Tales from the Crypt" twist - Catherine just chose who was going to drown naked in front of an audience of onlookers. I get it, you get it, we all get it. Basically everyone gets it but Catherine, who spends the next five minutes stuttering and stammering and trying to figure it out. At last, Sarah finally explains that everyone in the restaurant is there to enjoy a good meal and watch some random guy drown.
That's when Simon Bare loses control of his script. Now that Catherine finally understand that she is surrounded by a bunch of rich, depraved sadists who enjoy watching the suffering of others, it is immediately crammed down our throats in a disgustingly overwrought sort of way. For instance, Grant and Sarah are suddenly all over each other. That would be fine, normally. Simon Bare is showing us the various aspects of hedonistic excess - fine food, plenty of wine, overt sexuality, and pleasure in the darkest vices. But the allure of hedonism is in its mystique. When hedonists are portrayed in film or literature, they are exciting, enticing characters because they seem intellectually superior. They know something that the rest of us moral individuals have yet to figure out, and whatever that secret knowledge is, it has freed them from the constraints we allow society to place upon us. That mystique is entirely shattered when we hear Sarah blurt out things like "I feel like I could come" when she looks at the guy in the tank or when we see close-up after close-up of some ugly person stuffing food into their doughy mouths.
Now that the tank is just about full and the guy inside is gasping for the last available breaths of air, Catherine finally decides that maybe she should do something. She tries to get up and is stopped by Grant. Then she tries to get up again and is dragged into a side room by Sarah, where the two women proceed to scream at each other in such a high pitch that, combined with their New Zealand accents, they are completely unintelligible. There are some random bums outside the window reaching out toward the restaurant as if expecting someone to throw them something. Maybe they are explained, maybe not. I honestly don't know what happens here.
The point is, Catherine goes back to the table. By this point the guy has been completely underwater for like a minute and a half. Catherine vomits behind the table, which prompts Grant to inform her that she has "no tact whatsoever" in another feeble attempt by Simon Bare to write dialogue for a character with no human morality. Catherine grabs a bottle of wine and rushes toward the tank to smash it open, but she is stopped by the Maitre D', who, like all employees at four-star restaurants everywhere, deals with this problem customer by trying to beat her to death. They knock over a table while wrestling around, and wouldn't you know it? The only thing from the table that lands anywhere near Catherine's reach is a knife! What an obscenely lucky girl she must be! Catherine stabs the Maitre D', killing him to death, then grabs the wine bottle and smashes open the tank at last. The guy, who has now been under for at least three solid minutes, if not more, is not breathing. Calling Dr. Shocked! Luckily, Catherine is able to resuscitate him by jiggling his one of his manboobs. It works like a charm, and the man wakes up. All of the diners spontaneously give Catherine a standing ovation, except for Grant and Sarah, who walk out, smiling. Roll credits.
I'm not really sure what's up with that ending. The diners at this restaurant paid to see someone drown. They don't seem like the kind of people who are used to not getting what they paid for. Nor are they the kind of people who seem particularly prone to standing ovations. Even applause from their seats would make more sense to me. And what were Grant and Sarah smiling about? They look like jackasses! After going on and on about how no one cares about the tank guy's life, they are proven wrong and seem positively thrilled about it! This just doesn't sit well with me. "Eau de la Vie" tries to shock the audience with the sort of depravity that made "Salo, or the 120 Days of Sodom" so disturbing, but what made that film work was not only the subject matter, but also the realism with which it was shot. "Eau de la Vie" is too theatrical to seem real. I liked a lot of Simon Bare's transitional shots and the overall direction was nice, but it didn't work with the subject. Although the dialogue for Catherine made her a little on the slow-witted side, the actress did a very nice job suiting the proper emotional response to each of her lines. Also, credit is due to the guy in the tank, since he did in fact have to sit naked in a tank of what was probably very cold water. Sadly, points have to be deducted for Grant and Sarah, who aren't given much to work with, and don't do much of anything with what they've got.
|Special Effects:||- 2|
|Music / Sound:||- 5|