Aahhh yes; the horror anthology film. The anthology is perfect for the horror genre because a filmmaker can put in all the various monsters and themes they like in it while at the same time offering up variety for viewers. DRIVE-IN HORRORSHOW offers up five stories ranging from serial killers to monsters in closets to old-school slashers to victims of viruses. But we also know that anthology films also run the risk of presenting some pretty lame-ass stories. Making short films/stories is not an easy task. The filmmaker needs to be able to fill in a 15min story with enough character development, action, and dialogue to be able to tell a compelling story in a short amount of time. We’ve seen some huge successes (2010’s SLICES OF LIFE) and some utter failures (2010’s NIGHTMARE ALLEY). So let’s buckle in, pull out the popcorn, and see if DRIVE-IN HORRORSHOW fits the bill.
The framework the five stories are told in is in a run-down and abandoned drive-in. There’s been some kind of apocalyptic event, but every night The Projectionist (Luis Negron) opens the doors so various creatures of the night, ghouls, and murder victims can come out and enjoy some good old fashioned drive-in style films. The good old days of the drive-in theater may be over, the Projectionist explains, but some films are so scary they can never die. This is some big talk Mr. Projectionist … I hope you can deliver!!
The first story, “Pig”, is a decent start. It’s a very minimalist approach taking place in one room (the bathroom) and it only has two actors in it, Roseanne (Judith Kalaora) and Tim (Matt Catanzano). It seems Tim was a pretty naughty boy. The previous night he slipped Roseanne a roofie and had his way with her. But Roseanne doesn’t go running to the police, hell no!! She finds some industrial epoxy, smashes out Tim’s teeth with a hammer, and glues Tim’s entire body in the bathtub. When he wakes up she has some choice words for him and then turns on the water. We get the typical begging and pleading from Tim but the story itself unfolds in a very standard way. There’s no twist or anything to really grab you. Even the f/x were uneven in this one. When looking at Tim it was very obvious he was wearing a “smashed out teeth” mouth piece. In fact there were a few times I thought the mouth piece was going to fall out when he was talking!! But then in another scene when Tim rips his foot away from the side of the tub, the f/x of the skin tearing off the sole of his foot was cringe-inducing and very well done. Writers Greg Ansin and Michael Neel (who also directed) keep “Pig” short and sweet and don’t drag it out, and this gives me some confidence that the filmmakers know what they’re doing.
The second story “The Closet” unfortunately falls a little short as well. In this one young Jaime (Chris Fidler) is having a hard time at home. His parents (John Cleary and Elizabeth Rose) are always brow beating and comparing him to his “perfect” older sister Christy (Michaela Reggio). They’re always yelling at him to grow up and be more serious. One night he gets sent to his room and hears an odd noise in his closet. A creature has taken up residence there and tells him if he brings his sister to it it will make all his problems go away. He does but soon afterwards learns that the creature wants more than just his older sister. The creature here isn’t too hot and looks like something you can find from the old TV shows TALES FROM THE DARK SIDE and MONSTERS. But what really shines here is the writing. Sure the father is a little over the top, but what’s interesting is that we get to see the consequences of Jaime offing his family. The ending of “The Closet” saves this one and makes it pretty interesting.
The two middle stories, “Fall Apart” and “The Meat Man,” are where this anthology shines. “Fall Apart” is told mainly in flashbacks from Dr. Patrick Mazursky’s (Larry Jay Tish) point of view. He tells us he’s dying painfully and then begins to re-tell the story of how he got to the point he’s at now. Patrick is the doctor in a small town and makes a house call that forever changes his life. He unknowingly becomes infected by some kind of virus (at least he thinks it’s a virus) that starts off with typical cold/flu symptoms and then quickly becomes something way worse. This story quickly delves into the realm of “body horror” that David Cronenberg himself would cringe at. I don’t wanna give anything away here, but “Fall Apart” is easily the goriest story in the anthology and writers Ansin and Neel knock this one outta the park. My only complaint here is that they set up one of the characters to be something more than he appears but Ansin and Neel never explore that character more. Small criticism for easily the best story in the entire anthology.
“The Meat Man” takes a town’s urban legend and brings it home for two brothers who begin to wonder if their dad (Jonathan Donahue) isn’t who they think he is. “The Meat Man” is also a strong entry and was both fun and gory with strong performances. You’ll like the way this one ends.
Usually the final story in an anthology film is the strongest. Look at CREEPSHOW and “They’re Creeping Up on You!!” That’s why I’m surprised the filmmakers made “The Watcher” the final story instead of having “Fall Apart” wrap up the film. “The Watcher” is a typical ‘slasher in the woods’ story and doesn’t really offer anything new. The soundtrack was terrible (it sounded as though everything was voiced over), and this story easily had the worst acting among all the stories. Check out a sample of the dialogue:
HIM: Shut up; just shut up!!
HER: I won’t shut up.
HIM: Then be quiet!!
Hhmmm. There’s some decent and well-done gore here, but the surrounding story is so “Meh” that there’s nothing here to have any impact on the viewer.
My biggest complaint with DRIVE-IN HORRORSHOW was with the placement of the stories. I would’ve started with “The Closet” followed by “Pig” and “The Meat Man” and ending with “Fall Apart.” I’d just leave out “The Watcher” all together. This is a fun anthology film that delivers in the gore, and luckily the acting is overall strong. The stories don’t really offer anything dynamic but simply follow a pretty standard A to B to C story arc. But trust me, “Fall Apart” is worth the price of admission alone, and based solely on this and “The Meat Man” stories I think you’ll have a fun time. Check this one out.
Director: Michael Neel (& co-writer with Greg Ansin)
Plot: 3 out of 5 stars overall; 4 out of 5 for “Fall Apart”
Gore: 6.5 out of 10 skulls overall; 8.5 out of 10 for “Fall Apart”
Zombie Mayhem: 0 out of 5 brains
Reviewed by Scott Shoyer