John RitterRachel YorkBryan CranstonBrenda Strong
Terror Tract
Medium: film, anthology
Year: 2000
Director: Clint Hutchison, Lance W. Dreesen
Writer: Clint Hutchison
Keywords: horror
Country: USA
Actor: John Ritter, David DeLuise, Allison Smith, Rachel York, Carmine Giovinazzo, Fredric Lehne, Wade Williams, Carl Strano, Harrison Held, Bryan Cranston, Katelin Petersen, Jodi Harris, Marcus Bagwell, Brenda Strong, Will Estes, Shonda Farr, Barbara Jansen, Jerry Day, Branwen Mayfair, Lynda Kay Parker, Rafaella Forero, Allen Simpson
Format: 96 minutes
Website category: Horror modern
Review date: 13 December 2010
It's an American horror anthology film that didn't reach theatres, but went straight to DVD in a twin release with Cherry Falls. However despite this, it's pretty good. I also liked Cherry Falls, but this one's worth an actual recommendation.
It contains three stories, wrapped in a fourth framing story about an estate agent who's showing houses to a young couple. Unfortunately everywhere they go, the previous occupants seem to have killed each other, committed suicide or some other such jolly pranks. The first story involves a man, his wife, her lover and a lake. The second is about a little girl who decides that her new best friend is a monkey. Finally the third one involves a serial killer who calls himself "Granny", wears a rubber mask to make himself look like an old lady and appears to have a psychic link with a local teenager.
What I liked about these stories is their directness. They're not paced like a ninety-minute feature film. They're like short stories rather than novels, with simple storytelling that isn't wasting any time and certainly isn't planning to faff around for half an hour letting us get to know the characters. Now admittedly I'm normally the first to applaud that kind of thing, but it's refreshing to have a change of pace like this. Of course it needs to be done well, but here it is. I actually found the first story scary, which is a pleasant surprise these days. I'm not saying that the characters are cliched or cardboard, mind you. They're perfectly acceptable, while furthermore I have no problems at all with the performances of the actors playing them. It's simply that the plot's pushing them without preamble straight into the story.
The first story ("Nightmare") was my favourite, although all three are sufficiently good that there's hardly anything in it. We begin with a hot blonde saying goodbye to her husband, then going into her bedroom and taking her clothes off. If you see complaints about the nudity in this film, that's simply because we wanted more of it. We have a simple story with a familiar plot, but in a good way. Love triangle + lake. You're ahead of me already. However the wet footprints feel almost classical, in an M.R. James kind of way. That's a better kind of scary than we normally get in modern horror films, since it's working on the imagination rather than simply throwing monsters at us. To me, it felt almost literary. As a result, I didn't mind the "it was just a dream, honey" or the predictable plot twists.
The second story ("Bobo") is the monkey one. Bryan Cranston has a great role as the loving father of a chubby eight-year-old daughter (Katelin Petersen) who may look like a Russian wrestler when she lies down but is actually quite a good actress. One day Petersen finds a friend. It's a monkey in a red suit. Why the red suit? That must mean it once had an owner, but it's also a fair bet this individual is now deceased because this is one evil monkey. In fairness any monkeys in the audience would probably call it self-defence because Cranston ends up doing his best to kill the little monster, but objectively speaking it's impressive how vicious the director manages to make it look. These are not scary animals. This one could sit on your palm and would probably die if you kicked it. Nevertheless it looks evil when it bares its teeth and somehow it never occurs to us to go "awww", which was always going to be the biggest danger with this segment.
Mind you, if I were Cranston, I wouldn't have been wrapping Petersen in quite so much cotton wool. Let her learn a few realities of life. Apart from anything else, it might save some headaches later.
The third story ("Come To Granny") is about a teenager telling a psychiatrist about his visions of a serial killer at work. The good news is that it avoids the obvious plot twist that I'd been expecting and that I'm pretty sure the director is deliberately teasing us with. The bad news is that the cute girl who takes her top off does so in a swimming pool. Nevertheless this is another strong episode with good storytelling momentum and actors who are playing their roles with conviction.
All that's good. I liked all three stories and not in an ironic trash-hunting way. They're not cheap or cheesy, unless you have a problem with the short story format (straightforward storytelling, twist ending, etc). A bit predictable, yes, but that's another feature of the format. What lets the movie down, comparatively speaking, is the framework story with John Ritter and in particular its ending. Oh, I liked it. It's memorable and funny. You could even call it brave. However it's openly playing the horror for laughs and leaving you with the notion that the film was fun and silly, whereas in fact that's only true of those last five minutes. It doesn't even make sense. Why should all those people have come out just then, when our house-hunters had been driving around the neighbourhood all day without a sign of them? I've seen some sneering comments on the internet about this movie, even from people who enjoyed it, and I think that's the fault of the framing story. Sometimes an idea can be strong, but wrong.
In summary: it's genuinely good. It's one of my favourite cinematic horror anthologies, for a start, although I haven't seen as many of them as I should. I sometimes have a slight problem with that genre, perhaps because they can lose me a bit when they jump from one episode to another and I'm happier with a breathing space between them to adjust. Here we have that. Admittedly there's no Peter Cushing, but sadly that would have been impossible. Here the episodes are well made, the framing story works and it wouldn't be ridiculous to call it the best American horror film of 2000. Ginger Snaps is Canadian. Does Shadow of the Vampire count, despite being a BBC co-production?