Also a 2010s portmanteau horror anthology of short films - the central theme of which is that they are directed by women. Predictably, it's a straight to Netflix affair.
I'm going to spoiler this massively, because honestly, there's nothing about this series that even remotely rates watching.
The thing that upset me the most about this is that horror is one of those things, like comedy, where there's a misogynist meme of "Women Can't Do X". I don't buy into that one iota. Regarding comedy - sure Margaret Cho spends more of her time ranting on about leftist politics and gay rights than she does trying to tell a joke, and Amy Schumer can't even write one, never mind tell one - Maria Bamford is an excellent comedienne of the new school, as is Rachel Feinstein, and Kirsten Schaal - joining a number of exceedingly funny women over the decades, including Joan Rivers, Lucille Ball, Lily Tomlin, Madeline Khan. Yes, women are FUNNY.
But women have also been very, very good at plumbing horror. Shall we not forget the classic monster Frankenstein, the retelling of the golem story as reimagined by a teenage girl, Mary Shelley? I'll get into some more later, as I take apart this particularly pointless exercise in moviemaking.
The first inkling that we get that this is going to be a particularly crap outing is the use of a completely nonsensical stop-motion animation with broken doll parts and such to indicate that one movie has ended, and the next has begun. One of the classic rules of a portmanteau horror is the use of a bridging story. Tales from the Crypt had several people arrive in a crypt with no knowledge of how they got there, but get stories told about them by a hooded figure - who turns out to be their afterlife judge. Tales from the Hood had four would-be gangsters showing up to a funeral house in hope of a lucrative shady deal and realize too late who they were trying to menace. Simply having toy music box plinking and a porcelain doll hand slide shakily past a porcelain doll head really doesn't bridge anything.
Let's move on.
So the stories themselves?
Let's stop for a moment to talk about horror. One of the things that's so amazing about good horror is that it plumbs our psyche and reaches in to our insecurities. Night of the Living Dead scared us about sudden societal collapse - in a world with Charles Manson cults and the assassination of JFK it was plausible that suddenly eveything would decay beyond the point of repair. The same is true of The Walking Dead, just as our own first world societies are at brink of collapse again. 28 Days Later reimagined the zombie movie as the fear of contagion or illness - one taken down a particularly brutal path with Contracted - in which a date rape results in a particularly horrifying STD.
And one of the great things about horror from non-standard or outsider folks is to see the world through someone else's eyes. I'm not worried on going into a Tinder date and ending up strapped to some kind of weird torture dungeon with someone who turns out to be a weird leather clad fetishist, but either that or getting gaybashed to death with post-orgasm remorse in a conflicted dude WAS a possibility for gay author Clive Barker - who turned that fear into the accessible to everyone Hellraiser. A whole host of themes are woven into a similar fear in the excellent Jennifer's Body - directed by Karyn Kusama. It starts out with a girl following a band as a groupie and instead of making out with the hot guitarist - getting literally sacrificed to Satan and hurled into a watery grave, but coming back as a man-created monster with all kinds of nods to teenage body horror.
So I was really excited to load up this particular effort, because honestly, there's a whole rich field of things that women are scared of. Some of them I know - that "walking down a darkened street knowing 99% of men can overpower me" trope, but lots of others I don't. I loved Jennifer's Body and The Babadook - which made me consider things in a way I hadn't before.
Then the first story started.
Here it is in a nutshell.
Boy on subway nosily asks guy dressed like the Herr Doktor from Raiders of the Lost Ark what he has inside a gaily wrapped present sitting on his lap. The man finally agrees to show the boy the contents. He stops smiling or even talking when seeing the contents. As of that day, he stops eating, a curious peace and calm entering his life instead. He talks to his sister and she stops eating. The father angrily confronts the boy about what the hell is going on. The boy whispers something to the father, and he stops eating too. The mother dreams that they're all eating pieces of her dissected leg. The three die of starvation one by one in a hospital. The end. The mother rides the subway, because she is hoping to find the man again to get some kind of closure. End.
Huh? Still trying to process what was supposed to be scary. Kids not eating? Mom not in on the family secret? Perhaps this would be scary to a woman, who would be able to clue in to whatever the filmmaker and author were trying to get at, but because of the scattershot nature of the piece, it's inaccessible to an outsider and doesn't even make sense. If you don't eat in a hospital, they don't put you on beepy machines but otherwise watch you die, they intubate you. If they can keep coma patients alive, they can keep people alive who can't eat. If they'd skipped rapidly from secret telling to the family intubated but kept alive and the mom furiously trying to find the man again for a solution, it would have worked better. If it had been distance from the rest of the family, showing them smiling at each other even as they fade away into unconsciousness as the mother's life descends into chaos as she goes to the hospital back and forth and tries to keep up the jobs and the household even as they ababdon her body and soul, it would have worked better as well.
The next one is an exercise in... I don't know, comedy? About a woman organizing a birthday party for an adopted child. Her and her husband are so rich that they have a maid, albeit a sarcastic one who drinks their booze. We know the child is adopted because the couple are white, and the child shows up smiling, having pissed herself at the age of about 12, and.... black. Turns out her husband did show up from some business meeting to attend, but died in his office. She doesn't seem in any way upset, devastated, just annoyed - typical Jerry, has to ruin everything doesn't he?
Cue the comedy of dragging the body from room to room to room as people show up, rather than doing the intelligent thing of CALLING THE POLICE and letting the maid IN on the death and having her escort the child and guests to ONE room as she has the police deal with it discreetly for the child's sake in the other. This isn't a horror story, it's literally a comedy bit from Fawlty Towers with the woman playing both the Basil Fawlty and Manuel roles. Turns out she pays some mascot-suited guy $1000 and two ounces of medical marijuana for the loan of his costume to conceal the body in - at the dinner table. Maid nudges body, body falls into birthday cake, maid removes head, children start immediately screaming hysterically (why? they're too young to understand right away the guy is dead, he just looks asleep) and the mother's face as she is just mortified at people finding out. We cut to "the birthday party - or why Lucy still needs therapy at 21 - or at least that's what her therapist said - hi, we're being cute rather than scary - no seriously, now we're being cute with after-movie titles - sort of like whacky credits - it's all about how embarassed the mother is to have a corpse around at a dinner party - etc."
Comedy in a horror franchise? Goodbye.
The next one actually really DOES try to infuse ACTUAL horror into the whole thing. But there's no context to it - or at the very least a lazy one. Four middle aged hippies hike with a RV as a base. They find petroglyphs, or possibly bits of adolescent graffiti - of stick figures. Done with about the same level of portending as them finding a particularly phallic cactus. But apparently this portends doom. They get into the night's drinking, etc. and for some reason one of them decides to walk out of the RV late at night and turns into a literal armor plated monster, who goes back and tears the rest of them apart. But it's not done in any way suspensefully - no John Carpenteresque cat-and-mouse or "HE'S BEHIND THE TREE" tension - just "Gretchen's a monster now, just stand there while she rips you apart for no apparent reason. Oh wait, must be a native burial ground or something, I guess those petroglyphs were 'keep out - turns blonde chicks into monsters".
There's that porcelain doll head again.
Hopefully the last one has something going for it. Single mom, teenage whiner of a boy with long hair. He's not just a wimpy adolescent whiner shit - he seems to go from playing with the family dog to hurting it, which causes mom to frown slightly, as if her fabric softener isn't quite working as well as it should. Later on it turns out he ripped off a fingernail off another kid at school, and the mother is just MORTIFIED at the shame - but the other child's mother is more of a "you're a bad parent! you failed as a mother and you need to DO SOMETHING" as opposed to "bitch, there will be PAPERS coming to your house from my lawyer, and I'm taking my earrings off right now and fucking you up" which would be a more reasonable response. The school administrator shrugs her shoulders, saying there'll be no consequences to the boy -after all, he's quite gifted, which the other woman ACCEPTS as opposed to getting an army of lawyers to come after the school as well. Likewise the mailman goes from trying once a year to ask her on a date to making cryptic remarks about her child being full of darkne.... oh wait, now an earlier comment makes sense. Her suddenly Hollywood superstar ex-husband who she won't let the boy see? Yup, this is literally Rosemary's Baby - the father having sold the son to Satan in exchange for fame and fortune. That whiny little prick is the Anti-Christ. So she does what any other good mother would do. She hugs him, reminding him scoldingly of all the things she's sacrificed for him - moving from city to city, taking dead end job after dead end job. And when lecturing Satan with stereotypical "Jewish mother guilting" doesn't make him immediately, you, know, like, STOP being SATAN, she hugs him hard enough to break his ribs and kill him, because after all, she's somehow strong enough to literally avert Revelations with a good Big John Studd style front-bear hug.
Leading me to just blink at the screen going "really? This is the best you got?"
Kusama was one of the filmmakers in this effort, so it isn't like they got B-grade people. But the whole thing looks like a made-shoddily-for-Netflix-shovel "nothing worth doing at all is worth doing right" situation. And is. Nothing is lensed with any attention to suspense, foreshadowing, dread, jump scare, or anything else. A woman turned armor plated killing machine just shows up and tears people up. (John Caparulo voice) "Well, fuck, they're dead, I guess". (/John Caparulo voice). It was so lazily made that even the SOUND in the birthday party montage was poorly recorded and almost unlistenable at first.
XX? Please no. Let's not make this steaming pile of lazily thrown together ideas a self-described showcase for women in horror. Kathryn Bigelow made Near Dark, for fuck's sake. Ana Lily Amirpour made the absolutely incredible arab vampire film "A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night", substituting a chador for a vampire cape.
If anything it's taught me that when dealing with a more nuanced idea of horror, it needs to be given time to develop, and actors with sufficient skill to draw out the nuances. You could not have made The Babadook as a short. A female director could not have made the amazing commentary on 80s alpha male bullshit with American Psycho in a quarter hour.
But what it did do was made me queue up a whole host of female directed horror movies, with me determined to treat myself to a good evening of true XX horror. So that's hopefully the happy ending after the villain of the piece gets taken out in the 89th minute, right?