Studio: Chiller Films
Director: Nick Everhart, Miko Hughes, Emily Hagins, Eric England, Andy Mitton, Jesse Holland
Producer: Andrew Gernhard, Zach O’Brien, Colin Theys, Irina Popov, Richard W. King
Stars: Corey Scott Rutledge, Ted Yudain, Lowell Byers, Caleb Barwick, Doug Roland, Symba Smith, Lance Kramer, Joe Varca
The senses of smell, sight, sound, taste, and touch connect five short horror tales.
By definition, anthologies are a mixed bag. “Chilling Visions” is no exception to this usually apt generalization, although it does have a cool concept for its connecting tissue. With one short for each of the human senses, “Chilling Visions” presents five horror stories of varying effectiveness unified by one cohesive theme and a loosely interlaced mythology.
“Smell” kicks off the proceedings with an appropriately EC Comics vibe of black comedy and “be careful what you wish for” morality. A mysterious saleslady gives slovenly bachelor Seth a complimentary bottle of cologne that makes him irresistible to women, loan officers, and even his bosses. Unfortunately for Seth, the more he uses the mystery fragrance, the more he turns into a decaying pile of black goo.
Unfortunately for the audience, there is nothing more to the piece than that. “Smell” is tied for the longest of the five segments and it feels like it. The setup is straightforward, but it goes on longer than it needs to as the story over-illustrates Seth’s newfound fortunes. The climax comes off as uninspired and makes for a lackluster introduction to the film.
Immortalized in genre fans’ memories as Gage Creed in “Pet Sematary” and Heather Langenkamp’s onscreen son in “Wes Craven’s New Nightmare,” actor Miko Hughes trades sides of the camera to direct the anthology’s second segment. “See” is an interesting idea that has its mad scientist optometrist extracting ocular fluids that capture visual memories inside eye drops. Dr. Tom likes to peep flashbacks of favorite patient Amy undressing in the mirror. But he puts his drops to a nobler use after reliving a punch in the face from Amy’s abusive boyfriend. Dr. Tom decides to give the bully a taste of his own medicine by filling the man’s eyes with horrible visions.
“See” works well as a short because the format provides a ready excuse for narrative shortcuts. Logic leaps such as how fast the boyfriend realizes what the doctor is doing can be overlooked given the restricted timeframe. There are also a number of inspired elements including a nice ripple effect for simulating eye droplets and a fine performance from Ted Yudain as the eye doctor. The letdown is that the ending is not as satisfying as the initial concept. The uniqueness of the story and the production design create an expectation that the story falls just short of fulfilling.
Filmmaking wunderkind Emily Hagins delivers the strongest chapter of “Chilling Visions” with “Touch.” With his parents incapacitated after a car accident on a forest road, blind boy Henry searches the woods for help with only his white cane as a guide. Blindness makes the segment ripe for sight to be its driving sense, but touch becomes doubly fitting when Henry is forced to match wits with a germaphobe serial killer. The murderer avoids touch whenever possible while Henry relies on it to survive.
Tension comes from watching Henry tease danger as his fingers trace over the pointed metal of narrowly avoided animal traps and other obstacles. Cleverness and fearlessness combine to make the boy into a compelling young hero and the way that Hagins weaves her employ of touch into the narrative exhibits a smart sense of storytelling.
“Taste” is another piece that comes out of the gate strong until stumbling down the stretch with a weak final reveal. Aaron looks like an Average Joe in his hoody and tennis shoes. Nonetheless, he has been chauffeured via limousine to the architecturally intimidating offices of the Watershed Corp for reasons unknown. The people milling about the hallways, which include several characters from the previous segments, are just as mysterious in their motives and purposes. The dialogue is just as cryptic and the story purposefully guards its direction to keep viewers cautiously in the dark.
Where writer/director Eric England succeeds is in creating a provocative and tantalizing environment. There is a feeling of having stepped into a world with unknown rules and it is too late to turn back. That feeling turns into one of having been hoodwinked when the story turns out to be an excuse to merge Shawnee Smith’s Jigsaw device with Pac-Man for an ending dripping in as much disappointment as it is blood.
“Listen” closes out the film with a “found footage” tale based around the legend of composer Mikkola Losif, who is said to have created a piano piece with the power to drive listeners insane. Elements of “The Ring” mix with “All the President’s Men” and “At the Mountains of Madness” as documentarians Andy and Jesse attempt to find the lost compositions and assemble them in the correct sequence.
Despite a nod towards the often underappreciated “Halloween III” with its ending, “Listen” follows suit with the “Chilling Visions” theme of having a solid core inspiration that lacks in total satisfaction. The story is creepy, but this is another segment that takes more time than it needs and some shaky acting from Lance Kramer and Joe Varca as the filmmakers’ doppelgangers undercuts the sincerity of the approach.
Although four of the five segments have noticeable flaws that lead to underwhelming moments, there are enough interesting story ideas and creative choices on hand to make the package enjoyable. While everything does not work the way it should, or perhaps even the way that the filmmakers intended, there is never a sense that anyone is not giving their best effort to the production. As with many horror anthologies, the varied voices, themes, and cinematic touches make it a reasonable bet that viewers are likely to find something that resonates with their individual tastes.
Review Score: 75