Studio: Arc Entertainment
Director: Adam Montierth, Matthew Mebane, Bruce Dellis, Donovan Montierth, Jason Marsden
Writer: Cameron Young, Bruce Dellis, Jason Walters, Jose Rosette
Producer: Nick Stahr, Neil Mather, Adam Devaney, Jason Walters, Matthew Mebane
Stars: Ricky Schroder, Jon Polito, Tatyana Ali, Bart Johnson, Curtis Armstrong, David Huddleston, Cathy Rankin, Jason Marsden, Alexander Polinsky, Rick Hoffman, Krista Allen, Jason Spisak, Jon Gries
Five tales about cursed boxing gloves, a secret organization, a suicide club, a hitman, and a man’s doppelganger are told that relate to a mysterious locker.
What sets “Locker 13” apart from the resurging wave of horror anthology films is its aim for a “Twilight Zone” thriller feel instead of “Tales from the Crypt” shock value. It makes for a refreshing alternative to the macabre madness, blood-soaked monsters, and paranormal hauntings of those other movies by keeping a level head that still retains enough twists and chills to be suspenseful and entertaining.
Right away, the movie puts itself in slightly unusual territory for a horror/thriller anthology when Jon Gries is introduced as the de facto host in the bookend story. Instead of a wisecracking corpse, cackling witch, or buxom beauty, “Locker 13” chooses a grounded reality approach to its framing device, which is perfectly in tune with its Rod Serling throwback tone.
Gries, chewing up and spitting out his dialogue with the right amount of smirking relish, is a seemingly straightforward cleaning crew supervisor at an Old West theme park showing the ropes to ex-con new hire Jason Spisak, a spitting image of Steve Railsback almost assuredly destined to play Charles Manson at some point in his career. While escorting Spisak around the park, Gries relates four tales of items related to a locker with the number 13 before the film returns to these two men for the fifth and final segment.
After the introduction, “Locker 13” opens with “Down and Out.” Taking over for Bruce Willis from “Pulp Fiction” is Ricky Schroder as an aging boxer so far past his prime that he barely qualifies for grunt work as a sparring partner. Schroder lucks into a pair of boxing gloves straight from the shelves of Curious Goods and his career finds new life when his meathooks turn into fatal fists of fury.
It is a somewhat choppy story, and a predictable one at that, but “Down and Out” pays its dues through familiar faces turning in quality performances. Venerable ‘That Guy’ character actors Jon Polito and Steve Eastin join Schroder in adding a surprising amount of weight to slim material that has been seen before in other stories about a moral comeuppance switcheroo.
The clumsiness comes from the questionable addition of Tatyana Ali as an out from left field love interest for Schroder. Five years before its release, “Locker 13” had a genesis on Kickstarter that saw “Down and Out” produced as proof of concept for attracting investors. Ali’s out of place character seems like a Hail Mary meant to add one more notable name to the cast, and was probably included for that reason.
“The Byzantine Order” goes for telling its tale with a subtle streak of comedy that is genuinely successful at bringing air-out-the-nose chuckles without betraying the weirdness of its mystery. In the 1920’s, Eugene is on tap for initiation into an odd order of fez-wearing lodge members when their mysterious elder arrives to propose a blood sacrifice. “The Byzantine Order” has a telegraphed resolution with its familiar fatal misunderstanding setup, but it manages to capture both sly humor and grim horror with its EC Comics style.
Nearly every short story collection has a weak link and “Suicide Club” earns that dishonor for “Locker 13.” The entire segment is just two men confronting each other’s philosophy on life, death, and taking one’s own life. It is a thoroughly boring entry with a thud for an ending that only punctuates its dullness.
“The Author” picks things up again with a tale about a hitman contracted to kill a publishing magnate who tries finding out which of the man’s mistresses hired him for the job. The segment feels as close to HBO’s “Tales from the Crypt” as any story in “Locker 13,” and it is made only partially distracting by actor Rick Hoffman’s bizarre choice to play his character with a comical Cuban accent. The accent is arguably in keeping with the tongue-in-cheek tone “The Author” wants to put across, but it moderately undermines the serious stakes of its chained women in peril premise.
The wraparound with Gries and Spisak closes out “Locker 13” with an interesting tale about Spisak’s doppelganger. Imagine finding out that your mirrored reflection is actually a separate version of you existing in another reality. Spisak sees his twin when he opens the door to locker 13 and then finds himself in a predicament that is an original take on a classic conundrum.
Even during times when it fluctuates on a fair to middling wavelength, “Locker 13” has enough depth in its recognizable roster of talent to give slow and predictable beats an added moment of punch. The stories, style, and production values are roughly in line with that of the UPN network’s 2002 revival of “The Twilight Zone.”
Tighten up “Down and Out” and replace/excise “Suicide Club” and “Locker 13” would be an even easier recommendation. Even as is, “Locker 13” has enough good material and plenty of solid acting to carve a unique place for itself in the horror anthology subgenre.
Review Score: 75