Studio: Image Entertainment
Director: Tom Holland
Writer: Tom Holland
Producer: Peter Pietrangeli, Robert Galluzzo, Dennis Defrehn
Stars: Angela Bettis, Ray Wise, William Forsythe, Danielle Harris, Noah Hathaway, Amber Benson, James Duval, Marc Senter, Jose Pablo Cantillo, Sarah Butler, A.J. Bowen
Horror filmmaker Tom Holland presents nine short stories of revenge, death, vampires, werewolves, and deals with the Devil.
In his introduction to “Bite,” one of the nine short horror tales in the anthology collection “Tom Holland’s Twisted Tales,” writer/director/cryptkeeper Tom Holland concludes with the odd sentiment, “I hope you enjoy it… but not too much.” I’m not sure why anyone would intentionally want an audience to only somewhat enjoy his/her movie, but it is a notion befitting a collection of scary stories with a sadly marginal overall entertainment value.
“Tom Holland’s Twisted Tales” was originally presented as a series of webisodes on FEARnet, which is an essential piece of information in understanding why the project has a low-rent look and visual effects that barely pass on a tablet screen, much less a hi-definition TV. While that initially intended format at least explains the rush job production quality, it doesn’t lend the presentation any favors with its repurposing for a feature-length home video.
With a pedigree that includes the original “Fright Night,” “Child’s Play,” and “Psycho II,” horror talent does not come much more noteworthy than Tom Holland. Joining him in his project of “Twisted Tales” are several recognizable genre actors including A.J. Bowen, Danielle Harris, William Forsythe, Ray Wise, and Angela Bettis. Unfortunately, having all of these names on the roster only sets the expectation bar higher than “Twisted Tales” is able to achieve.
“Twisted Tales” puts forth the perception that Holland perhaps felt a quick and dirty webseries produced on the cheap did not require an A game, as everyone involved has turned in stronger work. As long as no one tripped or flubbed a line, it seems as though any take at all was deemed acceptable for the final cut, which only heightens the movie’s underwhelming atmosphere and cut-rate design.
Things kick off with “Fred and His GPS,” featuring a smirk-worthy performance from A.J. Bowen playing the type of nervous Everyman he embodies so well. It is a decent enough start to the film, though it is ultimately little more than a setup for a “pfft!” ending punchline as its climax.
“To Hell with You” is a variation of the old “sell your soul to the devil” chestnut, a premise which appears once more later in the film. This is also the first segment to provide a full spoonful of the effects quality, or lack thereof, with animated flames even less convincing than those seen in a yuletide fireplace DVD.
“Boom” delivers a worthwhile story. Noah Hathaway starts out leaning into overacting territory, but it works in his favor since his character is a delusional loon. “Boom” takes on the classic love triangle confrontation that EC Comics was fond of in the 1950’s. It makes for an ending that is obvious from the get-go, but the fun comes from the mystery of how the story plans on arriving at that revelation.
“Mongo’s Magick Mirror” stars Joel Ward, a Neil Patrick Harris lookalike if ever there was one. It would be easy to raise an eyebrow over the questionable nature of Ward’s acting if the usually reliable Ray Wise were not performing in a similarly stale fashion. When actors appear to be on different pages regarding a story’s tone, the fault has to lie with the director for not clearly delineating a unified vision for their roles.
But “Bite” takes the prize for cringe-worthy amateur acting. The only element more distracting than the stiff dialogue delivery is the bizarre digital animation. The visual effects call undue attention to themselves by freeze framing the action and then having blood spray out of a point on the screen. Think of it like drawing a picture of a werewolf attack, ripping the paper where the throat is bitten, and then pouring cranberry juice through that hole. It is an incredibly poor choice for depicting the horror and it takes the audience immediately out of the setting.
Perhaps not so coincidentally, three of the four segments I enjoyed most were also the three longest stories, suggesting that Holland’s best material may not be well suited for a time constrained format. Although “Shockwave” falls into that group, it is a clear case where the segment would have worked better with even more time to develop. The short runtime is evident when a quartet of wine-sipping L.A. socialites go from a calm discussion of local traffic congestion to doomsday-driven panic in literally two minutes when Armageddon is on the horizon.
Strangely, “Shockwave” may also be the only piece that contains fluff in its short length, as the backend denouement is heavy on shots of Angela Bettis pouring a drink and smoking a cigarette while waiting for a mushroom cloud. Still, this is at the top of the list as one of the stronger “Twisted Tales” thanks to a quality cast depicting a more serious tone than some of the other segments, even if the ending is missing the punch it should have for a classic fatal misunderstanding scenario.
“Cached” is too straightforward of a story to be anything more than just okay. A key character in the story is weirdly portrayed with some sort of Beetlejuice impression, except without the makeup or striped suit, which makes for an unnecessary disruption. “Cached” also highlights some of the shoddy staging that mars the technical end of “Twisted Tales” when two of the actors are called upon to pantomime a thoroughly unconvincing fight with an invisible man.
“The Pizza Guy” is a clever idea about a girl who tries summoning the Devil just before the pizza guy appears, and then wonders if the two are one and the same. The problem is that Marc Senter, who was very good in “Cabin Fever 2: Spring Fever” (review here), gives the pizza guy his comedic presence by using an annoyingly distracting surfer accent. It sounds like Dana Carvey doing a Luke Wilson impersonation and it spoils an otherwise well-done story.
Instead of ending on the best short, “Twisted Tales” closes with its worst. “Vampire Dance” is not even a real story, but an art piece featuring vampires writhing in a Hollywood nightclub. If there was a plot in there somewhere, it went over my head.
Anthologies are usually mixed bags, and “Tom Holland’s Twisted Tales” certainly fits that description. The package includes nine stories totaling two and a half hours plus a lot of top talent in its credits. But that makes it kind of like being served a generous portion of a mediocre meal. With so many lackluster entries, undercooked acting, and a basement level budget tying the whole thing together, you have to wonder what the value even is to having Holland and the rest attached, if they are only going to produce something of moderate creative quality.
Review Score: 50