Ginger Nuts of Horror
In recent years, horror anthology movies have returned to prominence in a big way. Which makes sense, as their very nature is ideal for independent filmmakers looking to get their names out there. After all, the time-honored tradition of making short films to hone your craft and show people what you’re capable of does have one major drawback: Namely, the market for short films is pretty damn small.
If, however, you can pool resources with a few like-minded filmmakers and link a handful of shorts together, then, voila, you got yourself a marketable feature. Each segment can have its own cast, crew, and budget, and each one is a lot shorter to film than a more long-form production. Thus, if anything goes wrong, there’s less of a chance the whole project will tank; maybe one short doesn’t get done but you still have several others, or if it’s the reverse, well, you may not have a full feature but at least you have a finished short.
For creators, the dangers are relatively low and the benefits are high. Likewise for the audience, who can sample a variety of up-and-coming directors and enjoy multiple stories without having to commit to a single two-hour narrative.
Which brings us to Volumes of Blood: Horror Stories, the follow-up to 2015’s Volumes of Blood. Bringing together eight different segments from six different filmmakers, the movie’s low-budget roots may be plain as day, but so is the passion its creators have for the genre, with every single segment playing out as a gleeful seriocomic celebration of gory b-movie fun.
First up is “Murder Death Killer,” in which a break-in goes awry for a trio of white-trash criminals who find themselves on the run from an undead scarecrow. Then, in “Haters,” a pair of obnoxious horror-movie purists become cannon fodder for a real-life slasher after getting kicked out of the multiplex for disrupting a showing of the latest Hollywood remake. Yet another murderer is on the loose in “Trick or Treat,” but he may not be the only one hunting his chosen prey.
“A Killer House” lives up its name when a pair of hopeful homeowners get the grisly grand tour from a sinister realtor. After that, “Feeding Time” sees an awkward insurance salesman seduced by a prospective customer who is convinced there’s a monster in her closet. Then “Blood Bath” takes its title literally, as a young couple’s shower-time sexcapades are rudely interrupted by a carnivorous bathtub.
In a yuletide twist on the French film À l'intérieur, “Fear, For Sinners Here” sees the home of a gift-wrapping mama invaded by a crazed Christmas caroler seeking vengeance for losing out on the hottest toy of the season. Finally, in “The Deathday Party,” a married couple of suburban serial killers spend hubby’s b-day dealing with annoying neighbors, a feisty would-be victim, and, worst of all, hemorrhoids.
Interestingly, Volumes of Blood: Horror Stories boasts a pretty eccentric structure. Rather than presenting a procession of unconnected shorts separated by title cards, or a collection of tales told by a narrator in a bookending wraparound segment, the stories here are actually nested inside of one another, then connected together by a somewhat tangled web.
For example, one story is revealed to be a movie being watched by the protagonists of the next story. Another story contains a flashback which leads to a completely separate story, which itself involves revelations that segue into several other stories. Think Trick ‘R Treat, but sloppier. It’s an interesting approach, and clever in a metafictional sort of way, but it also feels unnecessarily convoluted, especially if you’re, say, a reviewer trying to explain things in a concise, spoiler-free write-up for The Ginger Nuts of Horror. Ahem.
Like many modern anthologies in the cobbled-together multi-director mold of V/H/S, XX, and The ABCs of Death, Volumes of Blood: Horror Stories has some telling problems that are a direct result of its chosen format. This new school of anthology may be a great way to expose audiences to a diverse array of talents, but it lacks the level of cohesion that even the most unbalanced of Amicus’ portmanteaus typically managed.
Surprisingly, despite the variety of creators at the helm here, one issue the film suffers from is a lack of variety in its stories. Where the best anthologies tend to offer a three-ring circus of tropes—maybe a vampire story here, a ghost story there, etc.—most of the segments here are basically miniature slasher movies. Too many focus on decidedly human killers, resulting in the final product feeling overall a bit same-y.
It might have helped if there weren’t actually so many stories on offer. As it is, eight segments is a few too many, with several running too short anyway. There’s a reason most of the classic omnibus films of yesteryear limited themselves to three or four segments; doing that allowed each story just enough time to breathe and to establish what made it different from the others. It’s not for nothing that “Fear, For Sinners Here” (which has a much slower pace than the stories surrounding it) proves a noteworthy standout with its methodical development of atmosphere and suspense.
Despite these negatives, though, Volumes of Blood: Horror Stories also has some very big positives in its favor. Chief among them is that it’s clearly a movie clearly for horror fans, by horror fans. With its parade of masked maniacs, a driving retro-synth soundtrack, and some truly fist-pumpingly cool gore gags (you’ve got to love that messy vacuum-cleaner exsanguination, the sharpened peppermint-stick stabbing, the anal impalement, and those pools of blood swimming with candy corn and broken teeth), the film oozes with love for the genre. The raucous psychobilly attitude and ever-present tongue-in-cheek sense of humor makes it obvious the filmmakers had a blast making this. It’s easy for that energy to rub off on you.
Sure, the efforts to tie in characters and story elements from the first Volumes of Blood (not to the mention attempts to set things up for continuation in a third film) may be clumsy, but the overall effect if you’ve seen the previous movie is nevertheless potent. If nothing else, it will surely make you eager for the next one.