SEPTEMBER 13, 2008
Even though I’m not a big fan of anthology movies, I figured I would enjoy Trapped Ashes, due to the filmmakers involved. Joe Dante and Sean Cunningham are pretty reliable, and even if I disliked it, Ken Russell would probably do something at least interesting. But had I noticed the positive blurb from ShockTillYouDrop’s Ryan Rotten, an otherwise good man who hated Wrestlemaniac and The Return, I probably would have (rightfully) assumed it was actually quite bad.
Like all anthology films, the quality varies from story to story, but unfortunately that spectrum never gets to the “good” end. At best (Monte Hellman’s Stanley’s Girlfriend) it’s merely underwhelming, but at its worst (pretty much everything else) it’s damn near unwatchable, and the wrapup is not only obvious, but completely lacking any sort of bite.
Dante is the one who directed the wrap-arounds, and they are the best part. We get some genre faves like John Saxon and Henry Gibson, not to mention Dick Miller, in a far too brief (and wordless) role as a security guard who seems apprehensive about letting our primary characters into the house that will lead to their doom. As these mostly unlikable folks stumble around a haunted house movie set (they are on a studio tour) there is some sense of fun, something that is more or less tossed out the window once the stories begin.
Russell’s story is the most outlandish (shock!), and probably would have been a bit more enjoyable had the ending not come out of nowhere and had some actual development. It seems like they simply ran out of time so cut an important chunk out. Indeed, there is a longer cut on the DVD, but I had no desire to watch it, since the parts that did flow well weren’t really that great anyway. Killer tits is a funny concept, but nothing is done with it beyond biting a guy’s back. And that’s a problem throughout the damn thing – there’s not a single onscreen death. Violence does not equal quality, but if you’re going to show me 105 minutes of bad anthology, at least offer some interesting effects to admire.
Cunningham’s story is like a bad Heavy Metal reject that was reshot in live action (with some of the animation left over), and John Gaeta’s, the worst of the bunch, has not a single interesting character or moment in the entire thing. I guess it takes some sort of talent to make a movie about a girl who has a twin that’s also a worm and make it so dreadfully boring, but not a talent worth having.
Which leaves Hellman’s tale. I liked this one the most, even if it’s the least “horror” in the bunch (if anything, the horror element ruins it). They never say his last name, but its essentially a fictionalized account of why Stanley Kubrick never returned to America after leaving to shoot Paths of Glory (or “a World War I movie” – nothing in the story is explicitly named). It’s got a super hot girl, a love triangle involving two filmmakers, and lots of people playing chess. I dunno, for me it was interesting, but that’s probably because I love Kubrick and thus enjoy seeing this strange little story about him, however outlandish. Of the four, it’s the only one I would actually want to sit through again (yet, I didn’t – this one also has an extended version on the DVD, which makes me wonder why they didn’t just make an extended cut of the film).
And that’s the other thing – for a movie about 6 people telling scary stories, we sort of get gypped with only four. Then again, I don’t know if I could sit through 2 more stories on the level of these others, especially since they are all written by the same guy. Still though, they don’t even explain why one guy doesn’t have to tell a story (one story is about two of them, so it’s OK).
In addition to the two extended stories, we also get a full length commentary that’s pretty interesting. It’s led by the writer and some of the cast (some of the directors sit in on their stories as well), and they cover pretty much everything from casting to production to editing. Can’t say much about the film they are discussing, but it’s a lively chat and if you enjoyed the movie for some reason, you should definitely check it out. There are also brief making of pieces for each tale, and a few deleted scenes as well (nothing that helps).
Given the talent involved, this one is a major disappointment. I may have seen worse movies this year, but they were all no-budget, no-talent productions, so their lack of quality is kind of expected. Christ, when this one went DTV I was almost surprised; I figured a few of the names alone would get it at least a limited release. Now that I’ve seen it, I think it was one of the best decisions a studio could make.
The score by Kenji Kawai is amazing though. Besides Miller’s cameo, it’s the only thing that saved this one from the Crap marker, really.
What say you?