SEPTEMBER 17, 2011
I rarely seriously contemplate quitting HMAD (usually it's just because there's a video game I'd rather play), but I swore that I would kill the site on the spot if Deadtime Stories Volume 2 actually managed to be worse than the first volume, which is one of the worst films I've seen this year. There's something that's just too soul-crushing about hating a movie as much as I did that one, only to discover that it was actually BETTER than its sequel, which came along just a few months later, to risk continuing watching this sort of stuff on a daily basis.
Luckily, it was an improvement. Not a marginal one either; it's actually... well, I couldn't go so far as GOOD, but it's "not terrible" and even a bit interesting at times. It baffles me that they potentially killed any interest in this one for a lot of people with the terrible first one, especially when it seems like the two volumes were swapped (the IMDb page for the first volume STILL has all of the information for this one, as did the original trailer), but if it takes seeing V1 first to appreciate the improvements here, so be it.
For starters, they worked within their means this time around. While the other tried to give us period pieces, jungles overrun with cannibals, and sea creatures on a budget of maybe 10 or 12 bucks, the locales/characters are much more grounded and commonplace this time around: a cave, a college classroom, and a guy's house are our primary settings, respectively, and the horrors are a bit more simple as well.
In fact it's not until the third story that we really deal with anything supernatural of note. The first story, "The Gorge", depicts a tale of three spelunkers who get trapped in a cave with one of them seriously injured. With my Descent screening that none of you came to on the brain I initially assumed that some monsters would show up, but instead it turned into a cannibal tale. And interestingly, they were rescued at the halfway point, with the rest of the installment dealing with their guilt and fractured mental state. It's the weakest entry in the film (I was particularly annoyed with the unexplained water situation; they're down there for a month (!) but we never see them drink anything), but already showed an improvement over any of the entries in the last one.
The second, "On Sabbath Hill" was probably the best, another guilt-based story in which a professor who has been banging one of his students starts to crack up after she kills herself (she had gotten pregnant; he being a married professor told her to abort it so it didn't ruin his career). I mean, I THINK he cracks up, he sees her ghost and other odd visions, but no one else does, so I assume it's all in his head. But either way, it's the type of short I'd like to see more often, in that it just tells a simple story that doesn't need a feature length to depict. So many shorts nowadays are geared toward twist endings, or an eager would-be filmmaker trying to show how much he can do with limited means (that recent Portal fan film being one example), it's nice to see one that's actually concerned with character and story, even when it's not particularly exciting - you can kind of see where it's going as soon as he first sees her "ghost".
The third, "Dust", started off pretty good but went off the rails at the end. In addition to sporting the only actor in the film I recognized (save for George Romero, more on him soon), it was a fun twist on the usual "scientist goes too far to prove his research can cure cancer" story. Here, the scientist wanted to play by the book, refusing to test it out on a human patient too quickly, so his buddy, a security guard (the actor I recognized, he's in the movie Sneakers - awesome flick) steals some of the formula (which is some sort of self-regenerating sand) in order to cure his dying wife. As always, it works, but with consequences - in another spin, all she wants to do now is fuck, which ultimately wears him out. This side effect is never explained, however, and instead of following through with it they go down a more generic route, as the doctor is accidentally killed while the guard tries stealing more of the stuff, and then it turns into a Creepshow-esque "back from the dead" thing (think "Something To Tide You Over"). It's not too bad, but I'd rather they stuck with the sex addict stuff. Not that the sexually charged scenes were particularly enticing (the sight of the actor's hairy arms might have rendered me impotent, in fact), but it was something new and also would have ended the film on a higher note, instead of just reminding me of the far superior Creepshow.
As for the Romero segments, they're just as depressing as the ones in the other volume. Like before, they seemingly edited his segments together from two different sessions, as he keeps changing clothes and even moods (he seems a lot more tired in some than others). Also, maybe this was true in Volume 1 as well but I didn't notice, but it seemed like they occasionally edited together back to back comments that didn't really fit together Like he'll say something along the lines of "Well, what did you think about that one?" and then it'll cut to a different clothes Romero saying "And that's why you don't do that.", as if both comments were meant to be the first thing you hear after the story concluded. Very jarring, and just needlessly draws attention to the movie's half-assed production.
Also, his pun-filled, Cryptkeeper-y segments don't really fit with the tone of the segments, which are (as with the original) largely humor-free (the second one is borderline depressing, in fact). Sort of a "damned if you do, damned if you don't" situation here; George's segments don't fit and should be removed, but without him this movie sits on a shelf forever, or gets zero attention if released. None of the other people in the movie will draw a crowd, there's no big monster or crazy effects to put in a trailer, etc - he's literally the only thing that sticks out, good or bad.
Don't get me wrong, it's not a 180 from the original, either. It still suffers from a very bland presentation, particularly in the direction. At one point in the second story the ghost appears to give birth, but the camera just sits there on a tripod, refusing to bring any life to the proceedings. The plotting is very shaky at times (why the hell do the characters in "Dust" live in a cemetery?), and once again terrible music (same guy) plays non-stop over the segments, particularly in the second where the only time it seems to stop is when they play some source classical music. It also still looks like a cheap soap opera, but I guess they wanted some visual consistency between the two volumes so that the die hard fans wouldn't be outraged.
This time around we get a bonus feature, a loosely edited (well, assembled) collection of random behind the scenes footage. Admirably it's not a lot of ass-kissing, but rather focuses largely on some of the things that were holding them back. Missing extras screwing up continuity, problems with the owners of various shooting locations, and other minor issues make up the bulk of the 16 minute runtime. Oh, and that's the running time of the piece on the disc itself - it appears as if it should run longer, as it cuts out mid-sentence and offers no credits (not even a generic "copyright 2011" tag). But it wouldn't be Deadtime Stories if there wasn't something laughably inept about the affair!
Again, you probably need to watch the first volume to appreciate what this one offers, as it's slow-paced, cheap, and not particularly exciting at any point. But knowing how bad the same team can make one of these things, along with somewhat admirable attempts at decent stories this time around, makes it a lot easier to digest. Maybe Volume 3 (there's still at least one entry that hasn't surfaced, titled "Quota") will continue the upward trend.
What say you?