JANUARY 30, 2013
Another anthology! And, like Barrio Tales, Scary Or Die was shot in Los Angeles and has a segment about racists battling border crossers, only for one of the "illegal aliens" to turn out to be a legal resident and business owner. And they're both from Phase 4. And they both lack any real surprises. But other than that, they're different!
For starters, there are five stories here, giving the film two more chances to impress or disappoint. The first is the border crosser one; a pair of rednecks and one of their girlfriends drive out to a common crossing spot with a pair of guys they've kidnapped (after killing a Spanish store clerk on the way), aiming to kill them and leave them by the border as a warning. Things, of course, go awry, and our awful racists get their just desserts. It's a decent segment (better than the one in Barrio, anyway), but I couldn't help but feel a bit puzzled at its final scene, where a pair of US Border Patrol agents matter of factly discuss the thing that killed our racist folks. It's an intriguing concept, and one they should have explored in more detail, rather than leave it for what basically comes across as a joke.
The second story is the worst; depicting an Asian guy who sees a girl being kidnapped and rescues her. She repays him by inviting him over, and since he's all lonely (his wife has recently passed, it seems), he's more than eager to take her up on it. But surprise! She's a vampire. This is a twist, but a poorly delivered one, and worse, the rest of the story (when, I shit you not, Van Helsing arrives on the scene) takes place off-screen, robbing us of the only thing that might have been entertaining in the entire segment.
The third is an improvement, telling the tale of a hitman of some sort who is trying to dispose a body. It's got a "Tell-Tale Heart" thing going on and one of the few inspired twists in the movie, plus the hitman is played by character actor Christopher Darga, who is an interesting presence not often given a lead role. All of that helps make up for the clunky editing, which shows us the middle of the story first, then flashes back to get us to that point and shows most of the same scene again. This sort of thing is annoying enough in a feature film; it's downright unforgivable in a 15 minute anthology segment. It also lacks proper introductions and setup; I have no idea why he was killing this person, if he was ordered to do it or acting on his own, etc.
The fourth is the best, and also the longest, which is probably why the cover features its central villain: a zombie clown. Our hero is a drug dealer (stay with me) who gets bitten by a clown and then slowly turns into one himself, sort of like a more tragic werewolf movie, or The Fly. So he tracks down the original clown while trying to hide what is happening from his family and the cops (including one played by Darga), all while trying to keep himself from hurting anyone. It runs for about 30 minutes and has the most interesting characters out of all the segments, and the clown makeup is pretty awesome (the white afro is a nice touch), making this an easy winner that probably deserved to be released on its own as a long short film.
Then there's an extra installment that no one needs at all. I am completely at a loss to explain this one; a woman returns from the dead to get back at her boyfriend, and that's it. It's about 5 minutes long and she narrates the entire thing. It has a tie to the wraparound, but they could have thrown that into any of the stories. And it feels so tacked on coming after the longest/best story, so this is just a boneheaded decision on all counts. Especially when the wraparound has zero story at all - basically there's a website with uploaded videos (the segments) and in between them we just see a hand on a mouse scrolling over to click another one. The concept is fine (and is a nice way to explain why the shorts look/feel so different, as the multiple directors have an in-movie justification), but it's entirely weightless. Think of the wraparounds in things like Creepshow or Tales From The Crypt - they're just as memorable as the stories between! Who the hell is going to remember this one, even if they loved every segment - was it worth killing the film's late momentum just to have a (flimsy) tie to it?
In my eyes, they should have just dropped the 2nd and 5th stories, expanded on the 1st and 3rd, and let the wraparound have its own contained little story, since the "I'm watching these movies" approach doesn't quite lend itself to having a connection to one of them anyway. They would have had a really solid anthology on their hands instead of a frustratingly uneven one, though I will meet them halfway on that as it seems there might have been some production issues. In an interview, Michael Emanuel (who seems to be the driving force behind the project) claimed that characters from each segment would intersect with the others (a la Trick 'r Treat), but except for this last bit, that doesn't seem to be the case in the finished product. Darga APPEARS in two segments, but he isn't playing the same character, so that doesn't count. So, maybe some things got messed up/changed and resulted in the movie's wildly disjointed outcome. Either way, it's a decent effort, and at least the two weakest segments are also the shortest - when you suffer, it's brief!
What say you?