Terror Tract (2000)

NOVEMBER 24, 2012


It didn't take long for me to realize I might enjoy Terror Tract at least a little more than the average made for cable horror movie, as it featured a pretty funny "food chain" gag in its opening moments - a bird eats a worm, a cat eats the bird, and then the cat is hit by a car, its remains eaten by a dog. And the driver of the car is the late, great John Ritter, who doesn't seem remorseful about what he did and continues on his way. He's playing a realtor who is in the process of showing a couple a house on the block, and thus provides the framework for this uneven but mostly enjoyable little anthology.

It's actually a pretty cool idea for a wraparound - each time he shows them a house, he is forced by law to tell them about the bad things that happened there, and it seems that no one ever just moves away from this neighborhood. But it also has its own little storyline, as Ritter tells them that he is vying to win a company sales contest, and if he can sell them a house by 5 pm, he will win. We learn there's more to it than that, and while it doesn't quite pay off satisfactorily (who is he talking to on the phone?), it's more inventive than the usual "Hey let me tell you some scary stories and then there will be a twist at the end where I turn out to be a ghost or something" scenario.

It's a shame that the three stories aren't so creative. As stand-alone tales they are fine, Tales From The Crypt-ian pieces that deliver the expected amount of carnage, but the thing is that I felt like I had seen them all before, making it easy to call their twists and thus ruin some of my fun. None are far and away better or worse than the others, which is rare in an anthology film, but in some ways I think I'd rather two (or even just one) standout tales with one (or two) duds than three "Yeah, that was pretty good I guess."

The first is a traditional "love triangle gone bad" tale, with a woman cheating on her husband (Fredric Lehne) with a younger dude. Lehne catches them in the act, there's a scuffle, and he ends up dead. So now the couple has to get rid of the body, but there's complications, and the wife keeps having nightmares (the segment is called "Nightmare") about him coming back as a slimy zombie thing, and Lehne's best friend is suspicious... you know the drill. Like a slasher, it hits all of its beats when you expect them to, but during the lulls you can easily daydream thinking about the other antho-segments or even features that had the whole Diabolique thing going on, albeit without any clever twists. That said, it was nice to see Prison Break's Wade Williams in a bit role (the suspicious friend); in fact the movie as a whole is something of a serial drama fan's wet dream, as Lehne represents Lost AND Supernatural, Reunion (!) star Will Estes and Desperate Housewives' Brenda Strong shows up in the 3rd story, and the second segment has the best coup of all: Bryan "Walter White" Cranston.

"Bobo" is slightly better than the other two, but part of that is due to the pleasure of seeing Cranston, pre-Breaking Bad (practically pre-Malcolm in the Middle, actually; it was shot before that show premiered but aired later), demeaning himself by getting out-smarted by a monkey. As I learned in Dead Space, there's no such thing as a bad Cranston performance - dude gives it his all regardless of the material, which is a big help as the tale is basically the "Cat From Hell" segment from Tales From The Darkside, or a Cliff's Notes take on Of Unknown Origin, but with a monkey instead of a cat/rat. It's goofy enough, and surprisingly grim (I figured the pet control guy would be the only human casualty, alas...), but the monkey is way too crazy to let it go without a back-story. Cranston's daughter finds it - wearing a little suit! - in the backyard and keeps it, but there's no real push to find out where he came from or why he's so psychotically attached to the girl when he hates everyone else. I don't know if I need a full feature about it, but it lacks the "good enough" explanation of Cat, or the full-blown Moby Dick dark parody of Origin, to really live up to either. And if Cranston hadn't ever gotten the fame/respect/roles he deserves, I'm not sure how much of this would work as well as it does.

The third definitely deserves a feature, if only because the Granny Killer would be an amazing addition to the late 90s/early 00s slasher canon - the creepy mask and voice, plus the giallo-inspired kill scenes, are among the best things Tract has to offer. Unfortunately, Granny is sidelined for most of "Come To Granny" (which is also the shortest of the bunch), as it focuses on Estes' character, who has psychic visions of Granny killing people and believes a shrink (Strong) will be the next victim. Strong, of course, suspects Estes himself is the killer, and thus we should too, so naturally (spoiler) he isn't. Part of the thing that bugs me about anthologies (and short films in general) is how many of them go for twist endings, and they're not usually too successful because there isn't enough there to distract us away from seeing the warning signs. Obviously Estes can't be the killer himself, because the story is from his POV - we'd have to see it from Strong's in order to work, or he would have to be telling a really meaty story to draw us in so we miss any clues that lead us to believe he might be the dangerous one (there's a very underrated horror/thriller from 2002 that is a good example of that - I won't spoil the title since I'm still convinced only 29 people have seen the movie). But again, it's the shortest of the bunch (even the wraparound seems to take up more time), so the "twist" isn't one - it's actually the only possibility.

And then we return to Ritter and the couple, which DOES have a decent surprise in store and then a riotous final sequence where a character sees how insane the entire neighborhood is, as if Ritter was only scratching the surface concerning the ridiculous violence that goes on in this "perfect" little suburban block. It got me thinking about how it could have launched a fun little anthology TV series, where each week would be about a different resident, with Ritter as its Rod Serling. Alas, it lives on now only as one of his final films (he died 2 years later) and as the "other movie" on the DVD with Cherry Falls, which similarly had a lot to like but also some dodgy execution. Hopefully the DVD will go back in print someday so it only costs a couple of bucks (as opposed to 30 or more) to check out these little movies that almost could; they're worth a look for sure, but not at THAT much of a cost.

What say you?

1 comment:

  1. Great film, albeit mostly for the Ritter stuff. The frame completely outshines the individual segments which, while none are particularly great, all work well enough.


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