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Review – Tales of the Dead (DVD)

Image courtesy Reality Entertainment

Title: Tales of the Dead!
Genre: Horror, Fantasy
Distribution: Reality Entertainment

Just in time for Halloween. Tales of the Dead is a vivid introduction to the realm of horror as envisioned by the independent UK filmmaker, Kemal Yildirim.

Not being a huge horror fan, myself, it took me a while to get past my biases to crack open the DVD case, let alone watch this film.

On first try I just reviewed snippets to prepare myself for what I’d be in for. This allowed me to get my proverbial shields up and watch the entire film, later that evening.

And yes, this definitely is a movie to be watched after dark. You might want to take it to a Halloween party. But then again, maybe not!

Tales of the Dead is not for the weak of heart. It’s pretty shocking, contains brief nudity, and isn’t shy of presenting graphic violence.

Without serving up a spoiler, the basic story is about five friends who gather for a private Halloween party. This convincing part of the film is replete with drinking, smoking and profane language, as many of the younger set no doubt carry on in these days of global recession and the war on terror.

Then the film quickly shifts to the surreal as the revelers begin to tell ghost stories and grim tales of urban horror. Four of the five party guests bring short horror videos to share with their friends, which is an effective way to lead into and unify the different shorts.

The first video, “Less is More” calls to mind several classic horror themes, aptly synthesized to make it difficult to trace a particular influence to a given scene. A bit of Edgar Allen Poe here, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle there.

The plot involves a severely troubled woman who desires a mysterious surgery that she believes will cure all of her problems. Her decent husband tries to understand but can only take so much as her obsession mounts. A social worker suggests she try a psychiatrist, but a coincidental encounter in the night takes her entirely somewhere else.

The result? Well, let’s just say that this kind of film making is certainly not for everyone.

The second short, “Wolf Cry” is surprisingly clever at places, even if you’re not into horror, per se. Here we see into a young man’s incredibly delusional, amusing and horrifying imagination. This is probably the smartest segment of the DVD, sociologically speaking. Some scenes turn out to be ingeniously fresh vignettes about systemic hypocrisy and, as the classical sociologist Max Weber once put it, the Protestant work ethic.

“Penance,” the third short, also plays on several existing horror themes. In the DVD’s special features, the director explains that he wants to pay homage to some of the great directors within the genre while, at the same time, making his own cinematic statement.

And this he does.

In this short, a boozy British police inspector is called in to investigate a disturbing homicide. The inspector apparently has links with the killer, and at times we wonder if he, himself, is the maniac.

The fourth short, “Missing” plays on the fabled Cromwell’s Curse, which in urban legend is linked to the historical Northamptonshire witch trials of 1612. This portion contains some haunting street and good library scenes, but I found it the least engaging of the lot. We hear lots of “Oh my God… did you see that?” but don’t really witness anything for ourselves.

Oh yes, it’s all fiction and archetypal fun. I forgot.

But if that’s so, a few actors running through the night in white sheets might have helped here.

The final tale is told by the lone woman at the Halloween party. Like her guy friends, she’s trendy and hip. But unlike her groovy pals, she doesn’t bring a video to the party. Her story is said to be real…

Special features for Tales of the Dead include “The Making of Wolf Cry” and “The Making of Penance.” These peeks behind the scenes show how an indie horror film is actually made. They reveal the hard work, camaraderie and technology involved in independent film making—ironically humanizing our experience of an otherwise really “out there” film.

–MC

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