Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Party Favor Mix Bag

As linking stories in a horror anthology go, "clicking on a website to watch short films" has got to be one of the lazier excuses to tie a few segments together. But hey, when one of those segments involves a kid from High School Musical trading in his trademark Justin Guarini perm for a homicidal clown afro, things can't be all bad.

Quick Plot, Web Video #1: In "The Crossing," a pair of crass white power infused rednecks truck it down to the border with a somewhat reluctant gal in tow. The plan? Empty the two Mexican-Americans in their trunk and do bad things, stopping along the way to make (what I assume to be) unrequested free advertising for Beef Links Jerkey, Cheetos, Marlboro cigarettes, Red Bull, and Smuckers Goobers, of which we learn an important trick for getting some extra flavor from moonshine.
Also, there are zombies.

Quick Plot, Web Video #2: Anthologies are generally tricky beasts to summarize, since their short running length almost forces you to say the usually obligatory twist just to crank out a full sentence. Normally, I'd refrain from doing such a thing, but since "Taejung's Lament" is such a dull and pointless yarn, I will SPOIL without too much regret: a sad widower wanders the Korean section of LA, saves a lady of the night from abuse, discovers she's a vampire, and Van Helsing shows up.

I'd like to say I'm kidding. 

I'd like to say nachos grow on trees and subway prices are going down.

I'd like to say a lot of things.

Quick Plot, Web Video #3:Told out of sequence for reasons clear to...someone maybe..., "Re-Membered" follows a hitman attempting to dispose of a few loose ends (I'm here all week! Try the Anne Veal!). It has a few laughs and an engaging performance from lead Christopher Darga, but for its brief running time, "Re-Membered" is surprisingly confusing.

Quick Plot, Web Video #4: Easily Scary or Die's MVP, "Clowned" tells the tale of Emmett, a casual drug dealer with a loyal devotion to his kid brother and the ill luck of being attacked by a rabid party performer. Before you can unsee that topless photo of Vanessa Hudgens, Emmett is turning a cakey shade of white, developing a serious case of Sideshow Bob shoe, and fighting a craving for the sweet taste of children's flesh. It's Metamorphosis with bigger noses, and surprisingly, incredibly enjoyable from its ominous opening to its final comic punch.

Quick Plot, Web Video #5: We're not kidding when we say quick. In 90% less time than it takes to be waiting in line at Marshall's, we learn the story of a young woman whose husband beat her to death, whereupon she remembered the skills of her witch doctor grandfather and came back from the grave for vengeance and to, well obviously, watch a bunch of videos on a website called ScaryOrDie.com. Frame!

The brainchild of Michael Emmanuel, Scary Or Die falls prey to the typical symptoms that plague anthology films: uneven tones and the token mixed bag of quality. Thankfully, its midsection is genuinely enjoyable, making the slog through the second story (and discomfort of the greasy first) worth it. While there are subtle tie-ins that try to duplicate the skillful interweavings in Trick 'r Treat, Scary Or Die never quite rises to being clever as a whole (especially when one actor shows up in a completely different role in a later segment).
Still, for a new horror anthology to hit Instant Watch and not make me hate the world (cough cough VHS), Scary Or Die is a fun collection well fit for a lazy afternoon.

High Points
There's a reason "Clowned" gets the box cover, and it's just because most people are just, you know, afraid of clowns. While the narration style makes it a little uneven, the blend of comedy ("I can't believe you got bit by a clown") and horror (an eerie dream sequence won't have you taking your little brother for picnics any time soon) is surprisingly well done. This could easily have been expanded into a full-length feature, and it's almost a shame that it's buried here.

As a fully supportive member of the Verbing Nouns Club, I embrace the titling of segment 4 as "Clowned"

Low Points
Was I supposed to laugh out loud at "Taejung's Lament"'s final shot? Also, was I supposed to hate the story?

Lessons Learned
Cheap razors are not the ideal tool for shaving off supernatural clown makeup

Being puked on by your dealer entitles you to one free transaction

When not munching on racists, zombies enjoy killing an hour or so by surfing alternative youtube sites

As a 90 minute Instant Watch, Scary Or Die is quite akin to a bag of Chex Mix. If you can separate and skip the lame circular pretzels (Taejung's Lament) and not pay too much attention to the square ones (The Crossing), there's some mild pleasure to be found in the actual Chex (Re-Membered) and genuine joy in those big 'n spicy bagel chip things (aka Clowned; I guess Lover's Walk is the air inside the bag in this metaphor). Those who like to complain about modern horror will probably find plenty to complain about, but if you're looking for something a little different from the usual slasher fare, this is more than worth a gander.


  1. The central metaphor of this article works extremely well on me, since I am a too-frequent purchaser of Chex Mix. I don't have a problem with the pretzels, per se. They're not outstanding, but they're not offensive either and they contribute to the overall texture of the mix. The bagel chips, clearly, are the stars. The Chex are the supporting players. The pretzels are background extras. If I had to remove anything, it would be those bland, bumpy, stick-shaped cracker things.

    Speaking of horror anthologies, have you seen Trapped Ashes yet? Lot of interesting people involved with that one, including Joe Dante and Ken Russell. It's an unholy mess from top to bottom, and I'd love to hear a woman's perspective on the script (which I thought ranged from "misogynist" to "super duper extra misogynist.")

    P.S. - You are coy about the plot of "Re-Membered." Is it about a guy having his penis surgically reattached, only to find it has become demonically possessed? I'm making my guess based on the title.

  2. I actually like those bumpy stick cracker thingies. They absorb the other flavors, while the pretzels just kind of dull everything around it.

    BTW: Have you tried the new jalopeno Chex Mix? It's ACTUALLY spicy, which is rare for a packaged food.

    I have not seen nor heard of Trapped Ashes, but the pedigree is intriguing. How have I never heard of this before?!

    P.S. No penile attachments. It's not really scandalous or saucy, I just, in truth, didn't really understand what was going on. For all I know, it was about a high school reunion gone terribly wrong.

  3. I love the taste of spicy snacks, but they cause me -- literally -- to have nightmares. A few handfuls of Jalapeno Chex Mix, and that night I'll have a dream in which I'm trying to claw my way out of a coffin or something. I wish I were kidding about this.

    A friend alerted me to the existence of Trapped Ashes. We wrote an article about it here.

    As for the "Re-Membered" thing, I guess I was remembering a review I once saw of a movie starring John Wayne Bobbit. (Remember him?) The headline: "John Wayne Re-membered." Quite a saucy pun, no?

  4. Aw, John Wayne. I can never forget a man who fought Tonya Harding for tabloid time!

    Sad news about spicy food. I've known folks who've lost their taste/ability to eat it following childbirth or health issues. That terrifies me. You can take a lot away from me, but jalopenos? That's just monstrous.

    Will check out the movie and writeup soon.