George A. Romero's Deadtime Stories Volume 1
R1 - America - Millennium Media
Review written by and copyright: Anthony Arrigo (2nd November 2012).
The Film

Over the course of a career, directors are likely to have many ups and downs. Very few are exceptions to this rule. Once a director has established himself as a hot commodity, however, his brand has a distinct value to it. George A. Romero was such a director once, cranking out seminal classics that began with the groundbreaking “Night of the Living Dead” (1968) and continuing on through “The Dark Half” (1993). Now, I’m very aware that fans will argue ad nauseum about where Romero jumped the shark, but very few of those will agree that 2000’s “Bruiser” righted that ship. Regardless, the point is that ol’ George hasn’t been a force in the horror world that he once was. So, unfortunately it was with some (more like much) trepidation that I braved one of his latest ventures, “George A. Romero’s Deadtime Stories Vol. 1” (2011). Although I was expecting the worst, I did remind myself that this was the man who produced “Tales from the Darkside” (1983-1988), and that was great horror programming in the vein of so many that came before it. Maybe this could be more of t-

Nope. Stop it right there. I was right; it’s appalling.

I gave this the old college try, but, oh, where to begin? For starters, the writing is dreadfully bad. Now, I kept in mind the fact that “Tales from the Darkside” routinely underwrote their stories, leaving viewers up to the task of piecing together information that was only hinted at. Otherwise, those tidy little 30 minute episodes would quickly turn into a full hour. But where that show presented simple, easily digestible stories with a clear arc, these are muddled, slapdash, and callow. The first segment in particular, “Valley of the Shadow”, is… how can I put this professionally? It’s a piece of shit. This guy says that some girl’s father is lost in an African jungle, or some other such nonsense, so we’re instantly whisked away to the fierce jungles of what is clearly Canada to watch people freak out for 25 minutes while some unseen figure shoots them with blow darts. I wish I could tell you there’s more to the story than that, but there really isn’t. The majority of the time it’s either people fighting amongst each other, or we’re being treated to flashbacks which lack any real sense of context.

Things pick up ever so slightly with the second segment, “Wet”, which is a bit like a twisted version of “Splash” (1984). A fisherman, who appears to be broke as hell yet lives in a killer beach pad, finds a box containing a weird looking hand. Upon consulting with his other fisherman friend, he learns that it once belonged to a mermaid, and that finding her other parts and reassembling them is probably, like, the worst thing he could ever do. So, naturally, this is the thing he does. Maybe if his friend had buried these horrible, cursed, forbidden parts deeper than a few feet this could have all been avoided? Just a thought… Well, his mermaid does eventually come to him so they can be together forever! Unfortunately for him, that “forever” involves having chunks of your flesh chewed off as you slowly meet a salty end in the briny deep. Argh.

The final segment, “House Call”, surprised me when a title card flashed that it was directed by none other than the King of Splatter himself, Tom Savini. Tom’s directorial efforts have gone by unnoticed for the most part, save for his remake of Romero’s own zombie film, “Night of the Living Dead” (1990). Here, he presents a tale that is vastly different from the others. Shot with low (natural?) lighting, the story concerns a young boy who has fallen ill and the doctor called in by his mother who provides a grave diagnosis. Savini clearly did his best to shoot this segment in the style of older, slow-burn horror, with an emphasis on atmosphere and austerity rather than flashy effects. It’s the one segment that I could argue isn’t terrible, but Savini made some visual decisions that, well, I’ll save it for the video review section but let’s just say things aren’t too clear. Still, his story is the only one that showcases any attempt at making something chilling and suspenseful.

It isn’t entirely without some merit, however, as each segment does feature some practical gore FX that has been sorely missing from most modern horror these days. Now, I’m going to assume that the budget on this was so small that they were only able to add in CGI very sparingly. I consider this a good thing, since chances are anything substantial would be bad. Like, SyFy channel bad. The first story features a nasty dart-through-the-mouth gag that works surprisingly well; even better once they get to pulling it out. The second story has a mermaid makeup that I really dug; it just looks so malformed and disfigured, but while retaining a semblance of beauty. Nicely done. The final segment has no FX done by Savini. This won’t shock anyone in the horror world (at least it shouldn’t), but I just wanted to let you know now. The effects work we do get is mostly minimal stuff, nothing you wouldn’t see on Halloween night yourself, perhaps.

Oh, wait. I’d be remiss to not mention ol’ George himself, acting as our Cryptkeeper of sorts, if you will. Romero appears in bumpers to introduce each episode, which is curiously by showing him on an old CRT TV clustered in with others of the same sort. I guess this was their way of making his segments more creative? He looks like he just woke up from a nap in his La-Z-Boy at home and someone began filming him, but I can see he’s having some fun with the whole thing so I say let him run with it. Just try to stop them from filming it, too.

Video

Presented in an anamorphic widescreen ratio of 1.78:1, “Deadtime Stories” is a thoroughly strong example of how good a DVD can look when properly encoded and upconverted. The stories look to have been shot digitally, as there is no sign of film grain anywhere in the image. I was really amazed at how crisp and clear everything looked. Colors had a strong appearance, really popping off the screen with impressive clarity. Even black levels, which can sometimes get hazy in these cheapie releases, were rich and deep. “Wet” featured some particularly good lighting, making for great shots in otherwise mundane locations. Now, things get a lot shaky when we get to Savini’s segment, “House Call”. Tom apparently decided to frame it windowboxed, meaning you’ve got bars on all 4 sides of the image. Furthermore, it looks to have been treated so as to look like many old silent films, where the borders of the image are not quite define, giving it an almost dreamlike quality. The picture often looks “chunky” (maybe macroblocking?), with so many other deficiencies running rampant it isn’t even worth getting into. I wonder how this would fare in HD? I appreciate the aesthetic Tom was going for, but then translation to disc leaves things a bit too muddy.

Audio

There are two audio tracks included here – English Dolby Digital 5.1 and a 2.0 stereo track. I found the audio to be lacking in range, with a tinny, compressed sound throughout. The audio for “Wet” fared the worst. The best way I could describe it is when you hear an mp3 of extremely low quality; things sound very processed and unnatural. Otherwise, there’s not much to crow or complain about. Subtitles are available in English for the hearing impaired and Spanish.

Extras

Not a damn thing except for a handful of bonus trailers:

- “Shadows & Lies” runs for 1 minute and 24 seconds.
- “Blitz” runs for 1 minute and 30 seconds.
- “Elephant White” runs for 1 minute and 27 seconds.
- “Sacrifice” runs for 1 minute and 24 seconds.
- “Trust” runs for 1 minute and 36 seconds.
- “Deadtime Stories: Vol. 2” runs for 1 minute and 46 seconds.

Packaging

The single DVD comes housed in an amaray keep case. Surprisingly, the cover art isn’t half bad (most things with skulls get a pass).

Overall

I hoped for the best, I got the worst. Next time let Savini direct the whole damn thing. I don’t know who George is hiring to put these things together, but he needs to fire them.

The Film: D Video: B Audio: C+ Extras: F Overall: D+

 


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