Written by: Nick Everhart, Miko Hughes, Emily Hagins, Eric England, Jesse Holland, Andy Mitton. and Jack Daniel Stanley
Directed by: Nick Everhart, Miko Hughes, Emily Hagins, Eric England, Jesse Holland, and Andy Mitton
Starring: Corey Scott Rutledge, Doug Roland, and Ted Yudain
Reviewed by: Brett Gallman
Five short films. Five ground-breaking visions. Five reasons to be scared senseless.
As far as anthologies goes, Chilling Visions has an intriguing hook, as it collects five different shorts centered on the five senses; hell, that it even has a unifying theme at all is nice, considering how so many don’t even bother with that in the first place. It can also boast its status as a showcase for some up-and-coming talent that have been making names for themselves behind the camera during recent years, so it almost feels like a variation on V/H/S in that respect. Judging from Chilling Visions, all involved certainly have an eye and ear for the horror genre, as the film is an eclectic collection of multiple styles and modes from past and present.
Up first is Asylum graduate Nick Everhart’s “Smell,” which finds office drone Seth (Corey Scott Rutledge) receiving a visit from a mysterious saleswoman. She’s peddling a mysterious cologne that promises instant success in all of his future endeavors, including his career and love life. Before he knows it, he’s moving up the corporate ladder and bedding women nightly. Of course, it all comes with a price, as literal pounds of his flesh begin to melt away. After a disconcerting credits sequence sets a distinctly mid-aughts horror tone (complete with relentless nu-metal riffs and scattershot editing), Chilling Visions thankfully yields to this EC Comics throwback that dishes out karmic retribution set to the tune of the old “be careful what you wish for” standard. It eventually deals in some slick gore gags, but it’s effective even before that point since Everhart infuses the short with a skewed, heightened sense of reality that captures the morbid, black humor of previous EC-inspired anthology efforts.
Miko Hughes needs no introduction for his on-screen work (he is forever cemented as the creepy little bastard from Pet Sematary, New Nightmare, and Full House), but “See” represents his directorial debut. He’s also responsible for writing the short, which rises to the top of the heap in terms of pure imagination: imagine, if you would, an optometrist (Ted Yudain) with the ability to preserve his patients’ ocular fluids and later relive their memories. When he learns that one of his favorite patients is a victim of domestic violence, he turns to vigilante justice by injecting her abusive spouse with horrifying memories and images from other patients. Like the opening segment, however, “See” hinges on a turning of the tables against the protagonist when things go horribly (and gorily) awry. This is good stuff and the sort of material that’s perfectly suited for this format, as it plays out like a macabre short story in that it packs both a cerebral and visceral punch, all the while leaving you wanting to explore its central conceit a little bit more.
Emily Hagins grabbed headlines back when she completed her first feature (Pathogen) as a thirteen year-old before following that up with My Sucky Teen Romance a few years ago (thereby insuring that she’d accomplished more as a teenager than most of us accomplish in our whole lives). She takes the reins here for “Touch,” the anthology’s most underdeveloped segment. While the minimalist kernel is intriguing (a young, blind boy seeks help for his injured parents after a car accident, only to stumble onto the turf of a backwoods psycho), it’s a tad underwhelming in that it doesn’t explore the sensory themes (it turns out the killer doesn’t enjoy being touched, hence the title). It still serves as another decent exercise in table-turning once the blind kid decides to retaliate, but it also feels a little repetitive here, especially since the short just peters out towards the end, almost as if no one could dream up a more satisfying ending.
On the other hand Eric England (director of Madison County) delivers the film’s biggest mindfuck with “Taste,” a surreal, mysterious tale revolving around a hacker’s (Doug Roland) unconventional job interview at a vaguely supernatural corporate firm. Hailing from the mold of horror that aims to simply confound through utter weirdness, “Taste” accomplishes this much—it’s tough to say exactly what’s going on, as it’s seems to be purposely vague in terms of what this firm represents. Since a few other characters from the other shorts appear, it almost feels like this one’s the lynchpin of the work, the one that ties it all together with some kind of nexus that explains the bizarre occurrences in the rest of the segments. But lest you ponder on it too much, “Taste” devolves into nasty business involving a Saw-esque torture apparatus that delivers the gory goods, albeit at the expense of the bizarre undercurrents.
Finally, Jesse Holland and Andy Mitton (the duo behind YellowBrickRoad) close out the proceedings with “Listen,” the film’s obligatory found footage riff. Not only is it presented in that format, but it also features its documentarians actually finding footage. It’s a duo attempting to chronicle the publishing of a song that reportedly killed its listeners, and they (of course) begin to uncover evidence of the legend. Easily the most chilling of these Chilling Visions, “Listen” ironically excels due to its audio ambiance. The track in question actually isn’t overtly sinister but rather hauntingly melodic, and the climactic sequence featuring its playback captures the film’s disturbingly standout moment when a group is compelled to violence. “Listen” is a stereotypical found footage offering that relies on ambiance , faux verite approach (to the point of intentional digital errors during its playback), a climactic money shot, and an abrupt ending. Despite the familiar formula, it works well enough, if only because its length doesn’t force viewers to sit through a bunch of junk before arriving at the good stuff. And, if nothing else, it closes Chilling Visions out with a winner, something that especially bodes well for an anthology.
Chilling Visions initially premiered as a Chiller original, which might explain the sort of low-rent, overly digital vibe. Most of the shorts seem to be overly-lit and too blandly photographed; it’s an issue I’ve seen in other productions associated with Chiller (like Remains and Dead Souls), and the flat, flavorless aesthetic does the shorts no favor. Admittedly, they look (and sound) as well as they possibly can on Scream Factory’s Blu-ray, a release that also packs a few extras in the way of one deleted scene (for “Smell”), a still gallery, and some TV spots. Like many anthologies, Chilling Visions is a mixed bag, and I almost wish this concept could have been done a little more justice—the talent behind it is fine, but it almost feels as though it was cobbled together for a quick and dirty TV joint meant to capitalize on the recent anthology craze. Rent it!
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