Poe very clearly instructed prospective horror writers to keep things short and sweet. He would approve of the brevity of this new Australian anthology series, with episodes topping out at 15 minutes, if not necessarily the consistency. Despite promises of interconnectedness, there are few common threads tying together the six mini-episodes of showrunner Enzo Tedeschi’s Deadhouse Dark, which starts streaming this Thursday on Shudder.
Things start out very much in a found footage bag with “DASHCAM_013_20191031.MP4,” the title of which pretty clearly spells out the premise. While driving home from a Halloween party, two sisters (who we never really get a good look at) will come across a nasty car wreck. Director Rosie Lourde nicely stages the uncanny twist, but the dashcam POV is not great for fostering character development or showcasing the two thesps.
In sharp contrast, director-screenwriter Megan Riakos focuses on an excellent lead performance from Gemma Bird Matheson in “No Pain No Gain.” She is a series standout playing Tilda, a track star pushed to horrific extremes by her new coach, but the narrative is more of an “Alfred Hitchcock Presents” kind of yarn (admittedly with more self-hurting) and the ending is predictable.
Easily the scariest story is director Denai Gracie’s “The Staircase,” even though it shares common elements with Tom Paton’s Black Ops and the Vicious Brothers’ Grave Encounters. Yet another ghost-chasing YouTuber thinks he has found the viral video that will make his career. Unfortunately, he drags his poor, crush-smitten sound & video tech (nicely portrayed by Jenny Wu) down the titular staircase. We know right from the start it will end badly, but Gracie’s execution is impressively tight and tense.
“A Tangled Web We Weave” also has plenty of precedents, but Tedeschi (this time also serving as director) does a nice job misdirecting viewers from his big twist. It starts off with widowed David having problems with a rat infestation, but wait, there’s more.
Theoretically, Rachele Wiggins’ “Mystery Box” is the one that ties everything together, but it really doesn’t. In fact, it is mostly rather baffling, but at least it has some creepy moments and visuals.
Deadhouse. Still, Long shows some shrewd horror instincts in this tale of a remarkably cheery home hospice-care worker, who diligently de-clutters her patient’s home, oblivious to the malevolent entity that viewers only see tantalizingly out of the corner of their eyes.
Deadhouse is competently produced, but there are dozens of more distinctive anthology series available out there (including Shudder’s own Creepshow). However, the fifteen-minutes-or-less running times make it a handy bite-sized palate cleanser or streaming quickie. “The Staircase” is particularly worth a look, when Deadhouse Dark premieres this Thursday (4/29) on Shudder.