Friday, May 05, 2017

Tribeca ’17: Crypt TV’s Monster Madness

Scary movie fans are resigned to the fact that horror anthologies are generally even more inconsistent than anthology films in general. Exhibit A would be Holidays at last year’s Tribeca. True to form, this is also valid for a collection of original short films curated by a relatively new digital horror content provider. However, the highs were pretty darned terrifying when Crypt TV’s Monster Madness had special screening at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival, hosted by Eli Roth.

Let’s start with the positive, because there really was a lot of it. Although Ben Franklin & Anthony Melton’s The Birch is not really scary per se and regular genre patrons will know exactly where it is going, the eerie ambiance is still really impressive. As a story of a bullied orphan who finds a protector in a grudge-holding forest spirit, Franklin & Merton’s short taps into some deep, potent pagan images and archetypes, which makes their film quite distinctive and memorable.

A few of the shorts are basically brief little macabre baubles, like Jon Kovel’s My First Day, whereas Odd Jobs: Body Modifications, Nicholas Mihm’s documentary on extreme piercings is just too gross to succeed in its mission of humanizing its body-modifier subject. However, Alexander Babaev’s Stereoscope is a breathlessly-executed horror show. A young mother receives a distressed old View Master-like toy in the mail, but when she looks though it, she can see the unseen demonic figures lurking around her—and they can see that she can see them. Frankly, this is way scarier than Babaev’s just-okay feature, Bornless Ones.

Likewise, John William Ross’s aptly named The Thing in the Apartment is a total white-knuckle ride. Something so terrified Lindsay, she ran out of her apartment in abject panic, not stopping until she was blocks away. At this point, she calls her friend Sam to pick her up. Being a logical positivist, Sam insists on returning to Lindsay apartment to see for herself. Of course, as soon as Sam steps through the still open door, she can sense something sinister is in there. Viewers can occasionally make it out when it is trapped in the light—and it definitely looks like bad news.

Stereoscope and Apartment both ratchet up the tension through a veritable fan-dance that hides than exposes and hides again the evil entities involved. Both films also make viewers acutely aware of where the players are with respect to each and how they have shifted during interludes of “darkness.” They represent precision filmmaking and definitely rank as high points of the Monster Madness program.

Still, it must be said Gabriel Younes’ Sunny Family Cult has its own very different merits, but they are no less effective. After several years of inaction, a notorious slasher family-cult chooses to strike again while a group of oblivious teens play truth or dare. Essentially, it starts in a Town that Dreaded Sundown bag, evolving into a hip, ironic Scream kind of slash fest. If you appreciate gory comedy, it delivers.

Although it is (predictably) inconsistent, Monster Madness sure was speedy, blazing by in under half an hour. However, there was a lot of talent packed in there, specifically from Younes, Ross, Babaev, and Franklin & Melton. Four keepers definitely constitute a high success rate. Indeed, their constituent shorts are very highly recommended when they stream on Crypt TV, following the world premiere of Monster Madness at the 2017 Tribeca Film Festival.