Trapped AshesReviewed By Peter Sobczynski
Posted 08/31/07 15:00:52
The idea behind “Trapped Ashes”–a group of veteran genre filmmakers getting together to make a horror anthology in the style of such semi-classics as “Tales From the Crypt,” “Twice-Told Tales” and “Asylum”–is one that will no doubt sound appealing to any confirmed horror movie buff. I was so enthused by the idea that even after the film got off to a weak start, I was still with it because I assumed that things would eventually begin to perk up. Alas, it never does and the film soon devolves into an enormously disappointing waste of time and talent that even the most forgiving of genre buffs will find almost impossible to sit through without squirming in their seats out of sheer boredom.The conceit of the film that links the four stories together is that a group of seven strangers have been mysteriously invited to the grounds of Ultra Studios for a tour to be conducted by an oddball guide (Henry Gibson). Along the way, the group comes across the “legendary house of horrors” that was featured in the old horror hit “Hysteria” and they decide to explore inside. After a few minutes, they all find themselves stuck in the middle of the house with no way out and no means of contacting the outside world–just like in “Hysteria.” In that film, evidently another anthology project, each one of the strangers told a horror story involving a creepy incident from their own lives. Hey, says the guide, maybe if we do that, whomever or whatever has trapped us inside will let us out! With nothing better to do, the trappees agree and begin to spill the kind of kinky and gruesome stories that you would very much like not to share with a group of complete strangers at the urging of the Nazi from “The Blues Brothers.”
The first tale, directed by cinema’s reigning wild man auteur, Ken Russell (the man behind “The Devils,” “Tommy” and “Altered States”) stars Rachel Veltri as a struggling actress who decides to get breast augmentation–a new-fangled procedure that uses actual human tissue for the implants instead of the more traditional materials–in order to boost her career. They work with only one slight problem–her breasts are now vampiric entities that messily suck the blood of anyone who comes in contact with them (and since this is a low-budget horror film, a lot of people come in contact with them). Next comes a tale from Sean Cunningham (“Friday the 13th) of a repressed housewife (Lara Harris) who goes to Japan on a trip with her husband and falls under the erotic spell of a hunky monk that does not end with his suicide (cue lots of moments of exceptionally messy necrophilia) but leads her literally to the depths of hell. After that comes the contribution from cult icon Monte Hellman (“Two-Lane Blacktop”) that is set in the 1950's and features a young screenwriter (Tahmoh Penikett) who finds himself in the middle of a romantic triangle between his new best friend, a rising young director named Stanley Kubrick (Tygh Runyan) and his sexy-but-mysterious girlfriend (Amelia Cooke). Finally, John Gaeta (the visual effects supervisor of the “Matrix” films) turns in a tale involving an unhappy young girl, her unhappy gestation period and the tapeworm that she shared her mother’s womb with during said gestation period.
With most anthology films, there are two central problems that keep them from working as well as one hopes that they would. The first is the basic structure of such a beast–just when you are getting engrossed in a group of characters and their particular story, you are jerked away from them and forced to refocus on others every 20 minutes or so. The second is that what usually happens is that one particular story turns out to be such a standout that you find yourself wishing that the filmmakers had just turned it into a full-length feature and dropped all the other stuff. Surprisingly, these two problems don’t really affect “Trapped Ashes” because the stories in Dennis Bartok’s screenplay are so pointless and puerile that you don’t mind being yanked from one to another (at least until you realize that the new one is not going to be much of an improvement) and there isn’t one here that manages to sustain itself for 20-odd minutes, let alone the possibility of working as a full-length feature. The only one of the stories that comes close to working is Monte Hellman’s riff on Stanley Kubrick–for a while, it is a quiet tribute to one of the all-time great filmmakers that happily eschews the sleazy and idiotic tone of the other stories but which is hampered by the fact that it just fizzles out towards the end. I also liked the wraparound segments that were directed by the always reliable Joe Dante–he at least seems to have a handle on the proper tone needed for the material and he even manages to work in a brief cameo from his favorite actor, the one and only Dick Miller.
As for the rest, they are gross and moronic one-joke affairs that seem to exist only to try to cram as much gore and nudity into their frameworks as humanly possible–alas, the end result is less like an especially lurid E.C. comic come to life and more like what might have resulted if the writing staff of “Tales From the Crypt” decided to write some spec scripts for “Red Shoe Diaries” and they accidentally got filmed. Although it is nice to see Ken Russell working in features again but his effort is one of the weakest things that he has ever done–it plays more like an amateur trying to ape Russell’s outrageousness than the real thing and his big visual coup–the vampire breasts–doesn’t hold a candle to the genuinely startling sight of the blinking nipples in “Gothic.” (One might be tempted to say that this segment might have really been something in the hands of someone like David Cronenberg–in fact, I know it would be since he essentially did it three decades ago in his genuinely squirm-inducing body-horror classic “Rabid.”) Cunningham’s is clearly meant to shock and outrage us with its scenes of graphic necrophilia but the special effects involved are so cruddy that we are less filled with revulsion and horror and more concerned with what kind of bath products that Lara Harris required to get all of the gunk off of her at the end of the shooting day. As for Gaeta’s tale, it is so utterly nonsensical that I honestly couldn’t tell you what the pont, if any, was supposed to be“Trapped Ashes” was clearly a labor of love for everyone involved and I really wish that I could recommend it as an old school alternative to the deluge of crappy horror product that we have been inundated with over the last couple of years. Barring that, I would have liked to recommend it just as a tribute to a lot of good directors who don’t work as much as they should be–Dante has been spending most of his working in cable television, Russell has been shooting low-budget direct-to-video projects in his back yard and Hellman has been out of commission for too many years to mention. I love these filmmakers and I hope that they one day get a chance to show their stuff on projects worthy of your talents but even the most hard-core auteurist would have a hard time recognizing “Trapped Ashes” as anything more than a depressing misfire from a group of filmmakers who have done much better in the past and who deserve much better in the future.
|© Copyright HBS Entertainment, Inc.|