By MICHAEL GINGOLD
Starring Raymond Lee, Sam Jaeger and Itziar Castro
Directed by Carlos Goitia; Damien LeVeck; Kheireddine El-Helou; Mat Johns; Albert Pintó and Caye Casas; Alejandro Damiani; (Denis) Walgenwitz & Winshluss (Vincent Paronnaud); Andrew Desmond; Adam O’Brien; and Hendryk Witscherkowsky
Written by Guillermo Lockhart and Mauro Croche; Aaron Horwitz; Kheireddine El-Helou; Mat Johns; Albert Pintó and Caye Casas; Ale Damiani, Santi Vecino, Juan Andrés Fontán, Javi Cruzado and Enrique Codesido; Andrew Desmond and Jean-Philippe Ferre; Vincent Cloutier; and Simon Thummet
Red Hound Films
Anthology horror films are typically conceived around themes (holidays have been especially popular lately) or occasionally as showcases for pre-existing short films. ASYLUM: TWISTED HORROR AND FANTASY TALES (on VOD today) is both, assembling minimovies from all over the world within a framing device that doesn’t entirely work, though a number of the segments are well worth a look and deserve the exposure.
Argentinean producers Nicolás Onetti and Michael Kraetzer conceived and supervised the omnibus, which is introduced by Brandon (Raymond Lee), a dissolute and disillusioned clown doing a standup-comedy routine about his lousy life. The gimmick is that after each segment, Brandon reappears in makeup inspired by the just-concluded story, and it all ties together at the end in a manner suggested by the movie’s title. As directed by Carlos Goitia and written by Guillermo Lockhart and Mauro Croche, some of this is amusing, but the transitions become a bit confusing and the resolution underwhelms. It doesn’t help that the final segment, Hendryk Witscherkowsky’s “The Last Show,” leaves the whole thing hanging before the credits roll. While it brings ASYLUM full circle thematically, depicting a gory carnival rampage by evil clowns, it’s a situation rather than a story, and doesn’t offer much in the way of dramatic satisfaction.
ASYLUM’s lineup opens well, though, with Damien LeVeck’s “The Cleansing Hour,” the basis for this year’s Shudder-premiere feature of the same title. “The Cleansing Hour” is also the name of a hugely popular streaming series in which Father Lance (Sam Jaeger, channeling Nathan Fillion) performs faked exorcisms for a worldwide audience. Although the central twist is exactly what you think it will be, it’s directed and edited with a keen eye for detail, and it wraps up with a wicked punchline. Next up is Kheireddine El-Helou’s “Drudge,” in which a young woman (Jessica Mann) is terrorized by a masked murderer bearing a multipurpose industrial weapon. This feels more like a cut scene from a feature than a self-contained short, and thus rather pointless; the same goes for Adam O’Brien’s later “Bloodbath,” which is nothing more than a literalization of its title.
Those two go for little more than shock value; ASYLUM’s better episodes aim for the heart as well. Mat Johns’ “A Father’s Day” is an equally gruesome but surprisingly affecting little tale of parental love transcending walking death, with Garth Maunders and Hazel Gibson conveying real emotion with no dialogue and from behind ghoul makeup. Even better is my favorite of these shorts, “The Death, Dad and Son,” by Walgenwitz (first name Denis) & Winshluss, the latter a.k.a. Vincent Paronnaud, Oscar-nominated co-director of PERSEPOLIS. The French duo perfectly marry honest sentiment with great black humor in this evocative animated fable about a Grim Reaper’s child who would like to be an angel instead, but whose attempts to do good keep backfiring.
Albert Pintó and Caye Casas’ “RIP” gets some dark laughs too as the just-deceased Juan (Josep Maria Riera) won’t stay dead, frustrating the desire of his wife Marisa (Itziar Castro) and mother (Carme Sansa) to hold the perfect funeral. From “RIP’s” deadpan morbidity, ASYLUM then goes totally nutz with another Spanish-language entry, Alejandro Damiani’s “M.A.M.O.N.” Set at the U.S./Mexico border, it packs in raining humans, an EL MARIACHI spoof, a giant mecha-Trump and a heroic chicken, and is over before you can pick your jaw up off the floor. And the exact opposite tone is struck by Andrew Desmond’s “Entity,” which has a great hook—an astronaut (Alias Hilsum) is left stranded in space after her station explodes—trippy visuals and an engrossing, ominous mood, though it comes to an inconclusive ending.
If the sum of the parts is greater than the whole in ASYLUM: TWISTED HORROR AND FANTASY TALES, a high enough percentage of those parts are choice to put it in the win column for fright anthologies. It’s essentially a festival shorts program you can enjoy at home–and the fact that in-person festivals are on hold right now makes it especially worthwhile.