Directed by Joe Dante, Ken Russell, Sean S. Cunningham, Monte Hellman, and John Gaeta (2006)
Reviewed by Space Coyote, added on Oct 5 2008
Reader Review: by Space Coyote
While the entries are always hit-or-miss, I love horror anthologies. From Bava's Black Sabbath to Twilight Zone: The Movie, I've always found the bite-sized storytelling of horror anthologies to be a lot of fun. Trapped Ashes is a recent anthology that gathers some old names in the genre for another stab at telling short stories on film.
The premise of Trapped Ashes (or the "wraparound," which is directed by Joe Dante) involves a group of tourists taking a studio tour led by a mysterious old man (played by the always strange Henry Gibson). After they explore a house used in a famous (fictional) horror anthology called "Hysteria", the tourists find themselves trapped, unable to find the home's exit. The tour guide suggests that whoever has trapped them there wants them to tell scary stories that are personal to them, just like in the movie the house was used in. Thus, the writing device is introduced, and off we go into the four different tales this movie contains.
The problem with this movie is that every segment is written by the same dude (Dennis Bartok), and usually what makes horror anthologies interesting is the mix of talent on the screenplays, as well as behind the camera. While I'm never one to blame a writer for a movie's problems, but none of the stories in this movie are particularly interesting. In fact, the first segment directed by Ken Russell, a director who has a reputation for being rather unfriendly towards writers (just read about his feud with Paddy Chayefsky on the movie Altered States), is probably the best one, simply because it's so bizarre. Russell's segment ("The Girl With the Golden Breasts") is full of interesting, Bava-style lighting and lots and lots of boob-based imagery. The story is about a small-time actress who figures that her problems with getting work stem from her small breasts, so she decides to get an experimental breast augmentation surgery, which, naturally, ends up with her developing flesh-eating tits. This segment has a hilarious image involving the actress's boobs drinking martinis through their nipples out of crazy straws. Yeah, I can year you running to put this at the top of your NetFlix cue, you sick fuck.
Most people love Sean S. Cunningham for his work on films like Last House on the Left and Friday the 13th, and I admit I was excited about seeing his segment in this movie (entitled "Jibaku"), but it's ultimately boring and stupid, and his use of anime during the short's climax (which is a double entendre) doesn't work. The segment I was most excited about was Monte Hellman's ("Stanley's Girlfriend), mainly because Hellman is, I feel, an unsung hero of the New Hollywood in the seventies, as Two-Lane Blacktop is one of my all-time favorite road movies. Hellman hasn't worked since 1989, so it was exciting that he was working on this movie. Unfortunately, his segment is also boring, and it's probably the most pointless. The "twist" that comes at the end isn't shocking or interesting, it's just lame, and given the subject matter (mysterious master filmmaker Stanley Kubrick), this one should have been awesome.
The biggest surprise was John Gaeta's segment ("My Twin, The Worm), which was also his directorial debut after having worked on the special effects for movies like The Matrix and What Dreams May Come. The story for this segment is balls-out stupid that it's hardly worth mentioning, but Gaeta's visual approach gave way to some incredibly striking images and creative use of special effects, especially given the budgetary constraints of a movie like this one. Too bad the story sucks.
Trapped Ashes is probably the most disappointing horror anthology film I've seen. While it does have interesting moments, and one decent segment, Trapped Ashes makes the mistake of putting it's best foot forward (something you never do in a movie like this, you always save the best for last), and even then it never really hits the highs most horror anthologies hit. I was hoping to love this movie, instead it's an anthology worth skipping.