When it comes to horror films, the only tried and true formula that has stood the test of time (besides red food coloring and corn syrup) is the anthology; that is, a combination of stories that form the body of a movie.
There had been several British variations of this over the years ("Tales from the Crypt", "Asylum", "Vault of Horror"), and Hollywood has tried its hand at it as well, with varying degrees of success. It's had its greatest success on TV ('The Twilight Zone', 'Outer Limits', HBO's 'Tales From The Crypt'), and therefore every filmic variation will indeed suffer by the comparison of style and substance to what had been set before.
It should come as no surprise, however, that there has indeed been more bad than good horror anthology films. Just look at your video store 'Horror' section. SO many, in fact, that it takes a special something to make even one stand out from the norm.
Sometimes it's a matter of attitude ("Tales From the 'Hood"), other times a matter of the talent before and behind the camera (the aforementioned British classics). And then other times still it depends on the energy, desire to entertain and a willingness to admit that there's nothing new under the sun and just crank it all up as loud and as fun as a horror movie can be.
To say that "Death 4 Told" does nothing new is not news. But for a movie that took less that $90,000 to film and produce and featured a majority of fledgling actors and so forth, it would be difficult to not appreciate the effort put forth. I'm sure this also isn't news to a majority of the people who are reading this.
Suffice it to say that as far as anthology movies go, "Death 4 Told" does deliver the goods from beginning to end.
Since this is an anthology, allow me to describe each segment as ambiguously as possible:
1) A DOLL'S HOUSE - A young writer (Brian Cade) and his wife (Britt Marder) move to a small town and rent a beautiful house for him to work in. Secrets abound, however, when footsteps and a child's laughter are heard within. This is only compounded when Pete (ME: George Litman!), a crazy local, asks a cryptic question: 'Have ya met Toby yet?'
2) FOLKLORE - A group of college friends set out for the woods when the driver Travis (Nar Williams) runs over a strange wolf-like animal. Soon, the group finds themselves beset by strange sounds deep in the woods, rustling bushes and glowing white eyes that lie in wait in the dark night.
3) WORLD'S MOST HAUNTED - A young intern (Stasia Andrews) on a reality TV show helps set up an abandoned asylum for a broadcast along with the director (Harley Kaplan), technician (Mark Van Fossen) and soundman (Michael Evanichko). But after she finds some unknown secrets on the building's history, its evil history comes to hideous light.
4) THE PSYCHIC - Hypocritical psychic Madame Baudeau (Margot Kidder) begins to find her predictions are finally coming true. Unfortunately, the future she forsees is all tragic. Will the next person she reads for live or die?
Again, nothing here is terribly original story-wise. That's not the point here. The point is that the directors (Bo Buckley, Michael Close) set the mood early on; messy and chaotic but with huge dollops of humor (much of it self-referential to those who are familiar with the genre); the actors, big and small, put everything they have into their parts.
It's all in the tone - fun, of course, but a suspension of belief is still necessary for any movie to work. That's true here; not to mention an appreciation for the general scenes you see in any b-movie: the scary legends, the dark shadows, the unexplained noises, the sinister locals, the sudden splashes of blood, the gratuitous displays of skin.
God bless independent horror films.
Ten stars out of ten. Watch for "Death 4 Told"!
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