Trapped Ashes (Sean S. Cunningham et al., 2006)
Homage to eighties horror anthologies by way of Aria (not surprising given that Ken Russell shows up) that sometimes works, sometimes doesn’t. The framing story, directed by Gremlins‘ Joe Dante, gives us a number of people on a VIP tour of a Hollywood studio lot, conducted by a friendly, if slightly absentminded, tour guide (The Blues Brothers‘ Henry Gibson). He points out the lot’s supposedly-cursed haunted house set, and the tourists clamor to go in; they soon find themselves trapped and, echoing the set’s most famous film, are forced to tell their most personal, horrifying stories to escape. Which leads us into the tales…
Ken Russell opens the bidding with “The Girl with Golden Breasts”. A would-be starlet (Pray for Morning‘s Rachel Veltri) decides her charms need an upgrade, so she consults a doctor who presents her with, quite possibly the most ridiculous idea ever committed to film: implants made of dead human tissue. You can see where this would go bad… but it goes even worse than that (and I’m not just talking about this segment’s idiotically low-budget special effects). The upside: it only gets better from here.
Next comes “Jibaku”, from Sean S. Cunningham, director of the original Friday the 13th. Henry (Queer as Folk‘s Scott Lowell) and Julia (The Fisher King‘s Lara Harris) are on vacation in Japan, trying to patch up their marriage, except Henry keeps getting called away to business meetings, leaving Lara to experience the culture by herself—until she meets handsome, enigmatic Seishin (When the Last Sword Is Drawn‘s Yoshinori Hiruma), who she eventually winds up in bed with. This turns out to be a bad idea, given that Seishin is a ghost and draws her into a Buddhist hell from which Henry, with the help of the head monk (Takashi Miike regular Ryo Ishibashi) at the temple where Seishin was living when he committed suicide, must rescue her. Not bad, though not great.
“Stanley’s Girlfriend”, directed by Two-Lane Blacktop veteran Monte Hellman, is by far the best of the bunch. Narrated by Enter the Dragon‘s John Saxon, it tells the story of Leo, a frustrated screenwriter in golden-age Hollywood (Saxon plays him as an old man; Riverworld‘s Tahmoh Penikett plays him in his prime) who befriends oddball director Stanley (Snakes on a Plane‘s Tygh Runyan). All is well until Stanley acquires himself a girlfriend, Nina (Species III‘s Amelia Cooke). We all know that the first blush of a romance can be all-consuming, but Nina and Stanley take it to ridiculous levels, to the point where Stanley basically falls off the grid, and only Leo knows he’s even still alive…until he gets a call from a New York producer. He flies out to make the movie, leaving Stanley alone with Nina… and you know what happens next. What you might not be prepared for is why.
The final story, “My Twin, the Worm”, was the first (and, to date, last) directorial effort from visual effects guy John Gaeta, who works extensively with the Wachowski Brothers. It shows; this is the weakest of the stories, mostly because it’s damn close to incomprehensible.
I wanted to like this a great deal more than I did, and it’s worth seeing for the Monte Hellman short (though I’d suggest checking out one or two of Hellman’s features to see if his slow-burn thriller technique works for you before diving in here), and less so for the Cunningham and Dante bits (the latter of which features an older, burnt-out Jayce Bartok from Spider-Man; his brother Dennis wrote and produced the film). ** ½
Red-band short-form trailer.