By Andrew Buckner
Rating: ****1/2 out of *****.
The original Volumes of Blood (2015) was a smart and wildly entertaining anthology. Co-executively produced by veteran actress Lynn Lowry, the ninety-seven-minute excursion was a showcase of talent for all of those involved. It was also a wonderful homage to its genre. There was no denying that it was created for and by those who obviously have a deep-felt passion for the genus of cinematic dread. The various conversations of the main characters, all of whom were huddled together around a table in a library telling terrifying tales to one another throughout the presentation, and clever nods to moving picture frights of the past cemented this quality. Volumes of Blood: Horror Stories (2016), the Petri Entertainment distributed sequel to the afore-mentioned success, stalwartly carries on these ingredients. It lacks some of the more intentionally tongue-in-cheek flashes of the first outing. Chiefly, the dialogue and delivery of the lines heard in the opening moments of the initial affair. Still, the one-hundred and eighteen-minute follow-up, which parallels its precursor in being shot in and centered around the city of Owensboro, Kentucky, towers as an all-around improvement over its predecessor.
Where this enhancement is most visible is in the brilliant, complex manner the more recent effort is structured. Taking place after the conclusion of the foremost venture, this seven-spiel saga concerns a couple, Ash and Laurie (Jacob Ewers and Erin Troutman respectively). They are interested in purchasing an on the market home. This becomes James Treakle’s engrossing wraparound narrative, “A Killer House”. As the fiction endures, the duo is guided through their potential residence by the ominous realtor, Mr. Stine (in a superb depiction from Christopher Bower). As they wander around the confines of the domicile, the audience glimpses a violent scenario that erupted in or around the area these individuals are investigating. This provides a tremendous springboard for staggering enactments of such incidents. For example, there is the smirk-inducing and unique spin on the monster in the closet trope. This is John William Holt’s terrific Thanksgiving related labor, “Feeding Time”. Born from this notion is also John Maynard’s inventive brainchild, “Blood Bath”. It concerns a shower that is the source of unexpected slaughter. The latter item, which emerges on Father’s Day, is one of my favorite pieces in the project.
Though the Dark Cuts publication takes its time getting to this set-up, it is all a part of the sheer, envy-inducing craftsmanship at hand. For example, the article starts with the beautifully executed short from Nathan Thomas Milliner, “Murder Death Killer”. It than moves to a highly amusing orchestration from co-producer P.J. Starks. This portion, a daring extension of “Murder Death Killer”, is called “Haters”. The section integrates a great argument about remakes. This is while incorporating solid portrayals from Milliner (as Troll Nate) and Kevin Roach (as Troll Kev). There is also a conversation about “nostalgia blindness”. It transpires at twenty minutes into the feature. This sequence, inciting the exchange that Hollywood is devoid of fresh ideas, I especially enjoyed.
After Milliner’s chronicle, bystanders witness Sean Blevins’ “Trick or Treat”. This account ties seamlessly to Milliner’s undertaking. It also thematically carries on the psychotic killer facets of “Murder Death Killer”. Concerning a woman, Mallory (in a marvelous turn from Shelby Taylor Mullins), who finds herself alone on Halloween night, “Trick or Treat” is tense and compelling. It also introduces the holiday theme which prevails through most of these cracks at trepidation. Such an aspect forms the backdrop of Milliner’s powerful, Christmas Eve set “Fear, For Sinners Here”. This, the sixth endeavor in the order of the arrangement, is another of the best episodes found herein. Completing the compendium is Justin M. Seaman’s twisty, birthday related finale, “The Deathday Party”. Seaman’s contribution is thrilling. It is the perfect climax to one of the greatest collections of chilling morsels I have viewed in years.
Augmenting the overall delight is how slyly the film harkens back to the originating Volumes of Blood. For instance, the location of this previously addressed exercise is cited. There are even some familiar sights which reoccur in Horror Stories. A certain red-eyed mask comes immediately to mind. These bits heighten the already immense appeal for those of us who have seen the earlier opus. It also offers further proof of just how impeccable the construction of the photoplay is altogether.
Humorous, gory, visceral and guaranteed to please a crowd, this Blood Moon Pictures release also benefits from fantastic cinematography from Alexander Clark, Austin Madding and Holt. Josh Coffey, Rocky Gray and Mikel Shane Prather’s music increases the intense atmosphere of the undergoing remarkably well. The editing from Blevins, Holt, Maynard, Milliner and Treakle is exceptional. Barbie Clark, who triumphantly tackles the role of Vallie, issues costume design that is masterful. Additionally, the effects, camera work, lighting and sound are just as impressive. The writing from Blevins, Milliner, Starks and Jason Turner is sharp. Blevins, Holt, Maynard, Milliner, Seaman and Treakle offer proficient direction. Correspondingly, Aric Stanish is brutal and imposing as the rampaging fiend from “Murder Death Killer”, Atticus Crow.
The result is an illustration of boundless skill, effectiveness, efficiency and fun. Given that the yarns included herein generally clock in at around fifteen minutes, each composition is brief and to the point. Usually, the major downfall of such fleeting anecdotes is that it provides little time to get to know the leads. This is before the events of the plot begin to unfold. Yet, nearly everyone we meet on-screen avoids this trap. There is a wide-reaching variety of quirks and a relatable foundation unveiled in the central figures. Such makes their quick scenes memorable. In turn, “Fear, For Sinners Here” may have you cheering on the poor taking on the rich plight of its antagonist. It is these astounding elements, mixed with the deft juggling of its subtly differing tones and execution, that allows this perpetuation to be so consistently engrossing.
Simultaneously, the pacing is top-notch. The end credits are respectful and astute. Likewise, the post-acknowledgments configuration spied in the last few seconds of the movie is most agreeable. Ultimately, this is a massive achievement. I greatly anticipate the third installment in this trilogy, Volumes of Blood 3: Devil’s Knight. It is scheduled to be unleashed in 2018.
Volumes of Blood: Horror Stories will arrive on DVD, Blu-ray and Video on Demand August 1st, 2017.