Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Film Review: TRAPPED ASHES (2006, Various)

Stars: 2 of 5.
Running Time: 105 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew: Segments directed by Joe Dante (GREMLINS, MATINEE, EXPLORERS), Ken Russell (THE MUSIC LOVERS, THE DEVILS, ALTERED STATES), Sean S. Cunningham (FRIDAY THE 13TH, DEEPSTAR SIX, A STRANGER IS WATCHING), Monte Hellman (THE SHOOTING, TWO-LANE BLACKTOP, SILENT NIGHT DEADLY NIGHT III), and John Gaeta (visual effects supervisor on the MATRIX trilogy). With John Saxon (NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET, TENEBRE), Henry Gibson (MAGNOLIA, THE BURBS, NASHVILLE), Dick Miller (BUCKET OF BLOOD, TRUCK TURNER, GREMLINS), and a bunch of youngsters who don't bear mentioning.
Tag-line: "Five tales of terror."
Best one-liner: "Alright, let's just tell some scary stories and see what happens."

I'm not going to beat around the bush: TRAPPED ASHES is not a great investment of your time. Part poor man's Roger Corman and part poor man's TALES FROM THE CRYPT, but polished and overproduced to the extent that it's devoid of any charm, TRAPPED ASHES is your typical latter-day horror omnibus disappointment. One of the primary warning signs is the script's incessant use of that distinguished rejoinder, "Whatever!" Yes, it's one of those. Those post-Kevin Williamson horror scripts that are a little too self-aware, pop-culturey, and self-approvingly contrived for their own good. The acting (aside from a few well-known character actors who acquit themselves admirably) is sterile, hackneyed, and often accompanied by cringeworthy accentuations like "You're a... FREAK!"

The frame story is directed by Joe Dante, and while it's nice to see Dick Miller's obligatory cameo,

things get bogged down rather quickly by an unlikable young cast thrust into the rather forced scenario of "strangers trapped in a room and forced to tell scary stories." The frame segment would be a complete bust if not for a deliciously nutty performance by Dante-alum Henry Gibson as as the tour guide/master of ceremonies.

Speaking in garishly hushed tones, his eyes flitting to and fro, his eyebrows curling with incredulity– Gibson's having a ball. And why shouldn't he? What has he got to lose.

He is milking this for all it's worth.

It's not quite enough to save the movie, but certainly enough for me to award the film an extra star or so.

Also, John Saxon is wandering around:

This is a good thing. But give him something to do other than eyebrow indicate.

Most of the segments are not really worthy of discussion- a few of the directors imbue their pieces with visual flair, but the scripts are not even worthy to be the dregs of Showtime's Masters of Horror. First-timer John Gaeta's tale of a sibling-parasite is unremarkable; Sean S. Cunningham's tentacle-porn and necrophilia-infused tale of J-Horror is about as klassy as you'd expect from a man who's always enjoyed hopping on a nice n' sleazy bandwagon; and Monte Hellman- one of the great maverick directors of the 60's and 70's- makes a valiant effort (but one which is ultimately in vain) on a by-the-numbers ménage a trois/femme fatale story called "Stanley's Girlfriend." It's the sort of thing you want to like, for Hellman's sake, so you're admiring the production design and the sepia lighting and pretending maybe you're watching NAKED LUNCH or something, but you can really only pretend it's holding your attention for so long. Loosely and seemingly arbitrarily, a young cypher of Stanley Kubrick is used as a character: vague references are made to PATHS OF GLORY and THE KILLING, exciting lovers of film trivia, but it begins to feel in poor taste by the time we get to his 1999 death and we're using it for a payoff involving vampires.

Saxon surfs the web.

But don't despair: there is one (mostly) solid segment. Now, maybe it seems better than it actually is in the midst of these bush-league terrors, or maybe it's because I'm a die hard Ken Russell fan, but "The Girl with the Golden Breasts" is the best of the bunch, and the only one to which I would award a begrudging 'thumbs up.' This tale of an aging (nearly 30!) actress who is surgically implanted with undead, vampiric breast tissue is no great shakes on paper, but Russell infuses it with his notorious attention to flamboyant visual detail and his bizarre, disturbing sense of humor.

At one point, CGI rears its ugly head or nipple or whatever, and the results are pretty mortifying, but if you're actually on board at this point, it probably won't detract from your overall enjoyment. It's especially vexing to me though, because Russell achieved a very similar effect in GOTHIC with a macabre puppet.

Anyway, it also helps that the lead of this segment, Rachel Veltri (apparently of FOR LOVE OR MONEY reality TV fame- yikes!) is generally more tolerable than her comrades. I think this is because she kind of reminded me of Mimi Rogers.

But before you know i–

Ken Russell himself as as the bewigged, besmocked, and lipstick-smeared "Dr. Lucy!"

Ending things on a note of utter lunacy, Ken Russell (here, 79) removes his smock and gives new meaning to the crass utterance "Show us your tits!" Whew.

On the whole, despite Ken's bravado, I cannot recommend this. Russell and Joe Dante devotees may wish to check it out (but be prepared to do a fair amount of fast-forwarding), and Monte Hellman devotees should just rewatch TWO-LANE BLACKTOP and call it day.

Two stars.

-Sean Gill

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