I was asked by filmmaker and actor Tony Ashmore to review a screener for his upcoming anthology, The Trick or Treat Picture Show. This is that review.
From filmmaker Tony Ashmore comes every 1980’s horrors fans dream! An anthology of shorts, all shot on 35mm or 16mm film, which is most certainly something you don’t see any more. Even with the nostalgia feel, the multiple stories, and various intermissions reminiscent of a drive-in theater, does it land? Well, I suppose we should start at the beginning. I should mention that this is an independent project, and I will be reviewing it as such.
Right off the bat we’re welcomed to an opening credit scene featuring a burning candle – which was quite the homage to 1978’s Halloween, with the time-lapsed pumpkin. It was a nice touch and set a hopeful mood for the remaining hour and twenty minutes. From there we’re treated to some drive-in let’s all go to the snack bar kind of fair, followed by what I believe was a trailer for some supernatural/witchcraft film. Looked interesting.
Finally, after about six and a half minutes, we get to the first feature, a film called The Invader. It starts with a note about the film, which is important. It says the transferred onto 38 year old stock and was being projected from a near 40 year old Russian projector – still not 100% on why that mattered, but it’s a minor point. However it did give me the impression that it was meant to either have taken place in the 80’s, or was shot in the 80’s… But then the very first scene shows a truck from the mid 2000’s driving down the street. It was a bit confusing.
Nevertheless, the story of the invader is your standard 80’s fair, with themes evocative of Black Christmas with a killer having infiltrated an unsuspecting woman’s house and seems to be living there unbeknownst to anybody. With these all being shorts, I don’t want to give too much away in terms of story, so I’ll leave it at that.
What I like most about this short, and all the others for that matter, is that it was indeed shot on 35mm film, which gives it an authentic feel, of that there is no doubt. It’s definitely a valiant effort in terms of production value, especially for an indie project such as this.
However, the acting and sound design were off-putting for me. Now, I do understand that this was an independent project, and I went in with my expectation curbed to such an idea. But one of the first lines of dialogue delivered comes from a real estate agent who sounded as though she was reading out loud to herself. It was poor.
From then on we meet the lead actress, who was better – but not great, even by indie standards. They can’t all be gold, but she did give a solid effort, and for that I can’t fault her. Beyond some stilted dialogue, and strange actions, it was a decent effort put forth. But what of the sound design previously mentioned?
Sadly the sound missed the mark. I’m a bit of an audiophile when it comes to sound in movies and TV. I have a broadcasting background, and I always make a note of how the audio comes off. The use of the 80’s synth sounds envelope almost every scene in all the shorts. It was overused, sadly, and really took any atmosphere away from the overall show. A case of less is more was needed in this case. There’s a reason that sound didn’t survive beyond the era. But again, I did get the feel it was meant to impose, with Halloween having used similar techniques in many shots. It was just too much.
The other stories include a documentary style shoot about aliens/ghosts, and later one about a medium. In between the two was another slasher style flick called Return of the Slasher. But let’s start with the documentary style films. Unfortunately, these were the weakest parts of the anthology. The first featured a young man called Derek who had some… experiences with otherworldly beings. It’s important to note that Derek admits to being a drug user right at the start, and I wondered if he was high during the filming. Slurred and stumbled words, forgotten sentences, and it seemed like the interviewer was feeding him the story. I’m not sure there was a script written for this part, or if it was straight ad-libbed. Either way, the delivery just wasn’t there, and the story itself didn’t feel cohesive to me. It was the weakest moment in the series, hands down.
The other docu-style wasn’t much better. The actors just didn’t have any onscreen presence; that goes for both of them. In a story that requires on person more or less fulfilling a voice-over, neither had great speaking voices. It wasn’t pleasurable to listen to any of them speak (there was also a female at one point). It felt stilted and awkward, and the overall tales didn’t add much to the anthology.
That brings us to the last scripted story, The Return of The Slasher, which is very much inspired by Halloween. It features a couple young ladies and an overall wearing madman who drives the sweetest ride I’ve ever seen a killer drive. I’m no car buff, but it looked like a cherry red 1950’s Cadillac. The story is straight forward with the killer stalking a young woman before breaking into her house and causing all sorts of chaos. Again, the acting was what you’d expect for something of this nature, and the shots were pretty standard. But again, the sounds of 1980 were omnipresent, except for one scene where it was dead quiet.
In the end I have to praise Tony and his team for taking on such an ambitious endeavor. The idea’s where there, and the execution was so close to getting it all right, but the acting and
the sound design really took me out of it. In between the stories, and sometimes in the middle of stories we were shown various intermission clips, which again, I get the idea behind it and at first it was fun. But there were too many, and they were too long, which is a shame. I feel like a little more polish and time in the editing bay could do wonders for this anthology. Considering though, that this seems to be his first feature length project, I can’t hit it too hard.
I know I may have come off as harsh, but I wanted to be honest. If you’re an 80’s fan and really want to go back in time for an hour and a bit, you should watch it. For the casual horror fan, or even people of a younger generation, it might not stick or resonate with them at all.
3.5/5 from me on this one!