The horror anthology is an easy temptation for filmmakers working in this genre. A film divided into substories can be easier to make, this style allows filmmakers to team up with each other and it theoretically allows a film to increase its impact with a variety of stories and shocks. However, the horror anthology is also a risky proposition because crafting a satisfying short narrative requires its own unique discipline – and if just one story is uneven when compared to the others, the entire balance of the film is thrown off and all the stories suffer.
Chilling Visions offers a recent example of the horror anthology’s pitfalls. After a music video-ish sequence showing a psycho’s victims having his various senses sealed off Saw-style, the film settles into a quintet of unrelated tales, each helmed by a different director and all highlighting one of the five senses with its story. Here’s a quick breakdown of the tales, with the director listed after each title.
Smell (Nick Everhart): this muddled attempt at an allegory revolves around Seth (Corey Scott Rutledge), a loser whose luck seems to change when he gets a cologne that makes him desirable. However, there is a nasty side effect to the cologne that takes a toll. This is really more a morbid comedy than a horror tale but the gags aren’t that funny, the “comedic” acting is mostly lousy and story drifts without ever coming to a point. It’s easily the least of the tales and gets the film off to a bad start.
See (Miko Hughes): an abusive boyfriend (Lowell Byers) runs afoul of his girlfriend’s optician (Ted Yudain), who has developed a machine that can harness the images from a person’s eyes and distill them into drops that cause the user to “see” whatever that person has seen. The doctor tries to scare the boyfriend straight by giving him drops of some nasty images but his plan goes awry. Despite a truly novel story hook, this tale suffers from weak, rushed plotting that fails to make the most of that premise and amateurish acting. There are few interesting visual flourishes but it’s stronger on gore than storytelling.
Touch (Emily Hagins): the best premise of the bunch revolves around a young blind boy who has to find help for his parents after a car accident… which leads him into the path of a serial killer (Byers, again). His best defense turns out to be his sense of touch, which allows him to perceive things that those with sight might miss. It’s a compelling story and the raw beats are in place but it feels rushed, as if they couldn’t shoot the scenes necessary to connect all the dots. Despite the rushed feel, it has a unique hero and some effective moments of suspense.
Taste (Eric England): this one starts in a promising way as a young hacker (Doug Roland) is summoned to the lavish offices of a mysterious corporation for a meeting that could result in a job. He finds out the hard way that he shouldn’t treat the opportunity lightly. This segment has an interesting buildup with a sense of mystery – but squanders it on an abrupt and dull “shock” punchline, throwing around gore instead of giving the story an interesting payoff. Perhaps the biggest disappointment of the group because the beginning showed real potential.
Listen (Jesse Holland, Andy Mitton): the last tale is a found-footage story recreating the documentary video shot by some filmmakers who were attempting to stitch together a long-lost piece of music that supposedly induces madness in its listeners. The directors follow all the expected found-footage tropes established by The Blair Witch Project and Paranormal Activity – but they do the job well, getting good performances and editing the piece with skill. When the mysterious song’s lone video recording is pieced together, the results are both scary and gory. It is the best and most completely realized of all the film’s stories.
Overall, Chilling Visions is like a lot of horror anthologies in that it’s wildly uneven and ultimately fails to cohere. That said, horror fans interested in the work of the genre’s new directors may want to check this out for “Listen” and perhaps “Touch.”
Blu-Ray Notes: This Chiller Network original just made its home video debut via a spiffy little blu-ray edition from Scream Factory. The transfer does well by the low-budget digital approach the filmmakers have taken. Both 2.0 and 5.1. lossless stereo mixes are included: differences between the two are minimal but they sound nice and clear. Extras consist of a brief deleted scene, a still gallery and a series of promo spots for the original telecast, including a few brief but interesting bits where the directors offer soundbites about their work in the film.