Reviews

Scary Tales (1993)

A hooded figure with glowing eyes appears in a dense plume of mist. He’s encircled by silhouetted children who wait for him to read from an ancient tome. His voice emanates in a primeval rasp:

“This story is about a man who finds a necklace. But it’s no ordinary necklace… it’s SATAN’S NECKLACE…”

So begins a three-part shot-on-video horror anthology from 1993, which by all appearances is a period piece that takes place in 1985. Drunk dads play darts and mock Stevie Wonder. Blaring ponytail rock drowns out middle-aged profanities. The audio equalizes just before a balding man grabs his own crotch and says, “I’ve got your fuckin’ ass right here, buddy.” No one points out his error.

Somewhere between impotent insults and fully clothed sex, Satan’s necklace is unearthed. It holds tremendous power and looks like a 99 Cent Store bauble stolen from a crossing guard’s corpse. Whoever wears it is granted the power and fury of the Prince of Darkness, and physically transforms into a vicious, (wo)man-eating demon.

In the second Scary Tale, a cuckolded husband goes on a berserk annihilation spree. Heads split like melons and eject from shoulders. One grisly homicide ends with a slow zoom into an obese man’s bellybutton. After several people are murdered, several people are murdered. End.

Lastly, a businessman neglects his job, wife and plump son as he spirals into an obsession with a PC computer game. He eventually reaches its elusive Level 21, and is pulled into a medieval fantasy world where he’s attacked by ninjas and kicked by a dwarf. The latter is played by a 6-foot-tall person standing in a hole. Our hero eventually squares off against a troll and decapitates a Dark Overlord. See photo.

This final story is the lengthiest and most un-scary Scary Tale. But the ambition on display is monumental. A small handful of friends drove their Ford Bronco to an open field outside Baltimore and created a full-scale Dungeons & Dragons adventure.

Writer/producer/editor/director Ulrich — who’d later work with regional low budget demigod Don Dohler — handled the camera, impressive gore effects and wrote many of the muffled rock songs on the soundtrack. The end result is crude, amateurish and possessed of all the innocence and tenacity that characterizes the finest homemade masterpieces. And to top it off, the entire beautifully imperfect package was lovingly dedicated to the filmmaker’s departed father.

Of course, it’s this purity that keeps us all masochistically fascinated by these movies. Just look at that goddamn cover. Now look at it again. Like the most animalistic punk music, SOV horror allowed a forum for those whose drive was greater than their technical talent. Come to think of it, there’s nowhere besides punk and trash-horror where so-called ineptitude is this exhilarating. If these same directors were instead architects or surgeons, their creativity and lack of formal training would leave thousands dead. Instead, they chose the proper tools to manifest ideas that more “skilled” entertainers would never dare to attempt.

Major Hollywood studios burn hundreds of millions of dollars to manufacture false fun. Some blue-collar humans in rural Maryland pumped out the real deal for about eighty bucks.

Yo, film industry. I’ve got your fuckin’ ass right here, buddy.

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