I was lucky enough to gain access to this through the Facebook group Free Legal Streaming From Filmmakers and, having finally settled to watch it this weekend, my expectations were pretty high.
Would UK indie horror once again do me proud?
TALES OF THE SUPERNATURAL (2014)
Dir: Steven M Smith, Daniel Johnson
Starring: Jon Campling, Bruce Payne, Patrick Rowe, Jon-Paul Gates, Giles Alderson, Debra Baker, Mia Baker, Juliet Lundholm, Joe Shefer, Jeremy Hill, Lynsey Pow, Nina Hatchwell, Victoria Pritchard
SPEEDY SYNOPSIS: I’ll try not to spoil too much here, but read on at your own risk.
A demon (Campling) doomed to roam the Earth forever seeks to regain access to Hell by collecting 666 dark souls. After storming a church in which Father Doyle (Payne) resides, the Demon threatens bloody retribution and pursues a younger, less devout priest (Rowe).
Upon capturing the priest, the Demon commences a diabolical ritual to open a gateway to Hell. As a part of this ritual the priest must suffer the torments of six of the Demon‘s captured souls, each of which is told as a segment of the film.
THE BOOK — Follows a talented young author (Pow) whose sleazy publisher (Alderson) suggests an unconventional way to beat writer’s block. But what does he have planned? And what is he hiding?
BRYAN’S DAUGHTER — As Stephanie (D. Baker) wakes her young daughter Millie (M. Baker) to inform her that the girl’s father has passed away, she is shocked by Millie’s response. As the night passes the girl’s actions become increasingly bizarre — building towards a chilling conclusion.
THE HIKE — Michael (Shefer) is a man on the edge, who sets out for a hike through the dense woodland to try to make peace with himself. As he heads deeper into the forest he discovers a strange village full of oddly malevolent inhabitants.
PARALYSIS — Angela (Hatchwell) suffers from sleep paralysis, a feeling of being awake but trapped within a sleeping body. At first concerned by the condition, she is relieved to hear that it is one that effects plenty of people. Then her symptoms start to worsen...
NAKED — Lucy (Lundholm) is haunted by a recurring nightmare in which she walks into her office nude. Her psychiatrist suggests this may be due to stresses in her life, something which seems to be supported by Lucy’s poor relationship with her boyfriend. But is there something more sinister going on?
DIARY OF DISTURBANCE — Finally, some familiar faces appear in the story of Andrew (Gates) and Hannah (Pritchard), farm owners who are shocked when their young daughter makes a miraculous recovery… from death.
THE BEST BITS (minor spoiler warning): This is a difficult film to review as different segments were directed by different hands and had quite a different feel from one another. My favourite sections in the film were definitely Bryan’s Daughter and Paralysis. These two stories summed up everything the film got right — they didn't overreach with what was clearly a teeny budget and instead focused on telling a strong short story with character, good performances and a compelling plot. I’ve reviewed my fair share of short films here at Hickey’s House of Horrors and these two would easily stand up outside of the framework of the anthology flick.
The voice over work from the impressive Hatchwell in Paralysis is topnotch and the story, a relatively simple one in which a woman haunted by something terrifying is ignored until it is too late is told well, using this superb performance to do the bulk of the heavy lifting and really giving it some punch. My compliments to Ms Hatchwell!
Bryan’s Daughter was even better, feeling a lot like an even lower budget and significantly shorter British Paranormal Activity. Both of the Baker ladies were marvellous and the slowly building sense of dread, unsettling atmosphere and wonderfully ominous open ending makes the section a real hit. Released as a short on its own, this could be a real smash!
Finally I loved a lot of the location work on the film. It takes some brilliantly imposing British structures and architecture, particularly the church in the opening segment, the country house in The Book and the isolated farmhouse in Diary of Disturbance. A lot of the camerawork is very good indeed and I quite enjoyed the black and white sections of the picture, giving it a good, old-fashioned horror feel.
I also wish to praise the final scene in which Campling and Payne are brought face to face once again with some unsettling guests. It felt epic and unsettling, bringing to mind John Carpenter’s The Fog and Pinhead’s church scene in Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth. Very nice.
THE WORST BITS (minor spoiler warning): Oh dear, where to start?
I wanted to like Tales of the Supernatural so much, but I’m afraid to say it missed the mark far more often than it found it.
The framing story featured some decent visuals, but these were often ruined by decidedly shoddy CG effects and an uncharacteristically hammy performance from the usually fantastic Campling. It isn't helped by the fact that the dialogue is pretty awful and the story nonsensical (we receive a scrolling text at the beginning of the film telling us about 666 souls, but then six will do in the movie?). Unfortunately, these problems are not limited to this segment.
The Book is a rushed storyline that tries to squeeze in too much and just becomes confusing and annoying, especially when you consider how it is is hamstrung by some decidedly stilted line delivery from the actors in the segment. It feels like it needed to be about 10 minutes longer or excised all-together — I’d probably have preferred the latter to be honest.
The Hike feels the most like a missed opportunity, a decent idea let down in execution and once again feeling too rushed. Quite simply, the amount of time given to each section of the film was not enough, leading to plenty of overly hurried scenes and several anticlimactic conclusions. Given more time the fairly obvious twist would have just felt like a suitable ending — here it just feels clichéd. As if that isn't bad enough this is one of TWO stories in the anthology with the same tired twist.
SPOILERS********** They were dead all along, isn’t just worn out, it’s become a joke and when it is used again in Naked it loses even more punch. SPOILERS END**********
The poor planning continues in Naked as it is the second story to feature a sleep related problem and follows directly on from Paralysis — a story about a sleep related problem. Sigh.
Naked is another story that ends too abruptly, but with more in the way of resolution than most of the others. Many reach sudden and often underwhelming conclusions, not helped by the fact that even though each segment is short the storytelling is so poor it is very difficult to maintain focus on them or care about the characters.
This especially affected Diary of Disturbance which became so convoluted and confused that even with some great visuals, I lost track of the plot and couldn’t care less that I did.
The characterisation is further hampered by some truly woeful performances from the cast. Some of these actors are very good but very few cast members account for themselves well here. From clunky delivery to awkward reactions, all the major sins are here.
Perhaps the biggest problem with Tales of the Supernatural is its lack of focus. It feels very much like a poor attempt to string some cheap and questionable shorts together as part of an anthology, even though they don't really fit into the framing story. The shorts often peter out without making a point or, even worse, suddenly spring to an ending that makes little or no sense within the context of the story. Even the framing device falls apart towards the end — the entire film is about a diabolical ritual that opens the gates to Hell/raises the Devil (it's not entirely clear what the Demon is going for) then, once it is complete… well, we get an unrelated scene that, while it brings the film full circle, doesn't actually address the ritual’s success or lack thereof. I know this is the first film in a planned trilogy but surely SOME resolution is necessary?
THE VERDICT: The Demon and the Tales of the Supernatural crew are due to return in two more movies to make a trilogy — I probably won't be along for the ride. A couple of decent segments are not enough to save this film from a flabby and illogical plot, some truly terrible effects work, some decidedly amateur performances and a po-faced lack of humour or any awareness of its shortcomings. I’m sorry, but I cannot in good faith recommend this massive disappointment to my readers. Here's hoping Smith and Johnson learn from their mistakes in the sequels.
Should you want to do any research of your own, head over to the film’s official Facebook page to find out more about it and the planned sequels.
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Until next time, I hope you enjoyed your stay.