Monday, 12 December 2016


Those of you with good memories may well remember my review of the excellent indie anthology flick, Volumes of Blood, back in June of last year. If you can't, check out the review here.

It was a low-budget but imaginative single-setting genre movie that really impressed me.

So imagine my pleasure when producer PJ Starks over at Verite Cinema reached out to me asking if I'd like to review the sequel, Horror Stories.
This time featuring a selection of spooky tales all taking place within the confines of one house, the film once again gathers some of the most talented up-and-coming genre directors.
Is this a house I'll want to stay in?
Or is it one I'll be ready to condemn?
Read on…


Dir: Sean Blevins, John William Holt, Nathan Thomas Milliner, Jon Maynard, Justin M. Seaman, James Treakle, PJ Starks
Starring: Barbie Clark, Warren Ray, Thomas Dunbar, Aric Stanish, 
Nathan Thomas Milliner, Kevin Roach, Shelby Taylor Mullins, Jacob Ewers, Erin Troutman, Christopher Bower, Caleb Shore, Kevin Arnold, Bridgette Michelle Hoover, Moses J. Moseley, Jessica Schroeder, Julie Streble, Jay Woolston, Cindy Maples, Eric Huskisson, Anne Welsh

SPEEDY SYNOPSIS: I'll try not to spoil too much here but continue at your own risk.

The film opens with a segment, directed by Miliner, in which a group of hardened criminals (Clark, Ray and Dunbar) rob an isolated warehouse. However, while they are there their grizzled veteran leader tells the story of Atticus Crow, a man wrongfully killed on the site who now seeks revenge.
After the group proceed to scheme against each other, they come to realise that they may have more to fear than one another...
However, this segment is abruptly revealed to be a part of a movie within a movie, a modern remake of the slasher film, Murder Death Killer, from the first VoB. In a crowded cinema two obnoxious patrons, Nate (Milliner in an acting role) and Kev (Roach) loudly bemoan the state of modern horror. The pair are ejected from the screen and return home where they settle down with a movie, Volumes of Blood: Horror Stories. But they are soon joined by an unexpected guest.
From here — after a brief interlude entitled Trick or Treat, which features a young woman, Mallory (Mullins) besieged in her own home on Halloween night, with some pretty astonishing gore AND links the events of this movie to the first VoB — we get into (another) framing story, Killer House, about a young couple, Ash (Ewers) and Laurie (Troutman) being shown around a house by a creepy realtor, Mr Stine (Bower). 
As the couple visit each room we are given a terrifying glimpse of the house's troubled past.
The first of these stories, Feeding Time, features a young insurance salesman, Boone (Shore) who is desperate to make a tough sale. When he gets to the house he is met by a distraught and disturbed young Mallory (yes, the same Mallory from the Trick or Treat segment), who begs him for help with a monster in the house. One which needs killing...
In the next story, Blood Bath, a young man, Andrew (Arnold) and his wife Sara (Hoover), decide to start trying for a baby... and then the bathtub eats Sara. Andrew, who it emerges has neglected to take his medication for a psychological disorder, then faces the challenge of convincing his friend Steven (The Walking Dead's Moseley) and the authorities that his bath is a killer.
The following segment, Fear, For Sinners Here, is a timely Christmas tale about a woman, Carol (Schroeder) who seems to be struggling to cope during the Festive period. Then a sinister carol singer (Streble) comes calling...
In the final segment, The Deathday Party, we are given a look at the darkness behind the scenes of the marriage of a seemingly respectable couple, John (Woolston) and Almeda (Maples), when they are visited by their neighbours Fred (Huskisson) and Nancy (Welsh) for John's birthday. It seems Almeda has got her elderly husband an extra special treat this year...

THE BEST BITS (MILD SPOILER WARNING): The first movie was one of those rare indie flicks that manages to mask its modest budget and display impressive production values — well, Volumes of Blood: Horror Stories looks even better!
The multiple cinematographers for the movie are all on top form and deliver slick, polished imagery.
However, it's not just from a visual standpoint that this sequel surpasses the ambition of its predecessor. The film boasts a more complex and intricate structure, while the density of the plot is refreshingly rich. This is not just evident in the film as a whole, but in each of its segments.
While the original Volumes of Blood clearly had some sections that outshone others, the segments in Horror Stories are more consistent and it is far more difficult to single any out for praise.
If I was to be forced to, I'd probably pick the truly excellent Christmas tale, Fear, For Sinners Here as my favourite. Directed by Milliner, this is a more subdued story, rich with pathos and rides squarely on the shoulders of a pair of spectacular performances by the wonderfully fragile Schroeder and the superb Streble. 
The pair bring the story to life with frightening aplomb, while the majestic shooting and composition by Milliner ensures that this is a story that will live with you long after the end credits roll.
Throw in a pair of legitimately shocking plot twists and this is the finest anthology segment I've seen this year.
Another of my favourite sections, Murder Death Killer (again helmed by the seriously talented Milliner, who also gave us the impressive Encyclopedia Satanica in the first film), is a rip-roaring slasher movie homage combined with a crime thriller and left me itching to see more of Atticus Crow. Much like I loved this fictional movie's equally fictional predecessor in the first Volumes of Blood, I'll be keeping my fingers crossed that the team responsible for this segment will one day give us a feature length version of Atticus' bloody rampage. Please, guys, we need more!
It looks great (using the desolate, dusty landscape and shadowy interiors to ramp up the atmosphere), while the cast impress (especially the gruff and charismatic Ray).
In truth, the cast are strong throughout the entire movie, with standout performances from the absolutely awesome Bower (who NEEDS to be a continuing part of this franchise moving forwards), and the extremely likeable Caleb Shore in John William Holt's Feeding Time (he has kind of a 'Chris Pratt'-vibe about him that could lead to big things in his future); and his co-star Shelby Taylor Mullins — who more than delivers the goods with what is essentially a dual role. Feeding Time also features one of the more nightmarish pieces of imagery, while Mullins' other segment, the Sean Blevins-directed Trick or Treat, offers the most disturbing gore (no mean feat for a movie that also features an underground torture chamber and lawnmower rampage!).
You see, it's not just the pretty visuals that are polished and effective — the gore effects are also spectacular throughout. The final segment, which draws together both Killer House and Trick or Treat, all while tying in to the That's a Wrap framing story of the original VoB, is a veritable bloodbath and offers plenty of splatter, grue and guts for those of you who look your horror more visceral.
Speaking of bloodbaths, the segment of the same name also impresses, through it's trio of talented leads and the fact that it keeps the audience guessing right up until the conclusion of its brief, punchy runtime. It's also one with plenty of references to other horror flicks, and that's something that eagle-eyed viewers will be able to pick up on throughout the movie. Early on we are shown a message onscreen that this is a horror movie made by fans, for the fans. With these bountiful references, right through to the movie's classy dedication to recently departed genre icons, Volumes of Blood: Horror Stories really is a love-letter to the classic horror movies of yesteryear. It's intense, but it's also good fun, and isn't that what we really want from our entertainment?
Nowhere is this more obvious than in Justin M. Seaman's rip-roaring and surprising Deathday Party segment. With a top-drawer cast of seasoned actors, plus a grim dark vein of humour running through it, Seaman's short walks the difficult thin line of keeping its horror horrifying yet providing some wry laughs, and the segment is a real hit for it.
There are also laughs aplenty in P.J. Stark's Haters part of the film, with most of the quotable dialogue ('It Follows? It SWALLOWS!') coming from this snappy little framing story.
So in short, whether you want fun OR frights, Horror Stories is your place to go.

THE WORST BITS (MILD SPOILER WARNING): There's really very little to find fault with in Volumes of Blood: Horror Stories. I suppose it's worth reiterating that, while the production values are really quite excellent, obviously this movie is less polished than the year's big studio genre flicks such as The Conjuring 2 or Lights Out. That's not saying they're bad at all, but do please adjust your expectations accordingly.
I've seen some criticism for the less experienced members of the cast. Some of the crew do play roles onscreen in this movie, as they did in the first movie, and it's safe to say that not all of them show the same ability as the astonishingly funny P.J. Starks did in the original. However, for the most part I think the vast majority of the actors in this movie are genuinely great and even those who are less experienced deliver committed performances. I absolutely refuse to single out any weak links here, I think each and every person who appears onscreen should take real pride in their efforts.
Another area in which I've seen some criticism levelled at Horror Stories is the overly convoluted and complex narrative. Now, while I can sort of see the problem here, I also disagree with this argument. While no film NEEDS two (or possibly even three) framing stories to tie it together and, yes, this can be a little confusing at times (I'll admit, it's pretty easy to lose track of exactly which story is meant to be fiction within fiction), it's also brave and shows some real skill and intelligence. I applaud any effort to take risks and try something new in our genre, so I utterly support the filmmakers' decision.
A related critique could be that this causes the movie to run a little long, and clocking in at nearly two hours is quite lengthy for a horror movie. However, while the film may feel a little indulgent to some, I'm hard-pressed to think of any areas in which it could be trimmed without losing some of the charm that makes it so enjoyable. Maybe there's the odd minute or two here and there, but if anything, I wanted to see some of the stories EXPANDED upon, not cut back!
It can be argued that by the end of the movie the film loses a little momentum and perhaps this is true. There's a lovely twist reveal late on that suggests we'll be seeing more of the extended Volumes of Blood mythos, but this is then followed by a lengthy massacre sequence that doesn't really grip in the same way that a similar set-piece during the first film's It's a Wrap segment did. It's not bad by any stretch, it's just that it doesn't quite hit the height of some of the earlier stories.

THE VERDICT: The first Volumes of Blood was an easy recommendation. If you've seen that movie, you'll want to know how this sequel measures up. Rest assured, this is a natural extension and expansion on everything that has come before. It's a great second entry in what I really hope will become an ongoing genre franchise.

It's great fun and has some legitimately scary moments. With no real clunkers and a couple of genuinely brilliant segments, this is a fine horror anthology. I return to the message in the movie that this is a film made for love of horror and I think that really shines through. It's wonderful to see filmmakers so passionate about the genre that we all love and I hope that we see more of them, especially the truly great Nathan Thomas Milliner. If the original Volumes of Blood established P.J. Starks in my sights as a talent to watch in the future, this movie has made me a Milliner fan.
Is Volumes of Blood: Horror Stories worth your time? Absolutely, and I can't wait to see what everybody involved will come up with to entertain us next. 
Check out the movie's official Facebook page here for more information. Be sure to give it a Like while you're there too, show some appreciation!

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Until next time, I hope you enjoyed your stay.

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