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Cinema/TV, Film Notes

Film review – Trapped Ashes

My notes on the 2006 oddball omnibus horror film.

Joe Dante’s ‘Wraparound’ segments, with tilted camera angles and a Dick Miller cameo, are vintage Amicus pastiche as six people show up at the deserted ‘Ultra Studios’ with free passes for a VIP tour and nag a meek tour guide (Henry Gibson) into taking them into a ‘house of horrors’ set where long-vanished William Castle-soundalike director ‘Desmond Hacker’ once made profitable horror films before being dropped by the studio as rumours of orgiastic practices on set circulated. Trapped inside the ever-shifting funhouse, it seems the party have to re-enact Hacker’s hit movie Hysteria by telling their own scariest stories, whereupon four other directors step in and deliver tales filmed in radically different styles. All of screenwriter Dennis Bartok’s stories feel like rejects from The Hunger – like most episodes of the cable show, they all manage to work in a couple of mild sex scenes and spin off their scares from horrid sex.

Ken Russell handles ‘The Girl With the Golden Breasts’, a tale of dim Hollywood starlet Phoebe (Rachel Veltri), who goes from ‘Heather Graham type’ to ‘Mena Suvari type’ without success and is kicked out of an audition for not being ’22-24’. She goes to creepy, sloppy plastic surgeon ‘Dr Larry’ (Winston Rekert), who uses ‘tissue from cadavers’ in a new type of breast augmentation. Phoebe’s career takes off, but her new breasts turn out to be vampires with toothy nipple-maws, which batten onto and suck the blood of her lovers. She tracks down the triumvirate of mad doctors behind Larry’s process (the spokesperson is played by Russell in drag) and finds they all have immortality-bestowing vampire breasts.

Next up is Sean S. Cunningham’s ‘Jibaku’ – the director evidently didn’t complete his assignment, since anime inserts are needed to tie up the story. Henry (Scott Lowell) and Julia (Lara Harris), an American couple in Japan, get ensnared when the neglected wife is hit on by a Seishin (Yoshinori Hiruma), a monk who commits suicide and turns up in Julia’s necrophiliac hallucinations and drags her off to a cave which leads to ‘Buddhist hell’. Henry consults a wise-man and has to venture into ‘jigoku’ to rescue his wife, which is where we get snippets of anime action (including tentacle sex) as he tussles with the evil ghost monk.

The most interesting story is ‘Stanley’s Girlfriend’, a teasing bit of a clef autobiography from Monte Hellman, which hints that Stanley Kubrick progressed in his career while Hellman became unemployable because Stanley arranged to set him up with his own life-sucking witch-vampire girlfriend Nina (Amelia Cooke) back in the 1950s. It’s a slim tale, but the performances are good – John Saxon and Tahmoh Penikett play the Hellman-like ‘Leo Herschel’ and Tygh Runyan is cannily reticent as the chess-playing Stanley – and the faux-insider business gives it an extra frisson.

Effects man John Gaeta handles ‘My Twin, the Worm’, which has the germ on an idea – an expectant mother can’t take a treatment for a tapeworm because it would also cause miscarriage, and her baby forms a relationship with the worm which lasts into later life. Gaeta gives it some style, but the anecdote is poorly-developed, and feels more like a precis than a plot. Back at the frame, we get an awkward stutter as four individual punch-lines to the stories are delivered – showing that all the narrators have omitted significant, unflattering details about themselves, and that furthermore everyone on the tour has probably died (though Phoebe apparently hasn’t), making this another Tales From the Crypt/Vault of Horror collection of dead souls. Oh, and Gibson truns out to be the missing Hacker. Obviously, there’s interest in anything from Dante, Russell and Hellman, who have made fewer films lately than we’d like, even if no one really cares that much about seeing anything from the other directors; Dante and Hellman are still in there pitching, but Russell – working on a body horror premise more redolent of Chatterbox than Rabid – is permanently out to lunch. And why use a title that sounds as if it’s an attempt to render an untranslatable idiom into English.

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