Scary Tales: The Return of Mr. Longfellow
Facts and Figures
Run time: 88 mins
In Theaters: Thursday 1st May 2003
Contactmusic.com: 2 / 5
IMDB: 4.1 / 10
Scary Tales: The Return of Mr. Longfellow Movie Review
For all those unfamiliar with the original Scary Tales, which introduced the diabolical frame story host Mr. Longfellow (Joel D. Wynkoop) -- and I'm counting on the fact that most of filmcritic.com's readership has not -- have no fear. This sequel offers very little in terms of plot and character development, so you should have no trouble getting up to speed. Mr. Longfellow has set up shop at a used car lot, where he tells his fright-filled anecdotes to unsuspecting buyers.
Scary Tales features three such tales, adding a bonus frame story involving a serial killer (co-director Jason Daly) who wants to buy a used car with no credit. After an appropriately gory introduction to our murderer-protagonist, and a few gauche one-liners from the ebullient Mr. Longfellow, the stories begin and are as skimpy as you'd expect.
Story #1: "Charlie's Demons", is basically a 30-minute reprise of the lame John Cusack thriller Identity. Thankfully, it's shorter and bloodier. George Randol stars as an experimental therapist who gathers a group of hotheaded young twentysomethings to a remote cabin in the woods. Before you can say "plot," these kids are getting splattered across the floorboards. Thankfully, the creative gore effects make up for the predictable narrative and fairly amateurish performances (though Randol is appropriately deadpan and creepy as the doc). Favorite bits: One of the unlucky kids gets an axe to the head that's well-timed; and when the hero tries to escape and discovers there's no exit it's a gag straight from your worst fevered anxiety dream (or ripped off from John Carpenter's In the Mouth of Madness, perhaps -- but it's still a goodie).
Story #2: "Dennis Frye Vs. The Zombies". I've never been a fan of that subgenre of horror that's best described as rockabilly horror, or maybe schlock-comedy horror, or fraternity horror comedy. Whatever label applies, there was a certain amount of promise in the story of a nerdy convenience store guy (Bill Cassinelli, reprising a role from the original Scary Tales) who falls in love with cute B-movie horror icon Felissa Rose (and who wouldn't?) and, before the night is over, has to defend her from local bullies turned into drooling, mixed up zombies. But since Scary Tales lacks the budget of straight up gore fests like Dead/Alive or even the tame 1980s cult favorite Night of the Creeps, it comes up lacking in the splatter department. The zombies look like grease monkeys and the battle to the death is peppered with unfortunately lame one-liners ("Paper or plastic?" the hero says before dispatching a foe.) This one doesn't deliver where it counts: a creatively gory denouement after the cutesy love story. This one flies at half mast. But, hey, favorite bit: the hero does the "hole in the popcorn container" trick in a movie theater with Ms. Rose, and just when we're ready to drown in repulsion the story takes a turn for the surprising and, dare I say, endearing.
Story #3: "7:23"... a bruiser (Jesse Furman) stops at a hotel and discovers that he cannot leave. Before you can say, "I see dead people," he's confronted by a host of strange denizens that wander the hallways like the walking dead. The cheap office setting (with curtains as a background) really shows the no-budget roots of this thing, but you can't beat the scene where our anti-hero crawls away from the zombie hordes peeking into other rooms where he catches glimpses of all manner of depravity. All right, we've seen it in The Shining, but Scary Tales multiplies that by ten.
What saddens me is that home video really isn't the best way to see movies like Scary Tales, unless you're throwing a party. This straight-to-video crap-o-la comes from a tradition of drive-ins that used to show these films and others from the grindhouse. Those movies made on the cheap had a charm all their own: shoestring budgets, bad acting, kooky special effects, wall-to-wall bloodshed, and the worst lowbrow comedy. But it's not boring. Just the other day I saw that Fred Astaire movie The Band Wagon, where they were singing frantically about the need to provide entertainment. The funny thing is, Scary Tales delivers on those grounds. It's crap, all right. But entertaining crap!