The third instalment of the collaborative Netherlands-USA anthology series begins with the tellingly titled "A Christmas Haunting". It opens with Stephen (Kim Sonderholm) arriving at his pal's remote countryside retreat in wintertime and leaving a sympathetic message on his estranged wife's telephone.
Stephen's initially impressed with the place, seeing it as somewhere he can convalesce while his wife hopefully comes to her senses and agrees to take him back. But very quickly the place becomes a nightmare: crockery moves unprovoked, and we are privy to naked bloodstained females who are seemingly invisible to Stephen.
Later that evening, Stephen is woken by a nightmare involving the butchering of nubile girlies. His concerns grow when his friend calls in the dead of night to share his latest discovery: the house where Stephen's staying was the scene of a Christmastime mass murder perpetrated by a demented cult leader!
To divulge any further would be unfair as this is, after all, only a short story. Suffice it to say, darkness prevails ...
Shot on digital and looking very dark in places, "Haunting" isn't the most auspicious opening to the latest VAULT. But it has its moments: these being primarily an atmosphere of unease and some half-decent performances (kudos to the Danish Sonderholm for delivering a flawless American accent).
While "Haunting" does manage to unsettle on a small scale, the good work of writer-director Sonderholm (a major force behind the entire VAULT series) is unfortunately undone by some crappy CGI and an overall cheapness that makes the script's lack of humour stand out.
Having said all that, if you're a fan of blood on breasts then "A Christmas Haunting" will sate your desires. Even if the bookending quotes from Plato and Shakespeare do reek of pretension ...
Next up is "Zombie Office", a ropy Britain-based effort from Johan A Kruger.
In it, Jacob (Jonathan Baker) returns from holiday to his regular place of work, only to find that his old boss has mysteriously disappeared and been usurped by a rather stern-looking Goth.
The new boss summons Jacob into her office and quizzes him about his desire to make it onto the management chain. "I've changed most of the office into mindless drones" she purrs - to which the boot-licking Jacob initially shows no resistance.
But a tour of the office soon helps him realise just how much his colleagues are under the Goth's spell. Especially when he witnesses them cannibalising a rebellious temp.
"Wait until HR hear about this!" yells Jacob as he tries to escape. Cue more gore and gags as the pace quickens towards a satisfyingly silly finale ...
"Zombie Office" is daft. I expected something akin to "The Office" but it's much less subtle. There are some funny one-liners and the observation that office life is much like existing among the living dead is a good - if obvious - one.
But it's all good fun. Performances are energetic, Kruger's editing style is brisk and the comedy works. Some good, if primitive, gore is likely to get drunken viewers whooping in delight ... while the climax is subversive enough to elicit wry smiles from all but the most hardened cynics.
David C Hayes' "Undone" follows, and is an altogether darker (though, ironically, more colourfully photographed) yarn about the hunt for the fictional Lollipop Killer and how local drunkard Travis (Hayes) is roped into doing his bit.
Good-looking but clumsily acted, this one barely scrapes by on ambience and torture-porn gore.
James Barclay writes and directs the next offering, "Unchangeable". He also stars as Jason, a good-looking chap who is lucky enough to wake up each morning beside the gorgeous Trina (Lene Storgaard). They're happily married for the first minute of this story, and then suddenly Jason is informed by the police that Trina has been found murdered.
The news hits Jason hard and he's encouraged by his boss to take time off from the factory where he works. Furthermore, the boss recommends a Private Investigator to our maudlin Jared Leto-lookalike ...
Full of holes and hard to like, "Unchangeable" is however watchable despite never being fully engaging. I wanted to know how it was all going to pan out ... but it took a long time getting there. Which is appalling to say, when you consider this short film is roughly 20 minutes long.
Finally, Dave Holt's "The Psychomanteum" closes proceedings.
Shot in grainy black-and-white on deliberately battered film stock, this looks great and has a surreal quality to it.
But, despite some haunting visuals and striking violence, this is very much a case of style over substance. The post-ERASERHEAD soundtrack of electronica merged with grinding and whale sounds is clichéd to high Heaven now, and the rambling plotless dreamy sequences might look impressive but soon bore.
All in all, THE HORROR VAULT 3 is a disjointed affair. It starts on a morose note and then lunges into high octane comedy, before darkening down the tone again and ambling towards a terminally portentous final segment.
Despite that, it is definitely worth a look if you're interested in seeing what fledgling filmmakers are doing within the constraints of miniscule budgets nowadays. There's nothing too original. Heck, there isn't even anything memorable. But now and again there are entertaining moments ... and if you're watching closely, you'll spy cameos from Eileen Daly (CRADLE OF FEAR) and Brinke Stevens (SOLE SURVIVOR; SLUMBER PARTY MASSACRE).
This early promo disc contains nothing but the film - no menus, no nothing.
Regarding the film though, I can reveal that it looks extremely good in an anamorphic 1.85:1 transfer that boasts sharp images and strong colours. Each short film is shot on different forms of digital (video, HD etc), so it is fair to say that the quality is inconsistent. But the mastering is fair and, when you take into account the low budget origins of these films, on the whole this is a pleasing proposition.
The English 2.0 audio proffered throughout is reliable too.
THE HORROR VAULT 3 is released by Big Bite Entertainment in America on July 13th 2010. It's not going to change the world and I very much doubt it's going to land any of its directors a gig in Hollywood any time soon, but it's worth a watch nevertheless.
For more information, check out RSquared Films.
Review by Stu Willis
|Released by Big Bite Entertainment|
|Region 1 - NTSC|
|see main review|