This is a tie-in to Angelle Tusa's Castle Rock Companion series, which explores the cinematic adaptations of the works of Stephen King. Check out her reviews of Creepshow and Creepshow 2.
In "Alice", our eponymous, snobbish teenage girl finds herself thrust between alternate realities when her father experiments with a new universal remote. This sets the tone of the piece early, with crisp direction and a good naturalistic flow to the dialogue and performances. It's not a particularly scary short, with the increasingly gory burns Alice suffers as a result of her reality shifts being played more for a gruesome laugh, and more focus is put on the humor, as her father adjusting the color hue throws her in a reality where her family is black, or playing with subtitles makes them Hispanic. Sadly, it just doesn't seem to know where to go beyond that as a few things just randomly happen and the short ends.
"The Radio" is about a put-upon security guard trapped in an empty, aimless life in a slum surrounded by pimps, beggars, and prostitutes. When he buys a used radio, a voice in it starts telling him what to do, giving him the guidance he needs to find direction and clean himself up. Until it starts leading him into acts of larceny and increasingly brutal violence. This is the longest short of the film, and it feels it as it does drag a bit here and there, but it's also the most successful in terms of tension and atmosphere as we see this seductive voice on a radio steer the lead down darker and darker paths. And the triple twist ending is one hell of a great capper.
"Call Girl" is about a serial killer prostitute named Rachel, bemused by the media attention she's starting to get as she slashes her way through a series of victims. When she's called to the home of a seemingly awkward young man and starts having her way with him, she's shocked to learn he's a carnivorous supernatural beast. I was a bit let down with this one. It opened with a nice hint of the same mood as "The Radio", but my excitement at the possibility of a pair of killers colliding was quickly felled by the sudden end which instantly nixes any possible development down that road. Starts interesting, ends a dud.
"The Professor's Wife" is the most unexpected of the set, as the wily old Professor Dayton invites a few old students over to meet his fiance. When she turns out to be a busty and eccentric bubble-head with a spotty memory and a tough accent to place, the two students think back on the professor's experiments in robotics and penchant for playing pranks, and suspect this is all a joke involving an automaton. To get back at him, they decide to disassemble the woman in search of the off switch. The twist, of course, is that she's really a human, leaving the two covered in gore over a dismembered body. To the film's credit, it doesn't even try to make any of this scary as it plays the situation up as a screwball splatter comedy, which usually doesn't work for me, but surprisingly does here due to some great blocking and the performances of the two students. And when the professor returns home and they scramble to hide their crime, I was doing a fun dance of squirming at the ick and rolling with laughter.
Our final segment is "Haunted Dog", focusing on an asshole of a doctor forced to work 30 days at a free clinic for some unexplained crime, who brushes off and insults his patients while helping himself to the copious prescriptions which are supposed to go to them. When he drops a hot dog on a street, he hands it to a homeless man, then refuses to help as the dude chokes on it. What follows is a tepid rehash of "The Hitch-Hiker" segment from Creepshow 2, but so heavily muted and ending so suddenly after a long buildup that it feels pointless.
One of the interesting elements of the film is that all of these stories co-exist, and as we go along, we start to see them weave in and out of one another, with the same characters popping up in each and the events of one influencing what happens down the road. The final segment, "Haunted Dog", more than makes up for its lackluster story by acting as a curtain call for all of the prior installments to slip back into the spotlight for little epilogues and further moments of connectivity. It's all quite well done, and spotting the ties was a nice game to keep me even more deeply invested in the stories.
Which isn't to say it's the only thing fueling my investment. With the exception of maybe "The Radio", none of the segments are great, but neither are they all that bad with mildly interesting characters and some neat twists. Honestly, they're no better or worse than what you can find in Creepshow 2 or Tales from the Darkside: The Movie. And I'd go so far as to say this was a bit better made on a technical level than Creepshow 2, with a steadier, more focused directorial hand, stronger editing, and a nice score. While there are no star-making standout performances in the cast, the majority are still quite good, giving their roles a believable relatability even when the character on the page is an asshole. The only one I don't like is Emmett Mcguire as Professor Dayton, who feel too forced in his fuddy-duddy mad scientist role. On the one hand, he's used briefly, but on the other, he pops up in more shorts than anyone else.
Overall, I like this movie. It's not great, and it's certainly never scary, but it embraces a great sense of fun throughout and constantly kept me entertained and interested. I think people are being far to harsh in their dismissal of it, mostly by focusing on the fact that it had zero input from Stephen King or George Romero. To which I say, so what? The last film in the series did, and I had a lot more issues and was more often bored with it than I am with this one. So no, I have no problem with bringing in some new creators to keep the franchise alive. While I wish they would have done more with their flash animation bookends (only the first of which really felt in the spirit of the EC comics interludes of past installments), I feel they absolutely captured the spirit of what made the past pair of films so much fun to throw on to kill an October afternoon.
Castle Rock series index.