A lot of films have gone the anthology format using fairy tales, but not many are as weird or creative as Deadtime Stories. Jeffrey Delman’s 1986 horror film about an uncle telling his nephew delightfully dreadful bedtime stories is a low-budget wonder, putting the grim back in Grimm’s fairy tales while also featuring some light-hearted humor and a soft rock soundtrack also written by Delman. There is certainly a fanbase for Deadtime Stories, one those gems from the ’80s that isn’t particularly great by generic cinema standards but excels thanks to its ingenuity and heart.
Three fairy tales are bookended by the framing story about Uncle Mike (Michael Mesmer) telling his nephew Brian (Brian DePersia) some inappropriate bedtime stories. One finds two witches, with the help of their assistant Peter (Scott Valentine) attempting to raise their deceased sister from the grave using the blood of a woman. The next is a new take on “Little Red Riding Hood,” with Rachel (Nicole Picard) encountering a werewolf (Matt Mitler) at her grandmother’s house. The final tale – and easily the strangest – is a retelling of “Goldilocks and the Three Bears” with a murderous Goldi Lox (Cathryn DePrume) and three demented family members (Melissa Leo, Kevin Hannon, Timothy Rule) running from the law after escaping a mental asylum.
None of the Deadtime Stories tales take themselves too seriously, with the most serious moment occurring in the first portion. Delman’s writing, along with J. Edward Kiernan and Charles F. Shelton, is loose and free-spirited, and likewise the actors seem to have fun with their character roles as well. The film manages to evoke the foreboding gloom of olden fairy tales while maintaining a sense of humor, and that makes for a fun viewing experience especially when the film tries to circumvent the usual storylines.
With that said, some of these segments tend to lag despite the film’s 80 minute running time. Part of this comes from Delman’s use of stagnant shots with a tendency to linger on moments – some of the framing storyline becomes grating, and the credit sequence is nearly interminable as the entirety of Delman’s song “Bedtime Tales” plays over the flipping pages of a book. While much of Deadtime Stories is successful simply because of its ridiculousness, its pacing issues do detract from its briskness.
That’s where the criticisms end, though, because the rest of the time Deadtime Stories is an enjoyable, if admittedly frivolous, experience. Delman gets a lot out of the low budget – including his own memorably ’80s soundtrack – and some of the special effects are truly effective. One Hellraiser-esque sequence where a witch resurrects from bones to flesh and blood is a marvel, and Delman allows it to play out in gory detail. A werewolf transformation isn’t as successful but still manages to look quite good with practical effects. Even the skeletons in the Goldilocks story look realistically decayed, seemingly owing a lot to Nekromantik.
The storylines aren’t too complex, but they do enough to morph the fairy tales into something rather inappropriate for young boys and girls. The Goldilocks tale, however, lacks a point and is probably the weakest of the three. Still, Deadtime Stories is a surprisingly fun film that new audiences should find entertaining, especially in its age – and it’s nice to have this one as a quality Blu-Ray release from Scream Factory.