This reviewer was sent a screener to review Experiments in Terror 3, a new collection of horror shorts with an emphasis on surreal, experimental techniques that differ from normal conventions. Avant garde art is always interesting to me; I’m the type of guy who can’t stick to one thing for very long, so a change of pace for the horror genre really grabs me.
The term “terror,” though, should be taken a bit loosely when considering the film, as I didn’t find much of what was presented scary. It’s surreal, a little bloody, and sometimes suspenseful, but there’s more comedic portrayals of horror than there are actual frightfests.
The compilation begins with “The Psychotic Odyssey of Richard Chase,” a short exploration of the life of cannibalistic serial killer Richard Chase through the use of dolls. Think of it as a Robot Chicken sketch with more violence and a slightly more serious tone – and this was done long before Robot Chicken had even been thought of. At first, I felt like the use of dolls and exaggerated scenes was somewhat mocking of the serial killer and the victims that he murdered, but as I thought about it more and was sucked into the film, I realized that the dolls represent the child-like thought processes that Richard Chase had as he went on his killing spree. Also, the animation takes a bit of reality out of the short, giving the audience a taste of psychosis and the loss of a sense of reality. More and more, the film appealed to me, and when it ended at its 6 minute runtime I was both fascinated and wanting more from the creators. Even with the animation, there’s a grotesque and morbid tone to the film that emphasizes the story that it tells and made this one of my favorites on the disc.
Next up is “Satan Claus,” another short film that feels like an acid trip that’s gone down the bad path. The story’s very loose, but judging from the dialogue screens, it involves a little boy on Christmas Eve that is left alone in his house by his neglectful parents, so he summons Satan Claus to wreak havoc. The film is really short and has a very home-made quality to it, mostly due to the scratchy video and audio quality. What I liked most about the film was the first half: there’s a really creepy rendition of a Christmas theme that sets an ominous tone, along with the scratchy video that gives a thick, gloomy atmosphere. As the film progresses, though, a hard rock anthem sets in and a guy in a red suit and devil horns appears in a fog; most of the video becomes hard to follow after that. Reading the film’s background, however, puts it in a different context and one can appreciate it more as a practical joke than a film to be taken seriously.
“Loma Lynda: The Red Door” is up next, which is an excerpt from a longer movie. It starts out promising, with a red-tinged, dark room and a man and a woman. The woman is tied up and looks as if she is being raped, and as the short progresses we see that this is exactly the case. The atmosphere is pretty heavy, and the camera and lighting is just obscure enough so we can only get a glimpse of the violence that’s happening. But we hear a whole lot of it, and the man’s gruff grunts are disgustingly upsetting. Yet after the man is done with his molestation of the woman, the excerpt slumps off a little, settling for ambiguous shots of the two and an awkward monologue from the rapist. At first, his speech is creepy, but as he slurs on, it begins to taper off into random expletives and something to do with “fucking his daughter” that feels both exploitative and unnecessary. We get five minutes of credits before the excerpt ends, and the shots accompanying these detract from the whole experience, confusing the viewer with a second girl dancing around as they kill the rapist. I understand that this is just an excerpt from the entirety of the film, but as a stand-alone short to generate interest in the film, it actually turned me off from seeing the movie. Some of the shots were too shaky and quickly cut away from the focus, and the story was almost non-existent. The only reason I got a shallow understanding of what was going on was because I read the blurb that accompanied the disc. To me, this was the least effective of the 6 shorts.
Now for the best film on the collection: “Terror!,” a 24 minute montage of clips from horror movies of the past which emphasizes the formula that most horror films follow. Though there’s no continuity between characters, it is expertly edited to create a cohesive, terrifying experience that brings together horror clips from across the decades. The most interesting aspect of the film is that one never knows what to expect; the cuts are varied and extend the final meeting of the “monster” each time they present a new direction for the film, giving everything a suspense-filled vibe and setting the viewer on edge. It’s difficult to get into at first, especially since it’s hard to tell where the movie is going, but once realization sets in it’s almost impossible to pull away from. Best experienced in the dark, “Terror!” takes familiar scenes, familiar genre tactics, and makes them fresh, combining them together into a homogenous mixture that results in a spectacular and gruesome conclusion that alone makes the viewing of Experiments in Terror 3 worth it.
An older short, “Born of the Wind” from 1961, is on deck. Incorporating various aspects of films like The Mummy, Frankenstein, and even classic mad scientist horror, this short follows a very linear path to its finish with not too much in the way of surprise. Its story, about a scientist who brings a 2000 year old princess back to life by way of blood, isn’t original, but it has an attraction that draws the viewer in without needing any more plot. Though it’s not memorable, it does have its moments; however, it feels too stretched out to amount to much more than filler after the excellent “Terror!”.
Drawing the compilation to a close is “Manuelle Labor,” a quirky comedy shot in black-and-white about a sister with mysterious pains in her stomach who finally gives birth to a body-less hand. It’s fun and absolutely ridiculous, and yet it doesn’t need an explanation. I was fine with going along with the whole shebang, even though I didn’t understand the five brothers who were watching the whole ordeal and why they were there in the first place. We don’t learn much by the end of the story except that the surreal aspect of the film surely outweighs the reality, but it seems like a great way to end a collection of films emphasizing avant garde film making – the short doesn’t make a whole hell of a lot of sense, but it was a damn good time and one can appreciate the weird imagination of the filmmakers.
And, I think, that expresses the majority of my thoughts on the entirety of Experiments in Terror 3. It’s an odd batch of hit-and-miss shorts that kept me interested throughout, but I can see why they’re staying hidden in a world full of generic horror schlock. People just aren’t ready to see random hands coming out of wombs or 24 minute montages, but people like the makers of Experiments in Terror 3 are working hard to get these rare diamonds in the rough out to others who enjoy it. Pick this up and support imaginative film makers – not all of the films are winners, but they’re working towards a different and varied look at the horror genre.