Movie Review: ‘Volumes Of Blood: Horror Stories’

Review by Jay Bowman

This one is a tough nut to crack. An anthology of horror shorts by six different directors, Volumes of Blood: Horror Stories is about as meta as a film can be without having a lead actor turn to the camera and tell the audience that they’re watching a movie. A film within a film that itself contains another film, the framing device is two-fold. First, two horror buffs are watching a remake of a beloved 80s slasher at the theater. Insulted by what this film has done to the franchise (with one of the duo bending over in front of the poster to show that it raped his childhood), they’re eventually kicked out by an on-edge usher. Back in their home they discuss the flaws of the film before the usher shows up in a shoddy costume, kills one of them and watches a (different) horror movie with the other, essentially holding him hostage.

At this point I really liked Horror Stories. It was funny, the violence in both the “film” and the “real world” was over the top with beautiful gore effects, and the acting was such that I honestly believed those involved loved what they were doing—it was self aware to a degree (at least in the “real world” segment, anyway—the movie they were watching felt very professional) but not done in a ham-fisted way.

Once our killer and hostage start to watch their movie—the movie proper—things get dicey. The framing device of the remaining stories has the audience follow a young couple as they inspect a house that’s for sale. The real estate agent is a shadowy figure who offers few answers to the couple’s questions. He insists on showing them every room of the house where they discover evidence of some grisly act. We see whatever crime scene evidence still exists before cutting to the related story. For the most part they revolve around holidays or special occasions, like birthdays, but they aren’t really connected.

They also aren’t particularly well developed. Some breeze past and are easily forgotten simply because they feel too short for the story they’re telling. Others, like the Christmas story, take up way too much time without a decent payoff. Keep in mind that it’s nearly two hours long: the gore effects, as good as they are, can only carry so much. The plots themselves are thin and we aren’t given much reason to care about the characters, be they the various killers or victims. One exception: the short “Feeding Time” paces itself really well and would have made a great Tales from the Crypt episode.

Because the actual movie is a film being watched by characters in our movie (metaaaaaa), the ending is a sudden rush of blood and guts unrelated to everything else, sort of. The killer from the movie being watched (or rather, the killer from the framing device of that movie—goodness, this is getting out of hand) appears in the apartment after the movie ends and kills everyone. That’s after the lengthy kill-everyone wrap-up of the movie he was already in. It’s the sort of random shoulder shrug closure you work yourself into when the plot that links your vignettes together isn’t part of the movie’s “real world” (think Creepshow or Creepshow 2 and you’ll know what I mean).

If there’s one noticeable weakness that a project with this many collaborators have, it’s consistency of tone. The violence is always spot on, even if it isn’t always shot clearly, but the humor misses more often than not. The closing story “Deathday Party” features a charming elderly couple who have made a hobby of killing innocent people in their basement. The old man is dispatched by a knife to the ass, creating what can perhaps be best described as a fountain of blood. Earlier he had explained to his wife he’d been suffering from hemorrhoids. Yeah. The groaners aren’t always in the same gross-out fashion, but they’re often just as obvious.

It’s a weird mix all around, but what makes it weirder is that this isn’t a first time effort from those involved. An earlier film, Volumes of Blood, features the same directors and many of the same actors in horror vignettes framed by students at a library working to concoct their own urban myth (the library itself gets referenced in the movie being watched by the movie here, creating some sort of meta singularity).

Horror fans will find part of this movie to like just because there’s so many stories to choose from, but I’m not sure how many would like the movie as a whole.

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