Trapped Ashes (2006)
Directed by Sean S Cunningham, Joe Dante, Monte Hellman, Ken Russell, John Gaeta
Written by Dennis Bartok
Starring John Saxon, Rachel Veltri, Scott Lowell, Lara Harris, Henry Gibson, Jayce Bartok
Release Date: July 15, 2008
In the late 60’s and early 70’s, anthology horror movies poured from low budget production houses throughout Europe, including the time-honored Black Sabbath from Mario Bava and EC Comics inspired Tales From The Crypt by Freddie Francis. Anthology horror on the big screen took on new life in the US in the 1980s with Creepshow and sputtered out in the early 1990s with Tales From The Darkside: The Movie. Meanwhile in Hong Kong, a ghostly anthology series called Troublesome Night has been going strong since 1997 and most recently the East Asian anthology films Three and Three: Extremes have been chilling audiences around the world.
But is there hope for a revival of this horror niche here in the United States? Writer Dennis Bartok would like to think so. Bartok, who has spent much of his career on the fringes of the film community as the head of programming at American Cinematheque in Los Angeles and as an interviewer for DVD featurettes, makes his screenwriting debut with Trapped Ashes, and with the help of some Japanese financing has brought along some top-name talent to back him up.
Trapped Ashes concerns six sightseers on a tour of a dilapidated Hollywood backlot, who convince their tour guide to let them explore on of the studioâ€™s grandest sets â€“ a haunted mansion where all the built-in practical effects are still fully functional! But when the group gets stuck inside, the kindly tour guide reminds them that the plot for the mansion setting involved trapped visitors who must each tell a personal horror story in order to be released, and suggests that in order to escape they must do the same. Reluctantly, the tourists begin to spin their talesâ€¦
In “The Girl With Golden Breasts” (directed by Ken Russell of The Devils fame) a desperate actress gets breast implants in hopes of landing a part. Though she indeed starts getting cast, she also must deal with a very disturbing side effect. In “Jibaku” (directed by Sean S. Cunningham) a husband recalls how on a recent trip to Japan his wife became the latest victim of a demon that drags her into Hell, and what he did to get her back. In “Stanley’s Girlfriend” (directed by Monte Hellman) a director from the 1960s tells the tale of his best friend and how a mysterious woman how enters his life changes things forever. Finally in “My Twin, The Worm” (directed by The Matrix visual effects supervisor John Gaeta) a Goth woman remembers how her mother had a tape worm she was pregnant, and now feels a special connection with it.
Bartok, who wrote all four episodes as well as the wraparound segments (which was directed by Joe Dante), certainly has an enthusiasm for the underused sub-genre that is the horror anthology, but as a first time writer, is unable to deliver a knockout here. While each director does a descent job with the material they are given, the stories themselves are uneven and lack the power they need to propel from one to the next. The stand out episode is “Jibaku” with its interpretation of Japanese Hell and usage of animation, while “Stanley’s Girlfriend” has slow burning mood and subtle punch line but feels out of place amongst the others. “The Girl With The Golden Breast” essentially exists for Rachel Veltri to show off her ample boobs, while “My Twin, The Worm” is practically ruined by embarrassing CGI, especially given its director’s resume.
The material would feel much more satisfying in a television horror anthology instead of a movie, so that each segment could either be appreciated or written off independent of one another. The stories have a small screen appeal, and with their zinger endings and dark humor, would have been welcome on the Tales From The Crypt TV series. This comparison is made all the stronger by the elderly guide who pushes each of the tourists to tell a story, while the twisty-winding rooms and hallways of the haunted mansion seal the deal.
While the film was released in 2006, it has taken until now to finally arrive on DVD. The film features an anamorphic widescreen transfer and a soundtrack in both Dolby Digital 5.1 and Dolby Stereo with accompanying English and Spanish subtitle. A commentary track is included with Bartok and several of the actors, with Bartok taking the reigns as he recalls making the movie. A deleted scenes reel features over twenty-five minutes of snippets and scenes that were trimmed from each segment. A five-part making of entitled A Look Inside peels back the layer of each segment, with their respective directors discussing their story.
Also included is the director’s cut of “Stanley’s Girlfriend”, which includes several additional scenes plus a different voice over, which allows to simmering eeriness to come to full fruition. The original cut of “The Girl with Golden Breasts” also includes several additional scenes including a quick glimpse that alters the story. A selection of previews from Lionsgate rounds out the disc.