Scary Tales (2001)


USA. 2001.


Director/Producer/Photography/Visual Effects – Michael A. Hoffman, Screenplay – (Terminally Unemployed) Michael A. Hoffman, Story – Michael A. Hoffman & Bill Cassinelli; (Hit and Run) Bill Cassinelli; (I Ain’t Got No Body) Michael A. Hoffman, Story – Bill Cassinelli & Michael A. Hoffman; (The Death of … ) Michael A. Hoffman, Music – Orange Nightmare & Jeffrey Sheppard, Makeup Effects – Creative Workshop. Production Company – Wet Floor Productions/Twisted Illusions


Terminally Unemployed:- Bill Cassinelli (Dennis Frye), Joel D. Wynkoop (Mr Longfellow), Ria Rampersad (Secretary). Hit and Run:- Chelsea Opolin (Little Girl). I Ain’t Got No Body: Lindsay Horgan (Jamie). The Death of … :- Thorin Taylor Hannah (Annabelle), Lee Pinder (Edgar Allan Poe), Kevin Bangos (Agent), Mark A. Nash (Handicapped Agent), Tina Frankl (Secretary), Shannon Semler (Female Agent)


Terminally Unemployed:- Unemployed for more than a year, Dennis Frye finds an ad for an employment agency and goes to an interview. There the strange Mr Longfellow shows Dennis what he might expect on each prospective job. Hit and Run:- Working for a catering firm, Dennis is driving home when he runs down a little girl playing on the roadside. He flees the scene but thereafter is haunted by dolls wherever he looks. I Ain’t Got No Body:- Working as a second-hand bookstore clerk, Dennis is hopelessly infatuated with regular client Jamie but she only has contempt for him. He then reads a book on astral projection and learns how by leaving his body he can visit Jamie while she sleeps and imprint in her mind that she loves him. The Death of … :- As a novice screenwriter, Dennis racks up rejection after rejection for his screenplay ‘Night of the Drinking Dead’. He decides to kill himself with an overdose of pills and alcohol. However, during his drugged haze, the ghost of Edgar Allan Poe appears to him.

This low-budget video-made horror anthology is a debut feature from Florida-based filmmaker Michael A. Hoffman. Hoffman co-writes with Bill Cassinelli who plays the lead in all the stories. While a little rough around the edges, it shows promise.

The first episode, Hit and Run, is the slightest. It seems a rerun of the The Hitchhiker segment of Creepshow II (1987) – of a hit-and-run driver who flees the scene and is thereafter haunted by his victim. It unfolds predictably. The ghostly appearances of the doll come with mechanical contrivance – each scare feels like it being fired at you one after the other by an automatic ball-serving machine rather than a series of twists that should keep you on the edge with their unexpectedness. The dolls in themselves are not that scary.

The second episode, I Ain’t Got No Body, despite the vernacular laxness of its title, is a good deal better and in fact emerges the best of the three stories. Rather than a conveyor belt of shocks, it is an unusual and original astral projection story. Hoffman and Cassinelli tell it as a character-driven story – the interplay between Cassinelli’s poor schmuck and manipulative Lindsay Horgan is well drawn. The astral projection effects are simple but highly effective. The only fault might be an ending that one can be seen coming far too obviously.

The third episode, The Death of …, is in some ways the most ambitious of the three. The scenes with Bill Cassinelli’s wannabe scriptwriter racking up callously delivered rejections are delivered with a wry amusement that one can see clearly holds more than a little personal experience upon Hoffman’s part. The tromp l’oeil effect in the Edgar Allan Poe illusion (even if the actor involved doesn’t look much like Poe at all) is cleverly conceived (although I was never sure at the end why the hero decided to kill Poe). The characterisation between the hero and his girlfriend is credibly drawn.

The film’s main fault of the film is one shared by many other anthologies – a weakly connected wraparound segment. While the bizarre employment agency concept is pulled off with an appealingly akilter sense of discomfort, most of the episodes are only loosely connected to employment. The first has a vague connection at the beginning about the hero getting a job with a catering firm and supposedly occurs when he is driving home from work but is otherwise unrelated. The third with its down-and-out scriptwriter is not about employment – certainly, one has strong doubts if sending people out to peddle their own scripts is something that employment agencies would ever do – so much as it is about a character who fails to become employed. That said, Joel D. Wynkoop, a director in his own right, has a suitably threatening presence as Mr Longfellow.

On the whole, the film is one of promise. Hoffman and Cassinelli write intelligent and well thought-out stories. The delivery is hampered sometimes by low-budget and a need to polish the directorial style but what they are capable of shines through clearly.

Michael Hoffman Jr returned with a sequel, Scary Tales 2: The Return of Mr Longfellow (2003). He has gone onto direct Sigma Die (2007), Reunion of Terror (2008), Spring Break Massacre (2008) and Girls Gone Dead (2012)

Actors: , , , , , , , , , ,
Themes: , , , , , , ,