CHARLOTTE *** USA 2017 Dir: Patrick Rea, Colin Campbell, Corey Norman, Calvin Main, Johnny Lee, April Wright. 83 mins
Misleadingly promoted – and titled – to cash in on the continued success of the ANNABELLE franchise, this is another pseudo-horror anthology movie tenuously linking several pre-existing short films (from as early as 2010) by different filmmakers. Patrick Rea’s wraparound story is built around the panicked line “What do you mean you guys don’t have a doll?!”: a babysitter is tied up by a fractured doll who interrupts her TV viewing of NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD to show her a succession of unconnected horror shorts.
Rea (whose feature debut was NAILBITER), is also behind three of the other shorts, including the witty “Counter Parts”, in which an embittered, handicapped woman uses voodoo to attain the attributes of her famous actress sister. It treads a familiar EC Comics / Amicus path, but some of the dialogue is amusing: “I’d hate to be at their Thanksgiving dinner!” Rea keeps things blackly comic with “Get Off My Porch” – a variant on INVASION OF THE BODYSNATCHERS but with cookie-selling Girl Scouts instead of aliens and a Harry Manfredini score – and “Howl of a Good Time”, in which an over-curious kid sneaks into a horror festival peopled exclusively by werewolves. The latter, which has cameos from Leslie Easterbrook and HALLOWEEN 5’s Tamara Glynn, has a cute gag in which someone confuses the two different 21st century films named FROZEN and a fun twist, but is a tad too ambitious for its budget level.
Elsewhere, Colin Campbell’s “Dollface” (from 2011) is a satisfyingly creepy tale of a young couple who make the mistake of trying to trace a weird adult trick or treater who left her handbag on their doorstep. The shortest offering, Calvin Main’s “Good Evening”, is the oddest and most disturbing, a brief yet vivid insight into the isolated existence of a disturbed loner (Steve Brewster) and his routine involving “Them”. April Wright’s bland “My BFF” offers an ill-advised second story about a creepy doll – without a decent pay-off – while Johnny Lee’s “The Judas Cradle” is a dreary throwback to the torture cycle of the early 2000’s with a taunting inquisitor capturing an apparent paedophile a la BIG BAD WOLVES. The stand-out, however, is Corey Norman’s “Tickle” (2014), about a closet-dwelling, foot-tickling, sickle-wielding troll named Tic Tac (not the breath mint) menacing a kid on Halloween night. Creepy and well crafted, and with a pint-sized monster who deserves an expanded vehicle.
Review by Steven West