DVD Review: George A. Romero Presents Deadtime Stories

Watching George A. Romero Presents Deadtime Stories Volume 1 is like discovering that your favorite childhood teacher is now turning tricks in the parking lot behind your former elementary school. It’s not that George A. Romero seems to have had much to do with the actual production of the three short films that make up Deadtime Stories. Besides executive producing the DVD, Romero’s involvement extends to providing brief, horribly corny introductions to each film — delivered like Stan Lee on antidepressants.

The brainchild behind the DVD, itself a Frankenstein-like construction cobbled together from previous attempts to turn the Deadtime Stories brand name into a direct-to-DVD horror anthology series, is Jeff Monahan. Monahan, a lifelong friend of Romero and frequent collaborator, writes the three short films that make up Deadtime Stories Volume 1. The results of Monahan’s work range from tepidly discouraging to downright insulting. In a bit of damning praise, at least Deadtime Stories can’t be called uneven — the entire product is pretty uniform in its awfulness.

Monahan directs the first story, “Valley of the Shadow” – a Tales from the Crypt-esque story about a group of explorers who find their African expedition interrupted by a skinny, white hipster native with a flute full of poison darts. Needless to say, Cannibal Holocaust this is not.

The second story, “Wet,” is directed by Michael Fischa. What begins with a promising start quickly turns into a mess of half-cooked concepts and poorly thought out logic – most of it resting on the false assumption that mermaids are scary. After a man revives a mermaid, he finds himself on the receiving end of her wicked idea of a thank-you card. If the idea of a mermaid slithering towards you on her belly has ever left you quaking in your galoshes, “Wet” will have you crying out for your mamma. Or remembering that mermaids aren’t very scary — even less so if they appear in a story as tepidly told as “Wet.” For a better mermaid short film, check out Lindsay MacKay’s Clear Blue.

The final short story is “House Call” and it’s at least an interesting animal. Directed by Tom Savini — though his name is nowhere to be found on the DVD’s cover art, “House Call” takes an interesting approach to its visual style — framing a full screen video in the center of your screen and adjusting the film’s frame rate to give the story an appearance that is supposed to look as if it was ripped from the past. The results are mixed — the seemingly digital video nature of the image is not a good fit for the frame rate experiment and the final product comes off as a bit jerky. At least the story is somewhat novel and the film’s attempt to approach the vampire mythos in a new way is a welcome break from the sheer mediocrity of the two short films that accompany Savini’s movie.

Deadtime Stories reeks of cheapness — from the inexpensive look of the films’ digital video origins to the terrible sound design (whoever was the sound mixer should have been sued for the shoddy job he did crafting the film’s audio presentation). Amateur in nearly every single way, you would never had connected Deadtime Stories with a master of horror like George A. Romero if you didn’t see his name slapped upon almost every single square inch of the film.

I can’t fault Romero for wanting to help out a friend by lending his name to Deadtime Stories but it might have been nice if he had also lent out some advice. Romero’s Creepshow is one of the best examples of the horror anthology sub-genre to ever be produced. Tales from the Darkside, the spin-off TV show born from Creepshow‘s success, is another shining example of how to do horror stories in a brief runtime. Deadtime Stories, in contrast, is that embarrassing child who never moves away from home and will one day windup standing over your still warm body picking its nose while you die of a heart attack brought on by the realization that you’ve birthed a walking, talking C.H.U.D.

I’d say Deadtime Stories Volume 1 is worth a rental – but that’s not true. You’d be better off taking a 72-minute long nap than watching this embarrassing output of horror enthusiasm gone wrong.

Deadtime Stories Volume 1 is presented in a 16 x 9 aspect ratio formatted to fit your widescreen TV. A 5.1 surround soundtrack does little to improve the film’s shoddy sound design – you’ll need to crank your speakers up pretty loud to distinigush voice from music from sound effects. The whole presentation reminds me of a homemade horror film from somebody working out of their garage – not a film produced by George A. Romero.

There are no special features of any kind included with Deadtime Stories Volume 1.

Millennium Entertainment presents George A. Romero Presents Deadtime Stories – Volume 1. Directed by: Jeff Monahan, Michael Fischa and Tom Savini. Written by: Jeff Monahan. Starring: John Rimauldi, Sam Redford and Jessica Kennedy. Running time: 76 min. Rating: R. Released on DVD: July 12, 2011. Originally released in 2009. Available at Amazon.com.

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