Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Bad fantasy/horror in an anthology format

Satan's Storybook (2007)
Starring: Ray Robert, Lesile Deutsch, Ginger Lynn Allen, and Michael Daevid ("Satan's Queen"/framing segment), Steven K. Arthur and Leesa Roland ("Demon of Death" segment), Gary Brandner, Michael Rider, Francis Paul and Irwin Waterman ("Death Among Clowns" segment)
Director: Michael Rider
Rating: Two Stars

"Satan's Storybook" is a low-budget anthology film with costuming that would look great at a Halloween party but which is at the bottom end of what should be considered passable for a professional film production. The flat look of a film obviously shot on video makes it look even cheaper.

I broke this review down according to the segments of the film, assigning each one its own rating. The Two Stars I ultimately ended up assigning it is an average of those individual ratings.

Aside from its low budget and near-universally weak acting which is made to appear worse than it actually is by atrocious dialogue, the film hurt most by the sloppy and loose editing. Every time there's a cut or a change in camera angle, we get at least a second of dead air, so even during what should be heated exchanges between characters we get an overly stagey sense of performance as everyone seems to be politely waiting for the other actor to finish their line before delivering his. The actors and the film in general would have come off much better if there had been a talented editor involved in the production.

Like most anthology films, it consists of a framing tale that surrounds and links short stories. Here, the framing sequence involves the kidnapping of Satan's Bride (Leslie Deutsch) by her sister who has been raised to kill her (Ginger Lynn Allen). While Satan's minions tracks his bride and her kidnappers, he orders his court jester (Daevid) to tell him tales of evil on Earth to get his mind off the situation.

The framing story is a fantasy-oriented section of the film, with better-than-average swordplay for this level of filmmaking but the too-cheap costuming and the awful editing undermines the good parts. Ray Robert does a good job as Satan, but he's also undermined by a lack of technical ability on the part of the filmmakers, as his voice is distorted to give it a spooky, demon-like quality that makes it almost impossible to understand what he's saying. The framing story rates a 4/10 Stars. It's the best part of the film, which isn't saying much. And even though it's the best part, it still ended with me saying to myself, "Is that it? Did someone forget to end this movie?"

The first story told by the jester is "Demon of Death", a tale of a serial killer who picks his victims at random from a phone book (Steven K. Arthur), but whose luck runs out when he targets a young woman who is studying witchcraft (Leesa Roland).

"Demon of Death" had plenty of potential, but it evaporates under the harshness of bad writing (not just the dialogue but also the timing of events in the tale, such as the revelation that the killer's "Book of Death" is just a phone book), subpar acting by everyone appearing, and the aforementioned bad editing. It's also padded with about five mintues of useless scenes involving the police and badly staged news reports. It rates a 2/10 Stars.

The jester's second tale is "Death Among Clowns". Here, a washed-up, drunken circus clown (Gary Brandner) commits suicide after being fired by the owner of the sideshow attracion he's spent his adult life performing at (Paul), but tries to put up a fight when Mickey La Mort, the manifestation of Death who collects the spirits of clowns (Rider), appears.

Moreso than the other parts of this film, the bad editing makes "Death Among Clowns" feel stagey and causes the actors to come off worse than they actually are. The pauses between lines due to changes in angles during a scene drains all energy from interactions. Of course, the truly awful dialogue being delivered doesn't help matters, but the editing is really what kills things here. Oh yeah... and then there's the problem the story just sort of peeters out. It's as if writers Arthur and Rider had put themselves in a corner and then said to themselves, "Let's just put a "boo" scare here and call it good." This one earns a rating of 2/10 Stars.

Two of the actors appearing in this segment have not appeared in any other films, but I want to call their performances out nonetheless.

First, there's Gary Brandner, the novelist who wrote the novels from which some of the werewolf films in "The Howling" series are based, as well as the script for "Howling II: Your Sister is a Werewolf". He plays Charlie the Clown, and he does it with a very bad Christopher Walken impersonation.

Second, there's Francis Paul, who plays the sideshow attraction owner who's sick of giving Charlie slack. Paul gives the most energetic and natural performance of anyone in the film. With better lines and decent editing, he might have earned "Death Among Clowns" another star. I think it's a shame he didn't do any more movies, because I think he could have been excellent if supported by competent filmmakers.

"Satan's Storybook" is a film that even lovers of the anthology format like myself would be better off not bothering with.

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