With great practical effects and three unique and compelling tales of terror, “Dr. Saville’s Horror Show” is a solid anthology offering.
I love a good horror anthology and will always jump at the chance to watch and review one.
Horror anthologies have had a long history, both in print and on film. Some of my favorites hark back to that golden age of British horror cinema, primarily those produced during the mid to late ’60s. Quality varied, with EC comics providing a lot of the inspiration for the tales presented.
I especially love those infused with a strong sense of retribution or karmic justice, like the kind of tales you find in Twilight Zone or Tales From the Crypt, where a despicable character gets his or her eventual comeuppance. Horror stories are more satisfying when the victim has earned their fate somehow — even if the punishment often exceeds the crime.
Dr. Saville’s Horror Show is one of those anthologies, though it’s much more about bad choices than bad people.
It consists of three tales, each centered around the central story of Michael (Michael Hanelin), a married man just trying to get home. When his flight is canceled, a mysterious woman offers him a drink. What could go wrong? As expected, quite a bit, actually. When he wakes, he finds himself restrained to a chair with an absolute madman who calls himself Dr. Saville (Allen Valor), hellbent on torturing him.
The “good” doctor wants a confession from Michael, but we’re not sure for what.
As he waits for Michael to realize what he did wrong, the disfigured doctor with the menacing voice tells Michael he wants to tell him a story. He then proceeds to project a film.
This transitions us to our first segment, called Consume.
Consume deals with a bride-to-be and a wedding dress that does not fit. She’s deskbound at a Police control center and notices a flyer advertising a completely safe way of losing weight, which involves ingesting a bio-engineered tapeworm. At first trepidatious, the doctor assures her it’s perfectly safe. And the prospect of losing 15 pounds without any effort is too tempting to refuse.
If you’ve watched any horror at all in your life, you know that this is a terrible idea. I’m not spoiling this for anyone by saying that; it’s evident from the jump this won’t end well. However, the journey this takes you on is quick, effective, and brutal, with some spot-on practical effects and body horror elements that reminded me of The Fly. These effects are delivered swiftly to ensure they hit with the most precision. This also allows the filmmakers to hide their budget constraints while still delivering impressive visuals.
Both the lead actor, Anna (Honda King), and her partner, Whitney (Briana Lys), are quite good, and they share a believable onscreen chemistry that conveys warmth and genuine care. This makes the events that transpire feel more real — and all the more horrifying.
There’s a high likelihood you’ll be able to guess how this segment will resolve itself (award yourself points if you like). But that doesn’t keep it from being a strong opening.
After the doctor dispenses a bit more torture, it’s on to the next segment, It’s Complicated.
This one introduces us to thirty-something Jake (Jedediah Jones). He has a bad habit of dumping women for the most insignificant and shallow reasons and then hiding in the bathroom afterward to avoid confrontation or taking responsibility for his actions. His friends rightfully give him a hard time about his childish behavior.
After his most recent breakup, his ex decides to leave him with a parting gift. Because he seems to have so much trouble with real relationships, she gifts him an Aqua Pet, which comes with the marketing tagline “Grow your own buddy.”
Following an overnight birth in Jake’s kitchen, what he thought would be a tiny brine shrimp instead looks like a beautiful human woman. He names the Aqua Pet Mary, and she takes up the role of his new flame.
Because of the way this story is set up, you’ll be nervously waiting for Jake to drop a clanger, as his new companion is just too good to be true. Given his fear of getting too close to anyone, you expect him to find something wrong with her that gives him a reason to get rid of her. But it goes in an entirely different direction.
Special shoutout to Kristina Sabbagh, who plays the Aqua Pet and manages to be loving and kind one minute and then filled with homicidal rage in the blink of an eye. This is especially apparent with an unexpected sequence in the park that gives viewers an inkling that Jake’s life is about to take a dramatic downturn.
This was my favorite out of the three segments. I loved the way it goes from zero to mental so quickly. It’s wonderfully shocking, and there is a high level of blood spilled, which is handled brilliantly.
The final segment, Break, is set during what appears to be a zombie outbreak.
A father (Kirk Levingar) does what he must to keep himself and his daughter alive.
The usual tropes are there: isolation, hunger, loss, and the man’s fear his wife will not return. The initial setup takes viewers down the standard route, using a muted color palette to emphasize the bleakness of their predicament.
Much of the story revolves around the father and daughter, with the usual jumps involving Drew trying to keep the zombies at bay and keep his daughter fed — until there is a complete switch that turns this one on its head.
The final tale is more measured and emotional. It cleverly brings all the stories together as it reaches the climax. It’s difficult to talk about this without spoiling the ending. But suffice it to say, it is a powerful conclusion that brings us back to Michael and his unfortunate position.
Throughout the wraparound story segments appearing between each of the three main stories, the doctor attempts to explain to Michael that in each situation, it is the actions of one person that have massive repercussions for everyone else.
From taking the easy road to avoiding responsibility to focusing on what someone has lost rather than what they have. Decisions, often made on a whim, can have dire consequences. By the end, Michael finally realizes why he has found himself in this predicament.
Directed by Kevin R. Phipps (and written by Craig W. Chenery, Kevin R. Phipps, and Kirk Levingar), Dr. Saville’s Horror Show is a worthy addition to the anthology genre.
It offers a great collection of tales, with each one unique enough to keep you engaged. The practical effects are surprisingly stellar for a low-budget offering. And the gore is plentiful.
The only real gripe I had was how the wraparound segments with Dr. Saville were shot. I believe they are deliberately lit in a way to be at odds with the cinematography on display elsewhere, but I found the main segments to be more compelling and visually engaging.
However, I did appreciate how the stories were wrapped up, and the ending was satisfying.
Serious bonus points must also be given for the film’s commitment to diversity. 50% of the cast and crew were women, including the Director of Photography and the Lead Special Effects artist. We also get some nice onscreen diversity and a well-executed queer relationship.
It’s not a perfect package, but it’s a commendable one and has plenty to make it worth your time.