Volume of Blood: Horror Stories is an ambitious and promising horror anthology with a clever construct, but it fails to reach its full potential
When I sat down to watch Volumes of Blood: Horror Stories, I got to view it with the unique perspective of being an independent horror film writer, director, and filmmaker who has tackled the wonderful challenge of making what might be the most difficult yet rewarding archetypal horror film… the Anthology.
Knowing that anthologies can run a range of styles from the comic book style cartoonish fun of Creepshow to more seriously gory, scary and inventive films like Trick ‘r Treat and V/H/S, I couldn’t wait to give this one a watch! Armed with my fresh screener and uninterrupted time to enjoy the devilish delights within, I eagerly pushed play — and that is where my excitement began to come to a halt.
Now, before you go thinking “Oh, here is just another critic sitting behind a computer bashing someone’s blood, sweat, and tears for their own amusement like Rob Zombie’s young Mike Myers slaughtering hamsters for kicks,” I want to make sure that you understand that there is a lot to like about this film, and I know exactly how hard it is to pull a film together — especially on a shoestring budget. I respect the hell out of anyone who makes it happen.
My favorite thing about Volumes of Blood: Horror Stories is without a doubt the concept of the “wrap-around” or “framing” story, Killer House, which features a sinister real estate agent showing a young couple around a large old house that’s for sale. The blood-stained history of each new room ventured into forms the bulk of the anthology tales in the film. Unfortunately, the film doesn’t make it to this creative movie-building concept until the 4th short story (after Murder, Death Killer, Haters, and Trick or Treat), some 30+ minutes into the movie.
The film’s best short is Fear, For Sinners Here. It was my personal favorite and the best from a technical standpoint. Tying in the themes and imagery of Christmas into horror is a high-risk-high-reward prospect, but it pays off here as the unquestioned high-point of the film. Pacing problems still threaten to drag down this segment, but Jessica Schroeder’s turn as “Carol,” a melancholy wine-sipping mom wrapping presents on what seems like a lonely Christmas Eve, serves as the lone bright spot for acting performances in the film. The mood, the performance of the protagonist, better filming and cinematography, and a clever twist make this segment stand out.
Cinematography! I had high hopes on the visual prowess of this film when I sat eyes on the opening few shots of the first story Murder, Death Killer with Rockabilly couple Vallie (Clark) and Dick (Ray) rumbling down the road in a beat up truck to a rocking soundtrack. The shots, lighting, color and overall visuals looked top notch and ready to take on any mid-budget horror film Hollywood can turn out. But this eye pleasing look disappeared as quickly as the dust trail on the dirt road behind the couple’s ragged old truck.
Flat lighting, lack of shot variety, and the most basic (if any) color correction and treatment plague the film throughout and prevent any real “tone” or “feel” that is desperately needed to help set the mood of this (or any) horror film. A good point of emphasis in the future would be to “Put your budget in front of the camera!”
Each segment seems to be shot and/or edited differently, which also takes the viewer out of the film and fails to establish tone. This may be due to the fact that there are 6 directors (Sean Blevins, John William Holt, Jon Maynard, Nathan Thomas Milliner, Justin M. Seaman, and James Treakle) and 5 different editors who worked on the movie.
The best Horror Anthologies are a product of the cohesive vision of a singular director (see Creepshow, Creepshow 2, Tales from the Darkside, Trick ‘r Treat, etc). Having one voice and one vision under one director could have allowed Volumes of Blood: Horror Stories to have had a more complete narrative rather than the disjointed movie that shifts hard in tone and visuals from story to story.
The Dialogue and Acting. I know this could be said of many indie horror films but Volumes of Blood: Horror Stories unfortunately takes this to an all new level. In fact, the acting and dialogue are so consistently bad, they combine to take the viewer out of any segment before they can get into it. If you are watching bad acting and listening to worse dialogue through bad visuals, the good concepts never get a chance to shine through, and that is the case here.
The pacing and run time. Now, I’m usually not a stickler for run time; I say take as long as you need to tell your story (nearly 2 hours in this case). However, this was not a single story but rather a bunch of story pieces slapped together without regard for the whole. Some segments like Trick or Treat are so fast (roughly 6 minutes) and lack explanation that they scarcely serve to have the requisite beginning, middle and end — while others like Murder, Death Killer and Fear, For Sinners Here run on to the tune of roughly 18 and 24 minutes respectively. This again could be due to the lack of consistent vision that having 6 directors, 5 editors, and 4 writers causes.
It seems apparent that the main issues with the film lie with its lack of a cohesive vision. Too many concepts combine to make an incoherent and overreaching feel. For all of its attempted originality, Volumes of Blood: Horror Stories often relies on sophomoric humor, kills that virtually all fall back to a simple stab or slice, and the idea of throwing some blood at a bad scene. Bad writing, poor acting, terribly delivered dialogue, weak cinematography, non-existent production values and lack of vision drag this film down to the low budget schlock film it is, rather than the genuinely scary and dark horror movie that the Killer House concept could have been.
If the filmmakers take the idea of each room in a house leading into its own short story about its own horrific history that tie together under a dark and scary tone, then sign me up! However, until then, despite how much I enjoyed Fear, For Sinners Here and the Killer House concept, I would have to recommend you skip this anthology.
1.5 outta 5 Cowboy Hats