The Horror Network vol. 1 (Wild Eye Releasing, NR)

HorrorNetwork 75The Horror Network, an anthology of five short horror films, achieves something that many horror anthologies do not.

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The Horror Network, an anthology of five short horror films, achieves something that many horror anthologies do not: a sense of unity, despite presenting quite a range of subject materials and the individuals being the work of six different directors and four different writers. The series is listed as being created by Brian Dorton and Douglas Conner, both of whom serve as directors, along with Joseph Graham, Manuel Marin, Lee Matthews, and Ignacio Martin Lerma.

The five short films have several things in common—a strong visual style, good use of sound elements, and stories that rely at least as much on ambiguity, suggestion, and the slow building of tension as on jump scares and buckets of blood. They also all focus on the kinds of horror that occur in the real world, between people, rather than on supernatural events. Interestingly, the films are arranged so that the amount of graphic horror gradually builds to a peak and then subsides, sort of the way a good psychological horror flick builds tension and then releases it.

“3:00 a.m.” is basically a solo piece, about a young woman who has been harassed by phone calls and takes a break at an isolated farmhouse in an attempt to get away from her tormentor and have some quiet time to herself. So how do you think that goes? “3:00 a.m.” is one of those films that can make the ordinary things of life—a cat, wind chimes, a doll—seem comforting at one moment and creepy the next. The sound design is quite effective, and here again it’s often ambiguous as to whether that knocking sound or creaking floorboard are just the normal sounds of an old farmhouse, if something more sinister is going on, or if the central character is becoming unhinged. I was a bit disappointed in the ending of this one, but the build-up was certainly well done.

“Edward” is almost a two-hander, with more characters coming in at the very end. Most of the story takes place in a session between a somewhat recalcitrant patient, who doesn’t want to take his meds and repeatedly tries to take control of the conversation, and his counselor or psychiatrist. The patient has not been sleeping well, and when he does sleep has terrible nightmares—or are they? There’s some effective visual horror in this one, but the psychological game of wits between the patient and counselor is the dominant theme of the piece. Despite being very talky, “Edward” also has a strong visual sense, and gets extra points for working a painting into the story—I think it was Theodore Gericault’s The Raft of the Medusa, which shows the survivors of a shipwreck who resorted to cannibalism to survive.

“The Quiet One” focuses on one individual, a deaf girl on her way home from school. Due to several ordinary mix-ups—a ride that never arrived, a phone left on the school bus—the girl begins to walk home alone. Once again, the countryside can seem either green and pleasant or dark and threatening, and the girl becomes increasingly terrified as she seems to be being chased by a strange man with evil intentions. I shouldn’t have to remind anyone that girls face particular dangers that boys do not, and this girl clearly knows that as well. The sound design is particularly good on this one, as is the use of a doll, but I felt the conclusion was a little on the nose and unnecessary.

The most graphic of all the films in this collection is “Merry Little Christmas,” and it’s also the most visually inventive of any of the films. The story is horrible—a young girl witnesses a terrible crime, and draws frightening pictures as part of the process of working through the experience—and you see the crime in all its terrifying detail. The violence doesn’t feel gratuitous, however, but appropriate to what is being portrayed.

“The Deviant One” is a black and white film, a good artistic choice given the brutally plain nature of the story, and opens with a series of Bible quotations which are paid off in the final scene. The story, which is told without dialogue, is about a rapist/murderer who uses religion to justify his acts, and that’s about the scariest thing I can think of because you know such people exist in the real world and are generally impervious to reason—after all, in their opinion they’re doing God’s work.

Extras on the DVD include an extended version of “The Deviant One,” an image gallery, and trailers for eight other films. | Sarah Boslaugh

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