Written by Guillaume Lubrano, Francois Descraques, Cedric Perrin, Fabien Adda, Marion Dauriac, Victor Druillet, Jean-Christophe Herve, & Norman Jangot
Directed by Guillaume Lubrano & Francois Descraques
In the annals of Horror cinema, anthologies have always been popular. Many respected, well-received “fright-fests“ made up of three to five short stories have thrilled and chilled genre audiences for decades.
The first of the Horror anthology films can be traced back to 1919’s “Eerie Tales” directed by Richard Oswald, a story of ghouls and demons performing scary stories for one another.
From that early springboard, each decade produced more and more spooky anthology pieces, finding their output increasing in the 1960s and up to today.
The best of the lot (including 1945’s “Dead of Night”, Mario Bava’s 1963 “Black Sabbath”, Dan Curtis’ “Trilogy of Terror”, and the 1982 George A. Romero/ Stephen King collaboration “Creepshow”) all found unique and interesting ways to terrify their audiences, each one becoming a classic of the Horror genre.
Compiled from episodes from the popular French series of the same name, “Dark Stories” is a fun anthology containing five inventive tales of terror with a clever bookending yarn to connect them all.
Kristanna Lokken plays a mother who receives a strange looking doll that turns out to be quite evil and is intent on killing her and her son, who is asleep upstairs.
The doll’s design is a disturbing combination of the real and the surreal. The face looks almost human while the smaller body is all doll parts. We never see it move but it does move all over the room. Not showing the audience the doll’s movements is a smart choice that makes it even more menacing.
Overpowered and tied to a chair, to buy time, Lokken asks if the doll likes scary stories. “Yes, I love them so much!”, it answers. So begins the five tales of Horror.
Infused with a subtle humor, the first story, “The Ghoul Feast”, is pure fun. In an Art gallery hangs haunted paintings and the creatures that live inside them are hungry. This tale entertains, as the ink and paint-drawn characters come to animated life in an old school and playfully cartoonish design that works well. The segment also takes on the snobbery of the Art world and the masochistic treatment of underlings by their employers.
Things get creepier with “Le Parc”, a story of a female runner who falls asleep on a park bench, only to awaken to something ghostly.
This one is as deceptive as the ghosts the woman sees. There is something coming after her, more dangerous and life threatening than the ghosts that haunt the park.
Beginning with what appears to be a dark dream, the segment finds the woman doing her running in the light of day and meeting a nice fellow exercise fanatic. As night falls, evil comes much closer and a palpable eeriness blankets every moment.
“Mort mais vivant” (“Dead but Alive”) gives a reprieve from pure terror, allowing the audience to laugh a bit while tipping its hat to moments from George A. Romero’s “… of the Dead” films.
A man comes back to “life”, as he unzips himself out of a body bag in the cooler of a morgue. As he sits up, his intestines spill on the floor. The man holds them in by making a vest of tape wrapped around him. A mortician sees him and is not alarmed but intrigued. The two chat and try to figure out his zombie capabilities.
The resurrected man then goes on a bloody mission of vengeance. Perhaps then, he can officially rest in peace.
With a truly macabre humor, this one entertains.
“Boughtat,” returns to the darker terrors with the story of a woman who is haunted by a demon. She believes it is a Djinn, an intelligent spirit, able to appear in human and animal forms and able to possess humans.
The Djinn existing in this story is extremely spooky. Its design is all dirty white skin and an evil monstrous face. The creature is shot lurking in the shadows and appearing silently behind the woman, making it quite effective and giving the piece a gripping aura that holds viewers to their seats like a nightmare sleep paralysis.
“Le jugement dernier” (“The Last Judgement”) is a bit more straightforward … at first.
The final tale finds a two-person documentary crew going to a rural farm to interview a man who says he was abducted by aliens and considers himself a possible messiah.
This one benefits from a strangely wonderful performance from actor Dominique Pinon as the farmland messiah who worries for everyone’s souls when the end of the world comes.
Just when you think you may have this tale figured out, it pulls the rug out from its audience, presenting a finale that is unexpectedly rewarding.
Directed by François Descraques and Guillame Lubrano, “Dark Stories” is a welcome Horror film and one full of interesting ideas and a playful creepiness.
Shot in spookily atmospheric shadows, each tale plays with the audience’s expectations while the eight screenwriters show their respect and admiration for the genre.
Through its five hair-raising tales, “Dark Stories” succeeds in giving Horror fans a popcorn chomping great time.
NR, 97 Minutes, Shout Studios