On paper, Tom Holland’s Twisted Tales sounds like a grand slam. Holland, the filmmaker behind Child’s Play and Fright Night, wrote and directed nine short films and recruited several familiar faces for the lead roles. They originally ran as a web series on FearNet before being combined into an anthology film, which is coming to DVD via Image Entertainment.
In practice, unfortunately, Twisted Tales is… more like a foul ball. It’s not that it’s bad per se, but it’s a lot to take in; it took me two sittings to get through. Clocking in at close two and a half hours, the anthology would have been easier to digest had it been split into two features. That would certainly not solve all of the film’s problems, though. Its low budget yielded low production values and horrible CGI. The “name” actors are having fun, but the other hammy performances leave a bit to be desired.
Holland’s storytelling was clearly inspired by The Twilight Zone and its ilk. While these types of stores may have worked well in the ’60s, most of them come off as banal by today’s standards. They’re not all bad, but not a single one of Holland’s shorts leave a lasting impression. Holland hosts the outing with brief, Rod Serling-esque introductions to each segment, which vary in length and tone.
The film kicks off strong with “Fred and His GPS,” featuring AJ Bowen (You’re Next) as a man who confesses to the murder of his wife to his GPS. “To Hell With You” stars Danielle Harris (Halloween) as a girl with dating trouble who makes a deal with a devil’s servant (William Forsythe, The Devil’s Rejects). In “Boom,” Noah Hathaway (The NeverEnding Story) plays a retired bomb disposal exper. After finding what he thinks is evidence of his wife (Sarah Butler, I Spit on Your Grave) cheating with his best friend, he forces his friend to attempt to defuse an impossible bomb. “Mongo’s Magic Mirror” stars Ray Wise (Twin Peaks) as a street magician known as Mongo the Magnificent, who possesses a mysterious mirror that reflects the best and worst in the people who step through it.
“Bite” concerns a new strain of salvia; when the herb is smoked, the user hallucinates, allegedly seeing visions of the future. When a group of friends try it, they turn into werewolves. “Shockwaves” is about a group of friends – among them are James Duvall (Donnie Darko), Angela Bettis (May) and Amber Benson (Buffy the Vampire Slayer) – whose evening at a swanky highrise apartment is disrupted by the apocalypse. There’s a room that can keep two of them safe, so they must decide who lives. In “Cached,” a mad programmer (Adam Rose) trapped inside a tablet computer – he calls himself Tablet Man (groan!) – forces its new owner to play his game of cat and mouse to the death.
Clock in at over half an hour, “The Pizza Guy” is by far the lengthiest of the segments, and it may also be the strongest. It was split into two webisodes, but it’s broken up into seven chapters, seemingly arbitrarily. A girl (Erin Aine Smith) performs a satanic ritual to summon the devil in order to grant her wish of speaking to her recently-deceased sister. Upon completion, there is a knock at the door. Behind it is a pizza delivery guy (Marc Senter, The Lost), who may may Satan himself or just a surfer dude delivering some pie. Lastly, “Vampires Dance” is about a dance club run by – you guessed it – blood-thirsty vampires. It’s a shockingly apathetic entry from the man behind one of greatest vampire films of our time, making a poor conclusion to the anthology.
As a fan of Holland’s output, I was excited to learn of a project over which he had creative freedom to let his imagination run wild, but it’s hard not to be disappointed by the end result. Anthologies, by nature, are uneven, and Twisted Tales is indeed a mixed bag, but the film is without any truly standout segments. As a whole, the effort feels like a poor man’s version of Tales from the Crypt or The Twilight Zone. It’s not entirely uninteresting, but it always feels safe and restrained by its limitations. The film might be suitable for younger audience, but anyone who has seen the aforementioned, superior anthologies will be bored.