Chilling Visions: 5 Senses of Fear (2013) d. Various (USA)
The multi-headed anthology film, where a disparate group of filmmakers ally forces (or at least throw their respective hats into the same ring), continues to gain steam and **thisclose** to being a legitimate subgenre unto itself. Three...Extremes, Chillerama, the V/H/S films, The Theatre Bizarre, Little Deaths, The ABCs of Death and so on. However, I can’t say I’ve been really impressed by most of these, since many simply feel like a two-hour short-film festival with little unifying rhyme or reason. On the one hand, I’m happy these artists are reaching a broader audience than they might just shilling their short on YouTube, Vimeo, et al., but at the same time, my nostalgic heart pines for a time when the portmanteau format was utilized with a bit more cohesiveness and forethought, where a unifying vision ran through the proceedings. Even if the stories themselves were uneven, they at least felt like they were of the same universe. Happily, Chilling Visions (originally produced for and aired on the Chiller network this May, and now available on Blu-ray from Scream Factory) is that rare beast where all involved are pulling in the same direction even as they utilize the “divide and conquer” method of filmmaking.
The five short films – each relating to a different sense – that make up Visions, despite ranging dramatically in tone, are all cut from the same narrative cloth with linking elements popping up from previous segments. Not only does this provide a higher level of watchability, it indicates a true sense of collaboration and forethought, especially since the shorts were all penned by their individual directors. This is probably the most rewarding aspect, and one that I hope we see more of in future anthologies of this ilk. There is a sense of purpose uniting Nick Everhart (“Smell”), Miko Hughes (“See”), Emily Hagins (“Touch”), Eric England (“Taste”) and the creative duo Jesse Holland and Andy Mitton (“Listen”), and while the final result is not revolutionary, it’s certainly enjoyable Halloween fare.
Everhart’s lead-off segment is probably the weakest of the bunch – a lame fable that doesn’t seem to have much of a moral except “Don’t accept gifts from strangers.” Here, Corey Scott Rutledge is woken up by mysterious Mary Poppins-like saleslady Danae Nason, offering him a change of scent-ery thanks to a pheromone-altering spritzer. Well, the stuff works like gangbusters, turning the former office drone into a sex/power magnet with only the mild side effects of leaving behind inky black sores covering the entirety of his body. Fair trade, right?
Everhart doesn’t seem to have much on his mind except ooze and goo, but if you can muscle through, things do get better with Hughes' (yes, Gage from Pet Sematary) directorial debut. “See” concerns optometrist Ted Yudain who has developed a procedure by which he can capture his patients’ memories in droplet form and then administer to himself, literally seeing the world through their eyes. When he finds out that his favorite patient Debra Jans is being abused by psycho boyfriend Lowell Byers, Yudain sets out to teach the thug a painful lesson. Though the twist ending hardly approaches Twilight Zone heights, it’s an amusing enough yarn that goes down easy.
Hagins, who dazzled the world as a 12-year-old when she wrote/directed her first feature Pathogen and has continued to grow and deepen as an artist, is probably the highest profile name on board. She lives up to her early promise with a sensitive and well-crafted piece about blind Caleb Barwick seeking help after his parents are injured in a car wreck. The resourceful lad finds an abandoned community inhabited by a dangerous individual (one who might be familiar to sharp-eyed viewers) and must use his wits to survive the encounter.
In addition to be skillfully acted and produced, it is in “Touch” that we start sensing the connective tissue between the stories, and Madison County’s Eric England bring it into sharper focus with his slight but splattery segment, “Taste.” Cocky young hacker Doug Roland is brought to the mysterious Watershed Corporation to be recruited by sexy exec Symba Smith; when he expresses doubts over being a team player, he is introduced to a piece of Saw-type machinery wielded by the shapely headhunter. The story itself isn’t much of a narrative achievement, but it surprisingly imbues the preceding episodes with a bit more weight thanks to clues dropped herein.
The stage is then set for the final story, “Listen,” which one suspects was originally produced as a standalone piece by Holland and Mitton (nearly all the technical credits are different than the other stories). Documentarians Lance Kramer and Joe Varca are developing a piece about a killer tune – as in when it is played in its entirety, people die. The found footage format is a tired device and the clumsily pixilated breaks in editing don’t do it any favors, but the mood and central conceit are so strong (like their 2010 feature YellowBrickRoad) and the stark imagery so terrifyingly straight-faced that it easily takes the top spot of the quintet and leaves a very satisfying impression of the whole.
Scream Factory’s Blu-ray release doesn’t contain much in the way of extras – just a single deleted scene from “Smell” and a couple trailers/teasers – which is too bad since one imagines that the making-of process would be a fairly interesting one to shed light on. The films were all shot in only four days, back-to-back, with only three days between each shoot. According to the movie’s trivia page on IMDb, the first segment, "Smell," was actually filming in a Connecticut hotel room during Hurricane Sandy while most of the state was out of power, and many people were evacuating their homes. To me, that’s an interesting story – it’s too bad either Chiller or Scream Factory (or both) thought otherwise. Even so, it’s a worthwhile slice of made-for-cable fright, and among the best of Chiller’s recent output.
Chilling Visions: 5 Senses of Fear is available now from Shout! Factory and can be purchased HERE.
--Aaron Christensen, HorrorHound Magazine