“Dark, twisted, and awesome,” that is the kind of tale that Sam, played by newcomer Caitlin Custer, asks from Montgomery Dark, the old decrepit undertaker who works at Raven’s End Mortuary, played excellently by veteran actor Clancy Brown. The movie is set in the fictional Lovecraftian and Stephen King-esque town of Raven’s End, that is where the mortuary gets its name. Raven’s End is a gothic coastal town and from the looks of it houses many haunted and spooky tales. There is a meta aspect to this movie; the young Sam constantly critiques and nitpicks the stories that Dark tells her. She works here as the audience surrogate picking apart the familiar morality fables that we tend to see in many anthology films. I feel like the best way to rate this movie is to review each tale and use that as a way to talk about the frame story.
Tale 1: 2.5/5
The first tale shows a woman going into a bathroom while at a party. While in there we see that she has pickpocketed some of the men at the party. She gets curious about what is behind a locked medicine cabinet and gets more than she bargains for when the cabinet is open and finds a squid-like monster lurking behind. This a short and brisk tale to set up the movie. It is a tale about the evils of theft and the repercussion. The tale serves as an entry point into the meta-commentary of the movie. Sam breaks apart the story, critiquing it and wanting more from Dark’s tale.
Tale 2: 4/5
This tale offers more of what Sam wants from the undertaker; this story is the tale of a young man who likes to manipulate and play women so they will sleep with him. He pretends to be interested in social justice and feminism but uses that to exploit and take advantage of the young freshmen at the college he attends. While giving one of his lectures Jake, the male student, meets a beautiful girl named Sandra. Later on, they meet up at a party at his frat house and proceed to bang the night away. I don’t want to give away too much of each story twist but needless to say Jake is the “victim,” experiencing what it feels like to be taken advantage of and left behind. The story offers some substance in the form of body horror and gore, both of which are incredibly effective, and the actors here, especially Jacob Elordi who plays the manipulative and ultimate victim Jake, do an excellent job. Sam is still “glib,” as Mr. Dark puts it, about this tale to arguing that its predictability drags it down.
Tale 3: 3/5
This tale is far more depressing than the preceding two. Here we see a man, Wendell, taking care of his ill and catatonic wife, Carol; he is plagued by mounting bills and the stress of taking care of someone who seemingly will never get better. He is offered an easy way out by a doctor who gives him some untraceable pills that will put his wife to “sleep.” This story has some excellent shots, the beginning of the story starts with a dream from Wendell in which he is remembering his marriage to his ill wife. It starts sunny and blissful until he has to say “til death do us part” and then the sky turns dark and the lights in the church go out, in place of his wife is a ghostly apparition. This story isn’t nearly as short as the first or as fun as the second story but it has the most substance to its narrative. You truly feel bad for Wendell’s plight and the struggles he is going through. It is horrific due to some of its visuals as well as the narrative content of losing a loved one.
Tale 4 and Frame story: The Babysitter Murders 5/5
This is by far the best story in the movie. It involves Sam, the critical and inquisitive girl who claims she is seeking employment from Montgomery Dark. This time she gets to tell the story and it offers a new twist on an old formula, the slasher movie. We get a babysitter and an escaped mental patient from the local asylum, but the story is new and offers up new blood for the genre. That takes us back to the frame story of the movie. I waited to mention it until now because it wraps everything up like it is supposed to. Honestly, some of the stories are a bit lackluster in this movie but the frame story helps make up for it because of the meta-commentary that Sam is giving. The Babysitter Murder’s tale seems to bring up the idea that Dark’s stories are old and predictable and Sam’s story is fresh and new. This meta take helps elevate the lackluster nature of some of the other stories because it directly fuels the main story of the movie, which comes from the interactions between Sam and Montgomery Dark. I also want to take special note of the soundtrack in this story that draws influence from John Carpenter’s scores from the 80s.
This is an excellent meta anthology film that offers up some fun and violent stories that aim to deconstruct the predictable nature of horror films and morality tales. I would highly recommend this movie to fans of anthology films and horror films in general. It is a fun take with some excellent performances and a wonderful score from Mondo Boys. “Dark, twisted, and awesome,” that is what Sam asks for and that is what the movie gives.