Horror anthologies are most often a mixed bag, with even the best of them – Creepshow, V/H/S, Trick ‘r Treat, et al – varying pretty noticeably in quality, creativity, and sheer scare factor from one segment to the next.
For fans though, the trade-off these films offer is often worth it. When a traditionally structured horror feature gets off to a groan-worthy start, as far too many of them do, there’s little hope for things to improve; with an anthology, however, the promise of better stories and better shocks is always just a few short minutes of running time away.
That hope remains through most of Volumes of Blood: Horror Stories, an anthology film from Owensboro, Kentucky-based collective Blood Moon Pictures, but in the end, the unfortunately low hit-to-miss ratio of its various interconnected segments leaves the promise largely unfulfilled. The filmmakers’ love for the genre is never in question – horror-movie references and in-jokes are spattered throughout – but, far too often, the film’s stories get bogged down in drearily slow setups, whiplash-inducing tonal shifts, and seen-it-before slasher gags that start to feel rote and redundant far too quickly.
“…akin to watching the entirety of a local horror film festival in one sitting.”
That’s not to say that Horror Stories (the second of a planned trilogy of anthologies) completely lacks bite, and if nothing else, it’s rather impressive how many more segments this ultra low-budget effort packs in compared to the usual anthology fare. For both better and worse, the experience is often akin to watching the entirety of a local horror film festival in one sitting, although there’s not a lot of stylistic variety from story to story; most are variations on standard slasher-flick themes, occasionally flavored with some not-unwelcome touches of the supernatural. All of the segments (except, oddly, for the first two) are linked by taking place in the same suburban house, though, to the filmmakers’ credit, that repeated setting never feels like a deliberate way to save on production costs.
Th film peaks just before its midpoint with a pair of tales that, unlike most of what’s on display here, could easily work as standalone horror shorts in their own right. In the first and better of these, a down-on-his-luck insurance salesman (Caleb Shore) becomes involved with a young potential client (Shelby Taylor Mullins) who claims to have a monster in her closet; that setup is appealingly weird and the tension is nicely sustained throughout, and the segment ends in the film’s most successful and unexpected payoff. That one is immediately followed by a too-short but mostly satisfying story about a young couple who encounters something far more horrific than a hair clog in their bathtub.
“…it’s hard to fault the filmmakers for attempting such an ambitious type of omnibus movie using the resources they had.”
Superior though they may be, even these segments can’t fully escape the issues that plague much of the rest of Horror Stories: highly variable acting, dodgy dialogue, and occasionally amateurish staging and editing that takes a lot of the punch out of what should be the film’s most shocking scenes. Given the project’s modest origins, a certain lack of polish is understandable, but more attention in these areas would have definitely smoothed out some of these stories’ rougher spots. What does work pretty consistently throughout is Cassandra Baker’s practical special effects work, which is always competent and often creative; nothing here will be mistaken for the top-flight FX work of a Greg Nicotero or Tom Savini, but the film energetically and effectively delivers gore from beginning to end.
Ultimately, it’s hard to fault the filmmakers for attempting such an ambitious type of omnibus movie using the resources they had, but it’s equally hard to give the film an across-the-board recommendation. There’s certainly no shortage of far-inferior horror movies out there, and there’s a certain type of fan who’ll definitely appreciate this one’s can-do attitude and its loving (if on-the-nose) homages to the genre. And, yes, anthology films are almost always marked by their inconsistency, but for most viewers, there’s just not enough standout material here to distinguish Horror Stories from all the others that have come before it.
Volumes of Blood: Horror Stories (2016). Directed by Sean Blevins, John William Holt, Jon Maynard, Nathan Thomas Milliner, Justin M. Seaman, and James Treakle. Starring Christopher Bower, Barbie Clark, Thomas Dunbar, Caleb Shore, Shelby Taylor Mullins, Kevin Arnold, Bridgette Michelle Hoover
2 stars out of 5