Gorehounds will no doubt delight in the second segment, Dealers of Death. In this nasty little number, Marty (Todd Martin), a low-life serial killer enthusiast and the type of guy who holds Jeffrey Dahmer in high esteem, makes a mistake many junkies make in order to feed their habit: he steals cash from the wrong dealer. Eventually, the justifiably pissed-off dealer, Rockoff (Thomas Kindler), confronts Marty and his equally depraved girlfriend, Pam (Trish Erickson-Martin), and it’s Marty who pays an especially high and bloody price. This is probably the portion that plays with gore with the most joyful abandon. The fakeness of the effects works in its favor in upping the cartoonish violence and permits the viewer to squeal in perverse pleasure rather than truly recoil from disgust. Dealers of Death is gross, no question, but it’s fun-gross.
The third segment oozing from this mill of masochism is the weakest. In the boring Night Drop, it’s Trevor’s (Christopher Preyer) first night on the job at a video rental store (NOTE: While no specific time period has been set for any of the shorts, the contemporaneousness of the previous entries is immediately broken here since the video rental store has been obsolete for years.) A mysterious DVD is dropped into the after-hours slot, but Trevor is savvy enough to notice that its red DVD jacket does not match one that his store uses. Supernatural oddities ensue that are neither scary enough nor provide enough of a satisfactory payoff for true gorehounds.
“…an entertainingly icky addition to the horror anthology pantheon…”
Cold Read, the fourth installment, doesn’t fare much better in terms of bang-for-your-buck bloodshed than the previous entry, but at least this one has a wonderful performance by Fabiana Formica as Jules, a struggling actress enduring a particularly grueling audition.
Finally, we come to the fifth segment, The Muse. This nerve-racking little number concerns a jangly painter desperately working his craft in the service of some otherworldly being prompting him. While this piece doesn’t offer so much in the way of carnage, although it has its moments, it’s genuinely creepy and delivers a knockout denouement that makes innovative use of effects despite the “no CGI” rule governing the shorts in the film.
According to the closing credits, production of each short film came with a set of rules: “All shorts must be shot in HD,” “Handheld or tripod only,” “No CGI, visual FX, greenscreen of any kind allowed,” among other guidelines. Yet, while none of the rules stipulated any criteria in terms of a uniform cinematic style for each director to adhere to other than to “keep it dark and edgy,” each film nevertheless exhibits equally unexceptional conformity in terms of technical aesthetic. The only exception being The Muse, in which director Todd Sheets exercises a beautiful use of color and exhibits a welcome flair for the dramatic to illustrate his tale.
However, plenty of over-the-top gore and squishiness combined with consistently better-than-average acting from a cast of unknowns makes Hi-Death an entertainingly icky addition to the horror anthology pantheon that should serve to more than satisfy fans of Fangoria.