By Rory L. Aronsky | November 11, 2005

In a fresh take on the anthology format, writer/director Clay Liford and a band of willing talent set the tone for three stories told in a supersecret U.S. military laboratory, where a superflu project, Sniffles BX1102, is accidentally broken into the atmosphere, leaving 80% of the lab’s occupants to kill themselves and the other seven simply to sit around and wait for Death to remove them from mortality. There can’t just be sorrowful stories and regrets about lost opportunities in life. No, no. The well-placed aim here is to focus on souls worse off than them and one of the scientists suggests that they tell their most scary horror stories. From the way Liford has filmed these opening and in-between sequences—in the guise of footage found long after the accident killed those seven—we’re in for a fresh, fun, and clever trip through a mind that is relatively untapped, but after this, should be tapped more and more.

Before the grim proceedings in the lab, it all begins with a morning talk show in Arkham, RI gone hilariously wrong as a guest chef shows how to make Steak Tartare with the meat of his arm, frightening the obviously domesticated hosts of the show and arousing the interest of a child actress. Eating is of the utmost order here, though not always the cannibalistic kind. There’s also the zombified kind by way of one of the stories told here, about Harvey (Bill Sebastian), who loses his deadening 9-to-5 office job because it’s decided that equal opportunity should be given to the undead. As it turns out, this came into being because of a rising movement that included the corpse of Martin Luther King, Jr. shouting about letting the undead also share in the rights of the living. Harvey decides to use gray makeup and wear tattered clothing in order to look like one of them and he does and goes back to work and at an office gathering to welcome the new zombie employees, one of the human variety, Consuela (Mae Moreno) becomes the buffet.

Liford also uses prison life as a way to tell of a green demon (Iram Choi) stalking death row cells and uses the woods for a story about an orphanage that delivers children to three pale women living in a cabin in the woods, where the children are used unconventionally, though Bromo (Max Hartman), the deliverer, doesn’t care all that much. It’s a job, and it’s money. It’s also a semi-silent film, a rarity, and ultimately satisfying. In fact, Liford brings actual meaning to the clichéd line in some movies about prying a gun from someone’s cold dead hands. Liford has such a grip on his stories, developing each character so that we think just as much as we are entertained. His level of satire in the “Working Stiffs” story is so subtle as to almost not exist. It’s only at the end of each story where he relinquishes that steady grip, his guns being pryed away. It’s in all these stories that a great time is had, and in “Stiffs”, the pleasant views of actress Laura Bailey, a woman who could be a looker in some movies and take on drama in others. Liford’s got a good eye for the ladies and a horror anthology would never be complete without a few of those. Imagine Liford as a movie fan who has seen every horror movie involving demons, zombies, and human beings used for other purposes. Instead of trying to imitate, he twists certain aspects around ever so slowly. He wonders what would be if something was this way or told another way. He creates for himself what at times seems ripped off by others and it’s all quite a trip. Have you ever seen a green demon with a grin that looks like it could be tied behind that hellish figure’s head, and actually be somewhat uncomfortable by the sight? Now you will.

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