Over the past five years, we’ve seen horror embrace anthology to create an entirely new genre of film, the horror anthology. From V/H/S to Trick r Treat, this effective style of filmmaking has trickled down to the independent filmmaker circuit. Directors Walter Ruether III and Paul C. Hemmes teamed up to tackle the genre in Scream Machine, a five part anthology.
Scream machine begins with an introduction by director/producer, Lloyd Kaufman. Although his appearance is short, the cameo does give the film some cool credibility. We are then transported to the otherworldy realm of Dr. Fry and Mr. Head. They inform us that the world has mostly been wiped out by Ebola (too soon, guys?) and that very few people remain. These two characters serve as hosts to our evening of short horrors for the rest of the film.
The first film, Sledgehammer is the story of a baseball player who accidentally kills a catcher while practicing his fast ball. Although he still rises to success despite the murder, a disgruntled family member seeks revenge on the star player. Points go to the directors for finding a surprisingly scary baseball mask.
The second film, Cannibal Pen Pals kicks up the NSFW rating with an incredibly disturbing horror scene. The audience is introduced to Randy, a young gay man who is secretly pen pals with the famous Jeffrey Dahmer. He spends his day hiding his homosexual desires and homicidal urges from his wife. However, Randy takes his need to please Mr. Dahmer a bit too far when he kills and chops up an unsuspecting one night stand. Randy then proceeds to have sex with parts of the body. You may need a few minutes to just breathe after viewing.
After the strong statement of the second film, the next two (April Fools Day and Septic Shock) seem mild. April Fools Day follows druggies who prank a paranoid friend. Septic Shock takes us underground with a man who has been buried alive in a septic tank by his wife and her new lover. These films get a bit repetitive and lack the shock value of the first two.
The anthology ends with Deadly Indie Drive-In. A couple at the local drive-in experiences some a strange interruptions when the radio starts giving advice. However, only the girl can hear the radio speak to her about what a jerk her date is. Ultimately, the radio suggests she kill her date because “it’s the right thing to do” and she obliges. A grisly scene follows of her slowly pulling out the intestines of her victim.
Scream machine is hardly a shy piece of cinema. The directors embrace many horror tropes and relish in the cheesiness that the genre often boasts. The only confusion is whether the over the top acting and effects were intentional or accidental. While the introduction has clear intentions, the individual shorts are neither terrifying or clearly meant to be comical. However, viewers can still applaud the originality and boldness of this new horror anthology.