Clara goes to clear the house of her recently deceased mother and discovers a book which demands to be read. Each story is very different but each one of them creeps Clara out in their own way. And what’s going on with the noises she’s hearing and the visions she’s experiencing? Is the book a danger to her?
Finding a neat way to stitch together ten unrelated short films which vary in vintage (the earliest of which, I believe, is Isabel Peppard’s Gloomy Valentine from 2005), this showcase of mini-flicks, curated by Megan Riakos, is more akin to the snappier template of Tales Of Halloween rather than the longer pieces of, say, an Amicus anthology.
This, of course, has its pros and cons. On the one hand, if you’re not too keen on one story, there’ll be another one along post-haste. On the other hand, a couple of the shorts may be light in terms of your time but they feel a smidge underdeveloped.
For me, the two standouts here are The Man Who Caught A Mermaid and the aforementioned Gloomy Valentine. I’d seen the former at Celluloid Screams a couple of years back and I was delighted to discover that it was included here.
This tale of a fisherman who’s obsessed with, well, catching a mermaid starts off in whimsical manner and then quickly turns astonishingly dark. There are great creature effects, the mermaid not being of the Daryl Hannah variety but a spiky, growling, aquatic nightmare, complete with claws and fangs. The chilling, climactic reveal, when we discover what’s really going on, is both heart-breaking and horrible.
Gloomy Valentine, on the other hand, is a quietly creepy, beautifully animated view of one woman’s attempts to deal with a love who has departed. If you haven’t checked out Isabel Peppard’s work I would highly recommend that you do. This clearly shows the immense talent that was built upon even further in her 2012 short Butterflies, a stunning, emotionally charged work which I continue to rank as a masterpiece.
Elsewhere, Jub Clerc’s Storytime is an intriguing indigenous tale which I didn’t feel was fully developed but certainly left me wanting an expanded version, Grillz focuses on the amusing dental issues of a modern-day vampire and Little Sharehouse Of Horrors is a fun, alternative take on a certain killer plant movie.
The visually arresting White Song takes us on a quick spin through the Indonesian legend of the Kuntilanak (the spirit of woman who died while pregnant) and the movie’s final segment is The Intruder, a home invasion horror which is not quite what it seems and closes the book on the proceedings with a bloody, emotional punch.
As with most collections of shorts, there were a couple that didn’t quite hit the mark for me. The Ride certainly piqued my initial interest when I discovered Anthony LaPaglia in a principal role but the story itself – passenger hitches a lift in a car which then accidentally runs over some poor unfortunate – wasn’t especially scary or even darkly funny and the ending could be seen coming a mile off. Considering it’s about a journey it doesn’t really go anywhere.
Watch Me, which centres on an actress and her struggles to be seen (literally), is a decent enough conceit but against some of the stronger entries in this collection it’s likely to be the one that I’ll be trying the hardest to recollect if anyone asks me what’s included in the package.
It’s testament to the generally high level of quality here that the odd piece which doesn’t quite hold the interest as part of the anthology might stand much better on its own. And you’re almost certainly going to pick different highlights than I have because this collection is continually shifting its focus in order to cover as many kinds of horror as possible. Whatever your favourites, Dark Whispers Volume 1 is an ideal showcase for the wealth of female directing talent on display here and if there is a Volume 2 on the horizon I’ll be here for it.