Shudder’s Deadhouse Dark is a scattershot horror anthology with one supreme gross-out

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Horror is perhaps the genre best suited to the short film format. The tension and suspense are both good and useful, and they benefit from the slow, long-winded approach of horror directors like Guillermo del Toro, Ben Wheatley, or Jennifer Kent. But pure terror? Terror is an instant reaction that allows for compressed storytelling, and anthology movies like Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark and The mortuary collection take advantage of this quality for their benefit. Each of these anthologies offers scares in roughly 20-minute increments, from the first’s explosive spider bite to the second’s elaborate babysitting setting story. The accumulations are quick and the gains are satisfyingly unsettling.

The latest offering in this subgenre, Shudder’s Anthology Horror Collection Dark Deadhouse, draws on this same approach for its six stories loosely connected by a general fear of the “dark web”. But apart from a few exceptionally shocking moments, Dark Deadhouse is a flimsy collection that doesn’t take advantage of the unique interconnection that an anthology format can offer.

Nerveor figuratively, like the next Gia Coppola film Main stream. Dark Deadhouse sits somewhere in the middle, with both tangible and disembodied horrors. For the most part, the film’s six stories share one predictable commonality: the suggestion that our craving for attention, as filtered through social media, is our greatest weakness. Explicit sources of danger include the immediate trust of people you meet online and the need for approval from strangers. And Dark Deadhouse has a bit of a special after school vibe in the episodes “No Pain No Gain” and “The Staircase”.

A blood-covered woman in a white dress, seen in dashcam footage in Deadhouse Dark

Photo: thrill

But in its strongest entrances, Dark Deadhouse does not focus on technology itself as a danger – it extracts features of the friction between our reliance on technology and the refusal of the natural world to submit to its authority. (See also: Wheatley’s In the ground.) Dark Deadhouse kicks off with director Rosie Lourde’s “Dashcam,” in which two sisters returning from a Halloween party come across an abandoned car on a forest road. Through the dash cam footage, we see the older sister get out and inspect the scene, while her younger sister takes photos of the wreckage from inside; the duality of dashcam and cellphone creates an unsettling sense of simultaneity. “Dashcam” takes this doubling to its surreal conclusion, which rearranges all of these elements – the dark forest, a wobbly girl in a blood-covered dress, screams and screams that echo through the woods – into a tableau actually scary.

The final episode “A Tangled Web We Weave” is also a winner because of the genre conventions it upends. As Nicolas Hope’s David prepares for an in-person date with a woman he met through a dating app, he hears a scratching noise in her house. Does he have a rodent problem? While obsessed with the little intruder, writer-director Enzo Tedeschi shares clues to David’s obsessive sense of order: piles of soup cans in his pantry, rows of rat traps in the along his kitchen floor. When Ellen (Barbara Bingham) arrives for their date, she too senses that something is wrong, and then the story takes a subversive direction.

“A Tangled Web We Weave” is a nod to revenge-focused movies that have prioritized female characters in horror since the 1970s. Its ending, like “Dashcam,” makes smart use of technology as a documentation tool rather than something inherently perilous – the mistake made by the disappointingly banal “No Pain No Gain” and “The Staircase” installments. And Joshua Long’s grotesque concluding section “My Empire of Dirt,” which focuses on a character refusing to die while surrounded by the paradise of a hoarder’s decay, has nothing to do with the technology. Anni Finsterer’s raucous, wet cackling as the corpse-like Grace, her lungs filled with fluid and her body covered in sores, will haunt viewers, but what does ‘My Empire of Dirt’ have to do? with the rest of Dark Deadhouse?

A man stands in a dark kitchen and holds a large knife, surrounded by hundreds of neatly stacked identical soup cans

Photo: thrill

This inconsistency in terms of narrative theme and overlap is the most frustrating thing about Dark Deadhouse, which explicitly links “A Tangled Web We Weave” and “The Mirror Box”, but fails to weave the other four installments together. This lack of connective tissue is a detriment, and it results Dark Deadhouse lacking the cohesion of other horror anthologies. How should these stories be viewed and compared, or taken together? Dark Deadhouse sidesteps those questions, and the technical experimentation of “Dashcam” or the nostalgic feel of “A Tangled Web We Weave” doesn’t make up for the lack of greater congruence. There are intermittent terrors here, especially the grimy exploration of the limits of mortality in “My Empire of Dirt,” but otherwise, Dark Deadhouse fails to hold together.

Dark Deadhouse is now streaming on Shudder.

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