Find out why horror hounds turned out why they did with Scream Factory's Blu-ray/DVD combo restoration of eighties low budget horror anthology DEADTIME STORIES.
When bratty Brian (Brian DePersia) will not go to bed, his babysitting Uncle Mike (Michael Mesmer) cooks up three adult takes on fairy tales to make sure he has a sleepless night. The first story finds orphaned Peter (FAMILY TIES' Scott Valentine) enslaved by ugly witches Florinda (Anne Redfern) and Hanagohl (Phyllis Craig) who use him to procure ingredients – including the left hand of a lusty local parson (Casper Roos) and virginal sacrifice Miranda (Kathy Fleig) – to bring back their executed sister Magogna by midnight of the next solstice. Lensed in snowy upstate New York and drenched in atmosphere on the cheap, the first tale is the most satisfying and straight-faced with excellent gore and reverse-motion effects by Ed French (BLOOD RAGE) and a performance from Valentine that is the polar opposite of his popular Nick character from FAMILY TIES. As envisaged by Uncle Mike, "Little Red Riding Hood" is hot and perky virginal high school senior Rachel (Nicole Picard, REVENGE OF THE NERDS II) who gets sidetracked delivering a prescription to her grandmother (Fran Lopate) to fool around with her boyfriend (Michael Berlinger). Unfortunately, her prescription was accidentally switched with the pills wolfish Willie (Matt Mitler, THE MUTILATOR) needs in order to knock himself out during the cycle of the full moon so he goes to Grandma's house as night falls. Although it features some good werewolf effects, the story feels dashed off yet still somewhat more ambitious than Uncle Mike's take on "Goldilocks and the Three Bears." When Mama Bear (future Academy Award winner Melissa Leo, THE FIGHTER) busts out Papa Bear (Kevin Hannon) and Baby Bear (Timothy Rule, LURKERS) from the local nuthouse, they rob a bank because Baby Bear is tired of eating porridge. When they return to their family home (in Amityville), they find that it inhabited by Goldi Lox (Cathryn de Prume, FIVE CORNERS) who exacts CARRIE-esque telekinetic havoc on boys "who are only after one thing." The final tale is amusing but played entirely for laughs to the rhythm of the director-penned song "Looney Tunes" (a substitution for his original choice of "Surfin' Bird"). The element that catapults DEADTIME STORIES into eighties horror immortality is theme song by TAJ on the link between horror films and fairy tales ("Those buckets of gore were spilled ages before George Romero, Hitchcock or DePalma").
Released theatrically by Cinema Group (later The Overseas FilmGroup and then First Look), DEADTIME STORIES saw most of its action on home video from Magnum Entertainment (rather than Cinema Group's home video arm Continental which may have something to do with Magnum's Image Entertainment laserdisc deal). Image released the film on a barebones DVD that recycled the existing video master, and this digitized source was presumably the source of cruddier-looking bootlegs (including one of Mill Creek's fifty-movie sets). The film gets new life courtesy of Scream in a brand new 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.85:1 widescreen transfer from the original camera negative. The first episode benefits the most with its low lighting and more considered photography, revealing some impressive on-the-cheap period set dressing while also exposing its shortcomings. The effects hold up well throughout, and the film finally does look more a theatrical release than a DTV cheapie. The mono soundtrack is preserved without embellishment on a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 track with optional English SDH subtitles.
Although not a Scream Factory Collector's Edition, DEADTIMES STORIES does sport some substantial extras. The audio commentary by co-writer/director Jeffrey Delman (screenwriter of VOODOO DAWN) in which he covers the film's original 1982 shoot and the 1985 reshoot for the first segment (Valentine returned for the reshoot even though he had been cast on FAMILY TIES and aged noticeably in the interim). Valentine he had to relearn the limp he had from just having had his hip replaced after being run over by a truck before the original shoot (Leo also had a broken arm that was covered up by bulky wardrobe during her part of the shoot). The film was sold overseas as FREAKY FAIRYTALES first and then Delman came up with the current title for the stateside release and that he penned songs of his own when he could not afford to license the intended tracks and also ended up singing them (with the exception of the title track). During the Little Red Riding Hood segment, Delman mentions that the inspiration for the film was Bruno Bettleheim's "The Uses of Enchantment" that analyzed fairytales through Freudian psychology (Angela Carter was also influenced by the work in her 1979 story collection "The Bloody Chamber" which was the source of Neil Jordan's 1984 horror fairytale THE COMPANY OF WOLVES which also featured a sexualized variation of Little Red Riding Hood). "I Like the Grotesque" interview with co-writer/director Jeff Delman (15:42) who covers a lot of the same information from the commentary in more concise form while "A Band of Gypsies: The Making of DEADTIME STORIES" (15:35) features interviews with Leo, Valentine, and DePrume. Leo reveals that fellow SUNY Purchase student Valentine introduced her to Delman while Valentine recalls his accident and rehab before working on the film. All three speak highly of Delman with whom they have maintained a long friendship and express more enthusiasm for their first roles here than for the finished product.
The major extra is actually the alternate version "The Black Forest" (29:49), a VHS-sourced workprint quality incomplete assembly from the time when Delman and company thought to expand this episode into a feature. Although it runs roughly the same length as the finished version, all of the footage dates from before the 1985 shoot, so there are some substantial differences. This version opens with Peter bring the parson to the witches, features a scene in which Peter is whipped and chained for stealing coins the drunken parson has dropped (giving him more reason to hate the witches), features a long sequence in which Peter runs away after the losing the witches' cauldron pot, and a different manner in which Peter meets the virgin, and reveals that the climax was almost entirely reshot apart from the special effects. The reshoot additions include an introductory scene for Peter and the witches, their trek to the cemetery (the short version cuts from the hand pointing west to their entrance into the catacombs), Florinda's talk of training Peter to become a warlock (Hanagohl expresses her distrust of him in the original short for very different reasons), Florinda bathing Peter, the meeting between Peter and Miranda and her abduction as it appears in the final cut, and a superior climax and stinger. The deleted footage is interesting and adds character but was wisely left out in favor of the more polished reshoot footage. The deleted scenes (2:32) include a less risqué version of Rachael getting ready to go jogging (as opposed to the racier one the distributors wanted) and a slideshow of scenes from the bank robbery that were supposed to illustrate the images picked up by the surveillance camera. The disc closes out with three theatrical trailers (3:12) for the film and a photo gallery (4:14). (Eric Cotenas)
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