Twists Of Terror

Director: Douglas Jackson  
Jennifer Rubin, Nick Mancusco, Francoise Robertson

If I were to be asked what my favorite film genre was, whether the films being discussed were unknown or not, I have to admit that I wouldn't be able to answer with an absolute favorite. I love all kind of movies, and I only turn my nose up against a certain few, like all of those awful and unwatchable art movies Telefilm funds every year. Still, I have to admit there are certain kinds of movies in just about every main genre - like action or comedy - that I have a soft spot for, and will eagerly snatch up and watch if I am given a chance. For this review, I would like to discuss one of those subgenres, a subgenre found in the horror genre. And that subgenre is the horror anthology. Although I have only in the past covered for this web site a couple of horror anthologies, it is all the same a particular kind of movie I am a big fan of. I think I have mentioned in the past a few reasons why I love the genre, but since it's been a long time since I did so, it feels okay to list the reasons again. One big reason is that I am a fan of those 1950s EC Comics like Tales From The Crypt, comics which are in many ways similar to horror anthology movies. Another reason is that in horror anthology movies, they more often than not depend on a big twist at the end of each story - and it's extremely fun to try and guess what the big twists will be before they happen. A third reason is that these movies have a great deal of variety to them, and if you get bored with one particular story, never fear - a new story with new characters will soon pop up. One minor reasons for me favoring these movies that I don't think I've mentioned before is that these movies are great if you are pressed for time or not feeling patient - watching one story at a time under these circumstances can be very handy.

There are probably a few more reasons I could list as to why I enjoy horror anthology movies so much, but I'll just leave it at that for now. Anyway, I know that I am not the only fan of horror anthology movies. If you are into B movies as I am, you have probably seen a few horror anthology movies. And if you go around the world, you can find many efforts from non-American filmmakers, such as the British Dead Of Night and the Italian Black Sabbath. But I would like to discuss the horror anthology efforts of one particular country outside of the United States, and that country happens to be mine, Canada. To begin with, Canada has not made that many horror anthology movies. You have probably already guessed that this movie I'm reviewing, Twists Of Terror, is one such effort. But there haven't been that many others. In fact, some quick research only uncovered six other Canadian horror anthology movies, they being the Peter Cushing The Uncanny, Freakshow, You're Driving Me Crazy, With Friends Like These, Mania, and Shock Chamber. I haven't seen You're Driving Me Crazy or With Friends Like These, but what I've read about them seems to make them fit with the others in one regard - awfulness. When it comes to horror anthologies, Canada seems to miss the boat each and every time. Why is this? Well, there are several reasons. One big reason has to be budget. These movies were for the most part done on the cheap (Shock Chamber was made for less than one hundred thousand dollars), and with little money on hand it can be tough to get the services of key professional people ranging from directors to actors, especially since many horror anthologies require you to hire more actors than usual, as well as require multiple directors and/or screenwriters.

This problem has been made worse by the fact that Telefilm has been so unfriendly to people who want to make "fun" movies instead of boring art movies, that most of our talent has fled the country to work in Hollywood. So when a horror anthology movie is made in Canada, there's a great Twists Of Terrorchance it's made with second-rate talent. This talent, from the movies I've seen, does not seem able to pull off a lot of key requirements for a horror anthology movie, one of them being twists that are a genuine surprise. Of course, it may be hard nowadays to find new and surprising twists after audiences for the past decades have seen it all. I wasn't expecting any in Twists Of Terror, and I admit it's hard to explain why I decided to watch it. It may have been because it was made by the studio Filmline International, which made slicker than average Canadian movies during its run. There are three stories to be told in Twists Of Terror, and the tales are hosted by a man named Philip (Joseph Ziegler, Focus), a deranged shut-in. The first story is titled The People You Meet, concerning a couple played by Carl Marotte (My Bloody Valentine) and Jennifer Rubin (Screamers), who, while on their second honeymoon, are run off the road. They get a lift from a shifty-looking local driving a creepy looking van, but they soon learn that their misfortune is continuing when they are eventually kidnapped by their benefactors. The second story is titled The Clinic. A traveling salesman (Nick Mancusco, Ticket To Heaven) who on his travels is bitten by a vicious dog at a gas station, flees from the dog and takes refuge into a nearby clinic. After being treated for his wounds, he soon finds out that not all is what it seems to be in this refuge. The last story is titled Stolen Moments, and it's about a woman (Francoise Robertson, Fallen Knight) who is on a frustrating quest for love. Eventually, she finds herself attracted to a man at a bar, and she accepts his invitation to go to his country retreat. Once there, she finds that he's not all that he seems to be, and it seems that she is in peril.

Twists Of Terror gets off to a good start. Director Douglas Jackson (who earlier directed the effective The Paperboy) opens the movie with a long and somewhat complex uninterrupted tracking shot that catches your eye. He also seems to have wisely determined that when it comes to cinematic horror anthologies, the passages between the stories are usually boring padding. So a mere minute or so after the host of the three stories is introduced, the movie gets down to business and starts the first story, The People You Meet. It starts off in a promising way - the segment takes no time to introduce us to the honeymooning Joe and Amy. And it doesn't take much longer for the story to get them into the aforementioned car accident, which is an eye-catching sequence by the way. Later, some genuine tension builds when Darien (Christopher Heyerdahl, Hell On Wheels) picks up the couple in his van and soon starts to act very creepy. It's pretty good acting, much better than the performances by Marotte and Rubin as the couple, who seem to have extreme problems showing even mildly brewing emotions. Their poor acting makes it hard to care about their characters, and that by itself hurts the segment greatly. If you do manage to stick with the segment, you will be rewarded with a reasonable twist in the plot midway through, a twist that I admit I didn't see coming. But the good will this twist brings to the segment is all but erased by another twist that comes near the end of the segment. This second twist is extremely predictable and no surprise at all, and you'll be waiting impatiently for it to be revealed. To add insult to injury, once this "surprise" second twist is revealed, the segment is needlessly dragged on much further before it finally comes to an end.

So the first segment is a disappointment. Though I have found that in horror anthology films, the first story is usually flat, since these movies often save the best for the last. I still had hope, and I prepared myself for the next segment. After returning to the host (who once again doesn't waste time, appearing for about a minute), the second story, The Clinic, started. Like the previous segment, it gets off to a good start, also taking no more time than necessary to introduce us to the leading character played by Mancusco and setting up his situation. The segment at the gas station, where Mancusco encounters the vicious dog, is pretty well done, generating a couple of genuine jolts when the unrelenting dog starts attacking. When Mancusco subsequently gets to the clinic, there are a few good things found in the remaining running time of the story. The interior of the clinic looks creepy, and director Jackson adds additional atmosphere with touches like occasional moans and laughs in the background. And for some time, I didn't know whether Mancusco's character was imagining something was wrong or if something was genuinely wrong with this clinic. However, before the twist was revealed, I did guess what the truth was, and most likely you will too, so there's no surprise. And like the previous story, once the truth is revealed, the movie spends a considerable amount of unnecessary time padding things out before the story actually ends. One other problem The Clinic has - a problem throughout - is that Mancusco's character is extremely obnoxious. Knowing that Mancusco can act well from other movies I've seen him in (like Ticket To Heaven), I have to lay the blame for his unappealing performance on director Jackson. Had Jackson got Mancusco to act in a more sympathetic way, it's possible that I might have given this story a (barely) passing grade.

So at this point, the movie has been given a "Strike two!" warning by this cinematic umpire. Part of me was really discouraged at this point. But I remembered that the typical horror anthology saves its strongest story for last, so I had a little hope. The last story, as I mentioned earlier, is titled Stolen Moments. This story is different than the first two stories in one regard. While the first two stories were strictly at a PG level, Stolen Moments earns the movie an R rating by some nudity and one sequence of explicit sex. This material is certainly welcome and grabs your attention. Unfortunately, the rest of the story is a big disappointment for the most part. Actress Robertson does give a sympathetic performance as a woman looking for love, and there is some interest seeing what this character puts herself through in her unlucky quest. However, the story is way too slow for its own good. There is unnecessary padding, such as the scene when a prospective date calls and cancels. And for the longest time, there isn't anything that would be considered horror or terror, with most of the story coming across as an ordinary story of a woman looking for love. Eventually there is a twist, but like with the previous story, more likely than not you will be able to guess what will happen long before it actually happens. At least there is a twist in this story - when the movie returns to the mysterious narrator for a final segment just before the closing credits, it ends on a note that is lame, head-scratching, and seemingly unfinished. To sum up, none of the stories in Twists Of Terror makes the movie worth checking out, though I think that that particular revelation I'm giving to you also wasn't a surprise at all.

(Posted April 14, 2016)

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See also: Black Sabbath, Freakshow, National Lampoon Goes To The Movies