Deadtime Stories is a film that I had never seen until writing this review, but knew of based solely on its VHS art which I had come across at my local video store as a child and became enamored with. It combines one of my favorite things in horror (regional filmmaking) with one of my more skeptical (anthology films) and to unfortunately middling results, but it can’t be written off completely.
The first thing to note about Deadtime Stories – and the first thing you’ll notice when putting this disc in – is that it has a legitimately catchy theme song. Which will play on a loop over the main menu if you walk away from it. It’s seriously infectious, bordering on the quality earworm “Everybody But You” from Night Train to Terror. It plays over the opening credits, which may be my favorite thing in the film, featuring the credits appearing in a physical storybook with some creature’s hands turning the pages. It’s playful and sets the tone well for the feature, which will never reach those heights again.
Deadtime Stories is an anthology and, as such, it has wrap segments which are really just an excuse for the three stories here to exist. The basic set up is that a kid wants to be read a story, so he gets just that in the form of two twisted variations on famous fairy tales and one original story. First up is the original tale featuring witches, a sacrificial virgin and a severed hand that comes to life. I’m a sucker for practical effects and those really shine here, especially the moment when the hand separates itself from its arm. But this is otherwise really silly and wears out its welcome quickly. Next up, we enter Little Red Riding Hood territory where she is a Lolita-esque character and is immediately sexualized, because of course she is. And there’s a wolf, and that’s about it. The last one is the best of the three – a sleazed up Goldilocks story following a gang of bank robbers and featuring Melissa Leo in her first screen role! This one plays out sort of like a Findlay produced Mother’s Day (with telekinesis added) and it gets excessive and, mostly, stays fun throughout. I’d take a feature length version of this over watching the other two again.
I really wanted to like Deadtime Stories, if only to have the promises of the VHS sleeve of my childhood manifest into something that I could equally cherish as an adult. But unfortunately that’s not the case here. We do get a legitimately great theme song, some classy opening credits and one segment that’s a lot of fun. But everything else is mediocre at best. That said, this was shot and produced where I currently live in NY’s Westchester County and I’d urge anyone else from the area to at least check it out for that alone. If that’s not enough, young Melissa Leo!
Scream Factory have brought Deadtime Stories to Blu-ray for the first time and the results are solid. This was shot over a period of a few years so not everything matches as great as it should, but the source is clean of damage, the grain structure is intact and I can’t imagine this looking much better. Audio is DTS HD MA 1.0 and it sounds great. The theme song comes through with clarity and I didn’t notice any issues with the track.
We get quite a few supplements on this release too. Starting with a feature length commentary track with co-writer/director Jeffrey Delman. This is an awesome track with Delman being very candid, going into detail about the production including creating some of the effects on screen, how much of it had to be censored (which is unfortunate) and its release. We get a couple minutes of deleted scenes, introduced by Delman, but none of them are salacious enough to be the censored footage which is disappointing. Next up is “The Black Forest,” which is an extended half hour long version of the first story in the film. It’s actually a good deal better than what ended up in the feature so even if you weren’t crazy about that one it’s well worth a watch. From there we get “I Like the Grotesque,” an interview with Delman which is fun but covers a lot of ground that the commentary already does. Next we have “A Band of Gypsies: The Making of Deadtime Stories” which doesn’t only feature Delman, it includes interviews with Melissa Leo, Cathryn de Pume and Scott Valentine all talking about their parts in the film and their careers in general. Lastly, there’s a photo gallery and some trailers.
Deadtime Stories doesn’t reinvent the horror anthology but I’d imagine nobody expected it to. It has moments that are creative and fun, but it’s hard to recommend as a whole. Scream Factory have brought it to Blu-ray for the first time with a great presentation and plentiful, quality supplements. If you’re already a fan, this is well worth picking up. If you haven’t seen it yet, rent it.