Thoughts on “Deadhouse Dark”

This is another DVD from Shudder, but if I had paid more attention to it I probably would have skipped it, as I’m really, really not the intended audience for it.  I thought it was a movie, but instead it’s “A Shudder Original Series”, but since it’s a number of episodes packed into the roughly hour and a half runtime of a movie it’s clearly not a full on series like “The Haunting of Hill House”.  Instead, it’s a collection of 10-15 minute shorts in the vein of “Short Treks”, although those are short episodes in a long-established continuity whereas this one clearly does not have a continuity that is that well-known or deep, even though it promises that these are interconnected.

The issue with this for me is that I’m really, really not the sort of person who enjoys these sorts of things.  I’m not a huge fan of anthology movies, and tend to only enjoy them if they have a great framing story that brings it all together, and as separate episodes that sort of framing is completely missing.  I don’t even like short stories most of the time, especially collections of short stories.  I’ve actually only liked Robert Sheckley’s collection(s) and then a couple of stories from some of Roger Zelazny’s collections.  I did also like an audiobook of Robertson Davies’ Christmas stories, but other than that most short story collections leave me a bit cold.  It’s obvious that I like stories that are developed in a way that you can’t get in short stories or short episodes, and so tend to dislike them.  On top of that, I’ve long complained that horror tends to need more time and more room to develop things to build really, really good horror, something that obviously is going to be missing here.

So, as it turns out, I am absolutely not the right audience for this collection, which makes it a bit difficult for me to properly criticize it.  If I ended up loving it I could gush about how it did things so well that even _I_ liked it but if I didn’t then it’s hard for me to criticize it in a way that won’t end up with me criticizing the very aspects that people who like those sorts of things actually like, leaving me vulnerable to valid charges of “You just don’t understand these sorts of works!”.

As it turns out, and as you might have guessed, I didn’t like it.  But I think I can point to some issues with it that will apply even to people who like these sorts of things.

The first is that despite it saying that the episodes are interconnected, they actually aren’t.  Two of them definitely seem to have a link where the serial killer who gets his comeuppance seemingly murdered the mother of someone who keeps trying to forget that it happened but ends up puzzling it out herself anyway, but I don’t see the link between any of the other episodes.  This is bad because without any kind of framing device and because the episodes examine a wide range of horror tropes we don’t have any set context for the world they are in, which means we don’t know what can and can’t happen.  This means that we spend a lot of the time confused about what is and what can happen and how supernatural or not the events are, or why and how they actually happen, or how hostile or not the things are supposed to be.  This was an issue for “Tales from the Darkside”, and that show had much more time to develop the specifics of each specific episode.  There’s a lot less time to do that in these episodes, and since the episodes aren’t interconnected we can’t rely on the world established in other episodes to fill in the gaps, which is something that something like “Short Treks” can do, so things are often quite confusing.  The first episode is probably the exemplar for this, as it ends up with a rather predictable twist — the car they come across is their own car, and the person they saw and dodged was one of them — but we have no idea how or why this can happen and nothing in the other episodes seems to be anything at all like it.  So we end up confused, and as I’ve commented before confusion is not good for horror, as it takes us out of the horror and gets us thinking about how in the world this all works.  We should never be doing that in a horror movie except at the point where the protagonists are doing the same thing.

Another thing that I’ve commented on before is that horror movies sometimes are short, but if they are that short we should never end up being bored during that short run time.  Horror movies do have to slow things down to build suspense and the like, but given that they have to do that boredom should not be the issue.  In short, we should never really feel like things are going to slow when the movie is short, and instead should feel that things are being rushed.  You would expect that a big issue with these really short episodes is that they would feel rushed.  And yet I never really felt that way, and indeed for a number of them — especially the last one — I was indeed bored.  Bored, over a 10-15 minute span, when I’m not bored by, say, the four hours of the extended Lord of the Rings movies.  How in the world did they manage that?  I think in some cases it’s less that they dragged things out — although they did — but that we don’t have the context to understand what things are building to.  Either we’ve figured it out already as in the first episode or we have no idea what might happen and are confused as in the last one.  In both cases, we really just want them to get to the point already, either by finally showing us what we already know or by showing us what actually is going on.  The episodes often, in an attempt to build suspense, take too long to do that, so we’re bored even though we’re only inside that world for about 10 – 15 minutes.

So, this is a series that isn’t the sort of thing that I normally like and doesn’t seem to be a particularly good example of that besides.  This is going in my box of DVDs to possibly resell at some point, as I can’t imagine watching it again.


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