• Scary Tales (AGFA/Bleeding Skull) Blu-ray Review

    Released by: AGFA/Bleeding Skull
    Released on: October 27th, 2020.
    Director: Doug Ulrich
    Cast: Ilene Zelechowski, Al Darago Jr., Kevin Rogers, Brad Storck, Robert Zelechowski
    Year: 1993
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    Scary Tales – Movie Review:

    If you watch only one shot on video horror movie from Maryland that explains the perils of metal detectors, zooms into a chubby guys navel after his eyes pop out and which features ninjas in a park this year, let it be Scary Tales, because Scary Tales, directed by Doug Ulrich in 1993, is a special film indeed. Hosted by a grim reaper-esque character named ‘The Storyteller’ who opens the film by reading ‘scary tales’ out of a big book to a bunch of poorly lit children, this trilogy of terror is low on quality but high on charm and for fans of no budget shot-on-video productions and all the oddities those movies typically entail, it’s pure gold.

    The first, and longest, of the stories is Satan's Necklace. It tells the tale of a guy named Chuck (Al Darago Jr.) who likes to drink a bar that is actually someone’s basement with his foul-mouthed friend Dan (Brad Storck), a cop currently going through a nasty divorce. Chuck’s passion in life is finding junk with his metal detector and the next morning he and Al head out to do just that – only this time Chuck finds not only a bottle cap, but also a necklace that he quickly becomes quite fond of! He takes it home and shows it to his wife, Julie (Ilene Zelechowski) and, well, you can kind of get an idea of where this is going to go from the title, right?

    Sliced In Cold Blood is up next. It introduces us to a man named John (Al Darago Jr. again) and his wife, Beth (Ilene Zelechowski). John becomes understandably upset when he finds out that Beth is cheating on him with a guy named Bob (Robert Zelechowski) and heads over to Bob’s place to take them both out, and then go on a killing spree of which the highlight is when he crushes the skull of a chubby guy (Kevin Rogers) drinking beer and listening to a Walkman, only for the camera to then puzzlingly zoom into the deceased’s navel.

    Last but not least, Level 21 is the story of a man named Bill (Robert Zelechowski) who is obsessed with getting to the 21st level of the video game that he spends all of his time playing. He ignores his wife, Kathy (Ann Ulrich) who enjoys grocery shopping and his son who just wants to play catch with his dad and just obsesses over this damn game. When he finally makes it to Level 21, he’s transported into the game where a rude magical troll (Kevin Rogers, clearly on his knees) kicks him and yells at him. After this he teams up, briefly, with a fellow warrior and then fights ninjas before making his way to the Dark Overlord. Bill’s warrior outfit is made up of a plastic breastplate, sandals and red sweatpants.

    Scary Tales is as ambitious as it is flat out wacky. It’s all over the place in terms of tone, mixing weird and entirely inappropriate comedy with scenes of strong amateur gore in pretty much equal measure. The acting is never good, but it is often inspired and typically quite enthusiastic, which counts for a lot. Maybe more importantly than anything, you really get the impression that everyone, except maybe the grouchy lady who has to bring Kevin Rogers a beer, was having a really good time making this. It’s clear that Ulrich – who wrote, directed, edited shot, helped score (he and Al Darago Jr. seem to have been a musical act called Dead Of Winter) and did the effects for the movie – didn’t have any real money to work with (this is, after all, quite literally a ‘No Budget Production’) that the doesn’t stop him and his small crew from giving 110% percent. Sure, the final product is very flawed, and fine, the stories don’t always go anywhere but like a lot of similar SOV pictures, you can’t have a lot of fun just gawking at the odd, slice of life details that pepper the background of the movie. Pay attention in the basement bar scenes in the first film and geek out as cool people show off cool dance moves. Enjoy the site of a shipping carton that once contained an untold number of boxes of Cornflakes in the basement of the house where the first murder occurs in the second story. Take the time to appreciate the questionable wardrobe choices of every character in Level 21 and be especially sure to get down to the synth-heavy soundtrack and all the original rock numbers that make up the score for this picture.

    Scary Tales – Blu-ray Review:

    Scary Tales comes to region free Blu-ray from AGFA in a 1080p high definition tape sourced from the original S-VHS master tapes and taking up 16GBs of space on the 50GB disc. Framed in its original 1.33.1 aspect ratio, this looks about as good as it probably can, given the primitive analogue nature of the source material. There are some tape rolls here and there and detail is typically soft, colors frequently too hot or too cold. If you’ve seen an SOV horror movie before, you know what you’re getting into here. Having it on Blu-ray does mean we avoid compression artifacts, which is nice. Don’t into a movie shot fast and cheap expecting it to look like a million bucks, that’d be crazy talk, but all in all, this looks fine for what it is.

    English language DTS-HD 2.0 Mono audio is provided, with optional subtitles offered up in English only. The dialogue can sometimes sound a little muffled but aside from that, no complaints. In fact, the score sounds really nice here, quite clean and properly balanced, letting that synth sound wash over you in the way that the best synth scores do. Very much a product of its time, yes, but that isn’t a bad thing. The subtitles come in handy for the bits where the dialogue is muffled, but there are a few quirks in the subtitles whenever lyrics from songs are on screen.

    Extras start off with a commentary track with director Doug Ulrich. Flying solo, he notes that the film was made seventeen years ago (which means this commentary may be old), giving credit to Al Darago and explaining how the movie started as a short film before being made as a full length film. He gives the history of the 'Satan's Necklace' story and how it ties back to his Super 8 days, how the interior bar shots were - not surprisingly - shot in the basement of one of the actors in the movie. As the track plays out, Ulrich talks about the different cast members that appear in the picture and where they came from/how they wound up in the movie, using friends and family to get the movie made, differences between the full length movie and the Scary Tales short, how they started shooting the movie in 1993 and the shooting order of the three stories in the feature, selling the movie to local video stores, reusing actors in the three different stories, doing pretty much all of the effects work himself on the picture, the influence of Salem's Lot on a specific scene in the movie, how and why certain scenes are shot the way that they are, the influence of Creepshow, the soundtrack created for the film and who created it, whose cars were used (Ulrich owned a black 1987 Charger, which is rad) and the complexities of shooting the arrow scene. The track also covers the amazing eye-squishing/gut zoom murder sequence featuring Kevin Rogers (the zoom was done just for fun), locations that were used for the movie, trying to create unique murder set pieces, reshooting materials to finish the film, where the inspiration for Level 21 came from and creating the main costume out of sweatpants and costume store props, introducing ninjas into the mix and some of the stunts that were required, creating the fireball sequence for Level 21 and lots, lots more. It's a very detailed track loaded with information with no dead air that should further your appreciation of the work that went into getting this grubby little movie finished.

    Also included on the disc is the 1987 demo version of Scary Tales, which runs twenty-two-minutes in length. This version, which looks unusually green throughout, features a very different looking Storyteller character. It opens with the Satan's Necklace storyline, featuring some different cast members but pretty much telling the same story in a more condensed format (without the rad basement bar scenes), albeit with a different soundtrack. Again, it's got some cool effects in it and proves to be plenty entertaining. After that we get a story called Dead Revenge (I think, the audio is a bit rough), that details what happens on the one year anniversary of a couple killing a guy named Ron while a dog barks like crazy in the background. They opted to bury Ron in the basement for some reason. Anyway, we flashback and see how it all plays out. It's neat to see it here, as it isn't in the feature version. The short closes out with Level 21, which again follows the basic idea of the feature version but which is done with some different cast members and a few slightly different twists (no dwarf and no ninjas, sadly, but with more fireballs so that's a plus). Again, very interesting to see his earlier version. The quality is rough but it's great that it's included here.

    The disc also includes forty-fives-minutes' of early horror shorts that Ulrich made in his younger days. The first of these is an awesome remake of sorts of The Exorcist done with a child cast, complete with head-spinning, levitating and puking effects! After that we get a bunch of random footage of monsters and vampires (so it looks, the quality here is tough) and other monsters that show off some fun FX work, and then a great fight between two tough guys in the dark! Keep going for some footage that was clearly done as a precursor to what we see in Satan's Necklace, a short film called Deadly Revenge set in 1965 but presumably made when Ulrich was in high school in 1982 as per the credits, a movie about some people who went fishing and got themselves into trouble and more stories of monsters and mayhem. Again, the quality here is rough - sometimes very rough - but the content is pretty cool and it's a nice addition to the release for sure.

    The seven-minute vintage TV promo appearance starts off with a great interview with 13 WJZ featuring Ulrich and with Al Darago and Brad Storck talking about trying to create a movie with no budget to a local news crew. They even roll a clip and explain how they did some of the effects, raising money for the film by playing music, how their movie connects to Serial Mom and more. It's fun stuff, Ulrich even gives out his phone number at the end!

    AGFA have also seen fit to include Ulrich’s 1994 film, Darkest Soul, which features quite a few of the same cast members as Scary Tales. It isn’t a straight horror film at all, more of a no-budget crime drama, but it’s still plenty entertaining.

    "Some people search all their lives looking for buried treasure... Tommy and Mark are about to find theirs."

    The movie opens at a funeral, some cast members familiar from Scary Tales sitting in the audience. For some reason there's plastic over the windows. When teh ceremony is over, a guy named Jeff catches up with Mark and Tommy (Al Darago), the later of whom looks like Tom Savini in From Dusk Till Dawn. Turns out Jeff is Mark's cousin - and he's 'an asshole.' After that they catch up with a woman named Heather who hits it off withi Tommy, and he gets her phone number. Later he talks about his desire to buy a Linda Lovelace doll, and then they head to Rick's party where Mark does lines in the kitchen with someone played by Doug Ulrish. It's a heavy metal kinda party and, in the basement, Tommy, ever the player, grabs a blonde named Kelly's boobs over the pooltable. They've got a past, the kinda past that leads to some quality pool table humping.

    Later, Tommy and Mark practice fencing in the supermarket where they work. They get caught, the boss gets pissed. They run into an issue with lean ground beef, we see some weird flashbacks, and our two heroes wind up smoking pot and unemployed. Tommy bonds with Heather, then he and Mark get jobs at Burger World but Brad Storck shows up and fires them after Ulrich orders a burger and Tommy gets beligerent. Tommy mighty be crazy, he 'dont take shit from nobody.' More flashbacks let us in on his troubled past and then he bangs Heather (they both keep their jeans on). One more funeral later and these two are robbing graves and trying to pawn jewelry, eventually trading for a gun and thirty bucks in cash. What would go wrong from here?

    Like the feature attraction this was made for no money but it’s got a great soundtrack, some unusually effective performances and some awesome locations that give you a veritable tour of Baltimore’s sleazy side. It’s even got some boobies in it for no real reason! On top of that we get weird necrophilia, rad 90’s fashions and more blowjobs than you’d probably expect, and some vomiting! It’s pretty fun stuff. It's also rad to see what amounted to 'partying' in Baltimore in 1994 (it involves, cocaine, beer, used cars, boomboxes and leather!), lots of footage shot in a cemetery (including some humping), wonky drug use and grave robbing aplenty. Even if the lens of the camera was dirty, this one has its own seriously wonky charm. A tale of bad guys gone badder, of acid wash versus denim, and of... I dunno. Either way, it's pretty ambitious and definitely a lot more creative than most SOV pictures of the time (which were almost entirely horror films), toying with different genres and not only trying, but kinda-sorta succeeding in doing something legitimately different here.

    In terms of packaging, if you plunk down your hard earned cash for this release through Vinegar Syndrome (who are helping to distribute this and other AGFA titles) you can get your hands on a slipcover that’s limited to 1500 pieces. Some slick reversible cover sleeve art is also provided.

    Scary Tales – The Final Word:

    If you appreciate the weirdness and wonderful creativity often times on display in the bottom of the SOV horror barrel, then Scary Tales is for you. It’s a wonderful product of its time and a seriously entertaining slice of no-budget nonsense. AGFA and Bleeding Skull are to be commended not only for releasing this in the first place, but especially for doing so in an edition with so many extra features. Not a film for all tastes, of course, but for those who appreciate this stuff, this release comes highly recommended!

    Click on the images below for full sized Scary Tales Blu-ray screen caps!