Horror Network Vol. 1 (The)
R0 - America - Wild Eye Releasing
Review written by and copyright: Eric Cotenas (7th November 2015).
The Film

The brainchild of low-budget horror anthology specialists Brian Dorton and Douglas Conner (Trashology and Theatre of the Deranged among others), the more mainstream The Horror Network is more miss than hit, with two intriguing if unspectacular segments, one groaner, some pointless brutality striving for emotional resonance, and one where the filmmakers apparently could not leave well enough alone. Things get off to a tiresome start with Lee Matthews' potentially atmospheric pre-credits tale "3:00 A.M." in which a woman (Charlotte Armstrong) on a secluded English farm is tormented by a mysterious caller, but it may just an imaginary aspect of her mental breakdown. Matthews' pulls out all of the cliché jump scares (including the creepy Jack-in-the-Box), all of which is underscored by screechy incidental music stings in place of actual sound effects. "Edward" from Joseph Graham (Vanilla, Strapped) finds disturbed Hal (Nick Frangione) trying to convince his psychiatrist Dr. Aleksey (Artem Mishin) that his sleepwalking is something considerably more sinister. Graham achieves a palpable atmosphere of dread out of the visuals, sound design, and the performances even if the climactic height of horror does not reward the build-up. Lee Williams returns with "The Quiet" and hits it out of the park in a story that finds deaf schoolgirl Alice (Jenni-Lea Finch) on a lonely country road unaware that her mother cannot pick her up, without her phone or hearing aid, and stalked by a sinister van driver. Far more effective in its visualization of the placid countryside as ominous and more reliant on its novice actress' reactions over music stings and jump scares (there are some, but we are aware of Alice's stalker in the frame long before she is).

The most ambitious and most disappointing segment is the Spanish "Merry Little Christmas" by Manuel Marín and Ignacio Martín Lerma. Miguel (Jan Cornet, The Skin I Live In) blames his friend Cristina's (Macarena Gómez, Witching & Bitching) morbid behavior on her emotionally- and physically-scarred mother Lola (Blanca Rivera) who has failed to seek psychological help for her own issues much less her daughter's which have manifested themselves in self-mutilation and monstrous artistic creations that have their basis in a hellish past for both women. Dating back from 2010, this segment never quite balances the brutality with tragedy or the irony of the holiday setting (or its religious significance), but it does feature some impressive surrealistic make-up effects and stop-motion animation (including the anthology's poster monster). The titular character of Dorton's and Conner's co-directed "The Deviant One" (Dorton) spends his weekend in the suburbs violating various biblical tenets, indulging in animal mutilation and human dismemberment as well as a helping of combined sodomy and necrophilia. The short - according to IMDb's trivia section, originally intended to be the final story for the equally uneven All Hallow's Eve before the filmmakers decided to take a different approach with their own anthology - is told in an arty, distanced fashion without a word of spoken dialogue; however, the film's events are annoying bracketed by biblical quotes that knock viewers over the head with motivations behind the antihero's actions and telegraphs what should be a surprise ending reveal. An earlier draft of the short in the DVD extras reveals that the feature might have been marginally better had the filmmakers arrived at a happy medium somewhere in between (more on this version in the extras section below).

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Video

The aspect ratio varies by the story from 1.76:1 (with barely visible slight pillarboxing) to 2.98:1 (seemingly with an anamorphic adapter rather than matting since the out of focus close-up of a doll's face becomes noticeably rounder as the focus shifts). The quality of the cinematography also varies from story to story, but Wild Eye's single-layer encode is more than serviceable. While all of the shorts were presumably lensed in HD (with the exception of "Merry Little Christmas" which was shot on film and finished on video), the detail seems to be just as effected by the SD downscaling as some aggressive color correction amping up the saturation and the contrast.
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Audio

The sole audio track is Dolby Digital 2.0 surround, and one has to wonder if it is a compromise between the stereo tracks of some stories and the 5.1 tracks presumably mixed for others. Surround activity varies as much as the mix quality by the story, with some apparent rear channel activity presumably summed up by the decoder from the stereo mixes.
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Extras

The "Extended Scene: Deviant One" (10:39) is actually a full alternate cut with dialogue that was all cut from the finished version (which has no dialogue). Although the performances are poor, this cut is superior in that it does not have the biblical quote intertitles that over-explain the protagonist's actions and telegraph the ending. This cut, which was unfinished in the sound mixing, does not feature the bathtub scene, but an extended version of that is tagged to the end with one more explicit shot that was not included in the finished version.
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The disc also includes an image gallery and trailer (1:09) for the film, as well as trailers for other Wild Eye Releasing titles.

Overall

Although seemingly intended more as festival fodder than a satisfying night's viewing, The Horror Network is a decent time-waster for the horror hoarder.
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