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First Look Review - SHIVERS DOWN YOUR SPINE

Anthology of short horror tales.


Review by Benjamin Poole

Directed by: Mathew Kister

Starring: Steve Eaton, Jazmyne Van Houten, Jenny Chambers, Dailen Cowden, Megan Shepherd



"Shivers Down Your Spine - with its variety of ideas, bare enthusiasm and value for money, is a welcome addition to the horror anthology format."



With the likes of The ABCS of Death and the V/H/S/ triumvirate ubiquitous across streaming platforms, further compilations such as the all-female created XX in the works, and Michael Dougherty’s black eyed seasonal gem Trick ‘r Treat achieving a cherished cult status (and, hopefully, sequelisation), the anthology horror film looks to be making something of a comeback.
Established by Ealing’s Dead of Night in 1945 (still sublimely creepy), the subgenre was significantly propagated by another Brit production house, the overlooked (in comparison to Hammer) Amicus Studios, who perfected the form with their cycle spanning 1965-74 (a personal fave being Kevin Conner’s From Beyond the Grave, starring Peter Cushing as the proprietor of an antique shop where each spooky stock item has an uncanny history!).
It’s not difficult to see why the anthology film was initially so popular with horror audiences; the elemental arrangement of the genre, with its clearly defined threats and strict narrative patterns, lends itself to the condensed format, and the portmanteau element meant that audiences would be getting four stories for the price of one. Post-Amicus, the gimmick faded somewhat, with notable '80s/'90s additions to the canon, Creepshows 1 and 2 (‘82, ‘87), Cat’s Eye (‘85) and Tales from the Darkside (1990), being all, tellingly, Stephen King vehicles: having four separate stories means four separate budgetary arrangements/production schedules, and without the vertical integration of a dedicated studio, or the bankable involvement of someone with the calibre of King, the portmanteau became a risky proposition. However, new digital technologies has made the business of short film making cheaper and more viable, and, correlatively, our media is also different, with youtube, viral videos and vines being the viewing platforms du jour; broadcasting material confined in running time and streamlined towards instant impact and appeal. Could today’s adhd afflicted media landscape provide the perfect conditions for the anthology horror? And, if so, what can Shivers Down Your Spine bring to the table?
A collection of horror featurettes from Dead Lantern studios (aka the chaps behind the Splattercast podcast), Shivers Down the Spine collates pre-existing shorts from the past few years, neatly packaging them anew via a witty framing device that sees slacker Jeff (Steve Eaton) chance upon a genie’s lamp, which, when rubbed, produces the jinn Sabihah (Megan Shepherd - funny and cute) who becomes the film’s Scheherazade: telling stories to Jeff as part of his wish list. The iconography of the opening sequence - thick smoke, microwave pizza, and soft sofas, all the recognisable motifs of a casual weed session - sets the scene; these will be tall tales of the schlocky sort, and are probably not to be taken too seriously…
Deadbolt - A girl alone in the house on Halloween is wound up by unseen forces. Thankfully, the most disappointing short is out of the way first: there seems to be some sort of cinematic law that every horror short's director will have a go at one of these girl-alone-in-suburbia sequences sooner or later, and that I’ll have the job of reviewing it. Nothing new offered by Deadbolt, but it serves to establish the film’s (sometimes uneven) tone of humour and horror.
Convention Girl - a couple of fanboys run afoul of a sexy vampire at a horror convention. There’s more of the inhouse style of silliness and gore, but this episode also confirms Shivers Down Your Spine’s other obsession: tits. Heaving bosoms, full bras to bare breasts; the film is full of them, not so much shivers down the spine, but bouncing of the chest. It does get a bit awkward.
Birthday Dinner - a highlight. A none more black comedy which sees an ever so proper middle class couple sit down for ‘such a delicious’ meal of steak, with the dinner table small talk consisting of the wife chastising the husband for his strict treatment of their unseen little girl…. but why isn’t she a part of this family dinner? Cruel and effective, this one leaves a nasty taste in your mouth.
Whispering Board - sorority girls with a Ouija board. Ouija boards never really work in horror films, so thankfully, the focus here instead is on the tenuous bonds and jealousies that simmer within teen friendship groups, but which are brought to the fore during this séance.
I Dream of Djinni - wherein the bare breasted star of the wraparound gets to feature in her own story, in which another drunk guy gets to wish for exactly what you’d imagine he would, with ironic consequences. After this sequence, we cut back to Jeff’s sofa, where he says to Sabihah ‘I was a little flummoxed by you, but now I’m starting to enjoy your company’, and I agreed; as it was at this point that the film’s wacky rhythms started to work on me, and the quality of the shorts began to improve at this half way mark, also.
Shortly After Nightfall - a break into noir territory here, with a ghostly crime to be solved by the grizzled voiceover. Interestingly shot, with a murder filmed in silence which is made all the more chilling for the victim’s soundless thrashings. Moody.
A Bad Heart - my favourite, a well-acted bad romance that builds character, atmosphere and surprises in order to serve its inevitable and deadly punch line.
Last Breath - the saddest and grimmest of the tales; a girl, afflicted with a deadly case of FOMO after being blown out by her date, slowly drives herself mad.
A Christmas Horror Story - in the words of Sabihah, an ‘eighties themed Christmas killer story’. With its synths, neon colour scheme and faded cinematography, A Christmas Horror Story is certainly authentic in its recreation of the ‘vhaesthetic’, but gives too much to the ‘wasn’t the past funny’ stylising, and only just about remembers to riff on Amicus’ classic … And All Through the House when the short is all but over.
This intentional final call back to Amicus (and, by extension, the EC comics that were print forerunners of the anthology format), along with the gorgeous title sequence that invokes the divine paints of Tom Chantrell, leaves us in no doubt that this film is the work of true enthusiasts, which is why, at times, Shivers Down Your Spine slightly disheartens. The preoccupation with minor nudity is indicative of its juvenilia, but also its lack of confidence in its audience (the post credits insultingly promise that ‘Sabihah and her boobs will return’: you think that’s all we’re interested in?!) and itself as a horror film. Far more hit than miss, Shivers Down The Spine does itself disservice when it apologises for its shortcomings - Jeff and Sabihah discuss the relative merits of the stories throughout, arguing that certain effects are bad, or the sound quality is less than perfect. Relax guys, it’s not as bad as all that, and, plus, there’s only so far you can go with this sort of self-deprecating reflexivity before the audience feels as if you’re mocking them for bothering to watch! And audiences should watch Shivers Down Your Spine - with its variety of ideas, bare enthusiasm and value for money, it’s a welcome addition to the horror anthology format. Schlocky and scary fun. Shivers Down Your Spine is available at www.deadlantern.com.




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