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Terror Tract
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by Jack Sommersby

"An Undemanding Horror Anthrology That Nicely Pleases"
4 stars

Oh, this isn't nearly up to the greatness of George A. Romero's "Creepshow", but it's efficient, capable, and gets the job done more often than not.

Terror Tract, which takes a broadly dark look at small-town Americana, makes for good fun. The film opens with an American Beauty--like crane shot of a seemingly docile suburban neighborhood; but, like David Lynch's Blue Velvet, the camera soon reveals the physical manifestations of existing evil underpinnings, like a worm being eaten by a bird, which is then snatched up by a cat, which in turn is chased by a dog, and then run over by a car, which, by the way, is driven by bearded ex-sitcom star John Ritter, who's portraying an ever-smiling real estate agent taking a married couple on the house-hunting rounds. Ritter shows them three houses, each of them lovely, but, due to the law of open disclosure, he's obligated to tell them each and every horror story behind the house's disarming facade. Essentially, Terror Tract serves as an anthrology of horror segments akin to George A. Romero's dandy Creepshow and John Carpenter's disposable Body Bags, while lacking the imaginative, professional panache of the former and the sophomoric guilty pleasures of the latter. Yet it's possessive of enough positive qualities to recommend it.

"Make Me an Offer"

This first segment is by far the least. When a beautiful blonde's rich husband drives away on business, her lover sneaks over for a little hanky panky; the husband, though, barges in on them and all hell breaks loose. Having been onto them for quite some time, hubby has arranged a suicide note and a dastardly plan for a double murder. I won't reveal the ensuing happenings, except to reveal that a certain somebody's corpse is dumped into a nearby lake; predictably, the dead body doesn't quite stay at the bottom long enough to feed the marine wildlife.

It's not enough that this plays out like a third-rate rendition of the Ted Danson/Leslie Neilsen segment from Creepshow, but Clint Hutchison's direction isn't playful enough to instill a sense of bounce and fun into the proceedings. We've been down this road many, many times before, and the best that's come up with here are a series of nightmares hinting at the return of the corpse that fail to frighten or suggest anything we haven't already guessed at ourselves. The gorgeous Sarah Rachel York is killjoyingly exempted from nudity, the Double Indemnity-esque plot mechanics are stale, and the grand finale isn't scary enough to raise even the hackles of a frail geriatric.


The best of the lot. A little girl finds a well-trained monkey in her backyard, persuades her parents to keep it, and a series of dire consequences results from it. The father immediately suspects that 'ol Bobo is up to no good, what with its incessant growling and biting whenever he gets near his daughter, with matters growing progressively worse when the family dog is found slaughtered in the kitchen. As the corpses pile up, the father, wary of trying to convince the authorities that a monkey is responsible for the carnage, stashes them in the garage. So not only is the situation getting worse due to Bobo's increased viciousness, but the father is leaving behind a mound of incriminating evidence, which will likely imply the guilt on the less-hairier of the two.

You can either direct this kind of absurd material poorly or well, and Lance W. Dressen does it well. He gets a surprising amount of tension out of the scenes, pulling off the difficult feat of making an actual monkey a convincing source of evil. We pretty much know the result of a scene before the characters do, but the progression from suspicion to validation of that suspicion is well-handled by a director who knows how to frame a shot, tighten suspense, and pleasurably manipulate us throughout. Matters are also helped by Bryan Cranston, who gives a solid staying-in-character performance as the father; not only does he make his emotional plight believable to us, but his striking resemblance to Terry O' Quinn (he was the psychopathic breadwinner from 1987's The Stepfather) keeps us unsure at first as to exactly where the sense of threat is going to come from. Standout moment: a derring-do animal control officer (Marcus "Buff" Bagwell) meeting a dandy violent demise.

"Come to Granny"

This story involves distraught teenager Will Estes confiding to psychologist Brenda Strong that he's psychically linked to the infamous "Granny Killer" (called that because he wears a wrinkled grandmother mask while he kills), who's knocking off beautiful young women with a meat cleaver. The action takes place mostly in Strong's office, as Estes details his "visions" up until this point, which are communicated to us in the form of flashbacks. Not only does he have intimate knowledge of the crime details, but he insists he's come here to protect Strong, who's supposedly the killer's next victim. Is Estes telling the truth, or is he in fact the killer -- a thought that has definitely crossed the mind of Strong, who's growing increasingly uneasy about being in the same room with her brand-new patient?

I'll freely admit there's barely a whisper of originality to be had from this. Of course, we know Estes isn't the killer; and, of course, when he's attacked by Strong, she'll be left to fend for herself when the real killer arrives. Surprisingly, though, director Hutchison's handling is more smooth and agile this time around than it was in Make Me an Offer. The killings are both horrifying and comical (the killer's vocal inflections are a scream!), the scares plentiful, and just about every opportunity for tension is effectively milked. This segment may be a slight overall concoction, but it's executed with a gleeful precision that gets the most out of its minimal premise.

And right when we think the film as a whole has come to a close, there's a neat follow-up involving Ritter and his frantic phone calls with his boss. You see, the real estate company he works for is verrrrry competitive, so much so that his boss insists he make the sale on the third house, otherwise his wife and daughter will suffer the consequences. Let's just say that Ritter goes Loony Tunes on us, arms himself with a threatening ball point pen, and wrecks merciless havoc on this nice couple who have the audacity to tell him "no". And the last shot is a true honey: the neighborhood erupting with corpses in plastic children's pools, housewives gunning down their spouses, explosions, with even a cookie-baking grandmother armed with an Uzi playing into the mix. Terror Tract is no classic, but you could do a lot, lot worse, believe me.

@Jack Sommersby, 2003

Worth paying out a lousy buck-fifty for some pleasing entertainment.

link directly to this review at http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=4537&reviewer=327
originally posted: 01/20/03 16:43:32
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User Comments

8/08/05 tatum Run of the mill horror anthology 3 stars
12/28/02 Jack Sommersby Neat, entertaining horror flick. 4 stars
3/24/02 Avril B. Northernthrope Highly Original and Scary! 5 stars
12/01/00 Greg Ricketts GREAT!! Funny and scary - A++++ 5 stars
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  18-Oct-2000 (R)



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