Walter Ruether's latest SOV horror anthology returns to a more classic time when fun, playful horror hosts lead us into our nightmares. The anthology contains five shorts ranging from revenge killings to psychotic breakdowns, presented by Dr. Fry and Dr. "Head'ly" Graves. The series kicks off by placing us in a time where all of Earth has been ravaged by plague and chaos. Ebola wipes out most of humanity and what remains is small bands of people craving entertainment. The Doctors are left with a copy of the only source of that entertainment in a little low budget horror anthology titled "Scream Machine".
There is a cool intro featuring indie SOV icon, Lloyd Kaufman, which is carried into the beginning narrative set-up by Dr. Fry.The story we are giving is a bit over complicating to the host segment, not in complexity as much as it is unnecessary. The horror hosts are engaging, the back-n-forth is amusing and the atmosphere is set. All the extra info and back story stuff just bogs down the piece. The segment does hold the anthology together and leads us comfortably into each of the twisted tales. I love horror hosted series and it is nice to see Fry back on the scene.
The first short which really sets the attitude and perspective of Ruether's film is " Sledgehammer". The short follows a pitcher and catcher being scouted, a grotesque mishap then leads into classic horror finality. "Sledgehammer" is a revenge piece that holds to the normal premise for anthology shorts. You know, the whole wrongs are righted based on the principles of revenge. Now the story begins simple enough, the story makes sense enough if you take them at face value. I didn't really by those to characters as they were presented to me as athletes or rising stars in the game. It doesn't stop the story dead and the arc holds from beginning to end. The cool, bit about "Sledgehammer" is the finale with the masked killer, more gore and that bit of dark humor.
Up next we have "Cannibal Pen Pals". This short was set in the 90's and a twisted love letter to Dahmer. It is an odd choice not just for the subject matter but for the character set up. Separate both parts of this story, the husband on the down low, and the obsessed Dahmer, are plausible, acceptable premises, I just personally found it contradictory when combined in a single character.Still, it is a completed, nicely directed piece that is twisted enough that some macabre amusement can be found. I didn't care for the ending, but it is interesting when writers chose to break with acceptable norms and let the evil win in the end without retribution. It is hard to make it work in a way that is satisfying.
The third horror short, " April's Fool Party" is a fun, totally wrong short filled with geeked-up dope fiends, and a cracked out dealer. Right up my alley, I am a sucker for drug fueled mayhem. The look and feel is a bit more reductive in quality compared, but strangely enough it is the best thus far in the line-up. The middle section with the April Fool's trick is dark, modern horror with evil delinquents run a muck. I liked this one right up to the uneventful ending. There was so much publish build up to what should have been a thrilling, twisted ending. Unfortunately it just ends with a shrugged "oh well" attitude. Plus like the second there is no real morality of action and consequence that usually ends these situations.
"Septic Shock" follows up "April Fool's Party" and tests the gag reflex. Hateful spouse, an affair , and easy access to the septic take does not bode well for one man. The way this short is directed and filmed is great in pushing the viewer into believing the premise. Obscure angles, shadows, special effects and sound all create the gross atmosphere. Anything with fecal matter grosses me out anyway, so this one did an effective job at reaching its intended objective and is a touch back to earlier Ruether stuff found in his previous anthologies.
The final horror short is titled "Deadly Indie Drive-in". It like the first falls back to the classic horror short set-up. A drive-in date, a lady off her meds and delusional make fore some classic low budget gruesomeness. The story is well written, it is twisted and satirical. A strong short to finish the series on. The special effects moment that centers everything in this one is a bit cheap and takes from the piece a bit but overall it is the second strongest, and goriest in " Scream Machine" and everything around this scene in question is done right, so it is a fun, entertaining twisted tale that I enjoyed.
Overall "Scream Machine" is by far the best of Walter Ruether, and gives good SOV . The jewel of the anthology is of course the horror segments that hold the series together. Fun, entertaining moments that take me back to early horror hosts. I never got the connection between the anthology's title and the hosting set-up but I like the title, I like the theme song so I am cool with that. The stand out shorts for me personally are "Septic Shock"and " Deadly Indie Drive-in". The film has moments that hit and moments that miss. Same rings true with the practical effects. The soundtrack and effects are total energy and vibe well in "Scream Machine". Just know that this is low budget home grown horror when you set down to watch it. It is not an anthology that will please everyone and haters will hate. I personally enjoyed it, and appreciate it for what it is, a real indie, home grown horrorfest that gets the relationship between the twisted minds and the funny bone.