Like they have with their impressive H.P. Lovecraft Collection, The Weird Tale Collection by Lurker Films focuses on collecting short film adaptations of the work of a celebrated sci-fi/horror author, in this case Robert Chambers. The centerpiece of the first volume in this series is "The Yellow Sign," from a short story by Chambers in his most celebrated work, The King in Yellow.
In this adaptation, a struggling young art gallery owner named Tess (Shawna Waldron) is haunted by nightmares in which she appears in a turn-of-the-century gown and encounters a small child sitting in a padded chair, a strange older man painting, and a giant with golden eyes. Looking to give her business a boost, she seeks out an eccentric, reclusive painter named Aubrey Scott, who (of course) turns out to be the one she saw in her dream. He agrees to have a showing of his work, but only if Tess will model for him. During the modeling session, Tess sees something strange in one of Scott's painting. It turns out the painting is some sort of gateway - which holds the key to the meaning of Tess's dreams, as well as a dark secret that Scott is hiding.
Waldron is one of the strengths of the film. I liked and was concerned for the heroine (though I was a bit distracted by Waldron's uncanny resemblance to current talk-show chatterbox Rachel Ray). Dale Snowberger's performance as Scott, however, is not particularly strong; he tries a bit too hard to be eccentric and menacing as the painter/villain.
I was also glad that director Aaron Vanek did not try to force any "Boo!" scares and instead had faith that the story, lighting and setting (particularly Scott's studio) would work to give the film an overall eerie, uneasy tone. Indeed, perhaps the most effective aspect of the film is the setting, as it was actually filmed in a transient hotel in downtown L.A. in 2001. The grungy setting, complete with long, poorly lit, decaying hallways, creates a sense of unease and concern for Tess when she meets with Scott.
Though I did not find the story particularly scary, it was rather interesting and did hold my attention. In general, it played like a solid episode of the old Twilight Zone and was well done for a short film with a limited budget.
Like the Lovecraft collections, The Weird Tale Collection also includes other short films from the works of the same author. For me, the strangest film on the disc, not so much in story but in presentation, is "Tupilak" by David Leroy. During a polar expedition, two French explorers, Kelvin and Max, leave their wounded Inuit guide behind in the snow. As they trudge away, Kelvin hears the dying man chanting a curse. Two years later, Max encounters Kelvin in a deserted museum. He discovers that Kelvin is quite convinced the curse is about to destroy them both.
"Tupilak" is strange in that, for a very short film, it is shot on almost an epic scale. It has a booming, haunting soundtrack, as well as some impressive wide-angle shots of the wilderness near the museum. Furthermore, the film seems to be building momentum for something big to happen - and then ends abruptly. For a film with a rather startling soundtrack and photography, it is all smoke and no fire.
Conversely, Emilano Guarneri's "The King in Yellow" is scary as hell. The story: a young woman goes into an old bookstore to buy a gift for a friend in the hospital, yet when she opens a particular book, it seems to transport her into a nightmare world. She finds herself trapped in an abandoned hospital where she is chased, at full speed, by hideous creatures that appear to be part zombie, part Cyclops. Shot on tape and only about five minutes long, it still packs a wallop, like a very bad nightmare.
As was the case with some of the HP Lovecraft Collection DVDs, I found one of the bonus shorts ("The King in Yellow," in this instance) to be somewhat more effective than the main story. However, the main film is still entertaining. This is a strong start to The Weird Tale Collection.
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