The idea of a horror anthology is a simple concept: a collection of short tales being told throughout one film. Tales of ghosts, monsters, the occult, cursed objects, or worse, the depravity of man. Each tale tells of an unfortunate soul who either unwittingly stumbles across something evil by happenstance or actively goes searching for the things that go bump in the night. Often the tales contained within the film are tied together by a single theme. In the case of ‘Scare Us’, the central theme focuses on aspiring writers gathering together in a book store one night to share tales of what truly scares them.
What makes a horror anthology film effective is centered around the idea that less is more. The stories within an anthology movie require little backstory or character development the way a feature-length film does. The audience is simply thrust into a scenario and watches as events unfold on the screen.
What also makes these segments more effective is the level of tension and suspense within them. The viewer has no level of connection with the character, so there is the sense that anything can happen.
This level of suspense is crucial in making for a successful horror anthology film. Each segment needs to be able to deliver the same sense of dread and terror as the one before it.
With ‘Scare Us,’ we are treated to four tales, all told from the perspective of the character telling the story. Within the film, there is the underlying level of fear that all these writers have gathered at night to tell their tales while the town is plagued with the apparent return of a killer known as “Cutthroat.”
The first tale of the night, titled ‘Night Haul,’ is told by the character of Naomi (Michelle Palermo) and gives the sense that it targets the fear of the unknown.
Here we meet a woman who stumbles across something sinister while locked within a storage unit. Her life is on the line as she attempts to evade the creature living within the facility.
This first story is effective in setting a sense of dread. We have our heroine pursued by something that the audience never quite gets a good glimpse of. This instantly begins to spark your imagination as to what it could be. Also, it provokes this sense of “How would I react in that situation?” while you watch this first segment.
If the film would have been able to deliver another story like this, it would have started to pick up steam. Unfortunately, the movie comes to a crashing halt in the second story of the night, titled ‘Untethered,’ told by the youngest member of the group, Mikey (Ethan Drew).
This story feels like it is addressing the fear of losing one’s grip on reality. Where the story before was fear-driven, this one decided to go in a psychological direction.
In this tale, our protagonist witnesses a change in his father after investigating a case of a family that appears to have been involved in a murder/suicide.
This story feels like it was a nod to the David Lynch style of filmmaking. The viewer is confused about what is based in reality and what is a dream. You have to repeatedly stop and ask yourself what is actually happening.
In a movie that asks the audience to look into what scares them, this segment is out of place and stops the momentum generated by the first story.
The third story of the night, entitled ‘Dead Ringer,’ is the true highlight of the movie and gets the fear back on track.
Here, our aspiring writer, Diego (Michael C. Alvarez), shares that his story is based on the idea of being faced with adversity and, try as you might, you seem unable to overcome it and eventually have to consider the idea that you are powerless to defeat it.
In this piece, a drifter stops at a closed gas station, only to run into a man who is being pursued by something that he claims to be his wife.
This story is easily the scariest of the group. It conveys a sense of tension that has you on the edge of your seat wondering what will happen next. Like ‘Night Haul,’ you never get a full glimpse of the creature which allows your imagination to kick into overdrive.
The fact that this story is the shortest of the segments is a true shame. I wish it would have been longer. But at the same time, it’s best to leave the audience wanting more.
The final story of the night, titled ‘The Resting,’ is told by our lead female protagonist, Claire (Charlotte Lilt), and tells the story of a young woman who moves into the same house where her mother committed suicide.
This story looks at the dark secrets that could be hiding within our family history. How much do we know about the people in our lives and what secrets could they be hiding from us?
It is short, but effective. In true horror tale fashion, this one leaves so much unanswered and leaves the viewer guessing at what truly happened to our heroine.
Before the night is over, we are surprised with one final story, this one shared by the book store owner and host of the evening’s events, Peter Metus (Tom Sandoval).
His tale is the first to finally include mention of “Cutthroat,” a character that has only been briefly mentioned and spoken about up to this point in the movie.
This is unfortunate, as this is an element that would have benefitted from making cameo appearances in the stories throughout the night, similar to how the character of Sam made appearances throughout the film ‘Trick ‘r Treat.’
This final story, although short, sets up the climax of the film and looks at what happens when you finally come face to face with your fear in the flesh.
Although the horror anthology genre has been around since the beginning of the 20th century, it was in its prime during the 1970s and 80s with the success of films like 1972’s ‘Tales From the Crypt,’ 1975’s ‘Trilogy of Terror,’ 1982’s ‘Creepshow,’ and 1983’s ‘Twilight Zone: The Movie.’
In recent years, the genre seems to have been revitalized with the launch of the ‘Creepshow’ streaming series on Shudder as well as 2019’s critically praised ‘The Mortuary Collection.’
Like most horror anthologies, ‘Scare Us’ has a number of different directors, with Ryan Henry Johnston serving as the film’s head director and co-director of ‘Night Haul’ along with Charlotte Lilt, Ryan Kjolberg as the director of ‘Untethered,’ Carl Jensen IV and Jordan Pillar as co-directors of ‘Dead Ringer,’ and, finally, Tom J. McCoy as the director of the film’s final story, ‘The Resting.’
Along with Sandoval, Lilt, Drew, Palermo and Alvarez, ‘Scare Us’ stars Jason Wiechert as David/Adam, Desiree Srinivas as Jasmine, William Kenny as Kyle, Jose Rosete as Hal, Jillian Roppolo as Faith, Kelcie Weber as Sarah, Brad Grubenhoff as Russell, Shellie Ulrich as Mary-Lynn, Jennifer Jones Nesbit as Helen/Judith, Maria Amorocho as Esther, Richard Lippert as the Priest/Count, and Eric Hula as the security guard.
‘Scare Us’ was a decent anthology film. Unfortunately, it wasn’t able to generate enough tension throughout the film. With the exception of ‘Dead Ringer,’ the stories contained within the film ranged from merely good to downright confusing.
‘Night Haul’ was successful in creating an atmosphere of dread but one can’t help but draw similarities between this story and the short story ‘The Crate’ told within the original ‘Creepshow’ film.
This movie also underutilized the character “Cutthroat.” From the character’s first mention in the film, I found myself wanting to know more about them and I was intrigued at the notion of hearing four tales that revolved around a killer stalking the inhabitants of this sleepy town. Instead, the killer was absent from the tales, except for a brief appearance in the final story.
The inclusion of this character could have made for an interesting set of tales, similar to how ‘All Hallows’ Eve’ gave us four terrifying tales featuring the character of ‘Art the Clown.’
On a scale of 1-5 stars, I give Scare Us 2.5 stars.
‘Scare Us’ was unable to bring anything exciting to the table, so much so that the movie is almost forgettable once the credits roll.
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Visit IMDB to find out more about ‘Scare Us’.
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