Color, 1993, 70 mins. 7 secs.
Directed by Doug Ulrich
Starring Al Darago, Brad Storck, Ilene Zelechowski, Robert Zelechowski, Ann Ulrich, Al Darago, Doug Ulrich
AGFA / Bleeding Skull (Blu-ray) (US R0 HD), Bleeding Skull (DVD) (US R0 NTSC)

Horror Scary Talesanthologies have long been a mainstay of Scary Talesfinancially-deprived filmmakers who have a convenient way to splice together short films that don't necessarily require the same cast members. That approach has yielding some wild results over the decades, with the shot-on-video movement that kicked off in the '80s providing a particularly fruitful playground for die-hard genre fans looking for something a little different. Case in point: Scary Tales, a Baltimore-shot labor of love from DIY director Doug Ulrich and producer Al Darago. In this case you actually do get actors overlapping from story to story, which gives this a kind of low-rent repertory feel that just adds to the charm. (Take that, Ryan Murphy.) Barely issued on VHS as a self-distributed release from "Cemetery Cinema," this charming little number ended up finding a wider audience when it was revived on DVD from Bleeding Skull in 2016 and has now come to Blu-ray in a considerably expanded special edition.

In a dark foggy room, a glowing-eyed figure (Darago) in a robe reads horror tales to a group of children starting off with "Satan's Necklace," which involves the titular item of jewelry being unearthed by a pair of foul-mouthed bar buddies and metal detector enthusiasts, Chuck (Darago again) and Dan (Storck). Chuck takes the discovery home and shows it to his Scary Taleswife, Julie (Ilene Zelechowski), after which he starts to see a demonic face staring back at him in the mirror. Soon Chuck's becoming Scary Talesnasty and aggressive as his new accessory seems to be instigating a demonic possession and nightmares involving sex with a blood-barfing succubus.
Then in "Sliced in Cold Blood" (the first of the stories to be shot as a standalone short), Darago Jr. and Zelechowski team up again as the married couple John and Beth whose relationship turns into a gory murder spree when he finds out she's been cheating behind his back. Finally in the most insane entry, "Level 21," video game addict Bill (Robert Zelechowski) ignores his wife (Ann Ulrich) and son in all of his spare time playing a fantasy game in their basement at all hours. However, when he reaches the coveted level of the title, he's quickly plunged into a world of ninjas, supernatural creatures, and dime-store peplum outfits.

Short, sweet, and lots of fun, Scary Tales packs in plenty of surprises over the course of its running time with that unique regional charm that has justifiably made this a championed title among Scary TalesSOV addicts. Of course, anyone new to this world will likely be left baffled by the amateur-level technical chops on display here but that's exactly what makes this film such a keeper today. Chock full of personality and energy, this is a great party movie choice worth discovering. Scary TalesThe Blu-ray release cites a new transfer from the original S-VHS master tapes, though given that Ulrich himself admits this was pretty much edited with the old two-VCRs technique, don't expect this to come close to demo material; it still looks like a VHS, and that's fine if you know what you're getting.

The DTS-HD MA English mono track is likewise accurate to the very lo-fi source and comes with optional yellow English subtitles (which have some obvious coding errors when it comes to song lyrics). An audio commentary with Ulrich shows him remembering even the most minute details about the production as he explains the genesis, the production order, the found locations (including a buddy's basement for that bar in the first story), the no-budget trickery for the gore scenes, and the relationships between the various cast members including his own sister (who of course gets a death scene). A 1987 demo version of the film (22m4s) is in pretty ragged quality but is worth checking as a kind of rough draft including a skeletal version of the storytellers, different cast members, and a completely different middle story. You also get a quick and funny outtake reel (53s), a vintage local TV Scary Talespromo appearance (6m46s) with the filmmakers surrounded by fun horror props, and a lengthy reel of early Ulrich Super 8 horror shorts (45ms) including a pint-sized copy of The Exorcist and lots of blurry monster mayhem Scary Talesas well as a dry run for the one of the stories from the main feature.

Finally the disc closes out with 1994's Darkest Soul (63m21s), a later Ulrich production (made just before 1997's Screen Kill) that's actually more of a dark crime film about two buddies, Mark (Jeff Witte) and Tommy (Darago), who sit around on the dock bitching about Baltimore, wishing they could have "a fine case of beer and a fine babe under each arm," and cooking up plans to get rich by robbing graves after attending a funeral and getting fired for spitting in a customer's "lean ground beef." More of a laid-back character study than any kind of genre film, it's oddly watchable throughout and features a great soundtrack to accompany all the scenes of pool playing, coke snorting, culinary fencing, and graveyard antics.

Reviewed on November 21, 2020