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John’s Horror Corner: XX (2017), the horror anthology led by women in horror.

March 29, 2020

MY CALL: Perfectly entertaining horror fare with two very good and two not so good entries. But the great, I feel, outweighs the bad. So I’d recommend this to anthology fans. MORE MOVIES LIKE XX: Anthologies that adhere to a theme like The Field Guide to Evil (2018) with foreign folklore, A Christmas Horror Story (2015) and Holidays (2016).

MORE HORROR ANTHOLOGIES: Dead of Night (1945), Black Sabbath (1963), Tales from the Crypt (1972), The Vault of Horror (1973), The Uncanny (1977), Creepshow (1982), Twilight Zone: The Movie (1983), Stephen King’s Cat’s Eye (1985), Deadtime Stories (1986), Creepshow 2 (1987), After Midnight (1989), Tales from the Crypt Season 1 (1989), Tales from the Darkside: The Movie (1990), Two Evil Eyes (1990), Grimm Prairie Tales (1990), The Willies (1990), Necronomicon: Book of the Dead (1993), Hellraiser: Bloodline (1996), Campfire Tales (1997), Dark Tales of Japan (2004), 3 Extremes (2004), Creepshow 3 (2006), Trick ‘r Treat (2007), Chillerama (2011), Little Deaths (2011), V/H/S (2012), The Theater Bizarre (2012), The ABCs of Death (2013), V/H/S 2 (2013), All Hallows’ Eve (2013), The Profane Exhibit (2013), The ABCs of Death 2 (2014), V/H/S Viral (2014), Southbound (2015), Tales of Halloween (2015), A Christmas Horror Story (2015), The ABCs of Death 2.5 (2016), Holidays (2016), Terrified (2017; aka Aterrados, a pseudo-anthology), Oats Studios, Vol. 1 (2017), Ghost Stories (2017), The Field Guide to Evil (2018), Shudder’s series Creepshow (2019) and Xenophobia (2019).

This recent anthology’s attraction is that its four short horror films directed and written by female filmmakers. This certainly drew my attention as I enjoy my anthologies more when there is a theme—e.g., The Field Guide to Evil (2018) is about folklore of different countries and Holidays (2016) focuses on a different holiday for each segment.

While not a story or story-linking device, the wraparound shots depict an unsettling living dollhouse in stop-motion animation making some sort of abstract journey. It’s intriguing and unsettling, so it sets a good tone.

During a public transit commute on Christmas, a mother and her two kids notice a man with a gift box in his lap. The son inquires “what’s in the box?” So the man politely opens the lid and the boy silently peeks in as we watch his curious and eager smile melt to emotionlessness. The days ensuing this intriguing exchange, the son politely refuses to eat, explaining that he’s just not hungry. Of course, the parents worry… and things get stranger.

Great filmmaking and acting along with some visceral gore satisfaction make this segment a very strong anthology opener. The Box (Jovanka Vuckovic; Riot Girls) seems to take a very subtle approach to Lovecraftian madness, with the mania setting in after mortal eyes befall that of the void.

Directed by a composer (St. Vincent, aka Annie Clark; The Picture of Dorian Gray), The Birthday Party shifts gears into black comedy. On the morning of her daughter’s birthday, a mother discovers her husband dead… and, becoming manic, decides not to tell anyone. Keeping his dead body a secret becomes a Weekend at Bernie’s-esque (1989) experience.

Probably the lesser segment of the anthology, Don’t Fall (Roxanne Benjamin; Southbound, Creepshow, Body at Brighton Rock) felt the least like a film and the most like direct-to-streaming horror drivel. A group of campers in the arid mountain wilderness find some strange cave drawings, and then one of them becomes a possessed generic-undead-demon-whatever-thing,

I feel as if Don’t Fall was the primary reason so many people gave XX poor reviews—which is why it took me so long to finally see it. Its mindless horror wasn’t without some entertainment. But following the stylistic short films, The Box and The Birthday Party may have set it up for failure. More delivered in the style of a mindless flick, Don’t Fall felt like it didn’t fit the tone, style and artistic level of its predecessors and the wraparound animation.

Her Only Living Son (Karyn Kusama; Jennifer’s Body, The Invitation) tells the familiar story of a well-intentioned mother raising the son of the Devil. Even witnessing some of his twisted deeds, no one seems as concerned about his behavior as his mother. This was another segment that disappointed—like a generic movie I’d watch and forget. It began with promise and wandered into the kind of milquetoast that would normally be the less creative entry of such an anthology. If Don’t Fall started to shift viewers’ opinions from great to questionable, then Her Only Living Son might have been the nail in the coffin.

But despite my strong criticism, Her Only Living Son was perfectly entertaining—certainly better than Don’t Fall. They both just woefully paled to the first two segments; paled by a lot. Overall, I think this is an enjoyable anthology even if the quality of the segments is harshly divided.

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