STUDIO: Lionsgate
MSRP: $16.99
RUNNING TIME: 104 minutes
• Commentary
• Director’s cut: “Stanley’s Girlfriend”
• Extended cut: “The Girl with the Golden Breasts”
• Deleted Scenes
• Trailers


The Pitch

If Creepshow is fillet mignon, then Trapped Ashes is a hot dog with a vein in it.

Dick Miller’s sole appearance in the film.  He does this mysterious ‘shifty eyes’
thing, and then that’s it- he’s never heard from again.  He’s like Bigfoot.

The Humans

Jayce Bartok, Rachel Veltri, Henry Gibson, Lara Harris, Dick Miller, Winston Rekert, Michelle Pelletier, John Saxon

The Nutshell

Submitted for your consideration:  Seven strangers meet on a deserted Hollywood backlot for an after-hours V.I.P. tour, including the bimbo bombshell (Veltri), the cosmopolitan wife (Harris), the work-obsessed husband (Lowell), the brooding goth girl (Pelletier), and the once famous and now languishing director (John Saxon).  Led by a somehow familiar tour guide (Henry Gibson!), they find themselves trapped in a haunted mansion.  One by one, the dark secrets of each stranger are revealed.  Directors Joe Dante and Ken Russell direct segments of Dennis Bartok’s anthology horror effort.  Dick Miller, who apparently signed a blood oath with Dante, appears for three seconds.

Doctor Harper never lived down the time he accidentally installed a half-eaten
Croissanwich instead of a saline implant.

The Lowdown

It’s clear that writer Dennis Bartok had his heart in the right place.  Trapped Ashes references Bava’s Black Sunday, and does so much Amicus quoting that Peter Cushing should have been credited posthumously.  Good anthology horror films are priceless, so it’s great to see a new attempt hit shelves.

That said, anthology horror is deader than a nori-infused Ted Danson.  A decent anthology film hasn’t been released in decades, and in light of the seemingly doomed status of Dougherty’s Trick ‘r Treat, it appears that things aren’t getting better any time soon.  Trapped Ashes doesn’t do much to reverse the tide of bad news for the subgenre.  It’s a minor miracle that Bartok got Joe Dante and Ken Russell to play along, because Ashes‘ writing is zany at best and inept at worst; it’s as if he set out to make the most inconsequential horror anthology ever.

Michelle: “Hey, our tour guide looks familiar… wasn’t he in The Burbs?”
Todd: “Shush, I think he heard you!”

The stories are woven together by an all encompassing supervignette, much like every other anthology film since Tales from the Crypt.  A malevolent studio backlot house traps the featured victims, forcing each of them to tell their stories at ghostpoint.  We’re given a literal horror roundtable in the foyer of the mansion, beginning with Russell’s The Girl With the Golden Breasts.  A gory, shocking, and sometimes hilarious start to the anthology, Breasts features a pair of carnivorous implants and an underground society of transvestite plastic surgeons, and is really the only segment worth watching.  Had it been included in a better anthology film- say, Romero’s Creepshow– it could have fulfilled the role of the “goofy” segment, much like The Lonesome Death of Jordy Verrill, but it still would have been the worst of the bunch. 

The Jibaku segment, an anime-influenced attempt at J-horror, probably ranks as the second best in the group.  A workaholic businessman takes his high strung wife to Japan, where they encounter amorous zombie monks and Buddhist hellbeasts.  It’s not nearly as interesting as it sounds, but the anime tentacles and zombie effects are a nice addition; what hamstrings this segment (as well as each subsequent section) are the poorly written characters.  Neither the husband nor the wife have a single empathetic trait, so it doesn’t matter who winds up as demon food.

Stanley’s Girlfriend, on the other hand, is the anthological equivalent of a rejected Melrose Place episode.  It’s a riff on Stanley Kubrick’s early film exploits, and features Leo (the great John Saxon) as a struggling director in 1950’s Hollywood who finds himself ensnared in a love triangle with Stanley and his unusually bitey girlfriend.  It’s easily the most inconsequential vampire story ever written, as almost nothing happens in the full twenty minutes of the segment.  The vampire seduces Stanley, and Stanley leaves. The vampire seduces Leo, and the vampire leaves.  Stanley finds out decades later that the woman was a vampire.  That’s it.  As if fucking vampire stories weren’t boring enough.  Thanks for nothing, director Monte Hellman!

My Mission Statement: To Make the Awesomest Possible Photoshops of Your Baby’s Sonogram.
(This is less of a caption and more of an advertisement.)

Ashes concludes with My Twin, The Worm, which follows Goth girl (played by a CG fetus for most of the segment) and her pet tapeworm.  The tapeworm stars as the fetus-goth’s uterine roommate, and while this might have good potential for a funny mismatch sitcom on NBC, it fails miserably in AshesTwin tries hard to tap into fears of childbirth and bodily invasion, but the vignette itself favors bad CG and mood lighting over story and character.  It’s another pointless non-story with a left field denouement that left me confused, rather than disturbed.  There’s a nugget of a good idea in this segment, but it’s buried in nonsense.

Joe Dante’s overarching vignette concludes with the storytellers revealing the twist ending to each of their stories.  If you’ve ever seen an episode of The Twilight Zone, or even a mediocre anthology film like Tales from the Darkside, these endings will seem entirely obvious. 

In the end, it feels like Bartok didn’t fully understand what made his inspirations, like Bava’s films or the Amicus anthologies, so great.  The vignettes are layered with mood, but none of Ashes‘ stories are good enough to capitalize on it.  Thanks to competent directing and acting, the segments look and sound great; unfortunately, the writing cripples nearly every segment, making this even more of a missed opportunity.  Worst of all, with the exception of The Girl with the Golden Breasts, there’s a distinct lack of fun or levity in the vignettes, which really hurts this film.

Hey, at least Dick Miller’s getting some work. 

The Package

transfer looks good, and the sound is a robust Dolby 3/2.1.  Bonus
features include trailers, a director’s cut of Stanley’s Girlfriend, an original cut of Girl with the Golden Breasts, and a wide array of deleted scenes. It’s a surprisingly ample set of bonus features for a direct to DVD release. 

Never stray from the Dagobah tour group.

4 out of 10