Hellarious (2019)

Rating: C+

Dir: Jason Tostevin and others
Star: Ray Bouchard, Kirk C. Johnson, Donna Pieroni, Mary Manofsky

Another day, another horror anthology. It must be Tuesday. What this one offers is a particular concentration on the horror-comedy side of things, with all of the entries here played more or less tongue in cheek. Though in terms of actual humour, the results are every bit as variable as any straightforward horror collection. Of the seven parts, a couple are very good, a couple are duds as both horror and comedy, and the others lie somewhere on the spectrum in between. I will say, the humour certainly is concentrated heavily towards the broad. As in, you’d better have a high tolerance for shouting. It feels as if nobody here has a volume setting that can go below about an eight.

We start strong, with a supermarket about to close for the night. Grizzled veteran Hale (Bouchard) has to lead resistance against an entirely unexpected threat. I can’t even give the segment’s title, as it spoils the delightful surprise. But it’s glorious. Next up is Horrific, which is one man yelling at a chupacabra. Okay. We then continue down to the collection’s low point, with ‘Til Death, featuring more shouting, domestic abuse and a general sense of self-loathing. Hilarious. Things rebound with Death Metal. Not much story here, past a Satanic guitar. But as a showreel of gory special effects work (top), it nails things, and (the complete opposite of ‘Til Death) is terse to the point you wish it had gone longer.

Lunch Ladies has perhaps the best performances, with Pieroni and Manofsky as put-open school employees obsessed with Mr. J. Depp, who draw inspiration from one particular Johnny vehicle. You’ll probably be able to work out which one before it gets there, yet it’s still fun to watch things unfold. Next is Bitten, which answers the question of what happens if a werewolf bites a dog. [This seemed very familiar, and we eventually figured out it was also part of the Etheria collection of shorts] Finally, there’s another entry by the director of ‘Til Death… fortunately, Born Again is not terrible. It’s basically one joke, about Satanists who don’t get quite the summoning they wanted. But it’s an adequately amusing joke.

I guess my main takeaway is how personal humour is. I mean, I read another review which called ‘Til Death “comedic gold”. More like comedic balsa, I would venture to suggest, but of course, that’s just my opinion. Horror-comedy is always a tricky balance to strike, and that’s where I feel that unnameable opening segment is the strongest. It’s a ludicrous idea, but executed completely straight, and that’s why it works in both genres. Any sense of camp, or winking at the audience would totally defang it. The cast don’t, and once they get past the initial shock, it becomes a pure battle for survival. Though I will say, this particular threat could be defeated in a fashion familiar to fans of seventies TV. Maybe I’ll eventually stop wanting to call this anthology Hellacious too…