Greetings, readers. I received this film as a screener for Radiation-Scarred Reviews, the other place where my writing can be found, and Wes asked me to cover it for The Blood Sprayer as well. Now, as I reiterate damn near every article, I’m a man for crap cinema. Crap, cheese, schlock, kitsch, camp, B…I’m a man who has watched MANOS, THE HANDS OF FATE, more than once, without Joel and the Bots commenting. WEASELS RIP MY FLESH, ATOM AGE VAMPIRE, NIGHT OF THE BLOODY APES, THE ROBOT VERSUS THE AZTEC MUMMY…I pride myself, deeply, on being able to sit through anything. No matter how “bad” a film may be, I will see it through to the bitter end. Sometimes, this is truly a curse upon my soul. SCARLET FRY’S NIGHTMARE ALLEY, however, shook me to my very core, and made me take a long, hard look into my soul, searching for an answer to the question, “Why do I do this to myself?”
Clocking in at 88 minutes, NIGHTMARE ALLEY is an anthology film in the vein of CREEPSHOW or TRICK ‘R TREAT. However, unlike these films, NIGHTMARE ALLEY has seven (eight, counting the pre-credit skit of a homeless man giving a comic book to ungrateful teenagers in exchange for a cigarette) short tales of terror and imagination. Terror and imagination? Mindless gore and hack jokes born from the depths of a marijuana binge, I mean. And don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against mindless gore. But it can’t carry a film like this.
How does it cram eight story vignettes AND wrap-around segments featuring a Bargain Basement Caligari spouting one-liners rejected by the Cryptkeeper? By keeping every story under 10 minutes (and two of them under 5!) and sacrificing anything resembling narrative coherence and character development. Each “story” has the depth and wit of a first-season episode of South Park.
However, I do try to maintain a positive outlook on films, and so I do have one or two nice things to say.
The second segment, “Rebellion,” is the story of a man who buys a toy rat at a Halloween close-out store, despite the clerk’s warning of the rubber rodent’s Satanic history. When the man gets the rat home, it begins to speak to him, forcing him to kidnap and murder young women so that the rat may feast on their souls. With each soul consumed, the rat grows larger, intent on reaching a size that will allow it to conquer the world. I actually enjoyed this segment, and it marked the only time I laughed during the entire film. The rat was voiced in a manner reminiscent of the Imp in SORORITY BABES IN THE SLIMEBALL BOWL-O-RAMA, one of my all-time favorite cheeseball films, and the dialogue between the man and the clerk is actually decently written.
If I had to say one thing to the people behind SCARLET FRY’S NIGHTMARE ALLEY, it would be this: Focus! NIGHTMARE ALLEY could have been a much, much stronger, more enjoyable film if they’d concentrated on, say, four stories instead of forcing in eight. Take just four stories, write them out coherently, and give the characters some dimension beyond “fat guy wearing nothing but daisy dukes” and “guy with mustache.” That would lift this film out of the muck it’s made for itself, and maybe make it genuinely worth watching. There’s been some really great films to come out of independent horror filmmakers, but as it stands, SCARLET FRY’S NIGHTMARE ALLEY is not one of them.
I’m left to wonder…there’s a quote on the cover from Herschell Gordon Lewis, the man behind TWO THOUSAND MANIACS, BLOOD FEAST, and COLOR ME BLOOD RED. Was he taken out of context?