Southbound (2016): Anthology Horror That Rocks (Review)

Film poster for Southbound

There is an long standing axiom that states “too may cooks spoil the broth”  and in most cases that is true. In anthology films like Southbound, however, this does not apply. This five tale offering rocks from the very first vignette to its thread tying finale.  Starring actors who will be familiar to some (and not to others) each performer has splendid bona fides and brings much to the film.

Anthology movies  have become popular over the last few years with the V/H/S trilogy making an impact on the horror community and the two ABCs of Death (I and II) providing another version of the same theme. (Although V/H/S is more in the vein of  “found footage” and “Death” is just bloody good fun and does not share the format of the former film franchise.)

The directors  for Southbound are:

(Sidenote: Radio Silence is a conglomeration of several directors under the “name” the list includes: Matt Bettinelli-OlpinJustin MartinezTyler GillettChad VillellaMatt Bettinelli-Olpin also worked on the script.)

While V/H/S is the main common denominator of this film, the format of Southbound leaves the found footage aspect at home and concentrates on the five stories and how they interact with each other.  It was a wise choice as found footage has been literally done to death.

The film  is set in the American desert of the southwest . Two men, both of whom have bloodied faces and appear to be near exhaustion are driving on a two lane blacktop. Something is hovering out in the desert. Black, long and  decidedly creepy looking. The two stop to clean up at a roadside gas station/diner/motel and find that leaving is a bit difficult.

At the motel three young women in a band leave for their next gig. Hungover and lost, their van breaks down in the middle of nowhere. A smiling couple stop by to offer the trio a lift. The desperate women accept and thus begins their odd tale of weirdness and mayhem.

A man is driving down the same stretch of desert road later that night. Proving that one should not text or talk on a cell phone whilst driving he strikes a young woman with his car. Injuring her badly, he calls 911. With the GPS not working on his phone the man is directed to the nearest town. His long bloody night is just beginning.

In a small town a woman is trying to get served in a bar. As the bartender insists that she close the door first,  a man armed with a shotgun bursts in.  He is looking for his sister. She has been missing for 13 years.  After a couple of shocking moments in the bar the man is taken to a diner and a tattoo parlor.

A mother, father and daughter are in the diner, they finish and go home. Once there three masked men invade their home.

Each segment ties to the the previous one and all are deliciously weird, creepy and downright scary in places.  There also appear to be a few homages mixed in with the proceedings. In the bar, it sounds like the creatures scream from John Carpenter’s The Thing has been used.  Keeping with the Carpenter theme, the use of one bass note as soundtrack has been adopted for certain scenes.

The cast includes veteran character actors like Maria Olsen (with 159 credits under her belt) working along side the directors (and writers) who helmed and scribed the film.  For the record the “crew” that acted in the film included:  Matt Bettinelli-Olpin playing Jack, Roxanne Benjamin as Claire and Susan Burke was cast as Betty. 

Southbound is fast, clever and quirky.  The masks worn in the family segment were of actors; an odd looking Nicholas Cage,  Clark Gable and a cartoonish Ronald Reagan.  Clever and quirky.

The practical effects were brilliant.  The injuries to Jack and later Lucas’ victim were beyond impressive and intermixed with the CG effects flawlessly.

The mark of any good film is that after watching it one immediately wants to watch the whole thing all over again. This multi-helmed (and written) gem falls squarely into that category of wanting the weirdness to continue.

Southbound is Indie Horror at its best. A full five stars for originality and it is a  film that leaves the viewer asking for “more please.”  It is available on Amazon Prime at the moment. Pop a bowl of popcorn,  settle in and  watch this one. If you loved V/H/S or ABCs you will love this one.

The ABCs of Death 2 Good Gruesome Anthology Fun Again

Poster for The ABCs of Death 2
Another gem on Netflix at the moment is The ABCs of Death 2, which is good gruesome fun even if it is overly long. Of course covering the entire alphabet will be time consuming and well worth the time spent watching this blackly comic horror anthology sequel to the first ABCs which came out in 2012.

In this collection of death via the letter, versus by the number, the stories move from the outrightly comic, B is for Badger had me almost hysterical with laughter as did the M is for Masticate, to the outrageous and bang on point, T is for Torture Porn for example. The Soska Twins, Jen and Sylvia, lay it on the line with their segment. So much so that their part of the anthology was banned in Germany. These two incredibly talented filmmakers were the ladies responsible for American Mary, See No Evil 2 and many more brilliant horror films.

Scene from The ABCs of Death 2
M is for Masticate…

The short films in each alphabetized death even included one that was so political that it hurt. The C is for Capital Punishment was ironic as well as blackly comic. One of the more disturbing attempts at trying to stop “killing killers” which while entertaining was also just a tad irritating.

Harking back to Jen and Sylvia, their “statement” about how women are treated in the industry and by some men in general was both amusing and worth cheering for. It makes one wonder just what made Germany censors so uncomfortable about the scene? The only thing missing from this exquisite little message is the delightful Katherine Isabelle who worked in both American Mary, as the lead, and See No Evil 2.

It is a shame that there are not more anthology horror films available in the US. There was a surge of these type movies from Hammer and this collection certainly has its fair share of English actors in a number to the short tales on offer. The Japanese collection of Tales of Terror are another excellent example of terror filled tales that range from the brilliant to eclectic and amuse as much as scare.

Still from The ABCs of Death 2
T is for Torture Porn

Horror lends itself incredibly well to the anthology format. The 2007 film Trick ‘r’ Treat was a splendid little multi-tale film with Halloween as its theme and The ABCs of Death may be that bit more graphic and, in some cases, disturbing to watch, K is for Knell is a good example of being just plain creepy to the extreme but still very entertaining. The only other recent anthology series is the VHS franchise which, despite its brilliant start, has lost steam.

There is a third in the series yet to come and one can only hope that Jen and Sylvia get another chance to do their bit. For fans of Horror anthologies this is great news and hopefully there will be more blackly comic and excruciating to watch short films on offer. This is a real 4 out of 5 stars for entertainment with the loss of a star for a couple of clunkers in the mix.

24 May 2015

Michael Knox-Smith