The Field Guide to Evil
Film anthologies of any kind are difficult undertakings, and though horror is among the most popular genres to receive such treatments, it also seems to produce the most mixed results.
Tasked with delivering a jolt within a limited timeframe that will stick with viewers, the international filmmakers whose works make up The Field Guide to Evil rarely achieve that goal, offering more corny and schlocky moments than bursts of innovative terror.
The collection of eight short films from around the world that explore folklore or legends specific to each source country offer scattered memorable imagery, namely the haunting green goblin of Greece’s “What Ever Happened to Panagas the Pagan?”
More often than not, however, the works feature an over-reliance on dreams — a fitting choice, seeing as many of the stories occur in times of elevated superstition when omens were taken as close to gospel, though a storytelling crutch nonetheless.
Also in the mix are several filmmakers who’ve had features adored by horror fans, and whose gifts again generally stand out here. Creepy opener “The Sinful Women of Hollfall” comes from the Austrian duo Severin Fiala and Veronika Franz — whose Goodnight Mommy earned its hype — and their tale of lust and guilt in sumptuous forests sets a high bar that’s never quite cleared.
Among the other name brands, “The Kindler and the Virgin” from Poland’s Agnieszka Smoczynska features a similar visual acumen and gift with freaky body props as her Little Mermaid fantasia, The Lure, as well as its wonky storytelling. However, Peter Strickland’s silent color short “Cobbler’s Lot,” a violent take on “The Princesses’ Curse,” is a nicely accessible tale of moody darkness after the nothing nothingness of the director’s The Duke of Burgundy.
Elsewhere, such details as the unintentionally laughable special effects of Calvin Reeder’s "The Melon Heads” significantly dilute the anthology’s overall prowess, making it a tough sell as a single product. While suffering through the weak links helps one appreciate the success stories, waiting for the standouts to be available for individual viewing is unfortunately the recommended way to go.
Grade: C-minus. Not rated, but with adult themes, language, violence, and nudity. Starts March 29 at Grail Moviehouse
(Photo: Archstone Distribution)