VOLUMES OF BLOOD
Firstly I’d just like say thanks to Writer and Director, P.J Starks for sending me the hard copy, screener for a new Horror Anthology film called “Volumes Of Blood”. P.J is just one of five directors, and three writers that played a part in making Volumes Of Blood. He also has a part (playing himself) in the last act of the film. Volumes Of Blood tells the story of a sociology student, who gathers a group of his friends at the local library on Halloween night. He’s been assigned the task of creating a new urban legend, so the group of 4 each tell their best story. Tyler (Jason Crowe) is the first to tell a story. His is about Lilly, a young student cramming research in late one night at the library. After having some difficulty focusing on her work, she’s approached by a charming stranger who offers her a mysterious energy drink that has surprising results. Kaelin (Roni Jonah) the girl in the foursome, tells a paranormal based story. What starts out as a normal night for a young librarian, turns out to be anything but after experiencing a classic haunting. Reece (Garrett Smith), is the movie buff of the group who tells a tale of a young film student named Sidney, played by Paige Ward (yes one of the several Scream references haha). Sidney has been given permission to work late in the library, and after a surprise visit by her boyfriend (No his name isn’t Billy…) she’s left alone to fend off a mysterious figure. Lastly Bryan (Gerrimy Keiffer) who is responsible for the groups gathering, tells the tale of Paige (Kristine Farley), a young librarian dealing with the guilt of her late, ex-boyfriend Derek (Kevin Roach) having committed suicide. A book of the devil comes into play and she must face her own demons. The film also stars Jim O’Rear, Jakob Bilinski and P.J Starks.
Over the last decade or so, particularly the last four or five years there’s been an increasing number of Anthology films and not just within the Horror genre. Most notably though are the likes of “V/H/S” and “The ABC’s Of Death”. To a lesser known extent “Scary Or Die” and “Amusement” are a couple of others, as well as the more recent “Fun Size Horror” which I reviewed a while back. “Pawn Shop Chronicles” is a non horror related Anthology worth mentioning. It’s a great platform with which independent filmmakers, and even first timers can gain exposure, by combining their work with other similar projects to get a wider release. From the minute Volumes Of Blood begins, it’s clear it was conceptualized by fans of the genre for fans of the genre. It’s very self-aware and showcases that through the various characters, and their countless pop culture references. “Sidney” and “Mr Loomis” are just a couple of the many nods to the genre.
I was surprised with how loud and clear the audio levels were here. In low-budget film making, that’s often one facet that inexperienced crew get wrong. The 80’s synth orientated score was a nice touch, most effective during the telling of the second story. Majority of the acting was only average, but given the limited experience of nearly everyone involved you’d be a fool to expect a lot more. I thought the chemistry between Paige and Derek in the last segment worked the best. Although whoever picked Kristine’s wardrobe, appears to be stuck in the 50’s, she looked like something out of Bewitched (not sure what happened there). It’s Kevin Roach that bought an intensity to the Derek character that other parts of the film lacked. It was honest and raw, reminding me of a particular time loop episode on TV’s “Buffy The Vampire Slayer”. Everybody does the required amount, but Kevin’s performance that stood out for me.
I wasn’t really sure how to take this story. When you consider the amount of comedy structured into the dialogue of what’s mostly a serious screenplay, it ends up a bit of a cluster. Sidney’s boyfriend, that isn’t Billy from the third part of the film, supplies us with a few laughs. His over the top rendition of a Bruno Mars song (at least I think it is) in a small passive library crowd was funny. Starks playing himself is the funniest part of the movie. His comedic timing is gold, and his so oblivious to his own egotistical nature, making for some truly entertaining moments with the people around him. There was definitely a conscious effort by those involved here, to discuss and poke fun of low-budget film making as well as those who think they are revolutionizing the industry somehow (haha). The action sequences and effects are decent, but their scattered throughout the film. Nothing lasts that long, or leaves a lasting impression. Saying that though, I enjoyed that all the blood and gore was done practically, unfortunately the best stuff doesn’t hit home until the last act. The opening kill is a big one, and honestly I thought that was going to pave the way for a lot more to come. I got a bit, but not as much as I was hoping for. Some of this is just personal preference, and maybe they are money related issues. I’m not sure what the overall budget for this one was. I did notice that some of the really cool gags (like a head explosion), depicted the aftermath but didn’t show the moment, so maybe that’s why?
Majority of my reservations when it comes to Volumes Of Blood, fall with technical issues as well as a bit of creative license. At the same time, if you have a certain vision and you execute that vision then you’ve done all you can do. Obviously it’s just that people each want to see something different making it impossible to please everyone. Stylistically each of the pieces of this horror pie are too much the same. There’s little to no variation in lighting, shot choices or sound effects. For example, the second segment is shot in black and white, and it seems to be for no other reason than it looks good. Dustin Mill’s “Applecart” had a 1920’s noir feel about it so the use of black and white was warranted. Here, that decision didn’t fit the tone of the film at all and in turn doesn’t highlight any variance it may have gone for. Personally I think part of the problem lies with having the library as the core setting for these stories. In doing that you kill any opportunity for diversity or a mixture of scenes, alternatively totally different central points might have lent themselves to a series of locations.
I can deal with some of the immature dialogue within the banter, but when it comes at the cost of the suspense it’s disappointing. Wes Craven’s “Scream” was truly one of a kind in the way of his ability to balance dark comedy and suspense. I don’t think you’ll ever see another movie that’s able to depict that the same way. Minus a couple of jumpy moments, Volumes doesn’t generate much suspense. If you’ve delivered paranormal, slasher and dark comedy based “shorts” (for lack of a better word), there should be some tension in that, but alas. The lighting throughout most of the film is also an issue. Once again it’s about equating mood with the story your trying tell. Nearly everything we see, or in this case don’t see is covered in shadow. Even when nothing of any real importance is happening we can’t see a lot, the final act is the one that comes to mind. During the scenes with the Irish Librarian and Paige, they take the time to set up Paige’s character arc and the struggle she is going through. For some unknown reason though the conversation takes place in the dark. Now that would be okay if they were getting ready to close up, but said Irishman leaves and then the very next sequence all the lights in the place are on. I can’t help but think nobody knew exactly what the right balance of light was.
The big thing that made Volumes Of Blood feel like a bit of a chore to sit through, was a lot of the framing and camera work. The still shots are good and some of the gentle panning works well. To its detriment though, there’s a lot of pointless rotating camera work to help cover what each of the core group of four is saying. The problem with it is that they aren’t crucial to the story. so there’s no need to place emphasis on that. In other scenes they chat but half of them are in frame and the other half are not. Simpler is often the best way, stick with basic shots. We aren’t going to see these characters 90 percent of the time because they are relaying the stories we are watching, so you’re not going to lose anything. The chase sequences in both the third and fourth segments are rapid and amateurish, and probably a big part of the reason the suspense doesn’t shine though. Even when things are bought back to a more poised tempo, the shots are often just repeated. Combine that with 20 different frames, being cut together in the space of a minute and you get something a lot harder to watch than it should be.
I set the bar high when it comes to Anthology’s because often they aren’t even. The vast difference between the good and the bad is often their downfall. I was hoping to get a little more out of Volumes Of Blood than I did. Saying that, it’s self-aware homage orientated nature, mixed with patches of comedy and well executed blood and gore make it mostly a fun time.The acting is commendable and Roach gives a damn good performance. The technical aspects are the main hindrance here, and needed to be better thought out. Things like camera work and lighting in particular, can make or break any film, even more so when your working in this genre. I couldn’t get right behind this one, being kept at bay by a lack of suspense and diversity. One solitary place to look at for 90 minutes gets a little tedious and one would think this could benefit from a location change. Once again, I’d just like to say thanks to P.J Starks he saw to me immediately about checking this film out and I’m extremely appreciative of that. Keep an eye out for the film it will be coming out soon!
My rating for “Volumes Of Blood” is 5.5/10