Review of “Scary Tales”

“Scary Tales” is the latest film from Geno McGahee and X Posse Productions. It is a horror anthology that is comprised of four individual stories plus a fifth “wraparound” story. The film is based upon the following premise: four high school friends in a remote cabin tell scary stories in a “hey, I heard about this one guy across town…” kind of way. If you are a fan of 1970s and 1980s horror anthologies, you will notice that the style is very similar to those types of films. Actually, “Scary Tales” is a reshoot/reimagining of an earlier unreleased version of the film, by McGahee and X Posse.

The first tale is called “The Bully” and it is about a man who comes face-to-face with the consequences of his violent tendencies. The second is “Curiosity Kills”, which focuses on two cousins who are on the run after a family incident. They stumble upon a house in the woods that looks abandoned, but they discover it may still have occupants. The third is a genre-crossing story called “Majority Rules”. It’s a mix of crime caper and horror that’s about a poker game gone wrong. The fourth is “The Bridge” – my personal favorite –  which is about a small-town bridge that may or may not be cursed by an evil presence. The fifth and final tale is called “The Cabin”. This is the wraparound story that involves the four friends (from the beginning of the film) telling their scary stories.

There’s no sense beating around the bush with this one, so I’ll get right to the point: I really liked “Scary Tales” and I think that it is McGahee’s best film.

Since the film is about storytelling, I think that I’ll start with the writing. McGahee pulled out all the stops with his writing and crafted a refined, interesting, and airtight script. He even injects some social commentary into it by incorporating aspects of the current, lousy economy (job market, behind on mortgage, etc). Overall, he took a textured, multi-layered approach to writing each of the five tales and that is one of the main reasons why “Scary Tales” is his best work.

I’ll use “The Bridge” to give you an example of the excellent writing. One thing that I loved about “The Bridge” was the fact that McGahee not only wrote a story about a cursed bridge but he went deeper and actually wrote an entire mythology behind the cursed bridge (like the killer’s back story in a slasher film). There were period-consistent images of the bankers and the railroad tycoons who originally built the bridge and the footage had the look of a historical documentary. That was incredible and you don’t often see that quality and depth in independent productions.

Along with the stories, McGahee also employed finely-tuned dialogue throughout the film. The way that he wrote the dialogue left room for each actor to express emotion rather than just deliver lines. I have always liked McGahee’s dialogue – it is very intelligent and he says a lot – but there were times in the past where there was too much dialogue for some scenes. This time, McGahee took a pinpointed approach – said more with less words – and this allowed each scene to “breathe” a little. This, in turn, made the whole film seem more “real”, because it reflected how people really talk and interact with one another.

One nice example of the refined dialogue was in “Curiosity Kills”. There is a scene where the two cousins are talking by a campfire. Each has a line or two of dialogue, then there is a second or two of silence, then the dialogue picks up again. During that bit of silence, you see facial expressions and you, the viewer, get to digest what was said. This was very effective because it demonstrated a “natural” type of interaction (one person speaks – the other listens, thinks about what was said, and then responds). As a byproduct of the dialogue, I felt that “Curiosity Kills” contained some of the best acting in the film.

On the whole, “Scary Tales” has some of the best acting that I have seen in a McGahee film. I know that he worked with some new actors on this, who were all very good and added greatly to the film. However, I also want to give credit to his returning/veteran actors and note that they have really grown as performers. Again, I think that McGahee’s script helped with this because it seemed like all of the actors were very comfortable with the material. That, in turn, made performances seem genuine. Actually, the theme of the whole “Scary Tales” experience is just that: the actors, Geno McGahee, and the crew have become comfortable, confident, and have come-into-their-own.

Moving on to the technical aspects of “Scary Tales”, I thought that the cinematography and lighting were excellent. McGahee and crew have become very skilled at night shots; they are well-lit, they have clarity, yet they still demonstrate that natural beauty of the night. Overall, the camera was used very skillfully and really told the tale, visually (also a result of great editing). This is especially noticeable when two characters are interacting. The camera shifts from one to the other, exemplifying the interaction rather than the camera focusing on both at the same time.

The set design and locations were great, which also strengthened the visual element of the film. “The Bridge” was my favorite example of this, with the wonderful historical shots and the imposing look of the actual bridge.

The effects and make-up looked great and worked extremely well. There was also some CGI, but it was well-done and looked real. McGahee and crew know how to work with effects and seem to use the less-is-more approach when filming/editing an effects shot. The effect is clearly seen but the pull-away or cut preserves the “realness” of the effect.

Finally, the music added nice atmosphere and provided some pacing to the film. Actually, the film seemed “fuller” with a score, enhancing the overall “Scary Tales” experience. Yet another reason for the professional quality of this film.

After all of that, I really don’t have much criticism. Creatively, Scary Tales is excellent. The only problems I would mention are a few minor things, such as: the sound level occasionally is uneven (a few very loud door slams) and a line of dialogue here and there sounds a little forced. But, that’s it… and that’s just being nitpicky.

With “Scary Tales”, McGahee and crew have made it to the next level. For an independent company, the quality and craftsmanship is amazing. It is very impressive work and it doesn’t feel like five separate stories – it is a unified whole. Every shot has meaning and nothing is superfluous. While I was watching it, I kind of forgot that I was reviewing it. I was thoroughly enjoying it and was immersed in the experience. When you get right down to it, I think that’s the mark of a good film. When you don’t have to try to watch it. When it just pulls you in and you want to see what happens next.

Review and Quick Byte by Peter Syslo

4 Responses to “Review of “Scary Tales””

  1. […] Check out the Review Here! AKPC_IDS += "2323,";Popularity: unranked Geno July 12, 2012 Anthologies, Horror Reviews, Scary Tales, X Posse Productions anthology, geno mcgahee, horror, scary tales, tales Facebookfacebook TwitterTwitter stumbleuponstumbleupon del.icio.usdel.icio.us Buzz […]

  2. Great Review Peter! THANKS!

  3. Linda Riley Says:

    Congratulations Geno. That was a great review. If it wasn’t so scary I’d go see it! Linda & David

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