Trapped Ashes Sean Cunningham, Joe Dante, John Gaeta, Monte Hellman, Ken Russell

A group of strangers are invited to tour an old Ultra Studios film set, the House of Horrors, with an eccentric guide (Henry Gibson). They find themselves trapped on a film set and must share their most chilling stories in order to escape. These stories involve vampire women, long-dead monks, fiendish breast augmentations and a tapeworm pregnancy.

The anthology horror film has not vanished entirely. Recently, the second entry in the 3 Extremes series united Asian horror directors Fruit Chan, Chan-Wook Park and Takashi Miike. Tales from the Crypt turned the stateside anthology horror film into television and after failed revivals of The Outer Limits and The Twilight Zone, settled comfortably into Masters of Horror. One-director anthologies like Creepshow and Nightmares, or multi-director anthologies like Two Evil Eyes (Argento and Romero do Poe) seemed to fade away, extended slashers eclipsing compact, EC-styled cautionary tales. This attempt at a revival has more than its share of faults, the most obvious in its thematically incoherent text and its arrangement of incompatible filmmakers.

Themes of sexual and emotional dependency (or lack thereof) have little to do with the framing device and at times, are present only as some kind of trope. Dante’s linking segments have many of his charms, notably the casting of Gibson and Dick Miller, as well as the self-reflexive celluloid playground set, but again, these elements lack a connection with the rest of the material.

Writer Dennis Bartok left a prestigious position as programming director of the American Cinematheque in order to produce this anthology. This is his project and whatever faults may be here should not be pinned on his chosen directors. What can be said is that he has exquisite taste in filmmakers and that this is a collection of artists with proven commercial talent, but unfortunately, that talent has produced a mixed bag of interests. Aside from noting them as "cult” audiences (whatever that really means), the audiences of Monte Hellman and Ken Russell are not shared as the audiences of Dario Argento and George A. Romero are. Those who fondly remember Nightmares, Creepshow, Torture Garden, Body Bags, Cat’s Eye and the like at best should accept Trapped Ashes as an affectionate pageant, no memorial, with hopes for a better follow-up. (Trapped Ashes LLC)