Dir. Kevin R. Phipps (2022)
Dr. Saville has found a new victim for his torture, killing the time between experiments by telling him three twisted stories with a moral to each one.
CAUTION: MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS
It feels like every anthology movie that I review, I start the review talking about how anthology movies aren't usually that great. I'll try to divert from that by instead discussing how indie horror anthologies are really usually not that great. It's rare to find an indie anthology with even one good story, and it often feels like the budget that they should've devoted to one story was instead expected to span all of the stories, resulting in incoherent storytelling and shorts that cut off before they even finish telling the story that they're supposed to tell. Another factor that most indie anthologies have in common is that the stories don't seem like they were every complete to begin with, tiny ramblings from filmmakers who never had a fully fleshed out idea for a movie and decided to cram all of their half-completed concepts into one movie, with each piece of the film suffering from the filmmaker who shouldn't be making a film until they actually had an entire film to make.
The best indie anthologies, however, are the same as good non-indie anthologies: they're composed of shorts, not mini-movies, self-contained stories that are coherent and complete. Whatever budget the film attains is allocated where it needs to go. If a short calls for gore, it has some. If it doesn't, they don't jam it in there just to say they spent the same amount on each one. Most importantly, the filmmaker behind the movie is a good storyteller, someone who comes in with complete stories and has a good idea of how to put those ideas onto film. Thankfully, Dr. Saville's Horror Show fits more into this category than the former, and while it definitely struggles at times and has its fair share of shortcomings, the stories within are compellingly and thoroughly told, and the practical effects within are actually pretty damn good.
The first short (outside of the wraparound with Dr. Saville, of course) is Consume, about a woman, Anna (Honda King), who is trying to lose weight for her wedding and decides to try an experimental procedure with an artificially-designed tapeworm that is programmed to eat the exact amount of food necessary to reach her goal weight. She quickly learns that the tapeworm is the one that's really in control, demanding more and more food to satisfy its cruel desires. And it's not always looking for pre-packaged noms, either, turning Anna into a ravenous flesh eater that isn't particularly picky about where she gets her meat. The story drags a little, proceeding slower than it really should, but the entire film is only made up of three stories, so it kinda is what it is. There's also some gnarly gore, stomach-churning practical effects that work phenomenally well and are some of the best-looking indie effects I've seen in years. It's a story filled with Cronenberg-esque body horror, and it's surprisingly effective for a first-reel shocker.
Our second story, It's Complicated, is about a man named Jake (Jedediah Jones) who refuses to settle in a relationship, resulting in a string of short-term liaisons in the search for someone with whom he can settle down. After breaking up with his most recent girlfriend, she gives him Aqua Pets, a take on the classic scam of Sea Monkeys, telling him that this is a relationship to which he can actually commit. The next morning, he finds that his Aqua Pet has broken free from its enclosure and has grown into a full-sized, goo-covered woman (Kristina Cat) who will test the limits of his refusal to commit. This story is viciously brutal, shocking as all hell, and a good example of why you should never fall in love with women who mysteriously grow from store-bought pets. While the gore in this one isn't quite as disgusting as the one in the first short, it's copious and savage to a level that indie horror rarely attains but also lighthearted and genuinely funny as well.
The final story in the film is Break, a devastating tale about a father who is forced to make a terrible choice when one of his children is turned into a zombie. After he offs his son, he is left with the task of feeding his surviving daughter on the scraps that are left after the apocalypse. It's a heartwarming tale of a parent's love for their child, even when everything is falling down around them. Trying to pretend like things are normal, even when things are clearly not, is one of the hardest things about being a parent, and yet its something that is so vitally important to protecting both the mental wellbeing and the physical safety of your children. However, there's a bit of a twist (that I won't give away here.) Suffice to say, it is actually absolutely brilliant, something that I did not even slightly see coming and a curveball that helps tie everything that came before together. Kudos
Overall, while Dr. Saville's Horror Show is impressively made and just all-around competent, it still very much rings as an indie film. It's a little less slick than a major-studio production, and it's small-scale storytelling but on an ambitious scale. The hour-forty runtime is a bit daunting for an indie flick, and as such each of the stories probably could've shaved off a few minutes to lower the overall time commitment, but they're also well done to the extent that it really doesn't hurt anything to have them as-is either. I read the glowing reviews on IMDb and thought for sure that they must've all been PR, but Dr. Saville is a surprisingly adept anthology that is strong all the way through (with the possible exception of the wraparound, which is subpar comparatively as they always are.) If you get a chance to check this one out, I highly recommend giving it a shot.
Who this movie is for: Horror anthology aficionados, Indie horror lovers, Madmen with messages
Bottom line: Dr. Saville's Horror Show is the rare example of indie horror anthology done right. In fact, it may be the best one I've ever seen, at least from filmmakers who aren't already well-known. Director Kevin Phipps is incredibly talented in making such a diverse film, and he's a name to watch out for in the future. While it may not stand up to the more well-known, higher-budget anthologies that we all know and love, it's well-done, surprisingly gory, and genuinely entertaining throughout. I hope that this one gets some good distribution, because it's one that horror fans are going to love. Check this one out if you get the chance.