The horror of short films is often the prospect of sitting through an evening of them. Deadhouse, who produce this series for Shudder, understand this and so have snuck their shorts out in stealth mode, masquerading as a six-part series with a meta narrative that’s really just so much guff.
You’ll soon forgive the subterfuge. Inheritors of the Australian indie horror tradition stretching back to the ‘Ozploitation’ movies of the 1970s, Deadhouse promote the work of new filmmakers in novel ways, even sending it to subscribers of their online newsletters. Here, they deliver stories that return to the twin obsessions of Aussie horror: fear of the wilderness and dull, suburban repression.
And so we begin in the unforgiving bleakness of the Outback, where two teenage sisters discover a bloodied, bewildered girl in the road as they drive home from a party. The gimmick here, in what’s arguably the best film of the bunch, is that the whole episode is filmed via dash cam in the vehicle. It sounds like it might be dull to watch; actually, the intimacy draws you in a little too closely.
Episode two, ‘No Pain No Gain’, is a bit too real for comfort, a story of online grooming based on the Blue Whale phenomenon, a 2016 Russian moral panic about a game that apparently persuaded teenagers to take their own lives. ‘A Tangled Web We Weave’, which follows, is the obligatory silly one – a fun morality tale about a creepy dude with a big secret and a bigger rat infestation.
The stories that do the heavy lifting on the linking narrative – dreary vlogger horror ‘The Staircase’ and ‘Mystery Box’ – are the ones that suffer the most, particularly the latter, which exists solely to parade visual references to the other stories and foster the impression of some kind of dark web goings-on going on.
Actually, the strongest linking factor here is the spirit of the filmmakers having a small budget, nothing to lose and everything to prove, which is often a good thing. The final episode proves the point. ‘My Empire Of Dirt’ concerns a doula and her client, one of those Hoarder Next Door types, who experiences horrible visions as she lays dying, and whose dog grows more and more excited at the prospect of eating her. Its gruesome climax offers yet more proof that practical effects can trump CGI for scare factor at a fraction of the price. As ever with anthology series, Deadhouse Dark is a mixed bag, but sometimes you have to take the tricks as well as the treats.
‘Deadhouse Dark’ is streaming on Shudder now