Nightfall Pictures' Anthology Horror Film 'Hi-Fear' Is Scary For All The Wrong Reasons

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Some movies are the cinematic equivalent of a Renaissance painting: Botticelli-esque masterpieces of style, form and skill that not only impress upon our senses the totality of their perfection, but that exert undeniable and overwhelming influence on the craft for generations to come. Others, however, are more akin to the crayon-scribbled pages of a toddler’s coloring book, crude, garish and ultimately disposable. With the advancement in digital technology it’s become easier than ever for hungry aspiring filmmakers to indulge their inner auteur, but for every Paranormal Activity that reaps millions of box office dollars and spawns franchises on MasterCard budgets, there are a thousand painful-to-watch time-wasters clogging streaming services at any given minute.

The finale to the ‘Hi-8’ trilogy of low-budget anthology films, Nightfall Pictures’ Hi-Fear, is one such misfire. Intended as an experiment in contrasting interpretations of modern short-form horror, its wraparound segment centers on comic book artist Natalie (the fetching Kristin Lorenz) being pressed into illustrative service for four stories based upon the theme of ‘your greatest fear’. What follows after is the first tale, ‘Losing It At The Devil’s Whorehouse’, in which a ribald buddy-movie set-up turns deadly when two frat guys inadvertently take their bashful virgin pal to a demonic brothel run by Aleister Crowley (Jack McCord). The next installment, ‘When Shadows Come Alive’, is a muddled mess of throwback hillbilly horror involving a killer pastor and crooked cop striking a devil’s bargain to hide the body of the not-so-holy man’s wife, only for them to run afoul of a group of mask-wearing, rock throwing redneck cannibals. ‘The Streets Are Watching’ focuses on a clutch of homeless street punks caught in the morally bankrupt nightmare of inner city life and their continuing run-ins with the mentally ill menace Krazy Killer Karl (Brandon E. Brooks), who believes he’s been divinely chosen to battle demons. The last section, ‘Day Out Of Days’, is undeniably the strongest; when college student Laura (Ingrid Dittmeier Hansen) accompanies her arrogant ladies’ man boyfriend (P.J. Brescia) to the remote cabin where he’s part of a film crew that includes his snippy ex, Alexis (Julie Anne Prescott), they fall prey to the apocalyptic happenings instigated by a glowing alien orb in the surrounding woods.

Unevenness is the great creative sin of Hi-Fear. While both ‘The Streets Are Watching’ and, in particular, ‘Day Out Of Days’, are compelling episodes with persuasive acting, characterization and directing, they follow two of the most inanely incompetent offerings in recent horror memory. ‘Losing It At The Devil’s Whorehouse’ pushes the word amateurish to Webster’s most extreme definition, with laughably pitiful performances and dollar-store special effects, but even this seems like Citizen Kane compared to its successor ‘When Shadows Come Alive’. Writer/director Tim Ritter’s installment is intended to emulate the scratchy-celluloid look and feel of sleazy ‘70’s grindhouse flicks like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre but translates instead as a schizophrenic disaster, starved of a lucid plot and with all the nuance of a TikTok video.

If that sounds like a harsh rebuke it is, but for good reason: there are horror productions that embrace intentional awfulness (Lloyd Kaufman of Troma Films has built a small empire on exploiting such endeavors), but what excludes Hi-Fear from joining the ranks of similar so-bad-they’re-good trashterpieces is the sad fact that at least some of the contributors were clearly giving their best: writer/directors Anthony Catanese (‘The Streets Are Watching’) and Brad Sykes (‘Day Out of Days’) poured heart and soul into their episodes, generating suspense and imbuing their characters with genuine personalities that the audience grows to care about. If ‘The Streets Are Watching’ has a flaw it lies in the story’s briefness and abrupt ending, but ‘Day Out Of Days’ is powerful enough to have been a feature in its own right, buttressed by standout performances from the three leads (actress Hansen is a future star in the making, mark the words), and an immersive, retro-‘80’s deep-synth score that may be the anthology’s sole saving graces. Sadly, such interest comes too little, too late, to save this sinking ship, and Hi-Fear instead earns only a dismal 1.5 (out of 5) on my Fang Scale. If you choose to brave these waters, spare yourself an hour of frustration and hopscotch over the first two segments. You’ve been warned.

1.5 / 5.0