Trapped Ashes (2006)
On the Ultra Studios backlot, seven Hollywood tourists take in the VIP tour, guided by a kindly senior citizen (Henry Gibson, The ’Burbs). Chief among the sites is the Psycho-esque house from the Psycho-esque film Hysteria; they are not supposed to enter, but cajole the poor old man into going inside anyway. Guess that rule wasn’t just for show, because, like a Roach Motel, they are unable to exit. In order to do so, each has to share his or her personal story of struggle, most of which are wonderfully sick and twisted.
That’s the structure of Trapped Ashes, a five-director homage to the Amicus-style horror anthology film that thrived in the late 1960s and early ’70s: Tales from the Crypt, Asylum, Torture Garden, et al. It’s the kind of movie that often fails to work in contemporary times because most modern creatives don’ t know how to approach it; this one does, even if its ambitions often are felled by budget.
Ashes’ kickoff story is both its best and most insane. Would you — could you — expect anything less from a title like “The Girl with Golden Breasts” in the hands of Ken Russell, the crazed director of The Lair of the White Worm? That “girl” is Phoebe (American Pie Presents Band Camp’s Rachel Veltri, as brave as she is beautiful), a wannabe actress who scores fewer auditions now that she’s passed her early 20s. In desperation, she augments her chest to get parts. Too bad her implants — “reprocessed human tissue … from cadavers,” explains the doc — are vampiric, causing her nipples to sprout teeth and bite both sexual partners and fellow performers. On the plus side, her new nips are able to drink blood from straws!
The rest of the film is a downhill slope, with each subsequent segment just a little less enjoyable than the one before it. From Friday the 13th franchise father Sean S. Cunningham, “Jibaku” finds an American woman (Lara Harris, No Man’s Land) cheating on her husband while they attend an architecture conference in Japan. Her lover? A perverse spirit of a monk or something like that who lives in a vaginal cave, I think. Some minimally animated scenes lend this story some foreign flavor before getting to the inevitable appearance of tentacles.
Next is the interesting “Stanley’s Girlfriend,” from Two-Lane Blacktop helmer Monte Hellman. As told by John Saxon (From Dusk Till Dawn), it details an ill-fated love triangle between his younger self, a director friend who is(n’t) Stanley Kubrick (Tygh Runyan, Snakes on a Plane) and Stanley’s gorgeous but mysterious companion (Amelia Cooke, Species III). I’m just unsure what place it has in a horror film. Finally, marking the directing debut of Oscar-winning Matrix SFX artist John Gaeta is “My Twin, the Worm,” in which a woman’s womb plays host to a baby girl and a tapeworm. Because this bit is not even close to intriguing as it sounds, boredom accentuates its production values of Red Shoe Diaries or any other generic, erotica-themed cable TV series.
Gremlins great Joe Dante directs the wraparound story, which accounts for Gibson getting such a choice role, not to mention the requisite Dick Miller cameo. Despite having such a large number of cooks, Trapped Ashes feels like a unified effort and has a lot of style for a straight-to-video effort. With an aim to disturb rather than scare, the movie offers the most rewards — however minuscule and diminishing — to those well-versed in numerous subgenres, from EC Comics to J-horror. All others will be left confuddled. —Rod Lott