19th Dec2017

‘Charlotte’ Review

by Phil Wheat

Stars: Jessi Burkette, Kimberly Atkinson, Jen Dede, Nick Holmes, Roma Maffia, Shelley Wenk, Casey Turner, Andrew Lyndaker, Dennis J. Healy, Steve Brewster, Brock Powell, Brad Meehan, Katherine McNamara, Andrea Strickler, Jennifer Plas, Suzanne Quast, Franco Castan, Johnny Lee, Kayla Madison, Sarah Agor, Tamara Glynn, Leslie Easterbrook, Renae Gererlings, Chris Lazzaro, Morgan Collar | Written by Michelle Davidson, Anthony Fanelli, J. Andrew Lee, Calvin Main, Corey Norman, Haley Norman, John Sylvain | Directed by Colin Campbell, John Edward Lee, Calvin Main, Corey Norman, Patrick Rea, April Wright

charlotte-poster

Essentially a selection of short films intertwined with a wraparound to add a frame of reference, a la Zombieworld and All Hallows Eve 2, Charlotte is a series a vignettes of vary lengths and quality, a number of which come from director Patrick Rea, whose shorts also appear in the recently-reviewed anthology Monster X. Given that the shorts were not made specifically for an anthology, there are some issues with how each relates to the other and, at times, the overall film does feel disjointed. However the good far outweighs the bad, with the biggest issue being a lack of context to some of the stories rather than anything production-wise, etc.

Charlotte opens with a babysitter held captive by a doll, the titular Charlotte (who looks NOTHING like the doll in the artwork may I add), who then subjects the babysitter to various short films on television, each tale seemingly taking its toll on her… Each time the film returns to the wraparound the babysitter has succumbed to more injuries, including having her limbs stitched up and her mouth sewn shut!

In the first tale, two sisters argue over a doll as kids – painting out the eyes and tearing off one leg, then in later life one sister succumbs to the same injuries as the doll from their past: going blind and losing a leg. Then it all kicks off: a visit to a voodoo priestess sees one of the sisters take her “share” from the other… and then a THIRD sister shows up to take vengeance! This first story is very much in. the vein of Hammer/Amicus/Tigon anthology stories – with the same, rather nasty streak, of “you get what you deserve” comeuppance that anthologies like Tales That Witness Madness used to feature.

Tale two is set on Halloween as a couple playing chess are interrupted by a trick or treater who leaves her purse behind. When the husband goes missing after trying to return it she heads to the same address to find out what happened. What she discovers is a store filled with horrors, where no-one is who they seem… The third story feels very much like an 80s tale brought into the new millenium – complete with a smattering of gore (something which doesn not feature much elsewhere in Charlotte) and creature effects that look like something out of a Claudio Fragasso movie! This short sees a babysitter tell her charge the story of Tic-Tac the troll, a monster who lives in the closet of tickles the exposed feet of children during the night. And of you’re not ticklish? He takes your feet! Yeah, probably not the best story to tell a small child before going to bed – especially when it turns out the story is true! Of course there’s a twist in this tale and it’s not just kids who are susceptible to Tic-Tac’s wrath.

Story number four sees a lonely, disturbed man perform a demonic ritual in the door of a darkened room in his house – and when the demons do come, he offers them a piece of himself in return for their company. After what is one of the shortest and weakest stories in the film, we move swiftly into the fifth segment – a man visited by a couple of “Adventure Girls” (girl scouts by another name) selling cookies who refuse to take no for an answer. Literally. Disturbing him hour after hour, requesting he buys their cookies in more and more cute, yet underlying malicious ways. Only these are no ordinary girl scouts; and their not alone in their quest to sell people delicious baked goods and candy bars. It’s a tale that reminded me a lot of the “I want my two dollars” kid from Better Off Dead – only if he wanted to kill for his money!

The sixth segment in this anthology, and easily the strongest – both in terms of story and theme – takes its cue from the likes of Saw and the revenge movies of the 70s and 80s and sees a woman, Jennifer, trapped in a basement with Arnold; who, it turns out, is a child-raping murderer. Jennifer’s child in fact. And what does their mysterious captor want? For Jennifer to take her revenge on Arnold right there in the basement and get final closure on her loss. Whilst this is the strongest of all the shorts in Charlotte this story also feels very much out of place – most of the rest of the vignettes have an air of fun about them, whereas this tale is grim. Very grim.

It’s back to bratty kids for the seventh tale and another doll. This time it’s Samantha, the hottest doll on the market, which is mysteriously delivered to the home of an obnoxious kid whose mother is more interested in her new boyfriend than her child. Big mistake! We all know what dolls do to bad parents right? Even moreso to those that treat the dolls with contempt…We’ve seen this story before and it never ends well for the grown ups. Though I could have done with some more of Samantha vengeance that the brief jump scare we finally got.

The last segment features another kid, Brianna, a horror-film loving pre-teen sneak into a private cinema screening. Only there seems to be something wrong with the patrons at this cinema – they craving meat and acting more vicious than normal. Turns out this is a werewolf-only showing! However Brianna is hiding a scret of her own, and a note from her dad… Easily the funnest segment of Charlotte, this is the kind of twisted tale that would have suited Tales From the Crypt to a tee – you think things are going to end badly for our heroine, but it turns out she’s more scary than her would-be attackers! Yes, it’s a well-worn trope but the cast make a meal out of the story, and the effects work is second-to-none. Plus this tale features Leslie Easterbrook (Police Academy) so what’s not to love?

Thankfully each story within Charlotte is just long enough to tell its tale well, whilst at the same time short enough to maintain a level of short, sharp shock that only benefits each segment. None of the stories within Charlotte outstay their welcome, in fact it’s quite the opposite – as I said in the intro, some of the segments could have been extended to provide extra depth to the stories the present. Even the wraparound could do with some more time and more context; other than torturing a babysitter, there’s no rhyme or reason for Charlotte’s behaviour. Even less so when the end coda features an all-new babysitter and the former babysitter now replacing Charlotte as the doll.

This trend for tying together short films that otherwise would go unseen and unappreciated in a larger portmanteau is a much-welcome new trend in the genre. And, if you can overlook the small issues, you’ll find some fantastic, twist-filled, scary stories within this latest iteration, making Charlotte well-worth any horror fans time.

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