“TOM HOLLAND’S TWISTED TALES” (Web Series Review)
Is it normal nowadays to approach new work from the revered masters of horror with hopeful caution? Following the underwhelming contributions by former heavy hitters in recent times, it’s not uncommon for a horror fan to cling to hope that there is still more fight in those old dogs. And as new filmmakers attempt (and mostly fail) to bring their iconic properties to a new audience via reboots, reimaginings and remakes, there’s even a sense of desperation that these one-time kings of the macabre may be the last hope at bringing old-school horror back to its roots.
So in theory, TOM HOLLAND’S TWISTED TALES was an exciting venture, given that Holland would have creative freedom with a web series that he wouldn’t on a studio project. And the series definitely feels like Holland’s older works, at least in spirit. As a whole, the nine-episode series is a mixed bag, ranging from engaging, funny and splattery to cheesy, uninvolving and pointless. But at the very least, Holland’s imagination is on view in full force, which, even in the face of its hit-or-miss results, is impressive considering how creatively uninvolved many of his contemporaries have been.
Running at various lengths with assorted tones and subject matters, each one of Holland’s TWISTED TALES was written and directed by the man himself, who provides each episode with an introduction as well. And while FEARnet’s strategy of releasing all the episodes at once for binge consumption is probably the right model to pursue in a business sense, it also risks losing its audience right off the bat if an impression isn’t immediately made. Holland is still strong with his understanding of horror, even if his pitch-black humor is often the centerpiece of many of the episodes and some of his dialogue is nothing more than cringe-inducing exposition. Still, the strengths of each concept alone are worthy of applause and indicative of his still-active talents.
The strongest entry is the half-hour “Pizza Guy,” about a demon summoning, which is playful in its predictability and gives way to dark, dry humor with bloody punctuation. Other highlights include “To Hell With You,” a devil’s-deal tale starring former Holland collaborators Danielle Harris and William Forsythe that’s delightfully classic in its dialogue and narrative progression, and “Fred and his GPS,” starring AJ Bowen (YOU’RE NEXT) as a man on the run who can’t escape the presence of his deceased wife, which almost feels Hitchcockian in concept and shows Holland’s talents for grounding even the most ridiculous exchanges.
“Shockwave,” starring Angela Bettis and Amber Benson, contains possibly the most impressive acting and dialogue of the series, but is not nearly as imaginative, ending up more tame and predictable than its counterparts. “Cached” often relies too much on humor to be effective, which isn’t bad, but makes the piece feel atmospherically unbalanced and overall underwhelming. And “Mongo’s Magick Mirror” would come out on top if it wasn’t for the bothersome overacting, save for an always-likable Ray Wise and the impressively realized monsters.
Other episodes are conceptually grand, but unbearably flawed in their presentation. “Bite” is too compromised by its budget and suffers from a shockingly unfocused perspective, while “Boom” is a victim of dialogue that’s supposed to drive the tension but instead leaves the episode dead on arrival and predictable. Perhaps the greatest offender of the TWISTED TALES is “Vampire Dance”; even if Holland previously made one of the greatest examinations of fanged culture with FRIGHT NIGHT, “Vampire Dance” is lazy, esoteric and completely pointless.
However, a series that’s 75 percent classic Tom Holland is still miles beyond what many would have expected, and in that regard, TWISTED TALES is an exciting feat. It’s great to see the filmmaker back in action, crafting something passionate and enjoyable, and surprisingly invigorating, considering how the director’s old-fashioned sensibilities work well in the world of digital filmmaking and distribution.