Now this is much more along the lines of what an anthology should be used for. Eight stories from eight directors from eight different countries all sharing folktales from that region. Everyone has heard the more entrenched stories like Hansel & Gretel or Little Red Riding Hood but how many can say they know about Al Karisi? In addition to the varied stories, we also get a variety of extremely different directorial choices for how to present these stories. I’m glad I found this because I was getting ready to just give up on the idea of anthologies all together.
The Sinful Woman of Höllfall (Austria): This tale starts out seeming like a standard Christian morality tale where being sinful calls the Trud to come suck your soul in your sleep. A young woman ends up becoming intimate with another young woman and fears that the Trud is coming for her. However, we find that the real monster coming to get her was her mother. It’s not “sin” but guilt that weighs you down. Once she is freed from it she appears naked and free outside her lovers house.
Haunted by Al Karisi, the Childbirth Djinn (Turkey): The story of a young mother taking care of her elderly mother and child at the same time when something sinister seems to be coming for her. Incredible atmosphere and dread with very little dialogue. While it doesn’t really get deep into the lore of Al Karisi, it does make for an effective horror story.
The Kindler & the Virgin (Poland): A woodcutter is tempted by an evil spirit that promises him unlimited knowledge if he eats the hearts of the recently deceased. Ends up falling apart, narratively, towards the end and the whole message of too much knowledge being dangerous gets sort of lost since the guy gets arrested for the whole cannibalism thing before he can do anything with his newfound knowledge.
Beware the Melonheads (America): A story and style that would be much more familiar to those of us from the USA. The melonheads are tale of large-headed people living in the northern woods that attack people. Here a family goes on vacation only to lose their son to the melonheads, who make him one of their own. A weird take on the idea but pretty standard American horror telling.
Whatever Happened to Panagas the Pagan (Greece): A bunch of Greek guys get raging drunk on Christmas which is apparently the one day of the year the kallikantzaros (kind of like a goblin) can leave their hole underground. When they catch one, they start to bully it and eventually drink its blood, which is supposed to be like the best wine that will fuck you up. In his drunken stupor, Panagas wanders down into the hole and becomes a thrall of the “blue flame”, becoming a permanent resident of the hole. I guess a tale of warning not to get super fucked up?
The Palace of Horrors (India): The framing of this black & white short film is around an Englishman that goes across India looking for things to send back to Barnum’s circus. He hears about a palace in the wilderness full of disfigured people that he wants to buy for the freakshow. The framing of colonialism that literally turns people into things to barter for is not subtle and the guy’s name is Gentry. It makes his final comeuppance all the sweeter when he sneaks into a forbidden area and whatever he finds there causes him to tear his own eyes out.
A Nocturnal Breath (Germany): The tale of a drude; an evil spirit that inhabits a person and when it leaves to cause mischief the person is left comatose. Should you kill the drude, it will also cause the death of the host. A brother tries to hold on as his sister is possessed by one of these spirits. There’s some serious incestuous vibes going on from the brother, especially when he open mouth kisses his sister so the spirit goes into him. The sister then has zero problem killing him so who knows.
Cobblers’ Lot (Hungary): Probably one of the most interesting takes on the story of two brothers vying for the affection of a princess. This is done in silent film style and includes 2 Robert Smith looking motherfuckers as the brother. The older brother is jealous of his younger brother’s ability as a cobbler and there is a lot of foot worship going on with this princess, like Tim Burton and Quentin Tarantino got together to make a folktale. When the younger brother goes to a magic pond to get a magic flower to prove his worth, the younger brother takes his map and heads back telling them the other brother is dead. Meanwhile, the brother at the lake has a weird foot-oriented orgy with some lake ladies. When the princess hears the news of the younger brothers death, she kills herself. Then she kills the older brother for lying and the younger brother for succumbing to temptation. The king gets slippers made out of their skin. A bit harsh but I guess they did cause the death of his daughter.
Score: 3.5 out of 5. There are some that are definitely weaker than others but the good ones make up for it and it is worth the 2 hour run time. Especially for the ability to see what cautionary tales other places have come up with.