The horror anthology can work wonders by keeping the tales short and sweet with a quick pace. The only one in recent memory that pulls this off is the now-Halloween classic Trick ‘r Treat. Full of gallows humor and gory shenanigans, including the weaving of each tale together—not to mention a “host” who doesn’t speak in the form of little trick-or-treater Sam—and writer-director Michael Dougherty has conjured a little film that could. A sequel has even been announced for 2015. Another anthology has really hit its stride in the form of a sequel, seeing V/H/S/2 is better the original. Unfortunately, in the case of the more Twilight Zone-esque Sanitarium, not even the presence of Malcolm McDowell can keep things together with only three tales to slog through.
The first story, “Figuratively Speaking,” is the best, where we find the sad tale of famed model-maker Gustav (John Glover) being taking advantage of by his agent Sam (Robert Englund). He has one human friend in the form of Mateo (Walter Perez), but spends most of his time talking to his models, who leads him to unspeakable acts. In “Monsters Are Real,” we find poor Steven (David Mazouz) stuck in a horrible home life with an abusive father (Chris Mulkey), his concerned teacher Ms. Lorne (Lacey Chabert), and a vengeful hallucinations that may be more real than his father would like. Finally, we come to “Up to the Last Man” featuring Lou Diamond Phillips as a ticking time-bomb professor, who becomes obsessed with the Mayan apocalypse and builds a bunker in the backyard, draining his family’s income and his own sanity at the same time.
Don’t expect much out of seeing the name Robert Englund (Freddy Krueger himself) in the credits. Not to give much away, he’s the first person to die in the nearly two-hour runtime. The first story is the best, which is never a good sign when there’s still so much more to come. Glover plays the crazed artist very well and gives Gustav a friendly psycho vibe where you aren’t sure whether to be scared of him or not. As for tale two, Mazouz at least doesn’t get stuck playing the obligatory bullied schoolboy, instead co-writer-director Bryan Ortiz at least gives him real life fears to worry about.
The biggest problem comes with the last tale, where the film should be finally gaining momentum. Phillips’ tale gets stuck in a repetitive streak where the same ground gets covered over and over and you figure everything out as it happens instead of being treated to any kind of big reveal. The trio of directors—Ortiz, Bryan Ramirez, and Kerry Valderamma—at least keep things from looking like a direct-to-video film, while offering up no bonus features whatsoever. And the Twilight Zone vibe may surprise most viewers expecting a gory good time; these are all slow-burning descents into madness. If you’re looking for something more restrained however, there are far worse ways you could kick the new year off. A rental wouldn’t be a waste of money in the least, just check your expectations accordingly.