Anthology horror films have looked like a endangered species for the past 10 or so years. In the '90s, we had the awesome success of the "Tales from the Hood." This subgenre of "collected tales" in one movie -- with a wraparound story to tie them all together -- had its heyday in the 1970s with Amicus Studios and enjoyed a brief comeback with Stephen King and George Romero's "Creepshow."
Following the formula of the Amicus films, "Trapped Ashes" -- which features five stories penned by Dennis Bartok -- brings the characters together on a tour bus at a fictional Hollywood movie studio, where they convince the tour guide to let them see a legendary horror house. Once inside, they become trapped -- and tour guide convinces them to tell real-life horror tales to one another -- more or less the same thing that happens in Amicus' "Vault of Horror."
Of the four tales that follow, the first, "The Girl with the Golden Breasts," is easily the best. Directed by legendary filmmaker Ken Russell, whose "The Devils" has to go down as one of the best horror films of all time, it's the story of a young attractive, but not particularly well endowed woman (Racehl Veltri of one of the "American Pie" sequels), who opts for breast augmentation surgery to get more roles as an actress. But she doesn't just get silicone -- she gets the flesh of a cadaver injected into her. The result are monstrous, bloodsucking breasts. Russell isn't able to display many of the visual flourishes he did in "The Devils" or "Lair of the White Worm," but it's a worthy episode.
That tale is followed by "Jibaku," from "Friday the 13th" director Sean Cunningham, which has a married woman visiting Japan caught up in a sexual relationship with a deceased Buddhist monk. Yes, sex with a rotting cadaver. Monte Hellman directs John Saxon in "Stanley's Girlfriend," which has the legendary "Nightmare on Elm Street" and "Enter the Dragon" playing a character who retells a sexual relationship he with his best friend's lover. Things end with the weakest tale of the bunch: "My Twin, the Worm," directed by John Gaeta, about a woman whose pregnancy coincides with the growth of a monstrous tapeworm inside her -- and the weirdness that results. Joe Dante, meanwhile, is left directing the wraparound story.
To give the film an added twist, all the expected twist endings of each of the tales is saved up for the very end of the movie, which ultimately turns out to be a little awkward.
All in all, "Trapped Ashes" feels like a montage of mild "Masters of Horror" episodes. The lead story delivers the most horror and the most laughs, and actress Rachel Vetri puts in a good performance. Cunningham's tale is also moody and solid. The last two, however, turn the film into a mixed bag. The final story was the weakest. Dante's wraparound story has enough of the camp and reverance for Hollywood horror we'd expect from him.
Ultimately, I'd recommend this film for fans of anthology of horror films, but it's far from a classic. Worth watching at least for the first two stories. This is probably a bit better than "Campfire Tales" and "Terror Tract", two other major anthology horror films of the past 10 years.