(A) TASTE OF PHOBIA (2017)
Stars: MARICA COTOGNINI, ALESSANDRO PEZZALI, TERRY REILLY, MICHAEL MAGGI, ELISA COLLO, MARTIN W. PAYNE, GUILIO PAMPLIGIONE, ELETTRA CAPUANO, PONTUS WONKAVAARA, EDWIN GARCIA, CLINT BEAVER
The thing about horror anthologies that is the most problematic tends to be how wildly uneven the stories can get – especially if different vignettes are handed over to different directors. The scripts, styles and budgets tend to be sharply disparate, and (A) TASTE OF PHOBIA, with no less that fourteen different directors, presents itself as a prime example of this dilemma.
I guess the only way to deal with these short vignettes, which range from about three minutes or longer, is to tackle and evaluate them one at a time.
CHAETOPHOBIA – FEAR OF HAIR
Written by LUCA NICOLAI
A young woman (MARICA COTOGNINI) has been kidnapped by a psychotic man (ALESSANDRO PEZZALI), who has a ‘fetish’ for staying clean-shaven. If you’re someone who has their own thing about fear of Brazilian waxing, the ‘money shot’ in this short will do absolutely nothing to alleviate those fears. This one has its own sense of style, courtesy of the two directors, and the practical effects, though minimal, are disgustingly effective. The climax, however, isn’t anything that hasn’t been seen before, and left me feeling strangely unsatisfied.
PHARMACOPHOBIA – FEAR OF MEDICATION
Directed and Written by CHRIS MILEWSKI
A sick pharmacist (TERRY REILLY) who has a fear of medications – now, that’s a new one! – finds those fears realized, when he finally decides to take something for his severe flu attack. The story’s pretty straightforward, and gets to exactly where you think it’s going. Not many scares to be had here, though…unless you happen to suffer from this particular kind of phobia yourself.
PARTENOPHOBIA – FEAR OF VIRGINS
Directed by ALESSANDRO REDAELLI
Written by RUGGERO MELIS and ALESSANDRO REDAELLI
A porn star (MICHAEL MAGGI) who has a deathly fear of virgins, finds that fear realized, when he meets his scene partner for his latest gig (ELISA COLLO), who just so happens to be one. Good premise, though the acting in here isn’t exactly top drawer (a problem that plagues many of these vignettes). Again, like the previous story, this one goes exactly where expected, though the last shot is pretty amusing.
CORPROPHOBIA – FEAR OF FECES
Directed and Written by JASON IMPEY
A man desperate to go “Number Two” (MARTIN W. PAYNE) finds it difficult, as he has an extreme fear of the shit (literally) that he needs to expel. I’ve seen a variation on this theme in a few previous shorts, ranging from the hysterically funny to the absolutely vomitous. I’m really not too sure what direction they were trying to go in with this one, (and it seems as if the filmmaker wasn’t sure, either), but one thing is for certain: I’ll never look at a teddy bear the same way again…
MYSOPHOBIA – FEAR OF GERMS
Directed by POISON ROUGE
An intensely germophobic man (VINCENZO ZACCARDI) has the ultimate freak-out, when his nightly ritual to protect himself goes awry. Since this all takes place inside of a hotel or hostel room, I certainly can’t blame the poor guy for wanting to cover everything in plastic sheeting. Been to plenty of hotels and motels where I wish I could’ve done the same! Of the one-man pieces in this anthology, this is one of the more well-acted, and the gore quotient is more than fulfilled, thanks to special practical effects from ATHANASIUS PERNATH. I don’t like razor blades to begin with, so this one was especially hard to stomach. But the last shot, which should’ve been the ‘kicker’, was more subdued than I expected, so it keeps this one from climbing into the top five of the anthology.
MAZEOPHOBIA – FEAR OF MAZES
Directed and Written by DUSTIN FERGUSON
A Latino man (EDWIN GARCIA) gets lost on a back road, and his only option is to get directions from a patron inside a redneck bar. The man (CLINT BEAVER) is quick to help him, but that ‘help’ goes south real fast. I understand the reasoning behind this one; how it’s meant to be topical and also a bit of a crowd-pleaser (depending on which demographic you are). But it’s one that, at least for me, barely meets the requirements of the given phobia, and the ending – as pleasurable as it was – was also a head-scratcher, because it didn’t make a whole lot of sense.
ASTROPHOBIA – FEAR OF STARS
Directed and Written by ALESSANDRO GIORDANI
Hands down, this is the strongest of the lot. A stock market trader (GIULIO PAMPLIGIONE) meets cute with a beautiful YouTuber with the unique name “Laniakea” (ELETTRA CAPUANO). He goes to her channel to learn more about her, but happens to stumble upon a series of strange clips by another channel creator, who goes by the handle “ASTROVIKING” (PONTUS WONKAVAARA). Drawn in by the first clip, which explains the meaning behind his new girlfriend’s name, the trader becomes obsessed with the clips, slowly being driven mad by the observations of “ASTROVIKING”, who reveals to him our infinitesimal place in a universe so vast, our brains aren’t remotely equipped to handle it – well, at least his wasn’t. But are the clips from the strange bearded guy what really drove him mad? Or was the madness in him all along, just waiting for a catalyst to bring it out?
Everything about this, from the direction and acting, the photography and a script with an unsettling premise, is superb. And the ending – with great special effects work from Jack-of-all-trades DOMIZIANO CRISTOPHARO – puts this segment near the top of the list. It made me wish that the quality of all the clips came up to this level.
MAGEIROCOPHOBIA – FEAR OF COOKING
Directed by DOMIZIANO CRISTOPHARO
A woman (ROBERTA GEMMA) cooking dinner, slips into a nightmarish reverie about all the things that could go wrong with the items that she’s preparing, including a talking fish (voiced by MARK THOMPSON-ASHWORTH). By turns amusing and horrific, FEAR OF GERMS’ Athanasius Pernath also takes over effects duties on this one. However, the mix of practical and CG here is extremely uneven, and ruins the shock value of the piece. Director Cristopharo’s work was so good in the preceding vignette, you have to wonder why he didn’t take over that aspect of it in this clip as well.
GERASCOPHOBIA – FEAR OF AGING
Directed and Written by ROB ULITSKI
With a great script that has a “BLACK MIRROR” vibe to it, this one had potential, but unfortunately gets bogged down by less-than-stellar performances. An agephobic model (KYLE MAJOR), who fears that he might be aging out of his chosen profession, takes up the offer of a close friend (CONNOR KNIGHT), who is a dealer in “blanks.” Blanks are artificially produced human bodies that one can slip their entire consciousness into, “trading in” their old bodies for new; certainly not the most original premise in the world, but still a good one to tackle. This vignette had a nice twist ending that wouldn’t have been out of place on one of Charlie Brooker’s episodes, but again…the subpar acting keeps it from going into the best of these episodes.
POLITICOPHOBIA – FEAR OF POLITICS
Directed and Written by JACKSON BATCHELOR
Reaching for the same kind of topicality as FEAR OF MAZES, this one’s a lot more effective at doing so, since it depicts the stream-of-consciousness of a man (SAM MASON-BELL) in the act of casting his ballot. The actors and the accents might be British, but the mindset won’t be unique at all to anyone living in America these days. This short might be the biggest conversation-starter out of all of them.
SOMNIPHOBIA – FEAR OF SLEEP
A stressed software engineer (MICHAEL J. EPSTEIN) with an urgent deadline, does everything he can to stay awake during his brutal all-night marathon. A task he needed about as much as he needed ‘a hole in the head.’ And I will leave it at that, except to say that it’s a fitfully funny clip.
ONEIROPHOBIA – FEAR OF DREAMS
Directed and Written by SAM MASON-BELL
Sleeping with her boyfriend, a woman (LAURA COVEY) begins to have a terrifying dream of being dragged into some demonic ritual by the man she loves (CHRIS MILLS). Probably not the vignette you want to be watching, if you or your other half are prone to sleepwalking…and doing some alarming things when they do. Frighteningly to-the-point, it’s one of the top stories here.
NYCTOPHOBIA – FEAR OF THE DARK
Directed by SUNNY KING
Nothing’s technically wrong with this segment – it’s well-photographed and acted. But the premise – a lone woman facing down her fear of the dark, and literally meets her own demon – is so unremarkable, that even the producers forgot to list it in the credits! Think of it as another take on LIGHTS OUT, the viral video short that eventually spawned the feature-length film that followed it.
HEMOPHOBIA – FEAR OF BLOOD
Directed by DAVIDE PESCA
Every horror anthology needs a strong wraparound story to support it, and with this one, you don’t realize what the main story is, until this, the final segment. When TASTE OF PHOBIA begins with a woman (ELISA CARRERA FUMAGALLI) alone in her apartment, watching the stories featured throughout on her TV, you wonder how it’s going to tie in with everything that follows.
Apparently, this is how. She finally ends up watching…herself onscreen, covered in blood, and the shock of seeing this drives her over the edge, apparently causing her to die of fright. Now, this is just my own take on what happened; your ‘mileage’ may vary.
Overall, (A) TASTE OF PHOBIA isn’t going to make anyone forget TRICK ‘R’ TREAT, SOUTHBOUND or CREEPSHOW anytime soon. Aside from the theme of phobias, there doesn’t seem to be any real rhyme or reason as to how the stories are connected, unlike, say, THE ABC’S OF DEATH films, which this somewhat resembles, warts and all.
Taking into account the stronger vignettes, I can scratch up two-and-a-half out of five stars for PHOBIA. But only if you’re out of options for watching anything else.