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Twists of Terror

1996, Starring Jennifer Rubin, Franoise Robertson, Nick Mancuso. Directed by Douglas Jackson (Filmline International).

All but perfected by Amicus Productions in the 1970s, the horror anthology was a unique breed of genre film that mined the deep reservoir of horror short stories by established writers who wanted to explore frightening themes not suited for longer works. The British film company's successful 1970s efforts like Dr. Terror's House of Horrors, The House That Dripped Blood and Asylum brought together several interwoven tales of terror, usually featuring supernatural elements and ironic twist endings. Popular and ultimately successful with audiences, the anthology style continues to thrive to this day, thanks to more recent Hollywood studio-backed efforts like Creepshow, Twilight Zone: The Movie and Tales from the Darkside: The Movie.

Although any proven box office success is usually picked clean by the copycat B-film industry, Canada has surprisingly only managed a few entries in the horror anthology subgenre. The middling 1977 Canadian-British co-production The Uncanny, produced by Amicus co-founder Milton Subotsky, was a shaky first step, while the no-budget, entertainment-free Freakshow (1989) seemed to prove that some believed the formats shorter stories meant even less time needed to be spent on the script. Despite helming episodes of anthology TV shows including The New Twilight Zone, and The Ray Bradbury Theater, Montreal-born director Douglas Jackson also struggles with his minor 1996 attempt, Twists of Terror.

Introduced by The Host (Joseph Ziegler), a mumbly paranoiac who rifles through piles of newspaper and babbles about conspiracies and serial killers, Twists of Terror's first tale lands closest to the mark. In  "The People You Meet, married couple Joe and Amy (Carl Marotte and Jennifer Rubin) get into an accident while driving to a weekend getaway, and must hitch a ride with a creepy and aggressive redneck and his buddy. But the couple's hopes of finding help start to fade when the pair's van turns down a dark sideroad. While held prisoner and tortured in a secluded cabin, Joe and Amy discover the game has just begun in this passable entry that features several engaging plot twists and a knock-off Texas Chain Saw Massacre atmosphere.

Traditionally, the second installment of a horror anthology film is always the weakest, and "The Clinic" is no exception. While abandoned hospitals are always a popular setting for ghostly happenings, this tale is a meandering mess that can't quite pull off its central conceit. This time, Nick Mancuso stars as a harried travelling salesman who ducks into a nearby sanatorium after he's violently attacked by a rabid dog. After being treated by the nurse, he wakes up to find the hospital virtually empty. With only one doctor and his nurse apparently on duty, its never convincing that this is an operational health-care facility, which is essential for the well-worn twist to work. As a result, the heavily padded, unsatisfying plot manages to drain any remaining atmosphere from the story's mildly creepy setting.

Little goodwill is won back with the confusing third entry "Stolen Moments, in which attractive single gal Cindy (Françoise Robertson) just cant seem to meet a man. Frustrated with video dating, she finally happens upon an interesting guy at a bar and agrees to head up to his cottage retreat. But just when things start looking up, it's revealed that her love interest  has a habit of lying to his new conquest, and soon their tryst turns violent and deadly--but not in the way you might expect. As with "The People You Meet, this is a fluffy bit of misdirection meant to subvert audience expectations, but the plot's big twist is telegraphed early on, and never quite makes logical sense in retrospect.

A veteran of the National Film Board all the way back to the 1960s, Jackson graduated to commercial filmmaking at one of the worst times possible--just after the tax shelters went bust in the early 1980s. Like many of his peers, he spent most of his career directing Canadian television series and films, pausing only to tackle the Cinepix-backed Dean Koontz adaptation Whispers (1989). Since then, he's been mostly relegated to TV movies, but his long resume proves that he's a competent director who can handle almost any kind of assignment.

As with much of his work, Jackson manages to put a nice professional sheen on Twists of Terror, but like so many Canadian direct-to-video timewasters, the film falls victim to its lack of resources--from an underdeveloped script to unconvincing actors and a wretched synthesizer score. The films trio of terrible tales may not be as flagrantly stupid as those in Freakshow, but they also fail to live up to the promise of The Uncanny, which managed to integrate an interesting wraparound vignette with its well-thought-out (if not always successful) stories. Too uninteresting and sanitized to recommend to the horror fans that might be interested in it, Twists of Terror is a triple disappointment.

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