Welcome to Scared in Segments, a monthly column devoted to horror anthologies big and small. If you don’t know what an anthology is, it’s a film that includes a collection of short stories or segments (self-contained or connected). As for anthology television, series can be episodic or seasonal, but the former will take precedence here. Now, in each edition of this column, you’ll get background info as well as insight on the monthly pick. If you’re ready for some short-form horror, pull up a seat as I’ve got a story for you…
Those who grew up on tangible killers and monsters will be hard-pressed to admit a cartoon can ever be scary. The assumption is that animation is for kids. It’s a vehicle for fanciful ideas and it has little place in adulthood. With that in mind, one has to remember that it’s grownups behind these animated sequences. At their fingertips lies a power so intimidating. A few strokes here and there, a suggestive line or two, some extra hatching—pretty soon, you’ve got something that can hardly be considered child’s play.
In the case of the French anthology Fear(s) of the Dark, an eclectic group of artists pool their talent. Together, they illustrate why our aversion to the darkness is warranted.
THE FRAMING STORY
Written and directed by Pierre di Sciullo
In no way is Fear(s) of the Dark a conventional movie. So why would its internal structure be any different? Scattered throughout this grayscaled anthology is a fractured sequence directed by Pierre di Sciullo, a Parisian typographer. Although there is nothing outright macabre about his interludes, they are jarring—in more ways than one.
Accompanying Sciullo’s lively array of two-dimensional shapes and patterns is a disembodied, ostensibly female voice. She divulges her innermost feelings, which are more like confessions. Her monologue includes a variety of concerns that range from frivolous to outright dismal. Unquestionably, this train of thought escalates from mildly amusing to pitying. The performer’s pathos is near visible.
Her notions are difficult and awkward to both say and hear. It’s a reminder that people have opinions and ideas that they would rather keep to themselves. Or better yet, in the dark.
Written and directed by Blutch
Since every story is tailored to fit the style of the director, the first offering encapsulates Blutch’s trademark scratchiness. Blutch (real name: Christian Hincker) was the most challenging when it came to emulating the artists’ individual techniques. His charcoal-like sketchings were taxing to put in motion, but the effort paid off. This textured tale of sadism at the hands of a twisted marquis and his three attack dogs is well worth the energy—aesthetically speaking.
Broken up over the course of the film, Blutch’s villainous nobleman hunts for victims. He stumbles upon a band of construction workers and a solitary female dancer, both of whom make a fine feast for two of the marquis’ three mongrels. This leaves one pet without something to chew on, though…
Blutch’s fuzzy segment is the most perverse of the bunch. Anyone familiar with his work would expect no less from this French cartoonist known for his warped narratives and errant characters. However, Blutch does right by not letting cruelty go unpunished. The turn of events is appropriate in a story about extreme gratification.
Written and directed by Charles Burns
Based on the art alone, you might mistake this story as charming. Beyond Charles Burns’ spruce linework and attention to shadows lies a romance gone horribly awry. It all begins with an obese, bedridden man named Eric reflecting on his past. What started off as the innocuous courtship between him and his classmate Laura spirals into something insidious.
Charles Burns is no stranger to body horror and anxiety surrounding sex, as he depicts so frankly in his acclaimed graphic novel Black Hole. His stylized artwork isn’t always the most fluid when animated. Yet, it’s effective in this supernatural account of sexual economics.
Directed by Marie Caillou
Written by Romain Slocombe
The most whimsical of the lot is Marie Caillou’s yōkai-inspired entry. Its protagonist, a young girl named Sumako Ayakawa is at the center of a police investigation. There’s been a murder, but how the child ties into it is unclear. In the meantime, Sumako is being treated at a clinic for her overwhelming nightmares. Each time she’s administered a drug, she recalls a painful memory that explains how everything came to be.
French digital artist Marie Caillou is recognized for her faux-naif style, one that’s apparently made her popular in Japan. So, setting her contribution in rural Japan is only fitting. Her pitiable Sumako is reminiscent of the stock character Shōjo Tsubaki, a downtrodden girl who appeared frequently in Japanese street art during the Japanese Depression. Caillou’s flair for combining adorable with ghastly is impeccably executed with the help of Flash animation.
Directed by Lorenzo Mattotti
Written by Jeffrey Kramsky
Italian artist Lorenzo Mattotti helms the most atmospheric and eerie segment here. It concerns a man recounting his days as a boy in a small French town. The locals were terrified of a beast roaming at night, snatching residents. Even though a hunter caught and killed the supposed guilty party, the narrator still believes something more sinister is still at large.
This vignette is so distinct in its appearance. Mattotti’s meticulous renderings of architecture contrast with expressionist pencil drawings. Unearthly shading and ominous shapes in the dark highlight what is essentially a creature feature.
Directed by Richard McGuire
Written by Richard McGuire and Michel Pirus
Using a combination of hand-drawn, Flash, and After Effects, Richard McGuire carves out a sequence that is deceptively minimalist. In the final story, a man breaks into a house to evade the inclement weather outside. He believes the home is abandoned, but we know better. As he navigates through the dark, he’s followed by a mysterious entity.
McGuire’s talent for illumination equals the scariest moments in this pitch black haunter. It’s a journey of suggestion that allows Fear(s) of the Dark to end on a good note.
Black-and-white movies are rare today. They just don’t have too much commercial appeal in a Technicolor world. But, when they do come around, you’re implored to take notice. A monochromatic approach is compelling, especially in horror. The intimidation that comes along with stark blacks and moody grays is virtually unrivaled. Applying that design to animation is a bold choice given our preconceived notions about the medium.
Fear(s) of the Dark is a niche film whose legacy rests largely on its creativity. The labor and faculty that went into making this unique anthology is impressive. The stories may not always land with viewers, but the diverse showcase of talent here proves they have horror down to a fine art.
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