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…
They say one of the hardest things anyone will ever do in their life is move. By that, they mean uprooting one’s entire life and moving somewhere new. This kind of event is bound to cause some stress. Packing everything up and getting the job situation squared away are undoubtedly daunting tasks, but picking the perfect place to live isn’t any easier. Especially for one particular couple in a little-known horror movie called Terror Tract. They soon come to realize that full disclosure isn’t always the best policy.
“[…] a derisive subversion of suburban idealism. It rips up the white picket fence and drops property values in the most amusing and misshapen ways”
It may take time to build an entire community, but it only took thirty-six days to film Terror Tract in Chatsworth, California. The weather was especially a challenge for the Giant Leap Entertainment crew as it reached up to 106 degrees on some days. The perseverance of the co-directors, Lance W. Dreesen and Clint Hutchison, and the cast paid off, though. The film went on to win several accolades: the Audience Prize and the Silver Raven Award at the 19th Brussels International Festival of Fantasy Film, and Best Feature at both the 2001 Rhode Island International Horror Film Festival and Shriekfest 2002.
Terror Tract bypassed theaters and went straight to cable television in 2000. As part of its Shriek Week programming in October, USA Network aired the movie alongside Cherry Falls. Both films were then issued together on a now-out-of-print DVD the following year by Polygram USA Video. Overseas in the U.K., Anchor Bay released the film on DVD under the name of House on Terror Tract.
The movie was briefly available on Netflix starting in 2013 before it was damned to obscurity again. Today, its availability grows more tenuous with each passing year. That’s not a comment on the film’s quality, though. Anyone who has strolled down Terror Tract knows all too well that this is one scenic street of screams.
The Framing Story
In search of a new house, newlyweds Allen (David DeLuise) and Allison (Mary Ann Doyle) enlist the help of a realtor named Bob (John Ritter). And with each property they see, Bob divulges the sinister pasts of the previous tenants whilst hiding a dark secret of his own.
Before we even meet our wraparound’s cast, we witness a most macabre chain of events. The opening sequence — an earthworm is eaten by a bird, which becomes a meal to a cat shortly before said kitty turns into an impromptu speed bump — is accompanied by Brian Tyler’s score that shifts from eagerly ominous to cheerfully orchestral in an instant. In addition, the death-defining extract is a clear indicator of the movie’s overall tone. Not to mention, this is a strong hint of the film’s insidious nature, something we are more aware of as Bob and his clients travel from house to house.
Amidst Bob‘s presentations of each home, we hear about his cutthroat job and the difficulty of meeting his quota. The impropriety is obviously exaggerated for horrific effect, but there is an air of satire, too. After all, the film came out in 2000, a time when the United States was entering an economic recession. Bob‘s desperation to make a sale is magnified for shock value so we can feel disconnected from his own personal crisis.
On the surface, the wraparound provides a clever way of weaving in and out of the past. It is definitely reminiscent of The House That Dripped Blood, a 1971 anthology where a detective investigates the ghoulish going-ons and history at a countryside estate. The beauty of this narrative smock, however, is that Bob and the couple are actively part of the story as a whole. They aren’t just there to further things along with no threat to themselves. Instead, we actually feel invested in their outcome.
Story 1 — “Nightmare“
When an unfaithful wife (Rachel York) is caught in the act with her lover (Carmine Giovinazzo), the husband tries to kill them both. In a turn of events, the adulterous pair covers up the husband’s murder. The wife, though, is convinced that her vengeful spouse has returned from the dead.
In spite of its grave attitude, there is a tinge of lunacy in “Nightmare” that certainly feels inspired by the original Creepshow, particularly the segments “Father’s Day” and “The Crate”. This brief madness comes during the wife’s waking dreams, which give insight into the immeasurable guilt she’s enduring. The innate lighting isn’t fiery or purplish, mind you, but the hazy fluorescence invites some welcome, incidental eeriness.
Terror Tract makes the right choice by opening with “Nightmare“. Regarding both expectations and plot, this is the most straightforward of the bunch. There’s absolutely no surprises found here as everything pans out just the way you predicted. But using this timeworn, spooked-up allegory about infidelity eases audiences into the entire mechanics of this anthology. Once it’s over, you’re prepared for more domestic devilry.
Story 2 — “Bobo“
The Gatley family’s young daughter, Jennifer (Katelin Petersen), finds a stray capuchin monkey in their backyard. Although the girl convinces her father to let the animal stay for the time being, Ron (Bryan Cranston) has well-deserved concerns. For Bobo is not the harmless monkey he appears to be.
Primates have had a good run in horror as nefarious beasts. Even outside the genre, apes, gorillas, and monkeys have shown to be methodically underhanded more times than not. They traffic discomfort simply because they achieve an uncanny valley effect whenever in our presence. For some, it’s almost like looking into a funhouse mirror. So, to pit them against us in film is bound to make people ill at ease.
The titular simian in “Bobo” — whose real name was Spanky, and was described by Dreesen as “the Pacino of primates” — is as dastardly as he is adorable. His minute reign of terror reaps big results, too, as Bryan Cranston’s possessive character fails to put a stop to his death-dealing deeds. While the entire scenario does teeter on absurd, the segment more than delivers on what it all but promises. It’s a fiendish story with an even nastier ending. Suffice it to say, “Bobo” does not monkey around.
Story 3 — “Come To Granny“
When teenage Sean (Will Estes) develops the unexplained ability to see what the infamous Granny Killer sees whenever he kills his victims, he seeks professional help from a therapist (Brenda Strong). Little does she know, Sean has ulterior motives for his unscheduled appointment.
With “Come to Granny“, Terror Tract closes with the creepiest clincher so far. Lifting the basic premise from Eyes of Laura Mars, this story culminates into a twist that somehow slid past us so surreptitiously. But before going into that, one has to unravel why the final segment works. It taps into the slasher resurgence — which was quickly losing momentum in Hollywood at the time — without feeling reductive. The injection of a supernatural element may be a no-no for purists. Nevertheless, that aspect is so faint it’s hardly disruptive to the actual plot. Having Sean and the Granny Killer selectively share sight is a shrewd way of reinstating the first-person POV that movies like Scream had virtually abandoned.
“[Terror Tract] is one anthology that crescendos in a purely demented closer.”
Something else “Come to Granny” does so successfully is making the audience feel as complicit as the actual murderer. We are thrown head first into Granny‘s nightmarish pursuits without any sort of moral clearance. We become as helpless as Sean, who can only stand idly by from a “safe” distance. There is just something to be said for the idea of having people witness these heinous crimes without being able to do a single thing to stop them. One might argue that’s what fans of horror have done for decades, but the psychic slant adds a whole other layer of empathy.
As for the ominous outcome, one would be remiss to not bring up the sheer lack of logic that might have favorably steered the course of things. On the other hand, in doing so would strip “Come to Granny” of all the pleasurable peril it incites. Now, if for some reason, you weren’t won over by the first two stories, do stick around for the last entry. It’s both redemptive and earnest, and of the three stories, it’s effortlessly the most realized.
Most anthologies follow a very specific formula, or they incorporate tropes intrinsic to the sub-genre. What boxes does Terror Tract check off?
Host / Narrator … ☑
Yes, John Ritter’s Bob guides us through every story.
Framing device … ☑
Multiple directors … ☑
Lance W. Dreesen and writer Clint Hutchison co-direct. Dreesen also played the Granny Killer.
Crossover / Hyperlink quality … ☑
All the segments took place in houses in a specific neighborhood. Or tract, if you will.
Based on an existing work … ☒
As far as we know, no.
Was Richard Matheson somehow involved? … ☒
Terror Tract appears to be a fairly run-of-the-mill, millennial era anthology with meager value in hindsight. In point of fact, the movie is a derisive subversion of suburban idealism. It rips up the white picket fence and drops property values in the most amusing and misshapen ways. Even supposing none of the inmost tales are storytelling stunners, they are consistently engrossing. All the more, this is one anthology that crescendos in a purely demented closer.
As Bob enthusiastically told his clients, his goal is to “help people attain the American Dream.” Of course, now we know thanks to this tongue-in-cheek anthology, not all dreams are good. So, if you’re ever in the market for some homespun, domiciliary dismay, now is the perfect time to visit Terror Tract.
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