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  Deadtime Stories Sleep tight, kids
Year: 1986
Director: Jeffrey Delman
Stars: Scott Valentine, Nicole Picard, Matt Mitler, Cathryn de Prume, Melissa Leo, Kathy Fleig, Phyllis Craig, Michael Mesmer, Brian DePersia, Kevin Hannon, Timothy Rule, Anne Redfern, Casper Roos, Barbara Seldon, Leigh Kilton
Genre: Horror, Comedy, TrashBuy from Amazon
Rating:  4 (from 1 vote)
Review: Unable to sleep little Brian (Brian DePersia) cajoles surly Uncle Mike (Michael Mesmer) to tell him some bedtime stories. Which, due to Mike's cynical, lecherous bent take on a distinctly horrific and T&A-laden flavour less than suitable for children. In "The Black Forest" a pair of witches employ their hapless, innocent young ward Peter (Scott Valentine) to help lure unwary travelers to their doom as part of a diabolical ritual to resurrect their dead sister. However when the witches set their sights on a comely young maid, Peter decides enough is enough. Then "Little Red Runninghood" sees Rachel (Nicole Picard), a perpetually horny high schoolgirl with a fondness for red jogging attire, itching to sneak out of Grandma's house and lose her virginity to her boyfriend. Meanwhile a mix-up at the pharmacist has medication intended for reformed werewolf Willie (Matt Mitler) mistakenly sent to Grandma's house. After Willie blows his cool with an uncooperative grandma, Rachel comes home to a nasty, hairy surprise. Finally in "Goldi Lox and Three Baers", criminal matriarch Mama Baer (Melissa Leo!) springs Papa Baer (Kevin Hannon) and their hulking dim-wit son Baby Baer (Timothy Rule) from the psych ward for further homicidal antics and bank robbery. With comically inept lawmen on their heels, the Baers head for their hideout which they find occupied by none other than Goldi Lox (Cathryn de Prume), a perky, psychotic nymphet who has already racked up a significant body-count with her psychokinetic powers.

Clearly conceived by its makers as a self-consciously goofy, mildly gory lark, in terms of tone and ambition this low-budget fairytale-themed horror anthology is miles away from Neil Jordan's The Company of Wolves (1984). Even within its own modest parameters Deadtime Stories, also known as Freaky Fairy Tales, does not have a whole lot going for it beyond well-handled, suitably icky practical effects and endearing turns from a handful of soon to be notable actors. Scott Valentine, then best known as dopey Nick on classic Eighties sit-com Family Ties, and toothsome Cathryn de Prume became staple character players on film and TV. But the surprise presence here is Melissa Leo, future Oscar-winner for The Fighter (2010) and among the finest character actors in American cinema. Still a decade away from her breakout turn in TV's Homicide: Life on the Street, Leo's star quality is still apparent even whilst virtually unrecognizable beneath a headscarf and several layers of clothing (supposedly to conceal an injured arm). Given she recently contributed to a 'making of' documentary included on the recent Blu-Ray release of the film by Scream Factory it would seem she is happy to revisit her low-budget roots. Which is nice.

Although the opening story proves the weakest it nonetheless establishes the overall bawdy tone with sick laughs, fruity dialogue and broad performances. By the time the film delivers its unique, twisted take on Goldilocks the tone expands into all-out Tex Avery territory with a nonsensical plot structured entirely around ridiculous sight-gags and Yiddish comedy routines. Melissa Leo and Cathryn de Prume (as an oft-naked Goldi) deliver genuinely funny turns but the shapelessness nature of the plot and its gleeful lack of substance begin to grate on one's nerves. Almost as much as the hideous faux Fifties rockabilly soundtrack (the theme song name-checks George A. Romero and Brian De Palma!) Collectively the stories penned by director Jeffrey Delman with co-writer J. Edward Kiernan seem to strive towards some kind of halfhearted revisionist statement about female sexuality at a time when the then-dominant slasher films routinely, if hypocritically, punished women for having sex. To its mild credit Deadtime Stories presents three free-spirited sexually assertive heroines that refuse to back down against male aggressors and more often than not kick monster ass.

Unfortunately these progressive aspects are immediately nullified by condemnatory punchlines hastily contrived by Uncle Mike as a sop to young Brian's demand for grislier endings. The film's take on the Red Riding Hood fable is barely an allegory. Rachel's erotic fantasies are more silly than titillating while her immediate reaction to losing her virginity is one of disappointment rendering her 'jokey' fate that more heavy-handed. One can only wonder whether Mike's less than savoury obsession with horny high school girls will have an unhealthy influence on Brian's later attitude to women. Provided he grows up at all given Delman tacks on a questionable 'boy who cried wolf' wraparound story with another nasty punchline likely to leave viewers pondering whether it is meant to be funny.

Reviewer: Andrew Pragasam

 

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