An anthology horror movie with some considerable talent both in front of the camera and behind it, Trapped Ashes may not become a firm favourite, but it's good enough for a one-time watch.
Written by Dennis Bartok, the different sections are directed by Joe Dante, Ken Russell, Monte Hellman, Sean S. Cunningham, and John Gaeta. If that selection of names isn't enough to get you excited then consider the fact that the cast includes Henry Gibson, John Saxon, and a fleeting cameo from Dick Miller. Okay, the rest of the cast maybe isn't full of actors on the same level as those guys, but there are certainly enough fan-pleasing moments sprinkled throughout the runtime.
The wraparound story, directed by Joe Dante, concerns a bunch of people - Lara Harris, Scott Lowell, Rachel Veltri, Jayce Bartok, John Saxon and Michele-Barbara Pelletier - who are on a tour of a Hollywood movie studio. The tour guide (Gibson) relents when they ask him if they can enter a famous House Of Horror, but once everyone is inside they soon realise that they can't find their way out again. The tour guide reminds everyone that this was actually the plot of a movie, and that people ended up telling stories of their scariest moments until they could find their way out again. Which leads to people telling stories of their scariest moments.
Story one is "The Girl With The Golden Breasts" and it's a typical slice of lunacy from Ken Russell. Rachel Veltri stars as the titular (stop sniggering) girl. More comical than any of the other tales, this is a fun way to get the ball rolling, but also feels out of place when viewed alongside the segments that come along after it.
Story two is "Jibaku", a strange tale of seduction and evil starring Lara Harris and Scott Lowell as a married couple who end up going through a difficult time, to put it mildly, when Harris gets mixed up with a dangerous spirit. Director Sean S. Cunningham employs some impressive imagery here, but the story is never that engrossing, and ultimately falls a bit flat.
Story three is a cracker, entitled "Stanley's Girlfriend", and I don't want to mention anything that might spoil the pleasant surprise it provides. Amelia Cooke is the very appealing girl at the centre of events, Tahmoh Panikett and Tygh Runyan both do well in their roles, and John Saxon is his usual great self. The direction from Monte Hellman here is solid, servicing material that is aiming for a mix of creepiness and regret.
Last, we get "My Twin, The Worm", starring Matreya Fedor. Directed by John Gaeta, this is a tale with no surprises, and makes for a bit of a weak final story, I'm afraid.
Then it's time to finish up the wraparound with a final sequence that most viewers, especially fans of anthology horrors, will have been predicting from the beginning. That doesn't mean that it's unenjoyable. It's just unoriginal.
Writer Dennis Bartok obviously has a love for traditional horror and traditional Hollywood, as a number of the tales riff on aspects of "the golden age", but he just doesn't take the time to craft and polish everything to compensate for the weaker aspects, the unoriginality and poor special effects. The cast and directors don't do too badly, but they're hampered by the script, either by the central story ideas or the general stale air that hangs over most of the material (possibly intentional, considering the wraparound).
But I had still enjoyed this movie, and I'd watch it again. That doesn't mean that it's great. It just means that I'm easily pleased, but I know that some other horror fans in a good mood might also have some fun with this one.
Remember, every copy of my book sold gets a few pounds in my pocket, and gets you a good read (if I say so myself).
The UK version can be bought here - http://www.amazon.co.uk/TJs-Ramshackle-Movie-Guide-Reviews-ebook/dp/B00J9PLT6Q/ref=sr_1_3?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1395945647&sr=1-3&keywords=movie+guide
And American folks can buy it here - http://www.amazon.com/TJs-Ramshackle-Movie-Guide-Reviews-ebook/dp/B00J9PLT6Q/ref=sr_1_fkmr0_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1395945752&sr=8-1-fkmr0&keywords=TJs+ramshackle+mov
As much as I love the rest of the world, I can't keep up with all of the different links in different territories, but trust me when I say that it should be there on your local Amazon.