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Fear(s) Of The Dark Review

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Six of the world’s best graphic artists make cartoons all linked by fear. Demon dogs, spectral samurai and haunted mansions are just some of the concepts drawn from the darkness...

★★★★★

Six of the world’s best graphic artists make cartoons all linked by fear. Demon dogs, spectral samurai and haunted mansions are just some of the concepts drawn from the darkness...

Dreamt up by nutso French designers Prima Linea, the darlings of the graphics world have been assembled to “animate the rhythm of their nightmares” in these stark black-and-white cartoons. Imagine an old-fashioned omnibus horror with cutting-edge graphics — Creepshow in a designer tee — and you’ve pretty much nailed Fear’s maverick spirit. The results are individually inventive, if erratic as a whole.

The most effective segments are the beginning and end, striking for very different reasons. Charles Burns’ offers the best creep-out, warping a tale of possessive love into clammy bodyhorror. Rendered in Burns’ signature ’50s pastiche style, it’s flip, freaky and comes off like a trash Kafka horror-comic. Richard McGuire and Michel Pirus’ plot-free closer, meanwhile, takes an old horror haddock (man trapped in haunted house) and gives it a slap of pitch-black ink. Pushing the palette to its limits with ingenious light games and total blackouts, it’s the only segment that comes close to ragging the fear glands.

The impact softens elsewhere. Lorenzo Mattotti’s tale of a mysterious beast chomping its way through a nervy village has the artist’s signature visuals, but zero narrative drive. At least it comes to a solid conclusion, unlike Marie Caillou’s stab at J-horror, a samurai ghost effort that plonks multi-eyed phantoms and schoolgirls into a soggy shaggydog story. You’ll be impatient for the next episode from Blutch, a brutally effective strand that follows a sadistic marquis unleashing his hell-hounds. Even Stevie Wonder could see the twist coming, yet Blutch’s hand-drawn style gives it a memorably menacing pulse.

Still, it’s an anthology that never feels complete, thanks to its deeply spurious linking device. In traditional portmanteau horrors, events are tied together by a narrator who eventually unveils his own ghoulish story. Here we have Nicole Garcia droning on about her petty bourgeois fears, while Pierre di Sciullo’s segment throws geometric shapes like an agitated Saul Bass. Fingers will be hovering over imaginary fast-forward buttons.

Visually, Fear(s) is top drawer, but as a feature it’s sketchier than Terry Gilliam’s doodlepad. Those involved in the dark graphic arts should seek it out on the big screen, but this cult-in the-making is destined to find its true disciples on DVD.

A mixed bag of screams. Two excellent entries can’t conceal the patchiness of this arthouse horror.