Review: Deadtime Stories (1986)

Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #689

Also known as Freaky Fairytales
Number of Views: Two
Release Date: November 28, 1986
Sub-Genre: Horror Anthology
Country of Origin: United States
Box Office: $2,750,741
Running Time: 93 minutes
Director: Jeffrey Delman
Producers: Jeffrey Delman, William Paul
Screenplay: Jeffrey Delman, J. Edward Kiernan, Charles F. Shelton
Special Effects: Ed French
Cinematography: Daniel B. Canton
Score: Larry Juris
Editing: William Szarka
Studios: Scary Stuff, Overseas FilmGroup
Distributor: Cinema Group, Entertainment in Video
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, Lesley Sank, Lisa Cain, Jeffrey Delman, Michael Berlinger, Fran Lopate, John Bachelder

Suggested Audio Jukebox ♫

[1] Friends, Lovers & Family “Children’s Stories”

[2] Jeffrey Delman “Bedtime Tales”

[3] Jeffrey Delman “Looney Tune”

If there’s one thing we can count on from fairy tales, then it’s those happily ever afters right? In fact, the reality is some way from the sugar-coated illusion we are painted as children. Some of our best-loved bedtime stories are a far cry from chipper believe it or not. We’re talking violence, sexual threat, self-sacrifice, humiliation, abuse and poverty – hardly the things that young ears desire to hear as they prepare for lights out. For example, were you aware that Charles Perrault’s original version of the Brothers Grimm’s Little Red Riding Hood closed on a downbeat note, with no 11th hour savior in the huntsman. Indeed, the wolf of the fable represented a sexual predator and was responsible for snatching the girl’s chastity. The Grimms themselves later got in on the act with Cinderella. Here the wicked step sisters carved off chunks of their feet in order to fit into the glass slipper, only to have their eyes pecked out by pigeons, while their sibling enjoyed a life of luxury with her prince.

Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid saw Ariel trading her tongue for legs in order to impress a prince she saved from drowning, only to be rejected and turn into sea-foam. Charlotte-Rose de Caumont de la Force’s original version of Rapunzel, named Persinette, featured a spot of home invasion as a prince climbed Persinette’s hair at the dead of night, seduced and impregnated her, leaving her sporting a baby bump and banished by her guardian fairy. The king from Italian poet Giambattista Basile’s Sleeping Beauty didn’t wake Talia from her 100-year slumber, and instead, raped the poor girl while she slept. I know right? Is it any wonder that around 60 million Americans alone are blighted with insomnia every year? Thank fuck for Walt Disney and his PG-13 sensibilities, that’s all I can say on the matter.

Anyhoots, if ever folklore was ripe for the picking with regards to horror anthologies, then fairy tales would most certainly be it. Jeffrey Delman’s Deadtime Stories did precisely that in 1986, although in the UK, it was released under a different title. I still recall the VHS sleeve for Freaky Fairytales and this grisly little portmanteau had me at once upon a time. You see, it had all the ingredients for a bloody good time, as it appeared appropriate for children even though we new damn well it wasn’t. Indeed, Delman’s film enjoyed a brief theatrical release before settling onto dusty video store shelves for a reasonably profitable second life. Despite its fleeting popularity however, it has seldom been spoken of since and that’s where I come in Grueheads, as while a far cry from great, it’s a chirpy little number for those not expecting the moon on a stick.

“Once upon a time, there was a little girl named “Rachel.” Actually, she wasn’t all that little. She was a hot-looking high school senior with deep blue eyes, and fine, firm breasts and…”
“That’s not the way Mommy tells it!”
“Shut up, that’s the way I tell it.”

Our wraparound introduces us to the wonderfully inappropriate Uncle Mike (Michael Mesmer) as he slumps in his recliner, preparing to watch Miss Nude Bayonne on Cable, only to be rudely interrupted by his whining nephew Brian upstairs. Knowing that he will be required to placate Brian with a bedtime story or three, he begrudgingly accepts his babysitting duties. However Mike decides to place his own spin on some classic fairy tales of old, much to his captive audience’s disapproval. After tucking the boy in, he regales him with tales of whimsy, albeit not quite the kind of kid-friendly versions Brian was expecting. Sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll all make an appearance (and in whatever order Uncle Mike damn well pleases), while happily ever after doesn’t necessarily figure into his plans either. Just to be clear Brian, it’s gonna be a helluva long night kiddo.

Fable number one is called Peter and the Witches and whisks us away to the deepest depths of the Black Forest, where a young man (Scott Valentine) has been enslaved by a pair of ropy old witches who are looking to resurrect their long-dead sister under the light of a rare moon. In order to do raise the dead, there will need to be human sacrifice and this is wretched news for poor Peter as he happens to have fallen in love with the supple virgin lamb they’ve selected for slaughter.

This opening segment was originally intended to be a feature-length film and it shows as it sets us up decidedly well and boasts some truly showstopping and gloriously icky practical effects, in spite of budgetary limitations. Regrettably, little Brian appears no closer to cashing in on his eight hours sleep and something tells me that Uncle Mike isn’t going to be best pleased about changing his soiled bed linen as there’s damn good porn going to waste downstairs.

Next up is Little Red Runninghood and this provides a smart modernization of the classic fable we all know and love, replacing the period fairy tale setting with something far more conventional. A highly sexed teen (Matt Mitler) is given the simple task by his girlfriend Rachel (Nicole Picard) of delivering some medication to her sick grandmother but it all goes horribly wrong after a mix-up at the local pharmacy.

As a result of this drugstore switcheroo, the old girl’s meds are swapped with the pills he needs to avoid turning into a werewolf. All that is left now is for the freshly transformed wolfman to hit up grandma’s house for some “my, what big teeth you have young man”. Enter gratuitous nudity, hairy palms and a fair few splashes of grue and it’s pretty much job done.

“With all this permissive sex, and recreational violence, it’s no wonder this country is in the mess it’s in. I mean, it’s like the old saying: when you lay down with dogs, you get up with puppies!”

If Deadtime Stories has flirted with the ridiculous at all, then the closing segment, Goldi Lox and the Three Baers, sends the cart well and truly off-the-rails. Farcical in hyper-extremes, it can best be described as The Three Stooges on acid as there is barely any pretense to reality whatsoever. A deranged family of serial killers led by matriarch MaMa Baer (Oscar-winner Melissa Leo on commanding form) return home from the nuthouse to find someone’s been sleeping in their beds.

However, Goldi (Cathryn de Prume) isn’t your average babe in the woods and has a penchant for killing herself, as attested by the rotting cadavers strewn across the family homestead. Instead of reprimanding the trespassing teen, the Baers grant her honorary membership to their clique and together they attempt to outwit local law enforcement (no great challenge it has to be said). Goofy as all hell and then some, this may prove a stretch too far for those with an aversion to slapstick, but you certainly can’t fault the enthusiasm on exhibit.

As you can imagine, Brian is no closer to dreamland after this trio of tainted fairy tales and there’s a priceless moment where he finds himself all alone in his dark room, while his normally inconspicuous toys take on a far more sinister glow beneath the moonlight. Meanwhile, Deadtime Stories has delivered us safely through 93 minutes of schlock-filled goodness, and though an uneven patchwork of stories, it cannot be held culpable for not doing exactly what the tin states and with seldom less than a playful twinkle in its eye. Should you harbor a guilt-ridden fondness for eighties throwbacks, then Delman’s quirky compendium may well hit a sweet spot with you as it did me. Expect too much and you’ll invariably be disappointed as the dialogue is occasionally one beyond hammy and it is literally all over the place, flat refusing to nail any kind of consistent tone. But it sure as shit makes a refreshing change from happily ever after and that’s sweet dreams all round in my story book.

Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 6/10

Grue Factor: 3/5

For the Grue-Guzzlers & Pelt-Nuzzlers: Given that Deadtime Stories comes from such meager origins, the practical effects from SFX guru Ed French (The Stuff, C.H.U.D., Blood Rage) really are out-of-this-world and it’s easy to see how he landed a gig on James Cameron’s Terminator 2: Judgment Day on this evidence. There are some gloriously grisly moments, most notably in story number one, and these certainly ain’t fairy tales for the ankle-biters, let me make that abundantly clear. Sadly, the MPAA requested a number of cuts be made in order to secure an R-rating and I would pay good money to sniff the cutting room floor on this occasion. On the upside and thanks to good old Uncle Mike, Delman shoehorns in a few flashes of bare flesh as an additional bargaining tool. What a guy.

Read Tales From The Darkside: The Movie Appraisal
Read Creepshow Appraisal
Read Cat’s Eye Appraisal
Read Two Evil Eyes Appraisal

Richard Charles Stevens

Keeper of The Crimson Quill

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