As I've mentioned before, anthologies are tough to judge. When one part of an anthology is great, but the rest are weak, is it worth owning? Is it a good movie? Fortunately, today's film, Terror Tract, is pretty consistently bad, although its likable stars help make it more watchable than it really should be.
Our framing story here features the late John Ritter as an affable real estate agent, trying to convince a nice young couple (played by David DeLuise and my longtime crush Allison Smith) to buy surprisingly cheap houses in a seemingly lovely suburban neighborhood. Alas, full disclosure laws require him to inform them of the history of the houses, and each house comes with a terrifying (or, at least, silly and supernatural) story.
Our first tale, "Nightmare," starts with a sexy wife (Rachel York) kissing her husband (Fred Lehne, who I last saw die on the small screen as the Marshal on Lost) goodbye as he heads to work. She then goes upstairs and, naturally, gets naked, even as she thinks she hears a noise in the house. Just as she's changing into something sexy, the camera (and thus the stalker*) comes right up to her, and she turns around only to find that instead of a killer, it's her extramarital lover (played by CSI:NY's Carmine Giovinazzo)! OMG, what a twist!
As the lovers get hot and heavy, we see someone with a shotgun sneak up on them. It's the cuckolded hubby, and boy is he mad! Instead of taking a picture and using it as evidence in his divorce case, he decides to murder them and make it look like a suicide. Oh noes! Hubby points his shotgun at his wife's lover, and basically forces his wife to write a suicide note, stand on a chair, and stick her head in a noose. At about this point, the lover says to himself, "hey, I bet this guy's not really going to let us live," so he and the hubby struggle, and the lover gets the upper hand and is able to cut down the cheating wife before she dies. Hubby soon gets his gun back, however, and he's about to blow away his wife's lover when she stabs him with a pair of scissors!
Alas, the stabbing wasn't as well placed as it could have been, and the husband is about to use the same pair of scissors to make himself a widower when bang! The lover has found the shotgun and shoots him dead, splattering blood everywhere (even on the wife).
At this point, the lovers think things through logically. Instead of stupidly calling the police and reporting that they killed the guy in self-defense, they take the smarter approach of burying the body in a nearby lake. Because that's always the right thing to do.
The wife, however, starts having horrible dreams in which her husband returns from his watery grave and kills her. And during the daytime, her hubby's best friend and fishing buddy (Prison Break's scene-stealing Wade Williams), who also happens to be a cop, is starting to get curious about where his old buddy is. The nightmares and the police investigation create lots of tension for the couple, and there really aren't many good couple's counselors for murderers. Eventually, to appease her, the lover heads out to the lake to make sure the body's still there, He dives down, sees the body, and then the body attacks him! The wife wakes up, unsure if she just dreamed this or not, but as the events play out as in her dreams (with the bedroom door rattling, footprints on the walk outside, etc), she shoots what she assumes is her zombie husband, only to find that she's actually shot her lover on the other side of the door!
When the police come the next morning, they find the lover shot, but they also find that the wife has hung herself (just like her hubby wanted). And somehow, she's covered in water! Oh my god! The hubby must really have gotten his revenge from a watery grave! I never saw that one coming!
We cut back to the framing story, as our buyers reject that house and ask for one with fewer deadly love triangles. We see the agent getting nervous, but he comes up with a second house, one that looks equally lovely. However, he's once again obligated to inform them of the potential problems with it.
You see, this house once had a monkey.
Cut to the story where we meet a happy family, headed by Malcolm in the Middle's Brian Cranston. He's a loving father who adores his wife and his little girl. When the latter finds a monkey (complete with organ grinder's outfit), and asks if they can keep it, for some reason, he says yes. However, his daughter soon gets too attached to the monkey (named Bobo), and the father starts to suspect that the monkey might just be evil (first clue? It's a monkey). Attempts to separate the daughter from the monkey just cause her to resent him**. Eventually, the monkey kills the beloved family dog (offscreen), and daddy snaps (but hides the body from his family, so as not to upset them).
When his wife stops him from stabbing Bobo, he does the next most logical thing: He hires ex-pro-wrestler/steroid abuser "Buff" Bagwell to kill the monkey. Buff, as an animal control employee, is more than willing to take a few extra bucks to put down a monkey, and heads into the house to take care of Bobo. When Cranston follows him a few minutes later, there's Buff, stuck with a dozen steak knives. Never underestimate an evil monkey! Cranston goes to call the cops, but he realizes that they're likely to blame him, so he just hides Buff's body in the garage.
He finally decides that the only way to take care of the monkey is to shoot it, so he grabs a shotgun and goes monkey-hunting inside the house. Eventually, of course, the monkey surprises him and jumps on his back, biting him while everyone in the audience is forcibly reminded of George Michael's greatest song ever. Just as dad throws the monkey off his back and fires a couple of shots at it, who should walk in but the wife and daughter, and the monkey escapes through the now-open door.
That night, the monkey-obsessed day sets out a bear trap on the front lawn, and when he hears it snap, he goes out triumphantly! Only there's nothing there; going back inside, he lies down next to his wife, only to see that her throat's been slit! Dad is now heartbroken and on a rampage, and he bursts into his daughter's room in a rage. He finds Bobo in the closet, and an epic confrontation between man and monkey ensues. Eventually, man wins by tipping a bookcase onto monkey and trapping it. He looks up, and there's his precious little girl, pointing the shotgun at him! He tries to convince her to give him the shotgun, but she knows she wants to kill her monkey, so guess who gets shot?
Any house with a homicidal monkey is off-limits to the couple that's shopping for a house, and their real estate agent is getting a little nervous. He fields a call from his boss, and he's obviously falling behind quota. He's nervous as anything now, but he still wants to close a sale, so he finds one house. This one is monkey-free and never was the site of a homicide, but eventually the agent reveals that some bad stuff happened to a former resident.
Late at night, a psychiatrist (Brenda Strong, the disembodied voice of Desperate Housewives) gets a visit from a young boy named Sean (Will Estes, of Reunion). He's been having visions. See, there's been a killer running around named the Granny killer. S/he dresses up like an old lady, and shouts "Come to granny!" before slashing the victims. And Sean has psychic flashes of the killer in action as he or she kills a girl in an alley, and later offs a teacher in a school late at night (this last occurring while Sean and his incredibly hot girlfriend, played by Shonda Farr, already mentioned earlier this week in my Jack Frost 2 review, are about to have wonderful swimming pool sex). He realizes that his visions are slightly out of sync with reality, and that he's actually getting slightly precognitive visions.
The visions go away for a while, even as someone is arrested for the crimes. But they soon hit with a vengeance, as Sean sees his girlfriend get killed in a vision. He calls the police, who scoff. By the time poor Sean makes it to his girlfriend's house, she's been chopped to pieces.
By this point, the shrink has arrives at the same conclusion you have: that Sean's the killer. But Sean explains that he's really there to warn her that he had another vision, this time featuring the psychiatrist! She doesn't believe him, and a struggle ensues. She stabs Sean in the hand and gut, and runs down the corridor of the deserted office building to the elevators. Sean stumbles after, and just as he's getting close, and she's afraid he'll make it over to her, he falls to the ground from his wounds. The elevator opens, and guess what masked killer is standing there?
We cut back to the framing story, and the agent explains that nothing bad ever happened in this house. But the wife doesn't care, and the couple says that they're not interested. The agent gets a phone call from his boss, and we hear that his family is going to be killed if he doesn't sell a house. The couple still refuse to make an offer, and the agent loses it, stabbing the husband in the neck. The wife runs away and makes it to her car. As she drives away (with Ritter's real estate agent still yelling, "Make me an offer!") we see assorted fun images, like a guy running over a cat with a lawnmower, Bobo the monkey attacking folks, and assorted murders and explosions. Guess she won't move to the neighborhood after all.
Terror Tract is pretty terrible (although you need to own it if you want to buy the other, much better movie it's packaged with. Cherry Falls will be reviewed next month, btw). It's also incredibly predictable. But it's almost worth watching this just to watch John Ritter, who gave his all in this performance. The rest of the cast is pretty solid, and they combine to make the movie a lot more enjoyable than it should be, in light of the weak script and cliched plot. Not a recommended movie, but worth watching if you end up with it lying around.
*And the audience, assuming you're into film theory and think this is a better film than it actually is.
**Feel free to speculate about a reverse Electra complex, unless you've read the previous footnote.