An anthology horror film expressly from six separate black voices would have drawn my attention even if it was not hailing from one of my favorite streaming services, Shudder. The compiled talent for Horror Noire is the biggest draw here; unfortunately, the stories themselves are quite a mixed bag. I did not find a single one of them to be a true knockout in the realm of anthology greats like Creepshow, Tales from the Hood, or the V/H/S movies, which always have standout segments. This is not to say the film is lacking strong concepts, but it does indeed fail to conclude any of them in satisfying ways.
Up first, we have “The Lake,” which starts in 2004 on the heels of a double murder before flashing forward to present day. A quiet teacher (Lucifer’s Lesley-Ann Brandt) with a cat is trying to get settled in her new surroundings, but strange things start happening, as they are wont to do. Scratches appear on her stomach, and night after night, the woman is drawn to swim in the lake. A groundskeeper warns her ominously—“do you hear the lake calling you?” The problem with this story is that just as it starts actually getting good and giving us answers to the mysteries presented, it abruptly concludes with an admittedly striking image.
Next comes my personal favorite segment in the movie, entitled “Brand of Evil.” Channeling movies like 2021’s Candyman and 2019’s Velvet Buzzsaw, this odd horror tale ponders corruption and greed at the forefront of its messaging. A promising young street artist (Brandon Mychal Smith) who paints murals for his community on a tiny commission is lured away by a mysterious caller who wants him to craft symbols—“I’d love to hire you for a side project.” Instructions for said ‘project’ can only be relayed verbally. At first, $5,000 is offered to complete a simple task by midnight, and the rewards increase with each subsequent offer. But you know what they say: be careful what you wish for. When something is too good to be true, oftentimes it truly is.
“Bride Before You” is a period piece about a woman’s potential demonic pregnancy, giant killer spiders living in the walls, and the expansion of the family unit. This is a classier monster-movie segment that does not stick the landing yet again. Special effects work (particularly in the case of the spider) is terrific to behold and very well-done. “Fugue State” was my second favorite story in this anthology. Rachel True (Rochelle from 1996 classic, The Craft) plays the concerned wife of a man (Malcolm Barrett) who becomes obsessed with the teachings of a mysterious preacher (Candyman himself, Tony Todd). Her journey to get through to her husband is harrowing, and this story is capped off with a weird, outrageous conclusion that is probably the best ending of the bunch.
“Daddy” seems to exist somewhat in the headspace of Jordan Peele’s Us—a young child playing with his dad begins seeing a creepy man outside his window who is more than he appears. The concept of a double, or multiple versions of oneself that exist, is chilling to the bone. I only wish they had pushed the envelope a bit further here, as a sharp idea calls for even sharper execution. The final tale, “Sundown,” makes the cardinal sin of any anthology: never feature one’s weakest story as the final one. It leaves a bad taste in the mouth of the viewer and sours them to the experience as a whole, which was honestly exactly what happened here. In the most politically-driven story yet, a motivated couple canvassing to recruit voters run into an eerie town. A sign up literally reads “Whites Only, City Limits After Dark.” Before long, they and several other campaigners must face off against a clan of white vampires led by Peter Stormare. “Sundown” never goes beyond standard vampire movie tropes, with the only draw being that of the racial tensions.
Horror Noire is an inconsistent, but fascinating anthology movie that is worth the watch. Familiar stories coming from fresh voices in the genre is always a welcome treat. It was hard not to wish for higher highs, particularly with talent looming this large over the two hour plus runtime. Any way you slice it, Horror Noire is, at the very least, a promising start.
Horror Noire offers up six terrifying tales when it premieres Thursday, October 28th on Shudder.