Dirs: Joe Dante, Monte Hellman, Ken Russell, SeanCunningham, John Gaeta. US/Canada/Japan. 2006. 105mins.

Monte Hellman's superlative,evocative and genuinely moving Stanley'sGirlfriend is the standout contribution of Trapped Ashes, the horror anthology of four macabre vignettes alsodirected by Ken Russell, Sean Cunningham and John Gaeta.

Financed by Japanesebroadcast concerns and shot in Vancouver, Los Angeles and Tokyo, Trapped Ashes is an intriguing titlethat stands outside recent horror releases. It represents a difficult sell andis probably best marketed as a curiosity that should find an appreciateaudience in ancillary markets particularly DVD.

Joe Dante directed theframing material but not one of the four stories that constitutes the finishedwork. It is a peculiar omission and squandered opportunity considering theother three film-makers never achieve the richness and emotional precision ofHellman.

Dante summons his talent foroff-kilter detail and spooky edge, creating a set up where six people aretrapped inside a decrepit horror house atop a terrifying movie studio lot. Thedevelopment yields a strange form of confession as the frightened participantsare encouraged by the mysterious tour guide (Gibson) to reveal their mostunsettling personal stories.

In the first episode,Russell's The Girl With Golden Breasts,a failed actress (Veltri) undergoes a radical breast enhancement procedure thatcarries horrifying repercussions for her sexual partners.

In Cunningham's Jibaku, an American couple desperate toenliven their marriage, travel to Japan, where exploring an ancient temple,they uncover the body of a Buddhist monk who has killed himself. The wife Julia(Harris) is thrown into a weird sexual vortex of death and decay, dreaming ofsurrendering to the dead man's ghost, her ecstasy giving way to an act ofviolation and entrapment.

With the fourth segment,Gaeta's My Twin, The Worm, Natalierecounts her French parents' combative relationship strained by the unusualconditions of her mother's pregnancy, the discovery that a six-foot tapewormdeveloped in utero.

Hellman's Stanley's Girlfriend is not only thestrongest piece, it is the most atypical, graced by memory and guilt, involvinga man (Saxon) recalling a charged episode as a young screenwriter from 1957 andhis developing friendship with Stanley Kubrick and the beautiful, intoxicatingwoman (Cooke) that passed between them. Hellman debuted his work in a separatecollection of shorts at Cannes, and the layered, fascinating portrait of malefriendship and sexual competition is poetic and vibrant deepened by theauthenticity of the period details, the intuitive use of jazz and a revelationthat brings surprise and wonder.

In the other vignettes, theimagery tends toward the reactionary and it is marked by recurrent themes ofcastration and violation (special effects are fairly rudimentary throughout). The revulsion of the female form is the connectingthread. Though Kubrick was often thought of as misogynist and restrictive inhis emotional depiction of women, Stanley'sGirlfriend is playful, generous and imaginative.

The Hellman is too much of agood thing, a tantalizing work that deserves a deeper and fuller investigation.It also points out the limitations of the complementary works. To its credit itlifts Trapped Ashes into a higherrealm.

Production companies
Independent Film Fund/CINV
Tokyo Broadcasting System International
Asmik Ace Entertainment Inc

International sales
Arclight Films
(61) 2 8353 2440

Executive producers
Akira Ishii
Norihiko Tani
Michael Frislev

Yoshifumi Hosoya
Yuko Yoshikawa
Dennis Bartok

Dennis Bartok

Production design
Robb Wilson King

Marcus Manton

Kenji Kawai

Main cast
Henry Gibson
John Saxon
Rachel Veltri
Tahmoh Penikett
Tygh Runyan
Amelia Cooke
Jayce Bartok
Lara Harris
Scott Lowell
Ryo Ishibashi