(Wayne Coe, US, 1990)
This modest little picture crops up in a late night slot on the BBC on occasions and it's worth setting your video for when it does. Set in the wild west when pioneers were still staking their claims to the unspoilt American landscape, the film revolves around the chance meeting, mid-desert of two male travellers. One is a meek and mild office clerk, played by genre favourite Brad Dourif. The other a huge, wild-looking bounty hunter, (complete with his latest quarry hanging dead over the back of his pack horse) marvellously portrayed by the reliable James Earl Jones. The two overcome their initial caution and extreme personal differences and agree to camp together for the night, it being safer in the open wild desert in pairs. As the men speak about their experiences a rivalry develops between them over who can relate the spookiest, supposedly true, grim tale and the two of them take it in turns to sends shivers up each others spines.
In an imaginative reworking of the classic horror anthology format, director Coe presents the seasoned horror film fan with a fresh take on an old idea. The crucial casting of the two leads is spot on, especially Dourif in a 'soft guy' role after innumerable appearances as a deranged serial killer in recent years, and he pulls it off with aplomb. Each of the stories they tell are western turns on familiar sting-in-the-tail yarns. The tales are, for the most part, disappointing, but one cleverly uses a brief but memorable piece of animation to depict a character's nightmare. The weaknesses in the writing are buoyed by the tension generated by the photography that utilises all shades of darkness. Altogether, Grim Prairie Tales is a slight but welcome addition to the much-maligned but equally much-loved horror anthology sub-genre.