My History with the Film:
Grim Prairie Tales is one of those movies I saw on the video store shelf as a kid and was always curious about. It was one of those films that was always just one rental away, but that day never came. Then the video stores died off, Grim Prairie Tales was never released on DVD nor is it streaming. Yesterday, I wrote a blog post about Space Truckers, another one of those video store movies I always wanted to watch and I mentioned wanting to see Grim Prairie Tales. After a brief conversation with my buddy Michael, I went searching for the film and found streaming on YouTube. After almost thirty years, I’ve finally watched Grim Prairie Tales and it was not what I was expecting.
What the Film is About:
Two men spend a night around a campfire trying to outdo each other with disturbing stories.
What I Liked About It:
-In most anthologies, the framing device is the part you want to quickly prompt your next story. In Grim Prairie Tales, the framing device is the best part of the movie. Anchored by two great performances by James Earl Jones and Brad Dourif, the way these two interact and set up each story is the only thing that makes this movie truly worth watching.
-The second story has a very unexpected and strange conclusion that will definitely stay with you once it’s over.
-The film is almost artistic in both it’s storytelling and cinematography. There were moments where it felt like a film student’s project and I say in the best of ways. It’s brave enough to do some different things such as a long montage without dialogue and an animated scene.
What I Didn’t Like:
-There is very little horror in this film. It’s more of spiritual conversation about the conduct of man in a violent period in time. The film isn’t a morality tale like The Twilight Zone nor is it campy enough to qualify as a Tales from the Crypt style horror. Instead, it comes across like a TV anthology series with a bit of an identity crisis.
-The stories themselves are very underwhelming. While small commentary is made about humanity there just isn’t enough substance to really make them work. The second story with it’s crazy ending is the only story that is memorable and it’s mainly due to the unexpected ending of this single act story.
-Director Wayne Coe’s only feature film directing credit. He made a documentary in 2021 and considered making a sequel Grim Prairie Tales: Rescue Party in 1992, but nothing ever came of it. He’s served a storyboard artist for films such as: Se7en, Argo, and Sam Raimi’s Spiderman.
-The feature debut of DP Janusz Kaminski who has worked with Steven Spielberg on all of his films since 1993. He won Oscars for Best Cinematography for Schindler’s List and Saving Private Ryan.
I’m hard pressed to call Grim Prairie Tales a horror film. It’s more of a quirky, spiritual movie about storytelling where the framing of the anthology is better than the stories themselves. Brad Dourif and James Earl Jones are spectacular and the moments they spend together discussing storytelling and interacting with one another are the highlight of the film.
After spending so many decades waiting to see this film, I was definitely underwhelmed. It wasn’t a complete waste of time, but there are so many better films out there. I love westerns, 90’s horror, and anthologies, but this combination just did not work for me.
I rate Grim Prairie Tales two out of five and say skip it.