Chillers (1987)

By all rights, a 1987 Troma anthology film should be the worst thing I’ve ever seen, but about midway through Chilers, I felt some level of awe. I was actually enjoying something from my least favorite studio, one that makes Full Moon look like Orson Welles before Hollywood kicked him in the dick.

Now, is it “one of the most horrifying movies ever made” as the artwork loudly screams? No. But “This is on the level of Night Train to Terror in a good way” would sell that movie to, well, an audience of me.

While waiting for their bus in a station that looks like a rec room complete with pinball machines and an Elvis tapestry, five passengers wake up from horrible nightmares and pass the time by telling one another that they had too much to dream last night.

The first story is about a swimmer who had dreams of being a star athlete but can barely qualify for the team. A diver who is coming back from an injury attempts to help her get back in form — and aardvark her in the shower along the way — before she learns all urban legend-style that her flip flopping loverboy has been dead for some time. Instead of that being the reveal — Chillers is nothing if not through — he comes back as a zombie along with everyone else who ever died in the pool, including a guy who dropped a drill into the water and someone who dove in with no water.

Up next, a scout troop hates their leader — except for one boy who is the one telling the story — but he ends up being stranger than someone who demands that everyone call him Wolf. Yes, he’s a killer and every child must pay.

The best story of the lot is about a lonely woman who can’t connect with humanity. Her only relationship is with the anchor of the 11 o’clock news, who she talks to every night through the TV. Somehow, he starts speaking back to her and better still, he ends up being a vampire. Honestly, this story could have been a movie in and out of itself, as the woman slowly gains confidence with each moment she spends amongst the undead.

Then, a young man who is obsessed with those who die young in the obituaries learns that he can bring them back from the other side, but nobody really wants to come back to our world.

Finally, a professor of anthropology decides to teach his students about a Spanish demon that ends up possessing one of his students. And then, the bus arrives, bound for Hell, with all of the villains of every story sitting next to the storytellers in an ending — before the fakeout — that really brings this all together.

Chillers isn’t great. The acting is really bad, the sets are horrible, it barely looks above being shot on video and it has all the energy of a high school play. But actually, it is great in its own way, being exactly the movie you want it to be in spite of the challenges of budget, the studio that produced it and attempting to do so much with so little.

To be perfectly honest, this is exactly the kind of movie that I love.

Director, producer and writer Daniel Boyd made this in six months while moonlighting as a college professor at West Virginia State University. He’s made a handful of movies since — Strangest Dreams: Invasion of the Space Preachers and Paradise Park along with a few documentaries — but he’s succeeded in other ways. As a U.S. Fulbright Scholar, Boyd taught the first filmmaking and screenwriting classes at the University of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania during the ’98-’99 academic year in East Africa. He followed that up by winning a 2002 Fulbright Alumni Award for his work with that university on a pilot program called TeleDrum which teaches filmmaking to American and African students while producing films for international aid organizations. Two of the films that came out of this program, Duara and Sound of the Drum, won awards.

The moment I saw a Rax cup in the background of a scene, I kind of knew that I was going to love every single moment of this movie. I’m debating a new genre of horror: bus station horror. All I have right now are The Similars and this movie, but genres have started with less.

You can watch this on YouTube.

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