“Horror is a woman’s genre,” author Grady Hendrix opined in his fabulous book, Paperbacks from Hell: The Twisted History of ‘70s and ‘80s Horror Fiction, “and it has been all the way back to the oldest horror novel.” The ambitiously titled Dark Whispers: Volume 1 certainly agrees with this notion, offering ten horror stories directed by women (with an eleventh wraparound segment weaving the whole caper together) and the result is a mixed bag but with definite highlights.
Dark Whispers: Volume 1’s thin wraparound yarn is about a woman named Clara (Andrea Demetriades) who has inherited her mum’s Book of Dark Whispers. She cracks the tome to have a squiz, and we’re off to the races. What follows are ten short films that veer wildly in terms of quality, and have no real connective tissue other than they were helmed by women.
Highlights include The Man Who Caught a Mermaid (dir. Kaitlin Tinker) – about a bloke who does what’s on the tin but there’s a great twist, Grillz (dir. Lucy Gouldthorpe) – a very modern take on a vampire tale, The Intruder (dir. Janine Hewitt) – which stars Asher Keddie (Offspring) and features a neatly subverted story, Gloomy Valentine (dir. Isabel Peppard) – a striking stop motion animated work of gothic gloom and Watch Me (dir. Briony Kidd) – a lush mood piece that evokes David Lynch in full-on bizarro mode.
The problem is, these films feel like what they are: a loosely assembled collection of genre shorts stuck together. This gives the entire piece a disjointed feeling that never quite coalesces into a cohesive whole and makes the pacing feel clunky somehow.
The concept of a female-only anthology isn’t new. The superior XX did it back in 2017, and while it’s definitely a creatively laudable exercise, Dark Whispers: Volume 1 doesn’t quite stick the landing. Still, if you find yourself in the mood for a few creepy shorts, and want to support women in the arts, this may provide modest thrills.