Blu-ray Review: Family Portraits: A Trilogy of America (2003)

January 15, 2021

Written by DanXIII

Daniel XIII; the result of an arcane ritual involving a King Diamond album, a box of Count Chocula, and a copy of Swank magazine, is a screenwriter, actor, artist, and reviewer of fright flicks…Who hates ya baby?

Family Portraits: A Trilogy Of America is an arcane anthology, so let’s see what each story has to offer our eerie eyeballs before we get a lil’ of that sweet, sweet overview action, shall we boils n’ ghouls?

The first story up is Cutting Moments:

As is the way of suburbia in Anytown U. S. of fuckin’ A., a wife and mother (Nicca Ray in a solid performance that runs the gamut from doubt to absolutely batshit purpose) plays homemaker while her sicko of a hubby (Gary Betsworth) is playin’ the Chester the Molester bag with their young son.

Our heroine gets the idea that she should be the one getting her husband’s attention so she starts to try and bring him around with a lil’ make-up, a sexy dress, some self-mutilation… you know, the usual stuff.

Well, this is a pitch-dark way to kick tings off and let me tell ya cats n’ creeps this one does indeed shock and disturb. The tension mounts and mounts before things culminate in a crescendo of sex and violence that hits you like a sledgehammer to the ol hairy beanbag!

I’m almost nervous to see where this flick heads next…

In Home we get a similar tale of a patriarch (a returning Betsworth) gone completely off the rails, but this go-around we get the narrative from the man’s perspective rather than his wife’s.

So about said father figure mentioned up yonder, he spends his days as an office drone, but within that noxious noggin of his stirs the results of a childhood riddled with abuse… an abuse he continues to perpetuate within his own family.

While kind of easy to guess the outcome (this segment is a re-make of sorts of the first piece), this bite-sized nugget of ick nonetheless contains just as much tension and squirm-inducing situations as it’s predecessor.

I may need a shower and a few (dozen) stiff drinks after all is said and done here…

Finally we have Prologue, in which a handless, near paralyzed teen slowly regains the memories of how she ended up in such a condition… and decides to confront the sumbitch what did it to get answers.

While a bit more low-key than the visceral visual wallops of Chapters 1 and 2, this segment is easily my favorite of the bunch. Here is an introspective piece dealing with horrendous abuses, but seen after the fact. This “dealing with the trauma” angle makes this one the darkest entry by far as we see consequences beyond the violent acts themselves… lingering effects on the survivor that make the horror worse than nay special effect could convey.

Originally three separate short films (which can be viewed in that manner on this disc by the by), Family Portraits: A Trilogy Of America was edited together and shown in a few markets as a collective whole (with some editing and credit differences between the films in their original and Frankensteined versions). Either way you choose to watch them the end result on the viewer is devastating.

Writer/director Douglas Buck manages to weave tales darker than any Hollywood fare here, and on a shoestring budget no less. But don’t let that last bit fool ya; these are well shot and acted films, not some zero-dollar slasher “homage” with no style or grace, as is too often the case.

Rather, these three fright flicks are all “impact” as the darkest of subject matter is unflinchingly conveyed and served up as cold as you can imagine… and the end result is incredibly effective to say the least.

Surely after the films itself you’ll find yourself tired… possibly nauseated… but Severin gives the most zero of fucks, as they actually intend to keep you in this wicked world a tad longer via the special features they have included on this Blu-ray release!

First we get two commentaries; one from film critic Maitland McDonagh (discussing the film’s themes over the “Trilogy” version of the picture), and from Buck himself discussing the production of the three shorts in detail. Both are fascinating listens, and really help the viewer to understand just where these pics are comin’ from.

Also included is another short film from Buck, titled After All, which deals with one sick ticket of a lad who gets his rocks off on animals killing each other in nature documentaries, followed by archival interviews discussing Cutting Moments, interviews with Buck from the That’s Dark podcast, and a deleted scene and behind-the-scenes footage from Prologue.

If you dig on the worst of humanity at their darkest, Family Portraits: A Trilogy Of America will rather unwelcomingly tickle your fancy, before crushing it to a bloody pulp… and you may never be the same having viewed it.




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