It is difficult to comprehensively or accurately assess writer/director Giorgio Clementelli’s Uncommon Stories of American Horror, abbreviated to USAH, without better understanding what his underlying intention was when he created the piece, part travelogue, part love letter to horror, real and imagined, part history lesson, part stream-of-consciousness procession of helter-skelter thoughts and images, photographs, film footage and artwork, both new and archive, sourced, commissioned and artificially generated, but some truths are self-evident.
Covering “thirty tales of pure horror, sixty-six uncommon characters and eighty-four iconic locations,” running to less than eighty minutes by default Uncommon Stories of American Horror cannot offer anything which might be considered a deep analysis of the sites visited by Clementelli or the events which prompted his road trip centred around the American north east, among them Amityville in Long Island, Salem in Massachusetts, Camp No-Be-Bo-Sco in New Jersey, better known for representing Camp Crystal Lake in Friday the 13th, and a variety of structures in New York City.
Narrated by Mark Hanna while Alex Di Nunzio serves as a visual anchor, wandering around an airy rural gallery and glancing at paintings representing the subjects of interest with the blank expression of an art student asked to describe the properties of a Bose-Einstein condensate, while many of the places visited are beautiful and others are disturbing and there are indeed stories to be told, to describe them as “uncommon” is a misnomer as there are no surprises or revelations in a script which never expands beyond common knowledge or differentiates between fiction and reality.
The genuine murders of which Lizzie Borden was accused and for which Ronald DeFeo was found guilty presented on equal footing with the works of Edgar Allen Poe, H P Lovecraft and Lloyd Kaufman, while the staff of Danvers State Asylum which inspired Lovecraft’s infamous institution Arkham are said to have used their inpatients as guinea pigs for unethical mass testing of vaccines, no balancing mention is made in the segment on the germ warfare conducted by the New World pilgrims upon the native population that smallpox is now an eradicated disease precisely because vaccination exists.
The threshold for credulity conspicuously low, Ed and Lorraine Warren are said to have investigated around 10,000 cases over half a century, approximately two cases every three days if they took Sundays off without ever having managed to produce anything which could be described as verifiable evidence, a burden of proof similar to that found at the Yankee Pedlar Inn of Torrington, Connecticut where the viewer is blithely assured that “between 2012 and 2017 several teams of paranormal investigators visited… confirming the presence of paranormal activity” without specifying exactly what was witnessed or documented.
A freeform association of ideas leaping from subject to subject as though clicking Wikipedia links at random, Uncommon Stories of American Horror is without structure even where it offers snippets of interest, but it is also questionable beyond the obvious false equivalences and unsupported borderline conspiracy theories presented without qualification (“blood rituals were said to have been performed in past centuries as well as Satanist ceremonials in more recent times!”), with a significant amount of the visual material which includes multiple recreations of murders, suicides and other tragedies created by the generative artificial intelligence tool Midjourney rather than remunerated artists, an approach as misguided as it is tasteless.
USAH – Uncommon Stories of American Horror will be available on digital download from January 2024