The French animation anthology Fear(s) Of The Dark has the standard problem of collected-shorts programs—variable quality among the entries—and it adds in a new one: Some of the longer pieces are sliced into segments and interspersed throughout the program, robbing them of some of their impact. In particular, Marie Caillou's staccato ghost story about a Japanese schoolgirl, a dead samurai, and a creepy doctor ends abruptly and oddly, but it isn't clear until the credits roll that it isn't going to continue. And Pierre di Sciullo's short, in which a woman drones on wearily about her fears while the screen fills with abstract, mutating shapes, doesn't actually resolve until partway into the credits. The program's theme is phobias and nightmares, and the pieces that run uninterrupted—particularly Charles Burns' talky segment about a shy student unfortunately drawn equally to insects and women, and Richard McGuire's wordless short about a man who takes shelter in a dark house—are naturally more effective at developing eerie worlds drawn from dark fever dreams.
While the uninterrupted pieces fare better, almost all of Fear(s) Of The Dark's entries boast remarkable visual and sound design, with weighty shadows, complicated texturing, or unsettlingly fluid movement (in the insects of the Burns piece, or the evil spirits of Caillou's story) pushing at the traditional boundaries of animation. A simple sequence by French comics artist Blutch, visualizing a wicked old man walking four vicious attack dogs, boasts a remarkably detailed scratchy pencil look. The McGuire piece has a simple, sharp design, but uses light, shadow, and sound to terrifying effect, as his protagonist blunders around in a darkness that rarely yields to his pathetic light sources, and even then sometimes only reveals enough to make things worse. All the segments are in sharp, stylish blacks, whites, and grays, though Caillou's look more like blues.
Fear(s) Of The Dark isn't a ragtag assembly of pre-existing shorts. The pieces were commissioned for this project, and they share a quality familiar to readers of French comics: a combination of sophistication, ennui, dread, and resignation that has little to do with the American idea of a horror movie. These stories are frightening, but they contain few shocks or flinches; they're deeper and more psychological, more about adult anxiety than pure terror. They're more likely to impress animation buffs than scare horror fans, but around Halloween time, adults are likely to appreciate scary entertainment with more on its mind than a simple, shallow "Boo!"