Two men, strangers, are sharing a fire on a chilly night under the vast prairie sky.
"Wanna hear a story?" one of them asks.
Answering yes, the other man says he'd prefer a horror story, which meets with his companion's favor.
"I'll tell you a story so horrible that it'll make bats fly out of your ears and your tongue blaze like a Marrakesh pig."
Ah yes, the fabled blazing Marrakesh pig. How charming.
Wayne Coe's "Grim Prairie Tales" unfolds from this campfire encounter. One of the men, Farley (Brad Dourif), is a bland, rather fastidious city slicker on his way to Jacksonville to visit his wife and mother. The other man, Morrison (James Earl Jones), is a bounty hunter with tobacco juice on his teeth and something that looks like a black mop stuck on his head. He's the colorful one and the one who tells most of the stories. Never mind what they're about. Mostly nothing, and certainly not anything that connects them or comes to any point. Nor are they very scary. Nary a bat flew out of my ears, and as for my tongue, well, nothing to report.
Since the movie devotes most of its screen time to the telling of these tales, the yarns have to engage us and they don't. Only one image -- that of a man being swallowed up while making love to a woman (don't ask) -- stays in the mind. The best part of the film is the bristling dialogue between Dourif and Jones, who banter and insult each other outrageously. When the camera focuses on these two the film is bearable, but all too frequently it cuts away. Both actors let it rip here, especially Jones, who punctuates his lines with a virtual river of expectoration. It's his most liquid performance. An accomplishment, I suppose.
Grim Prairie Tales, at the Biograph for one week only, is rated R and contains some sexual material and violence.