Horror Ten Spot: Best Horror Anthologies!
Ah, the best time of the year, happy October folks! As you may know, a number of cool looking horror flicks are getting legitimate theatrical releases this month, none more intriguing than the low-budget horror anthology V/H/S. I'm aware the flick has received mixed reactions, but come on, what better way to celebrate the season of the dead than with a compilation of short-order terror? Can't beat it. Which is why, in case you're unable to find V/H/S in a theater near you, we're highlighting the best of the form. You down? Our Horror Ten Spot this week shines the light on 10 of the best all time horror anthologies. Enjoy!
Despite a troubled release, it's comforting to know that fun, competent, well told horror anthologies still exist in the 21st century. TRICK R' TREAT, which I saw during last year's 31 Days of October marathon, is just that...a deft weave of multi-strand horror whose link actually feels organic. THE SETUP: 4 horrific vignettes all interweave one fateful Halloween evening. BEST ENTRY: While I did dig the hell out of watching that little hellion torment a hermit's abode, I think the prank the teens play, only to come back to bite their asses, is the most effective. Dreamy, eerie, comically just...it's the one that induced the largest smile.
Following the killer canine flick CUJO, director Lewis Teague immediately reteamed with the great Stephen King to give us the curiosity of CAT'S EYE, a three-pronged horror-farce. THE SETUP: A stray cat weaves in and out of the lives of sordid characters suffering darkly comedic, ill-fates. BEST ENTRY: While the troll scene in the finale has the most childhood nostalgia, nothing beats the performance of Jimmy Woods as a dodgy doctor in "Quitter's Inc." Incredulous that such extensive surveillance could ever incriminate his smoking habits, Woods' febrile character endures a rash of hilarious mishaps leading up to a cheeky finale. Love that shite!
Also known as THE OFFSPRING, Jeff Burr's fearsome foursome of horror shorts in A WHISPER TO A SCREAM bring a little American '80s camp and kitsch to the proceedings in a way that's bereft in many of the '70s Amicus films. THE SETUP: A small-town Tennessee historian recounts four gruesome yarns to a reporter. BEST ENTRY: Since Vinny Price is narrates the wrap around story, I'm going with the great genre vet Clu Gulager's segment, in which he plays a disgraceful necrophiliac whose maddening life as a caretaker for his sister turns him into a murderous maniac. Pretty sick business!
All hail the queen Karen Black! THE SETUP: The iconic 70s powerhouse lends her splendid talent to 4 different roles in the superb TV movie TRILOGY OF TERROR, each a starring one in a trio of horror vignettes. BEST ENTRY: The unheralded Dan Curtis (BURNT OFFERINGS, DARK SHADOWS) directs each episode, but that one that's always stood out to me is final one involving the Zuni Fetish Warrior Doll. Granted, seen for the first time as an adult would probably yield little more than laughter, but as a child...scarred for life! Like many who saw this bastard as a wee lad, it's basically akin to the devilish troll in CAT'S EYE...a lecherous Lilliputian!
Prior to helming THE VAULT OF HORROR, director Roy Ward Baker cut his teeth on episodic horror with ASYLUM, starring the great Peter Cushing, Herbert Lom and Charlotte Rampling. THE SETUP: A psychiatrist a mental institution interviews 4 inmates to determine employability. Instead, the doc gets 4 deadly tales of terror. BEST ENTRY: I love Cushing's turn in "The Weird Tailor," but like most horror anthologies, it seems the first installment is most effective. Here, in "Frozen Fear," a man's murdered wife rises from the grave to seek revenge on him and his lover. Simple scenario, yes, but punctuated with solid acting, direction and genuinely creepy climax.
Our oldest film on the docket, the 1971 Peter Dufell film THE HOUSE THAT DRIPPED BLOOD, is arguably the most important as well. Not only does it predate even higher quality episodic horror (TALES, VAULT, CREEP), it stars legendary Hammer actors Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee, not to mention Denholm Elliot and John Pertwee. THE SETUP: A Scotland Yard investigator takes on four macabre cases of the bizarre. BEST ENTRY: Unlike most, this anthology seems to grow scarier with each passing chapter, so the finale with John Pertwee as an actor bestowed with strange vampiric urges definitely owns the day for me. A chilling performance.
Amicus bats 3 for 3 with the 1974 film BEYOND THE GRAVE, this time bringing in bigger names like Peter Cushing and Donald Pleasance to bolster their product. THE SETUP: First timer Kevin Conner admirably directs a quartet of chilling stories - tied together by Cushing's sleazy antique shop owner and his ragtag band of miscreant customers. BEST ENTRY: Difficult to call here as well, but something about the mirror sequence in "The Gate Crasher" has always unsettled me most. Solid performance by David Warner, who plays a guy so possessed by a ghastly mirror, he's driven to the point of homicidal madness. Great stuff!
In what's possibly the best PG horror flick ever produced, Roy Ward Baker's THE VAULT OF HORROR is truly a deserving companion piece to the forerunning TALES FROM THE CRYPT and succeeding CREEPSHOW. THE SETUP: When five strangers become trapped in a basement, they kill time by sharing visions of each other's impending death. BEST ENTRY: Tough, but I'm going with "Drawn and Quartered." Tom Baker shines as a tortured artist who attains Voodoo powers in Haiti and uses the mystical forces to exact revenge on the oleaginous art-dealers who did him dirty. Props to Amicus for following TFTC up with this equally potent dose of terror.
Stephen King and George R. Romero? Holy f*cking matrimony! Any serious connoisseur of short-order horror already knows how ill CREEPSHOW is, and how the blend of black humor and campy horror are what make this inimitable title rank among the finest. THE SETUP: A kid's thrown away pulp comic comes to life and 5 tales of terror play out in reality. BEST ENTRY: While I do get more and more of a kick out of King playing the title character of Jordy Verrill, "Father's Day" has always been my favorite. Romero and zombies? King at the wheel? Seems the perfect union, doesn't it? Note: while obviously inferior, the CREEPSHOW sequels are pretty fun in their own right.
Even if it didn't inspire one of the best horror cable TV shows ever created, the original 1972 film TALES FROM THE CRYPT remains the most effective horror anthology of all. THE SETUP: Five strangers get lost in ancient crypt, only to be mortified by four ghastly tales told from a foreboding crypt keeper. BEST ENTRY: My vote goes to "And All Through The House," the initial scene starring Joan Collins. Freddie Francis' masterful direction inspired Bob Zemeckis to adapt the same story to the small screen in the very first "Tales From the Crypt" HBO episode, also a wonderfully composed sequence. More, it's the first time a murderous Saint Nick ever graced our presence.