When film and television fans think of horror anthologies, their minds are typically drawn to television series such as “The Twilight Zone,” “Tales from the Crypt,” or even “Night Gallery.”
With plans to remake the former two series, many forget that anthology horror films have had a healthy life on the silver screen.
With minor successes like “Twilight Zone: The Movie” and “Tales from the Darkside: The Movie,” as well as films that date back to 1945’s British chiller “Dead of Night,” cinema has a long history of giving you multiple scares for the price of one.
With Halloween drawing nearer, Scene & Heard offers its selection of anthology films. From the sophisticated camp of “Creepshow” to the art-house prestige of “Three…Extremes,” these are the films that rank amongst the best.
“Tales from the Crypt” (1972)
Predating the successful HBO series by nearly twenty years, this adaptation of the classic EC Comics’ horror strip features top talent, such as Joan Collins and “Star Wars” actor Peter Cushing.
When five tourists enter a historic catacomb, they encounter a foreboding spirit known only as the Crypt Keeper. When the group splits up, the Keeper shows each of the tourists how they will eventually die, ranging from Christmas Eve murder to death-by-greed.
While the film is considered tame by today’s horror standards, it’s still an effective chiller that works in a way that the best anthologies do, using each story as a morality tale that scares its audience into behaving.
Perhaps the campiest entry in this list, “Creepshow” offers a rare melding of two of horror’s most imaginative minds. “Night of the Living Dead” director George A. Romero and acclaimed horror author Stephen King pair up to pay homage to the horror comics that inspired them as children.
Presented in a way that represents a cinematic comic book of demented tales, stars such as Hal Holbrook, Leslie Nielsen (in a surprisingly serious turn), and even King himself wreak terror on audiences. With stories ranging from torrid love affairs gone awry to cockroaches infesting the house of a clean freak, Romero and King select stories that are bound to get under everybody’s skin.
The film sparked two unsuccessful attempts to duplicate the fun and excitement that came along with the first “Creepshow,” but never could capture a tone that straddled the line between pure dread and camp quite as well.
“Tales from the Hood” (1995)
What could have been the equivalent of a film such as “Leprechaun in the Hood,” “Tales from the Hood” is an anthology horror film set within the crime-ridden streets of South Central Los Angeles, but the film cleverly satirizes African-American stereotypes rather than perpetuating them.
“Tales from the Hood” tells the story of three potential drug buyers that accidentally stumble upon a creepy funeral home’s caretaker who tells them four haunting tales, while also playing upon important issues in the African-American community, such as police brutality and racism.
The Spike Lee-produced film is out of print on DVD, which is a shame because it’s a solidly creepy anthology film, but it’s available to stream on Netflix and can usually be found used for a decent price.
The most prestigious of these anthology films, “Three…Extremes” comes from “Oldboy” director Chan-wook Park, “Audition” and “13 Assassins” director Takashi Miike, and “Hollywood Hong Kong” director Fruit Chan.
This Asian horror film capitalizes on each director’s penchant for extreme horror and if you can stomach any of their above-mentioned films, than it will certainly deliver. Park’s story follows a sadistic kidnapping attempt, Miike’s covers the threats of lucid dreaming and Chan’s deals with an actress who seeks eternal beauty in supposedly regenerative dumplings.
The film is for audiences who like to be challenged by what they watch, having received rave reviews from the likes of Roger Ebert, but remaining mostly a cult film stateside.
“Trick ‘r Treat” (2009)
Surely the most entertaining of the bunch, writer and director Michael Dougherty’s “Trick ‘r Treat” is a labor of love that should probably be saved to watch until that mischievous night of trick or treating.
Each of the film’s stories covers a rule of trick or treating, like not blowing out your Jack O’ Lantern’s candle, checking your candy and, most importantly, wearing a costume. A mysterious figure named Sam watches over several people in a sleepy little leaf-covered town on Halloween night, appropriately punishing them if they break a single rule.
The film was notoriously robbed of a theatrical release and thrown onto DVD and Blu-ray in October 2009, but that hasn’t stopped people from finding it. On Halloween, “Trick ‘r Treat” plays on horror channel FEARnet for 24-hours straight, while Dougherty continues to make popular viral shorts involving Sam for the channel, and it remains a bestseller on sites such as amazon com every All Hallows’ Eve.