When trying to decide what films to showcase for the month, I had so many ideas. In my head, I kept thinking, “What about this? Oh, but I can’t forget this, or this, or even this!” I love horror movies, and I’m terrible at picking my favorite anything without saying, “This one is my favorite, but also this one.”
At first this blog post was just going to be about Trick ‘r Treat, but then I started thinking about all the other horror anthologies I’ve seen again and again. So here we are. Let’s talk about my favorite horror anthologies (and a few honorable mentions).
1. Trick ‘r Treat (2007) This is the most recent entry on my list, and one of my favorites. If you’re a fan of any of the older anthologies on this list and you haven’t seen this film, I encourage you to check it out. (I seem to recall it being available for $5 at Best Buy last year.) Writer/director Michael Dougherty tells five interwoven stories: a couple ending their Halloween and finding out why you don’t blow out your jack o’lantern before midnight, a high school principal and his sinister secret, a group of girls out on the town teasing their virginal friend, a group of kids playing a Halloween prank, and an old hermit with a dark past being visited by Sam, a playful but deadly Halloween spirit.
Trick ‘r Treat draws much from films like Creepshow, down to the comic panels cut in between stories. It is a film with its feet firmly planted in the past, as it has much more in common with slasher films of the ’80s than modern horror films like Saw or Paranormal Activity. This is a charming horror film, one that is scary, but also a lot of fun.
2. Creepshow (1982) and Creepshow 2 (1987) When I think of horror anthologies, these two come to mind immediately. They are horror anthologies done right: great stories, interesting cuts and title screens, and impeccable casting. Also, masters of horror George Romero and Stephen King are involved, so they have that going for them, which is nice.
Unlike Trick ‘r Treat, the five stories in Creepshow are not related. It’s more like reading an issue of Creepy or an old Vault of Horror. In this volume, we have “Father’s Day”, in which a twisted old man returns from the grave to get cake from his homicidal daughter. Next up, Stephen King stars in “The Lonesome Death of Jordy Verrill,” a cautionary tale about meteors. Next we have “Something to Tide You Over,” a story of a husband seeking revenge on his adulterous wife and her lover. Hal Holbrook and Adrienne Barbeau star in “The Crate”, which features a mysterious crate and its sinister contents. Finally, E.G. Marshall stars in “They’re Creeping Up on You” as a wealthy curmudgeon who gets his comeuppance from some creepy crawlies. All in all, these stories are a lot of fun to watch. “Father’s Day” and “The Lonesome Death of Jordy Verrill” are my favorites: “Father’s Day” for some gory fun, and the other for fun 1950s B-movie style terror.
Of the Creepshow films, Creepshow 2 is my favorite. This one opens with Billy, a fan of scary stories, waiting at the newsstand for the latest issue of his favorite magazine, Creepshow. As Billy begins to read, we see the delivery man is The Creep, played by Tom Savini. The first story, “Old Chief Wood’n Head”, centers around a couple (George Kennedy and Dorothy Lamour) who run an old mom ‘n’ pop store that is terrorized by local miscreants. An old wooden Indian graces their front porch, and the story unfolds from there. Next we have the first of three animated interludes, in which we see Billy picking up a package he’d ordered from the back of his magazine, a Venus Flytrap. Then we move into “The Raft”, a fun “blob” story about three youths having fun at the lake and being hounded by mysterious goo in the water. After this story concludes, we get the second animated interlude, in which Billy is hounded by bullies. The final story, “The Hitchhiker”, is a lot of fun. It centers around an adulterous woman rushing home from an encounter, only to run across (literally) a hitchhiker. This one is gory, scary, and hilarious all at once. Finally, the film closes with a final animated sequence, where we see Billy, still being hounded by bullies, riding into a field that’s more than what it seems.
3. Tales from the Darkside: The Movie (1990) Believed by some to be the unofficial Creepshow 3 (due to one of the stories being a King/Romero collaboration that was cut from Creepshow 2), this film definitely continues the vibe from those films. Tales from the Darkside was an anthology series, much like Twilight Zone, that featured stars of the day in “one and done” stories.
The film is much the same, though it has a delightful wraparound story starring Deborah Harry (of Blondie fame) and Matthew Lawrence (of being a Lawrence brother fame) as a witch and her captive that’s soon to be dinner. He tells her stories to keep her from carving him up, and that’s what we see. The first story is “Lot 249”, a cautionary tale with Steve Buscemi about bringing mummies to life to exact revenge on your enemies. Second, there’s “Cat from Hell”, the aforementioned story cut from Creepshow 2. Written by King and directed by Romero, this story stars William Hickey (Uncle Louis from National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, among other things) as an old man who hires an assassin (David Johansen/Buster Poindexter) to kill a cat. Finally, there’s James Remar in “Lover’s Vow,” about a mysterious gargoyle and what happens when you break a sacred vow. The film ends with Timmy (Lawrence) trying to escape the witch’s kitchen and is a fun tongue-in-cheek ending.
4. Twilight Zone: The Movie (1983) Paying homage to and in most cases remaking episodes of the classic TV show, this film features a fun opening starring Albert Brooks and Dan Aykroyd, and the song “Midnight Special”. From there we get a Burgess Meredith voiceover, and the first segment. Directed by John Landis (he of “Thriller” video fame, among a bunch of other things you continue to love from your childhood), this segment, titled “Time Out” is the only original story in the bunch, though it is loosely based on two classic episodes (“A Quality of Mercy” and “Deaths-Head Revisited”). The story is of a bigot who learns what it’s like to be on the other side of hate. The second segment, “Kick the Can”, is Steven Spielberg’s faithful adaptation of the old episode, where one charming elderly gent suggests the group at a rest home recapture their youth by playing outside. I love this segment, which features Scatman Crothers. Third, we have Kathleen Quinlan in Joe Dante’s retelling of “It’s a Good Life”, the story of a little boy who has the power to shape his world to please him. It’s much scarier than the original, though I maintain that Billy Mumy in that episode is terrifying. Finally, we close with the classic “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet”. Directed by George Miller and starring John Lithgow, this send-up is even creepier than Shatner’s performance in the original. All in all, this is a fun anthology to curl up with this month.
5. Tales from the Crypt (1972) The oldest film in the list, this film predates the TV show we all loved as kids by 17 years. This film is based on stories featured in pre-Comics Code EC horror comics like Tales from the Crypt and Vault of Horror. It opens with a group of five strangers, who, upon exploring catacombs and becoming separated from their tour group, find themselves face to face with the Cryptkeeper, who tells them how they’re going to die. The first story, “And All Through the House,” stars Joan Collins as a murderous wife dealing with a homicidal Santa. The second, “Reflection of Death”, centers around a man involved in a car accident and his life after it. “Poetic Justice” tells the story of nasty neighbors and what can happen if you treat people badly. “Wish You Were Here” is a “be careful what you wish for” cautionary tale. Finally, “Blind Alley” tells the story of a cruel man who runs a home for the blind. His mistreatment of them lands him in a deadly maze.
To close the film, the Cryptkeeper reveals what’s to become of the group (and what already has), and breaks the fourth wall to scare the audience. This is probably the scariest film on my list. I’ve only seen it a couple of times, but I recall it being incredibly gory and violent. It’s frightening and well done, and I highly recommend it.
Honorable Mentions: Trilogy of Terror (1975), Tales of Terror (1962), V/H/S (2012), Cat’s Eye (1985), The House That Dripped Blood (1971)
So there you have it–a veritable smorgasbord of horror anthologies to keep you awake at night. Any that I missed you’d add to this list? Let me know in the comments–I’m always in the market for a new scary movie!