Jul 11, 2014

13 Great Horror Anthologies

Article By: Tony Timpone

Wanna see something really scary? Horror anthologies have enjoyed a rich lineage in literature (Poe, Lovecraft), radio (Light's Out), television (Rod Serling perfected the form), in comics (EC) and on film. On today’s movie screens, the ongoing V/H/S series has jumpstarted interest in multi-story fright flicks, a formula first perfected by Britain’s Amicus studios in the late 1960s and ’70s. And now Chiller gets in the act again with tonight’s premiere of Chilling Visions: 5 States of Fear, a follow-up to last year’s 5 Senses of Fear. For this chapter of The Friday 13, we unveil 13 Chilling Horror Movie Anthologies! (Titles arranged according to year of release.)

1. Dead of Night (1945)

The first British horror anthology also remains one of the finest. An architect, suffering from a reoccurring dream, heads to a cottage for a job and meets a group of strangers who begin spinning five tales of the supernatural. Most of these vignettes (haunted mirror, ghost child, the drop-dead-scary ventriloquist doll finale) continue to generate gooseflesh, and even the cleverly circular wraparound segment set the standard on how to do these films right.

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2. Black Sabbath (1963)

Italy’s Mario Bava managed to coax US-based horror star Boris Karloff to Rome to serve as master of scaremonies for a trio of terror tales. The first two, “The Drop of Water” and “The Telephone,” appear cut from the Alfred Hitchock Presents cloth, while the last piece, “The Wurdalak,” features dear Boris as a curly-haired Russian vampire who preys on his own family. Karloff delivers one of his scariest performances here, buoyed by Bava’s wonderfully atmospheric and moody setpieces. 

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3. Kwaidan (1964)

Director Masaki Kobayashi planted the seeds of the modern Japanese horror film in this medieval-period omnibus, a triumph of cinematography, art direction, music and sound FX (all lovingly replicated on the excellent Criterion Collection DVD). In a quartet of ominous fairy tales, Kwaidan (“Ghost Stories”) acknowledges Japan’s rich cultural and supernatural heritage. The deliberately-paced movie won’t please gorehound tastes, but venturesome connoisseurs of the fantastique will be haunted for days.

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4. Tales from the Crypt (1972)

Before the Crypt Keeper cackled for seven seasons on HBO, Britain’s Amicus company licensed the infamous EC horror comics (published by MAD magazine founder Bill Gaines) for ripe movie adaptations. British acting royalty Ralph Richardson stars as the Crypt Keeper, who imparts frightening stories implicating the five strangers lost in his vault. The nasty finale, “Blind Alleys,” boasts the sharpest sting in its tail, while genre great Peter Cushing provides one of his top performances as a widower who returns from the dead as a vengeful zombie wanting a little “Poetic Justice.”

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5. From Beyond the Grave (1973)

In a switch, Cushing plays the host of this Amicus omnibus, the evil proprietor of an antique shop selling cursed objects to four unfortunate customers (a premise lifted by TV’s Friday the 13th: The Series). Said objects include a haunted mirror, war medal, snuff box (very British!) and door, the latter figuring into the film’s rousing finish. A game cast of fear favorites (David Warner, Donald Pleasence, Ian Bannen, etc.), fill out these macabre ditties, helmed in high style by Kevin (Motel Hell) Connor.

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6. Trilogy of Terror (1975)

TOT ranks as our only TV selection because we’d be remiss to exclude it from the list—it’s that good! The late Karen Black portrays four distinct roles in this telemovie, directed by Dark Shadows creator Dan Curtis and based on the literary works of Twilight Zone contributor Richard Matheson. It’s Trilogy’s final segment, “Amelia,” that still has audiences jumping off their sofas. Black plays a woman trapped in her apartment by a “Zuni Fetish Doll” come to life. The tiny puppet, an obvious inspiration for Chucky and countless Charles Band quickies, shows a penchant for steak knives and high-pitched screaming. You’ll be screaming too! 

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7. Creepshow (1982)

With the EC horror comics as their muse, director George Romero and author Stephen King crafted a wicked collection of creepy tales, involving two stories with implacable zombies, a furry monster in a crate and a germaphobe trapped in an apartment with a big roach problem. King himself headlines Creepshow’s only stinker, as a dumb hick infected by meteorite fungus. A delightful cast (Leslie Nielsen, Adrienne Barbeau, Hal Holbrook, E.G. Marshall, et al.) and Tom Savini’s superb makeup and creature FX add to the movie’s endless pleasures.

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8. Twilight Zone: The Movie (1983)

This homage to the hallmark TV program corralled the directorial talents of Steven Spielberg, John (American Werewolf in London) Landis, Joe (Gremlins) Dante and George (Mad Max) Miller, but the fatal accident that killed several actors during the shooting of Landis’ segment forever tainted the production. Spielberg’s painfully saccharine episode (a remake of “Kick the Can”) rates as one of the worst things he’s ever directed, but Dante (“It’s a Good Life”) and Miller’s (“Nightmare at 20,000 Feet”) exuberant reinventions elevate this anthology into another dimension. Plus Landis’ wraparound ends the movie on a fun note.

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9. Tales from the Darkside: The Movie (1990)

Followers of the popular syndicated TV show will find much to like in this entertaining trio of stories by Stephen King, Michael (Beetlejuice) McDowell and Sherlock Holmes creator Arthur Conan Doyle. An offbeat cast (James Remar, Christian Slater, Steve Buscemi, Julianne Moore, David Johansen and Debbie Harry in the linking segments) face assorted horrors concerning a mummy on campus, a killer cat and a lovesick gargoyle, all brought to life with inventive FX by the boys at KNB (The Walking Dead, Chronicles of Narnia). 

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10. Tales from the Hood (1995)

Spike Lee executive produced this gory throwback to the Amicus tradition set in the African American community. When three young punks break into a funeral parlor, they get more than they bargained for when they cross paths with the place’s impious Mr. Simms (scene-stealing Clarence Williams III). The mortician regales the boys with four tales of terror all rooted in the Black experience, and although each has social relevance, Tales from the Hood never comes across as heavy handed. Fear fans of every color will dig it. 

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11. Three...Extremes (2004)

“Extreme” is the operative word in this Asian compendium uniting the skills of Japan’s Takashi (Audition) Miike, Korea’s Chan-Wook (Oldboy) Park and Hong Kong’s Fruit (Don't Look Up) Chan. This cinematic poo-poo platter goes for big-time gross-outs, as in Chan’s opening segment (which he also expanded into a feature film!) about a vain actress who seeks a rejuvenation serum made from aborted human fetuses! Sumptuously produced and shot, each of these Extremes may revel in bad taste, but you won’t be bored.

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12. Trick 'R' Treat (2007)

Writer/director Michael Dougherty ingeniously interweaves five Halloween-night stories in one of the best-ever horror anthologies. Highlights include a Halloween Scrooge (Brain Cox) getting his comeuppance by the film’s mischievous mascot, a masked imp named Sam; the serial killer (Dylan Baker) masquerading as a mild-mannered school principal; and Anna (True Blood) Paquin as a college virgin who turns the tables on a stalker. Steeped in All Hallows Eve milieu, Trick 'R' Treat does for Halloween what A Christmas Story did for Christmas: it’s the perfect perennial for the season and a true treat any time of the year.

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13. The ABCs of Death (2012)

The ultimate and most ambitious genre anthology thus far assembles an unbelievable assortment of the darkest celluloid nightmares from 26 international genre directors—the scream of the crop! Each independent filmmaker takes a letter from the alphabet to reel off a brief story relating to mortality. Not every one’s a winner (several wallow in toilet humor and tiresome gore), but just when you start peeking at your watch, another good “letter” begins.

Hunting more chilling anthologies? Then check out these honorable mentions: the Vincent Price Poefest Tales of Terror (1962); the Robert (Psycho) Bloch-scripted Asylum (1972); the H.P. Lovecraft inspired FX showcase Necronomicon: Book of the Dead (1993); way bizarre The Theatre Bizarre (2011) and the wide range of classic TV series such as The Twilight Zone, The Outer Limits, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Thriller, Monsters and Masters of Horror.

Trade some scary movie stories of your own on our Facebook page or go on Twitter using #Friday13.

At theaters in New York, LA, Chicago and Austin, Tony Timpone and FANGORIA are hosting free horror movies all summer long. See details at Fangoria.com.

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