Horror Anthologies Make Ideal Halloween Viewing!
It’s the Season of the Witch, Horror Fans! We’re days away from Halloween, but we celebrate all Month in October. In case you’re undecided on which horror films to watch between now and the greatest holiday of the year, we’ve compiled a list for you. No need to thank us! Just start binging and let us know your favorites in the comments section.
By the way, we’ve listed 13 films here but they aren’t ranked in any particular order. Who are we to say which one you will like best … we recommend them all!
After Paranormal Activity, the dust settled, and horror filmmakers realized once more the untapped potential of the found-footage genre. The hit-or-miss V/H/S answers the question “what if found footage was applied to an anthology film?”
The frame narrative had a lot of potential, involving friends sneaking into a house to rob it and finding a pile of cursed VHS tapes. When played, they witness five stories which we, the audience, become privy to. Of course, viewing the tapes has consequences.
Unfortunately this narrative framing doesn’t deliver on its premise and squanders its scares, as do some of the shorts. That’s one potential drawback of hiring several directors and writers: it is tough to create cohesion and often, some segments will overshadow others. And though V/H/S gathered some well-known talent, like Adam Wingard, Ti West, and Joe Swanberg, the best short isn’t from any of them.
In V/H/S, the stand-out is the first short, called “Amateur Night”, and it makes full use of found-footage to craft its scares and comedic moments. Director and writer David Bruckner also worked on another film to make this list, Southbound. Ti West’s “Second Honeymoon” is aptly both the second best short and the second to appear in the film.
Though V/H/S doesn’t fully deliver, and there is a drop off in quality with each of the five shorts, it is leagues above both of its sequels, V/H/S/2 and the horrible V/H/S: Viral.
TALES OF TERROR
Next up, we are going back to 1962 with B-movie mogul Roger Corman’s Tales of Terror. This horror classic features three shorts, each based on a different Edgar Allen Poe story. It is the fourth film directed by Roger Corman that is based on Poe stories, and stands among one his best.
One of the biggest reasons for Tales of Terror’s
fame is the cast, which features Peter Lorre, Vincent Price
, and Basil Rathbone
. Price stars in not one, but all three of the shorts, as well as narrates the entire piece.
While the film is a little bit trashier than die-hard Poe fans might hope, those who are Roger Corman fans will get exactly what they want. Corman isn’t the greatest director to tackle Poe’s impressionistic and macabre writing; his versions of the stories are simply absurd and lack a grand metaphor. But it’s just so great to see Price, Rathbone, and Lorre delving into the poet’s great work that this film earns a spot on our list.
Stephen King made a return to horror anthology in 1985 with Cat’s Eye. Based on two of his short stories, and featuring one entirely original King tale, Cat’s Eye is strung together only by the presence of a travelling alley cat voiced by Frank Welker.
The shorts are sort of disjointed, the first a chilling tale called “Quitters, Inc.” that is reminiscent of Thinner and many other King shorts. It’s dark and twisted, with some superb King-isms. The second short, “The Ledge”, has tense moments, but like a character in it, falls flat. Finally, “General” is both silly and a bit creepy, elevated by a great performance from a young Drew Barrymore.
Cat’s Eye is fun, but there are better anthology films to start with if you’re just checking out the genre.
The most recent film on this list, Southbound saw limited release earlier this year. A road-trip horror anthology, the movie features five shorts that intertwine on a never-ending road on a long desert day.
After the success of V/H/S, several of the filmmakers wished to collaborate again in a new way: Southbound is the result of said collaboration. Unlike the mixed V/H/S, every short in Southbound is not only stylistically impressive, but also gets under your skin.
These aren’t the jump scares of their previous work, but eerie moments and slow builds that form a cohesive and strong feature narrative among the shorts. Southbound is one of the best recent entries that the anthology genre has to offer.
The more supernatural cousin to Twilight Zone, Night Gallery is another Rod Serling creation that inspired dozens if not hundreds of modern genre directors. Night Gallery often featured adaptations of horror short stories, including those of H.P. Lovecraft. The show’s pilot episode was a made-for-TV movie and, incredibly, the directorial debut of none other than Steven Spielberg.
Although this “film” is technically a pilot, Night Gallery’s first episode was comprised of three shorts and lasted an hour-and-a-half so it is a fitting addition to this list. The film starts in an art gallery, where Serling introduces the audience to three separate paintings that each tell a story of vengeance against evil.
The first short, “Cemetery”, is good fun, and the third short, “The Escape Route”, is handled well by a capable young Spielberg, but it is the second short, “Eyes”, that is the one worth singling out. Starring Joan Crawford as a blind woman who will do anything to see, “Eyes” makes great use of Spielberg’s eye for graphic violence and understated character work.
Night Gallery is a solid anthology film on its own, but it is also a testament to Spielberg’s talent as a director even when he was still untested.
TALES FROM THE DARKSIDE
d on the anthology TV series created by George Romero, Tales from the Darkside: The Movie was long-rumored to be a second sequel to the beloved Creepshow. While it certainly shares similarities in tone with Romero’s other anthology films, there is no actual evidence to support the claim.
Tales from the Darkside is comprised of three shorts and compact narrative to frame them all. The first short, “Lot 249″, is by far the weakest story, a revenge-of-the-nerds tale that goes nowhere. However, it includes the talents of young Julianne Moore, Steve Buscemi, and Christian Slater, making it worth watching. “The Cat From Hell” is delightfully silly and based on a short by former Romero collaborator Stephen King. The final short, “Lover’s Vow” is our personal favorite: a strange and haunting Japanese folklore-inspired love story.
In most anthology films, the framing narrative is simply a means to an end, but in Tales from the Darkside, the story of a young Timmy held hostage by a witch that plans to eat him perfectly establishes the tone of the stories to be told. Timmy begs the witch not to cook him, distracting her with stories that he has heard. It’s simple, yet incredibly effective.
More Essential Horror Anthologies on Page 2