Too much tertiary education... Former performer/wrestler...Former teacher... Scientist... Published author... Father... Want to be a writer if I grow up...
Published March 5th 2019
Anthology films, a genre that needs to come back
The Anthology film is something that has fallen out of favour in the past twenty-plus years or so. Basically, it's like an anthology of short stories – a collection of shorts put together into a movie with a unifying thread (often tenuous at best), and most often horror based.
I love me a good Anthology film.
Of course, I do; 90% of my published output has been short stories, and I would LOVE to see an anthology film of my work… (Any publishers, film-makers – contact me. Seriously. Love to work with any of you…)
The first anthology film (also called a portmanteau film) I saw was on TV, The Vault Of Horror, which I only watched because it was advertised as having Tom Baker (my favourite Dr Who) in it. It left quite an impression on me. Then, not long after, I went to see Creeepshow at the cinema, and then only because it had been written by Stephen King. That did it – I was now hooked on anthology films. Of course, then I went to see Twilight Zone – The Movie and Creepshow 2, both of which were underwhelming. But on TV, those old ones appeared every so often…
It is a form of film-making not nearly used often enough. The short form is a fun way to tell a tale, away from the confines of television with its regulations and time constraints. And the good thing about an anthology film is that, if you don't like the story, hang on – another one's coming up soon. Like an anthology of short stories or poems.
But the best anthology films were the ones made in the 1970s by a slew of British film-makers. Peter Cushing would appear in many, Christopher Lee would show up occasionally, but then you would have every British film star of the time making their cameos and it looked like it was fun to create, and that comes through.
4 close calls to start with: From Beyond The Grave (1974) featuring Peter Cushing as a junk shop owner as a tie is okay, but none of the stories really grabbed me. Cat's Eye (1985) is based on some Stephen King short stories; I liked the first two ('The Ledge' is really well done… apart from the dodgy special effects), but the third was odd and the cat tie-in felt forced. The ABCs Of Death (2012) has too many misses and not enough hits (though the hits are quite wonderful; I really loved 'Q Is For Quack'). Tales From the Crypt (1972) has one of the very best stories in it of all anthology films ('Blind Alleys', see below) but 2 of the remaining four just did not resonate with me, including the very first one.
So, my favourite story from amongst these films: 'Blind Alleys' (from Tales From the Crypt) is about a hospital for the blind where an ex-soldier takes over and his cost-cutting kills men and leaves them cold and hungry while he and his dog are well cared for. But the men, led by a masterful Patrick Magee, revolt, trap him and his dog in the basement while they build a razor-blade covered maze. The soldier is released, and then his hungry dog… wow. One of the best revenge tales ever put on film and genuinely uncomfortable and disturbing. Pity too much of the rest of its source film was not brilliant.
So, after my favourite anthology movie story, here are my favourite five anthology films.
An Asylum and a new doctor trying to work out who is the old doctor amongst a group of apparently quite crazy inmates is the tying feature of this set of four tales, all written by Robert Bloch. Each patient tells their story and does not leave out any of the details. It is quite gory for its time and not everything works brilliantly, and the ending where we see just who the doctor is feels odd. But the tales are well-written and quite incredibly thought out at times, with those red herring endings so beloved of the film-makers. Favourite tale:
'Lucy Comes To Stay': The woman whose friend is herself is something that has been done since in feature films and TV shows, but I don't think I've come across the story on film earlier than this. It is done so remarkably well that I did not see the ending coming and I've watched a lot of horror over the years. The acting of Charlotte Rampling is particularly good, and sets this tale up wonderfully well.
I only bought this (second hand on a VHS cassette) because it was based on 3 Edgar Allan Poe stories and it starred Vincent Price. Wow. How brilliant was this done. Of course, with source material as good as this, is it any wonder the resulting film was so excellent? Price appears in all of the segments as a different character, and he and Poe are the tying feature. But the whole thing is just so well done. Favourite tale:
'The Case Of M.Valdemar', with its pseudo-science and rape-fantasy romance tale with magnificent come-uppance at the end is really well done. Even the putrescence at the end was done well for its time. Vincent Price is subdued, and that just makes this story all the better.
A rental house and the odd goings on in it are the tie here. Four stories about strange deaths and disappearances, and featuring Christopher Lee, John Pertwee and Peter Cushing… how could you go wrong? It also features one of the better child actors I've seen in Chloe Franks. The device of a senior police officer investigating a disappearance of a famous actor (the last story told) works really quite well, with the local police sergeant and rental agent supplying details. A tight construct, this one. Favourite tale:
Hard, but I'm going to plug for 'Method Of Murder' about a writer who invents a character that seems to come to life, or is it just him? Then comes the ending which comes out of nowhere. Did not see that one coming. Denholm Elliott as the writer has the perfect amount of confusion and writer ego for the role. Wonderful bit.
With five stories written by Stephen King, held together by them being from a comic book (I had similar comics myself at this time), this scared me as an eleven year old at the cinema, but it has not aged brilliantly, and appears even slightly cheesy at times. But one thing makes it work still, even in this day and age – the story writing. The tales are pure King (at the time) and none outstay their welcome. And all of the five are quite good; the whole is watchable. Fun film. Favourite tale:
'The Tide' is about a rich guy who discovers his wife and friend are having an affair, and so gets rid of them, but they come back. Standard zombie tale, but the water stuff makes it different and Leslie Nielsen does a great job of acting the evil cuckolded husband until his break-down at the end. The acting makes this as much as the story itself.
The tie of these five stories is five men who go down an elevator to a basement where they share tales of their strange dreams. But all is not as it seems. This was the film that started my love for this type of movie. All of the five stories are really good, even if the acting can be quite OTT. It goes from old clichés to new takes on tales. And the endings are often ones you cannot see coming, which is perfect for this type of a movie. Favourite tale:
'Drawn And Quartered': Tom Baker is the star of this one, as an artist hard done by, and who does the Voodoo thing to get rid of those who wronged him, but ends up dying by his own hand through the same power. It's an old trope, but the original take on it from an artist's point of view, and the acting take this to the height of the form. Denholm Elliott and Baker, especially, take this and make it their own.
And there you have it – 5 anthology films to track down and watch. But, be careful if you buy them. The US versions of the British films available from Amazon et al. are edited; get the UK versions if you can. I don't understand why, but there you have it.