A Flock of Frights: Four Favorite Horror Anthology Films

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Closing out Fantasia this year on A Christmas Horror Story, an excellent anthology horror flick, put me in the mood to go back and revisit some old favorites of the genre. Anthology films are always a tricky beast, you’ve got to have the right balance, combining the films in a way that makes them compliment one another, and it helps if there’s a decent balance of quality. Modern efforts like V/H/S often feel lackluster in this department, with maybe one decent segment standing shoulder to shoulder with lackluster ones, like a successful, attractive salaryman stuck in an elevator full of leprous drifters.

But good examples are out there, though for the most part one has to look back a few decades to find the buggers. So on this week’s FFR, I thought it would be fun to look back at some of my favorites.

Tales From the Crypt (1972)

Tales posterThe original Tales From the Crypt is far from the first anthology horror film, but it’s the earliest one I can recall seeing and one of the more looming classics of the genre. Far removed from the TV series that would bear its name, Tales feels far more classy than you’d expect. No pun-spewing skeletons here, friends.

While other films on this list would revel in the four-color pulp of their comics inspiration, Tales is pure old fashioned English Gothic, opening the strains of Toccata and Fugue in D Minor (the stereotypical “spooky horror music” you’ve heard the opening bars of a million times) and mostly featuring tale of stuffy aristos and upper-class twits getting what’s coming to them. There’s a killer Santa, a modern re-telling/re-spin of The Monkey’s Paw, a fourth-wall break at the end and Zombie Grand Moff Tarkin.

It may not have the buckets of blood and and cheesy fun of some later entries, but Tales From the Crypt is a fun and atmospheric movie that doesn’t get revisited often enough.

Creepshow (1982)

Creepshow is probably the best known and best remembered horror anthology of the 80s, arguably the one that kicked off the craze. Directed by George A. Romero himself and written by the one and only Stephen King, Creepshow gleefully embraces all the pulp and color of EC horror comics, crafting a gross, fun, colorful horror experience that often prompts as many laughs as it does scares.

The cast is full of recognizable faces, all of them clearly having the time of their lives. Ted Danson, Leslie Nielsen, Ed Harris, Hal Holbrook, Adrienne Barbeau and even Stephen King himself make appearances as conspiring lovers, evil corporate magnates, hapless hillbillies and vengeful cuckolds.

There’s a sense of pulpy fun that pervades almost every segment. While other anthology horror films at the time often seemed dead set on being scary as possible, Creepshow devotes just as much energy to being flat-out fun, with plenty of grossout moments, cathartic kills and loving reverence to horror tropes. Like Tales From the Crypt, most of the stories are about awful people getting their just desserts in silly, over-the-top poetic justice, and you’ll probably find yourself cheering more than once.

Body Bags (1993)

Body bags posterMade towards the end of the horror anthology craze, John Carpenter and Tobe Hooper’s Body Bags is doubtlessly the least well-known movie on this list. Hell, I hadn’t even heard of it until the good folks at Scream Factory did a terrific Blu-Ray re-release.

Body Bags spins three yarns, featuring a cast so expansive I couldn’t possibly list it here. For me, the most memorable performance is by far John Carpenter himself in the framing story as a morgue worker who introduces us to the various key players of each tale. He’s clearly having more fun than should be allowed in polite society, mugging for the camera as he doffs formaldehyde martinis.

The stories themselves are all great fun, one an atmospheric little slasher story, one a tale of a hair implant gone wrong and one about a baseball player (played by some guy named Mark Hamill) who receives the eyes of a serial killer after his own are lost in a car accident, which naturally imparts the killer’s murderous impulses on him.

Body Bags may not be the best horror anthology ever, but it’s a fun, often overlooked little gem that makes for a great watch with some friends.

Trick ‘R Treat

For my money, a lot of recent attempts at reviving the horror anthology for modern audiences aren’t much worth looking at. I never really got aboard the V/H/S train after being thoroughly unimpressed by the first entry, as you may have gathered by that bit about the drifters in the intro. But then there’s Trick ‘R Treat, a brilliantly crafted collection of Halloween horrors that remains head and shoulders above any other recent anthology films.

The stories that make up the film are beautifully balanced, each one subtly crossing over and feeding into the other. There’s a Halloween prank gone horribly wrong, a button-down killer trying to dispose of a body while his apparently oblivious son keeps getting under foot, an old man menaced by the film’s sack-masked poster child, and Anna Paquin as a stereotypical good girl who draws the attention of a masked vampire.

The stories are all beautifully interwoven. There’s never more than a couple going on at once and there are enough connections between them to make the whole thing feel nice, cohesive and well-planned. The makeup effects are top-knotch, with the film’s mascot Sam standing out as a terrifically designed and conceived character.

From the opening sequence that effortlessly evokes early John Carpenter to the wonderful creature feature that is the closing tale, there literally isn’t a weak moment in Trick ‘R Treat, it all comes together beautifully to deliver the kind of fun, spooky experience that Halloween movies were meant to be.

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