Thursday, April 24, 2014

Sometimes its the tiny tales that trepidate the most...a look at some horror anthology films

Peek-a-boo Creeps and welcome to Staying Scared.

Whether it be vampires, werewolves, witches, zombies or any other ghosties or ghoulie types, one thing is certain, there is and always will be something that terrifies each and every one of us.
be it book or film, arguably it is the subtle psychological making one ponder horror that is probably the most effective, typically leaving scars that last a lifetime and creep upon us from time to time at the least opportune moments.
Just try and deny the thought of Jason while floating in a boat on a serene lake beneath a bright full moon.
Have you, after watching The Ring, waited and watched a few extra seconds directly after turning the television set off, almost half expecting the girl to come climbing out?
Does the sound of tubular bells conjure up a backward stairwell spider scamper?
The point being, horror films have a tendency to plant seeds that lay dormant until triggered by something associated. At that point, they grow like a bad weed.
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besides the standard Exorcist, Night of the Living Dead and Omens, that association tends to come from a couple of horror anthologies, which, by today's standards, are completely tame and probably considered cheesy.
when I was but an ittle bitty clown, those anthologies left lasting impressions that remain vivid to this day. Of course, while no longer conjuring fear, those films still retain a very bloody spot and, as quoted from Evil Dead, has swallowed my soul.
So ghouls, check under the bed, offer a quick peek into the closet and do a double take making sure the doors and windows are locked while Staying Scared takes a look at the horror anthology film.

Dr. Terror's House of Horrors (1965)
This film is a bit of a misnomer since it is not a house at all, but rather a train car with five travelers, not including Dr. Terror (Peter Cushing), a kindly sort of fellow that the viewer will immediately recognize as something different.
Christopher Lee & Peter Cushing
Regardless, placing this oddness will prove difficult and thus, the viewer will subconsciously allow the character to circumvent and draw them in as he, through the magic of tarot cards, offers to show each of the five gentlemen riders their futures. But, there is nothing nice about these futures and in the end, all are in for one demented surprise.
The death card always turned up last.
Quite similar in overall production, appearance and the fact that they too used two of British horror's biggest stars of the day, Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee, Amicus Productions is often confused with Hammer Films. And, as the well known Hammer Films went on to create popular full-length feature films, Amicus Productions, inspired by the Dead of Night film, continued to branch into the anthology realm.

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The House That Dripped Blood  (1970)
Another Amicus Productions film, this time the caretaker is obviously a house, abet a haunted one. The surrounding four progressing tales, scripted by Robert Bloch, explore a serial killer, a wax museum, a witch and a vampire, and culminates with a fifth, rather creepy, climaxing tale.

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The ABC's of Death (2012)
Created by Drafthouse Films, Magnet Pictures and Timpson Films, this anthology consists of 26 shorts, each utilizing a word from each letter of the alphabet. Innovative, intriguing and certainly different than other anthologies, the viewer needs tough skin with some of the films and might very well be appalled with others.
And, unlike the ABC's Dr. Seuss book it is inspired by, may even force a viewer to seek a dictionary for a choice few. Regardless, well worth a sitting and may even have the viewer pondering whether a second edition is in the works.

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Tales From the Darkside (1990)
Three tales surrounded by one fill out this popular anthology. The first is a new take on the Mummy tale, the second tells the tale of a fearsome and murderous cat and the third involves a witness who saw something he shouldn't have and if he keeps his mouth shut there will be no repercussions. Otherwise...
The encapsulating tale explores a paper boy and a very special dinner.
Choreographed well with just the right amount of FX will keep the viewer engaged. However, if it is intense fear your seeking, this one is quite limited. But, by all means, don't let that hold you back from this enjoyable film. After all, Stephen King and George Romero can't be wrong. 


Deadtime Stories (1986)
A babysitting uncle tells the tales of 3 Witches,
The eldest witch
Little Red Riding Hood
The Big Bad Wolf
and Goldilocks and the three Bears.
Goldilocks was never like this
But, these fairy tales are not the childhood versions. Gruesome, sexy and bloody, this B flick is an often an overlooked gem for anthology fans. While Deadtime Stories is cheesy and certainly won't win any awards, the film is still fun in a corny kind of way.

The Vault of Horror (1973)
Again, Amicus Productions doesn't fail to deliver in this five tale collection surrounding demise.
Riding an elevator, five men are taken down to the only destination the elevator goes, the vault. Unaware of their dilemma, the five anticipate rescue and whittle away the time contemplating through dream-like scenarios and recall last moments. Rest assured, each will come to realize the finality of it all.

There are your typical, tried and true vampire, murderer and sort of black magic type tales, along with a twisted coffin tale and an odd take on being a portrait painter.
Although the tales have been told many times before, this time each appear distinct in their own creepy little ways, making them seem almost fresh in a 1970's sort of way.
The limited FX is certainly not impressive, but still commands appreciation for valiant effort for exploring gruesomeness and gore in a time long before realistic believable standards were ever conceived.

Nonetheless, with the creep effect maintained by using a constant envelope of draping eeriness, the film succeeds and more than likely will find a place on nearly every top 10 horror anthology list.

And last, but not least, probably the most famous horror anthology of all-time,
Tales from the Crypt (1972)
Yet again, the eventual conclusion is death in these five tales expressed by a cryptkeeper who, far from the spin off HBO series, resembles a medieval monk. But, don't let that fool you, for the yarns he weaves are chilling and real.
Joan Collins is terrorized by a Santa who does more than stuffing stockings
There is a demented Santa Claus carrying an axe. By using a mistress, a different version of the classic Monkey's Paw story unfolds. In probably the best tale of the lot, Peter Cushing, obviously reeling in emotion due to the real-life loss of his wife, portrays a kindly, yet exceptionally poor man whom the children adore, but has become the target of a jealous neighbor.
Peter Cushing as a ghoul
And, although blind, the residents of the home are quite capable of exacting revenge on a cruel caregiver.

Tales from the Crypt was cutting edge horror prior to the comic code enactment dictating that certain heinous scenes not be portrayed. Coincidentally, Creepy and Eerie magazines got around this code by changing their format size.  
Capitalizing on the popularity of the EC Comics line of the same name, the film was Amicus Productions crowning achievement and became the undisputed precursor to the more popular and far more gruesome series debuting years later on HBO which featured an animatronic Cryptkeeper that looked more so the part.
With a wicked and often wisecracking disposition, the Cryptkeeper evolved into a fan favorite

And so minions, ghouls and all things that go bump in the night, while this posting only touches on some of the many horror anthology films out there, for those unfamiliar yet interested, start with these and you won't go wrong.

Until next time,
Stay Scared,

Thomas & Willie