Good evening Ghouls and gals, my favourite horror sub-genre has to be anthology horror.Anthology horror is in itself a sub-genre of the portmanteau film, a ‘film within a film’. It has its own format which normally involves a wrap-around story which contains several short stories within itself. An example would be George A. Romero’s ‘Creepshow’ where a kid (played by Stephen King’s son), forbidden by his father secretly pours over his old EC inspired comic books as we, the audience, see the stories he reads play out in front of us. Another wonderful example of the wrap-around would be from the classic Amicus film, ‘Torture Garden’ where all of the stories are told to customers of a fair ground attraction.
While the wrap-around is more common place, there are notable exceptions within the anthology horror genre where it is not used. ‘Trilogy of Terror’ ( and it’s sequel) has three separate stories where the lead part is played by the same actress. This had already been pioneered by the two excellent Vincent Price films ‘Tales of Terror’, and ‘ Twice Told Tales’. Both films share the characteristic that they are both adapted from an authors work with the latter being based on the writings of Nigel Hawthorne, and the former based on those of Edgar Allan Poe. This can also be seen in the Lovecraft inspired ‘Necronomicon’ and the fabulous ‘Two Evil Eyes’, a modern update of two Poe short stories, helmed by Dario Argento and Romero once more.
There are some Anthology horror films that can be argued ( not by me) to be something entirely different. Some would argue that without a wrap-around story, that these films are simply collections of disconnected short films that do not conform to the conventions of the genre. There are admittedly entries in the genre that are perhaps less anthology horror and more plain anthology. The notoriously controversial ‘Twilight Zone: The Movie’ contains non-horror based stories ( but also some of the best horror based ones, especially the fantastically creepy opening), while Richard Matheson’s ‘Dead of Night’(1977) contains a science fiction tale which is ‘spookily’ similar to ‘Back to the Future’.
There are a great many GOOD anthology horror films, and a few duds, but there are also some that are amongst the best horror films ever made; Mario Bava’s ‘Black Sabbath’ and Kobayashi’s ‘Kwaidan’ are fit for any top ten list ( Kwaidan happens to be one of the most moving and beautiful films I have ever seen). The genre has also been used sparingly as social commentary in films such as ‘Grim Prairie Tales’ and ‘Tales From the Hood’, hell even my favourite director, John Carpenter, had a great stab at one in ‘Body Bags’.
It’s difficult to work out what makes this genre so great in my mind. You could claim that it’s the wide range of talent used per film, or the fact that even the worst anthology films often have at least one story really worth watching, but I think it is mostly to do with the short story. Many short stories have been adapted for the big screen, but the problem is that most are brilliant for 20 minutes and no more. The Anthology Horror genre allows filmmakers to bring those stories to the screen in a concise and enjoyable way without having to pad a script ( something a great many filmmakers are guilty of).
If you enjoy a great short story, you’ll love this genre…
I’ve ran a website and Youtube channel (which I won’t promote here*cough* Menu *cough*) where I’ve written and recorded a bunch of horror reviews over the years. I am currently working on a long term project, ‘The Anthology of Anthology Horror’ where I’ll be reviewing every Anthology Horror film in existence. This will include all of the classics, but also the forgotten gems like ‘Screamtime’, ‘Nitemares’, ‘Tales that Witness Madness’ and ‘Dr Terror’s House of Horrors’.
Some of these films are unfortunately lost, but I have amassed somewhere from 40-60 films in my collection and would love YOU to discuss the ones you love, tear apart the ones you don’t, and perhaps put me on to a film or two I haven’t seen.
So what’s your favourite?