Horror Anthologies

Exploitation Videos 10

published in Video Age, April 1986, Melbourne

How many times, after sitting through a horror film, have you said “Gee, it would have been better if it only ran for half an hour." Horror/fantasy anthology films, then, are for you.

One for the first horror/fantasy anthology films was Flesh & Fantasy (1943) directed by Frenchman Julien Duvivier and often historically overlooked in favor of another British production made two years later, Dead Of Night. In Flesh & Fantasy, the narrative link for the three short stories is a man trying to convince a sceptic of the unexplained things in life, hence the title — which, in 1943, was not as erotic as it sounds today. Dead Of Night contains four segments in the form of a group of people gathered to tell their recurring nightmares to each other. The most memorable story is the final one, featuring Michael Redgrave as a crazed ventriloquist. Both these films are chilling classics to look out for on late night TV.

Horror/fantasy anthology films didn't hit the big screen again with such impact until the early '60s, but television kept the format alive in what is referred to as the "Golden Age" of television drama, when anthologies were the mainstay of programming and some fantasy programs shared the limelight.

Tales Of Tomorrow (1951) was the first. Then came The Twilight Zone (1959-1963), Boris Karloff's Thriller (1960-62), The Outer Limits (1963-65), Night Gallery (1969-1973), Ghost Story (1972), Circle Of Fear (1973), Orson Welles Great Mysteries (1973) and the Australian-American co-production The Evil Touch (1973).

To kick off the '80s, the Hammer studios — which had seemingly ceased to exist in 1979 — decided to try television. Hammer House Of Horror premiered in England in 1980. Thirteen episodes were made, eight of which are now available on video from Syme in the form of four separate double-bills: The Guardian Of The Abyss (devil-worship) and The Carpathian Eagle (ritual slayings); The House That Bled to Death (possession) and Growing Pains (the supernatural); Charlie Boy (voodoo) and Thirteenth Reunion (cannibalism); and Children Of The Full-Moon (werewolves) and Visitors From The Grave (psychological thriller).

The Hammer House Of Horror series is well-made but more pedestrian than powerful, yet it was a sincere attempt to bring horror to television. Unfortunately the amount of terror (graphic or otherwise) was determined by the show's early-evening time slot on English television.

Meanwhile in America, the producers of Darkroom (1981) found out after only a few episodes that there was no room for horror on American television, whilst The Hitchhiker (1983-1986) has managed to survive only through the HBO Cable Network. A proposed second series of Hammer House Of Horror also apparently never saw the light of a cathode-ray.

But things are looking up for the old sugar tube. In 1985, four — count them, four — horror/fantasy anthology series started production: The New Twilight Zone; Speilberg's Amazing Stories; a revival of Alfred Hitchcock Presents; and, the most gruesome of the bunch, Tales From The Dark Side, created by George Romero and Richard Rubenstein and with SPFX make-up by Tom Savini.

The New Twilight Zone has already hit TV in Australia, so let's hope that the others follow shortly. (The odd letter to the odd TV station wouldn't go astray, either!) And so, what happened to horror-/fantasy anthology films? Well, following the success to be found in television into the '60s, Roger Corman condensed three Poe stories into the one film titled Tales Of Terror (1962) (it's available on video under the title Tales Of Horror). Englishman Milton Subotsky, of Amicus Films, then cornered the market with gloriously gory Technicolor. His first production was Dr. Terror's House Of Horrors (1964) followed by Torture Garden (1967), both directed by Hammer veteran Freddie Francis. In 1967, a pale American imitation of the former was made called Dr. Terror's Gallery Of Horrors (also released as Blood Suckers and Return From The Past!) and in 1968, there was the arty compendium of Poe stories titled Tales Of Mystery (also released as Spirits Of The Dead). Fellini, Vadim and Malle each directed a segment and Jane Fonda runs around in some kinky outfits.

Subotsky kicked off the new decade with one of his best anthologies to date The House That Dripped Blood, and then, in 1972, he cemented his historical footnote in horror anthologies with Tales From The Crypt. Directed by Freddie Francis, this film found a new source to directly work from — William Gaines’ gory E.C. comics from the '50s. Crypt succeeded by combining humor with horror in a way that never softened the shocks and continued the same in its sequel, Vault Of Horror (1973), directed by another Hammer veteran, Roy Ward Baker. That same year, Freddie Francis made his own EC-styled giggling gore anthology Tales That Witness Madness.

After this burst in the early '70s, things started to die down a bit, leaving us with pilot telemovies for series which never eventuated. Trilogy Of Terror (1975) was scripted by Richard Matheson and directed by Dan Curtis. The third story about a vicious voodoo doll is a knockout! Trilogy was a pilot for a series to be called Dead Of Night (after the 1945 film) and a second pilot was compiled from episodes which were never aired, this time carrying the title Dead Of Night (1977). That same year, a Canadian/British co-production called The Uncanny was released direct to TV in America, boasting an impressive cast which included Ray Milland and Peter Cushing, and co-produced by Subotsky.

The '80s — only half over — could end up being much better. 1983 of course saw the collaboration between King, Romero and Savini for Creepshow (1983) which once again revived the E.C. vein of gruesome humor. Creepshow was a relief after some of the earlier failed projects of the '80s. The producers of Darkroom had another crack at it with Nightmares (1981), a telemovie pilot for a series that never got made, and Subotsky himself didn't cut it too well, either. The Monster Club (1980), produced by him and directed by Roy Ward Baker, tried to go modern but only ended up with some corny comedy and a few rock bands (The Pretty Things and UB40). But then Subotsky sold the rights he owned on some short stories by Stephen King to Dino De Laurentiis who then used them for Cat's Eye (1985), directed by Lewis Teague. A very off-beat film, it contained some scenes which many people didn't find all that funny. A commercial flop in the cinemas, it will hopefully find greater success when it is released on video.

While you're waiting for it, you can satiate your King-sized appetite with Stephen King's Nightshift Collection on Seven Keys. This is a compilation of films made from the short stories to be found in King's 1973 compendium of the same title. Children Of The Corn was one of those stories (made into a film in 1984 by Fritz Kiersch) and the remaining three short stories appear on this video: The Boogeyman (1982), The Woman In The Room (1983), and Stranglehold (1981). In 1979, NBC (which produced King's Salem's Lot for television) was considering a screenplay by King for his Nightshift Collection to be made into an anthology series, but it never eventuated. With a King screenplay it might have ended up much better than the adaptations in this video release, as they range from the lightweight to the lacklustre. If this video release disappoints you, just contemplate the upcoming screen versions of King's Pet Semetary and Silver Bullet.

Text © Philip Brophy 1986. Images © respective copyright holders