Monsters and Matinees: Anthologies Serve Quick Bites of Horror
We’re hearing a lot about Quibi these days, a new video platform touting a “quick bite” philosophy of short-form videos.
Classic horror fans been ahead of the curve on this idea, enjoying our own version of quick bites of entertainment through anthology films. Though these aren’t as short as the 8-to-10-minute Quibi bites, they are still easily digestible and satisfying. They generally have three to five segments that last 15 to 25 minutes each. Watch each separately or sit for the entire feature-length film.
Anthologies are the movie version of an amusement park fun house or stories told around a campfire. We know going in it’s pure entertainment but we’re hoping for a few scares, too. When we do jump (and we always do), we’ll laugh at ourselves later.
They are great because they offer variety in horror (ghosts, vampires, hallucinations, haunted items and even the green-eyed monster, jealousy), tone (thrills, scares and comedy) and great genre talent. But do forgive them for being a bit, shall we say, uneven.
An anthology can be compiled under a general theme, where each segment stands on its own such as Twice Told Tales (1963), three short stories by Nathaniel Hawthorne. Or it can be a collection of stories with a common thread, as in The House That Dripped Blood (1971) which shared the fate of various inhabitants of a British cottage.
I enjoy classic horror anthologies for the talent in front of, and behind the, camera that includes some of our favorite names like Vincent Price, Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, Roger Corman, Mario Bava and Richard Matheson.
The earliest anthologies may be two German silent films, Unheimliche Geschichten (1919), also known as Eerie Tales or Uncanny Stories where portraits of Death, the Devil, and the Strumpet come to life to read Gothic tales; and Das Wachsfigurenkabinett or Waxworks (1924) from director Paul Leni about a young poet tasked with writing stories to match wax museum exhibits of the likes of Jack the Ripper. Both star Conrad Veidt.
Perhaps the most highly regarded anthology is the 1945 black and white British film, Dead of Night, one of Martin Scorsese’s favorite horror movies. It takes the familiar idea of strangers in an old house to a different place when one insists he’s met the others in a recurring dream. So begins five stories told by various characters and linked together by the debunking of a doctor who is among them.
The most famous of the tales is The Ventriloquist’s Dummy, starring an increasingly agitated Michael Redgrave who fears his creepy doll has come to life. My favorite is The Haunted Mirror where a man’s mirror reflects a different world. I highly recommend the humorous The Golfer’s Story, based on The Story of the Inexperienced Ghost by H.G. Wells, about two golfing buddies whose affection for the same woman land them in an otherworldly circumstance.
Here’s a quick look at three other anthologies that I enjoy.
Tales of Terror (1962)
This trio of tales based on the short stories of Edgar Allan Poe has Vincent Price in each segment acting alongside Peter Lorre, Basil Rathbone, and Debra Paget. The screenwriter is Richard Matheson and the director is Roger Corman. (Of course, you want to watch this now.)
Price narrates the film – a device used often in anthologies – and gives us the treat by playing three distinct characters including one with a comic touch.
In Morello, Price is so haunted by the death of his wife 26 years earlier, that he has her decomposing body lovingly laid out in his bedroom. In The Black Cat, he plays it for broad laughs as a wine connoisseur in a humorous take on The Cask of Amontillado, co-starring Peter Lorre. In the final and scariest segment, Price is a dying man who believes in the power of hypnotism, or mesmerism as they call it in The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar. Basil Rathbone is the slimy mesmerist with ulterior motives. This one freaked me out with the idea of being dead in body, but alive in your mind. (“Give me peace, give me peace,” Price cries. I wish I could!)
The House That Dripped Blood (1971)
This Amicus film is considered among the best in the horror anthology canon and I agree. It has jump scares, laughter and many references for horror film buffs to enjoy. The original stories are from the inventive mind of Robert Bloch (Psycho) and its all-star horror cast is led by Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee and Ingrid Pitt.
The movie shares the fates of various tenants in the house of the title, a cottage in the English countryside. It’s framed by the investigation of a Scotland Yard inspector into the disappearance of an actor who was the last tenant. The inspector scoffs at talk of the house being to blame, even as he’s filled in by a local official and a man named Mr. Stoker (ahem!) who share stories of past tenants that link the film together.
I love the twists and turns in this film and how different the fate is of each tenant – something we owe to the “secret of the house” that is revealed at the end.
In Method for Murder, a horror author (Denholm Elliott) finally cracks open his writer’s block only to find his murderous creation has come to life. In Waxworks, Peter Cushing is obsessed with a wax figure that bears a startling resemblance to the woman in a photo he carries.
The terrifying Sweets to the Sweet finds Christopher Lee has his hands full with his young daughter (Chloe Franks), an adorable child with some unusual interests. I jumped multiple times watching this.
In The Cloak, we meet that missing actor (played by Jon Pertwee, the Third Doctor in Doctor Who), who buys an “authentic” vampire cloak to add realism in his film (Curse of the Blood Suckers). Unfortunately, it’s a bit too realistic. Ingrid Pitt (and her cleavage), looking like she just stepped out of a Hammer film, plays his co-star and love. It’s campy fun and a love letter to horror fans with nods to Shepperton Studios (where this movie was made). The estate agent’s address is Hynde Street Bray, which I’ll take as a reference to Hammer’s Bray Studios and screenwriter and producer Anthony Hinds.
Oh, that inspector? He gets his own part in the story, too.
Black Sabbath (1963)
I’ll always remember Black Sabbath for the disembodied head of Boris Karloff that narrates the opening of this three-part movie (later we’ll see the rest of his body) from Italian horror master Mario Bava.
Drop of Water is a creepy story about a home nurse who faces otherworldly consequences after stealing the ring off the corpse of a patient. The woman died of a heart attack at a séance and her corpse bears a grotesque face that has the look of being frightened to death. A household fly is one of the scariest things in this short.
In The Telephone, a young woman (Michele Mercier) is terrorized by calls from a stalker who seems to have eyes inside her home – and may not be of this world. (For the U.S. version of this film, it’s been reported that Bava was forced to add a supernatural element and tone down elements of prostitution and lesbianism.)
Lovers of Italian horror will feel most at home with The Wurdulak a vampire who survives by only drinking the blood of those he loves. Mark Damon is the young Russian count who stumbles upon a family terrified of the return of their father (played by a wild-haired Karloff) who they fear has become a Wurdulak. Damon, as he tends to do in his films, immediately falls for the gorgeous young lady of the house.
– Toni Ruberto for Classic Movie Hub
Toni Ruberto, born and raised in Buffalo, N.Y., is an editor and writer at The Buffalo News. She shares her love for classic movies in her blog, Watching Forever. Toni was the president of the former Buffalo chapter of TCM Backlot and now leads the offshoot group, Buffalo Classic Movie Buffs. She is proud to have put Buffalo and its glorious old movie palaces in the spotlight as the inaugural winner of the TCM in Your Hometown contest. You can find Toni on Twitter at @toniruberto.