Tag Anthologies

Asylum (1972)

Asylum (1972)

You have nothing to lose but your mind.

In order to meet a requirement for employment, a young psychiatrist interviews four inmates of a mental asylum. He hears their stories about the revenge of a murdered wife, a tailor who makes a unique suit, a woman who questions her own sanity and a man who builds tiny robots with lifelike human heads. The psychiatrist must then decide which inmate is the former head doctor in order to secure his job.

 

Think British horror and Hammer will most likely be the first name on your lips, and rightfully so. The studio dominated the late 50s and 60s with its succession of period Gothic horrors featuring Dracula, Frankenstein, various mummies, werewolves and more. However, you would find a solid case to argue for Amicus, a rival British studio which, after the success of Dr Terror’s House of Horrors in 1964, churned out a further seven horror anthology films of varying levels of quality. Asylum was made mid-way through this schedule and acts as a critical high point where the creativity and originality had just about peaked and the films hadn’t got too formulaic for their own good.

The best thing about these anthology films is that they would feature a number of smaller stand-alone horror stories which usually ran for about ten to fifteen minutes and were linked together by a framing story. The stories were usually well-paced, snappy affairs which meant that if you didn’t like it then you’d only have to wait a few minutes before the next one began. It’s a something for all approach that worked well across their anthology films. For each weak segment, there was always a strong segment to rebound with. Asylum is no stranger to this way of working. Everyone will find something different to enjoy and the four different stories will each appeal to a certain horror lover.

The framing story for Asylum is probably the most interesting of the Amicus anthologies and does a nice job of linking together the individual stories. Writer Robert Bloch (who had previously penned The House That Dripped Blood, not to mention writing the novel Psycho) creates a mysterious tale in which the audience are being tested as much as the young psychiatrist. It also helps that Amicus’ film stock always looked dull and devoid of colour, certainly compared to their lavish Technicolour Hammer counterparts. The gloomy look adds to the creepiness and bleak nature of the asylum.

The first story isn’t particularly exciting about a husband who kills his wife because she won’t give him a divorce. It’s not great although it does feature a highly memorable image – that of a woman’s severed head, wrapped in brown paper, coming back to life and beginning to breathe through the paper. It’s quite an unnerving effect as the body parts squirm and making the paper rustle. However, no reason is given for the woman’s body parts coming back to life and this somewhat sours the whole episode.

The second story is also pretty low key as an impoverished tailor is paid a visit by a mysterious stranger who gives him an even more mysterious material from which to make a suit for his son. Barry Morse gives a sympathetic performance as the tailor and Peter Cushing adds a touch of class as the stranger with a lot to hide. The material glows quite weirdly and the set up to the finale is quite nice, if somewhat predictable. Cushing isn’t in it enough to make much of an impression so it’s a good job that Morse is able to hold his own.

The third story is arguably my least favourite but potentially the best developed of the four as a young woman is released from a mental home to stay with her brother. However she keeps having visions of her friend ‘Lucy’ who tells her to run away. Charlotte Rampling gives a good performance as someone who is delusional but Britt Ekland is her usual self: looks good but doesn’t cut it in the acting chops. The twist in this film is highly predictable right from the start even for the least seasoned horror veterans.

The final story doesn’t last too long and is basically a set up for the finale as Herbert Lom’s doctor creates little robots with lifelike human heads and says he can bring them to life by the power of thought. The robot looks really freaky with their little human heads but the segment isn’t really meant to be as long as the others. It leads right into the finale when we find out just who is the doctor and it’s quite a twist ending. It’s a chilling ending which comes out of nowhere and rounds the film off nicely. It will make you smile, laugh and shiver at the same time, which is precisely the sort of black humoured-horror that Amicus was aiming for.

 

As far as anthologies go, Asylum is a great way to spend eighty-eight minutes. The production is professional enough, the atmosphere suitably creepy for the setting, there are some big names to hold the cast together and there’s a little bit of gore too. It’s a great example of the anthology format being used in the right way.

 

 ★★★★★★★☆☆☆ 

 

 

Body Bags (1993)

Body Bags (1993)

Zip yourself in tight!

A trilogy of horror tales is presented to us from inside a morgue. The first is about a serial killer, the second about a hair transplant that goes horribly wrong and the third is about a baseball player who is involved in a car accident and has an eye transplant with serious consequences.

 

This is a mouth-watering prospect for a true horror fan: a collaboration of two of horror’s most infamous directors, John Carpenter and Tobe Hooper (long before the Masters of Horror TV series came into being too). Here we have a trilogy of horror tales, each approached differently. Considering how Carpenter’s films have gradually got worse as the years progress and Hooper may have directed one of the greatest horror films of all time (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre) but has never really followed it up (Poltergeist arguably coming closest), then Body Bags is as entertaining as I could have hoped for and more. Originally penned as the start of a Tales from the Crypt-like TV series, the idea was shelved and the stories were bound together with a wraparound story and presented as a film.

Carpenter himself presents the tales and is possibly the best thing about the whole film. He stars as the wacky morgue corpse who cracks jokes and wisecracks about the other dead bodies before introducing us the individual tales. He’s solid in front of the camera, showing us that he’s as comfortable there as her is in the director’s chair.

The first story, The Gas Station, is a standard slasher piece about a woman who gets a night job at a gas station in an area that has been suffering from a spate of murders. Unfortunately for her, the murderer decides to pay a visit to the gas station on her first shift. Carpenter directs this one and he brings back some of his old magic with several moments directly copied from Halloween – the town is even called Haddonfield. It’s full of the usual standard slasher elements and includes some wacky cameos from the likes of Wes Craven and Sam Raimi. Overall, this story isn’t bad and Carpenter manages to make it more exciting than it should be, complete with another great soundtrack. Some trademark Carpenter moments in here including the lush distant shots and the chilling sight of the apparently-dead killer rising up in the background of the shot ala Michael Myers in Halloween.

The second story, Hair, is the weakest of the three and is played more for laughs. A bald man gets revolutionary hair therapy in a new clinic only to find out that he is being used for something more devious. Stacy Keach stars as the unlucky patient but comes off as a pompous git and actually deserves what happens to him for being so worried about his hair. David Warner looks quite wooden during the faux TV commercials but then improves dramatically in person and gets back to usual reliable self. The ending is quite a surprise and a nice touch though and certainly not how I had envisioned it to end. This segment was also directed by Carpenter and is more throwaway than the others, filled with more black humour and showing the playful side of the director.

The last story, Eye, is directed by Tobe Hooper and stars Mark Hamill as a baseball player who is involved in car accident and loses his eye. All is not lost when he gets an eye transplant but unfortunately for him, it is the eye of a killer and he begins to have strange visions. This story isn’t that bad either, with a transplant plot that has been done quite a few times over the years (J-Horror The Eye for instance and even in one of the Halloween specials of The Simpsons where Homer gets a hair transplant). Hooper still manages to make the material seem original and even though we know what is coming, it’s still interesting to see it all pan out. Mark Hamill shows how capable an actor he is here and it’s a real shame that his career didn’t take off like Harrison Ford’s did after Star Wars. Hair is the bloodiest of all of the stories too, though it’s clear that Hooper runs out of decent material and opts to go for the ‘everything but the kitchen sink’ approach.

 

Body Bags is just a film made by some horror greats who just wanted to give the audience a good time and enjoy making it in the process. And that it does. Like pretty much every horror anthology film made, there are strong segments and some weak ones. There’s something here for everyone though and a whole host of famous faces crop up in various guises so definitely worth checking out.

 

 ★★★★★★☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Creepshow 2 (1987)

Creepshow 2 (1987)

When The Curtain Goes Up, The Terror Begins!

The latest issue of the Creepshow comic is delivered to a young boy and he reads the three stories: a wooden Indian statue outside a small general store comes to life when some local youths mess about with the elderly couple; some teenagers encounter a blob-like creature which lives in a lake; and a woman does a hit-and-run on a hitchhiker and thinks she’s got away with it, only to be confronted with the dead hitchhiker numerous times down the road.

 

The good old anthology film lives on in Creepshow 2, a follow-up collaboration by director George Romero and writer Stephen King to their 1985 surprise hit. It was their tribute to the old EC horror comics of the past and worked well with a solid cast, a selection of varied stories, a very dark sense of humour and some nice unsuspecting twists. Unfortunately Romero passed on the director’s chair and the lack of his input in the film is clear to see as replacement Michael Gornick lacks the style and panache to turn the material into something unique. Despite this, Creepshow 2 is an underrated sequel which delivers some mild doses of horror. It doesn’t help that wraparound story is really dull. They’ve replaced the live action wraparound story from the original with a weak cartoon and this just doesn’t work. I’m sure a few quick scenes with a couple of actors would have been a lot cheaper and made a lot more sense.

Old Chief Woodenhead is the weakest of the three stories but only because we’ve seen it before. It’s basically your routine slasher film with a cigar-store wooden statue coming to life to take revenge after a gang of criminals rob and kill the elderly couple who own it. The special effects and make-up for the statue are excellent and it moves exactly how you’d expect a something made of wood to move. It even creaks too. But the script for this part isn’t great, the acting from the younger cast is unconvincing and it all moves along predictably. At least old hands like George Kennedy are here to add a bit of class and sympathy to the proceedings even if he looks like he’d be anywhere else but here. The problem with this segment is that, being the 80s, slasher films were ten-a-penny so I don’t see the logic in putting a slasher piece in here.

The Raft is the best of the stories and runs like The Blob meets Jaws as a group of teenagers swim out onto a raft in the middle of a lake, only to become trapped on there by a deadly blob-like creature. The special effects for the creature are cheap and low rent but do their job admirably. It’s like a bin bag floating on the water but as soon as it starts sucking and slurping, the special effects turn nasty and none of the characters on the raft are safe. The cast is enthusiastic (especially the lunk-head in the speedos – one of my favourite horror film characters ever!) despite living up to every teenager cliché going and there’s even some token nudity thrown in for the hell of it. It’s also got the most satisfying ending of the three stories as everyone gets their just desserts.

The Hitchhiker is somewhere in the middle of the other two stories. It’s not really that good but still manages to provoke a few scares and plenty of laughs along the way. The hitchhiker is hilarious and his line “thanks for the ride, lady” is delivered with constant cheese to turn it into a classic one-liner. Every time you see the hitchhiker, he’s gradually got more and more mashed to pieces thanks to Louis Chiles repeatedly driving over him with her car until there is but a skeleton left in the finale. It gets repetitive after a while and they could have cut this segment down to keep it fresh. At half an hour in length, it quickly outstays its welcome. Stephen King makes a cameo here.

 

Creepshow 2 is a pretty enjoyable horror anthology and for those who are sick of watching a mainstream horror film with one story throughout, this is a welcome change. It just lacks a bit of punch where needed and could have done with another imaginative story or two just to cut down the length of some of the stories. The Raft is well worth watching this film for in any case even if you don’t like the other segments. Just shows you what you can do with a bit of imagination and some bin bags.

 

 ★★★★★★★☆☆☆ 

 

 

Uncanny, The (1977)

The Uncanny (1977)

Cats aren’t always cute and cuddly!

Wilbur Gray is an author who travels to see his publisher during the night. He wants him to print his novel as soon as possible because he fears he doesn’t have long left to expose the sinister truths behind the novel. He has uncovered the fact that cats are in fact supernatural creatures who are really in control and has written three stories, each he claims are true, in which cats prove to be more than just pets. The first charts the story of a greedy relative who gets more than they bargained for, the second about an orphaned young girl whose only real companion is a cat and the third about a horror actor who kills his wife but doesn’t count on her cat taking revenge for her.

 

Horror anthologies were ten a penny in the 70s after British horror studio Amicus channelled most of their effort into making them. This is one of the few non-Amicus and non-Hammer British horror films of the time and it’s quite a refreshing change to see another studio attempt to muscle in on the genre, even if The Uncanny is mostly hit-and-miss stuff. It looks reasonably good with some decent sets and the camera man knows how to use a camera to zoom in for claustrophobic shots. Like its more famous counterpart studios, here the first job of the film has already been finished. If it looks good, it’s a solid start. The wrap around story is excellent though (a bit silly now maybe after Cats and Dogs made a total balls-up of cats secretly running the planet) and the cats are really made to look sinister. Peter Cushing is excellent as always – a little more nervous and paranoid than we’re used to seeing but it makes a great change. These wrap around stories usually don’t add up to much but here it is essential and the three stories actually link reasonably well.

The first one, London 1912, deals with an old woman who decides to leave her fortune to her cats, much to the chagrin of her nephew who was originally in the will. But the maid, who is dating the nephew, overhears the combination to the safe and attempts to destroy the will so that she can live with him in riches. However the cats have other ideas. The cats are the ‘stars’ here or at least they should be but they’re about as menacing as a dead stick insect. A lot of cats growling and snarling have been dubbed over these cute felines which seem to be playing with the characters, never mind attacking them horribly. They even manage to force one character to lock themselves in a pantry and practically starve them to death by keeping them pinned inside. It’s a bit predictable but if the cats had been more menacing, then the whole thing would have been more believable.

The second story, Quebec Province 1975, is about Lucy, a young girl whose parents were killed in a plane crash, moving in with foster parents. She brings her cat, Wellington, with her but runs into trouble when the bitchy step-sister takes a disliking to them both and has her father take Wellington to the vet to be put down. But that doesn’t stop Wellington from coming back from the dead and helping Lucy take revenge. A pretty weak story for the most, this one has some lame acting from the two young females and some overly nasty bullying just to make us boo the step-family (think pantomime-esque cheap boo tactics) . However it’s got a killer ending and one which completely underlines the nasty nature of the entire piece.

The third one, Hollywood 1936, is mainly played for laughs as Donald Pleasance assumes the role of a horror actor who is filming a scene with his wife when the prop blade turns out to be real and kills her. He switched blades to kill her in an ‘accident’ but her cat decides to avenge her death. Starting with a great sight gag (we see a photo of Pleasance as Ernest Blofeld in You Only Live Twice, stroking the trademark white cat) this one could have been better had it not been for the insistence to turn it into a comedy piece. There are a lot of intentionally bad puns like “I twat I taw a puddy tat” which will have you groaning and wondering what the characters will say next. But Pleasance is having fun hamming it up as the bad actor and his hairpiece for his character has to be seen to be believed!

 

The Uncanny is yet another decent horror anthology from the 70s which doesn’t set the world on fire but doesn’t fall into the bad film category either. If you like the oldies like me and don’t mind watching another horror anthology, check it out. If not, then it’s your problem and I’ll let you go off and watch Scary Movie or some other modern dross.

 

 ★★★★★★☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Monster Club, The (1981)

The Monster Club (1981)

A tongue-in-cheek trilogy of terror!

After an encounter with a mysterious old gentleman who turns out to be a vampire, a writer of horror stories is invited to a ‘monster club’ in order to give him some new writing material. Here he is told three gruesome stories: a ‘shadmock’ who has the ability to kill people by whistling falls in love with a woman who wants to rob him; a famous vampire who has fled his previous life as a Count is now a family man with wife and children; and a movie director on a location scout comes across a village inhabited by real ghouls.

 

Milton Subotsky had produced many horror anthologies during his time with Amicus in the 60s and 70s (Dr Terror’s House of Horrors, The House That Dripped Blood, Asylum, Torture Garden, The Vault of Horror, etc) and I’ve pretty much watched them all. So it’s nice to finally get the chance to see this rare swan song of his. The basic formula of the anthology film that he had been wheeling out for years sees a group of short stories linked together by an overall wrap around story, usually with some sort of twist at the end. Throw in a bunch of famous genre actors and you’ve got the classic anthology film. Well maybe not so because, although there was always one decent story, there were always a couple of stinkers thrown in too.

The Monster Club is no exception to the rule. Here we have veteran actors Vincent Price and John Carradine doing the main bits in the wrap around story. And to be honest, it’s actually a decent enough set up for the film. You know right from the start when Price’s vampire character apologies for “helping himself” to Carradine’s neck and blood that the film is going to be light-hearted, even goofy at times. Having an underground club where monsters congregate could have been a gold mine for some decent stories. But instead the club turns out to be some corny nightclub where loads of people dance around in fancy dress masks (OK I know there’s supposed to be actual monsters but the masks look horrible) and listen to crappy 80s bands all night long (who all play their full songs for the benefit of the camera). Poor Vincent Price and John Carradine have to pretend that they’re enjoying themselves here amongst the youths. They do add a touch of class to the proceedings though and their performances aren’t in question. It’s just that I’d envisioned the monster club to be classier and, well more monster-ish. You know, werewolves playing chess with each other, vampires smoking in dinner jackets, zombies serving cocktails, etc. Something more like a social club as opposed to a nightclub.

As for the stories themselves, well they’re not great in all honesty. I would have thought the writers could have come up with something better than the three on display here. Given that it was a monster club, why did they randomly make up some silly monsters to base two of the skits around? Why create the whole ‘monster genealogy’ chart that tells you what you get when a ghoul mates with a werewolf? These lesser creations lack the impact of a well-known monster so it’s no coincidence that the best story on display is the one about the vampire.

The first one about the ‘shadmock’ starts off stupidly, continues to disappoint and then ends on a real low note. It’s just such a pointless story. The pale-skinned hermit who lives in the mansion could have been any monster at all so there was no need to turn him into a stupid whistling beast! He’s a weirdo who feeds his pigeons and…well, that’s all he seems to do in life. The ending to the segment is a bit heartbreaking as the guy clearly thinks he had fallen in love but had to dispose of his wife-to-be because she was going to rob him. Welcome to the real world, pal. Ever heard of those scheming Russian brides who come over and clean you out?

The second story about the vampire is the best because of the silly way the subject matter is presented. It seems that a famous Count from Eastern Europe (never mentioned by name but we can assume its Dracula) has fled to the UK to start a family. He lives with a human wife and they have a little boy. He sleeps during the day and then “goes to work at night” whilst avoiding men carrying violin cases. It seems that these men are the ‘V-Squad’ – a team of vampire hunters led by Donald Pleasance who have been hunting him for years and finally get a chance to kill him when they befriend the little boy and follow him home. There’s a decent effort to put a new spin on the vampire story, simply by having him as caring family man. Pleasance gets little to do including a staking but even in his small role, he still adds some much needed credibility to the segment. Britt Ekland is also here in a throwaway role as the wife.

The third story is basically a zombie film with ghouls as the film director is desperate to find a spooky village to film his new horror movie. He finds a seemingly-deserted town which turns out to be inhabited by some creepy-looking townsfolk who want to have him as their tea. The segment is basically an extended chase scene after about five minutes in but it’s got a superb atmosphere. Clearly filmed on a stage instead of outside, the village seems to have a mystical fog that hovers just above the houses thus giving the whole place an eerie unnatural light. There’s also a decent, if somewhat predictable twist at the end.

 

The Monster Club was one of the dying breaths of the Anglo-Horror cycle and it shows. Running like a silly Halloween party, it’s got some decent ideas and performances but is bogged down by its childishness, obsession with playing as much 80s music as possible to fill the running time and generally poor writing. Good enough to watch but nowhere near the genius of the earlier anthologies.

 

 ★★★★★☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

From Beyond the Grave (1974)

From Beyond the Grave (1974)

Terror to delight worshippers of the Macabre.

When customers buy antiques from an old antique shop they get more than they bargained for. A man buys a mirror to find it haunted by a being who forces him to commit acts of murder in order to live again. A tired husband takes an old war medal and eventually meets up with a mysterious ex-serviceman and his daughter who help him kill his wife. Another man meets a stranger on a train who tells him he has a spirit on his shoulder and, after he attempts to strangle his own wife, he enlists the help of the woman to exorcise it. Finally another man buys a large antique door which opens back into the era of Charles I.

 

Whilst Hammer was bashing out constant sequels to their biggest franchises, their main British rivals Amicus opted to go for a different route, filming a succession of horror anthologies throughout the 60s and 70s. Connected through a specific theme, each film contained a few short stories with a twist ending which were then linked together by some wraparound story which basically served to bookend each segment. Amicus were able to parade a ‘who’s who’ of British stage and cinema during their time, borrowing established genre stars from Hammer, notable stage actors who were happy to star in a twenty minute segment for sizeable sums of money as well as up-and-coming American actors looking to break into the business. The ‘something for everyone’ approach worked well for Amicus as the majority of the films featured at least one decent segment and each film always featured some big names. The only problem with these anthologies was that due to their high number, it’s quite hard to remember which film is which.

From Beyond the Grave is as guilty of this as the rest. It nails the ghostly atmospheric vibe that it should have and contains a genuine sense of eeriness at what is around the corner. It’s creepy, never scary. It’s not shocking but you’ll be amused at the black humour and dark tone on display. Due to the nature of the type of film it is and necessity for there to be twists at the end of each story, you genuinely get the sense that you have no idea what is going to happen. Sometimes it’s predictable but for every twist you guess right, there’ll be another instant when you’re on the floor after the rug has been pulled out from under you. In all due respect, this part of the film works as well as it ever did in these anthologies. But the stories don’t stand out very well from the other seven Amicus anthologies.

Ironically it’s the wraparound story which is the most memorable part of the film as Peter Cushing sports a dodgy accent as the owner of the antiques store. Cushing scuttles backwards and forwards in his dusty, dingy little store and seems to be having a fun time goading his customers into purchasing items or, in many cases, allowing them to try and obtain the antiques through deceitful means (which then backfires on them big time in their individual stories).

The first story, entitled The Gatecrasher, is the best, probably because it has the best actor in the film in it apart from Cushing in the form of David Warner. The possessed mirror is actually pulled off pretty well and you do get the feeling that the spirit is actually living inside thanks to some good camera trickery. The murders here are also pretty brutal for 1973 as Warner completely goes to town on his victims. It ends a little predictably but still a lot better than the others. Whoever chose Warner’s wardrobe needed shooting though!

The second story, An Act of Kindness, goes more for the mysterious as Donald Pleasance and his extremely weird real-life daughter Angela give off-beat performances as a father and daughter who are a little too eager to get into the life of Ian Bannen’s character. I didn’t know where this segment was heading and there is a nice twist at the end but it’s the completely fruity performances of the Pleasances that make this one a little better than it should be. It’s also given a lot more time to develop than the first story which felt a little rushed.

The third one, The Elemental, is almost played for laughs (there’s always one that does this unfortunately), especially during the completely over-the-top exorcism scenes in which nothing in the room is sacred – everything is completely wrecked. It’s a generic exorcism story though and there’s nothing flash here. In fact it probably would have worked better without the comedy aspect.

The final story, aptly named The Door, is also pretty weak as the door opens back into the time of Charles I. I felt a little cheated by this point in the film because having seen this segment, I realised that three of the different stories were practically the same – some being from another realm is trying to get into ours via some means. Having already seen the first story and to a lesser extent the third one, I was not in the mood for one more. Therefore I’m probably being a little too harsh on this story but I didn’t enjoy it at all. It does feature the best cinematography and sets of the film, something which is unusual for the usually tight-pursed Amicus.

 

From Beyond the Grave is a little lacklustre at times and not the best of Amicus’ anthologies but British horror fans like me will appreciate some of the talent in front of and behind the camera. The stories are harmless fun and although it may not be perfect, you can give me it over modern rubbish like Urban Legend any day.

 

 ★★★★★★☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Creepshow III (2006)

Creepshow III (2006)

Five Jolting Tales of Horror!

Five tales of terror are brought to life: a serial killer call girl meets a client with a horrible secret; a pair of student’s seek to prove whether their old professor’s wife is mechanical; a new TV remote wreaks havoc on the life of an annoying school girl; a young man obtains a possessed radio; and a mean doctor gives a homeless man a contaminated hot dog with disastrous consequences.

 

A complete travesty to the efforts of Stephen King and George A. Romero who brought us the Creepshow films back in the 80s, Creepshow III is a terribly late and lame attempt to revive the series. Made without any involvement (or blessing) from anyone who participated in the original films, Creepshow III is by definition a cheap and nasty cash-in on a popular and nostalgic series. Instead of Romero and King, the film is brought to us by the same goons who made Day of the Dead 2: Contagium, possibly one of the worst ‘unofficial’ sequels ever made. Well guys, the good news is that you managed to break your previous boundaries of trash cinema with this unhealthy dose of low budget nonsense.

Based on the old E.C. comics of the 1950s but not actually using any of the stories, Creepshow III has little to be cheerful about. For a start it just doesn’t capture any of the atmosphere of the previous films or even the comics. They contained enough macabre and bad taste to chill your blood but also enough dark humour so that you wouldn’t take it seriously. There’s none of the ‘comic book’ style headers or introductions to any of the stories and instead we’re given some really lame animated sequences which look to have been made with a free program that the effects guys downloaded off the net. Where’s the spooky ‘Creeper’ character who framed the stories in the first two films? The old stories used to contain some sort of ironic twist or shocking ending and Creepshow III tries to pull the rug from underneath you a few times. However a lot of the twists and turns are telegraphed earlier on the story and thus their impact is watered away.

The third story, Rachel the Call Girl, is guilty of this in a big way as it gives the twist away prematurely and thus the segment turns into a waste of time because you know how it’s going to pan out. It’s a shame because the story is the best of the five and although that’s hardly rooftop-shouting praise, it’s the pick of a bad bunch. Creepshow III attempts to be mean-spirited and fiendishly fun but fails on almost levels because the writers just don’t know how to set-up the story in the slightest. Punch lines are pathetic and the attempts at comedy and black humour are cheap. Predictability sets in long before the rot. Cheap gore is substituted in where the clever shocks were before. The creative team just hasn’t got a clue and I bet they hadn’t even seen the first two Creepshow films.

Another of the problems is that Creepshow III contains five separate stories which mean that they’re all fighting over time. I’m sure that two of these stories could easily have been binned and the others expanded a little more. As it stands, they’re all too short to really get going and the silly one-note premise prohibits the segment from doing anything engaging. Having said that, I’m probably giving the writers more credit than they deserve if I think that they’d be able to flesh out three stories any better!

One of the more entertaining aspects of the other two Creepshow films was their use of named actors in some of the skits. The likes of Leslie Nielsen, George Kennedy, Adrienne Barbeau, Ed Harris and Ted Danson all appeared in one of the films and added much needed credibility to whatever story they were in. Here the cast is a bunch of no-namers and no-hopers who overact, can’t act or simply phone it in. I’m sure that they’ll enjoy the welfare cheques when they’re unable to get another role.

 

In future if I see the names of Dudelson and Clavell attached to any sequel, I’m going to avoid like the plague. It’ll be a hack job, a cheap and nasty cash-in and an insult to the original as well as the many fans that pay to see this stuff. Creepshow III is horrendous.  For some reason they keep singling out Romero’s films to butcher. What has the poor guy done to them? I know what I’d do to them that’s for sure.

 

 ☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Trick ‘r Treat (2007)

Trick 'r Treat (2007)

Poison, Drowning, Claw, Or Knife. So Many Ways To Take A Life.

It is said that Halloween is the night when the dead rise to walk among us and other unspeakable things roam free. The rituals of All Hallows Eve were devised to protect us from their evil mischief and one small town is about to be taught a terrifying lesson that some traditions are best not forgotten. Nothing is what it seems when a suburban couple learns the dangers of blowing out a Jack-o-Lantern before midnight; four women cross paths with a costumed stalker at a local festival; a group of pranksters goes too far and discovers the horrifying truth buried in a local legend; and a cantankerous old hermit is visited by a strange trick-or-treater who has a few bones to pick with him.

 

I had low expectations for this anthology film which is similar to the likes of Creepshow and some of the older Amicus films from the 60s and 70s. Anthologies aren’t in fashion and haven’t been for a while because there’s no main character and no main story – two things which younger audiences today would find quite hard to comprehend. So it was a bit of a gamble to make one in today’s horror environment where torture porn is the norm and gore and violence are demanded by a bloodthirsty audience.

Halloween night is the theme and there are a few interwoven stories which run alongside each other and cross over at varying instances. Each mini-story has its own twist at the end until the film goes full circle and ends right back where we started. However I did not expect Trick ‘r Treat to be this entertaining.

Trick ‘r Treat is pretty hard to review in all honesty because it’s just a great film. Effortlessly charming, it isn’t scary, it’s not particularly gory and the stories don’t have a lot of depth to them. But the vibe of the film just reeks of the classic Halloween spirit and all of the fun and ghostly goings-on that surround October 31st. It’s delightfully morbid, full of bad taste, black humour, knowing winks to the genre and a general love and appreciation for not only the fun side of Halloween but also of the ghost stories, the urban legends and things that go bump in the night – the sinister side that we’ve all come to love. The film captures the spirit of Halloween down to a tee and it’s got one of the best atmospheres I can recall in a recent horror film. It looks superb for a start and a lot of attention has been paid to minute details. This is your typical haunted house ride presented on film with all manner of glowing pumpkins, ghostly sheets, fog-drenched caverns and spooky woods thrown in. Production design is top notch and I wouldn’t mind the designers to come around my house on Halloween and dress it up in the same way as some of the sets here.

I can handle the film not being excessively violent, not being overly gory and not featuring naked ladies (there is brief nudity but it’s on the TV during a scene) because it’s not that type of film and it doesn’t need to go down that route. The film can deliver chills and spills when it needs to though and you’ll not likely forget the sight of Sam, the little trick-or-treater with the sack over his head.

In my other anthology reviews, I’ve discussed each of the stories individually but to do that here would be to spoil the fun of seeing how they all pan out. The structure of the film may be a little confusing at first if you’re not used to anthology films as the action switches from one place and time in the town to another. But it all flows easily together and nothing seems disjointed or out of place. Different events in the film may seem random at first and lots of questions will be asked as the film leaves some bits unexplained but fear not as all will be revealed during its course. The film goes with the same style as Creepshow, presenting the film as a comic book and featuring on-screen visual framings such as ‘later’ and ‘earlier’ to remind the viewer where the scene fits in with the overall story.

Each of the stories has been told in some fashion before so there’s nothing new there but it’s the manner in which they’re all twisted around and given new leases of life. There’s a good A-list cast on display too with Dylan Baker clearly relishing his role as the sinister headmaster and Brian Cox grumping it up as the old hermit. Anna Paquin, more famous for cavorting around in TV series True Blood, looks great as Little Red Riding Hood. Not only that but Bryan Singer took the producing credit for this flick and its Michael Dougherty’s directorial debut after he’s penned the likes of X-Men 2 and Superman Returns. So there’s great name pedigree running right through the cast and crew.

 

It’s not often that a film leaves you wanting more but that’s definitely the case with Trick ‘r Treat. It gets the blend of everything just right and the wicked sense of humour throughout just adds the final touches. I’d love for them to do a sequel or even just another anthology. There’s clearly a lot more life left in this idea and it’d be a pity to waste it. Destined to be a cult classic to watch on Halloween alongside, well, Halloween obviously.

 

 ★★★★★★★★☆☆ 

 

 

Dr Terror’s House of Horrors (1965)

Dr Terror's House of Horrors (1965)

Acclaimed as “THE FEAR OF THE YEAR”

Five strangers board a train and are joined by a mysterious fortune teller who offers to read their Tarot cards. Each man has a different story to tell including an architect who returns to his ancestral home to find a werewolf out for revenge, a doctor who finds out his wife is a vampire, a huge plant which traps the occupants of a house inside, a musician who gets involved in voodoo and an art critic who is tormented by the severed hand of a famous artist.

 

As with many of my other reviews for Amicus films, I always start off with the point that they tried to rival Hammer as far as British horror went but never really managed to compete consistently with them. However they did find their niche in the genre, in particular the horror anthology. Dr Terror’s House of Horrors is their best one and it’s probably coincidental that it was their first one too. Inspired by the black humour-filled E.C. comics of the 50s, Dr Terror’s House of Horrors was to set off Amicus’ long-standing obsession with making horror anthologies. It was a successful formula as long as most of the stories in them were entertaining. You were always going to get some clunkers but with the array of acting talent that Amicus managed to get to appear in small roles, it was a price worth paying.Peter Cushing stars as Dr Schreck, the sinister fortune teller who forms the wrap around story for this one. He draws you to the screen the moment he arrives because you don’t know his true motives. He seems friendly enough but why are all of his predictions so nasty? He reads each of the characters their fortune which in turn becomes the separate stories. Then right at the end there’s a devilish twist as the doc reveals his true motives.

The first story is your basic werewolf story where some people are killed by a werewolf but no one knows who the werewolf is until the twist ending. Like many other werewolf stories, it’s pretty flat and there’s little to get excited about. You don’t actually see anyone in make-up, simply a mean-looking dog which growls at the camera. Running in at around fifteen minutes, the story isn’t too long and drawn out and is harmless enough, if a little predictable. Thankfully it’s got the best atmosphere of the film and the entire segment is played straight which at least adds a little credibility.The second story owes a lot to Day of the Triffids (to which director Freddie Francis directed extra footage) in which a plant begins to grow and develop a taste for killing. It seems a little absurd at times and does drift off towards being pure camp and that’s because the idea isn’t explained very well. The story doesn’t run for too long which is probably a good thing as the ‘special effects’ get a little silly – it’s simply a plant of the end of a piece of wire being wriggled around in front of the camera! Come on, you didn’t expect technical wizardry did you? Bernard Lee, more famous known as ‘M’ from the James Bond films, makes an appearance here.

The third story once again fails to excite as Donald Sutherland believes that his wife is a vampire. It follows the same vampire storyline that most of the other genre films have done and, like the werewolf one, is pretty dull and lifeless as a result. The only saving grace is the final twist to the tale which is laughable but you’ve got to feel sorry for Sutherland’s character for being so gullible and dumb all along.The fourth one is to do with voodoo and has the presence of Roy Castle for some comic relief but he just ends up irritating the hell out of the viewer as a musician who heads to the West Indies and mistakenly copies the notes from a voodoo dance with dire consequences. Castle can’t act and his comedy routine, not to mention an obligatory musical number, in this segment is really out of place with the material. What could have been the most serious of the segments turns into a bit of a variety show mess.

The fifth story is the best by far and stars Christopher Lee (coincidence? I think not!) as a rather bitter art critic who unfairly criticises the work of an artist and humiliates him in public, only for the artist to embarrass him back with a prank. So Lee gets bitter and runs him over, causing the artist to lose his hand. But the hand won’t go away and keeps haunting Lee’s character. Lee is at his best here, playing the obnoxious, sneering critic with a sharp tongue. He oozes charisma yet again and his suitably oily performance is matched by Michael Gough, another veteran of the British horror genre at the time. The effects for the severed hand are convincing enough (this is not just one of the crew putting his hand up from behind a cushion!) and there are a few moments of shocks to compliment it nicely.

 

Dr Terror’s House of Horrorshas dated quite a bit by now and as a result, it’s not going to keep you up at night. But with some great performances by THE best actors this genre has to offer as well as one or two unnerving moments, you can do no harm by having your fortune read by the doc.

 

Twilight Zone: The Movie (1983)

Twilight Zone: The Movie (1983)

You’re travelling through another dimension. A dimension, not only of sight and sound, but of mind. A journey into a wondrous land whose boundaries are that of imagination. Next stop, the Twilight Zone!

An anthology of stories direct from the Twilight Zone: a racist man finds himself travelling through periods in history noted for their persecution of minority races; the resident s of a retirement home find new life when a visitor encourages them to play ‘kick the can’ with him; a woman gives a young boy a lift home but finds out that his family live in total fear of what may happen to them if he isn’t happy; and a nervous passenger on a plane believes that there is a gremlin on the wing attempting to sabotage the flight.

 

The Twilight Zone is one of the most landmark series in television history. For anyone who has never seen it, the series was basically an anthology of science fiction, fantasy and horror stories rolled out into weekly standalone episodes. Hosted by it’s creator, Rod Serling, the stories usually featured some twist ending, sometimes shocking, sometimes poignant, but always full of thoughtful moralising and sentiment. Throughout it’s ninety-two episodes run, the show featured infamous episodes which have become part of modern culture, mostly due to The Simpsons and their spoofing of them in some of their Halloween specials. So when Steven Spielberg, riding on the coattails of his early success, acquired the rights to make this anthology in 1983, everything looked promising for a barnstorming return to form for the series. With the assistance of John Landis, hot on the heels from An American Werewolf in LondonMad Max director George Miller and future Gremlins director Joe Dante, Twilight Zone: The Movie remakes three of the most popular episodes from it’s original run and features an original story of it’s own. On paper the idea may have looked good, so it’s unfortunate that the final piece ends up of more of a homage than an outright attempt to recreate what made the original series tick.

Perhaps the main problem with Twilight Zone: The Movie is that it tries to cram too much in by including four stories plus a short prologue. This has the effect of providing an uneven, often jarring, link between stories as if they would have simply worked better as part of a revamped TV version. The fact that all of the segments different so wildly in content, tone and quality means there’s not really a common theme running throughout and no sense of overall unity. I guess that was the disadvantage of having four separate directors take charge of their own little bit instead of having one overall director like the old Amicus horror anthologies from the 60s and 70s. That said, the stories on their own are all solid enough timewasters. The short prologue, featuring Dan Aykroyd and directed by John Landis, sets the tone going right from the start, with some witty banter between the two characters in the car and coming complete with a twist ending. It’s straight to the point, not overly long and will either provide a laugh or a scream by the end. The first proper story, Time Out, is about the racist man who leaves a bar after a drunken rant to find himself stranded back in Nazi Germany and being persecuted as a Jew. Soon after, he finds himself thrust forward in time, suffering a near-lynching as the hands of some Ku Klux Klan who believe him to be a black man. The saga is complete when he finds himself stuck in Vietnam during the war and is on the receiving end of some harsh treatment from the American soldiers he comes across. The story is saddled with something of a tainted history as lead actor Vic Morrow and a pair of Vietnamese children were killed in a helicopter accident during filming, adding further sadness to the final twist ending. The story feels incomplete and the way it was heading pointed towards the character being eternity persecuted. Alas, with Morrow’s death, the story ends rather abruptly and at odds to how it probably should have ended. Morrow does a good job as the bigot who slowly comes to realise his mistakes but all of the moral preaching and giving the character a dose of his own medicine is clouded over by the real tragedy surrounding it.

Spielberg’s story, Kick the Can, is up next and it is full of the saccharine nonsense that has a tendency to fill his family films with. You know that sickly, warm-hearted, feel-good glow that the likes of E.T. have. There’s nothing wrong with it in children’s films but it’s a bit out of place here especially considering the tone of the other three entries. Scatman Crothers stars and shines as the new resident of a retirement home whose arrival prompts some of the other residents to quite literally start behaving like children. The story sticks out like a sore thumb without any shred of horror or science fiction and though it will leave you feeling fuzzy and a little better about yourself afterwards, it’s not the time or place to be feeling such a thing! It’s typical Spielberg, when he’s not playing around with sharks, dinosaurs or trawling through the Second World War for material. Leave it to Joe Dante to present the most bizarre of the stories with It’s a Good Life, the story of a traveling schoolteacher who has a chance encounter with a mysterious young boy. He invites her home to meet his family but it’s soon apparent that they live in fear of the boy and his frightening mental powers. After a straightforward start, the story soon turns crazy as Dante turns up the black comedy and throws in some twisted cartoon character-like monstrosities. Kathleen Quinlan looks drop-dead gorgeous in this one and keeps a straight face whilst the supporting cast nervously break down around her, including Kevin McCarthy and Nancy Cartwright. Cartwright is most famously known as the voice of Bart Simpson so it’s a little ironic that years later, The Simpsons would spoof the episode of the Twilight Zone to which this was a remake and have Bart use strange mental powers. Also of note is that the little boy from the original episode, Bill Mumy, makes a cameo appearance in the bar at the beginning. But this is Dante’s story from the start, featuring wacky animatronic monsters and giving the latter part of the story the look of some warped cartoon.

The final story is where the punch lies. Nightmare at 20,000 Feet is one of the series’ most infamous episodes so it was a no-brainer that it was going to be included. Starring John Lithgow in the role originally played by William Shatner, the segment is easily the best of the entire film because it’s simply there to provide thrills and shocks – there’s no moral message to be had here. This is all about scares, paranoia and claustrophobia and it’s all delivered in abundance here. Lithgow is brilliant in this story, chewing the scenery up as he tries to convince the other passengers that there is something on the wing. He’s ably assisted by the camera shooting him from weird angles to give him that extra element of paranoia and madness – has the character just gone crazy out of the fear of flying or is there really a monster on the wing? Well those who have seen the original episode will know the outcome but it’s a lot of fun to get to that point. One close-up shot will give anyone the creeps after watching. After this story, there’s a brief scene to tie everything back up to the prologue and that’s your lot.

 

Twilight Zone: The Movie would have worked better under the supervision of one director. As it stands, the individual stories clash wildly with each other and there’s little sense that you’re watching a feature film – more like a couple of episodes back-to-back. Still, all of the stories do what they set out to do and that’s provide shocks, sentiment and a bit of preaching. It’s just that you’d expect a lot more from the likes of Spielberg, Dante and Landis in their prime.

 

 ★★★★★★☆☆☆☆