Tag Anthologies

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.

 

 ★★★★★★☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Torture Garden (1967)

Torture Garden (1967)

Do You Dare See What Dr. Diabolo Sees?

A special sideshow torture exhibit has the power, according to the showman Dr Diablo, to warn people of the evil in their futures. Five sceptical punters decide to try it and find out what the future holds for them, each one hiding greed or violence within themselves.

 

Another one of Amicus’ horror anthologies from back in the heyday of British horror, Torture Garden is probably one of the weakest on the bunch. As usual there are a number of smaller stories with a themed plot to link them all together and there are too many poor individual entries to make it work. The linking story isn’t too bad though. Here it’s the fortune-telling mannequin in Dr Diablo’s sideshow but as per usual, the story comes full circle towards the end to put a little spin on what you think has happened. You can see it a mile away (Diablo is another name for what?) but at least Burgess Meredith has some fun in the role of the showman. You can just imagine him quacking and saying that he was going to destroy Batman when he has a Penguin-like suit on. Fortunately for the film he doesn’t.

The first story, Enoch, about a witch’s cat who feeds on people’s heads starts off silly but actually works, especially towards the end when no one will believe that a cat would do it. Making good use of dingy basements, creaky barns and with a dark streak a mile long, the story never fails to convince you that this is a nasty kitty. I mean feeding on heads is classic horror material, even if it is by a cat! Just when you think the whole episode is over and Michael Bryant’s character has been locked up and sent away for his psychological problems, along comes a nice twist ending which rounds it all off nicely. The film goes downhill pretty quickly after this entry though.

The second story called Terror Over Hollywood is rubbish and possibly the worst segment Amicus ever did. It’s about a wannabe actress who will do anything to get into the movies and make a career in Hollywood, including sabotaging a friend’s dinner date with a producer. She then enters in Hollywood’s inner circle and uncovers a shocking secret about how the biggest stars have managed to retain their youthful looks throughout the years. This episode is pathetic. It wouldn’t scare a three year old. It’s a nice idea but not for a horror film. The sets look cheap and I don’t think anyone would be so gullible as to believe that this story is taking place in America.

Mr Steinway, the next story, is about a protective piano which is inhabited by the spirit of it’s pianist’s deceased mother and refuses to let anyone come between him and his natural talent. So when an admirer falls in love with him, the piano takes it upon itself to stop it. If you think it sounds bad then wait until you see the piano ‘moving’ around towards the end, attempting to push an unlucky young woman out of a window whilst playing the funeral march! The material doesn’t warrant as much time as the story is given and the silliness of a killer piano is prolonged when it should never have been filmed in the first place. Freddie Francis gives us some close-ups of the piano, with its keys bearing like teeth ready to chomp down on a victim. But there’s no sense of tongue-in-cheek and the seriousness of this segment is what kills it.

The final story, The Man Who Collected Poe, is arguably the best but mainly because of it’s strong casting. Jack Palance is great as the nerdy and eccentric collector of all things Edgar Allan Poe and is fascinated by his work and his dabbles into the occult. He meets Peter Cushing’s collector who has the world’s greatest collection of Poe items including many unpublished works. Upon further examination, it seems that Poe has been writing from beyond the grave. Or is he really dead? It may be a little confusing at times but the two principle actors in the segment really give it their all. This last story also leads perfectly into the final part of the wraparound story and brings the film full circle.

 

Torture Garden comes off as a pale follow-up to the decent Dr Terror’s House of Horrors. The two middle stories really drag on and it’s only the final one which really manages to capture the imagination and the essence of what the link story was trying to achieve in the first place. Cats feeding on heads. Robot actors. Killer pianos. Not exactly things to get worked up over are they?

 

 ★★★★★☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

House That Dripped Blood, The (1971)

The House That Dripped Blood (1971)

Vampires! Voodoo! Vixens! Victims!

A Scotland Yard investigator looks into the disappearance of a famous film actor and his search leads him to a mysterious house which has a history of bad deeds. The landlord tells him four stories about the house: a writer once encountered a character from his horror novel there, a man renting the house become obsessed with a wax figure which reminds him of a woman from his past, a little girl became involved in witchcraft and then the film actor himself bought a cloak which allegedly turned him into a vampire.

 

I love the notion of these old fashioned horror anthologies. Write a couple of short horror stories, hire a top notch British cast, throw in some minor blood and scares and mix it up with a dash of old school style and you’ve got the perfect ingredients for success. They’re almost tagged with ‘there’s something here for everyone’ with their array of horror themes and stories: you’ve got werewolves, vampires, ghosts, monsters, slashers, demonic children, haunted houses, grave robbing, black magic, witches….obviously not all in the same film. But these anthology films are like I used to go into my local sweet shop and ask for a ten pence mix – you get a little of everything for your money. Almost every horror anthology created has strong stories and weaker ones. The beauty of these films is that you don’t really get enough time to dwell on the poor ones.

The House That Dripped Blood is another of Amicus’ horror anthologies but this one doesn’t quite have the finishing touch to it like Asylum or Dr Terror’s House of Horrors. It’s probably because the wrap around story is pretty weak. The house was supposed to link the four stories together but it does so pretty unconvincingly – the house has little, if anything, to do with any of the stories – in fact one is set away from the house. It doesn’t drip blood like the title suggests either! In fact there’s not a drop of it in sight and the horror comes from the atmosphere and mood that is nicely built throughout.

The first story, Method for Murder, about the writer dreaming up his horror novel strangler, only for the character to come to life, isn’t too bad. The story does a decent job of keeping you in the dark. You don’t know whether the writer is just cracking up or whether somehow the strangler has come to life. Reliable actor Denholm Elliot is the backbone for this story and it ends on quite a nice double twist.

The second story, Waxworks, about (oddly enough) the waxworks is arguably the weakest story out of the bunch even though it stars Peter Cushing. He’s much better when he’s dishing out the pain and evil to others, not when he is on the receiving end of it! He makes a pretty wimpy hero to say the least and the ending to the segment is given away on the front cover. There’s always something menacing about wax museums and wax models though and this segment makes sure to play on that menace.

Sweets to the Sweet, the third story, stars Christopher Lee as an overbearing father who hires a nanny to look after his daughter. But all the nanny does is to build the little girl’s confidence up so that she soon dabbles in black magic to get her own back. Quite a nasty little story, this one has the big bonus of Lee starring but also the ‘angelic’ Chloe Franks who moves between innocent and evil with ease. Kids make unnerving villains and she is no exception. Much like the story with Cushing in, it’s nice to see Lee as a ‘normal’ character for a change and good use is made of our initial perception of what his character would be.

The final story, The Cloak, is the one which takes us full circle as it charts the story of the film actor of whom the investigator was looking for in the first place. This story is regrettably played for laughs and stars Jon Pertwee and Ingrid Pitt, both of whom ham it up immensely (Pitt completely self-parodies her Hammer roles here). Pertwee stars as the horror actor who buys a cloak to make his role as Dracula more authentic but finds out that the cloak is real and turns him into a vampire. Pertwee does get a few digs in at Hammer too with some of his lines but his comedic presence isn’t really welcome, especially after the previous story built the atmosphere up quite nicely. This story would have worked better had it been played straight instead of jokingly. Having it round off the film is a bad decision as any sort of atmosphere built-up through the serious stories is given the back burner treatment.

 

The Horror That Dripped Blood is once again another solid, if unremarkable, horror anthology. It’s got a great cast as always and there’s something for every horror fan with different sub-genres being tackled. Unfortunately it just lacks the extra scare factor to take it as far as it needed to go. It’s chilling as opposed to thrilling and there’s a real lack of true scares with black humour the order of the day.

 

 ★★★★★★☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Vault of Horror, The (1963)

The Vault of Horror (1973)

Below the Crypt lies Death’s waiting-room – The . . . Vault of Horror

An elevator in an office building takes five men down to a sub-basement level which they never knew existed. When they get out, they find themselves trapped inside a strange room. Whilst waiting for the elevator to return, they tell each other of their strange dreams. One dreams about killing his sister but then stumbles into a restaurant full of vampires. Another man dreams about his wife murdering him after he annoys her with his obsession of having things tidy. Another man is a magician and dreams that he goes on holiday to look for new tricks to use in his show and finds a new rope trick which an Indian girl won’t sell to him, so he kills her and steals it. The fourth man uses a drug to fake his death in order to claim his insurance and gets his friend to help him out. The last man is an artist living in Haiti who finds out that his paintings, whom critics said were worthless, have actually sold for a large amount of money so he uses voodoo to extract his revenge.

 

Why change a relatively successful formula? That seemed to be Amicus’ motto with yet another horror anthology featuring a wealth of talent both in front of and behind the camera. The Vault of Horror features a stellar cast with Tom Baker, Terry-Thomas, Curt Jürgens, Edward Judd and Denholm Elliot starring to name but a few. Yet again using stories from EC Comics, Amicus have crafted practically a carbon copy of the likes of Dr Terror’s House of Horrors, The House That Dripped Blood and Asylum, only with lesser results this time. In fact so much so that E.C Comics wouldn’t let the studio use their macabre comic book for a third outing (with Tales from the Crypt being the previous E.C. Comic-inspired Amicus anthology). The linking story is weak and if you’ve seen one of the earlier anthologies, you’ll easily spot what the final ‘twist’ will be. It lacks any punch simply because the audience is expecting a twist and it’s the only logical solution to why the men are all trapped downstairs.

The first story, Midnight Mess, about the vampire restaurant is pretty standard fare which is dependable enough to kick off the film. The finale is a little predictable but still fun when the vampires hang a guy upside up, stick a spigot in his jugular vein and drain him of blood.  There is also neat trick involving a mirror which plays upon the vampire mythology.

The Neat Job, the second story about the tidy husband is pretty boring simply for the fact it’s not really anything horrific – it doesn’t deal with vampires or werewolves or even voodoo or revenge, just a housewife going crazy. Thus it takes some time to build up the character we can empathize with when the wife does snap. Terry-Thomas plays it straight but gets annoying quickly and it’s a pity he doesn’t get killed earlier because his obsession is really painful to sit and listen to, especially when he starts moaning. The finale has a decent twist ending full of black humour and has the E.C. comic trademark stamped all over it.

The third story, This Trick’ll Kill You, is also as pedestrian as the other two as it lacks any real character build up and doesn’t try to do anything original as Curt Jürgens travels to India and stumbles upon a new rope trick. It’s the most racist of the stories with Indians being labelled as con artists, peasants and basic scum. Jürgens is at his ruthless best when he’s playing a villainous character and it takes a while for him to turn into a murderer. But the special effects for the rope trick are quite convincing, even if the story ends far too predictably once more.

Bargain in Death, the fourth story, is possibly the most underrated segment, simply because it partly deals with being buried alive – surely one of the most horrific thoughts anyone could have. But the logistics of the insurance scam are all over the shop and it’s hard to see how it’d work. I don’t know why Edward Judd bothers to ‘star’ here as he says about six words and the addition of the two medical students looking for a corpse wasn’t really necessary either. However, it does end on a nice note of ‘you get what you deserve’ with the grave digger getting the final say on matters.

The final story, Drawn and Quartered, is easily the best – not because it’s any good but just because it’s better than the rest of them. Tom Baker shows us some trademark solid acting (before he went on to ham it up as Doctor Who) as the bitter artist who is told by the witch doctor that he can damage his paintings however he wants and whatever happens to them will happen to the person in real life. You can see the resemblance to The Picture of Dorian Gray here. It’s an excellent plot and probably could have been stretched out a little more – it’s kind of like a pre-cursor to Final Destination. But as with the rest of the stories, it’s got a twist ending which isn’t good for the main character as he paints a self-portrait. You can only imagine where that one heads.

 

Too formulaic for it’s own good, too predictable to be interesting to watch and too hammy to be taken seriously, The Vault of Horror isn’t one of Amicus’ better anthologies. It’s flat, uninspired and a bit dull at times despite there being some good ideas and some truly awesome moments of wretched black humour.

 

 ★★★★★☆☆☆☆☆