Thursday, October 17, 2013

Riske Business: Our Favorite Horror Anthology Segments

by Adam Riske
This week Patrick, JB and I got together to discuss our favorite segments from Horror anthologies and comment on each others picks.

Awesome Wrap-Around Segment Candidate(s):
One of the scaries things I have ever seen in a movie is the opening to Twilight Zone: The Movie when Dan Aykroyd asks Albert Brooks “Do you want to see something really scary?” This left me with a childhood scar. I also have to give props to to Creepshow, because Tom Atkins’ line readings of “Horruh crap” and “That’s why G-D made fathers, babe” is almost too much to take.

Top 5 Horror Anthology Segments (not ranked):

"The Drop of Water" from Black Sabbath (1963) I'm not scared often during horror movies, but this segment really freaked me out. The design of the medium's corpse is quite disturbing. It doesn't look like a dummy. It looks like a real rotting body (or Willem Dafoe). Also worth noting is the photography which is really lush and colorful, setting a memorable Gothic quality.
“Hard-Core Convert” from Tales from the Hood (1995) This segment might be the most powerful sequence I’ve seen in a horror anthology. Released at the height of the ‘gangsta’ era, this segment uses the familiar conceit from Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange to make a statement on gang violence. It’s a very well made short full of upsetting but necessary imagery. It’s haunting and sad.
“Lover’s Vow” from Tales from the Darkside: The Movie (1990) Ok, this segment is just nuts. That’s why I love it so much. The premise is absolutely ridiculous, but it’s so well made that you end up really caring for the main character and hoping he is able to keep his promise. The ending features some really neat makeup effects and is so bizarre you’ll end up laughing and shaking your head in disbelief.
“Amelia” from Trilogy of Terror (1975) This might be one of the more obvious picks I could make, as just about everyone lists this as one of their favorite anthology segments. It’s for good reason. The Zuni Fetish Doll is a great special effect (especially for a made-for-TV movie) and the manic energy in which the segment is shot, including the doll’s POV, give the segment an off-the-rails sense of fun. And then, just when you think it’s a goofy good time, the segment drops the bomb on you and closes on one of the most disturbing final shots you could ever imagine. It gives me the creeps just thinking about it.
“Safe Haven” from V/H/S/2 (2013) This segment is absolutely relentless. It is creepy from the outset, not just with frightening imagery but also really haunting dialogue. The special effects and makeup (of the possessed cult members) are very disturbing and the entire short has a nightmare quality, including many sequences of first person point of view where you’re trying to get out of a room or a hallway but have to go through hordes of possessed cult members. The segment gets crazier and crazier as it goes along building to a conclusion that is so out there you can help being stunned that the filmmakers pulled it off.

Patrick: Those are great picks! I was surprised to see Tales from the Hood on there, but not really because I know what a fan you are of that movie.

I like that you picked segments from a couple anthologies that are different than the ones I would have picked, because it once again highlights the advantage of the format -- there can be something for everyone in an anthology. My favorite segment from Black Sabbath is still "The Telephone"; from Tales from the Hood, it's "Rogue Cop Revelation," because it's so angry and nasty in the best E.C. Comics tradition. But I'm not arguing with any of your picks, because those are great segments, too.

I guess I won't be putting "Safe Haven" on my list (because I don't want to repeat), but MAN is that the best 30 minutes of horror of the last several years. I love that Gareth Evans brings the same breathless energy he brought to The Raid to the horror genre. That segment has a crazy ability to keep one-upping itself. And you're right about the ending -- it's the only logical place they could go considering what comes before it. People should watch V/H/S/2 just for that segment.

Nice to see "Lover's Vow" on there, too, though I'll admit that the "twist" in that one was spoiled a little for me by seeing "The Woman of the Snow" in Kwaidan first (what I was doing seeing Kwaidan at age 12, I can't say). "Lover's Vow" is maybe the only segment in Tales from the Darkside: The Movie that really works, and I say that as someone who kind of likes Tales from the Darkside: The Movie.

What say you, JB? Any of Adam's picks that could have made your list? I'm guessing maybe the Zuni doll...

JB:  I will echo Patrick's sentiments that these are great picks, though I am ashamed that there is one anthology on Adam's list here that I have not seen. Tear.

The nurse segment from Black Sabbath is appropriately creepy, and I remember fondly that it was the ONE segment I did not sleep through when Rusty showed it at 3am at the Massacre one year.

"Lover's Vow" is indeed terrific, one of the only segments I actually enjoy from Tales From The Darkside.

I see echoes of this sequence in one of MY choices.

Although I am on record on the podcast as not liking V/H/S 2, I will admit that "Safe Haven" is the only sequences of value in that misbegotten smorgasbord. I think I need to give that one section a second chance. I do agree that the uncanny, dreamlike tone is something the sequence definitely achieves, which is no mean feat. I also love the little things the director places on the frame's periphery to creep us out.

Adam has stolen, I see, my number one pick: the scariest half hour ever broadcast on television, "Amelie" from Trilogy of Terror. I saw the original airing of this in grade school, and let me tell you, the playground was abuzz with conversation about that Zuni fetish doll the next day during recess. None of us kids could remember EVER being so scared. Screening this segment has become a tradition in most of my classes on Halloween.

I have never seen Tales From The Hood. My bad.

Trying to come up with my favorites for this list once again plunged me to the depths, and I emerged thinking, much like during our recent conversation about vampire films, there are NOT a whole helluva lot of these horror anthologies that are good FROM START TO FINISH.

Awesome Wrap-Around Segment Candidate(s): Well, as a boy who had plenty of comics and Mad magazines thrown in the trash by parents, I would have to vote for Creepshow's angry Dad wraparound. Would that I had sent in for that voodoo doll!  I am also a big fan of Dead of Night's clever, elegant wraparound/conclusion.

Top 5 Horror Anthology Segments (ranked):
5. "Amateur Night" from V/H/S (2012) This one has grown on me over the months. There is something so sweet and yet so twisted in this segment that I do not think I will ever forget little Hannah Fierman's plaintive, "I like you." The heart wants what it wants.
4. "The Hitchhiker" from Creepshow 2 (1987) Yes, I know this is a movie that a lot of people piss on ("Chief Wooden Head," anyone?) and that this segment is a one-joke exercise, but what a joke it is! I think this segment encapsulates what made the original EC comics so grand -- outrageous morality tales in which the guilty are PUNISHED, PUNISHED, PUNISHED! Lois Chiles gets what she deserves for her hit and run antics, and every time our unfortunate hitchhiker says, "Thanks for the ride, lady," I laugh harder.
3. "They're Creeping Up On You" from Creepshow (1982) Another stringent morality tale in the style of classic EC comics. E.G. Marshall is a detestable villain and bugs are really really creepy. I love the direction here, how Romero sustains the tension and suspense. The climax too is a quantum leap in... I don't know... bug wrangling? Eat the rich, baby.
2. "The Principal" from Trick 'r Treat (2007) This segment floored me with its absolute refusal to be PC. I have stated on many occasions that I do not like when kids are brought into the mix in a horror film, but writer/directer Michael Dougherty hits just the right tone that allows him to pull it off. Oh, and the principal is ultimately punished, so it's okay.
1. "Nightmare at 30,000 Feet" from Twilight Zone: The Movie (1983) Granted they had a great template to work off of, one of the most beloved episodes of the original television series, but George Miller turns it into so much more.The ultimate nightmare for those of us afraid to fly. A terrific performance by John Lithgow, a terrific creature design, and inspired camera work turn this into one for the ages. My Film Studies class and I have studied this segment frame by frame on occasion. There is a lot of very quick/near subliminal stuff going on here too! There is a reason that Spielberg, Landis, and Dante decided to put this sequence last- - what could possibly top it?

Well, gentlemen, what do you think? Have at me!

Patrick: Well, here's the problem with going last -- a lot of my thunder is getting stolen as you guys pick the stuff I was going to go with (cough "Amateur Night" cough). That's ok. I'm tough.

JBones, I feel like your picks are more in line with my own tastes -- even if they're not my favorite segments in those movies, we seem to love several of the same anthologies. I don't share your enthusiasm for "The Hitchhiker" -- or any of Creepshow 2, really -- but I completely understand why you find it funny. In theory, I should think it's the most hilarious thing ever, as I am a fan of running a single joke into the ground until it becomes funny again. It's like Stockholm Syndrome for comedy.

In digging around a little and trying to remind myself of the dozens of horror anthologies that have been released over the years, I am amazed by how many outlets name "Amateur Night" as the WORST segment in V/H/S. It's so clearly the best for exactly the reason you mention -- it has a great monster, one who manages to be scary (even when they're still at the bar, her unintelligible whispering is the creepiest stuff in the movie) even before things go crazy. Everything in that movie is downhill after that.

Here's a question for either of you: almost every one of the segments we're talking about (with a few exceptions) are stringent morality tales. Is that because they're all aping the conventions of the original EC comics? Or because the "short story" format lends itself to one single, obvious lesson with a "twist" punchline? And does the fact that there are four or five of these segments inside each anthology dull the impact of those lessons? It's essentially one message, repeated five times per movie.

Maybe this is the reason, as you point out JBones, there is no anthology that's good all the way through. Even Creepshow, maybe my favorite anthology movie of all time, has "The Lonesome Death of Jordy Verrill."

Adam: JB, I have good news for you. Tales from the Hood is on Netflix Instant. It’s uneven, but worth a watch and I’d say it has one of the more successful wraparound segments in any horror anthology. Clarence Williams III really throws himself into the master of ceremonies role.

I never thought about the similarities of “Lover’s Vow” and “Amateur Night” until you hinted at it. Good call! I have much nostalgic affection for Tales from the Darkside: The Movie from when I was a kid. I used to rent that movie from the library constantly. It might be the first horror anthology I ever saw and it was right around the time I was obsessed with HBO’s Tales from the Crypt television series. It was a perfect storm that solidified my love of the horror anthology format.

I really like your picks, JB! “Amateur Night” is definitely the best of the bunch from V/H/S. I’ve met girls like Hannah Fierman before. They are out there if you are looking for them.

I share your fondness for “The Hitchhiker.” I watched Creepshow 2 again this month and I was surprised to realize it is my new favorite segment from the movie. It used to be “The Raft.” The dark comedy in “The Hitchhiker” is phenomenal, and I really like how Lois Chiles is an irredeemable witch who gets worse and worse as the segment goes on. Her rationalizing is hilarious. Did you know that Tom Wright (aka “The Hitchhiker”) is also the zombie in “Rogue Cop Revelation” from Tales from the Hood? It’s his wheelhouse!

Glad to see Trick 'r Treat made it on one of our lists. I think story for story that might be the most successful of all the horror anthologies. It helps that they are all very short so none wear out their welcome.

I think your point, Patrick, about too many segments with the same message dulling the overall impact is a solid one, but it’s never really bothered me personally. I would prefer to have more and shorter segments than fewer and longer segments. Although, I realize that would mean I should love The ABCs of Death,which is a movie I wish I could un-see and might be my least favorite movie of 2013 so far.

Patrick – what are your picks?

Patrick: It's not so much the length of the segments I was calling into question, but the sameness of them. I guess it hasn't really bothered me, either, because I still like horror anthologies even though there are few good ones.

And, like you, I was interested in The ABCs of Death because of the way it promised to mess with the established format of the anthology. The experiment did not work.

You have both convinced me that I should revisit "The Hitchhiker," so I guess I'll have to spin my Creepshow 2 DVD during Scary Movie Month.

Ok, here are some of my picks. Be gentle.
Awesome Wrap-Around Segment Candidate(s): Well, I already picked one (in my list below) so I guess I'll add the one from Tales from the Darkside: The Movie. I like watching a Lawrence brother read Debbie Harry stories as she prepares to cook him.

Top 5 Horror Anthology Segments (not ranked):
"The Crate" from Creepshow (1982) I like almost every segment from Creepshow (except for the previously mentioned Stephen King moss-balls one), but this one is definitely my favorite. It's really the centerpiece of the whole film, with Adrienne Barbeau doing a hilarious, awful nag and Hal Holbrook being kind of dark and nasty despite being AMERICA'S UNCLE. The monster is great, the black humor even better. So many anthologies have tried to imitate what E.C. Comics did in the '50s, but Creepshow does it best. Just tell him to call you Billy.
"School Bus Massacre Revisited" from Trick 'r Treat (2007) See? JB's not the ONLY one who has Trick 'r Treat on his list. It's hard to pick a favorite from that movie, because it's arguably one of the most consistent anthologies ever made (except maybe Anna Paquin Riding Hood). "School Bus" is my favorite because a) it's truly scary and b) it's really, really dark, reimagining the Peanuts gang as real kids who encounter some real nasty shit. Even worse, they bring it on themselves. You don't break the rules of Halloween.
"The Black Cat" from Tales of Terror (1962) My favorite segment from one of my favorite entries in the Roger Corman/Edgar Allan Poe cycle. Liberally combining elements from both "The Black Cat" and "The Cask of Amontillado," the segment pits Vincent Price and Peter Lorre agains one another in a wine tasting competition with morbid results. Unlike the other entries in Tales of Terror -- and most other Corman/Poe movies -- this one is played for laughs, and both Price and Lorre are hysterical (Vincent Price's wine-tasting face is one of the best things you will ever see). The popularity of "The Black Cat" segment led directly to Corman's film adaptation of The Raven, which is a kooky movie.
"Zom-B Movie" from Chillerama (2011) It was a close race between this and Adam Green's "Diary of Anne Frankenstein," but the sheer energy and invention of Joe Lynch's wraparound-segment-turned-finale of this uneven anthology puts it over the top. That's a great way to describe this one, actually: over the top. So many horror movies are rooted in the instincts of a 13-year old boy, and Lynch gleefully celebrates that tradition in his segment in which humans ingest some blue goo and turn into zombies who won't stop eating and humping everything they can. Filled with quotes and references to other horror movies, "Zom-B Movie" is crass and goopy and lots of fun. It would be hard not to name a segment in which Joe Lynch's real-life wife rips off A.J. Bowen's dick and eats it in front of Lynch's actual two-year old son as one of my favorites. Talk about commitment to the bit.
"And All Through the House" from Tales from the Crypt (1972) No, it's not as good as the adaptation Robert Zemeckis made for the TV show, but this version -- in which Joan Collins stars as a woman who murders her husband on Christmas Eve, only to then be terrorized by a maniac in a Santa suit -- is still really great. There's a brilliant logic to the way everything unfolds, and the brightly-lit photography makes as a neat counterpoint to the darker, more comedic take Zemeckis made. Plus, 1972 Joan Collins. You could do a lot worse.

Adam: “The Crate” would have been in my runners-up list. It’s a segment that took me some time to warm up to because of the length, but I really appreciate the dark comedy as I get older and I agree with you that the creature design is really striking (no pun intended – watch out for that claw!).

I’m so happy you pointed out the Vincent Price wine-tasting face from “The Black Cat.” It’s sublime. I watched Tales of Terror for the first time during last year’s Scary Movie Month and really dug it.
I like “And All Through the House,” but my favorite segment from Tales from the Crypt, and one that nearly made my list, is “Blind Alleys.” It’s really suspenseful and Patrick Magee is creepy as hell per usual.

I’m surprised that none of us had Dead of Night represented somewhere on this list.

JB: Interesting picks, Mr. Bromley, very interesting indeed.

Although I share your enthusiasm for Creepshow and think Holbrook and Barbeau act the hell out of (and Romero directs the hell out of) "The Crate," one thing has always bothered me about that segment: the physical reality of the creature. Because we never see the whole thing, I have always been left thinking it has an enormous head and an enormous claw... and very little else. Or was that the point? I imagine the creature without the titular crate, and it looks like a bobble head or something. Maybe it is just me, but that has always prevented me from fully enjoying the sequence.

I agree with Patrick 100% that Trick 'r Treat is so consistently good that it is hard to pick one favorite sequence. I even like the Anna Paquin part!

Yes, three cheers for Tales of Terror! Anything with Vincent Price merits inclusion on one list or another. This segment makes me wish that both stars had not been so damn typecast in their lifetimes and could have appeared in more straight comedies. Oh, if wishes were fishes... Also, I will make our opinion unanimous about the wine-tasting face; it is one for the ages...

Perhaps I am just basing this on some bad Santa experiences as a child, but "All Through The House" is really, really good-- particularly when you compare it to how many other damn times this trope has been trotted out in movies and television to lesser effect. (Ahem-- I'm looking at you, Silent Night, Deadly Night). Killer Saint Nick is just an impossibly good IDEA.

Unfortunately gentlemen, I have never seen Chillerama -- because a year ago or so a certain P. Bromley gave me his opinion of it, which convinced me not to see it.  Is it still on Netflix? Between that and Tales From The Hood, I have some catching up to do...

Oh, and Adam -- "The Ventriloquist" from Dead of Night just barely missed my top five. I love the whole film, but beware! Apparently, there are two different versions floating around-- the original "American" version cut two sequences for being too British -- insist on the full-length version; the conclusion makes more sense.

Closing Wraparound Segment: Adam, JB and Patrick all realize we were in Hell the whole time.

Pleasant screams!


  1. It's too bad the Disney cartoon of Sleepy Hollow was attached to Mr. Toad instead of another creepy cartoon 'cause that would have been one hell of an anthology.

  2. Great discussion, guys! I LOVE horror anthologies, but agree with you guys that virtually none of them work all the way.

    I have never been that big of fan of the "Lover's Vow" segment of TFTD: The Movie. The ending seemed predictable and didn't work with me. I actually like "Lot 249". I really like Steve Buscemi's creepy performance.

    I know I'm the only person who liked "The ABCs of Death", and my favorite segments were "A for Apocalypse" and "L for Libido"(whose director, Timo Tjahjanto, co-directed the "Safe Haven" segment of "V/H/S 2).

    I also liked the "Dumplings" segment directed by Fruit Chan in "Three... Extremes". Disturbing and something that would never fly here.

    A horror anthology film that might be below you guys' radar that I recommend is "The Strange World of Coffin Joe" directed by Jose Mojica Marins. It's very weird and an acquired taste, but I liked all the segments.

    1. Lot 249 is a really fun segment especially for a Christian Slater apologist like myself. I actually used to like Lover's Vow the least when I was growing up but I am such a fan of that gargoyle design and the 'make sure the girl you're dating isn't a gargoyle' has become a running joke with me and my friends since high school.

      Remember if a girl's got friends of friends but no friends, she's a gargoyle!

  3. What do you three think of the 70s Tales From the Crypt and Vault of Horror movies as a whole? I think they're both (fairly weak wraparound stories aside) the most consistent anthology movies I've seen, the stories all range from decent to great, I don't feel there are any all-out clunkers in either movie. What say you?

    1. I haven't seen Vault of Horror but will this month (it's on my double DVD with TFTC). I like a lot of the segments from Tales From the Crypt. Blind Alleys is great and almost made my list. I also really like the Peter Cushing segment called Poetic Justice. Wish You Were Here has a great ending. Overall, I agree it's a very consistent anthology.

  4. Guess I’ll chime in with my top five. Why not?

    5: The Leslie Nielson/Ted Danson story from the first CREEPSHOW is totally get-inside-your-head icky. The fact that it’s two guys known for comedy somehow makes it ickier.

    4: I like “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet” from TWILIGHT ZONE THE MOVIE as much as anyone, but, man some of the stuff from “The Good Life” messed me up when I saw it as a kid (the girl with no mouth, mostly) and I still get freak-outty thinking about it.

    3: “The Raft” from CREEPSHOW 2 pretty much makes the whole movie for me – the way it ends, especially.

    2: Why is it that most (all?) lists of horror anthologies leave off CAT’S EYE? Sure it’s cheesy, but there’s also a lot to like about it. I especially enjoy the middle segment, about the guy skootching around the ledge outside the tall building. What makes it work is that it’s never just a guy skootching, but the filmmakers come up with all kinds of ways to keep it interesting from beginning to end.

    1: TRILOGY OF TERROR will never be topped.

    1. Both "It's a Good Life" and Guy on Ledge were very close to making my list. I left off Joe Dante's segment just because I didn't want to repeat too many of the same movies, but you nailed it with no-mouth girl. One of the scariest things I saw as a kid.

    2. Nice list! I am terrified too my no-mouth girl. Twilight Zone: The Movie has more frightening imagery than the entire television series. Need to see Cat's Eye. I have no excuse (hangs head in shame).

    3. Cat's Eye is actually pretty good, it's just not great. Creepshow is great, Cat's Eye is good, And Creepshow 2 is okay, but flawed. That's the ranking for me.

  5. Great lists guys! Wanted to chime in on one of my all time favorite sleeper horror anthologies - "Spirits of the Dead"(1968) The film is three stories directed by three prime directors (Malle, Fellini and Vadim). The first two segments were kind of let-downs due to the names involved. But it doesn't even matter because the last segment starring Terrance Stamp and Directed by Fellini titled "Toby Dammit" remains one of the creepiest, surreal and bizarre segments I have ever seen! it goes into nightmare Lynch mode and never lets up. Honestly that segment could have been released on it's own and it would be considered a masterpiece. Please seek this out if you haven't seen it.

    1. Nice. I will definitely track that one down.

    2. Oh and I forgot to mention, the first two segments you get a hot Jane Fonda and a hot Brigitte Bardot so even though they can't even hang with the third segment, you cant go wrong with that! (although maybe you can?, sounds like a good topic for you guys - hottest actresses in shitty films?!)

      Anyway, if you happen to check it out, let me know your thoughts.

  6. Ah, Mac beat me to the Cat's Eye - I was going with "The Ledge" as one of my unmentioned favourites.

    Black Sabbath as well as a couple others mentioned here are on Netflix so might make anthologies a theme day over the weekend.

    Great discussion guys!

  7. "YOU PROMISED YOU'D NEVER TELL!!!" from "Lover's Vow" is a line embedded into my then 13 year old brain. I'll use it on my wife when she discusses some of my lazy habits to my friends...but sadly no one ever gets the reference. What a freaky transformation that scene is

  8. It may not be an official anthology but the 1988 film Waxwork definitely tells isolated sequences within its structure--making it an incredibly ambitious low budget gem.

  9. Oh man, All Through The House. Really effective partially for that lovely, lovely house and hw safe it feels.

  10. Great lists guys. Im not much of an Anthology guy, but if im so inclined ill use these suggestions as a guide from now on. Cheers

    Also, with the many mentions of EC comics i thought Ill give a head up that Ive just seen that Comixology is having a sale on oldschool horror comics. No EC that I can see so far but plenty of similar titles as well as Dark Shadows collections. FYI.