In the previous installment, I treated anthology films released during the roughly 10-year period when England’s Amicus Productions reigned supreme.
Amicus’s triumphs remain the subgenre’s standouts, but starting in the mid 1970s, several American movies picked up where Amicus left off, adding extra bits of American humor and subversiveness to the mix.
This column will complete my look at anthology films, bringing us into the early 1980s.
TRILOGY OF TERROR (USA, 1975)
Dan Curtis (the Night Stalker and Dark Shadows guy) adapted three Richard Matheson stories for this fine TV anthology film. Karen Black (from Burnt Offerings, also directed by Curtis) stars in all three stories.
The first two tales are substandard, but Black is very good so you don’t mind much. The third tale comprises some of the most famous sequences of any TV horror film of the 70s. When Black accidentally knocks a chain off a mysterious Zuni fetish doll, the doll comes to life – with one purpose: to kill.
BLOOD BATH (USA, 1975)
Possibly the worst of all anthology films, the Grade Z Blood Bath depicts four comical tales about jerks who try to cheat others but unwittingly destroy themselves.
Almost nothing is funny or exciting. One story is unusual, combining martial arts and science fiction with bits of horror. But it’s not unusual enough to be worth the watch.
DEAD OF NIGHT (USA, 1977)
After the success of Trilogy of Terror, Dan Curtis made this second TV anthology and even named it after the trendsetting British picture from 1945 (covered in “Classic Horror Anthology Movies, Part I“).
Again it’s Richard Matheson, and again it’s three stories. The first story is sweet and nostalgic (not horrific), but the latter two stories are more what anthology film fans expect.
Personally, I really liked the first story with the antique cars, but most fans remember the last one the best. It’s clearly akin to the Karen Black fetish doll segment from Trilogy of Terror. A woman, alone in a house, is pursued by a relentless supernatural killer. Yet here, emotions grow even more twisted, as the supernatural killer is the woman’s undead son!
As a whole, the picture is just as good as Trilogy of Terror.
THE UNCANNY (Canada/UK, 1977)
Taking up where the Amicus films left off, this little-known anthology film invests its three stories and frame with a spirit of mischief. So any horror is leavened with camp.
The premise, unoriginal yet effective, is that domestic house cats are not simple dumb pets as most people believe. Instead, they are intelligent and devious, able to manipulate their masters into doing their bidding.
So there’s a unifying premise behind all three tales – something rare in any anthology film.
Unfortunately, the stories are predictable. It’s clearly not Richard Matheson or Robert Bloch doing the writing.
But the whole is better than the parts, and the cast is very good including Peter Cushing (yet again!) as a writer who insists that all his stories about devious cats are true, and Ray Milland as Cushing’s publisher who won’t believe the stories without proof.
HOUSE OF THE DEAD (USA, 1978)
Also known as “Alien Zone,” this independent American production is the last attempt to keep the spirit of the Amicus anthologies alive.
Like The Uncanny, it mixes horror with camp, and also like The Uncanny it tries to unify its stories with a central premise (here, four dead bodies, one for each tale).
Compared with its predecessors, it’s a little sleazy and gratuitous, and (if you ask me) less fun.
But one of the stories is very good: apparently inspired by the Peter Cushing/Jack Palance segment from Torture Garden, this story depicts rival criminologists who might be trying to kill each other. Fans of mystery films might rent House of the Dead for this story alone.
SCREAMS OF A WINTER NIGHT (USA, 1979)
Here’s a strange, low-budget anthology about vacationing students telling ghost stories around a campfire. It’s closer to Legend of Boggy Creek (the Bigfoot classic) than the usual Amicus-style anthology films.
All three stories are decent, and they’re most effective if you watch with patience and low expectations, letting the ideas or images creep up on you one by one. It’s short on special effects but long on sincerity.
Check it out if you like independent low budget productions from the 70s.
THE MONSTER CLUB (UK, 1980)
At last we move into the 80s, not to mention into higher budgets and production values. It’s technically an Amicus film (produced by Milton Subotsky), yet the film feels different from its famous predecessors.
It’s more campy, more gleeful, more outrageous in its central idea: that monsters all know each other and enjoy whooping it up together in a special secret monster disco club.
None of the three stories are great, but the frame – in the Monster Club disco – is excellent.
Historically, this is the only picture in which Vincent Price played a vampire.
HEAVY METAL (Canada, 1981)
I know this one feels different from everything else on the list, but it’s technically an anthology film (with a frame and all), plus it’s great, so I wanted to mention it briefly.
It takes several stories from the first few years of Heavy Metal magazine, adds a couple new stories of its own, and frames them with a malevolent talking orb speaking to a helpless adolescent girl.
It’s an animated film with shaky but detailed figures and images. Keep the kids away, since it’s got occasional nudity and considerable gore, but go ahead and enjoy it for the great punk/metal soundtrack, the nutty surprises in the stories, and the grand unifying spirit of unabashed pulp adventure.
CREEPSHOW (USA, 1982)
I still think Creepshow is overrated. I think people want to like it because they like George A. Romero and Stephen King. People thus overlook the poorly paced stories and weak humor.
But I must admit that Creepshow at its best captures the mischievous spirit of the original EC comics more than the 1972 Amicus adaptation of Tales from the Crypt.
What do I mean by “at its best”? I mean the last story, the one with the cockroaches, by far the most famous segment in the film. It’s equally creepy (literally) and funny, it’s well filmed and acted, and it has a conclusion that follows naturally from the “don’t bug me” premise set up at the start.
Creepshow‘s intro and titles are good too: