Remember Shudder’s 2019 documentary Horror Noire: A History of Black Horror from director Xavier Burgin? It was great, wasn’t it? And if you thought to yourself that you’d love a sequel, you should know that this week’s Shudder premiere Horror Noire is not that. Not exactly.
Instead, it is an anthology of six horror shorts made by Black filmmakers. Writers, directors, performers, ideas, perspectives, points of view — everything the documentary made us realize we were not getting – is delivered by the anthology.
Production values and performances in every film are solid. Familiar faces of veteran talent elevate the individual pieces. Tony Todd, Malcolm Barrett, Rachel True, Peter Stormare, Lenora Crichlow and others turn in memorable performances in creature features, Gothic horrors, psychological horrors and comedies.
Todd, True and Barrett star as a married couple pulled apart by a cult in one of the strongest entries, Rob Greenlea’s Fugue State, a sly comment on a common problem. Kimani Ray Smith’s Sundown is a fun reimagining of horror tropes led by Stormare’s characteristic weirdness and the action hero stylings of Erica Ash.
Julian Christian Lutz’s Brand of Evil reworks familiar ideas, turning them into an unexpected creature feature that’s both savvy and strangely touching.
Other shorts are a little less successful. Robin Givens’s Daddy digs into parental horror but can’t balance build-up with payoff. Zandashé Brown’s The Bride Before You brims with insight and style, but an overreliance on voiceover narration keeps the film from developing the kind of atmosphere it hopes for.
Joe West’s The Lake also falls just short of keeping you interested and guessing, although a fuzzy backstory allows for a more thought-provoking lead character than you might expect.
The full stash runs two and a half hours and might have played better as a short series. It’s a long commitment, and every film has weak spots, which makes the time really feel like a commitment. But there’s much to enjoy with each episode. Taken as a whole, there’s variety enough in style and substance to promise something for everyone.
We finally did it. We finally took a look at short compilations and horror anthologies—all sixty million of them—and found that there are many great ones. So many, in fact, that filmmaker Jeff Frumess teamed up with us so we could cover twice as many. Here are our five favorites.
5. Creepshow (1982)
Campy, gruesome and trashy like the comic books that inspired it, Creepshow benefits from two of the most impressive pedigrees in the genre world. Written for the screen by Stephen King and directed by George Romero, the grimly comedic film demands attention.
Though some of the shorts are less effective than others, the hits are strong enough to carry the effort.
Though the cake in “Father’s Day” remains maybe the movie’s most lasting image, the shorts “The Crate” and “Something to Tide You Over” offer the strongest bursts of horror.
Bridged with inspired comic book art bumpers, the film maintains a juvenile aesthetic that helps its mean spirit and humor land. It doesn’t hurt that getting to see Hal Holbrook, Leslie Nielsen, Ted Danson and Ed Harris wade into such garish and campy territory is forever fun.
4. The Signal (2007)
A transmission – a hypnotic frequency – broadcasting over TV, cell and landline telephones has driven the good folks of the city of Terminus crazy. David Bruckner, Dan Bush and Jacob Gentry created a film in three segments, or transmissions.
Transmission 1 introduces our lover heroes as well as the chaos. Can Mya (Anessa Ramsey) and Ben (Justin Welborn) remain sane, reunite and outrun the insanity?
Transmission 2 takes a deeply, darkly funny turn as we pick up on the illogical logic of a houseful of folks believing themselves not to have “the crazy.” The final transmission brings us full circle.
The movie capitalizes on the audience’s inability to know for certain who’s OK and who’s dangerous. Here’s what we do know, thanks to The Signal: duct tape is a powerful tool, bug spray is lethal, and crazy people can sure take a beating.
3. Fear(s) of the Dark (2007)
This animated French film brings nightmares almost too beautifully to life. The film showcases a glorious variety of black and white artistic style, each animating a different short that tells a tale of phobias, bad dreams and shadowy terror.
Though the styles change, there is a shadowy fluidity to most of these pieces that feels slippery and alarming. One piece about a man who finds refuge in an abandoned house emphasizes a slow-building dread while another tale about a grim-faced man and his menacing hounds generates more vibrant bouts of terror.
The program morphs from the supernatural to the cerebral, each piece filling the screen with disturbingly gorgeous sound and image.
The film as a whole has the feel of childhood nightmares. The collection digs into anxieties in a way far more subtle and sophisticated than what you’ll find in the balance of films on this list, but the lingering effect is haunting, even disturbing.
2. Three…Extremes (2004)
Three of the most promising genre directors Asia had to offer came together in 2004 to cast a grisly spell. Two—Chan-wook Park and Takashi Miike—would blossom into two of the most respected filmmakers in the world. Miike just released his 100th film. While Park may be a bit slower with his output, he’s not made a single misstep in his filmmaking career. Everything he’s ever made is required viewing.
Fruit Chan’s career may not draw as much attention, but this piece in this anthology may be the strongest. “Dumplings” offers a savvy if distasteful piece of social commentary boasting two magnificent performances and sound design destined to disturb.
Miike’s “Box” is a serpentine riddle of sideshow freaks, ghosts, destiny and twins. Beautiful, grotesque and hypnotic, it showcases the filmmaker’s knack for visual storytelling and spell casting.
Park’s “Cut” offers a cynical and bloody look at the film industry. Though it’s the least in keeping with the filmmaker’s overall canon, as a part of the series it offers bold visuals and uneasy humor.
1. Trick or Treat (2007)
Columbus native Michael Dougherty outdid himself as writer/director of this anthology of interconnected Halloween shorts. Every brief tale compels attention with sinister storytelling, the occasional wicked bit of humor and great performances, but it’s the look of the film that sets it far above the others of its ilk.
Dougherty takes the “scary” comic approach to the film—the kind you find in Creepshow and other Tales from the Crypt types—but nothing looks as macabrely gorgeous as this movie. The lighting, the color, the costumes and the way live action bleeds into the perfectly placed and articulated moments of graphic artwork—all of it creates a giddy holiday mood that benefits the film immeasurably.
Dylan Baker (returning to the uptight and evil bastard he perfected for his fearless performance in Happiness) leads a whip-smart cast that includes impressive turns from Brian Cox, Anna Pacquin, Leslie Bibb and Brett Kelly (Thurman Merman, everybody!).
And it’s all connected with that adorable menace, Sam. Perfect.
A ten foot tall demon, devil possessed mistresses, and lizard-like aliens. All promise a terrifying movie experience, but does The Dark Tapes succeed?
Vincent Guastani and Michael McQuown’s film is a found-footage anthology documenting “transdimensional entities.” The first couple stories are enjoyable – I’m glad they reserved the better actors for these sections.
The remaining stories, however, couldn’t keep my attention. Unfortunately, the acting quality distracted greatly from their plots.
It’s a good thing there isn’t much to miss out on anyway. The installment “cam girls” has some of the worst acting in the whole film. I have to give the actors some slack though, seeing as they didn’t have much to work with. The script was unbelievably bland and predictable.
Same goes for “Amanda’s Revenge,” which gives little explanation as to what exactly is going on. This would normally be fine as long as enough is given to allow the viewer to run free with their own conclusions, but there just isn’t enough substance to formulate one’s own theories.
Each storyline in this film goes for the unexpected twist at the end, and these two simply fail to surprise.
With that aside, not every short in the anthology is lacking. The complex science behind the “To Catch a Demon” storyline required all my attention, and the eerily convincing demon was able to keep it. Kudos goes to Guastani for special effects and creature design.
The end of “The Hunters and the Hunted” left me pleasantly surprised. Initially my notes read, “not unlike every other ghost hunting film.” Which I subsequently had to cross out after a major twist.
The Dark Tapes proudly states that it’s the found-footage horror movie with the second most awards and nominations, coming in at 61. As a whole, this film failed to be up to par with others in the genre, such as Paranormal Activity.
It certainly was a valiant effort, but they should have focused on those couple storylines with potential and ditched the rest.
“For all you lost souls racing down that long road to redemption…”
That’s a theme – a concept that informs everything from a Springsteen song to a Mad Max movie with many, many stops in between. In a horror movie, though, redemption can be harder to come by. With Southbound, we’re given five tries to get it right.
Successful anthology horror is difficult to pull off. Varying directorial styles, tones, and themes often render certain tales tedious by comparison to others, and the quality differential can make it tough for a film to hold together as a single entity. Southbound, for the most part, manages to transcend these issues as it spins its diabolical tale, interlocking five stories of travelers on a particularly desperate stretch of highway.
The film opens strong as two bloodied passengers rush to a desolate gas station to clean up and take stock of their situation – a situation we’re given very few clues about. But the immediately menacing, we-know-something-you-don’t-know atmosphere inside that gas station sets us up for the nightmarish episode that will unravel.
What follows are pieces on similarly distressed wayfarers – a rock trio with a flat tire, a distracted driver, a brother searching desperately for his missing sister, a family on an ill-planned vacation, then back to the original bloodied pair heading for gas.
Though each story makes is own impression – some darkly comic, others more evidently supernatural, others grittier or bloodier – each allows the desert highway to inform a retro style influenced by the indie American horror of the Seventies. A soundtrack supplied by the lonesome radio DJ on everyone’s dial – when used effectively – underscores this throwback aesthetic, as the all-knowing DJ (Larry Fessenden) emphasizes that the trouble facing these journeymen is quite beyond their control.
Rather than feeling like five shorts slapped together with a contrived framing device, the segments work as a group to inform a larger idea – together they help to define this particular and peculiar stretch of highway. Time for Fessender to cue up AC/DC.