Tag Archives: Creepshow

Fright Club: Best Anthology Horror

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.

Fright Club: Marital Problems in Horror

For some filmmaker and even audiences, a horror film can provide catharsis. It can be a way to channel one particularly horrifying experience into art. A crumbling marriage can inspire this kind of horror. Of course, it can also become the tidy underpinning of a mystery or a comedically evil revenge plot.

Here are our five favorite horror films about marital problems.

5. Candyman (1992)

Candyman is a seduction film, like a vampire fable, and for it to work this film needed two things.

1) A seducible heroine.

Enter Helen Lyle (Virginia Madsen). While she researches her graduate work on urban legends, her professor husband Trevor (Xander Berkeley) philanders with nubile co-eds.

2) A seductive villain, which it delivered with a dreamy baritone in the form of Tony Todd.

No, he’s not classically handsome. In fact, on paper, Candyman is not that sexy of a villain. He has a hook for a hand, bees in his chest, that moldy velvet robe thing has to smell awful. But Todd’s voice is the push over the cliff. When he tells Helen, “Don’t fear the pain. The pain is exquisite,” you can’t help but want to believe.

4. The Crate (segment from Creepshow) (1982)

Several of the shorts featured in the George Romero/Stephen King collaboration focused on troubles between husband and wife, but there was one particularly toxic marriage.

College professor (very popular figures in bad marriage horror, eh?) Henry Northrup (Hal Holbrook) has a problem. His wife.

One might guess at the focus of his early attraction to Wilma (Adrienne Barbeau), but we’re introduced to the couple well into their worn out, unhappy pairing. Wilma’s a belligerent drunk, you see, and Henry’s friend needs a little help with this monster he’s unwittingly unleashed from a crate beneath the stairs back on campus…

Henry probably thought of Wilma as a tasty dish once before, too.

3. Diabolique (1955)

Pierre Boileau’s novel was such hot property that even Alfred Hitchcock pined to make it into a film. But Henri-Georges Clouzot got hold if it first. His psychological thriller with horror-ific undertones is crafty, spooky, jumpy and wonderful.

And it wouldn’t work if it weren’t for the weirdly lived-in relationship among Nicole (Simone Signoret) – a hard-edged boarding school teacher – and the married couple that runs the school. Christina (Vera Clouzot) is a fragile heiress; her husband Michel (Paul Meurisse) is the abusive, blowhard school headmaster. Michel and Nicole are sleeping together, Christine knows, both women are friends, both realize he’s a bastard. Wonder if there’s something they can do about it.

What unravels is a mystery with a supernatural flavor that never fails to surprise and entrance. All the performances are wonderful, the black and white cinematography creates a spectral atmosphere, and that bathtub scene can still make you jump.

2. The Brood (1979)

Dr. Hal Ragland – the unsettlingly sultry Oliver Reed – is a psychiatrist leading the frontier in psychoplasmics. His patients work through their pent-up rage by turning it into physical manifestations. Some folks’ rage turns into ugly little pustules, for example. Or, for wide-eyed Nola Carveth (Samantha Eggar), rage might turn into bloodthirsty, puffy coated spawn. This is Cronenberg’s reimagining of procreation, and it is characteristically foul.

What’s she so mad about? Her divorce. So angry, indeed, that she’s gone mad – and begun neglecting, even endangering, her puffy coated actual daughter.

Cronenberg wrote the film during his own ugly divorce and custody battle. He created a fantasy nightmare rooted firmly in the rage, despair, and the betrayal that comes from watching someone who once loved you turn into someone who seems determined to harm you.

Cronenberg is the king of corporeal horror, and The Brood is among the best of the filmmaker’s early, strictly genre work. Reed and Eggar both are unseemly perfection in their respective roles. Eggar uses her huge eyes to emphasize both her former loveliness and her current dangerous insanity, while Reed is just weird in that patented Oliver Reed way.


1. Possession (1981)

Speaking of sex and monsters – wait, were we? – have you seen Possession? WTF is going on there?

Andrzej Zulawski – writer/director/Czech – created this wild ride with doppelgangers, private investigators, ominous government agencies, and curious sexual appetites. It’s more precisely fantasy than horror, but it strikes me as David Cronenberg meets David Lynch, which is a pairing I can get behind.

Sam Neill plays Mark. Mark has just left his job. He’s being offered a lot of money to stay, but he needs to go home. We don’t know why.

Back at home, he greets his genuinely adorable son Bob (Michael Hogben). I love that his name is Bob. Bob – it’s so normal, and yet feels so unusual for a small child. Mark’s wife Anna (Isabelle Adjani) is also at home with Bob. There’s nothing normal about Anna.

Mark and Anna’s relationship boasts an intentional artificiality- a queasying sexuality- that makes it hard to root for either of them as their marriage deteriorates. Anna, it seems, is in love with someone else. Is it the sexually open – really, really open – Heinrich? Is it a bloody, mollusk-like monster? Is Mark boning Anna’s mean friend with a cast on her leg? Does Bob’s kindergarten teacher bear an unreasonable resemblance to Anna? Is anyone caring properly for Bob?

These questions and more go basically unanswered in a deviant, summary-defying, fantastical bit of filmmaking. Surreal and unnerving as it is, Possession is maybe the bet cinematic nightmare interpretation of a crumbling marriage you will find.

Fright Club: Best of George A. Romero

Today we salute a man whose career teems with ideas that have been both universal and wildly ahead of their time. There may be no horror filmmaker who’s had more of an influence on his genre than George Romero, whose political leanings and social commentary have given his inventive monster movies the relevance to stand the test of time. A great line, an original idea, and a fantastic pair of glasses – George A. Romero has it all. Here are our five favorites:

5. Creepshow (1982)

By the early Eighties, Romero – who’d basically created the zombie genre – was ready to tackle something slightly different. For Creepshow he teamed up with another genre godfather, Stephen King, who wrote the screenplay (most of which was adapted from his own short stories) and even co-starred.

A series of shorts pulled from the pages of a disgruntled boy’s comic book, Creepshow boasts the wicked humor, juvenile preoccupations and inclination toward comeuppance that mark scary comics. Linked, short form horror had certainly been done previously, but Romero brought a visual sense of the artistry and an affection for the mean-spirited humor that most other films lacked.

He also had a hell of a cast, with appearances by genre favorites Tom Atkins and Adrienne Barbeau as well as King and heavy hitters from outside horror Ed Harris, Ted Danson, Leslie Nielsen and Hal Holbrook.

They lend a bit of class to some fairly bloodthirsty pieces that find a dim-witted farmer covered in alien foliage, a disabused husband taking advantage of a newly found monster-in-a-box, a cuckolded husband whose revenge plot takes a supernatural turn, plus bugs! Loads of them!

4. The Crazies (1973)

In ’73, Romero used a lot of the same themes from his zombie masterpiece – a genre he’d more or less just created himself – but changed the beast slightly. When military blunder leads to a chemical weapon mishap in a small Pennsylvania town, infected inhabitants go insane. You still end up with a mindless horde capable of anything as well as the fear of contamination, but the fun difference is the unpredictability.

The premise is so ripe: people infected go hopelessly mad. Every version of madness is different. How does each victim behave? Romero didn’t mine this often enough because for him, the real terror was in the government’s behavior. Still, his most provocative ideas here tend to be invested in the varying madness.

Other familiar themes arise as well. Military incompetence, the needless horror of Vietnam, and the evil that men can do when ordered to do so are all central conceits in this film. Indeed, Romero seemed more interested in social commentary than in horror this time around, but once again, his ideas were ahead of their time.

3. Martin (1977)

Martin (John Amplas) is a lonely young man who believes he’s a vampire. He may be – the film is somewhat ambivalent about it, which is one of the movie’s great strengths. He daydreams in black and white of cloaks, fangs and mobs carrying pitchforks.

Or are those memories? Does Martin’s uncle hate him because Martin, as he claims, is really in his Eighties, as his uncle would surely know? Romero has fun balancing these ideas, tugging between twisted but sympathetic serial killer and twisted by sympathetic undead.

Romero’s understated film is more of a character study than any of his other works, and Amplas is up to the task. Quietly unnerving and entirely sympathetic, you can’t help but root for Martin even as he behaves monstrously. It’s a bit like rooting for Norman Bates. Sure, he’s a bad guy, but you don’t want him to get into any trouble!

The film’s a generational culture clash wrapped in a lyrical fantasy, but quietly so. It’s touching, gory at times, often quite tense, and really well made. That, and it’s all so fabulously Seventies!


2. Dawn of the Dead (1978)

Romero returned to the land of the undead in ’78 with a full-color sequel to Night. Set in Philadelphia, at a news broadcast gone crazy, the film follows a news producer, her chopper pilot boyfriend, and two Philly SWAT cops ready to abandon the organized zombie fight and find peace elsewhere. The four board a helicopter, eventually landing on the roof of a mall, which they turn into their private hideaway.

Romero, make-up legend Tom Savini, and Italian horror director Dario Argento teamed up for the sequel. You feel Argento’s presence in the score and the vivid red of the gore.

Ken Foree and Scott Reiniger as the buddies from SWAT create the most effective moments, whether character-driven tension or zombie-driven action. Romero’s politics are on his sleeve with this one, and he seems to be working to build on successes of his original. He uses the “z” word, digs at Eighties consumerism, shows full-color entrails, and reminds us again that the undead may not be our biggest enemy once the zombie-tastrophe falls.

1. Night of the Living Dead (1968)

From the brightly lit opening cemetery sequence to the paranoid power struggle in the house to the devastating closing montage, Night of the Living Dead teems with the racial, sexual and political tensions of its time. An unsettlingly relevant George A. Romero knew how to push societal panic buttons.

“The scene can best be described as mayhem.”

As the first film of its kind, the lasting impact of this picture on horror cinema is hard to overstate. Romero’s inventive imagination created the genre and the monster from the ground up.

They’re dead.

They’re back.

They’re hungry for human flesh.

Their bite infects the bitten.

The bitten will eventually bite.

Aim for the head.

Romero made a narrative choice that would mark the genre and certainly the filmmaker’s entire career: the mindless monsters outside are not the biggest problem. The shrill sense of confinement, the danger of one inmate turning on another, and the unthinkable transformation going on in the cellar build to a startling climax – one that utterly upends expectations – followed by the kind of absolutely genius ending that guarantees the film’s eternal position in the annals of horror cinema.