In celebration of the halfway point to Halloween, I’ve decided to share a list of my favorite horror anthologies that are perfect to watch on Halloween night.
Most of these movies are pretty gory and violent, so make sure the kids are in bed or definitely preoccupied with their candy haul in another room. The 70s are long gone and responsible parenting is in, so, don’t scar your kids for life with things they can’t unsee. Although, the worst that could happen is they turn into lifelong horror fans like us.
Trick-‘r-Treat, 2007 – Directed by Michael Dougherty. With his directorial debut, Dougherty gave the world the terrifyingly cute Halloween mascot Sam, a trick-r-treating demon with a simple list of rules that must be followed on Halloween night. This cult-favorite film never saw a theatrical release because Warner Bros. supposedly didn’t know how to market the film. I think it was mostly due to the violence of and to the children in the film’s stories. Whatever the case, this is as perfect as an anthology film can get. Great acting, great storytelling, art direction, costumes, and cinematography are all on point, and then, there’s the birth of a Halloween icon, Sam. Films that spawn multi-dollar merchandising opportunities are pretty rare, but the fact that it all grew into a worldwide fan favorite without fancy marketing and a normal production release, absolute kismet! Earlier this year, rumors spread that a bonafide sequel was in the works, but there have been no other details. Fingers crossed that Dougherty’s magic casts a second spell over the horror lovers.
The Mortuary Collection, 2019 – Directed and written by Ryan Spindell. Shudder produced this slick original anthology with a framing story more interesting than the shorts. As a big fan of Clancy Brown, I was delighted to see him starring as the eccentric mortician in the small town of Raven’s End. When a young woman answers the “Help Wanted” sign, the mortician decides to test her resolve and recounts several macabre stories of death cases he’s encountered over the years, but, as it turns out, this secretive new employee has a tale of her own to tell. The acting, score, and production quality here are all top-notch and the short stories are pretty much classic horror, with one freshly woke tale guaranteed to make men squeamish.
Creepshow, 1982 – Directed by George A Romero. In this early 80s horror-comedy, legendary horror icons, Romero and Stephen King, who wrote three stories specifically for the movie, collaborate together for the first time. The good friends really knew how to speak each other’s language and produced a classic campy fun spooky anthology of five stories which really helped make horror anthologies appreciated in the same vein as horror films. Despite the Creep feeling awfully familiar to the Cryptkeeper of Tales of the Crypt fame, the Creepshow Magazine framing story is a solid tale of an abused boy named Billy, who just wants to enjoy his comics, but his father decides to throw his beloved magazine out instead. Creepshow was a perfectly executed anthology series, starring a lot of well-known Hollywood celebrities of 1980s respectively. With special effects and monster creations done by longtime Romero friend and collaborator Tom Savini, the film paid homage to old 1950s horror and sci-fi comics and movies. My favorite short, They’re Creeping up on You, starred EG Marshall, as a bigoted, racist germ-freak tycoon who gets his comeuppance in a creepy way.
Creepshow 2, 1987 – Directed by Michael Gornick. After George A. Romero wrote the screenplay for Creepshow 2, he stepped aside to allow the cinematographer of the first Creepshow movie, to wear the director cap, in this second film collaboration with Stephen King. Even with only three stories, this quintessential 80s horror outshines its predecessor and features fine performances from more Hollywood legends, like George Kennedy and Dorothy Lamour, and Tom Savini, who played the storytelling Creep and helped again with special effects. The stories are Stephen King’s classic tall tales come to life, with The Raft and The Hitchhiker being the best of three but I really did enjoy the outlining story involving the same bullied comic-reading hero Billy from the first film. Much like the first film, Creepshow 2 simply reminds us of why some of us fell in love with horror in the first place.
All Hallow’s Eve, 2013 – Directed and written by Damien Leone. What an introduction to the brutal sadistic horror villain Art the Clown. In his first feature-length film, Art terrorizes a babysitter on Halloween night, when she finds an old VHS tape containing three horrifying stories. One of the creepiest things about Art the Clown and why he’s become such a popular horror villain, is we just don’t know why he’s doing all this. It harkens back to the early days of Halloween’s Michael Myers, before the armchair psychologists showed up and ruined him. The boogeyman doesn’t need a reason.
V/H/S/94, 2021 – Directed by various directors. Does anyone even know or remember what VHS tapes are? All the Shudder’s V/H/S movies are great, but in ’94, I really enjoyed all the shorts and the framing story about a group of swat officers who raid the compound of a cult only to discover body parts and disturbing videotapes playing in each room. The Subject directed by Timo Tjahjanto was my favorite. What a gruesome action-packed delight. This is a perfectly cast and executed production of cyborg horror with a fantastic story and a hero which I hope we haven’t seen the last of. (I’m still waiting for cyberpunk horror genre to take off, now that we have the technology.) Fingers crossed someone gives Timo some money and lets him make a sequel or prequel.
Black Sabbath, (I tre volti della paura, ‘The Three Faces of Fear), 1963 – Directed by Mario Bava. The legendary Italian horror maestro teams up with horror icon Boris Karloff to tell three terrifying tales. This is mostly a thriller, light on actual scares, except for the last story, A Drop of Water. Now this is a horror classic that will haunt you. Bava stole from the best to bring these creepy tales to life and has found a cult following since its initial release, which was considered a bomb. I guess Kaloff’s star was fading by then. Thank the horror gods for DTV and streaming.
Tales of Halloween, 2015 – Directed by various directors. This Netflix production of ten separate horror stories, all taking place on Halloween night, is a lot fun and a great film to put on in the background of your Halloween party. After a long animation montage of the short’s titles and credits, we jump right into the action. There’s no framing story, just horror legend Adrienne Barbeau lending her smooth voice as a local DJ to set the mood for the evening. While not as scary as some other anthologies on this list, the Halloween vibe is strong and some shorts are really amusing and filled with dark humor. My favorite story was Friday the 31st which I found quite humorous and a real treat for those who like twists.
There’s no real order to this list. I think every anthology series has merit and should be seen by horror fans. I can’t guarantee every story will tickle your fancy, but enough of them will. If you’re looking to have a spooky good time on Halloween night after the trick-or-treating is done, these are timeless horror classics that get the job done.
Summer is always a rough season. Summer combined with the Corona virus lockdown is almost unbearable, but being stuck inside doesn’t have to be torture. I found these five low budget gems, definitely better than expected, that should satisfy your horror movie cravings.
We Summon the Darkness (2019) Service: Netflix
“There’s a lotta evil out there.”
For anyone’s who has ever worn a leather vest over a jean jacket, sported big feathered hair, or been bullied for listening to Ozzy or Slayer, all over the misguided belief that heavy metal is Satan’s music for devil worshippers, this one’s for you. Set in the 80s, this low-key thriller about three victims falling prey to a murderous cult with diabolical intentions isn’t particularly scary or gory, but it definitely harkens back to those old glossy B slashers that the studios used to churn out. The movie stars a gaggle of Hollywood’s brightest teen stars, led by Alexandra Daddario, and Johnny Knoxville, surprisingly right at home, playing a smarmy televangelist. The energy is high and acting is decent, honestly though, absolutely nothing else stands out here. Both the plot and the twists are totally predictable, it’s a little hard to tell if that’s by design or not. If I was one of the filmmakers, I’d get all meta and say, ‘oh yeah, it was supposed to be that way.’ People really enjoy homages, and stickin two giant middle fingers up to the real evil in the world, those big greedy corporate churches, for lying to the world about great music, using the lord’s name in vain, and besmirching religion. That, plus a bitchin’ soundtrack, and heavy metal couture, so 80s, you can almost smell the AquaNet, there are worse ways to spend a Saturday night.
Spring (2014) Service: Shudder
“I gotta make sure you’re the kinda crazy I can deal with.”
There aren’t too many well-made horror romances out there in the world, but this movie is in top ten. Spring, the story of grieving young man who finds love with a mysterious woman, while on a vacation in Italy, is just as refreshing as its name sounds. It’s simply a beautiful movie, everything from the strange Lovecraftian story to the incredible cinematography, and the dark, creepy suspense to the blossoming love between two strangers. What makes the film work, besides getting lost in charming scenery of Southern Italy, is the chemistry between the leads Lou Taylor Pucci and Nadia Hilker, it’s sweet, like saccharine, yet, definitely filled with a touch of danger and mystique. Their romance moves a little fast and even seems unrealistic, but if you factor in love at first sight (hey, it can happen), and remember the vulnerability of a lonely, grieving, inexperienced young man, it becomes real easy to understand why he would be attracted to an alluring, beautiful, mystical 2000 year old creature. It’s almost sad to watch her toy with him so effortlessly, then again, the boy is as impulsive as he is lost. A violent episode in the film’s beginning shows he’s far from a perfect hero and they might just be morally matched. As for the girl and her “condition”, well, you’ll just have to go watch the movie to see if her intentions are pure or not.
Ghost Stories (2017) Service: Hulu
“Things are not always as they seem.”
This movie about a skeptical professor and paranormal debunker is a cleverly disguised anthology from IFC Midnight, turns out to be one of the scariest movies that I’ve seen in a long time. Triple threat writer-director Andy Nyman stars as the wry skeptic investigating the disappearance of his hero mentor. Once he finds him, he is then tasked with looking into the old man’s three most disturbing cases, which brings the professor on a terrifying journey of self-discovery. Nyman, along with co-creator Jeremy Dyson based their script off their hit theater show of the same name. The writing, cinematography and performances here are all phenomenal, in particular, Martin Freeman as a haunted banker, and in a mystery role, that I won’t give away. Ghost Stories makes good work of jump scares and sports some deep Hammer vibes, paying homage to numerous horror films, so it’s not inventing the wheel or anything, just making really good use of the tools from the tool box. Sometimes, that’s all a proper horror film needs.
One Cut of the Dead (2017) Service: Shudder (Japanese subtitles)
“One take, no cuts. With one camera from start to finish.”
Shin’ichiro Ueda’s brilliant feature debut is a bit of movie inception. The movie starts off as a seriously cheesy low-budget zombie movie about an indie film crew filming a zombie movie in an abandoned warehouse, when suddenly, they’re attacked by real zombies, much to the director’s delight. If you’re still watching by the time the credits roll about 37 minutes in, yes, you read that right, boy, are you in for a treat! As you’re sitting there wondering ‘what the hell was that?’ a new movie starts. Well, sort of, it’s a flashback, and all good things to those who wait. One Cut of the Dead isn’t really a cheesy low-budget zombie film, it’s a hilarious meta-satirical comedy about filmmaking, including the backstage antics of producing live television. There are a ton of references to zombie movies and lots of gore and screaming, of course, but, the real prize here is the storytelling. One Cut features a strong message about the collaborative filmmaking process, and the resourcefulness, courage and heart it takes to be in the entertainment business. I guarantee, by the third act, you’ll forget all about those 37 minutes wasted in the beginning and cheer on the film crew’s spirited efforts to make their zombie movie.
Blood Quantum (2019) Service: Shudder
“Every one of those motherf****** is a time bomb.”
Blood Quantum is essentially zombies on a modern-day reservation. You get all the blood-thirsty ravaging undead and pensive natives struggling to survive day-to-day, while reconciling their anger, resentment, and fears. Writer-director Jeff Barnaby channels his inner Romero and delivers biting social commentary on real life native troubles by drawing parallels to surviving in the zombie apocalypse, thus, immediately making it a better than average zombie story. Life on the reservation hasn’t improved, but it hasn’t necessarily deteriorated either. The white man is still trying to kill us. Same shit, different millennia. A little closer to the heart, there’s nice family drama subplot involving a wayward son named Lysol, wonderfully played by Kiowa Gordon. Lysol is one complex dude. He’s angry and alluring, righteous, and terrifying, and I don’t think it’s a stretch to say he represents a lot of young native men across the North America. Sadly, in a film filled with quirky interesting characters, Lysol is one of the few fleshed out characters. Dropped plot points involving back stories is just one of tiny problems that all add up over time, keeping the film from being truly great. I read director Barnaby wore several post production hats to ensure he told the story he wanted to tell, but I can’t help but wonder what the film could have been, if only it had a bigger budget and better editing. Despite its obvious flaws, this is a solid horror movie with nice cinematography, comical one-liners, ranging from cheesy to endearing, and plenty of zombie action and bloody carnage.
Posting this blog a day late and a dollar short, just like dear ‘ole dad. If you were one of the millions who spent Father’s Day pining over your lost, non-existent volatile relationship with daddy dearest, cheer up, and be glad you weren’t the offspring of any of these bad dads of horror.
10. Satan – Rosemary’s Baby (1968)
It doesn’t really get much worse than having Satan for a dad. Sure, there are probably perks to being the Antichrist, but the trade-off is lifetime of micromanagement from mid-level staffers on daddy’s payroll. Satan’s coven rape, conspire, commit murder and drive the chosen mother-to-be to the brink of insanity, all to ensure Satan’s son is born on the exact date that will make him 33 years on the millennial, the same age as Jesus when he came into his own. Who would’ve guessed the devil would be so petty?
Some of you may have noticed there was no Haiku of the Week. Please forgive me. I suffered a sudden health scare this week. Recently, during a trip to a local botanical park in Austin, TX, I was bitten up by mosquitoes. The bites turned out to be more serious than I thought because I fell ill with a blood infection. Luckily, no serious disease. I’m now recovering and should be totally fine. Haiku will return next week, but as summer approaches, I can’t help but remind everyone to please use insect repellant.
Also, think twice about using those flowery shampoos and fruity lotions when camping and traipsing through the woods. We wouldn’t want insects to take over the world just because we want to smell good.
January is almost over and few of us have kept our resolutions. Don’t worry, the year is still new and second chances can happen anytime. So, in keeping with that theme, here’s my picks for the best horror reboots/remakes.
Typically, I’m a big fan of the phrase “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. However, with the superior technological advances in both filmmaking and special effects, some reboots or remakes are pretty darn good, a few even surpass their predecessors. Let me know what you think.
10. Fright Night (1985/2011)
Yes, the characters aren’t half as charismatic as the original cast, but the acting talents of Colin Farrell, Anton Yelchin, Toni Collette and David Tennant are what keep Fright Night from being a bad remake. While the story itself hasn’t changed much, the remake loses most of its humor, in favor of a more sardonic style, making the film more of a thriller.
Biggest Changes: Setting location moves from main town, USA to a glitzy suburb of Las Vegas. No more camp, just blood-thirsty vampires.