It’s Horror Anthology Week on Hatched, where we’ll talk about some of our favorite horror anthologies to lead up to the Nitehawk premiere of V/H/S on Tuesday, Oct. 2.
British based Amicus Productions made a splash in the 60’s with a stream of cheapy anthologies like Dead of Night, Asylum, and Tales from the Crypt. These films are fast, cheap, and rather nasty little numbers that delight in torturing a mix of proven stage actors (Ralph Richardson, Patrick Magee), future stars (Donald Sutherland, and The Doctor himself Tom Baker) and several elder-statesmen of the genre (Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, Michael Gough).
Our favorite of these Amicus anthologies is the company’s first, Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors, where a gypsy sooth-seer, played by Peter Cushing, passes the time on a crowded train car by peering into the grizzly futures of five fellow passengers. The future, if you haven’t guessed by now, isn’t looking too bright for these unfortunate commuters: one has a run in with a bougie werewolf, another gets tangled up in a killer vine; there’s a voodoo curse, a small-town vampire and a crawling hand out for revenge.
All of the stories deliver doofy plotlines drenched in irony, and even though it is delightful to see a fetal Donald Sutherland wrestle with a vampire, it’s Christopher Lee’s segment that steals the show.
As a deliciously snide art critic, Lee floats about with his nose aloft, doling out the most mean spirited criticism one can imagine. After one spurned artist (Michael Gough) pulls a prank that reveals Lee to be nothing more than a pompous dilettante, Lee causes an accident that costs the artist his hands, ultimately driving the poor sap to suicide. With the burdensome artist gone, Lee believes he’s free to go back to spewing his half-cocked critiques until, one day, he begins to get harangued by a crawling hand…. *lightning crash*
All of these stories tread along similar lines, with passengers meeting grizzly fates marked with ironic twists—like most anthology movies, really. But aside from Lee’s mean spirited art critic, and Roy Castle’s racist jazz musician, most of these passengers just seem like suckers caught in a bad situation.
Reason takes a back seat to the horror in Dr. Terror, a movie that just makes with the werewolves and the hooded skeletons and calls it a day. And that’s the beauty of horror anthology films like this one. Because of their tight time constraints, filmmakers are liberated from having to pad out a spooky, but thin premise to feature length, sparing us the bloated mythology or needless exposition that has scuttled many a horror film. When you’re only allotted fifteen minutes to tell a scary story, the explanation isn’t there because it does not matter, and it’s this absence of the “why” which makes Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors such delightful candy bowl hokum.