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Short Scares

13 Terrifying Vignettes From Horror Anthology Movies

CREEPSHOW, Ted Danson, Leslie Nielsen, 1982, (c) Warner Brothers/courtesy Everett Collection

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Anthology horror movies make the most of the format: quickly sketched characters can service a 20-minute story. And a compelling gimmick only needs to hold your attention for the time it takes to tell a short story. Some filmmakers understand how to grab an audience and make an impression with a creepy vignette. To get you ready for IFC’s new anthology series Documentary Now!, here are some of the most memorable vignettes from a few of our favorite scary movies. (Note: some trailers might be NSFW, unless you work in a haunted house.)

13. Trilogy of Terror (1975) – “Amelia”

This made-for-TV movie boasts one helluva gimmick: Karen Black in three suspenseful stories penned by horror-master Richard Matheson (I Am Legend, Twilight Zone). In the final chapter Ms. Black plays a sexually repressed young woman who is under attack from a Zuni fetish doll. This very ’70s segment is clearly the best vignette in the movie, as it was the only one to be parodied on The Simpsons’ “Treehouse of Horror.”


12. V/H/S 2 (2013) – “Safe Haven”

The found footage trope can be hit-or-miss, but Timo Tjahjanto and Gareth Evans make it work in this story of a small cult on the brink of “crossing over to the promised gates.” Without giving too much away, an undercover expose goes wrong and quickly becomes a nightmare full of gore and surprising twists. This bonkers 30-minute entry will make you think twice about joining a creepy religious cult.


11. Tales of Terror (1962) – “The Black Cat”

In the 1960s, Roger Corman produced seven films based (however loosely) on the writings of Edgar Allen Poe, including the anthology horror Tales of Terror. The film’s best entry pits the refined Vincent Price against slob Peter Lorre in a wine-tasting contest. The two actors play drunk beautifully and create a scene that’s funnier than anything Poe ever wrote. (This version was adapted for the screen by Richard Matheson.)


10. Trick ‘r Treat (2007) – “The Halloween School Bus Massacre”

Unlike the other movies on this list, Michael Dougherty’s Trick ‘r Treat isn’t a series of separate stories, but a Robert Altman-esque tapestry of interwoven narratives. The five chapters criss-cross throughout the two-hour movies, so it’s hard to isolate any one plot as the most memorable. That said, “The Halloween School Bus Massacre” might be the most upsetting. The story-within-a-story recounts the carefully plotted murder of eight disturbed children whose parents want them disposed of. Sure, it’s not as sexy as the Anna Paquin chapter, but it’s still damn good.


9. Creepshow (1982) – “Something to Tide You Over”

This George Romero and Stephen King collaboration was supposed to set the stage for a film adaptation of The Stand. 33 years later we still don’t have a movie version of King’s apocalyptic story, but we do have Ted Danson left to die on the beach. Presented in the style of an EC horror comic, the vignette stars Leslie Nielsen as a vengeful husband getting revenge on his cheating wife (played by Dawn of the Dead’s Gaylen Ross) and her accomplice (Danson). The murder is as cruel as it is simple: Sam Malone is buried up to his neck and given a fighting chance at holding his breath while the incoming tide drowns him. This was torture porn before torture porn was “cool.”


8. Nightmares (1983) – “The Benediction”

This video-store staple was a compilation of four episodes of a tv series (Darkroom) deemed “too intense for television.” Modern audiences might be surprised to see what couldn’t be broadcast back in the Reagan era. The standout segment stars cult favorite Lance Henriksen playing a troubled priest being stalked by an evil truck with tinted black windows. This segment is clearly inspired by the made-for-TV-movie Duel, Steven Spielberg’s truck movie which served as his blueprint for Jaws. In an odd coincidence, “The Benediction” was directed by Joseph Sargent, who later helmed Jaws: The Revenge. The trailer narration is also done by Percy Rodriguez who you’ll recognize as the voiceover guy from Jaws.


7. Dead of Night (1945) – “The Ventriloquist Dummy”

Some tropes are so played out it’s hard to believe there was a time when they were new. Can you imagine a horror movie where a clown isn’t evil? Or a monkey’s paw that doesn’t deliver sinister ironies? Today’s audiences safely assumed that ALL ventriloquist dummies are homicidal maniacs, but it must have been novel in the ’40s. Dead of Night isn’t the first film to showcase a creepy ventriloquist dummy — that honor probably goes to 1929’s The Great Gabbo. That said, the dummy chapter is one of the best remembered segments in the film.


6. ABCs of Horror (2013) – “J is for Jidai-geki”

Of the 26 short subjects in this anthology of terror, “J” might not be the best nor the scariest, but it is the most memorable. Yudai Yamaguchi’s vignette takes a familiar premise of samurai suicide and gives it a twist. The stylized look recalls Bill Plympton cartoons or MTV’s Liquid Television (in a good way!), and even though the story is inspired by the letter “J,” your reaction will be pure “WTF?”


5. Encounter with the Unknown (1973) – “Untitled Hole Chapter”

This Rod Serling-narrated docudrama presents a set of low-budget mysteries all supposedly based on true stories. (Or urban legends, as it turns out.) The most haunting of these tales centers on an ominous hole in the ground. When a young boy’s dog goes missing in the misty, moaning pit, the boy’s father goes after her and is scarred for life. While the amateurish performances resemble the dramatizations seen in Bigfoot movies of the period, the non-professional acting style gives the film a unique gravitas.


4. Chillerama (2011) – “The Diary of Anne Frankenstein”

This anthology plays like the poor man’s Grindhouse — instead of Tarantino and Rodriguez you get Adam Rifkin and Tim Sullivan. But Hatchet director Adam Green delivers an unforgettable segment with “The Diary of Anne Frankenstein.” (The title sounds like something from a Twitter hashtag war, though famed SNL writer Michael O’Donoghue made the same joke nearly 20 years earlier in SPIN magazine.) Anyway, Joel David Moore (the goofy guy from Shark Night 3D) steals the show as Hitler; instead of speaking actual German he goes through the segment speaking gibberish German. Following in the footsteps of Dr. Frankenstein, Hitler creates a super-soldier (using body parts) with unexpected results. Kane Hodder (best known for playing Jason Voorhees) co-stars as Meshugannah, the monster.


3. Night Gallery (1969) – “Eyes”

Rod Serling’s post-Twilight Zone horror series started with a two-hour pilot movie, the highlight is Steven Spielberg’s entry about a wealthy woman who blackmails her way into an eye transplant. Not surprising is Joan Crawford’s work as the heartless woman. But Serling really delivers by getting a lump-in-your-throat dramatic performance from Tom Bosley as the reluctant eye donor. This vignette was adapted from Serling’s book The Season to Be Wary, his only work that was created for the page and not the screen.


2. Tales from the Crypt (1972) – “…And All Through the House”

Like Creepshow, this movie is styled like a series of EC horror comics, except the stories really were adapted from an actual 1954 Vault of Horror comic book. The most unforgettable image is Santa Claus wielding an axe. It’s become a familiar trope today, thanks for movies like Silent Night, Deadly Night. (And the HBO remake from 1989.) Here, murderess Joan Collins fears for her life while an escaped psychopath stalks outside the house.


1. Stephen King’s Cat’s Eye (1985) – “The Ledge”

Another anthology film from Stephen King, released in a decade with 26 other King works adapted for film and television. So it’s understandable that some films are better remembered than others. Like “Something to Tide You Over,” the story centers around a cuckolded husband trapping his cheating wife and her lover. Here Kenneth McMillan (who King fans might recognize from Salem’s Lot) sends Robert Hays around the ledge of a Manhattan high-rise. Some of Cat’s Eye feels dated or silly, but this chapter will leave you feeling stressed. (Note: the trailer announces Cat’s Eye as Stephen King’s first original screenplay. But Creepshow came first.)

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Hacked In

Funny or Die Is Taking Over

FOD TV comes to IFC every Saturday night.

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We’ve been fans of Funny or Die since we first met The Landlord. That enduring love makes it more than logical, then, that IFC is totally cool with FOD hijacking the airwaves every Saturday night. Yes, that’s happening.

The appropriately titled FOD TV looks like something pulled from public access television in the nineties. Like lo-fi broken-antenna reception and warped VHS tapes. Equal parts WTF and UHF.

Get ready for characters including The Shirtless Painter, Long-Haired Businessmen, and Pigeon Man. They’re aptly named, but for a better sense of what’s in store, here’s a taste of ASMR with Kelly Whispers:

Watch FOD TV every Saturday night during IFC’s regularly scheduled movies.

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Wicked Good

See More Evil

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is on Hulu.

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Okay, so you missed the entire first season of Stan Against Evil. There’s no shame in that, per se. But here’s the thing: Season 2 is just around the corner and you don’t want to lag behind. After all, Season 1 had some critical character development, not to mention countless plot twists, and a breathless finale cliffhanger that’s been begging for resolution since last fall. It also had this:

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The good news is that you can catch up right now on Hulu. Phew. But if you aren’t streaming yet, here’s a basic primer…

Willards Mill Is Evil

Stan spent his whole career as sheriff oblivious to the fact that his town has a nasty curse. Mostly because his recently-deceased wife was secretly killing demons and keeping Stan alive.

Demons Really Want To Kill Stan

The curse on Willards Mill stipulates that damned souls must hunt and kill each and every town sheriff, or “constable.” Oh, and these demons are shockingly creative.

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They Also Want To Kill Evie

Why? Because Evie’s a sheriff too, and the curse on Willard’s Mill doesn’t have a “one at a time” clause. Bummer, Evie.

Stan and Evie Must Work Together

Beating the curse will take two, baby, but that’s easier said than done because Stan doesn’t always seem to give a damn. Damn!

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Beware of Goats

It goes without saying for anyone who’s seen the show: If you know that ancient evil wants to kill you, be wary of anything that has cloven feet.

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Season 2 Is Lurking

Scary new things are slouching towards Willards Mill. An impending darkness descending on Stan, Evie and their cohort – eviler evil, more demony demons, and whatnot. And if Stan wants to survive, he’ll have to get even Stanlier.

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is now streaming right now on Hulu.

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SO EXCITED!!!

Reminders that the ’90s were a thing

"The Place We Live" is available for a Jessie Spano-level binge on Comedy Crib.

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Unless you stopped paying attention to the world at large in 1989, you are of course aware that the ’90s are having their pop cultural second coming. Nobody is more acutely aware of this than Dara Katz and Betsy Kenney, two comedians who met doing improv comedy and have just made their Comedy Crib debut with the hilarious ’90s TV throwback series, The Place We Live.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Dara: It’s everything you loved–or loved to hate—from Melrose Place and 90210 but condensed to five minutes, funny (on purpose) and totally absurd.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Betsy: “Hey Todd, why don’t you have a sip of water. Also, I think you’ll love The Place We Live because everyone has issues…just like you, Todd.”

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IFC: When you were living through the ’90s, did you think it was television’s golden age or the pop culture apocalypse?


Betsy: I wasn’t sure I knew what it was, I just knew I loved it!


Dara: Same. Was just happy that my parents let me watch. But looking back, the ’90s honored The Teen. And for that, it’s the golden age of pop culture. 

IFC: Which ’90s shows did you mine for the series, and why?

Betsy: Melrose and 90210 for the most part. If you watch an episode of either of those shows you’ll see they’re a comedic gold mine. In one single episode, they cover serious crimes, drug problems, sex and working in a law firm and/or gallery, all while being young, hot and skinny.


Dara: And almost any series we were watching in the ’90s, Full House, Saved By the Bell, My So Called Life has very similar themes, archetypes and really stupid-intense drama. We took from a lot of places. 

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IFC: How would you describe each of the show’s characters in terms of their ’90s TV stereotype?

Dara: Autumn (Sunita Mani) is the femme fatale. Robin (Dara Katz) is the book worm (because she wears glasses). Candace (Betsy Kenney) is Corey’s twin and gives great advice and has really great hair. Corey (Casey Jost) is the boy next door/popular guy. Candace and Corey’s parents decided to live in a car so the gang can live in their house. 
Lee (Jonathan Braylock) is the jock.

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Dara: Because everyone’s feeling major ’90s nostalgia right now, and this is that, on steroids while also being a totally new, silly thing.

Delight in the whole season of The Place We Live right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib. It’ll take you back in all the right ways.