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Tales From the Dark Side of Anthologies

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By Nick Schager

IFC News

[Photo: George A. Romero’s “The Crate,” from “Creepshow,” Warner Bros. Pictures, 1982]

The only thing better than a deeply terrifying horror film is a deeply terrifying horror anthology. That said, if the latter in theory promises more bang for your buck, it in practice often provides only additional time-filler detritus. With the Halloween season once again upon us, we here at IFC decided to survey some landmark and recent horror collections, and our findings weren’t always pretty — for every superb “Creepshow” or “Kwaidan,” there are twenty turgid “Tales From the Hood”s. Given the sheer number of scary compilations produced over the past 60 years, comprehensive coverage of every great (and not-so-great) example of the form proved impossible. Thus, our apologies to, among others, unsung Amicus gems like 1972’s “Tales From the Crypt” and 1973’s “The Vault of Horror” (both recently out on DVD), 1985’s corny-awesome “Cat’s Eye,” and 2004’s “Three… Extremes,” all of which would have made a more expansive list. And conversely, congratulations to the following five, which in their own special way epitomize the good, the mediocre, and/or the sublimely ridiculous that horror anthologies have to offer.

Dead of Night (1945)

The granddaddy of them all, this 62-year-old Ealing Studios’ production remains the subgenre’s seminal work. Directed by Alberto Cavalcanti, Charles Crichton, Basil Dearden and Robert Hamer, this sterling British film binds its five tales via the predicament of Walter Craig (Mervyn Johns), who arrives at a manor house and proceeds to inform the guests that they’ve all been part of his recurring dream; when a psychologist expresses disbelief at this paranormal déjà vu, the other visitors tell personal anecdotes of the supernatural. That this framing device maintains an overpowering sense of mystery and dread up until the superb, descent-into-insanity finale is reason enough to sing “Dead of Night”‘s praises. The fact that its individual yarns — including one about a game of hide and seek that leads a young girl to tuck a ghost into bed, and another concerning a race car driver who, after an accident, is visited by death’s coachman — are uniformly efficient and inventive helps makes it an enduring classic. Not to mention that, with the incomparably unnerving “The Ventriloquist’s Dummy,” about a frazzled ventriloquist and his malevolent wooden partner, it set the template for hordes of (generally less scary, stupider) killer-doll imitators.

Creepshow 1 & 2 (1982 and 1987)

George A. Romero and Stephen King, collaborating on an anthology based on E.C. Comics — “Creepshow” was a horror fanboy’s wet dream when it hit theaters in 1982, and aside from “The Lonely Death of Jordy Verrill,” in which King (trying his best to act) becomes increasingly covered in moss, it triumphantly delivered on its potential. Lovingly faithful to its source material’s macabre humor and fascination with malevolent, vengeful spooks returning from the dead to right wrongs, Romero’s film remains a cheeky and chilling model of how to do horror collections correctly. The same can’t wholeheartedly be said of 1986’s sequel, which was written by Romero (based on original King stories) but lacks its predecessor’s cohesiveness and imaginativeness. Nonetheless, “Creepshow 2” (despite featuring three, rather than five, separate narratives) is far from a failure, in part because “Old Chief Wood’nhead” so perfectly gets the goofy-fearsome E.C. Comics spirit, and also because the money shot of “The Raft” — in which the camera pans up from a sleeping young woman’s naked torso to her face, which is then revealed to be covered in lethal goo — so strikingly conveys the simultaneous excitement and terror of sex.

The Twilight Zone: The Movie (1983)

Technically, 1983’s big-screen adaptation of Rod Serling’s iconic TV series — featuring one original story directed by John Landis, and three classic episode remakes helmed by Joe Dante, George Miller and Steven Spielberg — is as much science-fiction as straightforward horror. And the less said about Landis’ pedantic intolerance-is-bad sermon and Spielberg’s wretchedly mushy and condescending “Kick the Can” (featuring Scatman Crothers as yet another “magical negro”), the better. Still, the anthology earns its place on this list thanks largely to its final two, visually electric chapters. In Dante’s “It’s a Good Life,” the director playfully examines the darker side of his beloved Looney Tunes universe, highlighted by Kevin McCarthy’s nerve-wracking what’s-in-the-top-hat magic show. And in “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet,” Miller piles on cockeyed camera angles, turbulent cinematography, and freaky peripheral characters — not to mention the proceedings’ only honest-to-goodness monster — with a tale of an air travel-averse passenger (a profusely sweating, ranting John Lithgow) who’s driven mad by visions of a creature destroying the plane’s wing in stormy mid-flight. Both dispense more anxious, sinister suspense than any routine teen slasher flick. And there’s no getting around the fact that the proceedings’ creepiness is amplified by its now-mythic on-set tragedy, in which star Vic Morrow and two young Vietnamese boys were killed in a freak helicopter accident during production of Landis’ contribution.

Kwaidan (1964)

Masaki Kobayashi’s four ghost stories are adaptations of Japanese folk tales that were collected in 19th-century books by Western author Lafcadio Hearn. Given this strange East-West heritage, it’s no surprise that they consequently exude a chilling sense of unreal dislocation and detachment. Self-consciously aestheticized, Kobayashi’s epic three-hour period piece conveys a haunting sense of the otherworldly, while at the same time frequently — such as with the exquisite “The Woman of the Snow,” originally trimmed for its U.S. release, and restored to its original length on Criterion’s lavish DVD — employing supernatural elements as vehicles for timeless, universal moral inquiries. Exhibiting a distinctly art-house approach to horror, “Kwaidan” features pale female spirits with long black hair, ghoulish figures who superficially foreshadow modern J-horror’s preferred embodiment of undead evil. The last two segments, “Hoichi the Earless” and “In a Cup of Tea,” never completely replicate the rapturous frightfulness of their precursors, even if “Hoichi” boasts the film’s most stunningly unsettling image. And at times one craves a bit less stylized artistry and a smidgen more visceral, gut-churning terror. Yet even if outright scares are somewhat sparse, the thematic depth and formal proficiency of “Kwaidan” is both imposing and gripping.

Snoop Dogg’s Hood of Horror (2006)

Meanwhile, at the polar opposite end of the spectrum, Snoop Dogg’s second attempt (after 1998’s “Bones”) to fashion himself as some sort of pimpadelic soul-horror icon. Demonic Snoop, joined by a vomiting midget and two vampire hos, introduces gory stories à la the Crypt Keeper, spouting pearls of wisdom such as “Just like I ran the hood… I run the hood of horrors.” I have no idea what this actually means, but one can assume from the ensuing nonsense — involving a woman whose satanically tattooed arm gives her magic spray-painting powers, as well as a pair of wealthy rednecks trying to kill a bunch of African-American vets — that Snoop ran his hood pretty dreadfully. During the course of this fiasco, a thug facially impales himself on his 40-ounce bottle and former Playmate of the Year Brande Roderick literally bursts from being pumped full of caviar. Meanwhile, Jason Alexander makes a brief appearance as a record exec with a British accent, and the realization that the erstwhile George Costanza has been reduced to cameoing in such dreck is — more than all the slit throats and geysers of blood — the scariest thing “Hood of Horrors” ultimately has to offer.

Additional photos: “Dead of Night,” Universal Pictures, 1946; “Creepshow 2,” New World Pictures, 1987; “Twilight Zone: The Movie,” Warner Bros. Pictures, 1983; “Kwaidan,” Continental Motion Pictures Corporation, 1965; “Snoop Dogg’s Hood of Horror,” Xenon Pictures, 2006.

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Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

It’s the final countdown to Christmas and thanks to IFC’s movie marathon all Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, you can revel in classic ’80s films AND find inspiration for your last-minute gifts. Here are our recommendations, if you need a head start:

Musical Instrument

Great analog entertainment substitute when you refuse to give your kid the Nintendo Switch they’ve been drooling over.

Breakfast In Bed

Any significant other or child would appreciate these Uncle Buck-approved flapjacks. Just make sure you’re not stuck on clean up duty.

Cocktail Supplies

You’ll need them to get through the holidays.

Dance Lessons

So you can learn to shake-shake-shake (unless you know ghosts willing to lend a hand).

Comfy Clothes

With all the holiday meals, there may be some…embigenning.

Get even more great inspiration all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC, and remember…

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The final season of Portlandia approaches.

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GIFs via Giphy

Most people measure time in minutes, hours, days, years…At IFC, we measure it in sketches. And nothing takes us way (waaaaaay) back like Portlandia sketches. Yes, there’s a Portlandia milepost from every season that changed the way we think, behave, and pickle things. In honor of Portlandia’s 8th and final season, Subaru presents a few of our favorites.


Put A Bird On It

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Colin the Chicken

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Dream Of The ’90s

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No You Go

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A-O River!

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One More Episode

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Catch up on Portlandia’s best moments before the 8th season premieres January 18th on IFC.

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Artfully Off

Celebrity All-Star by Sisters Weekend is available now on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Sisters Weekend isn’t like other comedy groups. It’s filmmaking collaboration between besties Angelo Balassone, Michael Fails and Kat Tadesco, self-described lace-front addicts with great legs who write, direct, design and produce video sketches and cinematic shorts that are so surreally hilarious that they defy categorization. One such short film, Celebrity All-Star, is the newest addition to IFC’s Comedy Crib. Here’s what they had to say about it in a very personal email interview…


IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Celebrity All-Star is a short film about an overworked reality TV coordinator struggling to save her one night off after the cast of C-List celebrities she wrangles gets locked out of their hotel rooms.

IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Sisters Weekend: It’s this short we made for IFC where a talent coordinator named Karen babysits a bunch of weird c-list celebs who are stuck in a hotel bar. It’s everyone you hate from reality TV under one roof – and that roof leaks because it’s a 2-star hotel. There’s a magician, sexy cowboys, and a guy wearing a belt that sucks up his farts.


IFC: What was the genesis of Celebrity All-Star?

Celebrity All-Star was born from our love of embarrassing celebrities. We love a good c-lister in need of a paycheck! We were really interested in the canned politeness people give off when forced to mingle with strangers. The backstory we created is that the cast of this reality show called “Celebrity All-Star” is in the middle of a mandatory round of “get to know each other” drinks in the hotel bar when the room keys stop working. Shows like Celebrity Ghost Hunters and of course The Surreal Life were of inspo, but we thought it
was funny to keep it really vague what kind of show they’re on, and just focus on everyone’s diva antics after the cameras stop rolling.

IFC: Every celebrity in Celebrity All-Star seems familiar. What real-life pop personalities did you look to for inspiration?

Sisters Weekend: Anyone who is trying to plug their branded merch that no one asked for. We love low-rent celebrity. We did, however, directly reference Kylie Jenner’s turd-raison lip color for our fictional teen celebutante Gibby Kyle (played by Mary Houlihan).


IFC: Celebrity seems disgusting yet desirable. What’s your POV? Do you crave it, hate it, or both?

Sisters Weekend: A lot of people chase fame. If you’re practical, you’ll likely switch to chasing success and if you’re smart, you’ll hopefully switch to chasing happiness. But also, “We need money. We need hits. Hits bring money, money bring power, power bring fame, fame change the game,” Young Thug.


IFC: Who are your comedy idols?

Sisters Weekend: Mike grew up renting “Monty Python” tapes from the library and staying up late to watch 2000’s SNL, Kat was super into Andy Kaufman and “Kids In The Hall” in high school, and Angelo was heavily influenced by “Strangers With Candy” and Anna Faris in the Scary Movie franchise, so, our comedy heroes mesh from all over. But, also we idolize a lot of the people we work with in NY-  Lorelei Ramirez, Erin Markey, Mary Houlihan, who are all in the film, Amy Zimmer, Ana Fabrega, Patti Harrison, Sam Taggart. Geniuses! All of Em!

IFC: What’s your favorite moment from the film?

Sisters Weekend: I mean…seeing Mary Houlihan scream at an insane Pomeranian on an iPad is pretty great.

See Sisters Weekend right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib

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