Anthology films – or portmanteau films, or omnibus films, as they are also called – have been with us almost since the dawn of the motion picture industry. This form of film-making can be a tricky beast, requiring a careful juggling of topic and tone to get the right effect; but executed skilfully, such a film can become a great deal more than the sum of its parts.

There are anthology comedies, anthology dramas and anthology romances out there; but, from the very beginning, it was horror that made best and most frequent use of the format: a history now stretching all the way from 1919’s Unheimliche Geschichten to 2017’s XX and A Taste Of Phobia—and with many more, no doubt, to come…

So join us as we take a trip on the omnibus—


1000 Misspent Hours and Counting Dead of Night (1945) The most conspicuously unusual thing about Dead of Night is that its framing story truly is a story, with its own characters, conflict, rising action, climax, and resolution. The other five segments are separate from that story as you’d expect, but they’re also relevant to it and even help to move it along. Later anthology movies have often aspired to such integration, but more often than not wound up with frames that were mere vehicles for cheesy and predictable twist endings.
Dead of Night (1976) At first nothing happens, but an hour or two later, there’s a feeble knock at the front door. The rain-bedraggled boy on the doorstep (Lee Montgomery, of Mutant and Ben) looks exactly like Bobby, and the story he tells— something about a head wound, amnesia, and a family named “Breen” or “Green”— is just barely within the bounds of plausibility as an account of where he’s been all this time. Nevertheless, something isn’t right here. “Bobby” doesn’t know things that he certainly ought to if his memory has returned to him, and the questions he asks are either uncomfortably accusatory or disturbingly tactical in character. His behavior, moreover, is wild, erratic, and even cruel. Looks to me like there’s some Monkey’s Paw shit about to go down here…
Nightmares (1983) The objective behind J.J.’s hustling is rather unexpected. He’s raising money not for a car or a stereo or any other big-ticket item of obvious appeal to an adolescent boy, but rather to beat the Bishop. No, no— not that Bishop. What I mean is, the arcade at the Fox Hills Mall has an innovative video game called The Bishop of Battle, with which J.J. has lately been obsessed.
And You Call Yourself A Scientist! Flesh And Fantasy (1943) What horror movies were produced in the 1940s tended to be non-threatening in nature: a harmless thrill, rather than anything intended to disturb or frighten. For Universal, this meant turning their iconic 30s monsters into franchise characters, and then bringing them together in their enjoyable but distinctly unhorrific “monster-mash” films. And for all that it is a relatively high-budget, star-heavy production, Flesh And Fantasy sits comfortably within this paradigm. Though certainly not without its virtues, this is a tentative film, self-conscious about its horror elements, and determined to undermine anything which might actually unnerve the viewer. Though watchable for its cast and, even more so, its cinematography and art direction, it is finally an intentionally compromised work.
Kwaidan (1964) Kwaidan is usually classified as “a horror movie”, and unquestionably it deals with the supernatural; but those looking for visceral shocks or sudden scares have come to the wrong film. While it offers some chilling touches, this is above all a mood-piece. Its stories play out within strange pockets of time and space where the supernatural world momentarily intrudes upon the natural. Its recurrent theme is human frailty; its dominant tone one of sadness. The film unfolds at a deliberate, leisurely pace that demands both patience and engagement from its audience.
Braineater Asylum (1972) Asylum seems extremely tame by today’s standards: in spite of all the stabbing, hacking, strangling and general mayhem going on, there’s just about no blood on display. Even the first story, which is the most overtly horrific, is likely to evoke more laughter than genuine fright (and to be fair, the sight of a dismembered woman’s paper-wrapped torso bobbling its way across a room is funny, in a ghoulish sort of way). And yet, though it may be hopelessly old-fashioned even by the standards it sets for itself, it’s still remarkably entertaining.
Jabootu’s Bad Movie Dimension
The Unknown Movies Night Train To Terror (1985) With this film, around ninety or so percent of the footage was taken from other productions. Specifically, the movie condensed three feature length movies and added a few minutes of newly filmed footage to link them together to make a horror anthology movie running a little over ninety minutes. Even with the knowledge that the linking footage was written by famed and Oscar-winning screenwriter Philip Yordan – and that Yordan also wrote the screenplays for all three of the movies that were pilfered of footage for this movie – I am sure that already you are smelling a cinematic disaster. That’s indeed what Night Train To Terror is. But it’s a disaster that is so strange, it is to a certain degree fascinating to watch. It’s certainly one of a kind, and we may never see something like it made ever again.

Click to share:

  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • email
  • StumbleUpon
  • Delicious
  • Digg
  • Reddit