It’s that time of year again, friends; the time when black cats cross your path and an eerie chill has hit the air; a time of spooky stories and creative costumes. I’m talking about All Hallows’ Eve. I’m talking about Halloween. Horror and Halloween are forever linked and fans of our favorite genre get especially going when the 31st of October is near. Many people love to turn to scary movies when it comes to the holiday and really, there are few better ways to celebrate. There have been countless articles dealing with the ins and outs of Halloween themed films floating out there, so instead I thought I would do something a little different and talk about one of my personal favorite subjects to delve into this time of year. I’m talking about the anthology. For reasons I’ll get to, I think of anthology films as the perfect choice for Halloween viewing. It doesn’t even matter to me if a film relates specifically to the holiday itself. As far as I’m concerned, all anthologies are perfect Halloween viewing. But first, let’s back up a little.
Horror in bite-sized form has been around for quite some time. American cinema, for example, largely came from stage and radio. And old time radio was deeply steeped in short-form horror tales. Witch’s Tale, Inner Sanctum, Lights Out; these classics terrified children and adults and like form the living room radio. A lot of scares can be conjured up in twenty minutes with the right actors and many of these vintage episodes did just that. These classic radio shows from the 30’s inspired a lot of people who wound up being pioneers in their own right. This includes those behind EC comics such as William Gaines (well known as publisher of Mad Magazine) who set out to scare a new generation of children with the likes of Tales from The Crypt, Vault of Horror, and The Haunt of Fear along with many others. These comics were actually quite controversial in their times and pushed boundaries, shaking up society’s perceptions of important issues and topics. These books not only told frightening tales in little bursts but also gave the illustrator’s freedom to do their thing rather than expect them to all be uniform and the comics have one set style. This little detail may seem insignificant to my overall topic but really it all goes to the heart of it. So many sub-genres and tones, styles and themes can be represented when you’re crafting multiple story, especially when rolled up in a bigger project. I don’t need to tell anyone what was done with Tales from the Crypt but I will anyway.
Tales from the Crypt was adapted into a movie (along with Vault of Horror) in the 70’s and in the 90’s became an HBO series. Along with reruns of the inspirational force that is The Twilight Zone, Tales from the Darkside and the 90’s classic Are You Afraid of the Dark? Tales from the Crypt was a major part of my childhood. Interestingly enough, what had started off as a way to give kids a thrill in comic form had come to represent something more adult-skewing on television decades later. But that didn’t mean that kids like me couldn’t love them. These episodes were based on classics comics (not just the one actually titled Tales from the Crypt) but added to them and elongated them to fill out a half-hour time slot. Admittedly at times this robbed the source material of a classic twist or punch but they were always such a blast to watch and put a smile on my face to this day. I ate all of this up. I adored every episode of every show, every little story. There was something that instantly connected with me and still does to this day.
My personal introduction to anthology films was in the form of a few flicks in particular. Notable examples were George Romero’s classic 1982 film Creepshow as well its 1987 sequel Creepshow 2. Both are awesome but the original in particular is still one of the most perfect anthologies there has ever been in my opinion. The other seminal anthology that got me into them was the masterpiece that is Tales from the Hood. I was too young at first to grasp the nuances and complex themes of race in the United States as well as injustice at the hands of those in power, along with many other very real topics. But I still loved it right from my first viewing all those years ago and have only come to appreciate it more and more as my brain developed and matured. It has a lot to say and at the same time is an absolute rollercoaster of a film. From there I went on a tear; From Campfire Tales to Campfire Stories; From Beyond the Grave to Body Bags. I was obsessed with this style of film. These movies kept moving and flowing, delving into new territory with each twist and turn.
So what does this all have to do with Halloween? Sure, some fun flicks like (the fantastic) Trick ‘r Treat and All Hallows’ Eve center around the holiday itself. But I’m clearly not just talking about those. And sure, horror movies in general have a Halloween connection of sorts; but why the anthology especially? It’s really simple, actually. It’s all so much fun. Yes, Halloween has quite serious origins that are to be respected from a historical standpoint -paying respects to lost relatives, the portal between our world and the next opening. But I am a 90’s kid and we are a largely a very nostalgic bunch when it comes to certain things. Old school Nickelodeon, discontinued snack foods, and the Halloween of our era are major aspects of what makes us what we are. Do kids still love Halloween? I’m sure they do. And I’m the last person to pull the whole “Back in my day!!” crap. But there was something special about the holiday for us, something stitched into every piece of media, every commercial, and every turn throughout the season. I made the connection between anthology and Halloween early on. They just fit so well with the heart of the holiday; the rushing around, the adrenaline; the experiencing all sorts of horrors in one night. You see a whole variety demons and ghosts, slashers and creatures on All Hallows’ Eve. And the same can be said for the anthology. The mixture of beasts and killers, humor and darkness; the blends are as varied and delectable as the candy bags that are emptied out and devoured.
Anthologies remind me of telling tales around a campfire; being teleported back to hearing a spooky experience from a friend who swears they seen a ghost once. As a child, anything can happen on Halloween and that’s still how I feel about anthology films. There’s a permission in the sub-genre to go wild; to try out different things and see what scares you and what you can conquer. I have a pretty “all over the place” personality and so does the anthology, as does Halloween. For me they will always be linked and one of the first things I conjure in my mind when I think of the time of year.
The anthology film is only growing in popularity as time goes by. I’ve seen many phenomenal entries into the proud tradition being put forth with passion and that’s a wonderful thing to see. I’ve recently reviewed the Volumes of Blood series as well as Torin Langen’s silent anthology film 3 Dead Trick or Treaters and both respective projects have kept my faith in the sub-genre alive and well. It’s getting very close to Halloween at the time of this article being written. I can feel the chill in the air; I see the decorations and sense the spirit of the season all around me. And I’d like to celebrate this, my favorite of holidays. To relax, throw on an anthology and remind myself why they go so well together. I hope you do too. And may your frame story be an exciting one that you ultimately escape unscathed
Written by PJ Griffin