Craig J. Clark — Oct. 28th 2012
Horror anthologies have a long history that goes all the way back to the silent era, but relatively few have featured werewolves, and there’s a very good reason for that. The main problem our furry friends face in such films is they’re generally only in one of the segments, so the filmmakers tend to skimp on the makeup effects when the time comes for them to appear. After all, why blow a sizable chunk of your budget on a creature that’s only going to get a couple minutes of screen time?
One solution, of course, is to skip the makeup effects entirely, which is the tack 1965’s Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors takes. The first horror anthology from Britain’s Amicus Productions, it was directed by Hammer vet Freddie Francis and scripted by producer Milton Subotsky, who links together its five individual stories by having self-proclaimed “doctor of metaphysics” Peter Cushing use a deck of tarot cards (which he calls his “house of horrors”) to predict the gruesome fates of the five gentlemen sharing his train compartment with him. Luckily for the impatient lycanthrope lover, the werewolf segment is the first one out of the gate.
In it, Neil McCallum is an architect who’s been called out to his family’s old estate, which has since been sold to a rich widow, because the current owner (Ursula Howells) wants to make some alterations to the interior. We know something sinister’s afoot when McCallum hears a wolf howl, asks what it was, and gets the disingenuous reply, “I didn’t hear anything.” Later, while poking around in the basement, he happens upon the coffin of long-dead werewolf Cosmo Waldemar, who was killed by McCallum’s great-grandfather and, according to legend, will return to take his revenge. Believing Howells is in danger, McCallum goes about trying to protect her, but completely misjudges who the beast’s real target is.
As is frequently the case with horror anthologies, not every segment in Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors works, but at least it has a better batting average than Jeffrey Delman’s Deadtime Stories, which includes a modern-day take on “Little Red Riding Hood” where the Big Bad Wolf is a black leather pants-wearing lycanthrope. Made in 1986, the film gets off on the wrong paw with an opening credits gag stolen wholesale from Monty Python and the Holy Grail. And the wraparound segments — with an increasingly harried uncle (Michael Mesmer) telling gruesome fairy tale-derived bedtime stories to his rambunctious nephew (Brian DePersia) — aren’t much better since they were plainly shot in the middle of the day. (The sunlight streaming in through the gap in the curtains is something of a giveaway.)
As for the individual stories, the “Red Riding Hood” segment comes up second, with Red recast as Rachel (Nicole Picard), a high school cheerleader who’s introduced fondling herself in the mirror before being sent to the drug store to pick up something for her grandma (Fran Lopate). There she crosses paths with leather-clad loup-garou Willie (Matt Mitler), which results in the pharmacist mixing up their prescriptions. While Willie camps out on grandma’s doorstep, Rachel is waylaid by her preppy boyfriend (Michael Berlinger), who insists on relieving her of her virginity right then and there. By the time she finally makes it to grandma’s house the old lady has been savagely attacked, and her boyfriend hangs around long enough to become werewolf chow, but Rachel fares a bit better since she’s able to put her hand to her grandma’s silver cake cutter. The final twist, though, finds the original fairy tale reasserting itself as grandma, recovering in the hospital, sprouts fangs while Rachel watches, marveling at the size of her teeth. “And unfortunately,” Uncle Mike quips, “no one lived happily ever after. The end.”
The trend of unhappy endings continues with 2003’s Exhumed, a Canadian horror anthology which was shot on video and looks it. Doubtless, this gave writer/director Brian Clement the flexibility he needed to make sure each segment had its own distinct look, but he can only do so much to hide the lack of production values. And bringing up the rear in its low-rent trilogy is a story set in a post-apocalyptic future where motorcycle-riding “mod” vampires and sideburn-rocking “rocker” werewolves are all set to have their “Last Rumble” when both sides are ambushed by hazmat suit-wearing soldiers who look like they’ve been airlifted in from George A. Romero’s The Crazies. The only ones spared are a female vampire named Cherry (Chelsey Arentsen) and a werewolf named Zura (Chantelle Adamache) who have to get over their mutual enmity if they’re going to make it out of the compound alive (or undead as the case may be). Eventually we find out how their story ties in with the first two, but it didn’t make a whole lot of sense when I heard it in the movie, so I’m not going to try to explain it here. All I can tell you is that the werewolves in Exhumed look like fanged Klingons with super-long eyebrows. That’s a new one on me and a design I don’t expect to see again anytime soon.
All is not doom and gloom in anthology land, though, especially when it can occasionally produce a gem like Trick ‘r Treat. Made in 2007, it promises four tales of terror and writer/director Michael Dougherty delivers, neatly tying all of them together and having the characters and events overlap in unexpected ways. (Kind of like Four Rooms only all of the rooms are actually good.) The entire film is set in a small Ohio town that takes Halloween very seriously (there’s a huge festival in the center of town and everything), as does the character of Sam, a mute trick-or-treater with a creepy-looking burlap sack over his head who pops up in each of the stories, even if it’s just to silently observe what goes on. One such story is about a virginal 22-year-old in a Red Riding Hood costume (Anna Paquin) who needs a date for a party taking place on the outskirts of town and, sure enough, has an encounter in the woods. There’s a twist to it that easily eclipses the ones in Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors, Deadtime Stories and Exhumed, though, and Dougherty gives us a full-on transformation that should make most werewolf fans howl with delight. If you’re looking for a good horror anthology this Halloween, Trick ‘r Treat is the one that will give you the most bang for your buck.