First of all, let’s touch on the difference between a Compilation and an Anthology. I am not the expert on this, but for the sake of this article, an anthology is the collected works of a single group or artist, whereas a compilation is a collection of works by a variety of artists. Further, I would say that all anthologies are compilations, but not all compilations are anthologies. Like squares and rectangles.
I am not going to be exclusionary, as both anthologies and compilations have their strengths. The best thing about a horror anthology in particular is that when you have a good director, such as Lewis Teague who helmed “Cat’s Eye” (1985) or George A. Romero who directed “Creepshow” (1982), then you have a unique opportunity to let a talented storyteller take you on multiple rides for the price of one ticket. Not all stories need an hour and a half to be told. Basically any horror film that involves teenagers going camping is already wasting 15 minutes of precious “scare time” with the lame character setups as they all travel to wherever it is that they will eventually die bloody painful deaths. Why do we need to know which one is the slut, the jock, the nerd, or the good girl? We just came to see them die, and the sooner you get to the action, sex, or SFX, if not all three at once, the better.
With a multi-director compilation, as in "The Twilight Zone" (1983) or “V/H/S” (2012), you can gather the individual works of each director and give them 20-30 minutes apiece to really shine. This lowers the risk of them trying to create fillers with weak dialogue or unnecessary b-story and allows them to get to the heart of the story they want to tell. Additionally, when working with upcoming indie directors, it is a safe bet for the producer(s) that if one story isn’t quite up to par but the others are, then you haven’t loss nearly the money you would have if you’d let one of these new kids direct a full-feature. Additionally you have a chance to draw a wide audience to enjoy a fun film that will more likely “have something for everyone.”
Going back to “Cat’s Eye,” which contains 3 distinctly different stories weaved together loosely by a stray cat. Each of the 3 stories can be taken on it’s own and would get a high review from many viewers, but when watched as a whole movie, it flows together because of the production value and directing style, rather than the quite loose connection of a tabby cat running through each of our main character’s lives. I do not want to get into a film review in this article, so I would advise if you haven’t seen the films in this post to give them a watch. I have listed some actual Horror Anthology Film Reviews at the bottom of this article.
“Cat’s Eye” wasn’t a direct follow-up to, but surely inspired by the success of “Creepshow” in 1982, as both came from the mind of Stephen King, an author already successful at writing short horror story anthologies. “Creepshow,” directed by George A. Romero, was itself a throwback specifically to 70’s era UK anthologies like “Tales from the Crypt” (1972), directed by Freddie Francis, and “Vault of Horror” (1973), directed by Roy Ward Barker - and through those films an indirect throwback even further to “Dead of Night” (1945).
"Tales From the Crypt" was among my favorite films to catch on late-night TBS when I was a young adult. If I was lucky, I’d catch it all the way through, sandwiched between “Duel” and “Barbarella,” but often times I would catch one or two of the story vignettes at any given time it happened to be on the air. That is another bonus to the horror anthology, if you catch just one or two vignettes, that may be just enough to get you by.
The film “Creepshow” connected each individual tale loosely as stories within a kid’s comic book - an obvious homage to the original EC Comics that had inspired the films before this one - the 1972 film “Tales From the Crypt,” based directly off these comics, had a more organic inter-segment storyline. This inter-segment storyline creatively tied the whole package together with a twist that keeps the audience engaged in the experience of the whole film overall, and not distracted when one story finishes and another begins.
While the follow-up to "Tales From the Crypt," “Vault of Horror” (1973) has drawn equally positive reviews from audiences, the tight inter-story play that made “Tales From the Crypt” so fun feels less inspired here - a group of men sharing nightmare stories over cocktails, only to find out those weren't nightmares. The ending is not as rewarding as "Tales From the Crypt,” as it is too similar, but this is understandable as both a callback to narrator of the original comics by William M. Gaines and to the successful formula established in their previous films.
The first 10min. of "The Vault of Horror" sets up the inter-segment storyline.
The producers behind both these films were not new to the idea of an anthology, as “Torture Garden” (1967) was also helmed by Freddie Francis for Amicus Productions, and though it rates above “Cat’s Eye” on IMDB, the mostly positive reviews share descriptors such as: “uneven,” “has some flaws,” or “hits and misses.” This goes to show that a single-director anthology doesn’t necessarily have a win over a multi-director compilation, such as “V/H/S.”
I would argue the more important element to the impact a compilation film has on it’s audience is the writing of the inter-segment storyline itself. This is an element that “V/H/S” lacks. Yes, the film does try, as there is an outer story that shares the main motif of all the shorts in this film: the “found-footage” production style. However the characters in the “V/H/S” outer story are more removed from the stories, just watching them on a series of videotapes, than the characters in "Tales From the Crypt," "Vault of Horror," or even the kid in “Creepshow,” whose comic books are more real to him than his day-to-day life. “V/H/S” still does succeed, though, in bringing multiple directors together to share a theme, and with “more hits than misses,” it has earned the two recent sequels, “S-V/H/S” (2013) and “V/H/S: Viral” (2014).
Another recent Compilation on the horror scene is “ABCs of Death” (2012) - comprised of 26 short horror stories, all by individual directors (and now also successfully followed with a sequel). While the “ABCs of Death,” are technically compilation films, they completely lack the inter-segment storyline that the traditional film anthology relies upon. As I have just mentioned, with a stronger weave between the stories of the previous anthologies and compilations, the audience is pulled deeper into the overall film. Watching the “ABCs of Death” is more akin to holding a mini horror film festival than settling in for an evening with one good storyteller.
That said, however, one of the user reviews on the “ABCs of Death 2” IMDB page (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2926810/reviews) is right on point with why I am championing the Horror Anthology and/or Compilation Film to begin with: “Some genius… some rubbish... still LOVE the concept.”
That is why these types of films are so fun and arguably timeless.
Now I certainly didn’t touch on every horror anthology or compilation out there, and as I promised, there are plenty better resources for reviews than I could give. Feel free to take the time to view some of the links below and see how many of these horror anthologies you have yet to enjoy.
And watch the one that started it all, “Dead of Night” (1945)