6WH: Week 5 - Anthologies

By their very nature, anthology films are a challenge. Anthology television series are more forgiving, as each story is meant to be taken on its own merits. An anthology film, though, is comprised of multiple stories that are meant to be watched together. This presents a few big issues. One is that some stories are better than others, leading to a perceived inconsistency in quality. Similarly, tonal shifts between stories can be jarring, though you could argue that this comes back to inconsistency. Finally, what is it about these stories that warrants being grouped together in a single viewing experience? It is this question that ultimately defines the film. In most cases, the talent behind the film is the reason for the anthology. Indeed, all three of this week's films are like that (more below). Unfortunately, this often leads to those quality or tonal inconsistency issues mentioned earlier, especially if the talent is spread out amongst the segments.

The best anthologies, though, seem to have a purpose, they add up to one larger experience. We've already talked about one of these during this year's Six Weeks of Halloween, back in week 3 - Trick 'r Treat. It is comprised of smaller stories, but they are interlocking and share the holiday theme. This is, naturally, a more difficult feat to pull off, and a lot of films will use some sort of framing devices to try and tie the stories together somehow, though this is often not very convincing. Trick 'r Treat also benefited from the fact that it was the product of a singular vision rather than a collaboration (as two of the below are). Ultimately, everything comes down to the typical horror movie measurements. Sometimes a mediocre collection can contain a gem that will stick with you far longer than most full-length features. So let's dive into a few of these and see what happens.
  • Hell No (fake trailer)
  • Creepshow (trailer)
  • The Simpsons: Treehouse of Horror
  • Creepshow 2 - I did not realize this until I started watching, but I'd seen this before, many moons ago... but the only segment that I really remembered was the second one. This may very well have been because I only saw the second one. Here in the on-demand digital future, it's hard to remember stumbling onto a movie on cable late at night, watching for 30 minutes, and then stumbling away. Anywho, this is the second installment of the series in which Stephen King supplies all the stories. George A. Romero remains involved, but as a screenwriter adapting the stories (rather than as director). The three stories are completely unrelated, and have a loose framing device about a child reading a horror comic supplied by a crypt-keeper-like, uh, creature? Whatever. The first story is about a wooden Native American statue that comes to life in order to avenge some injustice that was perpetrated on its owner. Entertaining enough, and very typical anthology story (bad people receive supernatural comeuppance, usually in ironic way). The second tale is the one that I remember, and it follows a group of kids who want to hang out at a lake. After swimming out to the little raft anchored in the middle of the lake, they notice a oily looking blob in the water... and it slowly proceeds to devour our hapless teenage heroes. I was terrified of this segment when I was a youngin, and it actually is a pretty effective setup. The blob in the water is a simple, elegant monster that really struck a nerve with my younger self. Unfortunately, there's not really anywhere for this story to go, and it ends in typical fashion. The third segment features a hitchhiker that simply won't die. Like the rest of the film, there's a base level of competence here that comports itself well enough, I guess. Ultimately, it's fine, if not really anything special. It's on Netflix Instant right now, so the effort to see this is minimal, so it's an enjoyable enough way to spend an hour and a half. **
  • Horror Movie Daycare (short)
  • Thanksgiving (fake trailer)
  • The Simpsons: Treehouse of Horror II
  • V/H/S/2 - I liked the first installment of this movie, though there were a few nagging complaints - notably the framing device, which was filled with annoying dudebros and made no real sense. This movie has a slightly better framing device, a PI and his assistant go to this house looking for a missing kid, only to find a bunch of VHS tapes and TVs and stuff, which they naturally start watching. This is mostly unrelated to the framing device from the first film, but the circumstances are similar enough that there might be some overarching reason for these framing devices that won't become clear until a later installment (I'm not holding my breath on that one, though!) Anyway, the gimmick here is found footage on said VHS tapes (wondering how obviously digital footage ended up on an analog tape is probably missing the point), and each segment is done by a different director (or 2 in some cases).
    What is going on here?
    "Phase I Clinical Trials" is directed by Adam Wingard (of You're Next fame) and features a guy getting a digital eye, which has a built in recorder. Of course, this new technology also allows him to see... things. This segment certainly has the best jump scares of the weekend, and some otherwise effective imagery too, though it ultimately isn't something that sticks with you. "A Ride in the Park" comes to us from Gregg Hale and Eduardo Sanchez (of Blair Witch fame) and details a zombie outbreak in a unique way. This is clever, and very gory, and reasonably effective, though again, the follow through on these tales isn't that great. "Safe Haven" is maybe the most effective of the bunch, and it features a lot of really disturbing stuff. It's directed by Gareth Evans (of The Raid) and Timo Tjahjanto, and it follows a film crew making a documentary about a cult of some kind. Naturally, while they're their, some weird apocalyptic shit goes down. Now this is one that I did find very unsettling and I have a feeling it will stay with me a bit. Finally, we've got "Slumber Party Alien Abduction" from director Jason Eisener (of Hobo with a Shotgun), which is exactly what it sounds like. It's a little more difficult to follow this one, and while I found the events effective, something about it never quite congealed into something that I particularly enjoyed. Tonally effective, but not my favorite of the bunch. One point of order here, the theme in these stories appears to be that, well, everyone dies. This gets a bit tiresome, and may explain why I wasn't as invested in the last segment - I knew exactly what would happen to all these characters and didn't really care. Overall, well, it's a decent collection, about on par with the first movie. **1/2
  • Trick 'r Treat (trailer)
  • It's the Gifts That I Hate (Robot Chicken)
  • The Simpsons: Treehouse of Horror III
  • Three... Extremes - A cross-cultural anthology from Chinese, Japanese, and Korean directors, this one doesn't even bother with a framing device, simply presenting each story, one after the other (which, honestly, is fine, as framing devices often come off as being sorta tacked on). First up is "Dumplings" from Fruit Chan, a filmmaker I'm unfamiliar with. And this one is a doozy. It's almost as if he's daring you to walk out on this movie in disgust, and yes, I had some severe reservations with this segment once I realized what was going on. But it ultimately boils down to an old story, someone seeking to prolong their life by any means. On that front, it really is effective, if hard to watch (that sound design, ugh). Next, we've got Chan-wook Park's segment, called "Cut", which follows a director as he's confronted by a stranger. I won't ruin the segment, but it is probably the most traditional of the three, while still being somewhat harrowing. It bears a fleeting resemblance to that reviled torture porn genre, though it's far from the worst on that front. It's well done, and if you've seen his "Vengeance" films, this will strike a familiar note with you. Also worth noting is that the camera is much more dynamic here than in the first segment, and it fits well with this story (which could get a bit static in lesser hands). Finally, we've got "Box" from Takashi Miike, the most artistic of the bunch, and the most abstract. There's a lot of open questions here, but it basically amounts to a writer trying to cope with a tragedy in her past.
    Masked woman, for extra intrigue
    Ironically, while this movie has no framing device and none of the three segments are related, it holds together well as one viewing experience (maybe even better than the above two). Furthermore, the themes explored here are deeper and more mature. Attempting to defy the ravages of time, money and class issues, and coping with tragedy; these are not shorts for the faint of heart. On the other hand, this is the longest anthology by far, and I think perhaps even too long. Each segment is around 40 minutes or so, which isn't that long in the grand scheme of things, but the content didn't really need that much time. Still, it's an interesting watch, and I'm glad I got to it. **1/2
Holy crap, I can't believe we're already 5 weeks into the Six Weeks of Halloween. I'm betting you'll be seeing some more horror related posts after the high holiday of horror has come and gone... Anyway, no idea what I'm going to do next week, but stay tuned for the last two Saw films on Wednesday.