Portmanteau Horrors

I’m going to start this blog by just stating that I’ve still yet to see a huge number of portmanteau or ‘anthology’ horrors but due to being excited about V/H/S wanted to take a look at those I’ve enjoyed most.  I’m grateful to any lovely people who can suggest any others to watch, either on the comments here, or on Twitter @caitd5.  Likelihood of spoilers is pretty high.

 

 Arguably the first portmanteau horror is Dead of Night and despite its release in 1945 is still thought of highly to this day.  It does hold up well, threading together the stories, blended with elements of comedy and the ever-spooky ventriloquist dummy and builds towards a shocking climax.  It sets the scene for future portmanteau films by weaving together the stories in an interesting way, preventing what could be a simple film gimmick into a successful, enjoyable and yes, at times scary piece of work.  This pioneering work clearly inspired the work of Amicus studios throughout the 1970s as they adapted horror comics into films starring some of the biggest names in horror.

One of these comic adaptations is The Vault of Horror and contains my favourite segment of any anthology horror (so far) ‘Midnight Mess’ and also my second favourite ‘The Neat Job’.  The framing device for the film involves a group of men (including Dr Who star Tom Baker) entering a lift, that instead of taking them to their desired floor opens out to a basement room where chairs are arranged in a circle.  The men all take a seat and begin to tell tales of strange dreams they have had in which they meet their demise.  While the content has certainly aged the stories have a camp, dark humour to them and the sense of the grotesque that I really love.  The idea of blood on tap, direct from the neck of a still-living human being remains a horrifying idea, as does the frustration and anger of a housewife who, unable to keep up with her husband’s meticulous sorting regimes decides to kill him, chop him up and store him in carefully labelled jars.

The segment ‘The Neat Job’ clearly inspired the Dawn French segment of the Psychoville Halloween segment in which the tale is modernised to include the perils of improper recycling.  Creators Steve Pemberton and Reece Shearsmith use the anthology formula in order to set-up a variety of different stories that would be unable to fit into the Psychoville storylines but still, through a bit of clever writing, manages to further and set-up the second series.  It’s a device the pair used alongside Jeremy Dyson and Mark Gatiss for The League of Gentlemen Christmas Special to use some of their characters in a different way while still remaining true to the worlds they have created.  Mark Gatiss also used a form of portmanteau story telling in his fantastic series Crooked House, that moves through different times of the house and the effect it has on its inhabitants.

The thing I really love about anthology horrors is that they allow for a wide variety of horror themes.  It can deal with the supernatural, serial killers or any other sub-genre of horror in small chunks.  Most anthologies include paranoia, revenge, betrayal, grief and obsession which are integral to the nature of horror.  For example, in ‘The House That Dripped Blood’, one of the stories concerns a horror author who begins to see his serial killer creation Dominic around the house, often attacking his wife.  This theme of obsession and the dark interests of those who work in horror works well as a story opener.  The sight of Dominic is one of the more genuinely creepy things within the often camp nature of some of Amicus’ output.

Another great thing about the anthology horror is the line up of cult and horror names involved in the productions.  Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, Denholm Elliot, Anna Massey, Tom Baker and Vincent Price have all been a part of one or more and the format often allows them to play against type.  A good example of which is found in ‘The House That Dripped Blood’ where Christopher Lee appears to be playing the role of a villain before a twist in the tale showcases his talents in a different way.  Of course, the performances that conform to their usual roles are just as fun, with Vincent Price explaining the breeds and cross breeds of various monsters in ‘The Monster Club’ being a particular highlight.

So that’s my little ramble about anthology horrors, inspired by the fact that V/H/S is out soon, the format of which (if successful) could allow new directors to collaborate with others and hone their craft by working on smaller tales, but with the creativity to weave them together.  My only problem with V/H/S is that its another found footage film and they really have outworn their welcome, but at least there’s a little change to the format and the handover to a variety of directors should inject some life into the genre.  Plus, who can argue with how cool that poster is?

Thanks for reading and as already stated at the start of the blog all suggestions for more anthology horrors are welcomed, either here or on Twitter.

Abertoir Day Six

The last day of Abertoir featured the film I was most looking forward to – Robin Hardy’s ‘The Wicker Tree’.  One film from each day will form a full review and ‘The Wicker Tree’ is the one I’ve chosen for day six.  For this reason I won’t mention a great deal about it here.  What I will talk about though is the selection of short films in the second collection.  I sadly missed the first due to having had too good a night the night before, so really wanted to catch these.  Overall I was very impressed with the quality and variety of the films and how they were all enjoyable in their own ways.  I think my personal favorite was ‘Nursery Crimes’ which I’d love to see again, but on the other hand ‘Brutal Relax’ was the most batshit insane and fun 15 minutes of my film-viewing life.  The fact that it won the Abertoir Short Film Audience Award says a lot, both for the quality of the short and the insanity of the Abertoir audience.  The selection also featured ‘Survivalismo’ which I will review very soon.

 

‘The Wicker Tree’ was next, but as already stated, that will be in a bigger review so I won’t go into that here.  What I will talk about though is ‘The Perfect Host’, featuring David Hyde Pierce.  The film was a massive hit with the audience and won the Abertoir Audience Award, knocking previous top-scoring film ‘Some Guy Who Kills People’ off the top spot on the last day.  While I still think ‘Some Guy Who Kills People’ was the better film for me personally, there were moments where I was almost crying with laughter at ‘The Perfect Host’.  The standard of films was so high that I’ve found myself struggling to put together a coherent top 5, which is no bad thing.

 

Next up was ‘House of Usher’ with a live piano accompaniment.  This was a really interesting way to view a silent film and definitely an experience I’d like to try again.  The screening was really full which suggests that its an idea that a lot more people are interested in than you might expect.  The last part of the festival was a talk given by Victoria Price about her father Vincent and was one of the most engaging and touching things I’ve ever witnessed.  From the talk it was made clear what an exceptional man Vincent Price was in terms of his dedication to visual arts and living his life without limits on his interests.  A very inspiring talk that was a lovely way to end the festival.

 

All that remains is to say that I thoroughly enjoyed my time at Abertoir and highly recommend attending to everyone with an interest in horror.  Roll on next year!

Abertoir Day One

First off, Merchandise Monday will return next week.  Circumstances beyond my control (mainly my laptop and car being stolen) meant that there was no way I had time for an entry.  Still, things are slowly getting back on track so things will be back to normal.  Also this entry is two days late *slaps back of hand*.  So today I’ll be posting my personal highlights from Day One and Day Two of the Abertoir Horror Festival (website here) and then tonight it’ll be Day Three highlights, even though I’ve not seen any films as yet today.  So on with the highlights for Day One!

 

As mentioned before on the blog, the Abertoir Horror Festival this year is in honour of the wonderful Vincent Price, so it was only fitting to begin the festival with a screening of short The Pit and The Pendulum, followed by The House of the Long Shadows.  The House of the Long Shadows is perhaps best known for being the film where Vincent Price, Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing all appeared and interacted with one another in one film.  Sadly and surprisingly this is not available on DVD, although the reasons were unknown.  If anyone does know, please get in touch and let me know.  This was my favourite film of the day with some great lines such as Price’s “Don’t interrupt me when I’m soliloquising.”  It was also nice that the first film of the event actually concerned Wales…even if it wasn’t in the most flattering way.

 

Following this there was a debate on censorship, particularly concerning the BBFC.  All the more fitting since star of recently banned, then overturned film The Human Centipede 2 (Full Sequence), Laurence R. Harvey was a part of the panel.  He also stuck around for a Q&A after the film, in which he described his character Martin as a ‘problem solver’ and detailed how fun the shooting of the film was, meaning he had no idea how dark the material was until he saw it all put together.  Also on the panel was festival organiser Nia, researcher of the BBFC and extreme cinema Emma Pett and Martin Barker (who you may recognise from the Video Nasties documentary).  Barker began the debate by barging in, dressed as Mary Whitehouse, which meant that while there was a serious discussion it was also kept light and fun for the audience.  There are some attempts at photography below, although I’m still getting used to a new camera so the quality isn’t great unfortunately.

 

Mary Whitehouse interrupts proceedings

 

Laurence R Harvey, Nia and Martin Barker on the panel. Emma sadly off-screen.

 

It was in this discussion that I was convinced to stick around and watch The Human Centipede 2, despite being very cautious of the content.  You can read my review over at Altered Realities Radio by clicking on the picture below.

 

Also, follow me on Twitter (@caitd5) for more frequent, little updates.