Wander into any kindergarten class across the country, and you’re bound to see an alphabet chart hanging on the wall. These ubiquitous guides to unlocking the riches of the English language (which are not unlike modern-day Rosetta Stones printed on cheap cardboard stock) hang in classrooms everywhere – and many of them not only feature the 26 letters that make up our alphabet, but a picture that goes along with each character.
The more morbid amongst us have always delighted in subverting this piece of our childhood history by taking those letters and assigning them new words. Yes, A may be for apple, but it’s also for asphyxiation. Sue Grafton’s made a fortune with this idea – churning out a series of books that had many people guessing what the next letter was going to stand for well before it was published.
Now, the Alamo Drafthouse’s production shingle, Drafthouse Films, is set to team up with Timpson Films and Magnet Releasing to bring the alphabet of macabre to us in film form with the release of The ABCs of Death – a new 26 story (!) anthology film featuring contributions from some of the biggest names in horror.
The list of directors already committed to the project includes Ti West (The House of the Devil), Jason Eisener (Hobo With a Shotgun), Yoshihiro Nishimura (Tokyo Gore Police), and Srdjan Spasojevic (A Serbian Film).
Timpson Films exec Ant Timpson described the genesis of the project in a press release, stating “This project was inspired by my young sons being introduced to the world through their ABCs books. The idea of subverting that format to reveal a study in all the dastardly and humorous ways a person can leave this world appealed on multiple levels. And it was somewhat fitting to learn that the earliest forms of the ABCs books actually did use fear of punishment to teach the young.”
Production on the film is set to begin next month, with an anticipated wrap date set for January, 2012. For more info, cruise by the film’s official website.
In the meantime, here are five classic horror anthology films to tide you over until The ABCs of Death hits a theater screen or DVD player near you.
Perhaps the most well-known horror anthology flick of all-time, 1982’s Creepshow brought together two titans of terror – Stephen King and George Romero – for one excellent fright flick. Featuring five stories from King and an impressive cast (that included Hal Holbrook, Leslie Nielsen, E.G. Marshall, and countless others), Creepshow stands as one of the templates for how to craft a successful anthology film. Of the five tales, germophobic E.G. Marshall’s battle with cockroaches in ‘They’re Creeping Up on You’ remains a personal favorite, but ‘Something to Tide You Over’ deserves kudos not only for the puntastic title, but for also showcasing Police Squad’s Leslie Nielsen as a serious villain. A framing story, designed to showcase how classic horror comics like Tales from the Crypt served as the film’s inspiration, sets the tone perfectly.
The late, great, Mario Bava helmed this 1963 anthology film – which features three distinctly different, but uber creepy, tales of terror.
Black Sabbath is memorable for a number of different reasons – from Bava’s typically bold and rich direction (the colors are, as is to be expected, amazing), the script (which features three completely different stories, each one a minor classic in the genre), to the performances. It’s all but impossible to choose a favorite amongst the three episodes. The first segment, ‘The Caller,’ is arguably the most traditional of the trio, but benefits from Bava’s efforts to continually ratchet up the story’s tension until the mere ringing of the phone is enough to fill the audience with dread. The second story, ‘The Wardulak,’ is a moody and somber period tale that benefits from an amazing performance from horror legend Boris Karloff. The last story, ‘The Drop of Water,’ is the one that terrified me most as a kid – there are some scares in that story that seem almost quaint in today’s blood-and-guts world, but they still work.
If you’re unfamiliar with Bava’s work (and unfortunately, far too many people are…), Black Sabbath makes a great starting point for new viewers.
Trilogy of Terror
If you grew up in the ‘70s, odds are you’re familiar with Trilogy of Terror – a three tale anthology starring Karen Black as a different character in each story.
Two of the three tales are decent, if ultimately forgettable (despite being written by noted scribe Richard Matheson). However, the last story, entitled “Amelia,” is the one everyone remembers – and why Trilogy of Terror stands out as a classic horror anthology.
In this story, Black is menaced by a Zuni Fetish Doll come to life. Imbued with the spirit of an African warrior, this creepy little doll is armed with a spear and some giant teeth – and isn’t afraid to use them. What ensues is a tense fight for survival between woman and doll.
For some reason, the image of this freaky tribal doll clicked with viewers –and whenever you mention Trilogy of Terror, people invariably start talking about the diminutive warrior. In a world where there was no Chucky, the Zuni Fetish Doll was king.
Trick ‘r Treat
Michael Dougherty’s Trick ‘r Treat was almost the greatest horror anthology film that no one ever got to see. Originally scheduled for release way back in 2007 (a preview for the film can be found on the 300 DVD), the film was shelved at Warner Bros. and appeared likely to languish in the studio’s film vault for all of eternity. Luckily, the anthology was finally released (or more accurately, unceremoniously dumped) on DVD in October of 2009.
Unlike the other anthos on the list, Trick ‘r Treat doesn’t tell a bunch of different stories. Instead, Dougherty’s film takes the Pulp Fiction approach – telling a series of intertwined tales that cross paths with each other at different points in the narrative. That alone makes it cool and quite ambitious, but what really gets horror fans excited for Trick ‘r Treat is the film’s atmosphere.
Telling a series of tales set in a small town on Halloween night, Dougherty manages to craft a film that perfectly captures the mood of the holiday and adds an ominous and dangerous tone to the proceedings. Featuring the acting talents of performers like Anna Pacquin and Brian Cox, Trick ‘r Treat doesn’t lack for recognizable faces. Still, what makes Trick ‘r Treat really work is the way it so perfectly plays on our nostalgia for a holiday that’s morphed into something almost unrecognizable over the course of the past two decades. Oh, and you can’t forget Sam…
Sam, short for Samhain, is the little monster of the film. Deceptively cute, this demon isn’t as cuddly as he appears – as anyone breaking the proper Halloween traditions will soon discover. If you’re looking for a more recent horror anthology that delivers the goods, Trick ‘r Treat is well worth a rental.
The House that Dripped Blood
No list of horror anthology films is complete without at least one entry from the venerable Amicus Productions. The British production company released a number of great horror collections during the 1960s and ‘70s, and most of them are worth watching. However, one of the best of the bunch is The House that Dripped Blood.
This 1971 film features stories from Robert Bloch (the author who gave us Psycho) and performances from the legendary Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing, as well as Hammer babe Ingrid Pitt. When a detective (John Bennett) is sent to a home where a famous actor has vanished, he uncovers four tales of the unexplained. Each story involves the house, which may be more than just a simple dwelling.
Cushing is a main character in the segment “Waxworks,” where he and a friend become obsessed with a strange wax museum display that appears to feature a statue of a woman they once knew. Lee, meanwhile, stars in “Sweets to the Sweet,” as a stern widower who’s very strict with his daughter. All four entries are excellent, but naturally, the Cushing and Lee tales stand out thanks the legendary actors’ presence.
If things had gone as planned, this film could have featured an unholy trinity of horror icons – none other than Vincent Price was set to star in the fourth story, “The Cloak,” but his contract with AIP forbade him from doing genre films for other companies. In other trivia, there’s not a single drop of blood featured in the film. Don’t let that dissuade you, though – The House that Dripped Blood is a creepy good time.