For the love of horror anthologies throughout the 80s

Here it is—a blog covering the six final 80s era anthologies in my movie collection that I haven’t yet covered. It’s mostly the biggies, so I’m going to call out my favorite stories from each anthology.

CREEPSHOW (1982)

The classic that launched the anthology resurgence of the 80s, Creepshow sees George Romero directing and Stephen King writing to recreate the vibe of the Tales from the Crypt comics of the 1950s.

While it’s not an overall Halloween movie, the wraparound has a Jack o’ lantern in the window of a house where Tom Atkins punishes his son for reading Creepshow comics.

This intro turns to animation, and each story is entered and exited as a comic panel. Adding to the fun and to capture the spirit of reading a comic, the stories themselves are filled with campy comic panel frames.

1st story – the classic “I want my cake” tale is still a favorite. A snotty rich family reunites on the birthday of the dead patriarch, but his corpse crawls from the grave to hunt for his cake. It’s macabre, loaded with 80s neon lighting, and features a young Ed Harris.

2nd story – I’ve never liked this goofy tale. Stephen King stars as a dumb redneck who daydreams about becoming rich when a meteor lands on his farm. He soon discovers its radiation is slowly turning him into a plant. This movie could have lost this story and been stronger (and shorter than 2 fricking hours) without it.

3rd story – this perfectly directed classic has Leslie Nielsen getting revenge on Ted Danson for sleeping with his woman…only to learn the dead seek revenge, too. The horror atmosphere is chilling when Nielsen is alone in his house and the dead shuffle in.

4th story – another unforgettable classic, this is the longest tale in the film, with Hal Holbrook as the husband of an overbearing drunk, played by Adrienne Barbeau. When Holbrook is dragged into a situation concerning a killer creature found in a crate under the stairwell at a college, he sees a way to shut his wife up once and for all. It’s gory, funny, and features an iconic monster.

5th story – bug movies are a dime a dozen (that’s a phrase that made sense in the 80s), so this one to me is also a throwaway. A germaphobe living in a sterile environment ends up battling a horde of cockroaches that somehow infiltrates. The final gross out scene makes this one memorable.

In the wraparound conclusion, the son gets voodoo revenge on his dad using something he ordered from an ad in the Creepshow magazine.

TWILIGHT ZONE: THE MOVIE (1983)

Directors John Landis, Joe Dante, George Miller, and Steven Spielberg bring us this 80s classic that spawned the reboot of the series in the mid-80s.

Like the show, these aren’t strictly horror stories. And considering Spielberg is involved, watching it now, it reminds me of the short-lived 80s anthology show Amazing Stories.

Dan Aykroyd and Albert Brooks serve as the wraparound, singing old TV theme songs as they drive on a dark road at night. They bring up The Twilight Zone TV show and deliver a horror scare, which kicks off the stories…

1st story – after losing a promotion, a dude at a bar goes off on Jews, blacks, and “Orientals”…this shit is so old the loathsome gays aren’t even mentioned. Anyway, he then falls down a rabbit hole of being treated exactly as each minority he despises has throughout history. Keep an eye out for John Larroquette as a member of the KKK.

2nd story – this is a totally obvious—and cringeworthy—Spielberg production of the 80s, complete with manipulative heartstring-tugging music and a Cocoon vibe. Seniors in a home are magically transformed into kids again by Scatman Crothers, who plays a sort of Peter Pan figure.

3rd story – after accidentally knocking him off his bicycle with her car, Kathleen Quinlan takes a little boy to his home—a cartoonish environment that becomes a cartoon nightmare. It’s the first horror story we get, but in the end it’s a sloppy tale. Keep an eye out for a Tempest arcade game, as well as an appearance by Nancy Cartwright pre-The Simpsons fame and Cherrie Currie of Joan Jett’s old band The Runaways.

4th story – John Lithgow wipes the floor with everything that comes before this remake of a classic from the original show, which starred William Shatner in the role. Deathly afraid of flying, Lithgow’s terror is magnified when he sees a little creature out on the wing during a storm, tearing apart pieces of the plane.

This is the tale that put this one on the map, as most of the others are totally forgettable. Along with Dan Aykroyd in the wraparound, it also put this film on the horror map.

CAT’S EYE (1985)

Lewis Teague, director of Cujo, takes on Stephen King again with this anthology of short stories based on the horror writer’s works—mostly from the Night Shift collection.

The cat wraparound immediately makes this feel more like Castle Rock than the Castle Rock Hulu show did, with the cat being chased by Cujo and almost getting run over by Christine.

When I saw this as a teen, I was so into it because all the stories I’d read were brought to life. Watching it now, it’s easier to see that these are horror lite shorts and could have worked just as well as TV episodes of Tales from the Darkside. They’re good for what they are, but they’re no Creepshow.

1st story – as much as I liked the nasty little twist on this one about an organization with an extreme program for helping people quit smoking, it’s ruined for me now because that douche James Woods stars in it. King’s story is chilling, but this adaptation is given a bit of a campy edge. Adding to the King references, Woods watches The Dead Zone on TV.

2nd story – in this tale, Robert Hays…that’s all I really need to say. He’s one of my childhood wet dreams…or, dry dreams considering my age when he was on the sitcom Angie. Anyway, the husband of the woman Hays is cheating with says he can have her on one condition…he has to walk all the way around a huge building on a shallow ledge. Eek!

3rd story – the final tale focuses on the cat from the wraparound, and it’s so precious that it really could have been a Stephen Spielberg creation. Little Drew Barrymore falls in love with a stray cat that tries to protect her from a silly little troll…that’s clearly a full-sized human shot on green screen.

For the love of the 80s, it should be noted that “Every Breath You Take” is featured more than once in the film…as a cover version! But even better is the “Cat’s Eye” theme song by Ray Śtephens, who was not only on the kids’ show The Great Space Coaster, but also took over lead singing duties for The Village People in 1985 (yes they were still making records at that point).

 

CREEPSHOW 2 (1987)

At only 90 minutes long, the sequel is a tighter collection, featuring only three stories (what the first could have been without the two lame tales). Romero and King both get writing credits this time, but Romero doesn’t direct. It’s also of note that it definitely has underlying themes of social issues and social status.

Tom Savini plays “The Creep,” a sort of Crypt Keeper host—but quickly turns into a cartoon version that introduces each tale.

1st story – George Kennedy owns a little store with a big Indian chief statue in front. The store is robbed by a trio of thieves led by a Native American kid who doesn’t give a shit about his own heritage, so the statue comes to life for revenge. It’s basically a fun enough slasher, but doesn’t leave a lasting impression.

2nd story – this absolute classic is based faithfully on one of my favorite Stephen King short stories. Four kids swim out to a raft in the middle of a lake and are trapped by a weird “oil slick” that eats human flesh.

It’s horrific when victims cry at how much it hurts as they’re being devoured. And holy shit, when it’s down to only two survivors, the “nice boy” fricking #MeToos the girl while she’s sleeping!

3rd story – completing this flawless trio, this tale is about a rich white bitch who leaves her hot male escort’s place and hits an African-American hitchhiker while trying to speed home before her husband gets home. She leaves the scene and is then terrorized by his mutilated body on a dark deserted road, with him continuously coming back and croaking, “Thanks for the ride, lady!” In retrospect, a scene of a bunch of passers by finding the body (including Stephen King as a truck driver) lessens the effect of the corpse instantly returning from the dead to seek revenge on the isolated road.

The cartoon wraparound interspersed between each story is more involved than the one in the first film. It’s a tale of a young boy getting revenge on bullies using something he ordered from the back of the Creepshow comic.

TALES FROM THE DARKSIDE: THE MOVIE (1990)

The stories in this film are better than most episodes in the series…possibly because this movie is essentially what would have been Creepshow 3, with participation of many of the same team, including Stephen King and George Romero. The director did numerous episodes of the Tales from the Darkside show as well as a few Tales from the Crypt episodes.

It opens with a sped up synth version of the TV show theme that sux all the eeriness out of it, but the wraparound is campy delicious. Debbie Harry is preparing Joey Lawrence’s little brother for dinner! The boy stalls her by telling her scary stories…

1st story – based on the writing of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle of Sherlock Homes fame, this one does an amazing job of not only capturing the gothic spirit of Hammer films, but the wicked fun of Creepshow. The likes of Julianne Moore, Steve Buscemi, and Christian Slater are gruesomely hunted down and slaughtered by a mummy on a college campus. Awesome.

2nd story – this tale can easily leave an impression because of the gory end, but it’s the lamest and most predictable one in my opinion. David Johansen makes up for disgracing his New York Dolls glam rock reputation with that absurd Buster Poindexter persona by perfectly playing a hitman hired to kill a black cat believed to be responsible for the murders of various people.

3rd story – Best story ever! It takes a while to go anywhere after the initial horror, but it’s so worth it for the twist at the end. James Remar, Samantha’s sexy mature man from Sex and the City, is a struggling artist who witnesses a gargoyle monster gruesomely mutilating a man in an alley.

The creature tells him it will spare him if he never ever tells anyone what he saw. He makes the promise, gets away, and moves on with his life, eventually marrying Rae Dawn Chong. They fall in love and he at last opens up to Rae with disastrous results.

Hell, when the story is done even Debbie Harry says, “You saved the best for last.”

THE WILLIES (1990)

 

Brian Peck, one of the main kids from The Last American Virgin, who was also been in minor roles in the first three Return of the Living Dead films, directed just this one film that’s as scary innocent as an episode of Tales from the Darkside and just as much fun. It’s really the epitome of 80s VHS horror, and the first main story was apparently made in 1985, which explains why it looks so 1985.

The wraparound features Sean Astin and two other boys telling scary stories in a tent at night. Totally encapsulating the 80s era, they mention video game cartridges, grosser than gross jokes are told, and meta references are made about Aston’s movie The Goonies.

We first get super brief warm up stories: a fast food gross out story, an old man going through a haunted attraction, and a poodle in the microwave tale.

After that there are only two main stories, and the first is better. A little boy who has no friends in school beyond the janitor (James Karen of Return of the Living Dead) has to go to the bathroom during class.

When he gets there, what he finds in the bathroom stall makes this story kind of similar to “The Crate” story in Creepshow. Aside from the story itself being so entertaining, the geeky looking main kid is a hoot.

Plus, Ben Seaver of the Growing Pains family also stars…which explains why his sitcom siblings appear on a TV screen in the next story.

The second story has a fun ending but it goes on way too long, and unfortunately, the protagonist is a freak so it’s hard to relate.

He collects and plays with dead flies…and even uses them to terrorize others. This long-winded, icky bug tale finally pays off when the flies get revenge.

Personally my vote would have been to cut the second story in half and include a third one. Preferably one made in 1985 and not 1990…

About Daniel

I am the author of the horror anthologies CLOSET MONSTERS: ZOMBIED OUT AND TALES OF GOTHROTICA and HORNY DEVILS, and the horror novels COMBUSTION and NO PLACE FOR LITTLE ONES. I am also the founder of BOYS, BEARS & SCARES, a facebook page for gay male horror fans! Check it out and like it at www.facebook.com/BoysBearsandScares.
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