[Editor’s Note: This post is presented in partnership with Time Warner Cable Movies On Demand in support of Indie Film Month. Today’s pick, “Southbound,” is available now On Demand. Need help finding a movie to watch? Let TWC find the best fit for your mood here.]
Before the producers of “Southbound” invented their ingenious highway from hell, they first took on this 2012 horror anthology film and got some of the best indie filmmakers in the business, from Ti West to Adam Wingard and Joe Swanberg, to helm each of the film’s six terrifying installments. Connecting the anthology’s pieces together is a thread in which each installment centers around some kind of video. Wingard’s entry, “Tape 56,” provides the narrative framing as it follows a group of criminals tasked with breaking and entering into an old house in order to steal a V/H/S tape worth a lot of money. They find a dead man when they enter the house, but that will be the least of their terrifying problems. The chapters that follow involve everything from three men running an amateur porn service to a married couple whose honeymoon becomes a doomed affair. Swanberg’s entry, “The Sick Thing That Happened to Emily When She Was Younger,” is perhaps the most inventive, using video chats to depict a harrowing encounter between two young lovers. The voyeurism on display speaks to the perverted nature of 21st century technology, and it’s a segment as scary as it is socially critical (think of it as a short film version of the equally-as-scary “Unfriended”). You can also check out the two sequels: “V/H/S/2” and “V/H/S: Viral.”
“Tales From the Crypt” (1972)
Inspired by the EC Comics anthology series, Freddie Francis’ iconic 1972 British horror film arrived over two decades before the landmark series of the same name, and it brings a similar barrage of horror tricks and treats. The film follows a group of five strangers who explore an old catacomb and are revealed to be all dead. They meet the mysterious Crypt Keeper who informs each member of the party how they died, and thus the film’s anthology structure involves five stories of death. The chapters are full of twisted tales of karma (“…And All Through the House” and “Reflection of Death”) and revenge (“Poetic Justice”), and while they may lack the involving horror of the genre’s past efforts, their inventive storylines will give you nightmares by forcing you to think twice the next time you pretty much do anything that might harm someone else. “Tales From the Crypt” is scary fun, but its implications about fate and destiny coming to kill you in the end are about as unsettling and bleak as any horror film ever made. Count us terrified.
“Trick ‘r Treat” (2007)
This ghoulishly clever American-Canadian anthology film was released in theaters to little response but has grown to have quite the cult following in the years since, and for good reason. The movie starts with one of the best openings to a horror film that most people haven’t seen yet. Leslie Bibb plays a loving wife who breaks a Halloween tradition (blowing out the jack-o’-lantern) and pays the ultimate price. The horrifying reveal of her fate is one of those epic horror moments when you’re scared and thrilled and disgusted all at once. Her demise sets the tone for the rest of the film, and characters slowly trickle in and out of stories about one messed up town on Halloween night.
“The ABCs of Death” (2012)
A spiritual cousin to the “V/H/S” franchise, “The ABCs of Death” finds Alamo Drafthouse founder Tim League producing a horror anthology that provides the horror at a breakneck pace. Recruiting some of the best genre filmmakers in the game — Nacho Vigalondo, Ben Whealtey, Jon Scnhepp and, once again, Ti West and Adam Wingard — “ABCs of Death” features a staggering 26 shorts, each one beginning with a different letter of the alphabet, and the film runs the gamut from the apocalypse to a dogfight, an orgasm, nuptials and farts. How’s that for variety? The structure constantly keeps the film fresh and exciting, and it’s kind of miraculous how no short is in any way identical to the next. While some shorts are weaker than others, they all provide a singular horror scare you don’t see coming. 26 movies. 26 scares. That has to be some kind of record.
George A. Romero’s horror anthology arrived 10 years after “Tales From the Crypt” and revived its wicked sense of nightmarish horror comedy. The anthology marked the screenwriting debut of Stephen King, and he proved just as adept at creating skin-scrawling stories of ghosts, graves and unforgettable creatures for the screen as he did for the page. One of its classic chapters, “Something to Tide You Over,” features a psychopath plotting cold-blooded murder for his cheating wife and her lover, and it mixes disturbing terror (just wait until you see what he has in store for them) with an even more disturbing sense of pity for a man scorned by love. Other stories, like “They’re Creeping Up on You,” will send germophobes running for the hill. If anything’s for sure, it’s that these dementedly good stories could only come from the mind of King.
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