Horror anthologies hold a special place in my heart. They’re rarely perfect; sometimes they’re almost uniformly messy from beginning to end. Yet there’s something unique beating proudly within them all. There’s a true love for horror and the understanding that even the most bite-sized of thrillrides can be incredibly effective in its allotted time. Still, it takes a certain level of skill to get them right, so it should come as no surprise that some of the best out there involve the handiwork of one of the longstanding masters of the genre: Stephen King.
Whether you’ve watched them a million times or never seen ’em in your life, there’s nothing quite like blowing the dust off a classic anthology or two. If you have a hankering for a couple multi-course meals of the macabre, I now present the agonizing wails of Cat’s Eye and Creepshow for your approval.
Cat’s Eye (1985)
With Cujo and Christine references popping up within the first minute or so, it’s clear we’re knee deep in King Town before the opening credits even get a chance to remind us. Cat’s Eye features a screenplay by King and direction by Lewis “Navy Seals” Teague, returning for another dose just two years after helming Cujo. Far from a hit-or-miss collection, the stories in Cat’s Eye—two of which are adapted from King’s Night Shift collection—are all worth your while.
Cat’s Eye starts out absurdly strong with “Quitter’s Inc.,” which puts James Woods in one of the most James Woods-esque roles ever. Dick Morrison will do anything to quit smoking, even if it kills him. Of course, it would never actually come to that, right? That’s what you might think before stepping foot into Quitters, Inc., a company that offers up one of the most sizzling hot methods of aversion therapy. I’d hate to spoil their regimen, so let’s just say it’s enough to turn Morrison into a paranoid mess who constantly has his head on a swivel; always on the lookout for spies hoping to catch him in the act of lighting up.
– James Woods
– The song James Woods is jamming before his tape player goes kaput
– The late Tony Munafo as a hired tough named Junk who seriously says “fiddle sticks” while chasing a cat
If “Quitters Inc.” is the ultimate aversion therapy, “The Ledge” is the ultimate wager. Some would tell you man is the most dangerous game of all, but this tale offers up one hell of a counter offer. Former tennis pro Johnny Norris (Robert Hays) has the grim misfortune of being involved with the wife of crime boss Cressner (Kenneth McMillan). As payback, Cressner kidnaps him, frames him for heroin possession, and offers him one simple wager as his only way out. All he has to do is step onto a modest five-inch ledge and work his way around an entire building. If he manages to avoid turning into raspberry crumble on the sidewalk below, he gets to go free AND he gets the girl. Piece of cake.
– The original Kaiji death game
– Pigeon revenge
– The most legit fun you’ll ever have in Atlantic City
In a wild tonal shift, the final segment of Cat’s Eye brings our feline vagabond—who handily strings the stories together all the way to his own self-titled “General” tale—to North Carolina, where he gains the favor of a young girl named Amanda (Drew Barrymore). It’s a good thing he did, too. While mom definitely doesn’t approve of the cat, it might just be the only hope of stopping a nefarious little troll that lives within the wall of Amanda’s bedroom. If anything, this story makes me wish they had made both a Cat’s Eye and Cat’s Eye Jr., the latter of which would be full of slimy puppets and other goblin-filled tales. The story of Amanda, General, and the great battle against a little person in a rubber costume would be perfect for kids if they didn’t have to sit through 60 minutes of heroin blackmail and strong-arm cigarette solutions to get there.
– Everything about the Troll
– Especially the Troll’s tiny knife
– And his little jester bells!
Cat’s Eye might not come as highly touted as some of the more well-known horror anthologies, but it would make a great opener for any movie marathon. If you’re going to end any showcase of anthologies, however, be sure to do so on the excruciatingly beautiful note of…
Night of the Living Dead director George A. Romero needs no introduction, nor does his appropriately creepy Creepshow partner, Stephen King. After hanging out and kicking around ideas for an adaptation of The Stand that would never materialize in true cinematic form, the pair decided to go the horror anthology route with the unforgettable Creepshow. The results were “five jolting tales of HORROR!” that are to this day pretty much everything you could want from a script by King and direction from one of horror’s late greats.
The wraparound story sets the mood, as a surly Tom Atkins chides his son—played by Stephen King’s own son Joe King—for reading this E.C. Comics TRASH. Little did he know that he would be igniting the flame behind the best comic book movie of all time.
After an animated intro, “Father’s Day” kicks off the party and manages to sum up the entirety of Creepshow in one electrifying short. To sum it up briefly, Father’s Day has arrived at the Grantham household, which means it’s time for Aunt Bedelia to return like clockwork, visit the grave of miserable family patriarch Nathan Grantham, and share a nice ham dinner with the rest of the fam. Bedelia was the one who murdered old man Grantham, though, and it’s about time for him to return for some sweet, sweet payback.
Romero establishes his staunch dedication to recreating a comic book style here, complete with page and panel transitions, word balloons, and backdrops that punctuate the key gags and scares. The lighting alone is an all-timer; Italian in its sheer excess.
– Viveca Lindfors’s brief but hair-raising performance as Aunt Bedelia
– Young, hunky, dancing Ed Harris
– “I WANT MY CAKE!”
Stephen King has written approximately four million books, but for my money his greatest accomplishment is his gosh-dog-darnit leading role in “The Lonesome Death of Jordy Verrill.” When a meteor lands on this hillbilly’s property, he sees dollar signs and a whole lotta praise for his gin-yoo-wine deep space discovery. He gets much more than he bargained for in this remarkably funny and over-the-top short that has King giving his all as the ‘meteor shit’ he done went ‘n touched gradually overtakes his farm and, ultimately, his entire body.
– Dept. of Meteors
– “Meteor shit!”
– A mind-blowing farewell
Speaking of acting tour de forces, you can’t get much more loaded than a story that pits Leslie Nielsen and Ted Danson against each other. Nielsen plays Richard Vickers, a wealthy son of a bitch who has a sinister and somewhat elaborately-recorded death planned for Harry Wentworth, who has been off galavanting with Vickers’s wife Becky. Nielsen plays it ice cold as he buries them both up to their necks on the beach and lets the tide do the dirty work for him. Once he’s had his fun, though, it’s time to sit back and soak in one of Creepshow‘s most predominant themes: Comeuppance.
– A seriously vile Leslie Nielsen
– Gurgling undead Danson
– “I can hold my breath for a LONG time!”
Imagine, if you will, a grating and unlikable Adrienne Barbeau. If you can’t picture it, you haven’t seen “The Crate,” which has her acting opposite Hal Holbrook as his loud and brash wife Wilma “Billy” Northrup. At first she comes off as an unlikely hero—crashing stiff parties and turning up her nose at all the snooty academics in her husband’s circle—but Henry has lived with this woman for way too long. In totally unrelated and in no way soon to be connected news, Henry’s friend Dexter Stanley has an earth-shattering discovery on his hands: An old crate tucked away deep within the school that has a shocking surprise inside. You can only see “The Crate” purely once in your life, so I’ll leave its contents as an enticing mystery.
– Uxoricide fantasies
– The contents of the crate
– Post-crate performance by Fritz Weaver
Creepshow almost closed on “The Crate,” but as detailed in Michael Felsher’s excellent documentary Just Desserts, Romero and co. were convinced they could squeeze in their fifth and final short within the allotted time and budget. Thus, “They’re Creeping Up on You” came to be. In this legitimate skin-crawler, E.G. Marshall is the detestable Upson Pratt, a businessman with a fear of contamination and germs so potent he lives in a hermetically-sealed apartment. If we’ve learned anything up to this point, however, it’s that all things come back to you, especially if you’ve been nothing more than a complete stain your entire life. In Upson’s case, his long-overdue comeuppance arrives in the form of an infestation of tens of thousands of cockroaches; designed to make both us and Upson squirm until we can’t take it any more.
To bring this infestation to life, entomologists actually went to Trinidad and brought back somewhere around 20,000 cockroaches for use in the movie. The roaches even had their own trailer, which is both impressive and absolutely revolting. I could watch stuff like “Father’s Day” on loop until my eyes melt, but this one makes me want to jump in a hermetically-sealed room of my own and stay there until the end of time.
– A legit skin-crawler of a segment
– E.G. Marshall’s one-man play
– Cockroach comeuppance
Creepshow closes just as it opens. After Marty Schiff and effects master Tom Savini ham it up as garbagemen and flip through the titular comic one last time, we get an appropriate resolution to Joe King’s own nasty little yarn. Whether you’ve seen this all play out a hundred times or are completely new to the world of horror anthologies, Creepshow remains classified as a total can’t-miss flick. The score, the visuals, and the performances set a tone that’s perfectly balanced on a sharp precipice between haunting and hilarious, and every single segment has at least a few moments you’ll never forget.
Just don’t let any crotchety, disapproving old spoilsports catch you watchin’ this trash. But if they do… maybe you can call upon The Creep to set ’em straight.