Although the anthology continues to appear among horror films, it hasn’t been seen much since Creepshow, Cat’s Eye, and Twilight Zone: The Movie. The formula for the anthology is simple, but effective. A common theme, cast of characters, or premise unifies the separate stories (often, three to five) which follow. Sometimes, the separate stories are directed by the same director; other times, each is directed by a different director. The technique allows the telling of several, rather than just one, story, permitting variations upon the same theme or a variety of perspectives concerning a single series of incidents.
Creepshow (1982) features five stories which are linked by the wind’s turning of the pages of a horror comic that a boy’s father makes him discard. As the wind flips the pages to a new story, the respective stories are dramatized on the screen. In “Father’s Day,” a murdered father returns from the grave on the anniversary of his murder to avenge himself upon his daughter, who killed him. In "The Lonely Death of Jordy Verill," Verill (played by Stephen King) is consumed by a parasitic fungus that arrives upon a meteorite that crashes into his farm. In “Something to Tide You Over,” a cuckolded husband seeks to avenge himself upon his unfaithful wife by burying her in the sand of a beach so that the rising tide will drown her, but things don’t go as planned, and he is the next to suffer the same fate. “The Crate” is a takeoff from the Pandora’s box myth: a woman opens a crate, unleashing the monster inside. In “They’re Sneaking Up On You!,” an employee gains revenge upon his employer by allowing the apartment in which his boss (who is terrified of germs and insects) lives become overrun with cockroaches. A final segment has the boy gain revenge upon his father for making him toss out his horror comic, using a voodoo doll he has ordered from an advertisement in the comic book to give his father a literal pain in the neck.
In Cat’s Eye (1985), which is also known as Stephen King’s Cat’s Eye, General, a cat, roaming a city to locate a girl whom the animal seeks from a supernatural threat, becomes involved in the three stories that follow. Two of the three tales are based upon the short stories “Quitters, Inc.” and “The Ledge” from King’s anthology, Night Shift). In “Quitters,” an unscrupulous business makes sure its clients quit smoking by resorting to the cutting off of fingers whenever they light up after taking the pledge to quit, and, in “The Ledge,” an unfaithful man is allowed to live--if he can walk a five-inch ledge around a high-rise building; he succeeds, turning the table on the man he has cuckolded, and the bet, reversed, begins anew. The feline takes center stage, so to speak, in the last of the three stories in Cat’s Eye, as its valiant rescue of the girl who wants to adopt the stray convinces her mother to let her keep the animal, an idea that the mother had initially opposed.
An earlier example of the horror anthology includes The House That Dripped Blood (1971), in which a Scotland Yard detective investigates a series of bizarre deaths that occurred in the same house. Four segments make up the anthology. In “Method for Murder,” a writer, moving into the house, is haunted by one of his novel’s villains. In “Waxworks,” two men are obsessed with the figure in a wax museum that reminds them of a woman whom they both knew. In “Sweets to the Sweet,” a governess takes issue with her employers’ treatment of their daughter and their denial of permission to let her have a doll. In “The Cloak,” an actor acquires strange powers after buying a cloak from the proprietor of a weird costume shop.
As with any genre (or subgenre) of fiction, individual anthology films tend to be of lesser or greater artistic quality, one indication of which is the appropriateness of the frame story to the stories that follow it. A few of the more artistic of these films are described in Fantastic Cinema Subject Guide: A Topical Guide to 2500 Horror, Science Fiction, and Fantasy by Bryan Senn and John Johnson.
In Asylum (1972), a former psychiatrist, having gone mad, is now a patient in a mental asylum, wherein another doctor is challenged to interview patients and identify the former psychiatrist among them. The interviews result in the stories that follow. A frozen, dismembered corpse returns to life to attack an unfaithful, murdering husband. A tailor’s magical suit restores life to the dead. A dual personality leads to murder. Miniature robotic killer dolls go on a murder spree.
In the frame for After Midnight (1989), a psychology professor teaches his students the “psychology of fear” by relating three terror tales of psychotic killers. In one of the following stories, a terrifying frightening joke backfires; in the second story, a group of teenage girls encounters a psychotic murderere and his killer dogs; and, in the third story, a female employee of an all-night answering service is plagued by a maniacal telephone caller.
The plotting of a horror anthology is a good creative writing exercise which may be done in small groups or on an individual basis. The first task of such an enterprise would be deciding upon the opening and closing stories that would frame the segments between the them. After determining how the movie (or, for that matter, a print anthology) would open and close, the individual segments would then be plotted. Alternatively, the opening and closing stories could be provided by the instructor, and the students could then plot and write the segments between them. Another alternative would be for the instructor to provide the bare bones of the sandwiched stories and then have the students write the opening and closing tales that would frame the central stories. In any case, Dead of Night, Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors, Night Gallery, and The Offspring offer set-ups that could be used, and the students’ follow-on stories could be compared with those that actually made the cut, as summarized in Fantastic Cinema Subject Guide.
In the set-up, or frame, for Dead of Night (1945) an architect has a recurring dream in which he enters a country cottage full of people whom he has met in a previous dream; while they gather to discuss his predicament, each relates a weird supernatural event in his own life. In Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors (1965), Dr. Terror, a fortune teller, uses Tarot cards to reveal the deaths, from supernatural causes, of five men on a train. In the finale, five passengers aboard the train learn that the last card that Dr. Terror turned up was the Death card, and, upon disembarking from the train, they see a newspaper headline proclaiming that they were killed in a train wreck. In Night Gallery (1969), each painting is linked to a tale of terror. In The Offspring, a reporter visit’s a small town to hear four tales of evil from the local librarian.
It is fun and better, perhaps, to create one's own set-ups, or frames. Some possibilities, courtesy of yours truly, might be:
- A series of actresses audition for the title role in a slasher movie, Scream Queen.
- Seeking employment as a writer on a TV series concerning the paranormal and supernatural phenomena that occur in a small town, a scriptwriter pitches three stories to the show's producer. Various types of baseball pitches might suggest both the anthology's title and the storylines for its segments: Fast Pitch, Slow Pitch, and Slider.
- On a twist on The Arabian Nights' set-up, a hitchhiker's life depends upon her amusing a psychotic driver with a series of horror stories.
- A TV show's crew films what happens inside supposedly haunted houses.
There are as many possibilities as one can imagine for creating such set-ups for episodic movie segments which, together, comprise an anthology, which adds to the fun and the rehearsal value of such a creative writing exercise.