Dir: George A. Romero
Star: Viveca Lindfors, Stephen King, Leslie Nielsen, Hal Holbrook, E.G. Marshall
While not exclusively, the anthology movie seems to have been a particular staple of the horror genre, dating all the way back to 1919 silent film, Unheimliche Geschichten. They seem to enjoy a revival about every decade or so. This one dates from the early eighties cycle, which also gave us Twilight Zone: The Movie. Like virtually every such entry, it’s a bit of a mixed bag. You’re never going to find a film where the entries are uniformly great – though rarely will they universally suck, either. I’m just not sure Romero was the best choice for something seeking to evoke an EC Comics-like blend of chills and laughs: his talents skew considerably more toward the former.
There are five stories here, plus the wrap-around segment about a kid whose horror comic is thrown out by a disciplinarian father. The first has Lindfors – bizarrely, reminding us of Klaus Kinski – as Bedelia Graham, a heiress suffering her yearly attack of guilt on Father’s Day, after murdering her Dad. This time, however, her graveside monologue is interrupted by the return of her victim from the grave. The second is likely the weakest, mostly because it stars King, and virtually only him, playing a redneck farmer infected by a meteorite. It’s very Color Out of Space, except next to nothing happens, and King’s talents very clearly don’t extend from writing to acting. Frankly, the only things worse than his performance here are likely King’s politics.
The third is a little like the first. Leslie Nielsen plays a man who gets revenge on his cheating wife and her lover, burying them up to their necks in front of the incoming tide – only for them to come back for vengeance. Interesting to see Nielsen playing against his Naked Gun type, as a ruthless and cruel bastard. Works quite well, once you get past expecting him to say, “…and don’t call me Shirley.” The penultimate story has Holbrook as a milquetoast college professor, who uses a creature found in a crate from a 19th-century Arctic expedition to take care of his problem wife (Adrienne Barbeau). About whose character, I will simply quote Chris: “What a cunt!”
Perhaps wisely, the film saves for last its the best – at least for me, and if you have any aversion to cockroaches, this will be an ordeal (I hate them. I think it’s those long antennae…). Howard Hughes-like industrialist Upson Pratt (Marshall), sealed up in his supposedly “germ-free” apartment, finds himself under siege by roaches. LOTS of roaches. While some of Tom Savini’s make-up effects haven’t stood the test of time – in particular, Pratt’s final form – if you don’t have to suppress a reflex gag at one point or another, you’re made of sturdier stuff than I.
All told, however, it seems pretty mild stuff, hardly deserving of the R-rating it received, even for the time: this came out a few months after The Thing. Some of the stories, such as the first, feel like they would work better as full features. On the other hand, at two hours, it feels considerably longer than most anthology films. They’d likely have been better off dropping Stephen King’s story entirely, which would have tightened things up considerably in terms of both quality and quantity. It’s telling that King more or less only ever made cameos thereafter.
This article is part of 31 Days of Horror.