Monday, 25 November 2013

25 - The Ultimate Portmanteau Movie


I love a good portmanteau horror anthology movie, especially the Amicus films of the early seventies, but they’re often let down by a flawed entry. Imagine if one could pick and mix to make one’s own dream portmanteau movie.

This is mine. Call it “Tales of Witless Madness” or “Vault of the Crypt”. I gave myself the rules of using only five stories, only adding one story from each film, using British movies and opening and closing with opening and closing stories only. Once I’ve “cast” my dream anthology, I’ll give you the ingredients for the slightly inferior sequel.

We start with the Mr Tiger story from Tales That Witness Madness, a film from World Film Services which is often mistaken for an Amicus production – though as it’s directed by Freddie Francis who directed three Amicus portmanteau films, is set in an asylum like Amicus’ Asylum, and features Joan Collins and Donald Pleasence who both appeared in Amicus films, it’s an easy mistake to make. Mr Tiger is the story of young Paul and his new friend – an “imaginary” tiger. Shades of Calvin & Hobbes, with an obvious but fun twist.

Then there’s The Neat Job from The Vault of Horror, which was Amicus’ second EC Comics inspired film. It’s not as good as Tales from the Crypt, and falls down after the first two stories. It's one of those wonderful little "just desserts" ironic death stories where a neat freak husband belittles his wife over her inability to keep the house as clean as he wants... until one day she decides she’s had enough and takes her revenge.
Next would be Lucy Comes to Stay from Asylum, which has a couple of good stories and a pretty solid linking thread, but falls apart near the end. Released from an asylum, Barbara is looked after her brother and a nurse who are both very strict. Then she gets a visit from her playful friend Lucy, who has mischief in mind.

The daddy of the British portmanteau horror film is Dead of Night. Not every chapter holds up nowadays, but the acknowledged classic is The Ventriloquist’s Dummy. It’s not the first story to use a mad ventriloquist who thinks his dummy is alive, but it does tell the story well. 

 Finally, we have Blind Alleys from Tales from the Crypt. Probably the strongest overall of any of the films chosen here, Tales... has three solid stories and a couple of passable ones. This one may well be the best. A miserly man takes over as director of a home for the blind, mistreating the residents and making financial cuts so he can buy the finer things in life for himself and his dog. Then the surprisingly efficient blind craftsmen take their revenge, and if you thought the corridor lined with razor blades in the picture above looked scary, you ain't seen nothin' yet...

Those are my favourites, but what about the runners up? Well I’d have to start with ...And All Through the House from Tales from the Crypt. Joan Collins kills her husband on Christmas Eve, and has to clear up the mess. An escaped madman dressed as Santa lurks outside, but she can’t call the police until she’s got rid of the body. Remade for the Tales... TV series, this is the superior version.

Also, I love seventies horror Joan Collins. So much better than eighties soap star Joan Collins. 

After that, probably Frozen Fear from Asylum. The image of dismembered body parts wrapped in paper and still crawling on is one that sticks with you. Then from Tales That Witness Madness we could have had Mel, where Michael Jayston cheats on Joan Collins with a tree, because of course he does. It’s better than Mr Steinway from Torture Garden, the story of a jealous piano.

Next I would have picked An Act of Kindness from From Beyond the Grave. I think this is a stronger film overall than Tales from the Crypt, but none of the stories have quite the punch of Blind Alleys or ...And All Through the House. An Act of Kindness features the wonderful pairing of Donald Pleasence and his curiously attractive daughter Angela in a strange story of love and betrayal.

Finding a second ending is tough, because most of these films fall down by the last chapter. The best option is probably The Cloak from The House That Dripped Blood, a vampire story with Jon Pertwee, Geoffrey Bayldon and Ingrid Pitt. 

And there you go. Seek out these films, and try to assemble your own movie.

Or don't, it's your call. You're probably busy. 

1 comment:

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