Color, 2020, 103 mins. 34 secs.
Directed by David Gregory
Severin Films (Blu-ray) (US R0 HD) / WS (1.78:1) (16:9)
Almost as old as the cinematic feature film itself, the horror anthology has long been a beloved vehicle for delivering handfuls of bite-sized chillers that have, in many cases, proved highly influential and left indelible marks on the minds of their viewers. The anthology or portmanteau films usually have a framing device looping all the stories together, and even today it's a handy way to assemble lots of actors and characters without breaking the bank (and in some cases finding a wider home for some short films lying around). Both on the large and small screens, the horror anthology has been a favorite option from Halloween movie parties to high-profile film programmers, with generations debating which stories were the best and which feature had the highest quality across the board. Taking a feature-length look at the horror anthology, Tales of the Uncanny is an appropriately episodic tour from the silent era to the present day with a cavalcade of interviewees including directors, producers, special effects artists, novelists, and film historians popping up to chat about some of the milestones and reveal their own personal favorites. The whole thing even wraps up with the results of a poll to determine the top consensus choices, and number one in either category probably won't come as a massive shock to die-hard genre fans. Be prepared to jot down titles of films you haven't seen, since you'll be quite tempted to track down several when the end credits roll.
Told more or less chronologically apart from switching between features and TV, the doc starts with the earliest days including the first known existing example, 1919's Uncanny Tales, a five-story German compendium including adaptations of Edgar Allan Poe's "The Black Cat" and Robert Louis Stevenson's "The Suicide Club." From there you get to bounce through the likes of Waxworks, Dead of Night, Black Sabbath, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, The Twilight Zone, the Amicus classics (like Asylum, The House That Dripped Blood, From Beyond the Grave, and Tales from the Crypt), Night Gallery, Trilogy of Terror, Creepshow, Trick 'R' Treat, Spirits of the Dead, Trilogy of Terror, Dead of Night, Tales of the Unexpected, Two Evil Eyes, Hammer House of Horror, Inside No. 9, Masters of Horror, After Midnight, The Offspring, Tales from the Darkside, XX, Necronomicon, Three... Extremes, V/H/S, and The Theatre Bizarre. After a kickoff with director-producer David Gregory and producer Kier-La Janisse, interviewees include... whew, deep breath... Roger Corman, Joe Dante, Ramsey Campbell, Luigi Cozzi, Tom Savini, Richard Stanley, Peter Strickland, Mick Garris, David DeCoteau, Mark Gatiss, Mariano Baino, Simon Barrett, Douglas Buck, Jeff Burr, Ernest Dickerson, Buddy Giovinazzo, Harry Kumel, David McGillivray, Gary Sherman, Larry Fessenden, Graham Skipper, Reece Shearsmith, Heather Buckley, Kim Newman, Greg Nicotero, Brian Yuzna, Eli Roth, Mark Savage, Chris Alexander, Brian Trenchard-Smith, Rebekah McKendry, Mike Mendez, Ashim Ahluwalia, Joko Anwar, Adrian Garcia Bogliano, Wayne Coe, Art Ettinger, Rob Cotterill, Mitch Davis, David Del Valle, Michael Felsher, Mike Gingold, Jane Giles, Ted Geoghegan, Joshua Grannell, Bruce Hallenback, Mark Hartley, Graham Humphreys, Karim Hussain, Jeremy Kasten, Kevin Kolsch, Maitland McDonagh, Nicholas McCarthy, Nicholas McCarthy, Alok Mishra, Bob Murawski, Marcelle Parks, Jennifer Reeder, Amanda Reyes, Darin Scott, Amy Searles, Travis Stevens, Tim Sullivan, Ant Timpson, Stephen Volk, Jovanka Vuckovic, Jake West, Jenn Wexler, and Dennis Widmyer.
Virtually all of the interviews here were recorded over video conferencing platforms due to the COVD-19 pandemic, which means the quality fluctuates as you get to hear words of praise for films from all over the world and numerous decades. Amicus and Creepshow get a particularly high amount of attention here, but you also get some nice bits like Roger Corman chatting about the making of Tales of Terror and nostalgic recollections about the impact these made on many participants as children. A few unsung gems get called out, too, such as the beautifully creepy "The Painting" from Three Cases of Murder; of course, at under two hours there's only so much you can cram in, so non-English language films are mostly sidelined apart from heavy hitters like Kwaidan. (And then there's the substantial number of shot-on-video horror anthologies, which could easily be a doc unto itself!)
Though obviously limited by the restrictions of the interview formats (which mostly equate to your average Zoom call), the Blu-ray of Tales of the Uncanny looks great when it can thanks to some inventive use of graphics and film clips that range from mint quality to passable depending on the title. The DTS-HD MA English 2.0 stereo track sounds fine with all of the separation going to the music score and occasional sound effects, with optional English SDH subtitles provided. The Blu-ray also comes with two bonus horror anthologies kicking off with that 1919 Uncanny Tales in its entirety (102m50s), taken from an SD version of the restoration performed by the Cinémathèque Française with optional English subtitles. Also included is Jean Faurez's 1949 French horror anthology, Unusual Tales (88m27s), a collection of two Poe and two Thomas De Quincey tales (originally entitled Histoires extraordinaires à faire peur ou à faire rire...) told in a provincial jail to a pair of gendarmes. Not all that widely seen, the film can be subdued and stagy at times but packs in some wonderfully macabre imagery in spots including a memorable final De Quincey story that dovetails nicely after a version of "The Cask of Amontillado." This one's taken from an HD scan of a print with nice detail and contrast, and despite some inevitable minor signs of damage and debris throughout, this seems to be the best presentation of this film by a mile and is nice to see in a good English-friendly edition.
Folks who jumped on the 2020 Black Friday edition of this one (which sold out quickly) also got a bonus Blu-ray featuring 1964's Master of Horror, the 59m50s U.S. version of Enrique Carreras' 1959 Argentinian Poe anthology originally entitled Obras maestras del terror. Featuring early writing contributions from The House That Screamed's Narciso Ibáñez Serrador (who also turns up on screen), it's a short and spooky little number that was dubbed and picked up for U.S. distribution by Jack H. Harris (whose personal print was used for the new HD scan here) featuring an impressionable maid passing a dark and stormy night by reading adaptations of "The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar" and "The Cask of Amontillado," both of which turned up in Tales of Terror as well. (Another story, "The Tell-Tale Heart," was excised for the U.S. but later appeared as part of 1971's Legend of Horror (available from Something Weird). A theatrical trailer is also included, and optional English SDH subtitles are provided.
MASTER OF HORROR
Reviewed on December 8, 2020