Anthologies: The Underrated Format

I recently read an article that examined the possibility of a new Twilight Zone film. However, instead of developing a film within the anthology format, they plan to do a Twilight Zone movie with a singular storyline and director. Not that Hollywood gives a shit what I think anymore (I don't fall into their 15-24 demographic), but a singular Twilight Zone film sounds like a missed opportunity. And as I thought about what a movie like this would be like, I became increasingly luke warm to the idea.

I am a fan of anthologies, primarily because this story format often deals in genres I adore (Horror, Sci-Fi, Fantasy, Crime), and I know that I'm not the only one. I grew up on Tales from the Crypt, Amazing Stories, Tales from the Darkside, the original Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits revival series. However, the concept of a project made up of several smaller ones is something that we don't see very often. Anthologies tend to be released in dribs and drabs to mixed reviews-a result that can often be attributed to poor marketing. It is for this reason that I'm always intrigued by one that gets a major release.

Grindhouse was the first anthology film I remember seeing in the theater. The concept was brilliant: bring the grindhouse cinema experience to mass audiences who weren't present for it in the 70s and 80s. The pairing of Rodriguez and Tarantino for two separate stories and filling in the intermission with trailers crafted by four other filmmakers (All sharing a budget mind you!) created an experience in the theater that I'd not had in a long time. With this format, I felt like I was getting more for my money-two films for the price of one! Grindhouse also brought together five relatively popular directors on one project, something that rarely happens outside of producing. Paying eight dollars for a movie going experience like that, for me, was totally worth it.

It's often this sort of project that brings creative individuals together. Many directors are so used to the stresses of big budget pictures, they often relish the relative freedom of working on something small. Not having to worry about filling two hours of time, and being part of a larger whole can force directors to work on a creative level they don't get with executives looking over their shoulders. They get to play a bit. Because of the odd pairing of constraint and freedom, these short format projects usually end up being more interesting than their feature length counterparts.

Other than bringing creatives together, the anthology format offers opportunities to tell stories that you wouldn't see in a two hour movie. You can explore simple ideas, you can get away with unresolved endings (H.P. Lovecraft was king of this). Filmmakers can also do more with less. Less time and budget, forces them to think about things creatively rather than solve the issue by throwing money at it. These constraints can give way to ideas that work better than what the filmmakers had originally envisioned (Indiana Jones shooting the swordsman...anyone?)

It should be said, however, that not all anthologies are created equal. While you may get more story for your money, chances are you won't like every story in the film (I preferred Planet Terror over Death Proof). But when done well, an anthology can give both audiences and filmmakers an opportunity to experience a variety of styles and ideas that you don't get outside of a short film festival...and how many of those do modern audiences attend on a regular basis?

Moreover, it would be difficult to tackle a TZ style story in 2 hours. The best TZ ideas were short stories told simply. If you want a feature length Twilight Zone episode, look to the work of M. Night Shaymalan, he's done it about as good as anyone, but they're not quite the Twilight Zone, are they? By using the anthology format, Warner Brothers could attract several filmmakers and several writers to a project, giving them the opportunity to explore ideas and themes that we would never see them tackle in a single feature film. This could benefit both storytellers, audiences and studios (Think of the press coverage they would get with Nolan, Cuaron and Bay all giving interviews about their own shorts).


Twilight Zone: The Movie (1983)

Marred by an on set tragedy, this film never quite recovered. It did however, deliver the goods with retellings of some of the most famous TZ stories as directed by Spielberg, Donner, Landis and Miller. If you haven't seen this, it's brilliantly done.

Trick R Treat (2007)

Director Michael Dougherty does a good job with this criminally underrated anthology of interlocking stories. The two stories most linked (The school bus tradgedy-The old man who hates Halloween) are by far the best, but the sexy/disgusting 80's werewolf scene gets points for being fun schlock.

Creepshow (1982)

This film brought masters of horror George A. Romero and Stephen King together in a tight group of shorts that homage The E.C Comics of the 1950s. This collection is really the most solid of any anthology I've seen.

Four Rooms (1995)

Dead hookers, sexy witches, Hollywood hedonism all add up in one madcap adventure reminiscent of 1940s slapstick comedies from directors Quentin Tarantino, Robert Rodriguez, Allison Anders and Alexandre Rockwell. Even though it doesn't fit with the Halloween theme, I still think this is a brilliant anthology film.