Hidden Gems In Anthology Films

Anthology films are generally regarded as being uneven, and even ones that are respected are sometimes not perfect through every single segment. I wanted to explore anthology films by looking at some with mostly negative reviews, hoping to find something great hidden within.

Some of the films I watched in preparation were bad, with no moments of relief to help make it through their running times, while others were enjoyable with slight problems. A select few managed to hide great shorts in the middle of almost constant lackluster segments. I regret watching some of these, but most had at least one short which saved the experience for me. I hope some of the segments I mention stand out and help you discover something you might not have seen otherwise.

The Dangers of Body Shaming In The ABCs of Death

My first choice segment comes from The ABCs of Death, where it is found surrounded by many mediocre segments. Some of the segments in this film worked better than expected. One segment that stood out for me was X is for XXL.

This segment received many negative reviews. Some said it was harmful to overweight girls, who would get the wrong idea from watching the short. My stance is in direct opposition to that viewpoint. I think the film does an excellent job of showing the dangers of our societal obsession with weight, especially in how it connects to unattainable beauty standards.

X is for XXL does a wonderful job of taking real issues, which need to be acknowledged, and combining them with the horror genre. This film shows how dangerous being primarily concerned with how you look compared to others can be to young people, especially women. The gore in this film is grotesque, but it is done in a way which perfectly reflects our society’s problems with body image, instead of using buckets of blood to take away the seriousness of the important issues being discussed in the film.

This is probably the goriest of the collection, but it never comes across as gratuitous. I understand why people might think this short gives young girls the wrong idea, but I think the intensity of the gore makes them understand that changing yourself just to fit someone’s standards above your own is the real horror. In my opinion, this is a very important short to seek out, even if you never expected to watch something from The ABCs of Death.

Mysterious Messages in Holidays

When I came across the anthology Holidays on Netflix, I was beyond excited. I had a friend message me when this movie was added to the streaming collection, because she and I both love holiday-themed horror, and like to help each other out when it comes to finding films to watch. It had been one of my dreams to see a Valentine’s Day inspired horror film, but the short inspired by that holiday did not end up being my favorite.

I saw that the ratings for this particular film were not great, but I watched it the next day anyway, because I knew how anthology films can be rated low based on just one short. This film had some segments I enjoyed, some I didn’t care for, and one I wanted to share with everyone I knew right after the film ended.

Hidden Gems In Anthology Films
Holidays (2016) – source: Vertical Entertainment

Father’s Day impressed me, in such a simple, yet beautiful way. The pacing was slow enough to create a sense of suspense and longing for resolution. My only problem with the short was that the resolution was not good enough for how much I waited for it. But the journey to the end was enough for me to recommend this above all other shorts in this anthology. Jocelin Donahue starred in this segment, and the pacing brought me back to that first night I watched her in The House of the Devil, and all the times I’ve watched that film since as a Halloween tradition.

Most of the segments in Holidays were at least interesting to me, but Father’s Day is the one I could easily see being expanded into a feature film, because I wanted the unraveling mystery of messages and memories to not end so quickly. This segment had a wonderful atmosphere created through a fitting chilly and dark color scheme, as well as strong camera choices aimed to further create mystery surrounding the characters we see, and even more so the ones we are waiting to see.

The Unwavering Jury of ABCs of Death 2

Overall, ABCs of Death 2 was a much stronger film than the previous anthology installment. More of the shorts succeeded, making the film a better experience, but still, one short stuck out above the others as being a unique combination of horror and social issues. Social issues are perfectly captured when expressed in horror films, since we are able to see where horror might be already happening in our own lives.

O is for Ochlocracy dealt with the real implications of capital punishment expressed within the fantastical world of a zombie outbreak. The zombie genre is one I enjoy, so I am always looking for new and experimental implications of these creatures. This segment took the zombie genre and explored it in a socially conscious way.

The film used zombies inside the familiar image of a courtroom, but the humans are the ones seen as criminals. The plot comes from a successful zombie antidote, making past zombies want humans to pay for the crimes of killing zombies during the earlier stages of the outbreak. The ex-zombies want to kill the woman who killed zombies in order to keep her child safe. Using a frequent staple of horror films in a different light works well to twist the trope into something much more poignant.

Alternate Universes in V/H/S: Viral

During most of the running time of V/H/S: Viral, I was wondering how much longer the current segment would last. One segment, Parallel Monsters, stood out as the best of the group. The segment was set primarily inside the house of a man, in two different alternate universes. Seeing how everything was reflected in the other world, with slight changes separating the characters was very interesting visually, as well as being a wonderful story technique.

Hidden Gems In Anthology Films
V/H/S: Viral (2014) – source: Magnet Releasing

The farther we walked into the house, more details of the story were revealed. It felt similar to playing a video game, where we nervously explore our environment, trying to find any clues. This character movement would not be successful in every short film, but it works wonders to keep you interested in seeing who these characters are, in reflection of their other self.

The use of a localized setting helped keep the mystery in this short. Once the characters venture outside, even more is revealed to us. Parallel universes are a great way to deeply explore characters, and show us the monsters inside us. I did not enjoy most of V/H/S: Viral, but I am happy I was able to watch at least this segment.

Trying to Find Comedy in the World of Anthology Films

InAPPropriate Comedy is one of the anthology films I watched which I would not recommend, since no segment is truly a hidden gem. Since I enjoy an absolutely terrible pun every once in awhile, I thought the Flirty Harry segments had an inkling of potential, but as they went on across three separate sections, that potential was completely wasted.

These segments made the film slightly more bearable, but even these became tired even before the first section ended. I am someone who loves puns, and even I could only handle so much of this. It might have been something better if they chose a better title and also tweaked the concept.

The Family Dysfunction of Movie 43

You might think I could not possibly have found something worthwhile in Movie 43, but to everyone’s surprise I found one segment which made watching the film worth it. Homeschooled stood out as the most well-made and interesting segment.

Movie 43 as a whole had a focus on finding the comedy in taboo ideas and experiences. Most of the segments took this as an invitation to make entire segments dedicated to poop and other bodily functions.

Taking a more disturbing view of the term was a strong point in the Homeschooled segment. This segment ended up being funnier by focusing on something taboo without making the entire segment feel forced.

Hidden Gems In Anthology Films
Movie 43 (2012) –  source: Relativity Media

Julie Ann Emery worked perfectly as one of the neighbors being exposed to this non-traditional family. She took on the role as surrogate audience by reacting the way all of us did to the on-screen action. Her part was small, but she stood out and helped keep the short grounded in reality. Without the neighbor characters, this could have devolved into a gross-out comedy of how much disturbing imagery they could fit into five minutes of a dysfunctional family.

This segment did not focus entirely on being taboo, but integrated that into a well put together short, with a story driven by character instead of how gross the actions look. The disturbingly awkward elements of Homeschooled are based more heavily on implications instead of seeing constant over-the-top disturbing images. Framing this as an average family homeschooling of a child makes the taboo elements that much more disturbing, and ultimately funnier.

Quick and Easy Comedy in The Kentucky Fried Movie

One of the last anthology films I watched was The Kentucky Fried Movie, which is not as poorly regarded as the other films I mentioned, but it also was not as successful until revisited and reviewed decades past its original release. My consensus on this film is almost the opposite from the other films I mentioned; instead of having one standout segment, this film had one segment which took me away from the comedic flow of the film.

The Kentucky Fried Movie is filled almost entirely with very short comedic sketches, most lasting only a few minutes each. I loved the pacing and the different styles of humor represented. This film only felt like it was dragging when we hit the main attraction, a half-hour segment which turned out to be my least favorite.

The segment wasn’t necessarily bad, but it hurt the natural flow of the rest of the film. Everything before and after it was never more than a few minutes long, so nothing overstayed its welcome. I am very glad I watched this film, but in the future I might be more ready to handle the abrupt change, because I won’t be waiting so much for the next short-and-sweet sketch to come flying into frame.

Conclusion

Anthology films can be wonderful, but a fair amount are filled with unsuccessful segments which can feel overlong, even in their short running times. I am glad I watched most of these films mentioned, though sometimes when an anthology is referred to as one of the worst movies you should believe it. Other times you should look for yourself, since you might find something you love hidden in the wreckage of an uneven collection of stories.

Which segments in anthology films have stood out to you, even when you would not recommend the film as a whole? Which segments from the films I mentioned would you single out as being better than the film as a whole?

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