Raymond Carver, writer of minimalist and evocative short stories, once described his affinity for that form with the same sparse punch that marked the stories themselves: “Get in, get out. Don’t linger. Go on.” Carver’s stories are emotionally charged dramas of the working class, but his words may be even more applicable to the telling of scary tales. Of the giants in the genre, Edgar Allan Poe and H.P. Lovecraft rarely worked outside the short story or novella form, and while authors like Richard Matheson and Stephen King have obviously been active novel writers, there’s an argument to be made that their best work is their shortest.
In film and television, horror lends itself to the pithy treatment as well. Television series like The Twilight Zone, The Outer Limits, Night Gallery, and Friday the 13th churned out a near-constant stream of condensed horror and suspense tales—often blended with science fiction or fantasy—in various incarnations from the ’50s until as recently as the early ’00s. Anthology collections of horror at the movies have an even longer tradition, stretching all the way back to the silent era, when German director Paul Leni directed the three stories that made up his 1924 Waxworks.
The years that followed have seen many such collections of shorts, frequently wrapped up in some kind of theme or framing story to give them context as a unit. Even when they were low-budget projects—as horror usually is—they still often featured big stars and directors: Vincent Price, Peter Lorre, and Basil Rathbone in Roger Corman’s 1962 Tales of Terror, or Ted Danson, Hal Holbrook, and Leslie Nielsen (for once chilling instead of chuckle-inducing) in George Romero and Stephen King’s 1982 Creepshow. But as a favored format, the horror anthology has been on the decline. Happily, though, a couple of collections of indie directors look to reanimate it this fall.
Continue reading the rest of my piece over at The Atlantic.
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