The anthology is a unique subgenre of horror. Besides quirky structures and a predilection for the weird and unexpected, these films generally do what they want. There are of course specific traditions that almost all anthologies adhere to, but there is no set rule for How? ‘Or’ What they come together in the first place. movies like horror show are made from scratch, but the 1980s saw the rise of a new kind of anthology; those assembled from pre-existing materials. An early example of this format, sometimes referred to as “Frankenthology”, is a little-known British cooler called The hour of the cry.
Michael Armstrong and Stanley A. Longwho are collectively credited as Al Beresfordpooled their previous shorts to make 1983 The hour of the cry. They then tied them to an original segment shot in Manhattan. This obscure gathering of the strange and the unexplained takes place in New York despite its very British innards. The transcontinental configuration only adds to The hour of the crygrowing list of oddities. The wrap begins with two moccasins, Ed and Bruce (Vincent Rousso, Michael Gordon), lifting three strips from the Video Shack once located at 49th Street and Broadway, and prominently next to an adult theater. Ed and Bruce immediately break into a friend’s house, Marie (Marie Scinto), who is getting ready for a “date”. Until then, Marie allows her uninvited guests to watch their loot.
The first video is “Killer Punch“, a domestic troublemaker about a downed Punch-and-Judy operator named Jack (Robin Bailey). When things at home get far too sad for Jack to handle, he seeks solace from his puppet Punch. Her refuge from the world is soon ruined when her embittered stepson Damien (Johnathon Morris) sets fire to the puppet stand. wife Lena (Ann Lynn) then plans to leave Jack and take Damien with her, but a force inside the house refuses to let them go.
“Killer Punch” is a short, sweet jab at the slasher formula so prevalent in American horror at the time. In the early days of the subgenre, it was not uncommon to see these kinds of films trade high death toll and indiscriminate carnage for psychological drama and deliberate tension. Jack’s quivering dysfunction eventually boils over, and until the hairy reveal and ending, audiences understandably wonder if the puppeteer’s hustle and bustle actually manifested as a murderous Mr. Punch.
Ed, whose only takeaway from the first video is: “Dem British movies; I can tell by the way they talk,” appears in the next strip. Although this segment was originally called “Dreamhouse” when it was released in theaters in 1981, here Armstrong’s short is called “house of the cry” on the cassette case. Yvonne Nicholson and Ian Saynor play respectively Susan and Tony, newlyweds who move into what appears to be a haunted house. Susan is the first to discover the paranormal activity, which includes startling visions of the house’s sordid history. In time, the devastating truth comes to light.
Anthologies may have an “in and out” attitude on their own, but so far, The hour of the cry was considerate with its pacing and plot. The second slot, which is arguably the most powerful of the pack, features sizable scares and buildup. The result is also new and surprising, even by today’s standards. If this chapter has one glaring downside, however, the production values are skimpy. Nicholson’s character sports the same peak in almost every scene, regardless of changes in time, and the actual slaughter is executed limply. The story proved appealing enough to warrant a full adaptation; Reg Traviss directed a 2010 film titled Psychosis. Anyone who’s seen both versions can agree that the short is more powerful, as the film’s padding only waters down the big plot twist.
As Bruce gets to know Marie better in his bedroom, Ed continues the marathon on his own. The latest video, “blood gardenfollows a motocross rider named Gavin (played by former pop singer David VanDay), who desperately needs the money. After accepting the handyman job for two bachelors (John Anderson, Dora Bryan), Gavin breaks into his employer’s house in hopes of stealing the small fortune that’s there. If Gavin had paid more attention to women’s stories of protective garden gnomes and naughty fairies, he might have lived long enough to find a better job.
In terms of segment layout, The hour of the cry could have exercised more thought. The rule of thumb for anthologies is to expect inconsistency in story quality. “Garden of Blood” is undoubtedly the film’s weakest link, but Armstrong and Long could have easily remedied that by moving it to the front rather than reserving it for the coveted last spot. Following it up with the other two offerings, both superior in every way, would have made up for that middle thread had it been played sooner rather than later. It’s far too sweet to be the ultimate tale in this otherwise delightful collection.
As is customary with nearly every anthology containing a wraparound, the main characters are never safe, no matter how distant they are from the stories presented. The hour of the cryThe Amicus framing device has this in common with the Amicus portmanteau film series. However, Armstrong and Long’s film takes an innovative approach to how Ed, Bruce and Marie discover these cursed videos and meet their doomed fates. It all feels like a precursor to more recent anthologies, such as V/H/S.
There’s no denying that this anthology feels like a quick cash grab. Still, even as inexpensive as the movie looks, the content itself is mostly entertaining and not as uneven as other sloppy compilations that have appeared later. What The hour of the cry lack of budget it makes up for it in charm.
Horrors from elsewhere is a recurring column that highlights a variety of movies from around the world, especially those outside of the United States. Fears may not be universal, but one thing is for sure — a cry is understood, always and everywhere.