The title Tales of the Uncanny would have been ideal for a horror anthology — one of those movies that tell three or four scary stories within a feature-length running time. The sub-genre reached a kind of peak in the 1960s and ‘70s with a run of releases from the British company Amicus, including Dr. Terror’s House of HorrorsTales from the CryptVault of HorrorThe House that Dripped Blood and Asylum.

In fact, Tales of the Uncanny is a deep dive into that subgenre, which dates back to the silent era and is still going strong. (The Winnipeg-lensed Tales from the Hood 3 is one of the most recent iterations.) 

The film, available for streaming today via Cinematheque at Home, was produced by former Cinematheque programmer Kier-La Janisse.

Reached at her West Coast home, the ex-Winnipegger explains that the film started life as a DVD extra.

Janisse, 47, has been working for the cult restoration house Severin Films for the past three years as an editor and, more recently, a producer. It’s a nice fit, given her own past as a programmer at the Alamo Drafthouse cinema in Austin, Texas, and as the founder of Vancouver’s CineMuerte Horror Film Festival (1999-2005).

Janisse is also the author of several books about genre, including House of Psychotic Women, a deeply personal analysis of women and madness in cinema.

"Because of my programming and exhibition history, I’ve had a lot of contact with directors and people in the industry," she says. "So then my job at Severin kind of shifted a little bit more onto the producing side, just because I ended up knowing a lot of people that we would end up having to interview or people that we would want for critical commentary."

Before the COVID-19 crisis, the doc was going to be a mini-documentary to accompany the Blu-ray reissue of a 2011 anthology titled The Theatre Bizarre.

"We had a few professional interviews with some film experts and we were going to make this little thing, but the production schedule shifted so that it didn’t end up getting finished right away and the film release got shifted. So by the time we picked it up again, COVID had just started," she says, explaining that Tales of the Uncanny’s director, David Gregory, realized that with pandemic lockdown, they could expand the roster of interview subjects.

"Instead of just editing together those five interviews we had, David, who is one of the founders of Severin, had the idea: ‘Why don’t we try and get a few more people? Now that people are grounded at home, it will be much easier to get some time with them.’"

The featured interviewees now number more than 60, including horror luminaries such as Joe Dante (The Howling), Eli Roth (Hostel), Mick Garris (Sleepwalkers), Ernest Dickerson (Tales from the Crypt: Demon Knight), Larry Fessenden (Wendigo) and effects artist/filmmaker Tom Savini.

"The fact that they could just stay at home and do a Zoom meeting with us for 15 minutes made a lot of people suddenly way more accessible than they would’ve been if we were having to arrange an in-person interview," Janisse says. "So it ended up a lot of people were not only available, but really excited to talk about these movies."

That excitement is one of the pleasures of the film, compensating for the muddy resolution of many of the Zoom interviews. For horror fans, it’s a treasure trove of great film clips from classics, such as the unforgettable "The Drop of Water" segment from Mario Bava’s Black Sabbath (1963), or the still unnerving ventriloquist tale from the 1945 Brit classic Dead of Night, starring Michael Redgrave as an unhinged entertainer.

"One of the things that’s so fun about anthology films is that horror fans will endlessly argue which film is the strongest, which segment is the worst segment," Janisse says. "It’s such a fun thing for horror fans to gather around the table and have a beer and argue over it.

"And it’s so subjective," she says. "People have different favourites for completely different reasons. Those films just resonate with them."

A case in point would be Janisse herself, who loves the not-well-regarded 1982 portmanteau The Monster Club, starring Vincent Price. 

"It was supposed to be kind of a kiddie anthology, a little safer for younger viewers," she says. "But there is one story in that about a monster called the Shadmock and that story really resonated with me because it’s that story of the misunderstood monster, which I think is kind of a common trope, especially in kids stories.

"I had a book when I was a kid called The Lonely Monster… it was about a monster that couldn’t find anybody to be his friend," she says. "It struck a lot of the same chords for me so I have a very sentimental attachment, I guess, to that episode."

 

randall.king@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @FreepKing

Randall King

Randall King
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In a way, Randall King was born into the entertainment beat.

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