Friday 10 May 2013

The Top 10 Portmanteau Films!

According to the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary, the adjective ‘portmanteau’ means something which combines “more than one use or quality”. When we talk about a ‘portmanteau’ in the context of cinema, essentially we mean a film which is comprised of several shorter, self-contained pieces or stories. 

This week sees the release of Black Sabbath, which got us thinking, is it the best portmanteau film ever made? We couldn’t decide so we polled a few of our favourite Arrow Video contributors and here’s the top 10 that we came up with.
What’s your favourite portmanteau film? Let us know in the comments!

So here goes....

10. Creepshow 2 (1987)
Following the success of the original Creepshow, a sequel was all but inevitable. The resulting film, craftily titled Creepshow 2, spins a further three tales of terror: Ol’ Chief Woodenhead sees the wooden statue of an Indian chief come to life to wreak vengeance for the murder of its owner; a group of lusty teens get much more than they bargained for when they swim out to The Raft; and an adulterous wife is terrorised by The HitchhikerCreepshow 2 ramps up the gore quotient and eschews the original’s tongue-in-cheek sensibility for a meaner, nastier tone.

9. Chungking Express (1994)
A surprise addition to the list (proving that Arrow and its affiliates don’t just spend their days watching horror!), Chungking Express is a Hong Kong drama from director Wong Kar-wai, whose latest film, The Grandmaster, opened this year’s Berlin International Film Festival. Wong Kar-wai is also known for his movies 2046 (2004), Fallen Angels (1995) and the critically-acclaimed In The Mood For Love (2000).

8. From Beyond the Grave (1974)
The mighty Amicus are no slouch on the portmanteau picture front. Over the ‘60s and ‘70s, the production company unleashed a series of exemplary horror anthologies including Asylum (1972), The Vault of Horror (1973), and of course, Tales from the Crypt (1972). From Beyond the Grave was the last in this series of portmanteau films and stars Peter Cushing as the proprietor of antiques shop Temptations Limited. Over the course of four tales, we learn that a terrible fate befalls anyone who foolishly tries to cheat the proprietor of the mysterious store. 

7. The Tales of Hoffman (1951)
Adapted from Jacques Offenbach's opera Les contes d'Hoffmann, The Tales of Hoffman sees the titular character recounting three stories of past loves during the interval of a ballet. This British production was co-directed by none other than Michael Powell, who would go on to achieve infamy with his 1960 film Peeping Tom,which, although now considered a classic of cinema, was vilified upon release – a fact which all but ended his career.

6. Creepshow (1982)
The collaboration of Stephen King and George A. Romero was always going to be a match made in heaven (or indeed, hell) – a fact which the gleefully grim eccentricities of Creepshow stand testament to. Artfully blending comic book visuals with , Creepshow brings together a superb cast (including, amonst others, Ted Danson, Leslie Nielson, Hal Holbrook and Stephen King himself) in five fiendish fables featuring decaying zombies, killer cockroaches, monstrous Antarctic beasts and more!

5. Tales from the Crypt (1972)
Taking its name from the EC comic series, Tales from the Crypt presents five tales of terror – only two of which, interestingly enough, were drawn from its comic namesake. In this exemplary portmanteau piece, the mysterious Crypt Keeper relates to a group of five tourists the terrible fates that will befall them. Perhaps the most famous segment, entitled …And All Through the House, sees Joan Collins being victimised by a murderous Santa Claus – a motif that was later put to good use in flicks such as A Christmas Evil and Silent Night, Deadly Night.

4. Spirits of the Dead (1968)
Federico Fellini, Louis Malle and Roger Vadim adapt works by macabre author Edgar Allan Poe in the anthology film Spirits of the Dead [Histoires extraordinaires]. Dealing with tormented characters experiencing a personal hell, filled with angst and delirium, Spirits of the Dead was a ground-breaking departure for the adaption of Poe in cinema. Interestingly enough, Fellini's segment features a girl playing an incarnation of the devil bouncing a ball in a direct homage (or rip-off!) of Bava's Kill Baby, Kill.

3. Dead of Night (1945)
The celebrated Ealing Studios is best known for its comedies and Alec Guinness-starring classics such as The Ladykillers and The Lavender Hill Mob. However, in 1945 the production company well and truly assured itself a place in the horror hall of fame with the release of the superior portmanteau chiller Dead Of Night. The closing story alone, which has Michael Redgrave giving a star turn as a ventriloquist terrorised by his dummy (which seems to have a life of its own), represents one of the genre’s finest hours.

2. Black Sabbath (1963)
Maestro of the Macabre Mario Bava followed up the runaway success of his Barbara Steele-starring Black Sunday with its spiritual successor, Black Sabbath – deliberately titled thus to invite comparison with Bava’s earlier film. Black Sabbath is a perfectly-balanced genre anthology which blends elements of giallo, supernatural terror and gothic horror in a heady concoction which represents a veritable "Best of Bava" package. In his dual roles as both narrator and actor, genre veteran Boris Karloff adds much colour to the already (quite literally) colourful proceedings.

1. Kwaidan (1964)
Here’s the one you’ve been waiting for - the movie voted best portmanteau film by Arrow staff and their select team of genre experts! Not only is Kwaidan a remarkable achievement as a portmanteau film, it’s also a remarkable piece of filmmaking full stop. Using some of the most sumptuous visuals ever committed to celluloid, Kwaidan weaves several tales of the strange and supernatural. Of particular note is the chilling tale “The Woman of the Snow”, which stands as an early example of the ‘long-haired female ghost’ genre popularised by J-Horror titles such as Ringu and The Grudge.   

So there you have it folks! With thanks to all who voted along with the Arrow Video team, the voters were, in alphabetical order, Louise Buckler, Robin Bougie, Michael Brooke, Ewan Cant, David Cairns, Alan Jones, Tim Lucas, Marc Morris, Kim Newman, James Oliver, Francesco Simeoni, Brad Stevens, Calum Waddell.

A total of 34 films were voted for and a film needed at least two votes to make the Top 10. Here are all the films voted for: Amer, Arabian Nights, Aria, Asylum, Black Sabbath, Collections privees, Creepshow, Creepshow 2, Cungking Express, Dead of Night, Fantasia, From Beyond the Grave, Grindhouse, Kaos, Kwaidan, Odyssey: The Ultimate Trip, Paris, Je T'aime, Pearls of the Deep, Phantom of Liberty, RoGoPaG, Spirits of the Dead, Tales from the Crypt, Tales of Hoffman, Tales of Terror, Teen Kanya, The House that Dripped Blood, The Three Caballeros, Three Extremes, Tokyo, Torture Garden, Trilogy of Terror, Twice Told Tales, Vault of Horror, Waxworks

Black Sabbath is out on Monday and Spirits of the Dead is available from Arrow Academy now.


  1. There are some great choices on that list. I'd like to give a mention to the 1982 film In Our Time, the inaugural film of the Taiwanese New Wave, which consists of four segments - including one directed by a then-unknown Edward Yang, who would go on to direct masterpieces such as A Brighter Summer Day and Yi Yi

  2. Creepshow 2 was awesome, especially 'The Raft' and 'The Hitchhiker' stories. More than can be said about Creepshow 3, which was a huge mess.