Theme of the Month: Anthologies


Courtesy of Artsploitation Films

By Braden Turk

Theme of the Month is an article series designed to investigate examples of film, television, and writing that fall under a certain category. The following works are anthologies, or media that serves as a collection of various stories.


“Horror Stories”

An ordinary high school student is abducted by a murderer and is told her only hope of escape is to tell him the scariest stories she knows. Fortunately for her, she has a modest amount of urban legends at her disposal…

“Horror Stories,” despite its cookie-cutter name, is a surprisingly solid omnibus of short films from various Korean directors. The tales are stories told by the captee and their genres range from psychological thriller to zombie horror.

The anthology opens with the slightly heavy-handed “The Sun and the Moon” (or “Don’t Answer the Door,” its less poetic title). Most of the short deals with two children attempting to protect themselves from an intruder, but 20 minutes in it swerves into political territory.

“Endless Flight,” the simplest but also most effective entry in “Horror Stories,” follows a flight attendant’s struggle to fend off a rogue serial killer 35,000 feet above the ground. There isn’t much in the way of characters or message here; “Endless Flight” is more focused on its tension and scares.

After the disappointing and convoluted “Secret Recipe,” the film concludes with “Ambulance on the Death Zone,” a fast-paced zombie thriller that takes place entirely within an ambulance. Think of it as “Train to Busan” with a much smaller cast.

Each of these is bookended by the wraparound story that manages to keep the suspense going without jeopardizing the main attractions. Grab a blanket, turn the lights off, and enjoy.


“Three… Extremes”

Takashi Miike, Fruit Chan, and Park Chan-wook: three masters of Asian cult cinema. These directors each direct a segment in “Three… Extremes,” covering a wide array of topics and tones.

Fruit Chan begins with “Dumplings,” a horrific short he later expanded into a feature-length film. It follows a woman as she attempts to regain her youth by eating special dumplings, but when its ingredients are revealed, the plot quickly turns into a waking nightmare.

Park Chan-wook follows with “Cut.” By far the most “extreme” short in the collection, it features just as many twists and turns as his critically-acclaimed “Oldboy” and “Thirst.”

The anthology closes with “Box,” which was surprisingly restrained when considering director Miike’s filmography. Slow and meditative, “Box” only puts a few scares in its runtime, opting instead for atmosphere and tone as opposed to pure terror. It doesn’t always work but it serves as a decent nightcap to the film.


“Burnt Tongues”

Curated by author Chuck Palahniuk, this collection of transgressive short stories vehemently denies a specific genre. The plotlines range from tragic to disturbing to downright disgusting, but all fit under the large umbrella of transgression. Calling it a mixed bag would be an understatement.

The book’s opening spares no time getting straight to the point, focusing on a group of high school girls’ failed group suicide attempt. It’s graphic and bitterly sarcastic, and its depiction of suicide borders on exploitative, but the extremity is exaggerated enough to make it digestible. (No pun intended.)

“Charlie,” the second story, is one of the best in the collection and the piece that sold me on the book’s mission statement. It’s tragic and upsetting, leaving the readers’ hearts in their throats until the final sentence is read.

The book doesn’t have a complete lack of subtlety, however, as it proves with Bryan Howie’s “Bike,” a low-key tale taking place over an hour or so. Its ending is left ambiguous, but as with most transgressive stories, the outcome isn’t taken to be that happy.

Those three examples are only a small sampling of what “Burnt Tongues” has to offer. In his introduction to the collection, Palahniuk says he hopes the reader will revisit the novel with a new perspective, something I expect myself — and anyone else who reads this book — to do years down the line.