The House of the Dead

Wicked Wednesday: The House of the Dead (1978)

I love horror anthology movies. Some of the best scary stories are quick, brutal and to the point. It’s often why the short film format is often one of the most effective forms of horror. Link them together with an excellent framing story, and you’ve got yourself gold.

And who better to listen to scary stories from than a mortician on a stormy night? Though if you’re a cheating man named Talmudge, it’s probably not going to be an ideal situation for you.

After fooling around with another man’s wife one night, Talmudge¬†tries to head back to his hotel. Only his cab drops him off on the wrong street during a storm. He’s taken in by a mortician, who seemingly pities the man’s situation.

Inside the mortician’s place, Talmudge sees five caskets out. The mortician explains that he only takes in “interesting” corpses that have had unique deaths. He then explains each death in detail to Talmudge.

The first story is about a grumpy teacher who hates children. She’s a monster to them, but what happens when they become monsters themselves?

A second corpse is that of a man who was executed after being found killing women. The crimes he filmed himself doing.

The third coffin contains the body of a detective. One who was competitive with a fellow detective and was willing to put him to the test of wits. But which detective is in the coffin and whose remains were too little to be buried?

The fourth, but not final, story is about an office worker who cares for no one but himself. After harassing a homeless man, the office worker finds himself in a closed shop that he can’t escape. No matter what he does, he finds himself further and further into the shop – and into another form of torture.

As the mortician finishes his story, the only question left is – who is the fifth, and empty, casket for?

It’s a fun and morbidly gleeful ending to the anthology in the vein of anthology TV shows like Creepshow and Tales from the Crypt.

I really loved a lot about The House of the Dead. Director Sharon Miller manages to keep a consistent tone throughout. And yet each of the stories is very distinct and memorable – something I have to say is often rare for anthology movies. There are usually one or two segments that are weaker than the rest.

But here we are lucky enough to get four solid stories with a framing story that isn’t obnoxious to return to. Nothing is worse than just wanting to skip the framing story and get on to something else, only to have to return to it again.

This was a surprisingly little hidden gem. If you’re a fan of anthologies and have yet to see it, I highly recommend seeking it out.