“Good horror is about three things.
Isolation. Personal danger. And the unknown enemy”
Horror anthologies are among the first web series I watched (and among the best; well, some of them, at least). For sure, they are an excellent way to start navigating the medium. Not by chance: the anthology format is a perfect match to the imperatives of web video (at least, the ones we’ve been taught so far, that probably will start to change very soon with the convergence of TV and Web); the stories are short and self conclusive, meaning they can be consumed one at the time, once a week, a month or even with a more loose schedule, without the inconvenience of having a narrative arc split in chops and watched with hiccups (and loss of details, if you, as many internauts do, fill your head with a lot of new information every day); they can be produced one at the time, without the need to use the same sets or cast or crew. They can be produced in economy. And horror is popular; very.
But there’s much more than this. I’m pretty sure that if you dig into your memories, back to your teenage years, you can find without effort one or two anthological movies or series, at least, that have a special place into your mental shelves; and this, regardless of the objective production values, just in terms of pure and simple fascination and surprise. Because there’s something intrinsically effective in short stories (no matter what medium we’re talking about): the need of synthesis and to get right inside of the action, the more dry and compact narrative, and the clever (or tricky) twists (not necessary to the format but most often defining it). Short stories, if well done, can be very catchy. Again: perfect, for the medium.
Some celebrated classics used successfully the format. In TV, everyone mentions series like The Twilight Zone o The Outer Limits (more easy to remember because of their impressive amount of material); but also in movies we can find excellent examples, especially in the horror boom of the Eighties and first Nineties (and sometimes you still see them, like this one a the last Sundance). Today, though, they’re almost forgotten by traditional media (with sporadic exceptions like Masters of Horror, which is not exactly news); or, at most, we have Twilight without the “zone” (a really painful difference). But we have the Internet.
And there, through the infinite threads of the web, we can see a new wave of fantastic anthologies (most of them horror based). In proportion, taking into account the huge number of web series being produced since 2006 and before (some year ago Blip alone claimed to have had more than 50.000 series in the database), they’re not so much; enough, though, to let identify a genre or, at least, a tendency.
Little cinema on the web: Fewdio, BBTV, The Dead Hour
That said, short stories are not easy. Actually, they require more narrative skill than long ones. And if we talk about video, even more skills add to the count (editing, lightning, directing, acting… you know, the usual stuff). And web video it’s a field full of amateurs, newcomers, improvisers with little or no money: sometimes, this means getting the best out of their talent and creativity but, some other, it just means accepting so many compromises affecting unacceptably the final work (or, even worse, it shows the total lack of talent). I’ve seen very low quality stuff in web horror (but surprisingly, some of this series were long-lived and some other still go on today – it’s the “niche” effect); but fortunately, from time to time you bump into people that really know their craft.
This is certainly the case of FEWDIO, BlackBoxTV e The Dead Hour. Without any doubt, the best horror anthology web series ever made.
All of them (despite the relative differences) can be described the same way: mostly of horror matrix; a classical narrative approach that reminds of the works mentioned before; an handmade but effective feel, just updated to the digital aesthetics, and a cinematography that grants little or nothing to the style of “young” web; total freedom in the format (episodes long as it takes to tell the story properly, may it be less than two minutes on more than twelve).
These works taste like classic and modern at the same time; it’s like rebooting a genre for new audiences (not forgetting about the old ones) in a not dissimilar way to what the horror masters did in movies during the last decade; but what I like the most about them is their cinematic quality and feel. And when I say cinema, I mean independent. Maybe with the partial exception ob BBTV (that takes very seriously watchers using mobile devices) these works are filled with a kind of cinematic pride, like to say: “Ok, we’re on the web, but for distribution, to get to you. But we’re still filmakers, not youtubers”. FEWDIO was intentionally produced like a movie (with no concessions to the needs of the small screen – in times where the PC screens were actually smaller than today but tablets and smartphones were not part of the picture) and The Dead Hour seems mostly to have the same approach. These tales could be selected and compiled into movies, shown to the big screen, and work (as well as as TV episodes), and the beautiful part of it is that, most likely, if you’d see them in that format for the first time you wouldn’t guess a web origin. And as a matter of fact, they are sorta doing it: Nightmare House (recompiling FEWDIO shorts) is running through festivals and a The Dead Hour movie has been announced.
It’s worth noting the “2.0” approach of both these productions: despite being produced and written mostly by the titulars, they accept external contributions and ideas.
The oldest project of the group is the collective FEWDIO. It launches in 2008 with the short The Easter Bunny is Eating My Candy, it gathers an handful of filmakers from Hollywood with different experiences and collaborations with guys like Spielberg and Nolan; mainly, the duo David Schneider (writer, director, editor) and Drew Daywalt (writer and director – but strangely not showcased in the official website), creators of the obscure but (they say) cult Stark Raving Mad (2002). Pissed of by the bureaucracy and barriers and stubbornness of Holly “old system”, they look to the web and land to YouTube when, mostly, good horror is missing. The anthology as corpus should be called Nightmare House and include 20 episodes (released every 13 days), inspired to real fears of the collective’s members; though this title is non used on-line, not on YouTube or Vimeo and not all the videos are featured on both channels (personal advice: start from the official page and integrate what’s missing later).
As said, a selection has been compiled, in a 90 minutes movie format, and it’s available on DVD.
Plus, since 2010 Daywalt has his own YouTube Channel where he uploads videos under the label Daywalt Fear Factory, creating in fact a new, still running horror anthology, quite valid as well.
The BlackBoxTV is a YouTube channel created by Tony E. Valenzuela (“college dropout” with a past as creative director in Hollywood), and just rebooted together with Anthony “CSI” Zuicker into a premium channel (one of the channels directly financed by Google to expand YouTube “quality” offer and gather more wiew$ and watcher$).
Valenzuela comes to this project after a stressing and autarkic (but successful) web series, the apocalyptic 2009 A True Story, and the helming of EQAL’s Harper’s Globe; deciding to put himself to the test for a limited period of time (inspired by pioneers like Chris McCaleb and in love with horror since always). It’s 2010. BlackBoxTV explodes; Tony becomes YT partner and starts doing this for a living.
The channel features (together whit the twin BBTV2) miscellaneous content but the main core is the anthology of horror shorts, that originally was meant to include different fantastic genres but ended up being made almost exclusively by horror. In classic YouTube style the first part was produced involving well known web stars, to gather attention: in the pilot we see the vlogger Philip De Franco (with a quite surprising delivery) and then it’s the turn of people like iJustine (not so good), Taryn Southern (not bad indeed) and many others.
As said, BBTV is really concerned about multi-platform vision, adapting the image (mostly the lettering) so that it can be read easily from a smartphone. It’s curious that Vanlenzuela talks about his series as a reinventing of the genre while, to me, it appears essentially a classic approach, just declined to new platforms. Probably it’s the sing that he’s making it the right way, pleasing both old and new audiences.
I’m curious to see how much “real” quality and valuable content will be introduced with the reboot. But it doesn’t matter what Zuicker will bring or invent: to me, BBTV is ,and will always be, the anthology series by Tony Valenzuela. Everything else is just optional.
Here you can find Season One and two: some videos appear to be blocked; you can try also on Blip.
The Dead Hour
And here’s my absolute favorite. Started a little after BBTV, in 2010, The Dead Hour chooses for slightly longer episodes, total autarky in distribution (videos are available exclusively on the official website) and a higher production value. Just wrapped the second season, the third is scheduled. Thirteen episodes so far, initially released every other Wednesday. A feature movie was announced for 2012 in interviews, maybe an expansion of one of the already released episodes.
The series is a creative fruit from Magnum Pictures, a production company created by two veterans of “no-budget” filmaking, director Daniel B. Iske, from Nebraska (that earns his living producing videos for companies and private clients) and writer Scott Coleman. Creative partners since ten years, with at their back a couple of almost unknown (again) but award-winning movies (2007’s The Wretched and 2005’s New House), and creators on one of the first web series ever, Evan’s America (2002), they look to the web as a tool to reach an audience impossible to get to with the festivals circuit alone. Their “method” is to exploit the already existing to the maximum level, (like using creepy abandoned locations) and to build a network of local, trusted talents.
Unlike FEWDIO and BBTV, the creator’s approach is not to dig into personal fears but to stage a supernatural degeneration of otherwise ordinary situations. Again, very classic indeed.
Every episode, in an ideal fil rouge, is introduced by a radio speaker, DJ Raven, that sets pace and mood with more than a hint (most probably intended) to a similar figure in Walter Hill’s masterpiece The Warriors.
It’s not over (if you please)
Just because I like to overdo things, here’s some additional interesting tiles.
We Break Hearts is a 2011 miniseries, written and directed by Brett Register (The Crew), produced by Absolute Disaster (on their site other short series crossing between fantastic and comedy) and released on DailyMotion. It stars well known web faces like Jessica Lee Rose, Maxwell Glick (LG15) and Craig Frank (Compulsions) and it’s a good fantasy tale (and, if we like, a metaphor of seduction’s destructive power too). Though it’s a three part standalone series, it has the typical “feel” of the anthological episode.
20 Dollar Show it’s another epigone of classic TV series; started in 2011, not properly horror (so far) it’s more generically fantastic or supernatural, Twilight Zone style. Offspring of producer Athena Ashburn, Hollywood veteran converted to digital, it’ not flawless but with a very good and intriguing mood (especially the second episode). Actually in production, without apparent scheduling plan.
Night Terrors is most recent and initially it promised to be a new Tales From The Crypt and to switch between different genres; recently, though, it has been announced that the entire project will be released as a movie, if a crowdfunding campaign goes well. It’s credited to the duo David Buchert and Chris St. Croix (writers and directors). I missed the first episode (that started rumors for being removed from various sites because of offensive content, finding a new home on the specialized website Dread Central) that has been taken away from the site, but I saw episode two (which appears to be very well produced but extremely conventional an flat in writing). It’s worth to keep an eye on it.
The Unkown, at last, it’s an announced project by Sony, destined to it’s on-line portal Crackle. It should be in production by now and it promises to be an horror anthology with longer format: 6 episodes of 30 minutes each. And, again, it’s described like an heir to Creepshow, Twilight Zone and even The X-Files.