Nifty little anthology horror flick that was under seen at the time, though in my opinion it's a better ride than the similar but more campy Creepshow (1982), which suffered from pacing problems and actors camping it up to varying degrees.
The first story is about an average couple, one of whom needs her smokes. She learns of an escaped mental patient, but ignores this and her concerned husband because she's dying for a cigarette which leads her to venture out, at night, to the store. Not a whole lot here, but there's nice direction and photography as she encounters various individuals lurking in the middle-American evening gloom. The actors are naturalistic; this is an earnest movie that aims to build suspense and give you a few jolts. It's not the type of cheap movie that makes you cheer against annoying caricatures. No lulls or missteps in this one.
The second story, the one that some people seem to remember and talk about, deals with Emilio Estevez as an arcade ruling video game expert who becomes obsessed with beating a very difficult game. This being the 80's, arcades are shown to be a popular hangout for unruly teenagers. We get a bit more depth and interaction with the characters in this one, and the acting is pretty good given the mostly young cast. Estevez, as the story progresses, gets more unhinged in his mania to beat the game at any cost. Breaking into his favorite arcade, he manages, through the sweaty palms and eye strain, to get to the last level.....Some people might laugh at the old video games and how they're merged with the real world, but frankly, I think the F/X people did a good job of making things aesthetically interesting. I'm not sure how much of this was done with actual CG (which would've been difficult and expensive in 1983) vs old-fashioned animation, but I think it still works pretty well and old-school video game fans should really like this one.
The third story has a neurotic priest, Lance Henriksen, leave his desert parish out of frustration and self-doubt, only to have a malevolent black truck with an unseen driver challenge him. It plays out in a naturalistic fashion, like the first story, before elements of fantasy and surrealism suddenly appear at the very end. Henriksen, and the other actors, give this story a somber and obscure tone. This story is less about the pure thrills, and more about putting you in Henriksen's shoes as he first battles his personal demons before fighting a real demon.
The fourth, and weakest, story is about an upper middle class family fending off a giant rat. The actors here are more plainly unlikable compared to the other stories. The initial suggestions of the rat's presence are creepy and gross enough, but the moment the rat is revealed you will be shocked by how lame the F/X are. It looks like they took footage of a real rat, blew the photo resolution up, and then superimposed it on the set. If the F/X weren't bad enough, the story resolution is a bummer, too: the other stories didn't tell you any more than you needed to know, but in the rat one we're told that the rat was out for revenge! That weakens the impact even more than the effects. The ending really is like a bad mid-Century sci-fi/horror flick. Generic characters, nerdy plot, and bad F/X that look even worse in 1980's color film than they would in 1950's black & white.
Supposedly, the stories were put in order of how well test audiences like them, with the best reviewed being put first. But the rat story is by far the worst of the bunch; I guess every anthology has a dud, as though it's tough to ask filmmakers to develop and execute every story well. I think the filmmakers knew how bad the rat story was, and put more money and time into the first three. The first three stories, though, are on par with anything comparable released back then or since. Let's be grateful when movie makers and actors take this kind of material sincerely, and put in a good effort.