Horror and anthologies go together like peanut butter and chocolate, knives and showers, zombies and shopping malls. While sometimes it’s worth it to commit to a single story over the course of a two-hour movie, it can also be just as scary (and just as entertaining) to watch a film that’s chopped its narrative into shorter pieces. Here are 12 of our favourite horror anthologies.
Trick r’ Treat
Make it feel like Halloween any time of year by watching (or, more likely, re-watching) the 2007 debut feature of director Michael Doughertyt, who went on to make Krampus and Godzilla: King of the Monsters but is most beloved among horror fans for delivering this modern cult classic. One memorable October 31 in small-town Ohio, several loosely interconnected stories (sexy werewolves, poisoned candy, vengeful ghosts, oh my!) weave into a satisfying narrative, bolstered by knowingly campy performances by Anna Paquin, Dylan Baker, Brian Cox, and others.
Rough on the eyeballs by design — it’s supposed to take place in 1994, with technology to match — this year’s entry in the popular found-footage series isn’t a cinematic masterpiece, but it will still crawl under your skin and hang out there for an uncomfortably long time. It’s hard to even pick a winner in terms of “most distressing segment,” but “The Subject,” from writer-director Timo Tjahjanto, definitely takes top prize in terms of body horror, while Ryan Prows’ “Terror” plucks its idea from current events that are already real-world terrifying, and twists it into a ghastly supernatural scenario.
V/H/S/94 can be found on Shudder.
We’d love the George A. R0mero-directed, Stephen King-written 1982 Creepshow (and 1987’s Creepshow 2) no matter what, but the fact that the spirit of the films lives on in Shudder’s very fun TV show only makes the Creepshow legacy that much stronger. Still, the original remains one of the very best examples of a horror anthology, paying homage to creepy vintage comics while giving us unforgettable characters (including one played by King himself!) who meet even more unforgettable fates: “I can hold my breath for a looonnng time!”
Twilight Zone: The Movie
Rod Serling’s iconic anthology TV series has inspired plenty of movies over the years, including this 1983 feature officially branded to its source. While the behind-the-scenes tragedy that occurred on its set has come to eclipse the film itself, Twilight Zone: The Movie still boasts a quartet of heavy-hitting directors: Stephen Spielberg, John Landis (An American Werewolf in London), Joe Dante (Gremlins), and George Miller (Fury Road), with an equally A-list cast. The Landis-directed prologue, featuring Dan Aykroyd and Albert Brooks and the question of what is really scary, terrified me as a kid — and I still can’t take a flight without looking for a gremlin on the wing, like John Lithgow does in the movie’s vivid homage to the William Shatner-starring Twilight Zone episode.
Check out Twilight Zone: The Movie on Paramount+.
The Monster Club
Roy Ward Baker directed this 1981 title which has a lot of Amicus Productions trademarks, but isn’t actually one of the famed horror studio’s releases. (Fear not, we’ll get to Amicus on this list!) The frame story stars Vincent Price as a vampire — a set-up that would make me watch literally anything that came after — who dips his fangs into a horror author played by John Carradine, then cheerfully invites him into the titular nightclub for groovy music and spooky storytelling. The Monster Club features some unfamiliar ghouls (including a hybrid called a “Shadmock,” possessed of the world’s most dreadful whistle), but it has a blast going through their taxonomy, and features a stellar cast beyond its leads that includes Halloween’s Donald Pleasence and Doctor Who’s Lesley Dunlop.
The Monster Club can be rented on Apple TV.
A trio of top-flight directors — Hong Kong’s Fruit Chan (Made in Hong Kong), South Korea’s Park Chan-wook (Oldboy, Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance), and Japan’s Takashi Miike (Audition, Ichi the Killer) — brought their talents to this excellent but harrowing three-part anthology in 2004. The segments concern the youth-rejuvenating powers of aborted fetuses (“Dumplings”), a director (Squid Game’s Lee Byung-hun) menaced by a very disgruntled extra (“Cut”); and an ex-circus performer who can’t escape the twisted nightmare of her past (“Box”). In case you couldn’t tell, the promise of “extremes” is not false advertising.
Three… Extremes is on Shudder.
With a tip of the hat to Rusty Cundieff’s 1995 Tales From the Hood (another anthology well worth seeking out), this year’s Horror Noire builds off the Shudder-produced documentary of the same name to bring stories of Black horror, made by Black directors and screenwriters, to the screen. Six tales means Horror Noire feels a bit oversized — it really could have been two films, or even a Creepshow-style series — but Kimani Ray Smith’s standout final tale “Sundown,” about canvassers drumming up support for a senatorial candidate in a most unusual small town, is well worth the wait. Horror Noire also has a small but impactful role for horror legend Tony Todd in “Fugue State,” which casts the original Candyman as a preacher whose charisma drives his followers insane.
Horror Noire is another found on Shudder.
Trilogy of Terror
This 1975 anthology directed by Dan Curtis (Dark Shadows) is based on a trio of stories by genre legend Richard Matheson, all starring Karen Black. All of Trilogy of Terror is unsettling but the third segment, “Amelia,” is a two-hander pitting Black’s character against the scariest doll to ever haunt the screen — apologies to Chucky and Annabelle and the Poltergeist clown, but nothing comes close to this movie’s “Zuni fetish doll.” Its existence is made even more alarming by the fact that this was a made-for-TV production, meaning people just innocently flipping the channels could just have stumbled upon its pointy-toothed visage and been scarred for life by the sight.
Unfortunately, Trilogy of Terror is currently unavailable for streaming in Australia.
Tales of Terror
Roger Corman, at the height of his Edgar Allan Poe period, directs this 1962 Richard Matheson-adapted three-parter that features both narration and multiple starring turns by Vincent Price. It’s hard to pick a favourite moment among these grim but slyly funny Tales, but it’s also hard to beat the scene (in “The Black Cat,” which also works in Poe’s “The Cask of Amonitillado”) featuring Peter Lorre and Price engaging in a spirited wine-tasting contest.
Rent Tales of Terror on Apple TV.
Italian horror master Mario Bava directed this 1963 anthology, composed of three tales introduced by Frankenstein’s monster himself, Boris Karloff, who also stars in one of the segments. The various horrors represented include a murderer fond of making menacing phone calls, a thirsty vampire (or “wurdulak,” as it’s called in the film), and a corpse that doesn’t take very kindly to being robbed; all the stories push the envelope in terms of raciness and violence, and all benefit from the gorgeous cinematography that was Bava’s trademark.
Black Sabbath is available on YouTube.
The 1960s and ‘70s “portmanteau” films of Amicus Productions were my pick for io9’s list of favourite genre projects we re-watched this year, and honestly it’s impossible to pick just one favourite from titles like Tales From the Crypt, Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors, Torture Garden, The House That Dripped Blood, Asylum, Vault of Horror, and From Beyond the Grave. All of them have their grim charms; many of them star Christopher Lee and/or Peter Cushing. However, if you’ve ever wanted to see what a vengeance-crazed killer piano might look like (yes, I said “vengeance-crazed killer piano”), Torture Garden is a mighty fine place to start.
Night Train to Terror
What if God and Satan took a train ride together to decide the fate of three particular souls? And what if that train also carried a peppy rock band that picked maybe the worst setting ever for filming their latest music video? That train would be none other than 1985’s Night Train to Terror, a movie whose other delights also include weird cults, a man who’s hypnotised into kidnapping victims for an organ-harvesting ring, various continuity errors, and a frantically upbeat song that will absolutely not leave your skull once you hear it played in the movie seemingly dozens of times.
Night Train to Terror is streaming on Mubi.