The public’s fascination with anthologies has become as rabid as a horde of zombies fighting over fresh flesh with a pack of starving vampires. This embrace has hit a fever pitch in both the television and film worlds. And every time you turn around, it feels like there’s a new franchise adding to this increasingly ubiquitous sub-subgenre.
With successful series like V/H/S and The ABCs of Death putting out a new entry nearly every year, and recent contenders like Tales of Halloween and Holidays jumping into the fray, it can become easy to get overwhelmed and drown in all of the horror anthology goodness. Thankfully, we’ve put together a life preserver (a 31-chambered one) to keep you afloat and direct you to the very best bite-sized doses of horror that film has to offer!
31. “Something to Tide You Over” (from Creepshow)
Directed by George A. Romero
Creepshow is certainly seen as the seminal horror anthology vehicle for a lot of fans of the genre, and with heavy-hitters like Stephen King and George A. Romero behind the product, it’s easy to see why. “Something to Tide You Over” has been one of my favorite shorts (in general, not just amongst horror) for a long time. There’s something just devilishly delicious about watching this vengeance story between Ted Danson and Leslie Nielsen play out while they’re both at the top of their game.
There are specifics to get into here, but really all you need to know is that Nielsen plays a rich, eccentric, and jilted lover who buries Ted Danson’s character up to his head in the beach. The trapped man is forced to wait as the tide ebbs closer to him in one of the most disturbing pieces of torture ever imagined. You hear that, Jigsaw? Why didn’t you ever involve the tide in any of your games?
30. “Cut” (from Three…Extremes)
Directed by Chan-wook Park
Chan-wook Park is the cinematic genius behind Oldboy, Thirst, and a slew of other masterpieces. But “Cut” feels like him letting loose in a whole new sort of way. If “Box” is more or less a nightmare run amok, then Three…Extremes’ “Cut” is no doubt operating off of dream logic.
The story chronicles a film director who is held hostage in his home by a disgruntled movie extra. While that plot holds plenty of weight on its own, the thing is also a visual beast where the roving camera is as much a character as anyone else. The set design is equally incredible with the visual of the director’s wife strung up to the piano like a marionette likely not leaving your mind any time soon (nor what’s done with a blender later on). The story also operates on hyperbolized dream logic, which makes it all the more frightening as this victimizer seems to be able to do whatever he wants outside of reality.
29. “Safe Haven” (from V/H/S 2)
Directed by Gareth Edwards and Timo Tjahjanto
Jesus Christ, right? Remember when everyone was going nuts over the impressive fight sequences in Gareth Edwards’ The Raid? Well this is him mainlining Adderall that’s laced with Halloween candy, and the results couldn’t be more insane. “Safe Haven” involves a cult, sacrifices, and escaping from said cult. But the less said about this the better. Let this one just take you away and shake you up. Being as clueless as the people in this entry just makes the experience all the more enjoyable. Remember to breathe, guys.
28. “Secret Recipe” (from Horror Stories)
Directed by Ji-young Hong
Horror Stories (while being terribly titled) is a great surprise of an Asian anthology film. The movie throws a lot at you with each of the stories packing a valuable punch and containing some creative spin on classic tales. One such example is “Secret Recipe’s” presentation, which is essentially a perverted version of Cinderella.
There’s a lot to love here as you see a mother putting her daughter through hell so she’s more of a viable suitor for the handsome bachelor. The story only becomes all the more horrifying when the woman finally gets what she wants and is accepted by the bachelor, learning in the process that there’s a much darker side to his good looks and disposition. It’s a great take on the “be careful what you wish for” parable and an ingenious way to skew a classic tale into something that feels like it’d be at home in a gratuitous episode of American Horror Story.
27. “Box” (from Three…Extremes)
Directed by Takashi Miike
Miike is a master of messed up imagery, and sure enough this story of a girl who is plagued by the dream of being buried in a box is no exception. That two-headed creature that eventually shows up and—never mind, I don’t want to think about it. The piece really instills an awe in you as you’re not sure what direction it’s going to go in, or what is real and what is fantasy. Plus, when is dead sister stuff never not a horribly creepy time?
26. “Parallel Monsters” (from V/H/S Viral)
Directed by Nacho Vigalondo
Parallel realities have always appealed to me. There’s such a science to them, and it really does require some thought and care to pull them off well enough to not feel gratuitous. V/H/S Viral tries to shake up its franchise’s own universe a little bit and have more fun. The results in this segment are very indicative of that goal.
A rather compelling story is told where an inventor creates a gateway into a parallel world that obviously stokes his curiosity, especially when he meets the bizarro version of himself. The two versions of the inventor “trade worlds” and while they appear to be quite similar upon first glance, there are drastic differences at play here that must be seen to believed. There are a lot of similarities between this story and Horror Stories 2‘s “Escape,” but they go about their monstrosities in entirely different ways.
25. “D is for Deloused” (from ABCs of Death 2)
Directed by Robert Morgan
Robert Morgan’s “D is for Deloused” is instantly one of the most striking installments from its anthology due to the crude claymation style that’s employed here. The smallest touch is applied to make this degree of claymation look particularly greasy and dirty, and it adds to the atmosphere of the short in a beautiful way.
That story itself tells a twisted tale of a bug that lays dormant inside of a corpse playing games with its executioners, opening up some rather upsetting wormholes in the process. “D is for Deloused” doesn’t try to define itself and has just as much fun watching you try to put this off-kilter story together. Who’d have thought they’d find a way to make bugs even creepier?
24. “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet” (from Twilight Zone: The Movie)
Directed by George Miller
You know this piece. Everyone knows this piece. And that’s because it’s so goddamned amazing. There is a reason that they chose to redo this story from the television series for the feature film, after all. A lesson in paranoia, “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet” presents a man losing his mind over the fact that no one will believe him that “there’s something on the wing!”
Miller’s version puts John Lithgow in the starring role, and the guy sells the hell out of it. While many of the beats of this short might have been ruined for you through the years, “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet” simply works with its legacy remaining in spite of its exposure. Also, the beginning of the actual film might be the most perfect television-to-film adaptation of all time: it opens with characters debating what was the scariest Twilight Zone episode of all time.
23. “X is for Xylophone” (from ABCs of Death 2)
Directed by Julien Maury and Alexandre Bustillo
You might find it hard to believe that a second offering of 26 alphabet-centric horror shorts would have as much cache as the first time, but this sequel does an impressive job of staying relevant and keeping the respect for horror alive. “X for Xylophone” is a very succinct story that presents a struggling grandmother dealing with her noisy newborn grandchild.
Her offspring’s noise-barrage wears her down more and more until she hits her disturbing breaking point. Maury and Bustillo have proven they’re masters of the trade with fare like L’Intérieur and Livide, and “X is for Xylophone” is another notch in their belt for how they can turn the simplest idea into utter pandemonium. The directors’ go-to muse Béatrice Dalle also delivers a very layered performance in a short time as the grandmother.
22. “Escape” (from Horror Stories 2)
Directed by Bum-sik Jung
Packing much less of an impact than the previous film, and containing a considerably worse framing device to package it all in, Horror Stories 2 does still manage to have its saving graces with most of them falling in the “Escape” story.
“Escape” nearly packs as much story into itself as the rest of Horror Stories 2’s segments put together. It’s a sprawling adventure that depicts a student successfully crossing over to another world and then frantically trying to get back home after seeing the sort of monsters that live in this realm.
The whole piece is held together by a delightful set of rules, and there’s a chaotic momentum to it all that doesn’t slow down. You genuinely care for this protagonist and want to see him survive these ordeals and get back in one piece, which is saying something for the 20-something minute story. “Escape” does get a little too farcical and silly for its own good at times, holding it back from being a true classic, but there is still a very strong, very scary entry presented here.
21. “A is for Apocalypse” (from The ABCs of Death)
Directed by Nacho Vigalondo
Nacho Vigalondo’s segment is a throat-punch that kicks off this anthology movie in the best way possible. An absolutely brutal fight is depicted during the end of the world with each punch and hit carrying such impact that you can practically feel it at home. Twenty-six shorts inevitably means that these segments are going to have rather tiny runtimes, but “A is for Apocalypse” is one that wastes none of it by dropping you right into the climax and then starts feeding you adrenaline.
20. “Blind Alleys” (from Tales From the Crypt)
Directed by Freddie Francis
Psychological horror at its best, “Blind Alleys” tells the brutally just story of an unsympathetic, stingy operator at a center for the blind. Nigel Patrick just kills it here as the operator, portraying an asshole so well that the end of the segment is all the more of a delight.
His increasingly negligent treatment of his residents eventually goes too far when they turn the tables on him in the most twisted way possible. The final act of this story is a claustrophobic nightmare as the operator is forced to work his way out of a pitch-black maze, the walls lined with razor blades and hungry attack dogs along the way…
19. “Mannikins of Horror” (from Asylum)
Directed by Roy Ward Baker
The UK-located Amicus Productions became notorious for putting out a number of accomplished horror anthology films in the ‘60s and ‘70s, but Asylum is certainly their magnum opus. An inspired framing device sees an interviewing doctor enter an asylum with his assignment requiring him to talk to a number of patients and determine which of them is the former, now-mad, head of the asylum.
“Mannikins of Horror” is the best of the bunch (and also works into the framing device beautifully), telling a story about a man who tries to live forever by transferring his consciousness into a tiny robot that he’s filled with his entrails. Watching this tiny killer operate is a disturbing masterpiece and clearly an inspiration for the heavilysimilar Puppet Master series that would pop up decades later.
18. “Amateur Night” (from V/H/S)
Directed by David Bruckner
It’s fair to say that as the V/H/S franchise has gone on, there have been less original ways to incorporate the found footage motif into the stories accordingly. The concept put forward in “Amateur Night” is a staple that you might associate with the territory right away—a bunch of horny teens are out for a night of debauchery and they place hidden cameras into their pairs of glasses to capture every moment.
There’s certainly a slow burn to the segment as the story takes its time, letting you get to know the characters and wait for the other shoe to drop. And boy when it does, does it ever. “Amateur Night” absolutely excels at being a terrifying entry, as well as a rather gruesome take on vampires. It goes without saying, but a phenomenal job is done by the woman that they pick up. Right from the start she’s unnerving and there’s a very committed performance there that only intensifies the horror.
17. “Ding Dong” (from Tales of Halloween)
Directed by Lucky McKee
Lucky McKee delivers a very haunting story here that attempts to say something on many levels and largely succeeds. We’re shown the sad life of a husband and wife who lost their child, and are still very much dealing with the grief from it. This is mostly processed by the wife being abusive to her husband, which he in turn deals with by viewing her as a raging demonic devil.
As Halloween night goes on, each passing trick-or-treater acts as another reminder of the child they lost, with their psyches chipping away a little more each time in the process. Waiting for these time bombs to go off is excruciating, as is thinking about how something like Halloween must be hell for people in a situation like this. Not only a frightening segment, this is one that will make you really think.
16. “R is for Removed” (from The ABCs of Death)
Directed by Srdjan Spasojevic
A number of the segments in The ABCs of Death proceed largely in the manner that you would expect them to; but when the letter “R” comes to mind, surely the first image that is conjured up isn’t one of a man’s skin being turned into 35mm film. Srdjan Spasojevic’s contribution revels in the icky and you can feel the grossness of this segment hanging over you. It’s a real innovative vision that pushes you to places you never knew you wanted to go.
15. “The Gas Station” (from Body Bags)
Directed by John Carpenter
“The Gas Station” is a master class in building tension and suspense with John Carpenter being one of the best at developing set-pieces around such things. Here a lonely female employee must man the gas station, her place of work, by herself as reports of an escaped serial killer wrack her brain.
Every moment in the first half of this story is misdirection as the employee’s fear continues to get the best of her, turning molehills into mountains in the most believable way. Each customer is a new possible threat until they aren’t. This “girl who cried wolf” structure works so well that when the danger finally does make an appearance, it’s built a strong protagonist to fall back on. Also, it just gives me geeky bliss that this incident is all taking place within the little hamlet of Haddonfield, Illinois.
14. “L is for Libido” (from The ABCs of Death)
Directed by Timo Tjahjanto
When The ABCs of Death announced itself, it sounded incredibly ambitious. The film would contain 26 horror shorts by 26 different directors, with each of them taking a different letter of the alphabet. The results, as you’d imagine, are fantastically diverse, with you not only getting many different takes on horror, but also the surprise of how each letter is approached. “L is for Libido” is certainly one of the showier segments from the lot and could almost function as a sizzle reel for the film at large.
You’re thrown into some sort of sexual contest that smothers you in sexuality before giving you a chaser of gushing violence (it’s easy to see how Tjahjanto is half of the team responsible for V/H/S 2’s insane “Safe Haven” piece). There’s a relentless pacing to the story too that seems like its aim is to waste as many bodies as possible. A ridiculous segment that you won’t soon forget.
13. “The Raft” (from Creepshow 2)
Directed by Michael Gornick
Creepshow 2 unfortunately doesn’t hold a candle to its predecessor (although it’s leagues better than the direct-to-video Creepshow III, which might in fact be the worst horror anthology film ever), but it’s almost made into a redeemable experience due to the segment entitled “The Raft.”
The simple story sees four teenagers stranded on a dock-like raft in the middle of the water with a somewhat sentient oil slick destroying everything it comes in contact with. The bizarre story works due to not trying to explain itself, but rather reveling in the horror of being trapped like these teens. A great sense of dwindling odds is established here by director Michael Gornick, and the story is tremendously aided by just how god awful the oil slick/blob monster’s murders are. It’s absolutely gruesome, disgusting work that instantly makes you respect this threat rather than focusing on how silly it is.
12. “Cat From Hell” (from Tales from the Darkside: The Movie)
Directed by John Harrison
Tales from the Darkside’s “Cat from Hell” is likely such a standout segment due to its script being penned by George A. Romero (and adapted from a Stephen King story, no less), and everyone is really giving it their all here too. The short sees an elderly man hiring an assassin to take out a black cat, and while the hired hand may scoff at the job initially, he soon sees that he’s got his work is cut out for him.
Romero’s script is wonderful—no question—but the set piece of the cat crawling into the assassin’s mouth to kill him is straight up insane and masterfully conceived. The only thing better is seeing him get out.
11. “The Misbehavers” (from Four Rooms)
Directed by Robert Rodriguez
While “The Misbehavers” is far from the scariest piece on the list here, it might end up being my favorite one in the end just due to the wildly unassuming nature of it. There’s no other segment on this list that completely flips from the extremes of bewildering hilarity to dismal terror in a fraction of a second, and “The Misbehavers” pulls it off with aplomb.
Rodriguez’s contribution in the hotel-based anthology (which was doing a hotel-based anthology before it was cool, American Horror Story) takes Tim Roth’s bellhop character—the glue of the picture—and puts him in charge of babysitting two rapscallions that are the children of a very intimidating Antonio Banderas character. While humor is much of the short’s priority, there is an underlying vein of tension and darkness that continues to swell through the whole thing, culminating in a truly perfect ending that cannot go spoiled.
10. “Quartier de la Madeleine” (from Paris Je t’aime)
Directed by Vincenzo Natali
It’s a little surprising that an anthology film that has a segment from Wes Craven in it still bestows the title of “scariest short” to another director. Yet, Vincenzo Natali has steadily proven his name in that area with his recent work on the final season of Hannibal being a grand indication of what he’s capable of doing.
Here, in a piece that’s entirely bereft of dialogue, a lonely man played by Elijah Wood tries to attract the attention of a comely vampire, personified by Olga Kurylenko. He wants to be turned into what she is, but his attempts go terribly awry in the best possible way. Natali also shoots the piece with an incredibly muted color palette so when blood is spilled, it looks ultra vibrant and full of the life that these creatures associate it with.
9. “They’re Creeping Up On You” (from Creepshow)
Directed by George A. Romero
A germophobe’s worst nightmare, “They’re Creeping Up On You” depicts a very Howard Hughes like individual slowly losing his mind over meticulousness in his hermetically sealed bubble of an apartment. A cockroach infestation would be a bad day for anyone, but for this individual, it might literally be his hell. You truly get a sense of how pained and uncomfortable this guy is through all of this as he battles for cleanliness, and the final reveal of where the cockroaches have gone is one of the more upsetting visuals to come out of the entire movie.
8. The Eye” (from Body Bags)
Directed by Tobe Hooper
Body Bags is a weird movie due to the bonkers “host” of the film that John Carpenter plays; he’s one part Crypt Keeper and two parts the Genie from Aladdin. Bizarre hamminess in the framing device aside, there’s some great stuff hiding in here if you give it a chance.
“The Eye” sports an incredible performance from Mark Hamill as he brings a mediocre story to scary heights. Hamill plays a baseball legend whose career is cut short prematurely after he loses an eye in an accident. A transplant miraculously comes along, but as you might suspect our hero soon starts adopting the homicidal tendencies that its former owner was so driven by. The story moves much how you’d expect, but the practical gore work that’s done to Hamill is amazing and the perfect extra dose of insanity to an already unhinged performance.
7. “…And All Through the House” (from Tales From the Crypt)
Directed by Freddie Francis
Before Tales From the Crypt was creating anthology madness on HBO in the ‘90s, it was one of Amicus’ better British horror films from the ‘70s ruling the subgenre. Pulling from EC Comics for its inspiration, this film highlights a number of the choice stories from that illustrated line.
The “homicidal Santa” concept is a fascinating one due to its utter simplicity of perverting this deified figure. The story is strengthened by the family in peril having their own crimes to hide too, and therefore not contacting the police for help. There’s a real ferocity in how this story’s presented and its unwillingness to hold back. It’s an idea that’s so effective that the Tales From the Crypt television series would take their own crack at it (and directed by Robert Zemeckis, no less).
6. “Amelia” (from Trilogy of Terror)
Directed by Dan Curtis
Trilogy of Terror is a rather interesting anthology that acts as a starring vehicle for Karen Black, who plays a woman in distress in all three segments. While the other two are largely forgettable, “Amelia” is deeply unsettling, and I was not surprised to learn that there’s a deep well of people who had once seen this piece, with certain visuals sticking in their mind, but not realizing that they had watched it.
The short (which feels more like a haunting one-woman play) depicts Black picking up a Zuni, voodoo-like sort of doll as a gift. However, upon bringing the trinket home, it comes to life and begins terrorizing her. Richard Matheson’s legendary script work helps elevate “Amelia” into a larger meditation on mental illness, but at its core it’s just frightening watching a woman get attacked by a tiny predator. Even the noises that the creature makes are bloodcurdling.
Plenty of the attack scenes are full of scary stuff, but the crowning moment is no doubt the piece’s conclusion. Black channels some powerful stuff as you see her taken over by the figurine’s spirit, with the final images of her being as powerful as the closing shot in Body Snatchers or A Clockwork Orange.
5. “The Drop of Water” (from Black Sabbath)
Directed by Mario Bava
Before “Black Sabbath” was blaring out of your ear buds, it was some cutting edge and influential Italian horror cinema. “The Drop of Water” is no doubt the most chilling segment from the film, which looks at a woman who steals a ring from a corpse that is about to be buried. The ensuing haunting is very effective work, and you’d never think that you’d be so frightened from the sound of dripping water (seriously). The minimalist work done here by Bava is great, but it’s the work that’s done on the relentless corpse that’s the true masterpiece. They don’t rot them like that anymore!
4. “Sweet Tooth” (from Tales of Halloween)
Directed by Dave Parker
Tales of Halloween crams 10 stories into its runtime with the results being considerably mixed. Indeed, the level of quality between shorts fluctuates wildly at all times. But Dave Parker presents a scary and concise segment with “Sweet Tooth,” giving us a modern Halloween urban legend about a candy-craving youth who died and is out on a rampage.
The strengths in “Sweet Tooth” don’t lie in the monster effects (which isn’t to say that Sweet Tooth isn’t sufficiently frightening), but rather the messed up concept of this monster being so hungry for candy that he’ll literally rip out your intestines to get every last piece. That is a terrifying idea and one that will now hopefully pop into your head next time you’re chowing down on Mars Bars.
3. “The School Bus Massacre Revisited” (from Trick ‘r Treat)
Directed by Michael Dougherty
Michael Dougherty created something special with Trick ‘r Treat. And that confidence applies not only to the film’s macabre unofficial mascot, Sam, but also to the sheer unflinching nature that all of the stories in this anthology operate with. Any of the shorts contained here would be suitable additions to this list, but there’s something particularly chilling about the utter callousness of “The School Bus Massacre Revisited.”
While the other segments may showcase big moments like werewolf transformations and poisonings (and granted, this one still does have a ghost attack from the undead), the most disturbing thing out of the whole film is probably the story presented here where a bunch of parents paid to have their mentally challenged children drowned in a bus crash to “relieve them of their burden.” The segment hits all of its marks, and the way in which this piece connects to the rest of the larger narrative is inspired. Now, if only that long-gestating sequel could get into production.
2. “B-17” (from Heavy Metal)
Directed by Barrie Nelson
Heavy Metal might not have been your first thought when you came to this list, but after watching Nelson’s “B-17,” I defy you to tell me that it doesn’t belong on here. First off, the thing is written by Alien’s Dan O’Bannon, and that alone should give it the horror cred necessary to get you off its back.
Furthermore, “B-17” is a fun and creative take on zombies, and the Heavy Metal universe is a great place to explore the concept. The titular B-17 bomber’s dead crew being brought back to life as the undead is effectively done, but seeing the bomber end up in the airplane graveyard during the closing moments is an even more devastating visual. This is just such a slick piece to watch, with the soundtrack only adding to all of this.
1. “Ventriloquist’s Dummy” (from Dead of Night)
Directed by Alberto Cavalcanti
You’re probably not familiar with Dead of Night. And if not, it’s time to change that. This is even one of Scorsese’s favorite horror films, and do you think you’re better than him?
No matter what, however, it’s likely that you are still familiar with the “Ventriloquist’s Dummy” story from this movie. Largely seen as the archetype for the “killer dummy” category of horror, not only does this piece pull off the dummy effects well, and inject the right amount of creepiness, it also immediately ditches the typical conventions in this sort of story and puts everything on the table from the start. It’s one of the better dummy stories out there, and the fact that it’s also one of the earliest ones is proof of its power.
Also worth your time: “The Tunnel” (from Akira Kurosawa’s Dreams), “Drawn and Quartered” (from The Vault of Horror); “S is for Split” (from The ABCs of Death 2); “The Man Who Collected Poe” (from The Torture Garden); “The Case of M. Valdemar” (from Tales of Terror); “The Ledge” (from Stephen King’s Cat’s Eye); “Hoichi the Earless” (from Kwaiden); and Federico Fellini’s “Toby Dammit” (from Spirits of the Dead).
You now have all of the necessary weapons in your arsenal to form quite the formidable horror mix tape. Also, with it seeming like there will be no short supply of content to add to this list in the coming years, why not curate your own to perfection? You can group the similarly themed ones together, arrange them chronologically, place them from least goriest to hemophiliac massacre, and create any other combination that leads to a terrifying Halloween viewing party.
So how about it? What are your favorite horror anthology segments that didn’t make the cut?
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