Anthology films are feature lengths made up of several different short films, usually three or four. They’re more often than not connected by a single narrative, also known as a “frame story,” that introduces the shorts and concludes the film. A “horror anthology” film is this but with lots more blood. After all, what’s better than one scary movie? A bunch of scary movies tied in one neat package.
The earliest cinematic horror anthology is the 1924 silent film Waxworks, in which a poet conjures different stories in a wax museum. The tradition has continued, with some of the best received horror films of recent years being anthology based. It’s a sub-genre I’m a bit of a sucker for – even the bad ones still feel like reading a cheesy comic book. We present, our top ten horror anthologies of all time.
One of the more recent entries on this list, and one that got the horror community talking when it was released in 2012. The central story is about crooks who break into a house in search of a tape, and come across a series of strange recordings. Some of the stories are definitely better than others, my personal favourite being the body horror inspired The Sick Thing That Happened To Emily When She Was Younger. While the shaky-cam found footage style might not be to everyone’s taste, it’s an interesting concept and one of the more original offering in recent years.
9. Deadtime Stories
In this low-budget 1986 anthology, Uncle Mike tells three horror-fueled stories to his insomniac nephew, Brian. Each tale is a gored-up version of a classic story, including Little Red Riding Hood and Goldilocks. Despite the low budget, the film is genuinely funny and contains some awesome effects and creature designs. It’s not one of the most widely remembered, and it’s very obvious it came from the eighties, but it’s worth checking out.
8. From a Whisper to a Scream
Featuring Vincent Price in one of his last roles, From a Whisper to a Scream contains four tales that all take place in the small town of Oldfield, Tennessee. In the frame story, Price plays a historian whose niece was a female serial killer recently executed in prison. A journalist visits White to get an inside scoop on the killer, and White tells the journalist four stories illustrating the evil within Oldfield. Necrophilia, dangerous Civil War orphans, and voodoo all play a part in this movie. And you can’t really go wrong with Vincent Price anyways.
7. Tales from the Crypt
Featuring a not-yet decomposed Crypt Keeper, this British film is one of the first to depict the spooky stories of E.C. Comics. Five strangers are told of the bizarre, often sinister ways in which they die. With a couple shocking moments and updated variations of classic folktales, “Tales From the Crypt” remains one of film’s most popular horror anthology franchises. Peter Cushing stars in the third segment, “Poetic Justice,” as a sympathetic animal lover driven to suicide by his neighbours. This one remains a classic.
6. The ABCs of Death
ABCs of Death is an interesting one. There’s twenty six chapters, each taking the form of a brutal death for each letter of the alphabet. A wide variety of horror directors came on board with the project, and letter T was opened up to a public competition. It’s a great concept, and there’s a lot of variety in the shorts. Even if you don’t like one, they’re all under four minutes – and theres some great original stuff in there. X is for XXL, D is for Dogfight and Q is for Quack are among my personal highlights.
5. Dead of Night
Perhaps the grandaddy of all horror anthology films (at the time referred to as – portmanteau), “Dead of Night” set the standard for the genre in 1945 with its tale of an architect who feels uneasy as his half-remembered recurring dream turns into reality, while guests at a country house take turns telling supernatural tales. A game of hide and seek, a strange mirror, and a Ventriloquist’s dummy turn out to be things of nightmares.
4. The House that Dripped Blood
Written by Robert Bloch (Psycho) and featuring horror greats Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing, The House That Dripped Blood is one of the many British horror anthologies released by Amicus Productions in the ’60s and ’70s. The frame concerns a film star who vanishes shortly after renting an infamous country house. When Inspector Holloway of Scotland Yard is sent to investigate, he learns of the house’s evil history. Four tales follow, the best being “Sweets for the Sweet,” featuring Lee. Despite its memorable title, not one drop of blood appears in the entire film.
3. Black Sabbath
Mario Bava’s “Black Sabbath” is a classic work of Italian horror cinema. It is a truly frightening trio of atmospheric horror tales, hosted by Boris Karloff, who also stars in the film’s final segment, The Wurdalak, an example of gothic vampire horror at its best. The first segment, “The Telephone,” will make anyone with a jilted ex change their number.
One of the more original films inspired by the E.C. comics of the 1950s was this classic horror anthology collaboration from genre masters George A. Romero and Stephen King. The movie features great stories that are strange, scary, and funny, perfecting the pulpy comic book aesthetic for a fun and memorable fright fest.
1. Trick R Treat
Michael Dougherty unfortunately never saw a theatrical release for Trick ‘r Treat, but it swiftly gained immense popularity through word-of-mouth, blogs, and its long-coming DVD release in 2009. It’s the perfect Halloween film. It contains no hard frame story, but all of the stories are linked by the presence of Sam, a trick-or-treater in a burlap sack and orange pajamas. Sam eerily weaves in and out of the stories until his spotlight in the tale with Brian Cox, “Meet Sam.” It’s really fun, gross, scary and happened to come out at a perfect time for 20-somethings feeling nostalgic for Are You Afraid of the Dark.