When you go camping with friends, you don’t let one of your friends recite an hour-and-a-half long monologue about a ghost they saw when they were a Boy Scout. You take turns around the campfire, each of your buds sharing a story unique to them, their culture, or their temperament.
In this spirit, horror filmmakers sometimes join forces to create anthology movies. These films tell not one story, but three or more separate fantastical tales, occasionally woven together by a “frame narrative.” The film can have multiple directors or writers (The ABCs of Death is comprised of 26 short films from 26 writers and directors) or just one, but the goal is always the same: to recreate the experience of communal story-telling with spooky and scary shorts to tell in the dark.
Whether you’re new to the prospect or already a fan of anthology classics, these films are sure to delight and shock you. Here are Screen Rant’s 13 Best Horror Anthology Movies Of All Time.
After Paranormal Activity, the dust settled, and horror filmmakers realized once more the untapped potential of the found-footage genre. The hit-or-miss V/H/S answers the question “what if found footage was applied to an anthology film?”
The frame narrative had a lot of potential, involving friends sneaking into a house to rob it and finding a pile of cursed VHS tapes. When played, they witness five stories which we, the audience, become privy to. Of course, viewing the tapes has consequences.
Unfortunately this narrative framing doesn’t deliver on its premise and squanders its scares, as do some of the shorts. That’s one potential drawback of hiring several directors and writers: it is tough to create cohesion and often, some segments will overshadow others. And though V/H/S gathered some well-known talent, like Adam Wingard, Ti West, and Joe Swanberg, the best short isn’t from any of them.
In V/H/S, the stand-out is the first short, called “Amateur Night”, and it makes full use of found-footage to craft its scares and comedic moments. Director and writer David Bruckner also worked on another film to make this list, Southbound. Ti West’s “Second Honeymoon” is aptly both the second best short and the second to appear in the film.
Though V/H/S doesn’t fully deliver, and there is a drop off in quality with each of the five shorts, it is leagues above both of its sequels, V/H/S/2 and the horrible V/H/S: Viral.
12 Tales of Terror
We are going back to 1962 with B-movie mogul Roger Corman’s Tales of Terror. This horror classic features three shorts, each based on a different Edgar Allen Poe story. It is the fourth film directed by Roger Corman that is based on Poe stories, and stands among one his best.
One of the biggest reasons for Tales of Terror’s fame is the cast, which features Peter Lorre, Vincent Price, and Basil Rathbone. Price stars in not one, but all three of the shorts, as well as narrates the entire piece.
While the film is a little bit trashier than die-hard Poe fans might hope, those who are Roger Corman fans will get exactly what they want. Corman isn’t the greatest director to tackle Poe’s impressionistic and macabre writing; his versions of the stories are simply absurd and lack a grand metaphor. But it’s just so great to see Price, Rathbone, and Lorre delving into the poet’s great work that this film earns a spot on our list.
11 Cat's Eye
Stephen King made a return to horror anthology in 1985 with Cat’s Eye. Based on two of his short stories, and featuring one entirely original King tale, Cat’s Eye is strung together only by the presence of a travelling alley cat voiced by Frank Welker.
The shorts are sort of disjointed, the first a chilling tale called “Quitters, Inc.” that is reminiscent of Thinner and many other King shorts. It’s dark and twisted, with some superb King-isms. The second short, “The Ledge”, has tense moments, but like a character in it, falls flat. Finally, “General” is both silly and a bit creepy, elevated by a great performance from a young Drew Barrymore.
Cat’s Eye is fun, but there are better anthology films to start with if you’re just checking out the genre.
The most recent film on this list, Southbound saw limited release earlier this year. A road-trip horror anthology, the movie features five shorts that intertwine on a never-ending road on a long desert day.
After the success of V/H/S, several of the filmmakers wished to collaborate again in a new way: Southbound is the result of said collaboration. Unlike the mixed V/H/S, every short in Southbound is not only stylistically impressive, but also gets under your skin.
These aren’t the jump scares of their previous work, but eerie moments and slow builds that form a cohesive and strong feature narrative among the shorts. Southbound is one of the best recent entries that the anthology genre has to offer.
9 Night Gallery
The more supernatural cousin to Twilight Zone, Night Gallery is another Rod Serling creation that inspired dozens if not hundreds of modern genre directors. Night Gallery often featured adaptations of horror short stories, including those of H.P. Lovecraft. The show’s pilot episode was a made-for-TV movie and, incredibly, the directorial debut of none other than Steven Spielberg.
Although this “film” is technically a pilot, Night Gallery’s first episode was comprised of three shorts and lasted an hour-and-a-half so it is a fitting addition to this list. The film starts in an art gallery, where Serling introduces the audience to three separate paintings that each tell a story of vengeance against evil.
The first short, “Cemetery”, is good fun, and the third short, “The Escape Route”, is handled well by a capable young Spielberg, but it is the second short, “Eyes”, that is the one worth singling out. Starring Joan Crawford as a blind woman who will do anything to see, “Eyes” makes great use of Spielberg’s eye for graphic violence and understated character work.
Night Gallery is a solid anthology film on its own, but it is also a testament to Spielberg’s talent as a director even when he was still untested.
8 Tales From the Darkside: The Movie
Based on the anthology TV series created by George Romero, Tales from the Darkside: The Movie was long-rumored to be a second sequel to the beloved Creepshow. While it certainly shares similarities in tone with Romero’s other anthology films, there is no actual evidence to support the claim.
Tales from the Darkside is comprised of three shorts and compact narrative to frame them all. The first short, "Lot 249", is by far the weakest story, a revenge-of-the-nerds tale that goes nowhere. However, it includes the talents of young Julianne Moore, Steve Buscemi, and Christian Slater, making it worth watching. "The Cat From Hell" is delightfully silly and based on a short by former Romero collaborator Stephen King. The final short, "Lover’s Vow" is our personal favorite: a strange and haunting Japanese folklore-inspired love story.
In most anthology films, the framing narrative is simply a means to an end, but in Tales from the Darkside, the story of a young Timmy held hostage by a witch that plans to eat him perfectly establishes the tone of the stories to be told. Timmy begs the witch not to cook him, distracting her with stories that he has heard. It’s simple, yet incredibly effective.
7 Black Sabbath
The original title of this 1963 Italian horror anthology was The Three Faces of Fear. Following the trend in Italian cinema at the time, the film was shot at a low-budget and featured a largely international cast. This cast included Boris Karloff as the narrator (and a small cameo appearance), taking the audience through three separate stories of horror and woe.
The short “The Drop of Water” is our personal favorite, a highly intelligent and creepy tale. Still, both “The Telephone” and “The Wurdalak” have their moments. Each tale was directed by French-Italian horror legend Mario Bava (I Vampiri) and his flair for the genre elevates the script, making this one of the great classic anthologies.
The movie would make this list on merit alone, but it can’t go without mentioning that this film inspired the name of one of heavy metal’s most famous rock bands, as well as the structure for one of Tarantino’s best: Pulp Fiction. That’s right, without Black Sabbath we wouldn’t be able to listen to Valhalla or watch John Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson talk about cheeseburgers.
6 Tales from the Crypt
Another anthology film based on a horror television series, Tales from the Crypt was hardly an original concept. That fact does not make it any less of a classic in our eyes.
The film was produced by Amicus Productions, a sci-fi and horror company which led the pack on anthology films. Prior to Tales from the Crypt, they produced Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors, Torture Garden, and The House that Dripped Blood. Based on several stories from the EC Comics bi-monthly issue of the same name, Tales from the Crypt features the perfectly creepy narrator of the Crypt Keeper, a skeleton that enjoys a good story as much as an evil curse.
The shorts are all wonderfully campy and just scary enough, though “Wish You Were Here” is perhaps the strongest of the five. A star-studded 70s cast plus the fact that this film helped to kick-start what was then called “portmanteau” horror make this film a must-have in any anthology fans library.
5 Twilight Zone: The Movie
Rod Serling’s classic anthology television show is without a doubt one of the most significant works of science fiction. It ran for 5 seasons from 1959 to 1964 with 156 episodes, each telling a different short story ranging from purely scientific to incredibly fantastical. The stories often told a moral lesson, featured political allegory, or just really creeped us out.
Aside from being revived in 1985 and in 2002, The Twilight Zone was also spun-off into a film, Twilight Zone: The Movie. The list of directors alone would make any child of the 80s shriek with glee. John Landis, Steven Spielberg, Joe Dante, and George Miller each directed a short part of the film, comprised of remakes of famous Twilight Zone episodes.
Landis directs the first short “Time Out,” which the weakest of the remakes, but the introduction was also his, and it is significantly better. Simply a conversation between Albert Brooks and John Belushi, their comedic abilities help make the rote traveling scene shine, and the fourth-wall breaking is unnecessary but fun.
Spielberg’s short is a low-point for the director, not a particularly interesting or compelling tale. Dante and Miller are the true directorial stars here, with their adaptations of “It’s a Good Life” and “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet” respectively. Dante applies his dark-comedy chops to the famous Twilight Zone episode, using a Hollywood budget to improve the short just enough to make it worth watching. Miller smartly recasts the William Shatner role from the original with John Lithgow to great effect.
Despite the film’s infamy regarding film’s standards and practices (two child actors were killed in a helicopter accident during the filming of Landis' segment), it holds up as a solid tribute to the fantastic anthology series and certainly deserves a spot on this list.
4 Body Bags
Originally intended to be an anthology television series for Showtime, John Carpenter’s Body Bags was later rejected by the network. Three completed sample shorts were then compiled into a made for television anthology movie, the spectacular film we have today.
Body Bags is notable for featuring an insane amount of horror legend cameos. Sam Raimi, Greg Nicotero, Roger Corman, and Wes Craven all have bit parts over the course of the film. Directors Carpenter and Tobe Hooper also have small roles, Carpenter narrating the entire piece.
Gratuitous (and amazing) appearances aside, each short is scary, gory, and just the right about of campy. Our personal favorite is “Eye”, which features Mark Hamill as a baseball player with an eye that has more control over him than he does of it. Guess he shouldn’t have gotten an eye transplanted from a dead serial killer.
3 Three... Extremes
Three… Extremes is nothing like the campy anthology films of the 1970s and 80s. The three shorts are connected not by a framing device, but simply their gruesome and disturbing deaths and character situations.
The first short comes from China’s Fruit Chan and is titled “Dumplings.” Not much can be said without spoiling it and your appetite for the next week. Chan later adapted the lauded short into a feature film of the same name.
The second short is from South Korea’s Park Chan-wook (Snowpiercer, Oldboy) and is just as sadistically comic as we’ve come to expect from Park. Dubbed “Cut,” it is about a director forced to play a series of terrifying games by an angry extra. Things get messy.
The final short is called “Box” and is directed by Japan’s Takashi Miike (Full Metal Yakuza, Thirteen Assassins). It’s a nightmarish film with a terrific twist. In Three… Extremes, there does not need to be a thread between each short because each is such standalone perfection. The movie also acts as a great introduction to Asian horror cinema and is a necessary addition to any horror fan's watchlist.
2 Trick ‘r Treat
Director Michael Dougherty recently released Krampus, a terrifying Christmas treat for those who avoid the typical holiday fare. But years before the wide-released star-studded scream fest, Dougherty got his hands dirty (with fake blood) while writing and directing Trick ‘r Treat.
The film follows four separate tales that all intertwine on the night of Halloween in the fictional Warren Valley. Tales with murder, pumpkins, ghosts, and werewolves of course. With a cast that includes Dylan Baker and Anna Paquin, it’s surprising the film did so poorly upon release. Dougherty manages to bring the laughs and the scares in equal quantity and quality throughout each separate tale and expertly connects them in a gory finale. Cult horror fans will agree: Trick ‘r Treat is the perfect film to watch when October 31st comes by again.
When you ask a seasoned horror fan to recommend an anthology film, Creepshow is the movie that immediately comes to mind. A solid collaboration between George Romero and Stephen King, Creepshow features five alternating spooky and silly tales.
One highlight includes Stephen King’s acting debut as a man named Jordy Verrill who touches a meteorite and slowly becomes a sort of plant monster. It plays out exactly as you would expect, and King delivers a delightfully bad and schlocky performance. Other stand-out moments are the twists in the shorts “The Crate” and “Father’s Day,” both of which are more ‘creepy’ than King’s starring-vehicle.
Romero’s idea for Creepshow was to mimic the horror comics and serials that both he and King grew up reading. The stories are book-ended by freeze-frames that turn the stills into comic book pages. This touch, along with an excellent grouping of shorts from King, put Creepshow at the top of our list.
Can you think of any other anthology films that should be here? Let us know in the comments!