We celebrate Halloween with ten of the scariest horror film anthologies to ever crawl out of the crypt!
This month we looked at a selection of modern horror anthologies. We cap off October with our selection of the ten best collections of the strange, the weird, and the macabre. From silent film classics to modern masterpieces, we’ve got plenty of nightmare fuel to keep you up at night.
10. Tales From the Hood (1995)
Three gang members try to score drugs from a mortician who found them on the body of another gang rival who he is preparing for burial. The mortician leads them deeper into the mortuary, telling them several ghastly stories before revealing his sinister, true identity.
Tales from the Hood blends farce with social commentary in a surprisingly effective concoction. The scares don’t come from the cheesey gore and monsters, but from the allusions to real world terrors like police violence, domestic abuse, and gang violence. More than just an urban flavored take on the campy formula of Tales from the Crypt, Tales from the Hood creates its own identity.
9. Southbound (2015)
Two men fleeing a violent crime are pursued by hellish creatures. Their story intersects with other travelers through the badlands, each running from their own demons.
This short came from the film-making collective that also fielded the V/H/S series of horror anthologies. V/H/S had some high points, and was much more graphic in its blood letting, but Southbound is the superior anthology. The stories flow seamlessly into each other and inform the unstated themes and images that populate the collection. Soutbound begs to be re-watched again and again.
8. Tales from the Darkside: The Movie (1990)
A suburban houswife (and secret witch) is planning on throwing a dinner party, with young Timmy as the main course. He stalls for time by telling her three scary stories from his book, Tales from the Darkside.
This subversive film treatment of George A Romero’s TV series draws from strong source material. The first short, featuring a celebrity packed cast, is adapted from Arthur Conan Doyle. The second sees Romero adapt Stephen King’s short story The Cat From Hell. The final segment is a riff on classic Japanese ghost stories (which we’ll get more of in our later pick, Kwaidan) starring Rae Dawn Chong in an impressively macabre role. Book-ending these tales is a tongue-in-cheek frame narrative as Timmy turns the tables on his captor while breaking the 4th wall. Apart or as a whole, the film delivers across the board.
7. Three Extremes (2004)
Three of East Asia’s best directors take a stab at creating gruesome, short horror films.
This entry is not for those faint of heart or squicky of stomach. The first is Hong Kong phenom Fruit Chan’s story, Dumpling, about a woman’s desperate quest for eternal youth…which features dumplings filled with horrifying contents. From South Korean auteur Park Chan Wook (Oldboy, The Handmaiden) comes a SAW-esque story where a demented actor tortures a big shot director with a ghastly set-up. Finally, blood-soaked indie sensation Takashi Miike (Izo, Blade of the Immortal) tells a disturbing tale of twin sisters who perform in a circus and vie for the favor of their benefactor with terrible results.
The three vignettes ooze style…and plenty of viscera. I was actually surprised that Miike gets out-gored by Park Chan Wook, who holds nothing back in his short film. There’s no framing narrative, just three debauched tales bearing the stamps of three talented directors.
6. Creepshow (1982)
A young boy (Joe King, aka future horror novelist Joe Hill) plots revenge on his domineering father for taking away his collection of horror comics, titled Creepshow.
Creepshow is a gift for a very specific recipient: those who loved the irreverent and gross-out horror comics of the 1940-50’s, popularized in pulp comics from EC. Each vignette is a story from the fictitious “Creepshow” comic, capturing the body horror, cackling villains, and creepy schadenfreude of the genre.
The shorts, written by Stephen King and directed by George A Romero, vary in quality, but all have that gleeful spite that characterized EC’s fright-fests. A few diamonds stand out for devotees, such as Leslie Nielsen‘s sadistic turn as a jilted husband and the gonzo creature effects of the last short, They’re Creeping Up On You.
5. Waxworks (1924)
A writer is hired to write up the stories for the star attractions at an eccentric man’s wax doll museum. As he crafts their stories, they come to life in his mind…and perhaps in the real world too.
Some of the most terrifying films of all time came out of the early German Expressionist movement. The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. The Man Who Laughs. Nosferatu. You can add Waxwork to that list of chilling silent films.
The three stories run the gamut of genres – the first is an Arabian Nights style fantasy, the second is an Edgar Alan Poe-esque tale of madness and revenge, and the final is a pure horror flick about Jack the Ripper. Each deploys striking imagery and sinister characters to great effect. Director Paul Leni‘s tragically short career yielded tremendous films such as The Man Who Laughs, The Cat and the Canary, and this gem.
4. Tales of Terror (1962)
Famed genre director Roger Corman indulges his Edgar Alan Poe mania further by adapting several short stories form Poe, with the help of horror icon Vincent Price.
I grew up absolutely enamored of the Poe adaptations from Roger Corman. Next to the Sherlock Holmes films featuring Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce, these were my favorite black-and-white films. Boy was I delighted to find that Corman had made an anthology of Poe’s shorter works with both Vincent Price AND Basil Rathbone starring in it!
Price stars in all three, and is perfectly suited to each film’s tone. He goes from haunted and despicable, to lecherous and despicable, to tormented and pitiable. In that last one, Rathbone gets to play the despicable one. The crown jewel is Corman marrying together Poe’s The Black Cat and The Cask of Amontillado, where a depraved Peter Lorre bricks up the amorous Price in an underground tomb.
The other shorts are strong, but feel a little more like gimmicky ghost stories than a fully fleshed out tale of terror. All around, a great collection for fans of Poe that should act a springboard to see Corman’s other adaptations (The Pit and the Pendulum being a particular favorite.)
3. Tales from the Crypt (1972)
Five short horror stories from the pages of EC Comic’s flagship horror magazines come to life as five strangers become lost in a haunted catacomb, only to be greeted by the macabre Crypt Keeper.
This is the archetype horror anthology everyone knows by heart…even if they’ve never seen it. It is the progenitor of the “Tales from the…” genre, and curried enough interest to revive EC’s horror stories in a popular HBO TV series and a pair of Hollywood movies, Bordello of Blood and Demon Knight.
Unlike Creepshow, Tales from the Crypt is less interested in ghastly jokes, hewing closer to pure horror stories. It retains the genre’s love of ironic and fittingly gruesome deaths as a punishment for misdeeds. A strong cast featuring Joan Collins and Peter Cushing help bring the tales to life. Freddie Francis, whose resume reads like a veritable What’s What of 1970’s B-movie horror classics, directs the shorts with a steady eye towards getting the most screams from each. An often overlooked classic.
2. Twilight Zone: The Movie (1983)
Episodes from the seminal anthology series, The Twilight Zone, are recreated for the big screen with an all-star cast.
The Twilight Zone is an institution unto itself. The books and black-and-white series defined science fiction and the supernatural for a generation. It’s no wonder Jordan Peele is bringing it back to delight and terrify another generation.
This collection takes three of the best known episodes of the series, plus a fourth original short, and gives them a big budget treatment. Giant directors like John Landis, Steven Spielberg and Joe Dante helm the shorts, which are packed with talent like John Lithgow, Kathleen Quinlan, Dan Aykroyd and Scatman Crothers. They mix fantasy, science fiction, and good old creature feature scares. Lithgow’s ferocious performance as the only person who can see a creature tearing apart the engines of a passenger plane is legendary. The visual elements of the film are superb. This anthology is required viewing for fans of the genre.
1. Kwaidan (1964)
Kwaidan, “Ghost Stories” brings together four classic Japanese folk stories about ghosts and the supernatural.
You don’t have to be interested in horror to appreciate this classic of Japanese Cinema. Director Masaki Koayashi uses color in his short films to recreate the texture of Japanese artwork and to create an otherworldly glow to his pieces. Each is filled with arresting imagery, fantastic sets, gorgeous color, and restrained performances.
The film won critical praise and numerous awards around the world, including a nomination for Best Foreign Film at the Oscars. Some of the stories, especially the final short (In a Cup of Tea), are a touch opaque even for those who’ve read the ghost stories these are adapted from, but each leaves a lasting visual impression. Kwaidan effectively raised traditional ghost stories to high art in this beautiful horror anthology.