Almost without exception, horror anthology movies require a creative genius. We’re talking about movies that endeavor to tell a series of engaging, self-contained stories that must also contribute to a common theme. It is economics in storytelling to the extreme. Most of these movies are 100 minutes or less. More often than not, they can contain anywhere from 3-5 stories. The best horror anthology movies will hit you hard with one tale after another. Each one will build on not only a consistent narrative thread, but on your ability to sustain one dread-inducing horror story after another. It’s not an easy feat.
There are dozens of anthology horror movies. Only a few can qualify as the best anthology horror films of all time. Again, it isn’t easy to juggle multiple stories with running times that leave little margin for error.
We love those anthologies for whatever reason explains our love of hearing several horror stories in a row. Horror sometimes speaks to our need to push ourselves. It could be argued that anthologies appeal to our desire to see just how much we can take. After all, who only wants to hear one ghost story around the campfire? No one. That’s silly. Anthology horror can be brutal, but it’s still easier to digest than a single movie assaulting our senses at a blistering pace over a longer period of time.
At least, that’s the theory.
And keep in mind that this list of tales of terror is ranked chronologically. #1 isn’t necessarily the best anthology horror movie ever made.
The Best Horror Anthology Movies
1. Black Sabbath (1963)
Without question one of the innovators that served to establish the format in the first place.
Black Sabbath also benefits by the living, spectral presence of Boris Karloff, who introduces each story. “The Drop of Water”, a chilling story of the consequences of greed, is arguably the best of the three tales.
Watch if: You want to watch a true classic of Italian horror and anthology horror. Avoid if: You find old movies to be too creaky to take seriously.
Kwaidan is perhaps the most elegant entry on this list. Just don’t think that it sacrifices horror or brutality to achieve that. Certainly, this seminal Japanese horror movie classic is artfully staged and shot with a magnificent, unique eye for detail.
Kwaidan takes its time with its four tales, each based on the writings of Lafcadio Hearn, allowing for the characters and stories to each reach a satisfying, often chilling conclusion. All of these stories are as beautiful as they are haunting, with “The Woman of the Snow” being a particular standout.
You will also want to keep in mind that this movie is 182 minutes long.
Watch if: You want to see one of the most visually-stunning horror movies of all time. Avoid if: You don’t have three hours to spare.
A mysterious fortune teller doles out some bad news to a bunch of folks in Dr. Terror’s House of Horror. Even if the title strikes you as a bit silly, this is a fast-paced, unsettling, and exceedingly entertaining collection of five stories.
While stories like Werewolf and Disembodied Hand may offer fairly simple plots, they have a lot to offer in how well they are told, how beautifully they are staged and shot, and how much fun it is to have actors like Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing in front of the camera. Vampire is also worth mentioning, particularly Donald Sutherland in one of the earliest roles.
Again, you can probably figure out these segments simply by looking at their titles. You can be certain there’s much more to them than that.
Watch if: You’re in the mood for a classic horror anthology movie. Avoid if: You’re looking for something a little more complex in the way of plots.
Amicus Productions made several anthology horror films in their heyday. Most of them are good, but Tales from the Crypt, based on the legendary EC Comics series, is perhaps the best.
Directed by the great British horror director Freddie Francis, Tales from the Crypt is an extremely British retelling of some of the most famous stories from the comic book. That doesn’t sacrifice any blood or respect for morbid detail. The stories being set in England simply give them a dry humor style that fits the comics perfectly.
Peter Cushing in “Poetic Justice” is particularly good, but it doesn’t get much better than “…And All Through The House” for making a silly idea very scary.
Watch if: You like watching bad people answer for their crimes. Avoid if: You’re mad at the English for some reason.
While perhaps not as famous as other Amicus horror anthologies, From Beyond to the Grave is nonetheless a very entertaining, final collection of stories from the studio as the end of a unique era.
Although horror anthology movies are still being made all the time, there isn’t a production house crafting them with the frequency and passion of Amicus.
While the setup for From Beyond the Grave isn’t spectacular, this is still a great opportunity to see legends like Peter Cushing and Donald Pleasence work with pretty-good material. Diana Dors and David Warner are also highlights, with The Gatecrasher perhaps being the strongest story in this set.
Watch if: You want to see some good old-fashioned British horror. Avoid if: You prefer horror movies which move at a brisker pace.
The most enduring element of this movie seems to be that horrible little doll. You’ll see what I mean after watching the final story in the trilogy, “Amelia.” That’s fair, as the is genuinely creepy, and Karen Black (who stars in all three segments) is a wonder of a one-woman show.
Black, who had been nominated for an Oscar for Five Easy Pieces a few years earlier, gives three of the best performances of a career filled with work that deserves a lot more credit than it usually gets.
Trilogy of Terror also benefits from having three stories come from the great genre writer Richard Matheson, with Dan Curtis (Dark Shadows) directing.
Watch if: You like movies that make the most of minimal resources. Avoid if: 1970s TV movies give you gas pains.
7. Creepshow (1982)
The influence of EC Comics, which is all over this collaboration between director George A. Romero and writer/star (no, really) Stephen King, is profound in horror history. The comics emphasize our love to see several stories in a row. They are hardwired into thousands of horror movies, some more overtly than others.
Creepshow, which also draws from DC horror comics, is one of the more overt examples. The comic book tone is recreated to perfection, and the best part is how effortlessly the entire cast seems to understand that. Creepshow blazes through five stories (six, if you count the cute prologue/epilogue).
Most of them are quite good on their own terms. However, this whole thing is obviously best appreciated in a frantic single viewing.
Watch if: You can hold your breath for a long, long time. Avoid if: You can’t.
Three stories by Stephen King get the anthology horror treatment is this fairly strong example of the genre. The two stories based on previously published fiction by King are perhaps the strongest, particularly the story of an ex-smoker (James Woods) who enters into a dangerous agreement in a last-ditch effort to quit.
The story written specifically for this film, The General, feels decidedly out-of-place with the rest of the material. Although it prominently features the cat we have seen as a connecting element for these tales, The General is a bizarre story from King about trolls harassing a little girl (Drew Barrymore, who appears throughout this as different characters), which you may need to just go ahead and see for yourself.
This is overall one of the oddest anthologies on this list, but it’s not without a lot of creepy charm.
Watch if: You want to see three stories by Stephen King. Avoid if: You really don’t.
Because of the success of, wait for it, the HBO version of Tales from the Crypt, a few other anthology-based horror TV shows received a shot. They even made a few specifically for children.
Body Bags was put together by Showtime, who then decided they didn’t want to do a show after filming began. The stories, directed by John Carpenter and Tobe Hooper (with uncredited work by Larry Sulkis) are more than fun than creepy or scary, but they create an atmosphere that would have made for an entertaining Tales from the Crypt clone.
Of the stories, each introduced by Carpenter as a deranged morgue attendant (he’s great), “The Gas Station” is a potent dark comedy gem.
Watch if: You want something a little silly, but not too cartoonish. Avoid if: You need your horror stories at least somewhat based in reality.
Directed by Rusty Cundieff with an extremely talented eye towards shifting between horror and comedy, with some well-placed shots of social commentary included, Tales from the Hood built its fanbase around the 90s VHS market.
Like many cult films from this period, it found an audience that understood and engaged with this anthology centered on three drug dealers who come to a bizarre funeral director (the late, great Clarence Williams III) for a possible payday.
Obviously, they do not get that. Instead, they get a reckoning in the form of three very different stories, but which are nonetheless drawn together by very distinct and powerful themes. What makes Tales from the Hood such a good example of anthology horror is how much versatility there is in the way these themes are presented with hilarious, violent, and well-acted horror stories.
Watch if: You want one of the great cult classics of 90s horror. Avoid if: You’re not a fan of racial politics in horror movies for some reason.
“Dumplings”, which was also released as a full-length feature on its own, is such an overwhelmingly hellish story, the other two sometimes get lost in the shuffle.
Nonetheless, as unforgettable as “Dumplings” (directed by Fruit Chan) is in its story and execution, both “Cut” and “Box” (directed by Chan-wook Park and Takashi Miike respectively) contribute in their own vital way to the whirlwind of madness that swoops you into this collection.
Three…Extremes is perhaps the darkest and scariest horror anthology movie on this list, which is certainly saying something.
Watch if: You want to say “Well…that was messed up” several times in a row. Avoid if: You have a weak stomach, or happen to be particularly sensitive to very, very, very disturbing sounds.
Of all the movies on this list to contain elements of comedy, Trick ‘r Treat, written and directed by Michael Dougherty, is the one that leans the heaviest on humor. Just don’t let that lull you into a false sense of security.
With stories that actually interact with one another at various points throughout, Trick ‘r Treat has comedic touches to spare, but also some moments that are genuinely and effectively pretty shocking. There is an appealing haunted house quality to the movie. It makes sense Universal has included the film in some of their seasonal Halloween offerings.
Watch if: You want to see an anthology horror movie that could easily become its own universe. Avoid if: You won’t be able to deal with the fact that we’re probably never going to get another one of these. Goddammit.
Quite frankly, there just aren’t enough black and white animated horror films out there. Once again, the French lead the way.
Fear(s) of the Dark, which is one delightful head wreck after another, is more than just a really unique way to present several horror tales on the subject of fear. Using its highly stylized animation, it is also a unique array of entirely new methods for expressing a gnawing, constant concern for the things we can’t see. Rationally, we know they aren’t there.
Fear(s) of the Dark is so good, it makes the impossible as plausible as that sound you just heard, which was almost certainly just the wind.
Watch if: You’ve been craving a truly unique animated horror movie. Avoid if: You aren’t willing to consider that an animated film can be scary.
Just in case you didn’t know already: The British are still doing good stuff in horror, and in anthology horror in particular.
Ghost Stories plays around with the formula a bit, connecting everything to a professor (Andy Nyman) who is determined to solve three unexplainable stories.
Martin Freeman doesn’t get enough credit for how well he can step into creepy, but the entire cast seems to have a good time with a story that is scary from top to bottom yet has an odd sense of humor about its take on horror. Must be that dry British wit.
Watch if: You like droll subversions of horror tropes. Avoid if: The above sentence just made you throw up a little.
15. Scare Package (2020)
The ambition of Scare Package must be at least seen to be believed. However, this anthology of seven stories from eight writers/directors will probably win you over by the sheer weight of its likability.
With a heavy lean on comedy, combined with occasional shifts into some pretty fun visual effects, this relative newcomer to any list of anthology horror movies is proof that the genre still produces good stuff.
You could make the argument that with so many short films across such a short (107-minute) running time, some stories work more effectively with their limited time frame than others. Maybe. You’re going to have your favorites, but all these movies are enjoyable to one degree or another.
Watch if: You want seven movies for the price of one.
Avoid if: You already know you don’t.
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