Horror anthologies may be the most underrated subgenre in all of horror. They offered a fresh change of pace from the increasingly ludicrous plots of slashers and the growing vampire craze that dominated the genre at the time. Horror anthologies managed to deliver short, entertaining horror segments that drew audiences in as fully as any feature-length horror movie.
Even if the subgenre may have reached its peak in the '80s, with only some minor noteworthy anthology efforts being released in the decades that followed, their influence still resonates to this day, with some of the best horror movies of that era usually being seen as anthologies.
With Halloween nearly here, we thought we'd take a look back at some of the must-watch horror anthology films, ranging across multiple decades and from various countries, as well as where you are currently able to stream them.
Tales From the Crypt
The popularity of the anthology format can really be traced back to one thing: EC horror comics.
Before equally influential anthology series like Twilight Zone or Alfred Hitchcock Presents, EC comics' various titles—namely Tales from the Crypt, The Vault of Horror, and The Haunt of Fear — were the earliest pioneers of anthology horror stories. Targeting a slightly older audience demographic, EC's horror comics featured disturbing stories of violence, horror, and suspense that pushed the boundaries of what could be shown in mainstream comics.
Unfortunately, amid pressure from conservative parental advisory boards and the implementation of the highly restrictive Comics Code, EC's horror titles were canceled just as soon as they were reaching their peak popularity.
Despite its relatively quick end, however, EC's horror comics have continued to live on, growing in popularity and being cited as the primary model for nearly every horror anthology film over the next few decades (Creepshow, Tales from the Darkside, Tales from the Hood, etc.). It's also lived on through numerous projects modeled after the original comics, such as HBO's fan-favorite Tales from the Crypt series, as well as the 1972 film of the same name.
Adopting a similar model to the comic it's based on, Tales from the Crypt follows the ghoulish Crypt Keeper (Ralph Richardson) as he presents five ghastly stories to a group of tourists who stumble into his catacombs. Based on several well-known stories that appeared in the comics, Tales from the Crypt was applauded for its comic book-style approach to filmmaking and its ability to capture the spirit of the series it was based on.
Streaming on Tubi.
In 1982, horror icons George A. Romero and Stephen King collaborated on what would become the EC comic-inspired anthology project, Creepshow. Utilizing a star-studded cast of actors — including talents Leslie Nielsen, Ted Danson, Ed Harris, Hal Holbrook, Carrie Nye, and Stephen King himself — the partnership produced one of the best horror anthologies of the 1980s'.
Divided into five segments, Creepshow uses a format and storytelling tropes that harken back to the EC horror comics that Romero and King had loved as kids, deliberately modeled after titles like Tales from the Crypt. To align the film more closely to the tone of the actual comic book the movies are based off, the film relies on distinctly cartoonish special effects by Tom Savini, a bright color palette reminiscent of the vibrant colors found in horror comics of the 1950s', and stories that feel like they came straight off the page of a long, lost issue of Tales from the Crypt.
At the start of the 1980s', Romero and King were both at the top of their individual careers — Romero riding high off the success of his earlier hit, Dawn of the Dead, and King a household name as a successful horror novelist with such best-sellers as The Shining, Carrie, ‘Salem's Lot, and Cujo under his belt. Seeing the two join together for a single project was like seeing Miley Cyrus collab with Billie Eilish — you couldn't help but be excited to see what exactly the product of their collaboration would be like.
Luckily, in the case of Creepshow, the film was a huge success, gaining a significant cult following since its release, and starting off the anthology horror craze that would continue over the next few decades.
Not currently streaming, but can be rented online.
Stephen King's Cat's Eye
Director Lewis Teague was an underrated director who managed to take largely harebrained or tired ideas and turn them into extremely entertaining movies. When approached to do a film that was essentially a rip-off of Jaws, he managed to produce the great satirical horror film, Alligator. Later, in 1985, when Teague was approached to take on a horror anthology when increasingly anthologies were slowly becoming the norm, he came up with one of the best movies of the era.
Made in collaboration with Stephen King — who provided the script and also based two of the three segments in the film off of his own previously published stories — Cat's Eye is an anthology film comprising three stories that all feature a mysterious traveling cat in them.
Like all the best anthologies, Cat's Eye manages to deliver three equally entertaining segments with a clever framing device (the cat) linking them all together. Bolstered by King's strong script, and a wonderful cast (Drew Barrymore, James Wood, Robert Hays, and James Rebhorn), it's one of the more impressive anthologies made when the subgenre was becoming diluted by lesser films that failed to live up to the success of Creepshow, the film that set the standard for all subsequent anthologies that followed. It's also perhaps one of the best, most overlooked adaptations of King's work to date.
Streaming on HBO Max.
Tales From the Darkside: The Movie
In a lot of ways, one can consider Tales from the Darkside: The Movie the unofficial sequel to Creepshow. After the positive reception and success of the George Romero, Stephen King collaboration, the movie's production company, Laurel Entertainment, toyed with the idea of pursuing a TV spinoff acting as a continuation of the original film.
Because Warner Bros. held the rights to certain aspects of Creepshow, however, Laurel decided to make a series similar to the movie that involved many of the same people who produced Creepshow, including showrunner George Romero. Titled Tales from the Darkside, the show blended on the earlier anthology formats found in HBO’s Tales from the Crypt, namely by taking on a notably campier, more comedic tone.
After the series' conclusion in 1988, a subsequent anthology movie was released. Presented in a similar format to Creepshow, the film presents three separate stories (one of which was written by Romero and based on a story from Stephen King), all of which are told by a young boy (Matthew Lawrence) stalling for time before he is killed and eaten by a suburban witch (Debbie Harry).
Overall, Tales from the Darkside feels about as close to Creepshow as any of the horror anthologies that were made in the 1980s'. The film makes use of three very different stories—taken from a King short story, an updated version of a Japanese folkloric fairy tale, and a modern retelling of a classic Arthur Conan Doyle Victorian horror story—to make a very different kind of anthology that brilliantly merged Gothic horror with comic book style framing, humor, and dialogue.
Streaming on Paramount+
Dead of Night
One of the first modern horror anthologies, this 1945 British film established the subgenre as we know it today, acting as a spiritual predecessor that would not only inspire the format of later anthologies that followed, but also likely influenced the EC horror comics of the 1950s'.
Divided into six stories—all of which feel like they could've served as the basis for an excellent Twilight Zone episode—the segments of Dead of Night are framed by a group of guests all sharing scary stories they have either heard about or experienced first-hand.
A rare sort of British film (horror films had been banned from production during World War 2), Dead of Night manages to introduce some of the most well-known conventions of the anthology format that would set the standard for the subgenre in years the come, such as using a framing story to interconnect all of the segments. It also introduced the idea of having multiple directors overlooking their own segments, something that would become a common practice in many horror anthologies that followed, such as Three… Extremes and Twilight Zone: The Movie.
Though the film has no weak segments, its most famous story tends to be seen as “The Ventriloquist's Dummy,” revolving around the story of a possibly insane ventriloquist who seems to be at the mercy of his sinister puppet.
Critically praised upon release, Dead of Night‘s reception has only improved with age, with more and more critics and filmmakers citing its continuing influence on the horror genre.
Not currently streaming, but can be rented online.
Unlike most anthologies on this list, Kwaidan is an interesting film in that it's not modeled after any of the horror conventions or formulas of the 1950s' horror comics so many anthologies deliberately tried to replicate. Rather, it took inspiration instead from the writer Lafcadio Hearn's collection, Kwaidan: Stories and Studies of Strange Things, adapting four Japanese folk stories that predominantly focus on ghosts (its title derived from the Japanese term “kaidan,” roughly translated to “ghost story”).
Director Masaki Koyabashi had previously built his career making popular samurai films and political dramas. With Kwaidan, he managed to shift towards a far more radical genre while retaining his signature style of filmmaking, utilizing surreal setpieces and fantastic cinematography within the framework of horror.
Like most of Kobayashi's work, Kwaidan is long (at three hours, it's far and away from the lengthiest movie on this list), but there's hardly a scarier, more visually beautiful film out there, especially in terms of a horror anthology.
A critical success upon release, Kwaidan would win the Special Jury Prize at the prestigious Cannes Film Festival, and earn an Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Language Film.
Streaming on HBO Max.
Tales From the Hood
After the popularity of the anthology film had begun to wane in the 1990s, it was only a matter of time before filmmakers attempted to redefine the subgenre as a more revisionist type of horror film. Such was the case with Tales from the Hood, a clever comedy horror film that adopted the tone and central horror premises found in EC horror comics, and moved them to the then-contemporary 1990s inner city.
Using the horror anthology approach popularized by titles like Tales from the Crypt, Tales from the Hood presents four horror stories centered on Black individuals in an urban setting, told by an eccentric, drug-selling mortician, Mr. Simms (Clarence Williams III) in the manner of the Crypt Keeper or the Vault Keeper.
For its time, Tales from the Hood was a highly influential horror that used the anthology format, as well as the horror and comedy, to explore the various social issues affecting the African-American community of the 1990s metropolitan life, including police brutality, gang violence, and systemic racism.
It's an unfortunate trend in horror movies that Black individuals haven't truly been given the same amount of screentime and inclusiveness as people from other ethnic backgrounds. Thankfully, with skilled modern directors like Jordan Peele crafting narratives centered around Black individuals, horror has recently undergone a much-needed diversification in terms of the types of stories told in horror films, and the characters included in said movies.
In a way, then, films like Tales from the Hood can be seen as a spiritual predecessor to more recent horror films that used the genre to explore serious themes that were relevant for the time and, sadly, are still extremely relevant to this day.
Streaming on Peacock.
Trick ‘r Treat
If there's one movie you simply have to watch on Halloween, it's Trick ‘r Treat. An anthology movie focused on the “rules” of Halloween, it's easily the best horror anthology to be released within the past 20 years, and likely one of the best anthologies ever made.
Trick ‘r Treat tells the intersecting stories of five individuals attempting to celebrate a Halloween: a young woman recently arrived in town to celebrate a party (Anna Paquin), a small girl who is a fierce believer in Halloween’s traditions (Samm Todd), a school principal who is secretly a serial killer (Dylan Baker), a crotchety old shut-in who despises the holiday (Brian Cox), and a mysterious, silent trick-or-treater (Quinn Lord) who appears in every segment of the film.
Horror anthologies had, unfortunately, hit a bit of a dry spell after the subgenre's popularity in the 1980s and its slow decline in the '90s. By the 2000s, anthologies were far and few between, with the exception of this 2006 horror film that became an instant cult favorite among moviegoers.
Blending horror with dark comedy, Trick ‘r Treat was a brilliant, fresh take on the traditional anthology format, using a clever framing device (a folkloric spirit enforcing the rules and traditions of Halloween), a non-chronological story, and characters who appear through small roles in one another's segments.
Critically praised upon its release, its reputation has since only continued to grow, with fans clamoring for a much-awaited sequel that the film's director, Michael Dougherty, has been trying to get off the ground for years.
Not currently streaming, but can be rented online.
Three… Extremes is a rare kind of horror movie, in that it’s a sequel that's actually far better than the original movie it's based on. A follow-up to 2002's Three, Three… Extremes follows the earlier anthology film in its basic approach, style, and genre. Like the first movie, it features three different directors overseeing stories related to their respective countries (Hong Kong's Fruit Chan, South Korea's Park Chan-wook, and Japan's Takashi Miike).
Three… Extremes represents one of the more straightforward anthology-type films, offering three separate stories from each director involved with no overarching framing device or thematic unity. Each story is unique and takes on a different horror subgenre, with each segment closely playing to the director's strengths and their signature styles of filmmaking (Park's exploration of extreme violence, Miike's interest in the psychological and surreal, and Fruit Chan's depiction of Hong Kong's working-class).
All three short films are impressive in their own right, but it's Fruit Chan's entry, “Dumplings,” that tends to get the highest praise out of any segment in Three… Extremes. Cut down from its feature-film length, “Dumplings” concerns a mysterious dumpling maker whose homemade product has age-restoring properties. When an aging actress tries to find out what her secret ingredient is, she uncovers something more sinister and disgusting than she ever could have imagined.
With such an impressive line of directors, Three.. Extremes was destined to become a success, and that certainly was the case when the movie was released in 2004. Critics praised each of the three films—with particularly positive reception directed at “Dumplings”—favorably comparing it to the works of Lovecraft, Poe, and Stephen King.
Streaming on Prime Video FreeVee.
No, not the Ozzy Osbourne band of the same name (who actually took their name from this film). What we’re referring to instead is the 1963 international horror anthology, Black Sabbath.
Presented by horror icon Boris Karloff (who also stars in the segment, “The Wurdulak”), Black Sabbath features three creepy tales that cover various subgenres within the horror field. One story depicts a woman receiving unrelenting phone calls that take on an increasingly threatening tone; another stars Karloff as a man 1800s' Russian countryside chasing an undead monster that attacks those that it formerly loved, and the last focuses on a woman who steals a prized ring off of dying elderly woman and is then haunted by her vengeful ghost.
With a small budget and a fairly kitschy premise, Black Sabbath managed to deliver three equally entertaining and suspenseful stories of horror that made for a fantastic film during a time when anthologies weren't widely explored as a horror vehicle.
While the film had an initially negative reception and significantly underperformed at the box office, critical reappraisals have been much more positive, crediting the movie for its unique approach and atmospheric exploration of various horror subgenres.
Not currently streaming, but can be rented online.
Horror anthologies are a unique staple of the horror genre that many fans absolutely adore. Since Dead of Night first introduced the concept of a horror-centric anthology film, it's remained one of the more entertaining subgenres in all of horror.
Through horror anthologies like EC's comics, the anthology format would only grow in popularity, resulting in numerous memorable films like Creepshow, Cat's Eye, and Tales from the Darkside. Horror anthologies might not have the same level of attention as other horror subgenres out there, but they still remain a favorite among moviegoers everywhere.
For other horror anthologies we highly recommend watching, we also suggest the Japanese period film, Ugetsu, and the 1972 British film, Asylum (written by Robert Bloch, the man who wrote the novel, Psycho).
This article was produced and syndicated by Wealth of Geeks.