Time to cram some high-density scares into your Halloween queue.
Halloween is right around the corner—like right behind you…mouth breathing and everything. Now if you’re anything like me, Halloween is something you carry with you in your heart all year round like a malignant tumor that compels you to watch Re-Animator about once a month. Let’s be clear: I do not need a holiday to boot up Hammer House of Horror or Fright Night. That’s your average Tuesday.
That said. There is something particularly fun about watching ooky spooky flicks around Halloween; something ritualistic, festive, and appropriate that can’t quite be captured at any other time of the year. The leaves are dying, it’s getting darker earlier, and there’s just something so so right about watching Arsenic and Old Lace, Addams Family Values, and Poltergeist and scaring yourself a little bit.
And, not to be a bummer, but this ghoulish window of opportunity is closing fast. Maybe you were proactive and watched a spooky flick every single night like a creepy cinematic advent calendar. Or maybe you’re feeling a pang of “oh god I wanted to watch every single Giallo film and now it’s October 30th where the fuck did the time go?”
But fear not. Or do, rather. Because I come bearing gifts: high-density horror fare, rich in frightful content to cram as many spooky stories into what little time we have left as possible. Horror anthologies offer the most bang for your temporal buck: multiple macabre mini-movies for the price of one.
So strap in boys and ghouls, here, in no particular order, are 13 of my favorite horror anthologies to jam as much garish goodness as possible into what’s left of the Halloween viewing season.
Happy Halloween! Stay safe, and respect the dead!
1. Dead of Night (1945)
A product of Ealing studios, Dead of Night features a string of stylish stories, each from a different director. The film’s framing sees a man driving out to a house in the country and coming across a group of people he’s seen before, but only in his dreams. The group then proceeds to swap stories about their own unnerving encounters with the supernatural.
Features: Mervyn Johns, Michael Redgrave, Googie Withers, Roland Culver.
Segment Highlight: The “Ventriloquist’s Dummy Sequence,” features a mentally unhinged Michael Redgrave driven mad by his demented dummy Hugo. It’s ahead of its time and anticipates an entire genre of sinister ventriloquist dummies (for more on that, I highly recommend checking out Primal Screen, a doc on the subject from Rodney Ascher).
2. Twilight Zone: The Movie (1983)
Featuring the directorial talents of Steven Spielberg, John Landis, Joe Dante, and Geroge Miller Twilight Zone is one hell of a ride: a sublime genre-powered rollercoaster that’s equal parts horror, sci-fi, and comedy.
Notable Cast: Albert Brooks, John Lithgow, Vic Morrow, and many more.
Segment Highlight: One of the best-known episodes of the original series, “Nightmare at 20, 000 Feet” takes place during a violent thunderstorm, where anxious airline passenger John Valentine (a fantastically sweaty John Lithgow, in a role made famous by William Shatner) is the only passenger concerned about the hideous creature lurking outside the plane.
3. Creepshow (1982)
Features: Stephen King, Leslie Nielsen, Ed Harris, Ted Danson.
Segment Highlight: “They’re Creeping Up on You,” sees a nasty, germaphobic businessman discover that his pristine apartment, which is sealed Howard Hughes style, is gradually being overrun by cockroaches. As with much of Creepshow, Tom Savini’s special effects work is the star of the show; a masterclass in squirm, as the extent of the infestation is made painfully clear, and the hateful, elitist Mr. Pratt is overwhelmed.
4. Three…Extremes (2004)
A collaboration between renowned heavy hitters Fruit Chan, Park Chan-wook, and Takashi Miike, Three…Extremes is thoughtful, stylish, and deeply, and profoundly brutal. Turns out “extreme” horror doesn’t have to devolve into torture porn. Eat your heart out Saw.
Features: Bai Ling, Byung-hun Lee, Kyoko Hasegawa.
Segment Highlight: “Dumplings,” is almost unwatchable once you know what is going on and the selfish depravity it showcases would be enough to make Lady Bathory and Dorian Grey blow chunks.
5. Black Sabbath (1963)
“This is the night when fear and horror walk hand in hand!” From the bold and colorful mind of Mario Brava comes a stylish and atmospheric Italian deep dive into black magic, vampires, and revenge from beyond the grave. Hell. Yes.
Features: Boris Karloff, Mark Damon, Michèle Mercier.
Segment Highlight: “The Drop of Water.” When a nurse steals a sapphire ring from a corpse she’s been entrusted to prepare for burial, things go incredibly, horrifyingly wrong. Featuring a truly iconic tension-soaked, nightmare-inducing finale, “The Drop of Water” is not to be missed.
6. Trilogy of Terror (1975)
If you’ve ever wanted to see Karen Black (who *I* know as Mother Firefly from House of 1000 Corpses) get horribly tormented in there different terrifying tales than have I got a TV movie for you. Also, it was penned by Richard Matheson of “I am Legend,” and “Hell House” fame so that’s fun!
Features: Karen Black, Robert Burton, John Karlen.
Segment Highlight: “Amelia.” I mean, it’s got to be the one with the murderous ankle-stabbing, teeth-gnashing “genuine Zuni fetish doll” right? No contest: it’s pure murder doll excitement from start to finish.
7. Trick ’r Treat (2009)
A macabre melange of horror and humor, Trick ’r Treat sees a series of intertwining tales all taking place in a small town on Halloween night. Featuring plenty of intertextual shout outs to horror heavy hitters like John Carpenter and Stephen King, Trick ‘r Treat offers demented glee and a contagious festive spirit.
Features: Brian Cox, Anna Paquin, Dylan Baker.
Segment Highlight: “The Principal” is the only non-supernatural tale of the bunch and it’s all the creepier for it. A tightly-wound high school principal (Dylan Baker), has a dangerously low tolerance for annoying children and a dark secret buried in his backyard.
8. Kwaidan (1964)
Directed by Masaki Kobayashi (Harakiri, The Human Condition I: No Greater Love), Kwaidan is arguably the most artful entry on this list. Comprised of four visually stunning, surreal, and poetic ghost stories adapted from Japanese folklore, Kwaidan is rapturous, methodical, and haunting in every sense of the word.
Features: Rentarô Mikuni, Michiyo Aratama, Misako Watanabe.
Segment Highlight: “Hoichi the Earless,” tells of a blind musician renowned for his recounting of The Tale of the Heike. When the priests begin to suspect that he may be singing for the dead, they cover him in sacred wards to protect him from the spirits…well, most of him.
9. Night Gallery (1969)
In the above clip, Steven Spielberg describes his inaugural directorial effort “Eyes,” the second segment of Night Gallery. Night Gallery served as a pilot by way of TV movie for the television show of the same name famously written and hosted by Rod Serling. Set in a dark art gallery (because, duh) Serling introduces us to a triad of paintings, each with their own unnerving tale to tell.
Features: Joan Crawford, Ossie Davis, Richard Kiley, Roddy McDowall.
Segment Highlight: “Eyes.” An affluent blind woman pays a gambler for his eyes and blackmails a surgeon to perform a procedure that will restore her eye sight for 12 hours. It’s full of Joan Crawford panache, and that bittersweet flavor of irony that put Serling on the map.
10. Tales From the Darkside: The Movie (1990)
Based on George Romero’s ’80s TV show of the same name, Tales from the Darkside was co-written by Romero and Michael McDowell (of Beetlejuice fame). The whole thing is framed around the very fun if somewhat dark wraparound of a captive child telling the woman holding him hostage stories to delay his death (she’s going to eat him, old school style).
Features: Debbie Harry, Matthew Lawrence, Christian Slater, Steve Buscemi, Juliane Moore.
Segment Highlight: “Cat From Hell.” This entire movie is worth sitting through just to see a cat crawl its way in and out of a dude’s mouth. I don’t know what else to tell you that is one spicy incentive.
11. The House That Dripped Blood (1971)
One house! Four creepy stories! The third in the Amicus series, The House that Dripped Blood frames itself around a police investigation, through which we learn that the house’s residents have a history of meeting mysterious and sticky ends.
Features: Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, Nyree Dawn Porter, Denholm Elliott, Jon Pertwee.
Segment Highlight: “Sweets to the Sweet.” A neglectful widower hires a private tutor to educate his daughter, who he has expressly forbidden to play with dolls. And with good reason, as it happens.
12. Tales from the Crypt (1972)
Amicus Productions back at it again! Taking a page from several EC Comics stories, Tales from the Crypt offers a winning combo: a snarky crypt-keeping narrator, a star-studded 70’s cast, and a collection of tales with just the right ratio of spook to camp.
Features: Peter Cushing, Joan Collins, Roy Dotrice, and a host of others.
Segment Highlight: “Wish You Were Here.” A variation on the W.W. Jacobs short story “The Monkey’s Paw,” this segment sees the wife of a failed businessman call upon the powers of a wish-granting Chinese figurine to improve their lives. Sadly, with every wish—there comes a price. A horrible, horrible price.
13. Tales of Terror (1962)
Tales of Terror is a collection of stories from Edgar Allen “I married my 13-year-old first cousin” Poe: “Morella,” “The Black Cat,” and “The Case of M. Valdemar.” As gothic as it is hammy, director Roger Corman brings Poe together with three of cinema’s finest.
Features: Peter Lorre, Vincent Price, Basil Rathbone.
Segment Highlight: “The Black Cat” deserves a viewing just to watch a sloshed Peter Lorre and a scene-chewing Vincent Price fight it out in a wine-tasting duel. The being buried alive part that follows is an added bonus.
- Asylum (1972)
- Cat’s Eye (1985)
- From a Whisper to a Scream (1987)
- Nightmares (1983)
- Two Evil Eyes (1990)
- The Willies (1991)
- Body Bags (1993)
- Necronomicon: Book of the Dead (1993)
- Tales from the Hood (1995)
- Campfire Tales (1997)
- Strange Frequency (2001)
- Phobia 2 (2009)
- V/H/S (2012)
- The ABCs of Death (2012)
- Tale of Tales (2015)
- Southbound (2015)