I’m a big fan of the horror anthology, and I’ve seen a slew of ’em. Hard it was, in fact, to contain myself to a mere half dozen. So hard, that I’m listing a few runners-up for each slot, movies I feel are well worth considering but that I, in the interest of length, eschewed commenting on.
I am, after all, a professional.
Here then are six of my favorite horror anthologies…for now.
#6 Dr. Terror’s House Of Horrors
There’s a simple reason this made the list. It was the first horror anthology I ever saw. That means it was probably a Saturday afternoon in 1976. That means Thing Theater with Scorpio. That means UHF channel 53, WPGH-TV, Pittsburgh. I’ve been a devotee ever since. Tales From The Crypt is, of course, a classic, but Amicus put this one out nearly a decade earlier. The “House Of Horrors” in question is a tarot deck produced by the cleverly named Dr. Schreck (Cushing again) as he shares a train car with five men. Through the deck, he reveals the fate of each traveler. At the end of each story, Schreck turns over another card which is always Death. What I love about this movie is its resonance with the old EC Comics titles like Tales From The Crypt and Vault Of Horror which were both later Amicus films. In fact, Amicus put out four horror anthologies before Tales, this being the first.
Runner-up: House That Dripped Blood
Available free on Plex and Tubi
#5 Dead Of Night
One of the more delightful things about the horror anthology is the framing device. Dead Of Night uses what is now the threadbare “It was all a dream” ploy. Normally I would brutalize such a trope and do to it in print what Eihi Shiina did to Ryo Ishibashi in Audition, but let’s hold off on the piano wire for a minute. First, Dead Of Night was 1945, so this particular device hadn’t quite been done to absolute death yet. Second, and more importantly, is how this little trap is sprung. Walter Craig (Mervyn Johns, the annoying-as-all-get-out Bob Cratchit in the Alastair Sim version of A Christmas Carol) is an architect invited to Kent to talk about renovations on a country estate. Once there, he tells everyone that he’s met them before but can’t explain how. This leads to everyone to tell his or her own story of the macabre. The evening ends in murder, and Craig wakes up in bed. All a dream but…
Runner-up: Black Sabbath
Available with Shudder subscription
#4 Trilogy Of Terror
Is this the best movie ever made? No. Best horror anthology? Again, no. Best made-for-TV horror movie? Not even that. But one of my very most favorites? Forever and always. It’s got a lot going for it, especially for a made-for-TV flick. Let’s see. Karen Black before she became the matriarch of the Firefly clan. Not enough? Okay, directed by Dan “Dark Shadows/Night Stalker” Curtis. Still not satisfied? Put that checkbook away. There’s more. How about all based on stories written by Richard Matheson? Yes please. The highlight, of course, is “Amelia.” Cuz dolls. Always Creepy. It’s a rule.
Runner-up: Trilogy Of Terror II
Available on Prime
Southbound is slick. Fast. Gory. I particularly enjoy the device of character interaction between stories. Sometimes this works like Pulp Fiction, sometimes more like Slacker. For example, in “Accident,” Sadie (Fabianne Therese), the girl from “Siren” (the story before it) is hit by Lucas’s (Mather Zickel) car. The next story involves him trying to save her. Très Tarantino. On the other hand, as “Jailbreak” transitions into “The Way In,” Jesse (Tipper Newton) from “Jailbreak” is seen behind a diner by Jem (Hassie Harrison). The action then leaves Jesse and follows Jem à la Linklater. Southbound also utilizes the “continuous loop” frame story, the same kind of ending as Vault Of Horror and Dead Of Night.
Runners-up: Trick R Treat, V/H/S series
Available on Hulu, Plex, and Prime
#2 Tales From The Crypt
Who doesn’t love this all-time classic or the EC Comics title that it originated from? Besides…Joan Crawford! Certainly it has its tough-to-watch segments. I have a thing about dogs, for example. When the neighbors have Arthur Grimsdyke’s (Peter Cushing) dogs taken away in “Poetic Justice,” I want the entire village to die. And while I love the end of “Blind Alleys” (as well as the always menacing Patrick Magee), I hate how they pen up and starve the German shepherd in order to make it turn on its owner. Still, only a movie, right? But I can set these aside in exchange for what I love most about the movie and the comics from which the stories were drawn. To quote Princess Bride, I’ve “got an overdeveloped sense of vengeance,” and I think I got it from EC Comics. Overwhelmingly it was full of such moral tales. The kind where the evil, the arrogant, the cruel, the abusive are all made to suffer, the moral often being some variant of, “Don’t be an asshole.” Would that the real world functioned this way.
Runners-up: Vault Of Horror, Asylum, Cat’s Eye
Available on Plex and Tubi
The most recent on this list is also my current favorite. Appropriately for Women In Horror Month, all the stories are directed by women, and many examine, on some level, various horrors of motherhood. My favorite part might well be Sofia Carillo’s stop-motion framing sequence. It’s super unnerving in the same vein as Jan Švankmajer as well as the opening titles for AHS: Freakshow. Another highlight is Jovanka Vuckovic’s adaptation of “The Box,” by Jack Ketchum (Red, The Girl Next Door). It’s the story of Danny who sees a man with a box on the subway. He asks what’s in it, and the man says, “a present,” and lets Danny have a peek. After this, Danny stops eating but doesn’t seem particularly distressed about it. This slowly spreads through the family, and while all the stories are plenty dark and bleak, this one takes (but doesn’t eat) the cake.
Runners-up: Creepshow, Creepshow 2
Available on Hulu, Magnolia Selects and Monsters And Nightmares (Prime channels), Plex, Prime, and Tubi
Finally, let’s toss in a couple bonus lists.
A) Anthologies that, sadly didn’t do a helluvalot for me
An Evening With Edgar Allan Poe
The House That Dripped Blood
Tales Of Terror
Twilight Zone: The Movie
B) Anthologies I haven’t seen but really should
ABCs Of Death
From Beyond The Grave
Tales From The Dark Side: The Movie
Tales From The Hood
Two Evil Eyes
Feel free to suggest others and/or argue with me in the Comments!