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The 11 spookiest horror anthology movies

Simon Crook, author of terrifying new anthology horror novel ‘Silverweed Road’, select cinema’s finest omnibus horrors...

Written by
Simon Crook
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It began with a silent scream. Released in 1919, Austrian director Richard Oswald’s Eerie Tales unwittingly birthed a sub-genre that still thrives today. Granted, the style has evolved through the years, but the horror anthology’s enduring appeal remains the same: a multi-storied, many-terrored box of frights that delivers a string of short, sharp shocks. Or, to indulge in a metaphor: if the horror movie invites you to dine on a full-course, anthologies are more like scary tapas, or the Devil’s own pick-and-mix.

These aren’t just throwaway shorts randomly lobbed together for a cheap thrill. With a devious framing device to contain its bounty of horrors, the very best anthologies feel like movies in themselves. As the sun sinks down and the nights draw in, Simon Crook, author of chilling new anthology horror novel ‘Silverweed Road’, picks cinema’s most twisted campfire stories tailormade for Halloween.

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Best Anthology Horror Movies

Black Sabbath (1963)
Photograph: The Rank Organisation

1. Black Sabbath (1963)

Of psychos, vampires and haunted rings... Mario Bava, the godfather of Italian horror, uses the anthology format to display his range. There’s classic giallo (‘The Telephone’) and an ethereal ghost story (‘The Drop of Water’). But ‘The Wurdulak’ is another beast entirely. Adapting Tolstoy’s novella, Bava masters the realm of gothic horror: all howling winds, pulsing doom and a gaunt Boris Karloff as its glowering vampire. It’s Bava’s haunted bonsai: a masterpiece in miniature. The film went on to inspire Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction and the name of a certain Brummie metal band.

Kwaidan (1965)
Photograph: Toho

2. Kwaidan (1965)

Kwaidan is not a frightening film. Its images, however, will return to haunt you, again and again. Over its epic three hours, experiencing Masaki Kobayashi’s quartet of folk tales is like a long, slow transfusion of ice-cold blood. While the sparse score and eerie visuals unite Kwaidan’s stories, its parables of snow spirits and haunted samurais eventually combine into something bigger: a ghostly vision of feudal Japan, the past distant, but not yet dead. Kobayashi is one of the dons of Japanese cinema, and his sombre, bewitching anthology casts an unbreakable spell.

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Dead of Night (1945)
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  • Horror

Strangers gather at a country cottage, each with an uncanny tale to tell. Ealing horror Dead of Night helped establish the anthology template cloned countless times since. There’s the framing story, the multiple directors, even the ‘funny one’ to sweeten the dread (here it’s ‘The Golfer’s Story’ with Basil Radford). Possessed by his own rictus dummy, Michael Redgrave’s ventriloquist still chills the marrow, but it’s your sanity you should be worrying about. The looping nightmare of its Möbius strip climax sends the brain spinning like a crocodile’s death roll. The ending, like its influence, is timeless.​​

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Forty years before Britain’s video nasty panic, EC Comics’ horror comic-books triggered an equally silly moral tizzy. George A Romero recalls it fondly. Reviving EC’s pulpy frames with crooked Dutch angles, animated inserts and refulgent, eye-frying colours, his homage rams its tongue into its cheek. From cockroach swarms to alien fungus, Stephen King’s script is a cackling circus of horrors, and arguably peaks with its opening act. ‘Father’s Day’, in which a putrid patriarch rises from the grave, boasts gruesome FX from the legendary Tom Savini and a killer punchline. Altogether now: ‘Caaaaake.’ 

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Revenge is a dish served flaming hot in Damian Szifron’s anthology: the biggest Argentine hit of all time. No monsters here: just toxic wrath burning through its veins. Fuelled less by twists than outrageous gotchas, Wild Tales’ wicked yarns spin from bridezillas to maniac pilots to road-rage berserkers (a dialogue-free sketch with the demented zip of an ultraviolent cartoon). Szifron’s view of humans as feral beasts howling at a capitalist system is borderline misanthropic, but gasps of scandalised laughter sugar the bitter pill. Essential viewing and (whisper it) the best anthology of the 21st century.

Southbound (2015)
Photograph: The Orchard

6. Southbound (2015)

On a forsaken stretch of desert highway, travellers drive the road to hell as cryptic wraiths stalk the wastelands. Or is it purgatory? Southland blurs the boundaries of anthology horror by feeding a disorientating nightmare logic into its framing device: its five stories link like Chinese whispers. Standout segment ‘The Accident’, from The Night House director David Bruckner, spins off the tarmac into an abandoned hospital. 911 turns 666. And then the screaming starts. It’s well worth hunting down. 

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Scare Package (2019)
Photograph: Shudder

7. Scare Package (2019)

The stories here spill from the tapes of Rad Chad’s Horror Emporium: a video store owned by Jeremy King’s know-it-all horror nerd schooling his newbie employee on the genre’s cheesiest tropes. Cursed dolls, FUBAR camping trips, unkillable slasher maniacs: every chestnut’s roasted here. With its seven directors and eight shorts, it’s over-stuffed, and it winks so hard it sprains an eyelid, but the parody’s staged with infectious enthusiasm. Splatty, gooey practical FX, too.

Trick ’r Treat (2007)
Photograph: Warner Bros. Pictures

8. Trick ’r Treat (2007)

Cursed to DVD limbo on its release, Trick ‘r Treat has ripened into a cult classic over the years, and deservedly so. Horror-comedy is a tricky juggling act. Director Michael Dougherty gets the balance between gore and guffaw just right. Over one chaotic night in Warren Valley, wild tales of serial-killer teachers and werewolf cliques interweave, each segment witnessed by a sinister imp in a burlap sack mask. Brian Cox gets impaled by a candy bar. It’s that kind of movie. At a pithy 82 minutes, it’ll have you grinning like a freshly carved jack-o-lantern. 

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Riding the found-footage boom, 2012’s V/H/S reimagined the anthology as a cursed mixtape. This is the best of its four sequels, thanks to the directing talent involved. Adam Wingard’s opener is a Google Glass nightmare as a patient experiences ghouls through an ocular implant. Ed Sanchez envisions a zombie apocalypse via a cyclist’s GoPro. And ‘Safe Haven’... oh, boy. As a film crew infiltrate an end-times cult, co-directors Gareth Evans and Timo Tjahjanto judder the senses with shaky-cam GBH. An urgent, shrieking cinematic siren, it could easily have been a standalone feature.

Three... Extremes (2005)
Photograph: Lionsgate

10. Three... Extremes (2005)

What links these disconnected stories is ambition. Given total freedom, three of Asia’s spikiest auteurs show Hollywood how it’s done. The results will cattle-prod the nerves of even the most jaded horror fan. Japan’s Takeshi Miike offers a savage yarn of doppelgangers. South Korea’s Park Chan-wook applies piano-wire tension to his tale of a sadistic film extra booby-trapping a director’s home. Stealing the show is Hong Kong’s Fruit Chan, whose horrific entry dines out on a shocking dumpling ingredient that goes way beyond the title’s promised extremes. Transgressive, unforgettable and best consumed on an empty stomach.

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Seen, rather unfairly, as a wonky rubber mallet compared to the mighty Hammer, Amicus Productions’ ‘Fear Factory’ churned out seven very British omnibus horrors from 1965 to 1974. All campy doom and black laughs, they’re the definition of comfort horror. Scripted by Robert Bloch, the novelist behind ‘Psycho’, Asylum has the spookiest framing story, sending Robert Powell’s doctor to interview the inmates of a gothic institution shrouded in fog. Bloch’s stories throw up twisted imagery: parcelled body parts shiver into life on a cellar floor; a flickering Technicolor suit reanimates a corpse; and in its bonkers climax, Herbert Lom mind-controls a murderous mini-Lom doll. Classic Amicus: you’re not sure whether to laugh or scream.

‘Silverweed Road’ is out now on HarperVoyager.

Halloween 2022: Monster Month

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Any time is a good time to watch a scary movie, but let’s be real – there’s just something incredibly satisfying about watching a horror flick in October. It’s a bit of social conditioning, sure. Most of us have been told since we were children that October is Spooky Season, and for the rest of our days, the month will always represent frightful fun, even when we’ve long outgrown the ritual of dressing up and going begging for candy around the neighbourhood. But early fall itself also just feels spooky – a time when the air gets crisp, the days get darker and the spices more pumpkin-flavoured. It’s probably too cold and rainy to go outside, anyway. So why not curl up and give yourself a good scare?

With Halloween approaching, we’ve scanned five streaming services – Hulu, Netflix, Amazon, HBO Max and dedicated horror streamer Shudder – to scare up a veritable pillowcase of amazingly terrifying films. In this grab bag you'll find everything from gruesome slashers to goosebump-raising ghost stories, wigged-out b-movies and more than a few that’ll keep you up at night. Here are the best horror movies to stream on Halloween – or any time you need a good shock to the system.

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