Horror anthologies have long been a mainstay in the genre, and in the recent years has seen a bit of a revival. The recent successes of the V/H/S series, ABCs of Death, Southbound, and even this year’s XX has kick started a trend of sci-fi/horror anthologies on the small screen as well, with news of multiple anthology series in the works by AMC arriving just last week. While the last time horror anthologies peaked in popularity was the ‘80s with hits like Creepshow, Creepshow 2, and Cat’s Eye, the truth is that they’ve always been around. Some have just slipped under the radar. Here are 10 horror anthologies that have fallen through the cracks, but are worth seeking out:
Originally made for network television, intending to be a pilot for an anthology series for NBC, it instead became a theatrical feature for Universal. While its network television roots mean a distinct lack of gore, the stories make up for that. There are a lot of notable actors in the anthology as well, from Emilio Estevez as the hardcore gamer fighting for his life in “The Bishop of Battle,” to Lance Henriksen’s priest struggling both with his faith and a demonic black Chevy in the desert in “The Benediction,” each segment is grounded with talented leads. While some of the effects are dated, particularly in “Night of the Rat,” the stories are well done and entertaining enough to overlook this. For those that prefer urban legend based segments and anthologies without a wraparound, this is for you.
Tale of Tales (2015)
Based on the Pentamerone, a collection of 17th-century Italian fairytales, Tale of Tales is an anthology of fairy tales in the darkest sense. It also doesn’t play like a traditional anthology, as all segments are fragmented and intertwined until it briefly converges at the end. Stories of a king who feeds blood to his pet flea until it grows monstrous, to a princess kept prisoner by an ogre, to the queen so desperate for a child that she’s willing to eat the heart of a giant water dragon, each story is filled with blood and sorrow. As with most old fairy tales, these are not tales of sweet happiness, but gruesome tragedies. It’s a polished, well-shot film lead by a star-studded cast, and yet it’s often overlooked.
Dead of Night (1945)
This classic British horror anthology came about at a time when few horror films were produced and remains highly influential in the genre to this day. The clever wraparound sees an architect meeting guests at a country home, and despite having never met them, he can predict events in the house before it happens. To assuage his increasing anxiety over this, each guest tells their own tales of the strange and supernatural, leading to each of the five segments. The most memorable of which is the final sequence featuring the creepy Ventriloquist’s Dummy. Dead of Night marks the rare instance where the wraparound segment holds the most gut punch ending, and has been the direct inspiration behind a lot of more recent films like 2009’s Triangle.
The Dark Tapes (2017)
I know, I know, found footage isn’t exactly enticing these days. Which is probably why this anthology isn’t as well-known as it should be. A micro-budget affair that interlocks four tales of terror, this anthology works well because it nails its atmosphere. Writer/director Michael McQuown often lulls the viewer into expecting more of the same from the found-footage sub-genre before cleverly subverting much of its tropes. The constant shake-up of the found footage formula is fun enough, but there’s a lot of dread and tension throughout that keeps your attention. Granted, as with most anthologies, not every segment sticks its landing, and the final segment before the wraparound concludes proves to be the weakest. Even still, there’s a lot of surprises to be found here, which makes the upcoming prequel/sequel something to look forward to.
Body Bags (1993)
Originally intended to become a series like HBO’s Tales From the Crypt, Showtime opted not to pick up the series shortly after filming of the pilot film began. It’s a shame because this anthology, directed by John Carpenter and Tope Hooper, is a treasure trove of Easter eggs and cameos for horror fans. Set in a morgue, a creepy coroner (played by Carpenter himself) introduces the three segments. The first segment, “The Gas Station,” takes place at an all-night gas station near Haddonfield, Illinois and boasts appearances by horror legends Wes Craven and Sam Raimi. Even the American Werewolf himself, David Naughton, plays a role in this segment. Look for special effects wizard and The Walking Dead director Greg Nicotero in the segment, “Hair,” and spot trailblazer Roger Corman in the final sequel, “The Eye.” Cameos aside, each segment is so entertaining that they stand on their own. It’s a shame this never became the series that was intended.
Campfire Tales (1997)
Direct-to-video films often get a bad rap in terms of quality, but sometimes a rare gem is overlooked as a result. Such is the case with Campfire Tales, an anthology New Line Cinema dumped onto VHS. As the title suggests, the wraparound features a group of teens telling each other urban legends around a campfire. The stories are familiar, “People Can Lick Too,” “The Hook,” “The Honeymoon,” and “The Locket,” yet they’re well done and the cast is likable. These are characters you root for, even if you know where these urban legends are headed. While not the most innovative, this anthology still delivers on tension and fun.
Ignore the not so great title; this Thai horror anthology is far more deserving of a larger audience. Comprised of four horror directors; two of which are behind the extremely creepy and well-loved Shutter and Alone. Even the weakest segment in this anthology is still a huge success in comparison to most anthologies. Each director brings their own style and flavor, with “In the Middle” offering a crowd-pleasing sense of humor to camping in the woods tale of terror to “Happiness” bringing a claustrophobic creep fest. From veteran horror directors to up and coming talent, 4BIA reminds us that Thailand is a leader in Asian horror and it shouldn’t be missed.
Phobia 2 (2009)
The sequel to 4Bia is bigger and better in every way. Upping the ante to include 5 directors instead of 4 (therefore also dropping the terrible title), this sequel became a smash hit in Thailand and currently sits at number 3 in terms of highest grossing Thai horror films. Comprised of segments directed by horror vets, including the return of Banjong Pisanthanakun and Visute Poolvoralaks (Alone, Shutter), this horror film works as both a solid sequel and a stellar anthology. Light on gore but high on scares, there’s also an underlying theme of karma running through its segments.
Deadtime Stories (1986)
Ok, this anthology can’t be described as good, but it is a lot of B-movie fun. The wraparound sees the worst uncle in movie history telling his nephew three bedtime stories, all of which are warped versions of fairy tales. He clearly isn’t a fan of kids, but his nephew keeps reporting a monster in the closet and won’t go to sleep. Tales of killer witches, Little Red Riding Hood and her stalking werewolf, and an urban take on The Three Bears starring Oscar winner Melissa Leo as Mama Baer in one of her very first film roles. There’s a lot of well-done practical effects, but this anthology is far more interested in biting humor than horror. Fans of ‘80s B-horror will enjoy this romp, just don’t expect greatness.
Necronomicon: Book of the Dead (1993)
Sporting a prosthetic chin reminiscent of Bruce Campbell, Jeffrey Combs plays H.P. Lovecraft in the wraparound story that sees the prolific horror writer copying stories from the Necronomicon in the middle of an old library guarded by monks. Each copied story plays out on screen, a trio of Lovecraftian tales of horror and gore, each one progressively weirder than the preceding tale. While some of the camera work and dialogue feels like a made for cable movie, the special effects are top notch and what really elevates this anthology above most. Hardcore Lovecraft purists might take issue with the way these tales play out, but those who love oozing gore and fantastic creature effects should not skip this one. Necronomicon: Book of the Dead is a very fun anthology that often goes unnoticed.
Which horror anthology do you wish more people would see?