Benjamin Wollmuth is a lover of literature who enjoys sharing his thoughts on everything from movies and video games to books and music.
Over my years of film watching and reviewing, my taste in movies has expanded tremendously. I used to think black-and-white films were a waste of time––now, I appreciate them greatly. I used to never just sit down and watch short stories––now, I do it a lot. And, if I ever have the want to sit down and watch multiple short stories in one sitting... well, I can just turn to anthology films. These films compile multiple short stories––vignettes, if you will––into one feature-length film. They allow for smaller, lesser-known creators to show off their work, and they create a way for shorter stories to find a place in the world.
I went on an anthology-watching splurge, specifically in the horror genre (because that's where anthologies are most prominent), and I discovered a bunch that I really loved. I decided to share these films with you, and hopefully, this list will provide you with something new to check out. Remember: these are my opinions. If you dislike a film on this list, that's okay. I'd love to have a discussion with you and hear your viewpoint. And, if you don't see a film that you think should be on here, well... let's just say I have more lists planned.
But without further ado, let's get into the list.
P.S. This list is in no specific order.
P.P.S. I'm going to try and avoid spoilers as much as I possibly can.
V/H/S was pretty much my introduction to anthology films, which is why I’m starting off this list with it. Back in my late middle school/early high school days, my friends and I would often get together to watch horror movies, and this movie was one of them.
The framing narrative revolves around a group of criminals filming themselves breaking into a home to steal a VHS tape, and it is entertaining enough as filler in between short films. The short films within the frame manage to tell some pretty interesting stories, with the first of the bunch, “Amateur Night,” being the most memorable and one that I find myself still thinking back to this day. While the stories aren’t really connected in any way, besides all being seen by the same group of thieves, they still manage to all be engaging and horrific in their own ways. Even if they had been released as separate short films they would still be enjoyable to watch. That’s what makes this anthology so grand: each story is entertaining in its own right. While having deeper connections between each story can aid the full film as a whole, it’s not always a necessity. As long as the stories are good—and manage to give you the creeps just a little—then the anthology has done its job.
It is very rare for a horror sequel to be good. It’s even rarer for a horror sequel to be better than the original. However, the creators of V/H/S pretty much said “f*** rarity” and made a sequel that surpassed the original—which in itself was really good—in almost every way. Once again, the framing narrative is an entertaining filler story and focuses on a P.I. investigating the disappearance of a young man. However, what really stands out here are the 4 short films that play during the investigative framing narrative. These films sought to be bigger than those in V/H/S, and they succeed. We get literal first-person POV with an eye camera, a zombie with a go-pro, the Antichrist, and aliens. I would say more, but I really want you to check it out for yourself. While I like both V/H/S films—a lot—I think that the sequel holds the more entertaining of films, but that’s just my opinion (and I say “both” because, well, V/H/S: Viral is not good, and I stand by that). Take my word for it: V/H/S/2 is a must-see if you are a fan of found footage films and/or horror anthologies.
XX is a collection of films directed entirely by women and includes main protagonists that are all women. And hey, good for them. What could have turned out to be a very feministic and political horror anthology instead manages to be a collection of four entertaining short stories that just happen to be directed by and starring females. Now, the four short films that make up this anthology aren’t necessarily scary, but they are quite shocking and deal heavily with death (but it’s horror, what did you expect?). They are some pretty strange stories, but I appreciate horror creators for not being afraid to go a little out there. The framing narrative isn’t really a narrative, but more like a sequence, and focuses on a creepy stop-motion dollhouse. Therefore, the four stories aren’t seemingly connected at all, but that isn’t a problem (for this movie. In other movies––AKA ones that lack trajectory––it can be a huge problem). The stories may not be great by any means, but they entertained me enough to put the collection on this list.
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Holidays is an anthology full of stories that center around different holidays: Valentine’s Day, St. Patrick’s Day, Easter, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Halloween, Christmas, and New Year's Eve. Yes, there are a bit more short films in this one than usual, but that’s okay because some of them are quite short and the film as a whole never feels too long. Now, these stories––like XX––are pretty out there, but anthologies are meant to give the more unconventional short films a place to shine. Again, these stories aren’t necessarily scary, but they do manage to grip me enough to want to know how they end. And heck, one of the films stars Seth Green, and another is directed by the legendary Kevin Smith. If those aren't good reasons to watch Holidays, I don’t know what is. In all reality, Holidays manages to be engaging even while not being terribly scary. I guess I just appreciate unconventional horror stories that also manage to be entertaining, comical, and self-aware, and if you are like me, then I highly recommend Holidays. Even if you are a little taken aback by bizarre horror stories, I still would recommend it. If you watch it and don’t like it, then you don’t like it. There’s nothing wrong with that. But I would still recommend giving it a shot.
5. Trick 'R Treat
Now, here is a Halloween classic. Trick R’ Treat is, in my eyes, one of the most perfect films to watch on Halloween night––it takes place on Halloween and it focuses on the spirit of Halloween. Not only is it a perfect Halloween movie, but it is also a damn good anthology that actually connects each vignette in a way that is understandable, clever, and downright cool. It makes the film truly feel like it takes place on one night of fright. In other words, it feels like a whole film rather than just a collection of stories, which isn’t always necessary but is definitely a plus. Each vignette is interesting in its own right, the gore is gory enough when it needs to be, and the acting is spot on. Sam is an iconic horror movie character and I will stand by that. This film is a must-see if you are into anthologies and the horror genre in general.
Southbound was a film I did not expect to talk about in this list. Why? I had never heard of it prior to seeing it, therefore, I assumed it was just another cheap B horror anthology with poor acting, writing, and effects. Boy, was I wrong. The film looks pretty good, the acting isn’t bad, and each story is unique and interesting in its own way. But here's the best part: there is no framing narrative. Instead, each vignette molds into the next so that the film truly feels like one singular story about a messed up highway. I was astonished by how each new story was introduced without the camera breaking from the last story being told. It was a clever and pretty unique way (that I have seen, at least) of handling an anthology. In the end, the stories are all tied into one another, which hints at a possible hellish time loop that just keeps going and going. That part is left pretty ambiguous… but I like ambiguity. I was heavily surprised by how well done this film was and how much I enjoyed it, and I definitely recommend it to anyone who loves anthologies and wants to see something a little different.
7. The House That Dripped Blood
Let’s jump back about 5 decades to 1971, the release year of The House That Dripped Blood. This film has the right to be remembered as a classic horror movie, but sadly, I had never heard of it until I started my journey through anthologies. No, it isn’t scary, but I don’t necessarily find a lot of classic horror movies scary. Instead, I remember these films for being bold in their storytelling––for being able to tell a story rich in the macabre. They also have a great, horrific atmosphere that many modern-day horror films fail to recreate. The House That Dripped Blood had that atmosphere, a sense of eeriness, and a sense of mystery that kept me engaged in the story. The framing narrative of the story follows an inspector looking into the disappearance of a horror actor––a disappearance linked to the titular house. During his investigation, he hears four strange tales of tragedy that occurred with four different tenants––tales that we get to see play out. In my mind, this is a perfect template for an anthology, for each story is relevant to the anthology as a whole. Did I mention that the film stars Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee? It also happens to be written by the same guy who wrote the screenplay for Psycho, a classic in and of itself. If you enjoy anthologies, I highly recommend this one. For being released in 1971, it’s a lot better than many modern-day anthologies I have seen.
8. Tales of Halloween
Before watching this one, I had heard… decent reviews, to say the least. However, I still had no clue what to expect. With that being said, I still anticipated a frightful piece of horror cinema that would make me really feel the spooky spirit of Halloween. Is this that type of movie? Nope. While there are some pretty well-incorporated horror elements in some of the stories––and there are 10 stories in total––it is far from being scary. The film is more a horror-comedy of the sorts and places a large emphasis on the whacky rather than the truly frightening. But that does not mean it’s not good. Hell, the movie is actually highly entertaining, and as I said, there are still some awesome horror elements incorporated into the stories that actually made my skin crawl. But the truth of the matter is that this film is meant to be more funny than scary. These are some ridiculous stories, but the creators understand that. They are not trying to showcase insanely serious stories; instead, they embrace the ridiculous concepts that form each story, and I commend the creators for it. One story, in particular, made me laugh so hard I started crying, mainly because it was a hilarious play on a specific horror franchise that I will not spoil here. No, this is not the scare-your-pants-off kind of Halloween horror flick. However, it was a blast to watch with friends, and––as I said twice already––the horror elements are still there and noticeable.
9. All Hallows' Eve
Oh, Art the Clown. You terrify me in the best of ways. I actually saw the film's spiritual successor, Terrifier, before watching All Hallows’ Eve. Needless to say, the order in which you watch the films does not matter. All that matters is that you watch it. An entertaining anthology doesn’t have to connect each film. However, if an anthology does connect each short film, it’s all the better for it. In this case, the films are connected through Art, who appears in each segment. In one, he is kinda just in the background. However, in the other two, as well as the framing narrative, he plays a huge role. He is, indeed, the mastermind behind it all, using the films as a way to distract the lead, who is a babysitter. That is what makes this film stand out to me: each segment feels like it belongs in the larger whole. Not only that, but it led to one of the most iconic horror killers of all time (don’t even @ me, I stand by that statement). If you want a solid anthology that feels like a full movie rather than just a collection of short films, this is the perfect movie for you. Watch it on Halloween––or at least in October––for the full effect.
10. All Hallows' Eve 2
While this sequel doesn’t star Art the Clown and is far from being as good as its predecessor, it still manages to tell some pretty interesting stories. The framing narrative once again focuses on a girl who has nothing better to do on Halloween watching a random tape that appeared on her doorstep. What follows are stories that manage to be engaging––and kind of cheesy, but that’s not always a bad thing––and downright creative. One of my personal favorites involves a post-apocalyptic world where Halloween is seemingly all year round (but in this film, that’s not a good thing). That’s all I will say about that. The short stories in this film––besides the framing narrative––weren’t actually filmed for the movie. The director of the framing narrative just used short films that he found and liked, giving each director credit where credit was due. Now, look, I had a hard time deciding which list to place this on: the good or the bad. Ultimately, I chose the good, just because each short story is unique and interesting. No, the pumpkin faced killer is nowhere close to being as creepy as Art. No, the framing narrative is far from spooky. Yes, it’s easy to tell that the short films in the movie were not made for this movie. Yes, the fact that the short films are in no way connected to each other whatsoever puts the film lower than the others. However, if you want to watch a collection of fun, low-budget short horror films, All Hallows’ Eve 2 is how you will do that. I did place it last on here for a reason (even if this list isn’t in any specific order), but I still think you should check it out.
© 2020 Benjamin Wollmuth