Anthology Horror Films Like Trick ‘R Treat Fans Need To Watch
Cinematic tales of fright and horror deliver to viewers the adrenaline they crave, as well as thrills that delight. In 2007, Michael Dougherty unleashed “Trick ‘r Treat,” giving horror fans a creepy, cool anthology of tales that all took place in the same small fictional Ohio town of Warren Valley. Despite its direct-to-video trappings, the film garnered a strong cult following that has only grown in the years since. As a quasi-host and link between the story arcs, audiences also got the new Halloween icon of Sam, the little spirit of Halloween, who watched frights unfold and ensure that Halloween traditions were held sacred.
The format of telling separate, smaller stories in one larger package certainly isn’t a new concept. Even before TV and film, the simple idea of sitting around a campfire sharing spooky stories became a cornerstone of storytelling, along with the implicit promise that if one tale doesn’t raise the tiny hairs on the back of your neck, the next one will. All these generations later, a series of shortened horror tales still maintains a steady cycle of anxiousness within the audience; as stories change, so do the expected scares.
In full appreciation of this time-honored storytelling tradition, let’s take a look at some of the best anthology films in the pantheon of the horror genre.
Tales of Halloween (2015)
If you’re particularly struck with the Halloween bug in any given year, this little horror package might be for you. The flick comes packed to the brim with ten stories that take place in the same small town, each featuring a unique perspective from a different director.
“‘Tales of Halloween’ is a terrific example of using the anthology style to the filmmakers’ advantage,” said Bloody Disgusting in its review, “since it houses not two, not three, but ten vignettes from eleven different directors.”
The film is introduced and narrated throughout by a radio DJ, setting a mood for the frights about to emerge. “Tales” is rife with homages to horror maestros such as John Carpenter (the DJ is voiced by Adrienne Barbeau, a Carpenter collaborator in “The Fog”), as well as slasher icons like Jason Voorhees, and throughout the films, residents of this small town are subjected to ghouls, hauntings, aliens, and so much more.
Most of the stories are dependably scary, but there’s also a light-hearted nature to others that acts as a palette cleanser, keeping “Tales” from ever getting overly serious. All in all, if you love “Trick ‘r Treat,” this anthology feels a bit like the sequel it never received.
Produced by a co-founder of beloved horror website Bloody Disgusting, “V/H/S” introduced viewers to the twisted tales of unsuspecting victims being laid at the altar of wincingly grotesque, ultra-dark themes at play in a series of mysterious tapes found at a derelict home. Framed by the overarching plot of a group of misfit criminals who run amok filming their repulsive deeds, “V/H/S” introduces viewers to the lives of several unfortunate souls whose tragic tales can be viewed via several TVs and tapes scattered about in the house.
The tapes contain the haunting stories of people seemingly tormented by supernatural or sinister forces. One tape follows a group of friends planning to secretly film their sexual exploits with unsuspecting woman at their motel; things, it is safe to say, don’t go according to plan. Another tape follows a newlywed couple being stalked by a mysterious stranger. Other tapes are dark and otherworldly, telling tales that will impact you even more deeply because — like the people in the franchise — you feel like you’ve stumbled upon something that could come out of the TV and get you next. The twisted, disturbing images of “V/H/S” will haunt you long after the movie is over, like a late fee from a tape you forgot to rewind.
Capitalizing on the success of “V/H/S,” a sequel was fast-tracked and released the following year. This flick mirrored the same style and format as its predecessor, but this time the frame narrative focused on the exploits of a private investigator named Larry (Lawrence Michael Levine) and his girlfriend Ayesha (Kelsy Abbott), tasked with delving into the disappearance of a college student named Kyle (L.C. Holt). Upon entering Kyle’s home, the couple find the now iconic setup of “V/H/S” movies: a stack of TVs tuned to static and a series of VHS tapes ripe for the viewing pleasure of anyone with a voyeuristic curiosity streak.
Fatefully, Larry leaves Ayesha alone with the VHS tapes while he takes an investigative stroll around the house. “V/H/S/2” then gets to work unleashing found-footage style horror through creative means.
The first tape, shot from the perspective of a man’s ocular implant, is particularly creepy; unfortunately, the synthetic eye works too well, allowing him to see things he shouldn’t be able to see. Another film takes viewers on a ride (quite literally) through the lens of a GoPro-style camera, via a biker outfitted with the camera, attacked by a woman with a strange condition that quickly begins to afflict him as well.
Another horrific short film that ranks among the best of “V/H/S/2” puts the audience inside the hidden spy cam of a group looking to blow the lid off the practices of a strange Indonesian cult. Chock full of horrors that manifest in a variety of ways, always keeping viewers on their toes, this sequel earned solid reviews from critics and is a must-watch if you are intrigued by the concept of the series, or anthologies in general.
The most recent entry in the enduring “V/H/S” franchise is set in the year 1994. Being a period piece of sorts, the anthology film takes us back to a time when VHS tapes were still commonly used, as a SWAT team raid a warehouse and find themselves taunted by a mysterious voice. As the team makes its way through the warehouse, they witness the corpses of dead cultists strewn throughout the facility — and TVs playing various stories featured throughout the film.
One installment includes a news broadcast about an investigative journalist who aims to uncover the truth behind persisting local rumors of a rat-man that lives in the sewers; the truth behind the urban legend takes a bizarre twist, of course, as fans have come to expect from the “V/H/S” films. “V/H/S/94” also takes us inside a homegrown terrorist group, seeking to blow up government buildings through supernatural means. The results are catastrophic — but for who?
“V/H/S/94” is currently the highest-rated film in the series on Rotten Tomatoes, a noteworthy offering of creative and eerie horror tales to add to the franchise. The flick is currently only viewable on the horror-centric streaming service Shudder.
Bad Candy (2020)
Fans of Slipknot and Stone Sour will be delighted to hear the vocal musings of radio DJ Chilly Billy in “Bad Candy.” Chilly Billy is portrayed by none other than the frontman for those two bands, Corey Taylor.
Like “Tales of Halloween” and “Trick ‘r Treat,” “Candy” offer a smattering of tales focused on Halloween. Chilly Billy takes the audience through each horrific tale with flair and gusto. The stories all take place within the same small town, and eagle-eyed viewers should find pleasure in spotting links between the stories, including locales and objects that appear in multiple tales. Other links, however, aren’t so subtle.
While the film definitely shows its low-budget colors, there’s a charm and passion for the holiday from the filmmakers that makes it all worthwhile. The stories are captivating, enough to hook audiences from the beginning introduction of a young girl who can turn her drawings into real life creatures — resulting in the birth of a demonic clown named Bad Candy. Like Sam from Trick ‘r Treat, Bad Candy becomes the mascot of the film, appearing in each of the stories as an observer or sometimes … an instigator. If you consider yourself a Halloween enthusiast, “Bad Candy” is far more treat than trick.
Trilogy of Terror (1975)
Several inspirations for the future of horror came from the genre’s ’70s films. “Trilogy of Terror” hit that mark, helping inspire the creation of Chucky with its final tale, “Amelia,” which shows the isolated horror of a terrifying Zuni warrior doll come to life.
The horror shorts “Julie” and “Millicent and Therese,” meanwhile, involve the darker side of humanity. With killers, voodoo magic, and dark secrets, the trilogy brings viewers down a well of trickery, backstabbing, deceit, and murder.
The aforementioned “Amelia” features a single actress, Karen Black, portraying the titular character of the segment. One fateful day, Amelia returns home from shopping with the doll; reading the information that comes with it, she learns that a killer spirit is supposedly contained within, and that a gold chain around the doll keeps the spirit trapped. What happens next is delightful, shocking for its time, and easily the best part of this anthology.
Tales from the Crypt (1972)
While fans of ’90s pop culture might think they know all about “Tales from the Crypt,” the first live-action adaptation of the comic series launched in 1950 was a 1972 anthology film.
The Crypt Keeper wasn’t a hideous undead puppet waiting to crack a pun and cackle at the audience in this version; instead, he appeared as a man in a monk robe, awaiting ill-fated passengers of the story to arrive so he could discuss their fates with them. Interestingly enough, the film is one of the highest-rated horror anthology movies of its kind (boasting a 90% on Rotten Tomatoes), and is regarded as something of a classic among horror fans.
The film revolves around a group of strangers that venture into some old catacombs, as part of of tourist group. Upon entering the room with the hooded Crypt Keeper, they’re sealed in and told they cannot leave. The Crypt Keeper then asks them to take a seat, and begins telling them tales of woe and horror.
Each story focuses on a person in the group, describing their fate. The group of tourists aren’t gathered by coincidence, of course, and they all happen to be rather unsavory individuals. What unfolds in their stories, and the twist revealed by the Crypt Keeper in the end, culminate in a thrilling horror package.
Body Bags (1993)
Nothing screams “must-see” like a horror anthology film co-directed by John Carpenter (“Halloween,” “The Thing”) and Tobe Hooper (“The Texas Chainsaw Massacre,” “Poltergeist”). In this underrated early ’90s freakout, the horror icons tell stories inspired by three separate body bags that find their way into a creepy coroner’s morgue. The coroner (played by Carpenter himself) then proceeds to tell these tales, and each one is creepier than the one before it.
Throughout the stories, victims are stalked and haunted by killers, otherworldly creatures, and spirits. For horror fans, the film features fun references (Haddonfield from the “Halloween” films is mentioned, among other things). Additional horror icons who make an appearance in “Body bags” include Roger Corman, Wes Craven, Sam Raimi, Greg Nicotero, and even Mark Hamill. Any self-respecting fan of the horror genre needs to have this film among their Halloween stand-bys.
Ghost Stories. (2017)
The 2017 British anthology horror film “Ghost Stories” takes the audience on a journey with a tortured soul by the name of Phillip Goodman (Andy Nyman). In his formative years, Philip and his sister were treated harshly by their father’s strict adherence within their religious household. Because of this, Goodman’s adulthood is plagued with a need to expose others who prey on the naivete and goodwill of people whose beliefs are misguided and their trust misplaced. The film begins with a memorable sequence, with Goodman exposing a psychic during a stage act.
Eventually, Philip receives an invitation from a famous investigator named Charles Cameron, who has performed similar work in the past, debunking would-be grifters. Upon arriving at Cameron’s home, Goodman is instantly belittled by Cameron, who insists that the work the two of them share is a disgrace. Cameron has come to reverse course, he now believes in the supernatural, and regards those who do not as weak-minded.
As proof, the clever plot of “Ghost Stories” has the man providing Philip with three cases to investigate, insisting that these cases will lead him to the same conclusion. The “anthology” aspect of the film is these three stories, but the link is provided by Goodman’s narrative journey from disbeliever to changed man. The twists and turns that occur with each case reveal more about Goodman than even he knew, resulting in stories with both style and substance.
Another horror anthology series led by titans in the horror genre, “Creepshow” boasts a Stephen King-penned screenplay, having based many of the segments off his own short stories — as well as a few new, original works. George A. Romero directed the film, making it a rare meeting of the father of the modern zombie and quite possibly the greatest horror writer who has ever lived. Together, the two of them did not disappoint.
By now, everyone knows the mascot of the film — The Creep, a rotting corpse who introduces viewers to the horrific tales as they are displayed on screen. The transition from story to story is depicted with comic book flair, as an animation of The Creep turns the pages before the film reverts back to live action.
“Creepshow” excels not only in horror, but also finding humor in the macabre. Romero and King were smart in making sure the film never took itself too seriously, while also leaving plenty of room for frights. The flick boasts a 74% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, a solid score for any genre film. Over the years, “Creepshow” has garnered a cult following, to the point where it is considered one of the best examples of what the genre can do when firing on all cylinders.
Creepshow 2 (1987)
The sequel to “Creepshow” followed the template set by its predecessor, but this George Romero wrote the screenplay and Michael Gornick was in the director’s chair. Like the first film, many of the segments were based on short stories by Stephen King — but unlike the first (which contained 5 tales of terror), “Creepshow 2” features three stories, bookended by a prologue and epilogue.
Although “Creepshow 2” wasn’t the critical success that the first film was (many critics said at the time that King’s stories didn’t work well in a cinematic format), it has enjoyed an enduring reputation and cult status comparable to its predecessor. Fans enjoy the dark humor, and of course the presence of the Creep. Sure, this film shouldn’t be approached by those looking for a serious horror fix, but “Creepshow 2” has some dark humor, solid laughs and a few true frights.
“Southbound” is a different horror anthology, brought to you by many of the same directors who have worked on the “V/H/S” series. Like “Trick ‘r Treat,” however, this film shows that each of the narratives within this anthology are linked in small ways, taking place in the same immediate area, with a mysterious radio broadcast linking them all. This broadcast airs throughout the film, framing the theme throughout each of the tales that depict people attempting to outrun their demons — each with skeletons in their closet.
The flick begins with regretful souls Mitch (Chad Villella) and Jack (Matt Betinelli-Olpin), who are fleeing mysterious black entities floating in the desert sun. Their attempts to quite literally outrun their demons don’t go so well, and the camera then takes us a few steps away into a nearby motel, where the next story begins. From a brother in search of his long-lost sister to vacationing families to a band on tour, each of the tales is rife with misery, pain, and heartache. “Southbound” boasts consistently clever storytelling that will keep viewers engaged until the very end, when everything comes full circle.
Halloween isn’t the only holiday deserving of a bit of horror being injected into our lives. So, why not experience the full calendar of major holidays, each as horrific short films?
That’s what the 2016 horror film “Holidays” aims to provide viewers with, via a smorgasbord of stories and directors. Each segment is anything but straightforward horror, however, as these stories are filled with sharp left turns and unexpected surprises that will make their way into your subconscious.
In the St. Patrick’s Day segment, for instance, director Gary Shore tells a tale around the legend of St. Patrick driving the snakes out of Ireland, as a school teacher becomes so deeply involved with a monstrous cult that she ends up giving birth to a snake. The Easter segment, meanwhile, brings creature horror into the mix as a little girl accidentally encounters the Easter Bunny — but rather than being cute and small and fuzzy, he’s a hideous humanoid creature adorned with the features of Jesus.
No less than writer/director Kevin Smith helms the Halloween segment, telling a tale about abused sex workers that rise up against their employer, taking matters into their own hands. In “Holidays,” nothing is as it seems and viewers are certain to leave shocked, horrified, and perhaps a little perplexed by these tales that will leave you appreciating the value of months that don’t contain holidays at all.