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The 12 Scariest Horror Anthology Segments Ranked

Horror often benefits from a short runtime that ends with viewers still trying to recover from the latest shock. It makes sense, then, that there have been a number of great horror anthology movies over the years. These movies are a way for fledgling directors to demonstrate their chops and try out new ideas, and they're also the perfect showcase for virtuosos at the top of their form. If you like the idea of sitting around a kind of cinematic campfire and getting spooked by creepy tale after creepy tale, these are the movies for you.

The only downside, of course, is that the movies can be a little on the uneven side. A single great segment can ensure audiences will remember the movie forever, but sometimes those note-perfect chillers are bracketed by material that evokes more snores than shivers. We want to highlight the best of the best, so we've rounded up the individual standouts of some of our all-time favorite anthology films. The overall quality here is a given, so instead of ranking them worst-to-best, we've rated them exclusively by their ability to give you the sleepless nights that horror fans live for. Tune in — and get ready to be terrified.

12. 'Hoichi the Earless' - Kwaidan

The elegant and unsettling Japanese film "Kwaidan," a 1964 folk horror masterpiece, aims for restraint rather than obvious brutality. It's a beautiful film, sumptuously colored and lavishly designed, and while that might blunt the edges of its horror, there are still plenty of haunting images here. The best arguably comes in "Hoichi the Earless," which tells the story of how Hoichi, a brilliant young musician, is invited to play his rendition of a historical epic for the ghosts of its era. Hoichi is blind, so he doesn't know that his mysterious new patrons are having him perform in a graveyard.

Hoichi's friends at the temple know his life is in danger if he continues to play for the dead, so they endeavor to protect him by writing a sutra all over his body: If they cover every part of him with the text, then the ghosts won't be able to see him. Unfortunately, they forget one key part ...

Like the rest of the film, "Hoichi the Earless" does an incredible job of evoking an uncanny, otherworldly atmosphere. Hoichi's tale also captures the horror of history, as film scholar Geoffrey O'Brien notes: "It is all quite exhilarating and at the same time insidiously disturbing. The terrors evoked are of the oldest kind; the fear is that the horrors and unassuageable sorrows of those ancient massacres might once more come fully to life."

11. 'The Weird Tailor' - Asylum

The framing story of "Asylum" takes an earnest new doctor on a tour of the titular facility, with different patients telling how — from their point of view — they came to be there. This 1972 classic is deservedly ranked as one of the all-time best horror anthology films, and the subtly chilling "The Weird Tailor" may be its creepiest section.

Impoverished, desperate tailor Bruno (Barry Morse) is on the verge of losing everything when the melancholy Mr. Smith (Peter Cushing) walks into his shop. Mr. Smith has a mysterious but lucrative task for him: Take this bizarre, shimmering white fabric, and make a suit for Mr. Smith's son ... but it can only be worked on between midnight and dawn. It's a strange and troubling request, but the money Smith is offering could rescue Bruno from the brink of ruin, so he goes along with it — until he finds out the suit's purpose. It would be easy for the story to end with the revelation of Smith's real need for the suit, but "The Weird Tailor" goes further and supplies an additional twist of the knife.

This is a quiet, sad, and unsettling story that has a perfectly autumnal mood to it. It won't make you jump, but it will linger in your mind long after the credits have rolled.

10. 'Rogue Cop Revelation' - Tales from the Hood

The sharp and lively "Tales from the Hood," one of the best '90s horror movies, manages to blend Black social concerns with fun scares. Variety deemed it "a genre-bending pic that is fearsome and ferociously funny as well as socially conscious." The inventive segment "Rogue Cop Revelation" does an especially good job of combining commentary with universal fears like guilt, complicity, and revenge.

Black rookie cop Clarence Smith is reluctantly dragged into police brutality, murder, and an especially vile cover-up scheme on his first night on the job. His partner joins forces with other white officers to harass, beat, and frame Black community activist Martin Ezekiel Moorehouse, whose outspoken criticism of police corruption is jeopardizing their under-the-table drug dealing. Smith can't handle the guilt, but even as his whole life goes down the drain, he stays reluctantly loyal to his former coworkers — until Moorehouse himself rises up and demands justice. The story comes with some spectacular visuals, and it's safe to say you won't forget these murals anytime soon.

While the follow-up story, the harrowing "Boys Do Get Bruised," might be harder to watch, it ultimately offers a reassurance that "Rogue Cop Revelation" doesn't. Smith gets out of Moorehouse's revenge alive, but he's more ruined than ever — and his ending gives the segment an unease and ambivalence that's more ominous than any zombie.

9. 'The Gas Station' - Body Bags

"Body Bags" — helmed by horror legends John Carpenter and Tobe Hooper — received only middling critical reviews, but while it may pale in comparison to the directors' best work, the movie's enthusiasm, genre expertise, and gleeful camp still make it both entertaining and spooky. On top of that, the film's first segment — John Carpenter's "The Gas Station" — is deliciously, memorably tense.

College student Anne (Alex Datcher) is starting a new job as the night cashier at a gas station. Her "training" lasts about five minutes, and then she's left all alone ... and there's a killer on the loose. Carpenter ratchets up the tension throughout the segment, with a question hovering over every customer interaction Annie has: Is this the escaped serial killer? Carpenter is a master of the unsettling mundane, and he milks real terror out of a gas station booth, some bathroom graffiti, and a car lift, making Anne's seemingly ordinary workplace into a vivid nightmare. As Pop Matters noted, "Every frame, from the bloodiest to the most quiet, is handled skillfully and with every detail attended to by Carpenter's skilled eye."

As a bonus, "Body Bags" features numerous horror cameos, and "The Gas Station" is no exception. Be on the lookout for Wes Craven, David Naughton, George Buck Flower, and Sam Raimi, and don't miss a key bit of background detail: "The Gas Station" is set in Haddonfield, the same unlucky town from "Halloween."

8. '...And All Through the House' - Tales from the Crypt

What's scarier than being menaced by a deranged Santa Claus? "Tales from the Crypt" answers that question in the creative and chilling "...And All Through the House," and — in classic "Tales from the Crypt" fashion — it gives the answer a brilliantly macabre punchline.

Joan Collins plays Joanne Clayton, whose Christmas Eve murder of her husband gets nastily complicated when a killer in a Santa costume begins lurking outside her home and trying to get in. (The holidays are hard for everyone, aren't they?) Joanne knows that she can't call for help without revealing her own crime, so her cover-up becomes an extremely tense and high-stakes affair with the deadly Santa always just around the corner. It's a perfect setup, especially with the jolly image of Santa twisted into a looming threat. The tension never sags, and the spectacular twist ending ensures its place of honor on our list.

Ready, Steady, Cut praised "Tales from the Crypt" as a whole, calling it a "masterpiece" and saying, "Each story is a cracker, and though dated, they have wit, charm and some generally eerie images." This would make for good Halloween viewing, but we wouldn't blame you for saving it for a spooky Christmas thrill.

7. 'Amateur Night' - V/H/S

2012's "V/H/S" provides concentrated doses of found footage horror, even winning over some skeptics, like The Guardian's Peter Bradshaw, who wrote, "Do you fancy an anthology of gonzo found-footage horror? I didn't, at first. But this is really disturbing, and a couple of times I yelped and shivered simultaneously (an unlovely convulsion)." Every short here has its merits, but after a lot of consideration, we have to give the edge to "Amateur Night," which was later expanded into the 2016 film "Siren."

While a lot of horror stories concentrate on likable, relatable protagonists, "Amateur Night" takes a risk in making its characters sleazy creeps in their own right. It's not just a group of friends out for a night on the town: Clint (Drew Sawyer) has a hidden camera in his glasses, and he and his buddies are hoping to film their hookups without ever telling the women involved. There's a brutal (if excessive) cosmic justice in Clint picking up the shy, off-kilter Lily (Hannah Fierman), who whispers that she likes him ... and has a hidden secret of her own. The effects in "Amateur Night" are deliciously weird and original, especially when it comes to our last look at Lily's true face. This well-paced story of would-be predators becoming prey is so riveting and memorable that we're not surprised it eventually got the feature film treatment.

6. 'They're Creeping Up on You!' - Creepshow

It's part of horror's queasy brilliance that it can offer biting social commentary and drown you in cockroaches at the same time. When it's done with enough macabre verve, this revolting excess earns a comfortable spot on our list.

Needless to say, "They're Creeping Up on You," from 1982's enthusiastic and sometimes goofy "Creepshow," has macabre verve to spare. This anthology delights in a kind of campy horror-comedy, and at its best, it keeps you laughing and wincing at the same time. That's certainly true in the creepy-crawly-filled tale of justice that helps bring the movie to a close. The story depicts the last night of the germophobic and thoroughly amoral Upton Pratt (E. G. Marshall), who sits in his sanitized penthouse and merrily makes business decisions that wreck other people's lives. Tonight, though, the universe is determined to make Pratt pay for his sins via a plague of cockroaches. What starts out as an unpleasant infestation soon escalates to levels that are as nauseating as they are absurd.

If you dread seeing something skittering across your floor, "They're Creeping Up on You" is a visceral nightmare that's even harder to take. It only gets worse when you know that shudder-inducing behind-the-scenes anecdotes (per Bloody Disgusting) about the 20,000 live roaches used during filming, some of which wound up infesting the props.

5. 'The Accident' - Southbound

The gripping and mysterious "Southbound" is a trippy horror masterpiece. As Rolling Stone put it, the movie's mini-stories are "like episodes of 'The Twilight Zone' that a baked Rod Serling might have written after watching 'Carnival of Souls' ... eerie to the extreme, and seedy enough to make you feel like you're watching something you were never meant to see." Everything here works, but "The Accident" is one of the scariest and most agonizingly tense things we've ever seen. Watching it is like being plunged into a nightmare.

"The Accident" picks up where the previous segment, "Siren," left off, with distracted driver Lucas (Mather Zickel) plowing into the fleeing Sadie. It's the middle of the night in the middle of nowhere, and Lucas's frantic attempts to get help for the horribly injured Sadie keep going wrong. The best he can do is follow the 911 emergency dispatcher's instructions and take Sadie to the closest town. Unfortunately, the town seems deserted — and so does the hospital, with an abandoned, moldering sandwich suggesting that no one has been here in quite some time ... and that the mass departure wasn't really planned. Lucas is forced to do primitive surgery on Sadie himself, and it says a lot about "The Accident" that this gruesome medical gore still isn't as scary as what comes after it.

4. 'Cut' - Three ... Extremes

While the stomach-churning "Dumplings" — expanded into its own feature film — understandably gets a lot of attention, the most nerve-wracking segment of 2005's "Three ... Extremes" is Park Chan-wook's excruciating, visually stunning, and often darkly humorous "Cut."

This short film plunges viewers into an unwinnable scenario as a likable director (Lee Byung-hun) and his pianist wife (Kang Hye-jung) are put through the wringer by a vengeful extra (Im Won-hee). He is enraged that the director is wealthy, successful, and compassionate; the extra longs to feel morally superior to him, but since he can't seem to make himself a better man, he settles for trying to make the director a worse one. He demands that the director strangle a child to death — and until he does, his wife will lose a finger every five minutes. It's a fiendish setup, and Park keeps it both gripping and stylish. This may be too dark and violent for some viewers, but it's a wild ride, and its manic humor keeps it from feeling too grim.

The Austin Chronicle aptly described it as "[moving] like gangbusters on ketamine, mixing cornball musical numbers, broad slapstick, and gallons of the red stuff into a wholly original, entertaining work." It's as colorful as it is scary, even if you'll want to count your fingers afterwards to make sure they're all there.

3. 'The Drop of Water' - Black Sabbath

1963's "Black Sabbath" saves the best for last with the profoundly chilling "The Drop of Water." The weary Nurse Helen Chester (Jacqueline Pierreux) takes a late-night call to deal with an old woman's death, and in the process of readying the body for the coroner, she impulsively filches the dead woman's ring. Stealing from the dead is a bad idea at the best of times, but it causes even more trouble when the deceased has a supernatural reach that extends beyond the grave.

"The Drop of Water" is a perfect horror tale that knows exactly how to use the mundane against us. Helen is plagued by dripping water and an endlessly buzzing fly, both ordinary enough sounds to hear in the middle of the night — so take our advice and don't watch this one right before bed, especially if you have a vivid imagination. It'll be all too easy to imagine that the old woman is waiting for you in the next room.

Our Culture argued that "The Drop of Water" is "nothing short of terrifying" and — in everything from lighting to props — the strongest part of its anthology film: "We are catapulted to immediate horror greatness as the panicked and nightmarish world of a haunted woman closes in around us." The plink of falling water and the wizened visage of the old woman both deserve genre immortality.

2. 'Safe Haven' - V/H/S/2

Some of our highest-ranked spots on this list go to anthology segments that terrify us via subtlety and implication, but we're certainly not averse to jaw-dropping gonzo violence and wall-to-wall gore — and "Safe Haven," in "V/H/S/2," is one of the finest examples of the form. This story turns up the volume and puts the pedal to the metal, and we love it. It's our favorite part of the whole "V/H/S" series.

When "Safe Haven" starts, you might think you know where it's going. A group of documentary filmmakers get permission to come inside a cult compound and interview both the cult's followers and their mercurial, enigmatic "Father." There are all the familiar hints of exploitation just beneath the surface, but there's something stranger, too: How does "Madame" immediately know that Lena is pregnant? As the unease builds and secrets come to light, we're not surprised when Father abruptly declares that it's time for them all to die ... but the horror doesn't end there. We still haven't seen what the cult is really worshiping.

The bloody and realistic terrors of "Safe Haven" are frightening enough, but the segment makes them less grueling and more entertainingly scary by infusing a wild dose of the supernatural. The action is well-directed — it's unsurprising that co-director Gareth Evans is also responsible for the brilliant "Raid" series — and the special effects are both convincing and bizarre. This segment was a highlight for just about everyone, with Variety declaring it a "wild dive into mass hysteria and apocalyptic horror [that] is packed with queasy developments, arresting images and bloody excess."

1. 'The Ventriloquist's Dummy' - Dead of Night

The superb 1945 anthology film "Dead of Night" reminds us of an indelible fact of the horror genre: Ventriloquist's dummies are absolutely terrifying.

Maxwell Frere is at the top of his career, entertaining crowded clubs every night, but he's losing control of his dummy — the smart-mouthed, mildly raunchy Hugo — and possibly losing his grasp on reality, too. As impossible as it seems, Hugo is refusing to perform, ruining Frere's routine and threatening to work with competing ventriloquist Kee instead. Even if you're inured to the creepiness of a living dummy, the uncomfortable emotional realism of this particular toxic relationship makes the premise creepier than ever. It's surreal and uncomfortable to watch the rattled, obsessive Frere get bullied and even bitten by the dummy he's ostensibly controlling. The movie makes Hugo into a sinister, parasitic force ... and it's easy to sense who will end up winning the psychological battle. The last few moments are about as chilling as horror gets.

The BBC called the film "a dead scary horror movie that skimps on the blood but not the goose bumps," and it singled out "The Ventriloquist's Dummy" as a "venerable little chiller that hasn't lost a scrap of its hair-raising power" and in fact guarantees the film's "glowing place in the cinema history books." It's hard to imagine higher praise, and it's richly deserved.