Horror films, what isn’t there to love about them? No other film genre has a more varied set of sub-genres, more passionate fans, or the ability to leave a lasting impression – and that’s just on the surface. Think about your first big scare that kept you up for nights, or the first grotesque horror kill that made you cover your eyes, or your first encounter with a legend like Freddy or Jason – there’s just nothing like it.
The staff here at We Got This Covered are no strangers to the genre, as we house a few obsessive horror nuts of our own, so we thought it might be fun to pick everyone’s brain and collectively make a countdown of our favorite 100 horror movies of all time. We started by compiling as many favorites as possible into a massive collection, then narrowed that list down to 100, and then had everyone pick a Top 10 list which we used to create the the overall Top 10 for the countdown. The more times a movie appeared, the closer it got to a number one spot.
With that said, don’t take this as a be-all, end-all list, but instead a unique ranking of horror films generated by this wonderful staff of ours. Will you agree? Will you disagree? Why don’t you check out the list and see!
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It looks like Don Coscarelli will be rounding out our list of famous horror movies, but not for his wildly popular Elvis haunter Bubba Ho-Tep, no. Before his work with Bruce Campbell and his adaptation of John Dies At The End, Coscarelli made his mark with a strange sci-fi/fantasy/horror hybrid called Phantasm, introducing us to a villain known only as The Tall Man. Floating silver orb of death, anyone?
Following a young boy named Mike and his caretaker brother Jody living together after the deaths of numerous family members, Mike witnesses some concerning facts about the local mortuary expert known only as the before mentioned “Tall Man.” As Mike investigates further, his reportings to Jody only become more unbelievable, telling him of flying silver balls that kill people, little Jawa-looking minions, a man who can lift and entire full coffin, and other horrifying events.
Don Coscarelli’s script and vision spiral Mike’s life out of control slowly but surely in this ambitious piece of old-school horror, separating itself from typical slasher films content with a killer and victims.
99) Juan of the Dead
Alejandro Brugués broke onto the horror scene into a big way with Juan of the Dead, Cuba’s tonal answer to Edgar Wright’s zombie comedy Shaun of the Dead. For Cuba’s supposed first foray into horror, boy did they make a splash.
Focusing on a poor Cuban everyman who takes advantage of a growing zombie epidemic, Juan of the Dead is full of undeniable horror fun and fantastic creativity. Great performances from Alexis Díaz de Villegas and Jorge Molina only add to the entertainment, leading an eclectic cast of characters who are tremendously fun to watch take on the apocalypse.
A cult classic in the making, zombie fans shouldn’t miss this one!
1992’s Candyman is an urban legend a la Clive Barker, so you probably know what to expect. Grad student Helen (Virginia Madsen) investigates local Chicago superstitions and uncovers the legend of Candyman – a killer ghost who can be summoned by speaking his name in a mirror five times (shades of Bloody Mary) and has a hook for a hand with which to dispatch his victims. Naturally, Helen decides to say his name in the mirror, because she has never seen a horror movie. Ever. Just as naturally, guess who isn’t just a legend?
What makes Candyman more interesting than your average ‘killer with a hook’ narrative are the underlying racial politics. Helen begins to uncover the true story of Candyman: the son of a slave who became an artist, fell for a white woman, had his hand cut off by a lynch mob. He was finally covered in honey – hence ‘Candyman’ – and stung to death by bees. Now he haunts the Cabrini-Green housing projects in Chicago – a notorious center of poverty and gang violence.
While it might seem stupid and incongruous for two white, blonde female grad students to be prowling around Cabrini-Green – this is a horror movie after all – it does draw into sharp relief the racial and class politics of the early 90s. This is a film that came out just a year after the Rodney King beatings, after all. Candyman is a perfect example of horror as return of the repressed. The ending, bizarre though it is, bears that out. There’s more than one repressed minority in this film.
97) [REC] 2
I know what you’re thinking, too much love being paid to the [REC] franchise, but shame on you for thinking such films don’t deserve it. [REC] 2 is The Godfather Part II of horror, being equally effective yet still completely different from its original material. Plaza and Balagueró struck gold again this time, but also remain just as ambitious and inventive.
What truly works here is [REC] 2’s completely new introduction of story material, advancing the franchise mythology immensely while continuing to move forward with style. There’s also no fear amongst the creative team controlling everything, as our main characters waste no time entering the room from [REC] where the horror really gets feisty. You never know what to expect and what even still makes sense, but I’ll be damned if the ride wasn’t worth it.
96) Theater of Blood
This 1973 Vincent Price shocker has everything your little heart can desire: Vincent Price, Diana Rigg (!), violent murders, William Shakespeare, a fabulous soundtrack and gallons and gallons of blood. It’s schlock-horror extraordinaire as only Mr. Price can bring.
In some ways similar to Price’s earlier The Abominable Dr. Phibes, the Douglas Hickox-directed horror-comedy follows a madman murdering those who wronged him in the most outlandish – and hilarious – ways. This time Price is Shakespearean actor Edward Lionheart, presumed dead, killing off all the critics who ever gave him a bad review and denied him a coveted award.
He’s aided and abetted by daughter Edwina (Ms. Rigg, who is absolutely brilliant) and a bevy of derelicts in his revenge, inspired by the murders in a selection of Shakespeare’s plays. The result is nothing but sheer bloody pandemonium, performed and filmed with a glee that is so wrong it’s right.
Theater of Blood stands a decapitated head above some of Price’s other films from the same period simply because of the cast; along with the formidable Price and Rigg, we have British thespians like Ian Hendry, Robert Morley, Jack Hawkins, Coral Browne and Dennis Price indulging in some Shakespearean histrionics as Lionheart offs them one after the other.
Price and Rigg themselves are quite obviously having the time of their lives, spouting hammy Shakespeare with a half-grin at the camera. And they’re actually sympathetic villains in this case, their victims a mish-mosh of snark and vitriol. Critics be warned: sometimes your words come back to haunt you.
Just another bloody office outing, and no, I don’t mean the British slang “bloody,” I mean literally an office outing soaked in the red liquid flowing through our veins. Director Christopher Smith gives us a darkly comical horror story billed as “The Office meets The Hills Have Eyes,” a poor group of cubicle monkeys take a team building adventure into the woods, only to find a murderous group of what appear to be hunters hot on their every move. How could a boring company retreat get any worse? Oh yeah, by dying.
Danny Dyer and Andy Nyman lead a strong UK cast against insurmountable odds, as each character slowly begins to understand their creepy pursuers may not be part of the trip, no matter how insane their boss is. Severance is a rather ingenious and funny take on the slasher genre by a director and cast perfectly enlisted for a horror/comedy hybrid. They next time you have an awful day at work, just be happy your head is still attached to your body, because it could be a whole lot worse.
94) A Nightmare on Elm Street: The Dream Warriors
Notice who the only horror icon to appear twice on our list is? Yes, many of Freddy’s sequels were entertaining but riddled with faults, and one was even atrociously embarrassing, but Chuck Russell should be proud of himself for creating a worthy sequel to A Nightmare On Elm Street with The Dream Warriors. Creative kills, worthy scripting, another strong performance from Robert Englund, and most importantly – no Wizard of Oz references.
Russell created some of the most iconic moments of the franchise in his visually engaging film, morphing our villain into many forms such as a snake, puppeteer, a needle handed drug dealer, and many other inventive creations. Freddy wasn’t simply slashing people with his razor sharp hands here – there was a fantastic theme behind every single intriguing death scene. One of my favorite scenes of the franchise is also found in Russell’s sequel, when Freddy slices a message into one of Nancy’s friends which says, well, you know…
93) Black Christmas
Ah, the Christmas season – is there a better time to think about horror? Director Bob Clark certainly doesn’t think so, birthing the original winter classic Black Christmas. It was remade back in 2006 by Glen Morgan with an upgrade in the gore category, but don’t think the modern day reincarnation is within even a snowball’s throw of Clark’s original.
Christmas is usually a time of joy and jubilation, but Clark’s sick seasonal scare-fest makes sure to liven up the mood with disturbing and truly revolting dialogue which sets a unsettling tone rather early. Black Christmas then sets itself aside from typical slashers by using minimal reveals and tension to contain a frigid grip on true horror, showing us that less can sometimes be more. It’s true, a lack of information can destroy a film, but Bob Clark is able to utilize it to keep holiday horror wrapped up beautifully with a blood-red bow on top.
92) From Dusk Till Dawn
What happens when Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino get together and make a horror film, instead of separately like on their double feature Grindhouse? Insanity, a tattooed George Clooney, a guy with a hidden cock gun and naked vampire strippers.
Playing like two completely different films, we get the obviously Tarantino scripted introduction as the Gecko brothers flee the US in search of greener pastures. Then, Rodriguez’s directorial influence kicks in as creatures of the night take over the Titty Twister, mixing blood and guts with stellar Tarantino writing.
A personal favorite of mine, this dynamic filmmaking duo created one hell of a good time with From Dusk Till Dawn and it undoubtedly deserves a place on this list.
91) Who Can Kill A Child?
Even in the horror world, directors always seem to play it safe when it comes to children. Never really being portrayed as the bad guy, children usually are protected by adult characters or carry out their own little fantasy adventures that never turn bloody for the little guys. People don’t really want to see innocent youngsters tortured or killed because audiences typically feel that’s a line that shouldn’t be crossed – until Narciso Ibáñez Serrador came along that is.
Who Can Kill A Child? begs a question no horror fan ever wants to ask, or more importantly one they don’t want an answer to. Seriously, if it was life or death, could you kill an evil child if it meant survival? Well, if they’re turning other people your age into human pinatas, does that help make your decision? Violent, offensive, disturbing, and morally insane, Serrador’s film is anything but cheap child’s play.
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90) Tucker and Dale vs. Evil
A parody of horror’s typical “psychotic bumpkins chase sexy teens,” director Eli Craig surprised viewers with one of the most intelligent horror comedies in years back in 2010. Such a simple concept, taking a tired scenario and just turning it around, but Tucker and Dale vs. Evil is far more involved than just that easy explanation.
Powered by hilarious performances by Alan Tudyk and Tyler Labine, along with the gorgeous Katrina Bowden, Tucker and Dale vs. Evil is a must see for horror comedy fans. Half the fun is watching Eli Craig and Morgan Jurgenson’s script surprise with comical twists and turns, so I won’t uncover too much, but just know it was included on this list for a reason, with fantastic kill sequences only being a tiny part of that reason.
There are three rules: don’t get him wet, bright light kills him, and don’t feed him after midnight. A seemingly easy care regime for a fuzzy little furby, but poor Zach Galligan just can’t keep it straight. So when he gets the weird (but cuddly) little Gizmo that his Dad brings home into trouble, and creates a new race of vicious green monsters, he must stop them from totally destroying his hometown during Christmas.
Only a demented mind can come up with this one – and Joe Dante is a demented fellow. He takes a kids’ stuffed animal and turns it into a malevolent prankster and killing machine. Gizmo is adorable – the creatures he spawns though, not so much.
A glee underlies the rampaging gremlins – Dante et al are really enjoying unleashing a horde in suburbia. The movie is scary without being haunting (except for a certain small child when she first saw it) and delightful without pulling punches. It could be about responsibility and following the rules, but really it’s about the energy of not following rules at all. It also almost single-handedly created the PG-13 rating.
88) Dog Soldiers
Writer/Director Neil Marshall is most well-known for his critically praised cave-dwelling horror film The Descent, but it’s his military werewolf film Dog Soldiers which put Marshall on the map. Terrifying, funny, action-packed, gruesome – Dog Soldiers is a horror film with fangs and claws.
Watching werewolves tear apart helpless victims is one thing, but unleashing the hounds on strong military types creates a much more enjoyable film because there is actually a war to be waged. Actors Sean Pertwee and Kevin McKidd go against the odds battling it out with these killer beasts, fighting toe to toe as not to be turned by the wolfies – which is all too fun to watch. Brilliant creature design makes the ferocious dog soldiers themselves something to seriously fear, as Marshall absolutely started his career off on the bloody and fur covered right foot.
87) Dawn of the Dead (2004)
George A. Romero’s Dawn of the Dead is a classic. It’s undoubtedly one of the greatest zombie films of all time and its influence and legacy will be felt within the genre forever. Every zombie movie that came after it owes at least something to Romero’s masterpiece. And so, remaking what is considered to be the greatest zombie flick of all time would seem like a daunting task for most, but not Zack Snyder.
The filmmaker made his directorial debut with the remake and despite tackling such a beloved film, Snyder scored on all counts. His kinetic, gritty and truly frightening remake had many a moviegoer sit up and realize that this version of Dawn of the Dead was a more than worthy remake.
Was it better than the original? No. But it worked on almost every level and it put Snyder on the map, allowing him to move on to projects like Watchmen and the upcoming Man of Steel.
86) Trick ‘R Treat
Do you follow the rules of Halloween every year? No? Well you will after watching an incredibly overlooked and underrated gem in Trick ‘R Treat, Michael Dougherty’s tribute to every horror fan’s favorite holiday in which he’s created four wonderful tales of terror which culminate into one howling good time.
Dougherty assembled a wonderful cast of actors which includes Brian Cox, Dylan Baker, Anna Paquin, Leslie Bibb, and others for his intertwining stories, but the most intriguing and constant character is the insta-classic icon Sam. This little trick or treater keeps local townsfolk in check when they break the rules of Halloween, delivering horrific themed deaths much like a Christmas horror movie would.
Inventive, fun, gripping – but most importantly undeniably entertaining. There’s a good reason FEARnet runs Trick ‘R Treat for 24 consecutive hours on Halloween…
85) The Loved Ones
Another new release making it onto our list is Sean Byrne’s twisted take on prom. And by twisted, I mean a really sick and depraved dissection of an event made to be so innocent, and the horror that can be unleashed when said innocence is exploited. If you thought your prom experience was bad, I dare you to challenge Brent’s.
The truth here is that Sean Byrne created one of the greatest “torture porn” flicks in years, managing to travel away from the Saw method of trapping people in crazy contraptions. The Loved Ones is brutal and unnerving, helped mightily by Robin McLeavy’s portrayal of Lola, the high schooler who takes the whole secret admirer thing 20 steps too far, and her vicious attacks against her young victim Brent.
Lola was terrifying and softly ferocious, playing up the “daddy’s little princess” routine while dabbling in sadistic acts of violence. You’ll only be doing yourself a favor by watching The Loved Ones, I can promise you that.
Though more of a thriller than a horror film, Identity earns itself a place on our list for its originality, clever twists and top-notch cast, who all hand in some solid work. It’s a murder-mystery at its core but it also functions extremely well as a psychological thriller and a straight up horror film, so there’s something for everyone here.
The film tells the gripping tale of ten strangers who end up at an isolated motel and then start dying one by one. It’s not the most original premise and could have resulted in an extremely cliched and recycled film, but director James Mangold executes the premise wonderfully, making for a unique and compelling tale that will have you pinned to the edge of your seat thanks to its unnerving atmosphere and the always present tension that fills the air.
83) Cannibal Holocaust
Cannibal Holocaust is one twisted movie, I’ll tell you that much. It was seized in Italy after it premiered and the director, Ruggero Deodato, was arrested on obscenity charges with authorities claiming he made a snuff film. It didn’t take long for the film to be banned in Italy, Australia and several other countries and to this day, the film is still impossible to get a hold of in most countries.
Whether it’s the graphic gore, the animal killings or the sexual violence, there’s very few people who will leave this film unaffected and undisturbed. It’s regarded as the most graphically violent and gory film of all time, with some saying that a few of the actors were actually killed on film in order to achieve the desired effect of their death scenes. Deodato was able to prove otherwise but what was later discovered was that while the human death scenes may have not been real, the animal deaths were. To this day many people still take issue with the gruesome animal killings depicted here, and rightfully so.
The funny thing is, for as sick, twisted, ferocious, revolting vile and mean of a film that Cannibal Holocaust is, most reviewers have scored it quite high and its influence can be seen in all corners of the horror genre. It’s attained cult status and many people will defend it to the grave. It’s a film that once you see, you can never forget. So just know that going in. But if you can stomach graphic sex and violence, like you have never seen before, then seek out an uncut version of this film and be prepared to be absolutely shocked.
Who knew that PG-13 horror films could be this terrifying? A mainstream movie with a miniscule budget, Insidious is the little horror movie that could, proving that a lower rating doesn’t need to be a restriction. Director James Wan builds tension and suspense like Bob the Builder builds whatever the hell he builds and it works out perfectly.
The story of a young boy who falls into a sudden coma takes a sharp turn for the horrible after strange occurrences disturb his family, that’s where I’m going to end the spoilers. Very few films have scared me as much as Insidious did on my first viewing, and I doubt very many will because of the passion found here.
This is one of those experiences that pays homage to the great jump scares of yesteryear while creating an entirely new beast that is completely different from anything you’ve ever seen. Although not heavy on the gore or underlying themes, the terrific story and haunting score definitely make Insidious a movie that horror fans shouldn’t miss.
It is difficult to do justice to Dario Argento’s 1977 giallo film Suspiria. Describing it cannot possibly explain why it’s so scary. Suspiria is one of those films that gets under your skin and haunts you for days, weeks, even years. It gave me nightmares the first time I saw it, and continues to stand right up there as one of the scariest films of all time.
The story is fairly banal on the surface: a ballerina enters a dance school that turns out to be a front for a witches’ coven. The opening sequence of a dancer’s murder is the most shocking scene of the film, with a graphic depiction of a knife plunging straight into her heart. At first the dubbing, even of the English actors, might seem a little jarring and even hokey. The mystery isn’t much of a mystery, the scares few and far between. But when I say that Suspiria remains one of the most terrifying films I’ve ever seen, I’m not exaggerating. The film is a fever dream, infecting and effecting, though I could not explain how Argento achieves it. The overwhelmingly creepy soundtrack by Goblin will follow you for weeks. Argento understands horror at a deep, fascinating level and with Suspiria, he brought the experience of a nightmare to film.
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Bill Paxton’s directorial debut, Frailty, is the perfect choice for Halloween scares, psychological thrills, or good old-fashioned serial killer huntin’. Starring Powers Booth as an FBI behavioral sciences agent (aka psychopath hunter), Frailty opens with Matthew McConaughey strolling in, sitting down, and calmly informing the agent that he knows the identity of the God’s Hand killer. Thus commences a tale told of missions from God, parents fanatic, youngsters trapped, loyalties tested, rescues mounted, appearances masquerading, realities bent, and of course, angels and demons and an axe or two.
In addition to being strong stuff perhaps unexpected from the affable Paxton, Frailty chills the spine from beginning to end. From the “Wha’?? Holy crap, you’re not actually serious?” ten minutes in to the “Holy crap, I can’t believe that!” as the credits roll, Frailty keeps us guessing ~ concerned when thinking we know what’s going on, horrified when we realize how mistaken we were, relieved when things seem brought under control, and reeling as they take several sharp turns until it finally wraps, leaving us dazed and delighted.
79) 28 Weeks Later
I liked 28 Weeks Later, a lot. I thought it was an excellent sequel that stayed true to the story of the first film, moved it forward well, and remained scary and gruesome throughout. Director Juan Carlos Fresnadillo does some truly impressive and assured work here, and gives us a follow up to the classic Danny Boyle film.
It’s visceral, entertaining, full of very strong performances and manages to be immensely satisfying. Some of these scenes are absolutely brutal and truly terrifying, even beating some of the moments from the first film. It’s also a very smart film though, with a very smart director behind the camera, which puts it well above most horror flicks.
Call me crazy, but I prefer 28 Weeks Later to 28 Days Later. It doesn’t have the same characterization as Boyle’s film and its story isn’t as human, but as a pure thrill ride, it takes the cake. It’s action sequences are kinetic and its scenes of terror are truly felt, making this a more than worthy sucessor.
78) The Ring
Anyone who sees The Ring for the first time can look forward to 7 days of glancing over their shoulder and avoiding TVs at all costs. The videotape itself is disturbing enough to earn a spot on this list, but combine it with the absolutely horrifying scenes where Samara attacks her helpless victims, and the result is absolute terror.
The scares don’t come cheap in this one, as the story is well-crafted and complex, providing a glimpse into the past more intriguing than many of its contemporaries. The creepy TV-crawling girl is as haunting as any little girl in horror movies, and that’s saying something. Few images are more scarring than the dead girl’s bruised and beaten body in the closet, thrown at you mere minutes into the film.
In the film that director Roman Polanski said started out as horror and turned into a psychological thriller, Catherine Deneuve plays Carol, a young woman terrified of just about everybody, but most particularly men. Living with her sister and sister’s husband, the world seems to be closing in around her, despite some sweet overtures from a young man. Things go from bad to worse when she’s left alone for the weekend. Holed up in the apartment, she slowly begins coming apart at the seams.
Repulsion is one of Polanski’s loose ‘Apartment Trilogy’ – along with Rosemary’s Baby and The Tenant – and, my, but isn’t it creepy? Focalized almost entirely through Carol, the viewer experiences everything she does, down to the oppressive sounds and sights – and nearly smells – of a London apartment in the summertime.
Without ever quite explaining just what is wrong with Carol, the film conjures levels of disturbance that even a more supernatural horror film like Rosemary’s Baby cannot equal. There’s no supernatural here; there’s barely even a threat, just a young woman’s increasingly disturbed mind. Which, if you watch Repulsion, is all the horror we really need.
As a cowardly shut-in, the last thing you want is a zombie apocalypse, but that’s exactly what happens to Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg), sending him on a cross-country journey to find his family.
Featuring outstanding performances from Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson as Tallahassee and Emma Stone as Wichita, Zombieland is a surprisingly witty film, especially for one about brain-eaters. Fast and funny, Zombieland is everything that teen-horror should be, and the standard that future films should shoot for. The film also has the best Ghostbusters references and Bill Murray cameo ever.
75) Cabin Fever
Before his crazy kung-fu collaboration with The RZA and before checking in to Hostel, Eli Roth broke onto the independent horror scene with a fantastic infection film called Cabin Fever. Opting for a flesh-eating virus instead of creepy backwoods killer, five college kids rent a vacation cabin where they stumble upon the horrors of infected water which contaminates them one by one – along with the crazy locals who don’t take too kindly to their immature shenanigans.
Even with the “help” of a local officer though, we watch as the likes of Rider Strong and Jordan Ladd are ravaged by this deadly disease, while Roth displays his stick twisted horrific vision for all of us to enjoy. There’s a reason Roth is so big in the horror community these days, and Cabin Fever is the reason – even if a bunch of straight to DVD flicks are currently ruining the franchise name.
74) Les Diaboliques
There was a period when Henri-Georges Clouzot was considered the French Hitchcock. Les Diaboliques (The Devils) is Exhibit A. The story of a cruel schoolmaster, how his wife and mistress plan – and accomplish – his murder and the weird aftermath of the killing could indeed have been made by the Master of Suspense. Hitch even remarked that it inspired him to make Psycho to win back his title.
Les Diaboliques is not just another director’s version of a Hitchcock film, though. Clouzot has a style all his own that he’d already perfected in the taut Wages of Fear and the paranoiac Le Corbeau. Half of Les Diaboliques is taken up by the planning and execution of the murder, the other in the investigation by policeman Fichet. With the murderered man characterized as so cruel, it’s difficult not to sympathize with the two women. Les Diaboliques shifts from psycho-thriller to legit horror when the body of the schoolmaster – drowned in the bathtub – vanishes and a young boy begins swearing that he’s seen him in various places around the school.
Les Diaboliques has marvelous twists and turns, culminating in a reveal that is unexpected, disturbing and just a little funny. Never mind being the Master of Suspense; Clouzot deserves a title all his own. You’ll never want to take a bath again.
73) The Mist
Frank Darabont, Stephen King, and one of the most iconic horror endings depicted on screen for some time. Seriously, talk about reinventing “the shot heard ‘round the world,” but there was more to love about this novel adaptation besides a brilliant director and a heartless ending – heartless and gut-wrenching in the most boisterously admirable way though. Not everything in today’s world is butterflies and rainbows, and Frank Darabont treated us like adults with his reverse candy-coated ending.
Now, admittedly, the plot is intriguing yet kind of silly, as a thick mists traps townsfolk in a large supermarket, threatening dangers that hide in the mist itself. Yes, a giant mist that holds monsters rolls into town, and it’s up to Thomas Jane and some locals to escape their supermarket of doom before beasties overrun the joint.
Typically questionable, but with Darabont at the helm, entertaining creature work and bang-up CGI effects bring us into his mystifying world, along with a brutally honest societal reaction to impending destruction. Jane’s character is surrounded by people he sees every day, yet now he finds himself in a struggle for survival both outside and inside, facing different yet equal foes. Yeah, I’d say Darabont made Stephen King very proud with this adaptation.
Ah yes, Triangle. Christopher Smith’s twisted 2009 psychological thriller is quite a trip and a truly underrated gem in the field of horror. A complete mind bender with a satisfying payoff, it certainly stands out of the pack, bringing something a bit different to the genre.
I’d hate to spoil any of the fun but just pay close attention to this one. It may require more than one viewing to put the pieces together but once you’ve got it figured out it’s immensely satisfying. Providing some truly chilling moments, Triangle is a wonderfully constructed horror film that really needs to start getting more credit than it does.
If you’re scared of clowns, then it should be a no brainer as to why Stephen King’s It is a classic horror film. It takes the fear of clowns that many have, and completely twists it into something even more terrifying, a killer clown.
The real star of the show here is Tim Curry, who brings King’s creation to life marvellously and really captures what was written on the page, bringing us what is undoubtedly one of the scariest characters in the history of cinema (yes, this was a TV movie but it still counts).
Even though It had to work within the constraints of a being a made for television movie, and featured some hokey effects and laughable dialogue, the scares are still there and Curry’s Pennywise the clown is far too horrifying to forget.
Admittedly, it doesn’t hold up as well when you watch the film today, with parts of it feeling a bit too drawn out. And perhaps it really wasn’t as scary as you remember it being back when you were six years old, but if nothing else, Curry’s performance is worth the watch. He has truly crafted a classic horror icon in It and has undoubtedly left many people deathly afraid of clowns.
Now, if only someone would adapt It for the big screen.
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70) In The Mouth of Madness
H.P. Lovecraft is hard to get right on film. His horrible, unstoppable abominations are locked away, lest their coming unmake the multiverse, meaning that they spend most of the stories they are featured in off-screen; his protagonists are either complete ciphers or avatars of himself and parts of his work are so jaw-droppingly racist that they are impossible to read without feeling intense revulsion.
But despite all that, Lovecraft’s central thesis, that there are things out there that humanity cannot comprehend or defend against that can unmake civilization with the faintest hint of a whim, is a really smart, really scary idea. John Carpenter took that idea and ran with it in 1995’s In The Mouth of Madness, and in so doing brought the unknowable horror of Lovecraft to the screen without actually having to adapt Lovecraft.
Sam Neill plays John Trent, an insurance investigator hired to track down the famed and missing horror author Sutter Cane, or at the very least the manuscript of Cane’s latest book. A dream and a map hidden in the covers of Cane’s books points Trent toward a town that should not exist, but does. Trent travels to the town alongside Cane’s editor, and as the two hunt for the missing author, reality begins to unravel.
Carpenter balances the implications of the story he is telling with some excellent practical effects, gets solid performances out of Neill and his peers and does not back down from an endgame that makes The Thing seem bright and cheerful. It is a terrifying, memorable picture that brings Lovecraft at his best to film, in spirit if not in word.
69) They Live
A few years after John Carpenter delivered us The Thing and before he devolved into making tripe like Ghosts of Mars and Vampires, he created They Live. Mashing together horror and sci-fi, the tale centres around “Rowdy” Roddy Piper, playing a nameless drifter, who stumbles across a bizarre plot wherein the moneyed masses of the elite….are actually aliens. Trying to control humans through brainwashing.
The sheer horror of the premise is handled in a slow unravelling as the Drifter realises the sunglasses he retrieved from a conspiracy-rigged church explosion (see?! Don’t you want to see this film now?!) are more than mere accessory. They enable the wearer to see the aliens for what they are: scary as buggery skeletal faced bastards! Terror resounds across every billboard and point of consumerism, as the alien totalitarian regime for obedience has effect on every unwitting human.
If there’s one thing They Live addresses better than any other horror on this list it is how insistent the Drifter is for his friend to believe him. In a genre known for people shrugging off character’s claims of something unusual happening, Drifter perseveres. He asks simply: try on the sunglasses. What follows is a five-and-a-half-minute fight that sells the Drifter’s sheer will to survive the predicament he is in.
68) The Devil’s Backbone
There are few directors who are able to balance horror and pathos like Guillermo del Toro does. A perfect example of this is The Devil’s Backbone, which seems like a warm-up for Pan’s Labyrinth, with its haunted children and abusive adults.
Set during the Spanish Civil War, The Devil’s Backbone focuses on ghostly happenings at an orphanage in a remote part of Spain. The war surrounds the children – an unexploded bomb lies in the courtyard, and Franco’s troops routinely attack. Underlying it, though, is a ghost story: a boy named Santi disappeared at the same time the bomb dropped in the courtyard and things have begun going bump in the night ever since.
As the new boy, Carlos (Fernando Tielve) investigates the strange happenings at the orphanage as childhood terror combines with the cruelty of the world outside. Bullies abound, both within the orphanage and outside of it, adults and children alike, Carlos is faced with being largely alone in a very violent world.
Like The Orphanage (which del Toro produced), the film mixes the terror of the supernatural with the terror of the real world that these children are forced to navigate through, often without the help of the adults who should be protecting them. It’s a haunting film and the conclusion is moving and terrifying – leaving me haunted for days.
While in some ways less iconic than its little brother Dracula, F.W. Murnau’s silent film Nosferatu has the distinction of being the first adaptation of Bram Stoker’s tale of terror … and actually one of the more loyal adaptations of the source material.
You all know the story: young lawyer Hutter (not Harker, this is a German film after all) heads to Transylvania to negotiate a deal with Count Orlok for purchasing a house in his hometown of Wisbourg. Said Count is most definitely not of this world, as anyone with could see at a single glance. But Hutter sees nothing wrong, not even when Orlok becomes apparently obsessed with a picture of Hutter’s young wife Ellen. Or when the villagers warn Hutter that Orlok is a nosferatu. Or the whole phantom carriage thing. Or his obsession with blood. Or … you get the picture.
Nosferatu does still possess some serious creep factor, especially at the first sight of Max Schrek’s Orlok – changed from Dracula due to objections from the Stoker estate. More disturbing than Lugosi’s later urbane Count, Orlok is practically a rat, with pointed teeth, a bald head and long curving fingernails. He brings plague and pestilence to Wisbourg, only defeated by the self-sacrifice of Ellen, who gives herself to him as the sun rises. The scenes of Orlok rising from his coffin or his shadow creeping up the stairs are beautiful and chilling.
Murnau was a master of German expressionism and Nosferatu might very well be considered his masterpiece.
66) The Omen
Forget about the remake, the 1976 original stands as one of the greatest, and most chilling horror films of all time. Coming out after genre classics like Rosemary’s Baby and The Exorcist, The Omen had a lot to live up to. In my books, it more than succeeded.
Gregory Peck and Lee Remick star as a couple who give birth to a still-born child. Hoping to comfort his wife and make her feel better, Peck’s character, Robert, takes up a cleric on his offer when he tells him that he can give him a newborn orphan in his dead child’s place, without his wife knowing any better. Of course, this “newborn orphan” is not all that he seems. Damien, as he is named, exhibits some weird behaviour and pretty soon, death and tragedy surround him.
Smart writing, an excellent score and a truly haunting atmosphere make this Satanic-themed horror film a real winner. There’s the iconic scene where the family’s nanny goes to extremes on Damien’s sixth birthday – I won’t spoil it here but it’s an absolutely chilling moment – and the film was also said to be one of the first mainstream efforts in the genre to really amp up the gore.
Harvey Stephens’ performance as Damien must also be mentioned, as it is very effective. The kid is inherently creepy and no matter what he’s doing or saying, you always feel on edge when he’s on screen. Most of all though, the film is actually extremely scary. While audiences of today may not feel its effect, for 1976, the film was downright terrifying. And even today, I personally think it holds up pretty well and on all counts is an very well put together horror film that gets everything right.
65) Drag Me To Hell
It’s a shame that more people don’t talk about Drag Me To Hell when Sam Raimi’s name comes up. I know his Evil Dead films are classics and all, but I fell in love with Drag Me To Hell instantaneously and thought it a rather strong return to horror form after churning out three Spider-Man movies.
Seamlessly transitioning from jokey superhero films to jokey horror films, I caught a huge whiff of Evil Dead inspiration, be it the talking goat or violently disgusting outbursts, showing Raimi could still throw down with the best 2009 had to offer. Well, actually, I’d say he proved he could still hang with the best ever still, putting many films to shame with Drag Me To Hell. There’s an undeniable fun factor that makes large group viewings a thing of communal beauty, but watching alone proves just as satisfying.
64) The Wicker Man
Widely considered one of the best British horror movies ever made, Robin Hardy’s The Wicker Man is what I call a slow-burner. Conservatively Christian police Sergeant Howie (Edward Woodward) heads to the remote island of Summerisle to invesigate the vanishing of a young girl. There he discovers that no one will even own up to the girl existing, much less missing. He’s tempted by a local girl (Britt Ekland, eye-candy) and slightly disturbed by Lord Summerisle (Christopher Lee, being very Christopher Lee-ish), not to mention the odd – but not terribly sinister – May-time rituals that go on on the island.
The Wicker Man starts out as not much more than a mystery with slightly sinister overtones. Sgt. Howie is an unlikable protagonist, treating everyone around him with contempt bordering on pathological hatred. The crux of the film doesn’t come until about the last ten or fifteen minutes, when the viewer’s sympathies are strongly skewed to the cause of the villagers and not our hero. But the ending is one of the best in horror. Avoid the Nicolas Cage remake; rent the original and watch it to the end. It does not fail to terrify.
So often a horror film will post poor box office numbers and draw zero crowds, yet suddenly after a few years attracts a random cult following and becomes an overnight hit we all regretted missing in theaters. James Gunn’s Slither is a perfect example of that scenario, finding success after a disappointing theatrical run.
Gunn’s country fried creature feature is a wonderful mix of horror and comedy, bursting with Troma-influenced fun that Gunn learned from working closely with the production company as a younger professional. Actors Nathan Fillion and Elizabeth Banks join Gunn’s party and must fight a spreading “infestation” of creepy crawly aliens from eradicating humanity, and do an excellent job fitting into Slither’s B-Movie atmosphere. Genre fans will find more fun than chills here, but not every horror film can be a serious scare-fest. It’s better to lighten up sometimes, and Gunn has created some of the best escapism cinema just for that.
The Italians can shock you, the British creep you out, and the Americans know what’s gross. But the Japanese, man, they know their ghost stories. And their ghost stories will scare the crap out of you.
Ju-On (The Grudge) tells us six intertwining vignettes, all of them connected to one evil house. The horror begins with Rika (Megumi Okina), a social worker caring for an elderly woman in a quiet suburban home. Of course, it isn’t a quiet suburban home, is it? It’s haunted by the angry ghost of Toshio, a little boy, and … other things as well.
Death rattles, a black cat in a boarded up closet, and ghosts hovering around the edges of the frame, and you know that Rika isn’t getting out of this one. The terror only increases as the stories go on, building the tension and the narrative as the viewer puts together the pieces of what happened in that house. And it isn’t pretty.
It’s difficult not to compare Ju-On with the American remake that starred Sarah Michelle Gellar, which was actually not half bad. The Japanese film wins for the scares, though, because it does not tell a distinct chronological story with a main character and plot arc, but rather allows the viewer to slowly understand what’s happening through different eyes. It’s all very unfair too, because none of the victims really deserve what happens to them. They’re just in the wrong place at the wrong time. By the end of the film, I wanted to board up my closet door too. Just in case
61) I Saw The Devil
Kim Jee-woon makes one of two appearances on this list with I Saw The Devil, one of the greatest depictions of revenge I’ve seen in the last decade, but also one of the greatest “horror” movies to come out of South Korea, ever. Gritty, brutal, unrelenting, unsettling, violent, and evil are just some of the words that describe Kim’s masterpiece, but it’s also undeniably tantalizing, visually addictive, thematically brilliant, and deliciously vengeful. Forget the over two hour run time, this one is worth the ride.
Lee Byung-hun plays the role of a police officer whose soon-to-be wife becomes the latest victim of a cannibalistic serial killer (played by Oldboy’s Choi Min-Sik), which causes Lee’s character to never stop hunting until revenge is achieved. A noble and heartfelt attempt at wronging rights, the question remains if Lee’s protagonist is ready to dive into the dark depths that Choi’s killer already displays, having to turn himself into a monster in order to properly find one.
Well without giving anything away, I Saw The Devil is every bit worth Lee’s understandable transformation, making us question if he’s actually becoming a true monster himself.
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60) Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer
Just one of the many reasons why John McNaughton’s Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer remains a deeply provocative and unsettling work is the uncompromising realism with which it approaches the subject of the murder and serial killing. Shot and completed in 1986, the film’s highly graphic content and the decision over the cuts meant that it was kept from screens for 4 years and even then it didn’t arrive into various territories in its complete form until the earlier 2000s. Even now we can see why that was the case.
The film takes almost a documentary approach to its violence; it is unflinching, it never looks away and it never glamourises. Central to it is Michael Rooker, most known now for his role on The Walking Dead, as the demented Henry. Rooker was a non-actor, a janitor plucked out of obscurity for the film and it is that lack of stardom and acting awareness that leads to an almost ramshackled but real performance that makes the vision of the character perfect.
More important is the directorial vision, as Henry is probably the best film to date to deal with the collusive relationship between the voyeur of violence and the onscreen perpetrator of violence, asking the question: ‘Should you really be watching this?’ – but asking it honestly and non-judgmentally.
In that regard it is far more effective than Michael Haneke’s Funny Games, which actively seeks to alienate its audience by constantly berating them for enjoying the spectacle of violence. Haneke famously said that Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer was ‘too comical’. Believe us, there is nothing funny about it.
59) A Tale of Two Sisters
Korean horror is an interesting area of film, and one that has made great contributions to the horror genre. One of the most exciting horror films to come out of the country in some time is the 2003 psychological-horror flick A Tale of Two Sisters. So successful it was that it became Korea’s highest grossing horror film and the first to be screened in America. It was also remade in the form of 2009′s The Uninvited.
Stylish and very dark, A Tale of Two Sisters tells the tale of two sisters who return home after a stay in a psychiatric hospital. Soon after they settle in, they begin to experience disturbing events, violent nightmares and horrible visions. From there, things take off and we’re thrown into a truly horrific setting.
Admittedly, the film may be a bit slow for some, and opts for a “less is more” approach, but the result is chillingly effective and delightfully twisted. There’s also an excellent plot twist that really delivers a swift kick to viewers who haven’t been paying attention and greatly helps to unravel the mystery behind what is being presented.
The unsettling atmosphere, the intricate puzzle of a story, the beautiful framing and the reward at the end for paying attention all make A Tale of Two Sisters an excellent entry into the genre and one of the best pieces of Korean filmmaking in a long, long time.
58) Final Destination
Director James Wong isn’t known for many films, but the one film he is positively associated with, Final Destination, happens to be a real winner in the horror genre. I mean, deaths are a huge part of any horror movie, but the fact that you can’t escape it sends a shiver directly up my spine.
Wong’s film is simple – take a bunch of young up and coming actors like Devon Sawa and Sean William Scott, have them cheat death, have death get revenge, and script some awesome kill scenes. That’s all there is to Final Destination really, yet every moment is so ingeniously scripted to deliver cringe worthy kills, a strong foundation was built for a slew of mirror image sequels from numerous directors to create an interesting franchise, even if quality has never reached the same heights as Wong’s original.
Whether you view them as angels or as demons, there’s no doubt that Pinhead and the rest of his creepy cronies provide some horrifying and haunting sights throughout Hellraiser. The Cenobites are out to harvest human souls, which is terrifying in itself, but the film brings the scares long before Cenobites are even involved.
Sean Chapman is almost creepier as Frank the man than Oliver Smith is as the bloodied, fleshless Frank the monster. The gory sights of actual blood and guts disappear only momentarily throughout the film to provide shots of the thousands of maggots they include. When Kirsty first opens the portal with the box, the sights she sees are enough to haunt anyone for years. What that thing with two heads and one giant stinger actually is doesn’t matter. What matters is a mere glimpse of it is mind numbingly terrifying.
56) The Birds
Alfred Hitchcock comes up a couple of times on our list, but The Birds is one of his few films that can legitimately be considered horror. Melanie Daniels (Tippi Hedren) heads to Bodega Bay, north of San Francisco, to deliver a pair of lovebirds to Mitch Brenner (Rod Taylor) and his little sister Cathy (Veronica Cartwright). A seagull suddenly dive bombs Melanie – and that’s how it all begins. The bird attacks go from inexplicable to incredibly violent, holing up the Brenners in their home, wreaking havoc on the town, chasing down small children … all for no discernible reason.
The horror of The Birds lies in the inexplicable and the mundane. Birds are something we see every day, and view as largely innocuous; the notion of them suddenly, and systematically, attacking people is far more terrifying than dogs or wolves coming after us. Hitchcock makes brilliant use of the sound of birds’ wings – there is no non-diegetic sound in the entire film – and conditions the audience to know when the attack is about to come.
The Birds is a weird, disturbing film, as the microcosmic society of the Brenners breaks down in the face of incomprehensible evil.
55) Bride of Frankenstein
Featuring one of the most iconic non-speaking female roles in horror, Bride of Frankenstein is weirder and more morally complex than the film that introduced us to the big bad Monster.
Bride of Frankenstein actually borrows more from Mary Shelley’s book than the original film, and what it adds is both beautiful and bizarre. Most notable is the addition of Dr. Pretorius, who gives all mad scientists a run for their money.
Then of course there’s Elsa Lanchester in a dual role as the Bride and Mary Shelley. Karloff is back in the role that made him famous – as is Colin Clive as the titular Doctor. But this time the pathos of the Monster is truly heart-wrenching. He learns to speak from a kindly Blind Man and yearns to be accepted by the world – only to realize that he’s a monster. It’s a sad, complicated and weird film. While it might not scare anymore, it is horrifyingly moving.
54) Paranormal Activity
Just when the found-footage genre was on the decline, Director Oren Peli treated the world to an absolutely terrifying haunted house tale with 2007’s Paranormal Activity which caused a massive resurgence for the sub-genre. Made on a miniscule budget (about $15,000), the film exploded at the box office, bringing in nearly $200 million and becoming one of the most profitable films ever made.
The cheap effects and extremely tense moments of silence and of nothing happening build the suspense to a boiling point, before exploding in a shocking and disturbing ending that just begged for more. And while we did end up getting more in the form of a number of sequels, none of them have matched up to the genius and truly terrifying nature of the original.
Paranormal Activity was a game changer of sorts. Like others on the list, it inspired countless copycats but to this day, no one has done it as well as Peli did.
53) Army of Darkness
The culmination of Sam Raimi’s wacky, horror-loving mind, Army of Darkness is the director at his most uninhibited. Supported greatly from Bruce Campbell whose thespian skills had improved greatly from The Evil Dead (while retaining the proper manic energy) and stop motion action sequences that strike the perfect balance between camp and cool, it’s a return to the Evil Dead universe worth making.
Rarely in fact has kitsch blended so well with cool. If books of the dead and skeleton armies can meet a chainsaw hand and a souped-up 1973 Oldsmobile Delta 88 in 1300 AD without being an unmitigated disaster, you must have an assured hand behind the camera.
Iconic imagery aside, Army of Darkness also has some of the funniest and most memorable dialogue of the series, from “this is my boom stick” and “baby, you got real ugly” Sam and his brother Ivan seem to be having a blast from top to bottom and its impossible not to follow in line.
52) Funny Games (2007)
It would be difficult to say that Michael Haneke’s Funny Games is a film to like. In fact it’s not actually a film, instead it is more of a visual thesis on why the rest of the films on this list, particularly those born from what Haneke would see as the Hollywood Sausage Factory, are actually repellent, dangerous and should not exist.
This film is an attack/lecture on the on-the-nose nature of exploitation/horror/violent films, setting a bourgeoisie family against the wits of two seemingly normal young men who then proceed to commit horrible acts of violence against the family (all of which occurs offscreen) and then invites the audience to join them in these acts.
There is no cathartic release of visceral violence, instead Haneke invites us to look solely at the effects of violence, accusing us of wanting to see more and then calling us morally bankrupt for doing so. It is a fascinating and important discussion to have and one which I fundamentally find quite tiring and irritating, but it deserves to be on this list for that alone.
What is to be admired about Funny Games is the extraordinary air of menace and tension that exudes from every single pore of the film. Haneke has always been a brilliant technician of uneasy cinema and since Funny Games he has applied it to finer and less berating work.
Even though Funny Games stands in contempt of the films it is satirizing, it remains an immensely important and watershed genre film.
The original Saw, in my mind at least, is still one of the best horror films, ever. Its premise is intriguing and creative, paving the way for many, many copycats and rip-offs. Though it spawned numerous sequels, none of them ever lived up to the original. The acting was a bit sub-par and a couple plot holes showed their head but overall, this is an excellent horror film. It also features a movie twist on par with films like The Usual Suspects and Se7en.
Given its budget, some of the effects and kill scenes were incredibly well done and the twisted and insinuating atmosphere of the film kept us hooked to our seats. Jigsaw emerged as a new, iconic horror villain and the intricate structure and mystery behind the story kept audiences hungry for more.
To this day I still re-visit Saw every so often. It really is a brilliant piece of horror that is a great example of doing a lot, with a little.
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Another adaptation of a Stephen King novel, Misery is elevated by excellent performances from James Cann and Kathy Bates, turning it into one of the most frightening and harrowing horror films of all time. It’s pure white-knuckled intensity and you’d find yourself hard pressed not to be drawn into this chilling and unnvering tale right from the very start.
Anchored by a very strong character in Annie Wilkes, played so brilliantly by Kathy Bates, Misery is a horror film that is much deserving of a spot on this list. Full of tense moments, some truly terrifying scenes and a bit of humor as well, this is horror at its creepies, most nerve-racking and claustrophobic, making for a truly effective film, which also happens to contain one of the genre’s most famous scenes.
Misery works so well because it takes its time in building the suspense. Little by little we watch as Annie progresses from sane to completely off the rails, deranged and dangerous, propelling her right up to the ranks of psychopaths like Max Cady. The pacing is perfect and Annie’s character progression and the depth to her is part of what makes the film so effective.
For decades now Misery has been held in high regard by many critics, it is also beloved by fans. Watch it once and you’ll see why.
H.P. Lovecraft gets plenty of mention around the horror genre, having written so many tales of bizarre terror, but Stuart Gordon’s Re-Animator may be one of the best tales of Lovecraftian horror ever told. Haven’t had your fill of naked corpses, glowing green goo, and undead felines for the day? Well golly gee, do I have the movie for you!
All kidding aside, Re-Animator is a perfect blend of slapstick horror comedy and dementedly entertaining storytelling that just screams Lovecraft’s name. Call it body horror, undead horror, or torture horror – it’s just bloody good horror.
David Gale’s evil Dr. Hill proves to be the most memorable of villains, feeling the full benefits of the mystery serum which brings back his decapitated corpse and head, but Jeffrey Combs also deserves recognition for his portrayal of mad scientist Herbert West. These two genre characters alone are enough to recommend Gordon’s movie, but with so much silly carnage and guilty pleasure horror to witness, Re-Animator is a true classic that every genre fan absolutely must watch.
What would a top 100 horror list be without David Cronenberg’s Videodrome? Though I’ve never been a huge fan myself, there’s no denying the influence that Cronenberg’s movie had on the genre.
James Woods is brilliant in the film, the visuals are certainly something and the surrealism of it all made Videodrome really stand out as its own beast. Despite things getting a bit silly at times, Videodrome remains fairly gripping throughout, with its mysterious story and disturbing imagery. It’s a weird film, a very weird film, but then again, this is David Cronenberg we’re talking about.
There is also an underlying message that Cronenberg is trying to get out, predictions that he is making about our future, some of which have come true. The film gets a lot of things dead on, that’s for sure. It’s a very smart movie and will definitely leave you thinking, but it’s a disturbing and unsettling watch, so be warned.
47) Shaun of the Dead
Shaun of the Dead is an excellent film. Though it’s part comedy, and has a lot of very, very funny scenes, it definitely deserves a place on this list. The amount of references and nods to the genre here will have any horror fan grinning from ear to ear and you can tell that the film was made not by filmmakrs, but by true fans of the genre. There is no cheap parody here, the scenes we see before us have been crafted by people who have a genuine love for horror, and that’s part of what makes it so appealing.
Shaun of the Dead works as both a zombie film and a straight comedy, with physical gags and witty banter that will have you in stitches. Simon Pegg and Nick Frost are excellent in the lead roles, offering interplay and dialogue that is just music to the ears. It’s not all laughs though. There are some great gore effects here and a couple frightening moments tossed in for good measure. The film does revolve around zombies too, so the horror elements are definitely there.
Plus, the master of zombie films himself, George Romero, gave his backing to the film. If that’s not enough to get you to watch it then I don’t know what is.
This movie is perhaps one of the most disturbing I’ve ever had to watch. Once was enough to solidify its hold on my mind, and I can still recall most scenes clearly today simply because of how messed up they are. Director Pascal Laugier used some stunning imagery throughout Martyrs that is officially tattooed to the back of my eyes.
To explain the story would be both difficult and a pretty big spoiler, so look it up at your own risk, but just know that it will shake you up like nothing else has. The two halves of the film are complete opposites, yet both are played perfectly. As part of the rising French extreme horror movement, Martyrs is a perfect example of how to craft a visceral work of art. Word on the street is that there is an American remake on the way, and the director looks to inject some hope into this version. Martyrs is far too nihilistic for a concept such as hope, but too damn amazing to be ignored.
45) Dead Alive
Dear Peter Jackson, please come back to the horror genre! I know directing the epic Lord of the Rings adaptations for billions of dollars in profit is fun and all, but why not throw us Dead Alive fans a bone here!
Seriously, Dead Alive is a piece of art, and by art, I really mean gorgeous horror created through overwhelming gore and wave after wave of infected zombie types.
Main character Lionel Cosgrove (Timothy Balme) can be found in the zombie slaying hall of fame for his gratuitously pulpy lawnmower defense scene, and not to mention the few “boss” like zombies he has to face, being a testament to how intensely ferocious Jackson’s zom-com actually is. With a film so bright and vivid with imagination, really being a horror achievement of sorts, it’s no wonder he’s been trusted with J.R.R. Tolkien’s book franchise. But, you know Peter, if you ever DO want to come back to horror, us fans will be waiting with open arms!
44) Let The Right One In
Ah, vampire movies. They’ve become so ubiquitous – and toothless – lately that one almost despairs of them ever being scary again. Leave it to the Swedes to put the horror and the pathos back into vampires.
Let The Right One In gives us two lonely children, one of them a bloodsucking serial killer. But that’s all right, because they’re there for each other. Half the film plays out like an adolescent romance, as Oskar (Kare Hedebrant) develops his friendship with Eli (Lina Leandersson) in the dark Swedish winter. Up until Eli actually begins murdering people and drinking their blood, it’s a very sweet story.
But it really remains sweet. Oskar’s friendship with Eli gives him the strength to begin fighting back against his bullies. Set against the backdrop of Sweden in the winter, it’s a story imbued with darkness that ultimately comes to the conclusion that sometimes darkness is OK. If you’re a vampire, in fact, it’s preferable to the light. There are scenes of some pretty extreme gore – the best being the closing scene in the swimming pool, which is just amazing – but you forever feel sympathy with the children. It’s them against the world of light, and damn if you don’t want the darkness to win.
43) The Orphanage
Did I mention that Guillermo del Toro is awesome? No? Well I’m saying it now. Although he did not direct The Orphanage (El Orfanato) – the credit should go to J.A. Bayona – the film is nevertheless very much in keeping with his filmography. I still find it difficult not to think of this one as a del Toro film.
Whoever is responsible for it, The Orphanage ranks right up there as one of the best haunted house movies I’ve ever seen. The plot follows Laura (Belen Rueda), who returns home with her husband (Fernando Cayo) and son Simon (Roger Princep) to re-open the orphanage that she grew up in. Weird things begin to happen, including the appearance of the boy Tomas in a sack-cloth mask, all leading up to the disappearance of the terminally-ill Simon after a fight with his mother.
The Orphanage is much creepier than scary – the random appearances of Tomas, the strange sounds in the house, etc. – and punctuates its horror with quiet, sad moments. Simon is wise beyond his years, the orphanage haunted – literally and figuratively – by the ghosts of the motherless children. It’s one of the few haunted house movies that will frighten you and move you in equal measure. Forget ranking it up there with horror films – The Orphanage is a great film period.
42) Child’s Play
As if being a kid isn’t hard enough, what are you to do when horror movies start targeting your worst fears? Sure, Child’s Play was rated R and meant for adults, but how many children were shown a new nightmare after “accidentally” watching this classic? Brad Dourif’s turn as Chucky the killer doll is one of the most famed in horror history, and Chucky himself has become an icon. The pint-sized killer monster was a vicious little guy, and his use of a hammer in the first film still creates a phantom headache in fans.
More inventive than the slashers before him, and much funnier at times, Chucky’s legacy continued through the sequels, both good and terrible. But it all started in Child’s Play, and children across the world have never looked at stuffed animals the same way since. A film able to cause eternal mistrust in one of the most comforting items a child could have is truly diabolical, and Child’s Play perfectly fits the bill.
41) Return of the Living Dead
There are some zombie movies which treat the topic the the utmost seriousness, and then there are films like The Return of the Living Dead which have an uncanny sense of humor about the subject. I’m not sure which I prefer when done 100% perfectly, but Dan O’Bannon makes a steadfast argument for humor in this 80s throwback classic. Why can’t all horror movies just have been made in the 80s?
O’Bannon’s film isn’t the flashiest of horror movies either, despite the atrocious clothing styles of the 80s, and has a real low-budget feel that works perfectly with the schlocky material. The zombies are also cut from a different cloth, moving around like people and talking, which offers an interesting take on the tired walking zombies we’re so used to.
Oh, and there’s plenty of cheese-tastic 80s ridiculousness like a hot naked chick dancing naked in a graveyard, awesome costumes that use no CGI to show the zombies, and downright hilarious acting at times from some of the cast. In the end though, it’s nothing but good, clean, genre fun – well, not too clean actually, but it’s damn good fun nonetheless.
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The Universal monster that started it all, Tod Browning’s gothically inspired Dracula still carries the creeps. Despite somewhat dated acting styles and special effects, ol’Drac still has it in him. Gothic towers, creaking coffins, creepy crypts and young ladies in diaphonous nightgowns … it’s all here!
The King of Vampires is introduced – properly – surrounded by spider webs and a run-down castle, wolves howling outside, and a blood-sucking grin on his face. As soon as he intones those immortal words “I am Dracula,” you know that poor Dwight Frye’s Renfield is in for it.
The reason why this film is so iconic can be summed up in two words: Bela Lugosi. Bringing his Hungarian charm to the Transylvanian Count, Lugosi made the role his own in a way that no one since has managed. His very difficulty with the English language, which creates a stilted delivery, only contributes to the otherworld nature of the Count. “There are far worse things awaiting man than death,” he tells the pretty young things of London, right before he wreaks havoc on their necks and souls. We know, Count, and there are few better things than Dracula.
39) The Night of the Hunter
The Night Of The Hunter is another one of those films that might be horror, might be thriller, and is all awesome. Charles Laughton’s sole directorial outing makes you wish that the actor had made more films.
Robert Mitchum is ‘Preacher’ Harry Powell, a supposed man of God who marries a widow (Shelley Winters) with two small children after her husband Ben (Peter Graves) is executed. All is not as it seems, however, for Powell is himself an ex-con after the $10,000 dollars that Ben stole and hid somewhere on the house’s grounds … oh, and Powell’s also a vicious murderer.
The horror cred for The Night of the Hunter comes from two sources: Charles Laughton’s bizarre, haunting mis en scene, and Robert Mitchum at his most terrifying. This guy is not just a crook looking for easy money; he’s a woman-hating murderer, obsessed with ‘purity’ and touting his supposed religious status as an excuse for any number of sins. His pursuit of the children, the only ones who know where the money is hidden, through the countryside is a masterclass in creepy suspense. Powell is indefatiguable, his voice haunting every step of the terrified kids.
If all that isn’t enough to convince you, how about this? Powell’s ‘wrestling’ hands, tattooed with LOVE and HATE across the knuckles, have been referenced in dozens of films ever since.
38) Behind The Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon
If you let this vicious mockumentary somehow slip by you, please understand Scott Glosserman’s slasher-gem has been included on this list for a reason. That reason? Well, Behind The Mask is simply one of the most genius re-incarnations of horror explanation in the past decade, attacking conventional slasher horror norms through documentary-type exploits that give you an unprecedented look into the killer’s life.
Killer Leslie Vernon gives us a glimpse into the daily life of a serial murderer, what training is involved, and a psychotic look into the brutal mindset of horror’s biggest icons. Even the smallest details are picked up and satirically dealt with in Behind The Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon, presenting dark entertainment horror that fans gobble up with glee. And then a bloody brilliant third act happens after the jabs have been thrown and background work is established. Hell, I couldn’t get the Talking Head’s Psycho Killer out of my head for weeks thanks to Glosserman’s film….
37) High Tension
A stellar entry into the New French Extremist horror movement, High Tension (or Switchblade Romance as it is known to this writer) conforms to the standards of that mode. That is, a lack of humanity, brutal violence and statements about the nature of our bodies. In other words, High Tension is a bloody, scary romp across the French countryside with no boundaries surrounding the fate of its characters.
Director Alexandre Aja twists those notions to extend far past mere fear for our bodies and into a terrifying cat-and-mouse road trip. The film follows two girls: Marie and Alex who travel to Alex’s parents’ house to study for the weekend. Obviously, bugger all study gets accomplished as an unwelcomed guest arrives at the homestead and starts murdering everyone. No, it’s not a vampire (thank the lord) – but a greasy, overall-wearing (and probably virginal) trucker.
Aja and his lead actress Cecile De France knock out of the park a truly scary set piece in the farm house as the killer stalks through each room. The unique component to the film’s emotional verve, however, is the overwhelming shock and sorrow felt by the audience after Alex’s family meet their fate, despite the little screen time they are allotted to develop their characters.
High Tension ticks all the boxes for a winning modern horror: it’s scary, it’s bloody and it’s got one hell of a twist that will require a drinking bender including industrial strength floor cleaner with your mates to figure out.
36) Deep Red
Enough of all the Suspiria chatter, Deep Red puts that ballet school to shame. I remember watching Suspira with attentive focus yet never really being pulled in, making me leary to continue down the Argento path. Then I watched Deep Red, and I was hooked and eager for more of the Italian filmmaker’s style. Melding always unique scores with hyper gore at the time, Argento created a masterpiece in Deep Red.
What gets me is the ridiculous scenario, as a jazz pianist plays detective to solve the murder of a psychic who picked up wavelengths from her killer who was watching her speak while hidden in a large crowd. It’s a mouthful and something special, but Argento really melds all the random elements together, creating some influential old-school horror awesomeness. Really, as far as classics go, Deep Red is something that should be remembered for a very, very long time.
35) The Evil Dead
For Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell, this is where it all started. Evil Dead 2 may be their crowning achievement, but there’d be no trilogy without the original Evil Dead. With nothing but a hope and a dream Sam Raimi gathered money from investors and shot in a remote cabin setting deep in Tennessee, having no idea he was just about to create one of the quintessential cult films in all of history. Not bad for a kid starting out with his first movie, eh?
Tree rape. I’m not sure I really have to say anything else about what goes on in Raimi’s insane independent horror shocker, but it all starts with some well-timed tree-rape. Tremendously low-budget but still highly entetaining, Raimi used this film as a perfect launching point to expand upon in his sequel, but still managed to out-wit, out-entertain, and out-show many horror movie still produced today. I know this quote isn’t from Evil Dead itself (it’s from the third film in the series, Army of Darkness), but “Hail to the King, baby.”
34) The Sixth Sense
Remember when the name M. Night Shamalyn used to be synonymous with promising film? No? Ok, good, because we don’t either. But once upon a time the now hack director actually used to make quality flicks and his breakout hit was a little film called The Sixth Sense.
Aside from inspiring countless clones, the effectively creepy and truly shocking film boasted one of the best twist endings, well, ever, a quote that went on to become one of the AFI’s top 100 movie quotes (I see dead people) and it also put Haley Joel Osment on the map (though he has now fallen off, any surprise?).
Influential and original, The Sixth Sense stands as a shining example of horror done well and will likely always be the only saving grace for Mr. Shamalyn, who is now the butt of almost every Hollywood joke. With six academy award nominations, including one for best picture, The Sixth Sense is a natural choice for any top horror films list
Hands down the best “zombie” film in years. No doubt about it. Paco Plaza and Jaume Balagueró shocked the found footage genre with a horror film so engrossing and haunting, it became almost an instant classic. So many other zombie film directors have tried mastering the first person camera angle, but to this point, all pale in comparison to [REC].
What makes everything so cohesive are the smart choices both directors make, implementing the usage of fast-paced zombies that chase our cameraman around with some threatening pep in their step while avoiding cheap yet tempting one-off jump scares that could have been easily overused. Respect is paid to the audience by our directors, and it shows. Shocked and senseless after a bone-chilling third act, [REC] quickly ascended the ranks amongst some of horror’s greatest contributions.
32) The Cabin In The Woods
The Cabin in the Woods is hands down the best horror I’ve seen in a decade, showcasing monumentally intelligent horror writing on the part of Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard. Unlike films that shamelessly market something blatantly untrue, I was thankfully taken aback by the utter shock of where The Cabin in the Woods took me. Goddard has directed something genre defining here, showing that phenomenal ideas still exist out there.
The funny part is, due to MGM’s past financial crisis, The Cabin in the Woods got shelved after being filmed in 2009. Yes, Chris Hemsworth is pre Thor at this point, but his skyrocketing popularity only helped the 2012 release date. With that, I have to thank Lionsgate for realizing the genius behind The Cabin in the Woods, and promptly dusting it off to blow our minds. Gremlins, zombies, and an Angry Molesting Tree…oh my!
It’s about 45 minutes into Takashi Miike’s Audition when we realise something is very wrong indeed. In its first act Audition sets out as a surrealistic romantic film where a man auditions women to be his bride following the death of his wife. A strange and fairly prurient premise, but one which is handled with levity and brightness and carries an encompassing sense that this will be a story of blossoming love. What the man doesn’t expect is that his newly chosen wife has some psychotic tendencies and in one shot we suddenly realise where we are going for the next hour.
Audition carries with it the reports of people fainting in the cinema due to some of its more extreme moments. These are to be believed. Miike has a particular way with violence that makes it both appalling and savagely comic. The scene which the film has now become renowned for, which contains the line: “and now the left foot” is an example of that. It is toe curling but Miike’s construction is impeccable and despite the intense, graphic violence occurring on screen it is difficult to tear your eyes away. Of the eons and eons of Japanese Extreme cinema, Audition ranks as the best and most inspiringly twisted.
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Each new era of horror has a trendsetter, and the 90s postmodern horror movement was born with Wes Craven’s Scream. Released in December 1996, Scream twins genuine scares with comedic teenage hubris in light of a series of murders in smalltown California.
The story follows Sidney Prescott, a teenager whose mother was murdered the previous year, who must contend with the attention of a masked killer who works his way through her classmates. While the premise resembles traditional horror fare, the content is far from ordinary. The postmodern tag stuck due to its characters awareness over their predicament. In short: they know they are in a horror film. They are like us, the audience, aware of which horror clichés to avoid and which rules to abide.
Craven creates action we are all too familiar with, writer Kevin Wiliamson’s dialogue embraces exclamations we all shout at the screen, and the tone blends fear and humour to massive effect.
Williamson’s script attracted a wealth of Hollywood talent, including its biggest star, Drew Barrymore. Barrymore’s involvement in the project raised the stakes due to her choice of role as Casey Becker in the film’s first moments. Scream’s prowess is strongest in this opening scene which pays knowing homage to When A Stranger Calls, He Knows You’re Alone and Halloween. When the audience realise Barrymore’s fate; all bets are off and nothing is certain.
29) The Hills Have Eyes
Wes Craven is a legend in the horror genre and his 1977 film The Hills Have Eyes is the perfect example why. Craven is a Master of Suspense, and that attribute is on full display here as the patient and careful approach that the director takes with building suspense and mounting the tension pays off in spades.
Given its low budget, and the fact that it was only Craven’s second feature, the film is a very well-made piece of horror, exhibiting creative craftsmanship and has since amassed quite the cult following. Still as effective in its portrayal of brutality as it was in 1977, The Hills Have Eyes really helped shape Craven’s career. It tells the story of the Carter family, who were travelling to California via the desert. Before long the family finds themselves in the company of cannibals and it is there that they meet their horrifying ends.
The trailer siege scene stands out as incredibly effective and particularly disturbing, but most of the film is full of moments that, at the time, were deemed too shocking for most audiences. For its time, The Hills Have Eyes really turned things up to 11, shocking most audiences and causing many a moviegoer to walk out of the theatre. It’s pure “down-and-dirty” 70s horror and it’s an unflinching and at times, bone-chilling film, one that lays it all out on the table and frequently pushes boundaries. Sure, the violence may seem tame by today’s standards, but back in ’77, it was pretty extreme.
There’s also the subtext of the film, with Craven commenting on the savage, animalistic instinct and the bloodlust that is hidden in all of us. The message is communicated quite well, and never forced down our throats.
Though not his best film, The Hills Have Eyes is a bright spot on Craven’s resume and a film that deserves to be seen by horror aficionados.
28) Zombi 2
Lucio Fulci’s Zombi 2 isn’t exactly a great film (though it does have a huge fanbase), but it’s an important entry into the horror genre nonetheless. Known mostly for its extreme, and we do mean extreme, gore, this “unofficial sequel to George A. Romero’s Dawn of the Dead (which was titled Zombi in some countries) is a hardcore and unashamed horror film that values style over substance, which results in a bloody good time and a real nail-biter.
Though the story is paper thin (and is there only to serve as a backdrop for the extreme violence) and the acting often questionable, Fulci’s Zombi 2 is an exercise in pushing boundaries, which actually resulted in the movie being banned in several countries. The film is define by its gore and bloodshed, and rightfully so. The gore effects here are gruesome, detailed and on full display for you to feast your eyes on. Trust us when we say that nothing is held back. There are truly some absolutely grotesque moments here, things that need to be seen to believed.
Zombi 2 is a staple in the sub-genre of zombie films and is widely considered a classic. At the end of the day it’s just a really enjoyable watch (if you can handle the gore), there’s no subtext or commentary like we saw in Dawn of the Dead, this is just pure unadulterated fun. It’s a wild ride (despite its slow burn), and at times just downright sinister, but we’ll be damned if it isn’t one hell of a zombie flick.
I mean, where else can you see a zombie go up against a shark? And the eyeball scene? My god, I wish I could un-see that.
The first time I ever watched Se7en was at my parent’s behest. After watching Saw together, they recommended this masterpiece to me, marking the first and last time they would pick an amazing movie to watch. This is a perfect storm of terrific acting and marvelous directing, combining the talents of David Fincher, Morgan Freeman, Brad Pitt and Kevin Spacey to create one of the best (if not the best) psychological thrillers of all time.
But this is a horror list, you say? There’s more than enough horror to go around in Se7en, as each gruesome murder at the hands of the killer is shown in gory, gritty detail. Mind you, we don’t witness the murders, simply the aftermath, a fact that manages to make this film more chilling than it already is. The crime scene for the sin of sloth will haunt you for years to come, making air fresheners one of the most frightening things you could have in your life.
Movie buffs owe it to themselves to watch this straightaway.
26) The Fly
Utter the words: horror remake, and most fans of horror would launch into a horrific tirade mainly decrying and ranting against Hollywood’s obsession with trashing originals by making abhorrent remakes. And people quite rightly do that, most horror remakes are deeply terrible. Some are however pretty good and are better than the original. In the case of The Fly, enfant terrible David Cronenberg made a brilliant decision to take a shoddy Hammer-esque romp, which had aged severely, and update it to his gruesome sensibilities while retaining a backbone of humanism.
The reliance on prosthetic make up effects and animatronics to create the gloopy monsters are still impressively gory and lend a timeless quality that CGI just doesn’t have. Jeff Goldblum’s role as the mad professor, whose experimentations with teleportation goes hideously wrong when his DNA structure is mingled with that of a common house fly, is fantastic, while reliable support is provided by Geena Davis and the terrific John Getz.
The film’s brilliance though lies in its ability to repel and emote, the final moments of The Fly are actually quite moving and it is in this that Cronenberg finds the reason for his updating of the material.
25) Dawn of the Dead
What can one really say about George A. Romero’s Dawn of the Dead? It might just be the best zombie film ever made, and it’s certainly the most influential one. Unanimously praised by fans and critics alike, this is the real grand-daddy of zombie films, and horror films in general. And it’s not only the horror elements here that are worthy of praise, Romero’s satirical jabs at consumerism are also of note, as the film takes place mostly in a mall where the survivors are trapped.
It’s gory, it’s violent and at times downright terrifying, but it’s also an intelligent film that has influenced nearly every other piece in the genre since its 1978 release. Dawn of the Dead is undoubtedly a masterpiece, it acts extremely well as a straight up horror film, but the depth and insight that Romero brings to the film make it something truly special and really gives you something to think about.
Throw in Tom Savini’s make-up effects, The Goblin’s soundtrack, solid performances and some absolutely classic scenes, and you have one of the best horror films of all time, a truly groundbreaking movie.
There’s some debate over whether Ringu is actually scarier than its Hollywood remake, The Ring. Well that debate is ridiculous. The Ring may be scary, but Ringu takes the terrifying story to a whole other level. Japanese horror almost always has a frightening vibe, and Ringu is the best that’s come from that country in a long time.
The sinister way that the story simmers along while Asakawa researches deaths linked to a mysterious video tape builds the sense of dread to such a level that it’s almost unbearable to watch. The slightest hiss of “seven days” turns every phone ring into a reason to jump out of your skin for fear of who is on the other end of the line. The pool scene is so bleakly lit and filled with terrifying sounds that it’d be scary in itself, but throw in the masterfully created monster of a girl and Ringu makes for one of the scariest films of all time.
23) An American Werewolf in London
Werewolf movies are always kind of tough. You can’t get away from the fact that sooner or later, your main character has to turn into a furball. Thank God for the 80s, which brought some much needed camp into the werewolf subgenre.
John Landis’s An American Werewolf In London should be shown in a triple feature with Mike Nichols’s Wolf and Joe Dante’s The Howling. Here, we’ve got the typical werewolf narrative with a twist: basically decent guy David (David Naughton) gets bitten by a werewolf while on a walking tour of England with his good friend Jack (Dunne). Jack dies, but David survives and begins having some pretty freaky dreams about growing hair in odd places. He’s in London now, has met a pretty young nurse (Jenny Agutter) in the hospital, and all seems hunky-dorey … until Jack appears to him in a dream and informs him that he’s going to become a werewolf. Which he does.
An American Werewolf In London brings both the gore and the inherent humor of a guy turning into a Golden Retriever. The scenes of horror – thanks to amazing effects by Rick Baker – are off-set by tongue-in-cheek humor as David prowls the London Underground and the London Zoo. But David is still sympathetic, a guy who does not deserve what happens to him, just like Lon Chaney Jr. in The Wolf Man.
An American Werewolf in London is horror for the self-aware, but not the less scary (or sad) for all that.
22) The Descent
Hands down one of the greatest modern-day horror tales, The Descent is any claustrophobic adventurer’s nightmare. Seriously, if you don’t like dimly lit tight spaces, the atmosphere Neil Marshall creates will have you gasping for air out of anxiety influenced terror.
Mix that unfiltered natural fear with blood-thirsty cave dwelling beasts who hunt our exploring main characters, and you’ve got the terrifyingly visceral film that is The Descent. As the characters venture deeper into the deadly underground labyrinth, their descent into madness only increases, culminating in a spectacular horror watch which will leave you emotionally jarred.
You cannot deny Brian DePalma’s Carrie is a horror film and yet it doesn’t belong exclusively to the macabre, doubling as a teenage morality tale with gruesome consequences. For those of you who haven’t seen it the film centres on Carrie White, a social misfit, who receives her first period which awakens in her a unique ability which causes devastation to her small town.
The film, based on the Stephen King novel, extends beyond the boundaries of your typical high school horror and plagues the audience with the ‘woman as monster’ archetype. It’s not a beastie under the bed, or an entity you can’t see, it’s a teenage girl.
A common trope exploited in horror the archetype poses female characters as villainous towards their male counterparts. Oddly enough, this is thought to be due to the similarity of women with monsters; monsters mutate and terrify with their utter disregard for traditional body boundaries and women mutate and terrify husbands when they squeeze babies from their pleasure hole.
Carrie occupies that space to perfection, as the menstruating woman shrieking and wide-eyed who believes herself to be dying, only to be ridiculed and mocked by her peers for her ignorance.
Either a clever plot point or nuanced performances by the supporting cast never make clear people’s intentions towards Carrie. Is Sue, who out of guilt forces her dishy boyfriend Tommy Ross to take Carrie to the prom, genuinely altruistic? Does Miss Collins, doling out gym detentions and saying ‘shitty’ to students, truly care for Carrie’s well-being? You can’t help but twinge with empathy for Carrie as she struggles to accept the kindness of others after a lifetime of ostracism.
By the time the finale rolls around and the fate of each player is divided neatly into De Palma’s you-can’t-believe-it-actually-works split screen, you’re aghast at how quickly a prank escalates into (pig) bloodshed and just want it to end for poor Carrie.
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20) The Blair Witch Project
Assembled from the found footage of three college students, the fictional tale of the Blair Witch is a stunning mythology wrapped around a simple parable about kids getting lost in the woods. Three college students, Heather, Mike and Josh, after interviewing local townsfolk about Elly Kedward, a supposed witch, wander into the Black Hills forest to never be seen again.
A slow burner, there are payoffs aplenty as tensions rise through the struggle of group mentality in a high pressure situation. The production method of three actors actually living the experience while filming it causes a confusing reality – are they really arguing, or is it their characters? The scares are served out of your own imagination, a cunning tactic which determines just how scared you will become. Everyday noises and objects are reappropriated as terrifying totems.
The genius in this chiller lies in the attention to detail from creators Sanchez and Myrick, who layer it up thick so you cannot help but believe. It’s most telling secret lies in the first 20 minutes of the film, a sliver of foreshadowing dropped into conversation – ignored by many first time audience members who were left scratching their heads at the end.
If you haven’t yet seen it, it may be time to go down to the woods today. Oh, and make sure you listen to those interviews with the townsfolk.
19) The Silence of the Lambs
We can thank this standout classic for the now-ubiquity of FBI profilers, police psych analysts, serial killer hunters, and general obsession with the Dexters of this world.
Sweeping the 1992 Oscars with Best Actor, Actress, Director, Picture, and Adapted Screenplay, The Silence of the Lambs introduced us to one of the most unnerving, intriguing, and compelling fictional characters of all time, Dr. Hannibal “The Cannibal” Lecter. Brian Cox debuted him [extremely well] in the wholly-insufficient Manhunter (a grievous iteration largely corrected by 2002’s Red Dragon), but it was Anthony Hopkins who claimed the space, boring into us with his high-powered perception, tempting us toward the bars to peer inside his psyche with Clarice and pray he finds us, like her, courteous enough to be left alone should they fail.
Hopkins brought the dulcet, menacing tones of “Ready when you are, Sergeant Pembry,” “I’m having an old friend for dinner,” and “No, that is incidentalll” face to face with Clarice’s steadfast “I’m here to learn from you,” trust-building honesty regarding the embarrassing truth about Miggs, and remarkably courageous quid pro quo regarding her doomed ovine beloved. Student and Svengali, hunter and hunted, such the pair they make, both as character and actor.
Crisp, complex, beautifully acted, and nerve-janglingly suspenseful, The Silence of the Lambs allows us to glimpse what makes people tick, what makes some go one way and others, well, another… It leaves us exhausted and somehow elated, and endures in consummate psychological thriller perfection to this day.
18) 28 Days Later
Danny Boyle’s entry into the horror genre comes full of terrifying zombies, a handful of truly dark moments and some fantastic characterization. 28 Days Later is a great film in its own right, but as a horror piece, it’s downright superb.
A success both critically and commercially, the film really revitalized the zombie sub-genre, delivering a swift kick to the gut of a part of horror that was slowly growing stale.
Boyle’s work of art is so much more than just a zombie film though. It acts also as political allegory and even a compelling look at human nature. The film really does ask some tough questions and if you’ve been paying close attention, it will leave you thinking. This is a thought provoking film that is trying to say something.
Don’t get me wrong, there are some absolutely terrifying moments here, thanks to Boyle’s decision to give the zombies the ability to run, but there is so much more to 28 Days Later than just zombies and gore. Boyle has done something truly wonderful here. He has created a zombie film with depth and smarts. For that, it will be regarded as a classic for years to come.
No one does classical horror like Universal. Within two years they released Dracula, Frankenstein, The Mummy and The Invisible Man, and it’s hard to decide which one is the more iconic. Luckily, we don’t have to.
Frankenstein only slightly follows the plot of its literary namesake, but we can forgive that. Dr. Henry Frankenstein builds a Monster, said Monster runs amok, and a windmill burns down. Karloff gives a grand, wordless performance as the Monster, bringing pathos to a mindless brute.
Gothically beautiful, with some additions of weirdness courtesy of director James Whale, the original Frankenstein has remained the yardstick by which all other monster movies are measured.
16) Friday the 13th
Jason has been everywhere – Camp Crystal Lake, New York City, Space, Hell, Freddy’s Dream world – this killer is quite the adventurer. But with that said, the only Friday the 13th film included on this list happens to have nothing to do with our hockey mask wearing horror icon, and instead his schizophrenic mother which started it all.
Sean S. Cunningham, the man smart enough to direct our original Friday the 13th film and never return, is exactly who to blame for those sleepless nights spent at sleepaway camp with your friends. Is the mother of a dead camp-goer seeking vengeance on all those now in attendance?
Poor Kevin Bacon didn’t think about those implications, playing one of Mrs. Voorhees’s young victims in one of the most influential films which sparked the slasher explosion of the 1980s. Looks like the only thing scarier than Jason is his…Mom?
15) Evil Dead 2
If you’re horror fan and don’t know the Evil Dead franchise, go jump off the tallest building you can find, but before you do, watch Evil Dead 2. It’s a horror film so enchanting and so unique both Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell have ascended to the status of genre Gods because of it, and still to the day remains relevant in current horror culture.
Goofy, silly, riotous, and downright psychotic are all terms that describe what is essentially a black comedy wrapped in devilish horror, as main character Ash and a few of his friends attempt to spend some quality time in a run-down little cabin.
What follows is the death of all but Ash, his spiral into chainsaw-armed madness, tremendous amounts of gore as he hacks his way through the Deadites, and then there’s a scene where he laughs at some furniture – and it laughs back. Yes, this film is special, and help shaped the horror comedy over time – too bad no one has been able to achieve such greatness since.
Whether you count Jaws as a horror film is something you could debate with theorists for hours and hours, but the stamp of fear it brandished on most people, including the “I’ll never go swimming in the ocean again” line you’ve probably heard from one of your relatives lucky enough to see the film on original release, is very difficult to ignore. Many people have not swam in the ocean since as a result of Spielberg’s masterpiece and despite some clunky visual effects here and there, nearly 40 years on, it is still an absolute milestone.
Spielberg often talks about Kubrick and his obsession with craft. With Jaws, Spielberg’s craft is at its absolute highest register. Most obvious in this is the incredibly long, one shot, no coverage takes. Spielberg allows everything inside the frame to create tension and then he underlays it with one of the most iconic scores of film history.
The troubled production behind Jaws is well known and incredibly well documented, particularly in reference to the shark which failed to work. For Spielberg, the malfunctioning monster proved to be a saving grace leaving him to come up with solutions for showing the shark. These included the score, the barrels and the end of the dock which the shark rips from the jetty when the two fisherman decide to bait him with a massive lunk of beef.
Then there are the unforgettable cinematic moments which Spielberg handles so beautifully. The head coming out of the hole in Ben Gardner’s submerged boat, Quint scratching his nails down the chalk board and Roy Schneider’s horrified gasp of: “We’re gonna need a bigger boat.” Jaws still manages to get the blood pumping and keep you gripped, there are moments of perfectly constructed tension that are yet to be matched.
13) Invasion of the Body Snatchers
The 50s were a time of somewhat low-budget and often very creepy sci-fi/horror films and Invasion of the Body Snatchers is one of the best. Remade several times – as a sort of camp creepfest in 1978, parodied in The Faculty, and remade again (poorly) as The Invasion – the original remains a classic.
It is a freaky idea. A town in California has a rash of people suspecting their family members of being imposters, dismissed initially as ‘mass hysteria’. They’re right, of course. The pod-people have invaded and begun replacing everyone with emotionless copies. As the population of real people dwindles, Dr. Miles Bennell (Kevin McCarthy) and his girlfriend Becky (Dana Wynter) try to figure a way to stop them, escape the town and warn the rest of the world of an extraterrestrial invasion.
Invasion of the Body Snatchers is executed with a constant sense of paranoia and low-key menace. There are few overt scenes of horror but it’s the encroachment not really of death or violence but total lack of human emotion is what makes the whole idea so creepy and so effective. It references Cold War paranoia, the slow dehumanizing of American suburbia and the terror of the mundane. Even the tacked-on ending doesn’t dispel the paranoia that it’s all too late. “They’re here already! You’re next! You’re next!”
12) Night of the Living Dead
A truly revolutionary horror film, George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead changed the genre forever, spawning countless ripoffs, remakes and reshashes, few of which ever lived up to this masterpiece. This is the film that really established the rules of the zombie genre and dictated how zombies would be depicted and portrayed for years to come.
It ushered in a ton of new trends and genres within horror and its influence and legacy is still felt to this day. Honestly, the fact that it is was selected by the Library of Congress for preservation in the National Film Registry as a film deemed “culturally, historically or aesthetically significant” speaks volumes.
Watching it again today, I would say that it still mostly holds up. Obviously it’s not as effective as it once was, given that zombies have been done to death, but its importance and significance can still be seen. George A. Romero is a legend for a reason and no films solidiefis his status as a horror god more than Night of the Living Dead.
Back before the paranormal got all active in the San Diego suburbs, there was Poltergeist. Ostensibly a Tobe Hooper film, but produced by Steven Spielberg, it has a definite Spielbergian vibe. A normal suburban home in a normal suburban neighborhood transforms into a portal to hell, complete with an evil clown doll and something nasty in the closet.
What makes Poltergeist so damn effective is that it plays on all those childhood fears that even adults can relate to: there’s something under the bed, in your closet or outside your window; your toys are coming after you, the TV will suck you in. The whole concept about the poltergeist – it knows what scares you – has been done and re-done in horror movies ever since. But there are very few that accomplish it with such composite humor and horror.
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10) The Texas Chainsaw Massacre
If the recent release of Texas Chainsaw 3D had at least one positive effect it was to remind us how big a deal Tobe Hooper’s seminal, revolutionary slice of unadulterated terror is. John Carpenter has waxed lyrical about the influence of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre upon his work and the slasher genre in general, and generally speaking it is perhaps the most important. It is perhaps the high water mark of the stalk-and-slash formula. It was one of the first to utilize the group of teenagers getting stalked by faceless terror plot and has had the last word since then.
Considering its reputation as this notorious and horrific feature, that was famously banned in several locations around the world, there is comparatively little visceral bodily fluid spillage than the title so blatantly points towards. While its sequels and terrible remakes have ladelled on the gore, Hooper relies on building up a thick, uncomfortable atmosphere to put his audience on edge and keep them in a state of sheer terror for the lean 80 minute running time.
Texas Chainsaw Massacre also relies on one very simple attribute that not a lot of horror films have in their favour. It could potentially happen. The idea of the story being completely true is a lie but the ground that the film is based on is fact. Serial killings, corpse exhumation and other macabre weirdness were things very closely related to Ed Gein and Hooper plays on the audience’s knowledge of that case throughout the whole film to very powerful ends. But what makes Texas Chainsaw Massacre truly terrifying is the fact that there is no logic to what Leatherface and his family are doing, there is no explanation, there is no backstory and there is no exposition. It’s just simply terrifying.
9) The Others
Alejandro Amenábar’s The Others is one of the superlative examples of how to craft a horror film – an efficient, gothic thriller that earns its jump moments and most importantly, its twist ending. The Others stands as one of the rare efforts, especially within this genre, which benefits from its last-act reveal rather than blindly succumbing to its inevitability.
In fact, horror or otherwise, this chiller offers one of the most satisfying curveballs in cinema history and is one that has been duplicated many times since, but to far less positive results. The care taken at every turn, down to the smallest detail, truly serves to inflate the ending’s effectiveness, rather then having the ending rob the prior acts of some of its soul.
Cemented by a simultaneously towering and restrained performance from Nicole Kidman (which earned her a Golden Globe nomination) and propelled by the perpetually unsettling mood, The Others is lasting, not because of shock gore or memorable creatures or apparitions, but for its ability to chill. The Others is the rare example of how to truly haunt an audience.
8) The Shining
An attestation to the late Stanley Kubrick and his superb The Shining, is in his almost complete ignorance of its source material. Taking the bare bones of Stephen King’s novel he filled in the blanks with unending shots, stunted dialogue, characters who cannot exist and a mysterious portrait by an artist who dips his brush into the inkwell of time.
Jack Nicholson, in arguably his best role to date, stars as Jack Torrance, an alcoholic writer who drags his family to a remote hotel, The Overlook (built on a Native American burial ground, of course) to act as the caretaker for the winter. The most rubbery face in cinema, Shelley Duvall stars as his wife Wendy who spends her time taking care of their son Danny, whose “shining” coincides with his father’s emergent mania.
Duvall was harangued by Kubrick during production, as captured mercilessly by Kubrick’s daughter, Vivian, in her must-see documentary Making The Shining. Watching the doc, it’s fascinating to see how Kubrick manipulated her into differing degrees of rubberiness despite her endless whining. The doc makes a mockery of every “making of” featured on DVDs for the last decade – and it was made by a 17-year old!
The UK marketing campaign’s tagline “The Terror is HERE!” got it spot on. The Shining is absolutely terrifying, but why? The film’s horror is borne from confusion surrounding identity and a displacement of objects and people in time. Waves of blood breach walls to flood corridors, characters appear to coerce Jack deeper into The Overlook’s twisted pathos only to disappear.
Oh and then there’s the teddy bear fellating a random man to the sound of the foley artist repeatedly banging on a pipe. While Shelley Duvall whimpers.
Without traditional cause and effect logic dictating the narrative, anything can happen in the haunted hotel – which makes the oddities Kubrick chose all the more intriguing. Prior to production he sat down the entire cast and crew and screened David Lynch’s Eraserhead to set the tone for what was to come. Lynch’s influence is present as an almost parody of mood.
Thirty years on and the film continues to stir up theory, debate and crackpot conspiracy notions so much so, an entire documentary, titled Room 237, is dedicated to it; and the feature itself was re-released this last Halloween in the UK with extra footage added.
The Shining stands alone as a true haunted house flick. The film’s success is grounded in its insistence on being anything but a traditional horror film. Now, if you can just figure out what the bloody hell is going on.
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7) The Exorcist
Did you grow up hearing people warn, wide-eyed, “Don’t play with a Ouija Board, it’s dangerous!”? Well, this is why. An entire generation (and the one after it) was informed by one Captain Howdy, the malevolent entity who charmed a 12-yr-old innocent and then took vicious possession (even 40 years later, it still doesn’t seem bad advice…).
Directed by intensity-master extraordinaire William Friedkin (The French Connection, Killer Joe) and starring Ellen Burstyn, Linda Blair, Max von Sydow, and Jason Miller, this horror classic among classics derives its bone-chilling terror to its bright, everyday, clinical ramp-up: a gentle child falls mysteriously ill, and we follow her through all manner of tests, scans, and workups. Finally sent home holding her child in a bundle, without answers and without hope, it begins to dawn on the mother (and us).
Of course, the demon Pazuzu has playful plans of his own, transforming our sweet Regan into something so plainly unnatural that images of it torment the sensitive days, weeks, years after the viewing. The Exorcist’s magnitude, profanity, and violation of the laws of nature are the stuff of nightmare, and while many stories of possession have hit the big screen since this multiple-award-winning sensation swept the collective American consciousness, none have reached its level. This is the best entry in the exorcism genre and is undoubtedly a horror classic.
6) The Thing
John Carpenter has made a number of films that influenced both the action and horror genres, but The Thing still stands as his crowning achievement. There’s so much going on from the desolate arctic setting, to Kurt Russell’s driving performance, all capped off with brilliant practical monster effects from Stan Winston and Rob Bottin.
Down to every last detail, The Thing is horrifically gorgeous. I could watch this film on repeat all day and every day, and it happens to be my favorite horror film of all time. If you’ve somehow missed this work of art, stop reading right now and don’t finish our list until you’ve watched The Thing from start to finish. Trust me, there’s a reason this film is one of the only horror recommendations I dole out as a “Must See.”
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5) Rosemary’s Baby
Roman Polanski’s 1968 horror film brought Satan to the modern era and installed him in Central Park West. With a cast including Mia Farrow, John Cassavetes and Ruth Gordon, Rosemary’s Baby was a tale of paranoia, motherhood and the Antichrist, as an actor sells his wife’s body to Satan for a chance at success.
Rather than spending time on the trials and tribulations of Cassavetes, Polanski focuses instead on the victim, the mother who begins to believe that she has been raped and impregnated by Satan himself. Much of the horror is psychological: is Rosemary paranoid, slowly going insane? Or is she about to be mother to the Antichrist?
An absurd sense of humor permeates Rosemary’s Baby, making it more unnerving than a serious Satan film. Polanski uses caricatures and jokes that cut through the more horrifying moments. The final scene possesses a sense of triumph, as Rosemary finally casts off everyone who has victimized her and sits down beside her child. It is a strange triumph, but one which the film dwells on.
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What we have here is the grandaddy of all slasher horror movies. With no motive other than to ruthlessly kill, Myers is terrifying simply for being a faceless monster that anyone can project their fears onto. He doesn’t have Freddy’s sense of humor, and the fact that he changes locales unlike the stolid Jason means he’s a mobile killing machine.
His hunt for Laurie Strode is shockingly terrifying and brutal, with random innocent (and sex fueled) teenagers getting some steel to the gut for getting in his way. Although the legacy created here hasn’t carried on as well as other series have (seriously, what was Halloween 3 supposed to be?), the original still stands as a perfect example of how to create effective terror and tense scenarios.
Michael Myers will always live on as the Boogeyman, and every Halloween night, I still find myself checking the doors and windows, because you never know when The Shape will make one last appearance.
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3) A Nightmare On Elm Street
How can we talk greatest horror honors and leave out Wes Craven’s name, and more importantly Craven’s iconic horror villain Freddy Krueger? He’s evil incarnate – an unstoppable killing machine who strikes at your most vulnerable, commanding a deadly home field advantage that traps victims in a nightmarish dream world of his merciless choosing?
Not many horror franchises are so storied and vastly populated, but A Nightmare On Elm Street started a genre steamroller which I’m sure Wes Craven couldn’t have even seen coming. None of the super creative kills, none of the terrible/awesome one-liners, none of the drowsy teenagers…the horror world wouldn’t be the same.
A Nightmare On Elm Street was Freddy’s best though, played by Robert Englund (but you knew that), blending B-Movie creativity with 80’s slasher kills in an original way unparalleled even today. How can you not love a christmas sweater wearing burn victim with blades on his hands spouting funny one-off statements like the Arnold Schwarzenegger of horror? Craven’s film is nothing short of a must-see classic, being a genre-defining masterpiece adored by horror fans everywhere that introduced the world to the Sandman’s evil twin brother. 1, 2, Freddy’s coming for you…
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Claustrophobic, suffocating, and mysterious until the searing pain jolts one wide awake, director Ridley Scott’s Alien represents one of the most perfect monster movies, and certainly the best tagline ever (“In space, no one can hear you scream”). Then for grins, it introduced Sigourney Weaver’s Ellen Ripley, she of the coolest head in cinematic history and one of its greatest and most enduring heroines (or heroes for that matter).
The powerlessness, the inability to see clearly, the familiar turning treacherous, and the frankly foreign leave Ripley and crew of the Nostromo utterly exhausted and at a loss, facing a creature they (and we) can neither understand nor combat. The dark tunnels, myriad surfaces and hiding places, and reality of being slowing picked off one by one result in an astonishing personal sense of panic.
Unless you’ve been in a coma since the late 70’s, you also know that Alien sports arguably the most horrifying sequence known to humankind in the form of a little disruption over dinner. Fun fact, only John Hurt was clued in to what would happen; others (particularly Ian Holm) were given only broad strokes, and the reaction shots are natural.
Danger escalates, options dwindle, and the inclination to sit down, cover one’s head, and wait for death is remarkably palpable. Scott keeps us guessing as to whose eyes it is through which we see, and the simultaneous sensory deprivation and near-overload are like nothing seen before. Triumphant and dazzling.
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There’s no doubt that Psycho not only ranks up there with the greatest horror films, but with the greatest films period. No director could manipulate audience sympathy and generate suspense like Alfred Hitchcock, and many acknowledge Psycho as his masterpiece. It combines pathos, humor and terror without falling into extreme gore or sentimentality. This is monstrosity as its most human, most basic and most inexplicable.
The boy-next-door looks of Anthony Perkins, the creepy house on the hill, the famous score of Bernard Herrman, and Janet Leigh’s sympathetic turn as Marion Crane; all come together in a perfect symphony of terror with the Master of Suspense at the helm. Few scenes in cinema are as often imitated as the shower murder scene, and few villains are as frightening as Mother Bates.
Psycho relies on suggestive moments – like Janet Leigh naked in the shower, or Arbogast’s suspenseful walk upstairs – for its terror. The crux of the film doesn’t take place until almost half an hour in, playing like a criminal-on-the-run thriller until Marion Crane spots that famous flickering sign that reads Bates Motel.
It is a complex tale of the chaos world, part thriller, part mystery and part unadulterated horror. Even the explanation of the psychiatrist at the end of the film does not diminish the closing shots of Mother, or of the car being lifted from the marsh. We all know what’s in the trunk. The fact that we never see it is part of the horror.
That concludes our list but we hope you enjoyed it. This was a collaborative effort between a number of the staff here at We Got This Covered. We’d like to thank everyone for their contributions and as always, if you agree, or disagree with us, head to the comments below and sound off on your picks for the top 100 horror movies.Previous