Hello, Boils & Ghouls! Welcome to an all-new frightastic list from the Cut Print Film Staff! We’re pretty sure this list is going to make you scream!
Okay, that’s enough of that.
No genre is as subjective as horror. Comedy comes close, but what one considers to be “horror” and “scary” exists in an ever-widening gyre. One person’s creepshow is another’s laugh riot. As a result, it’s nearly impossible to get anyone to agree on a concrete “Best Horror Movies” list. But because we’re a bunch of sadists here at Cut Print Film, we’ve decided to give it a go! You will see the old standards on this list — The Shining, Rosemary’s Bay, The Exorcist. You know the drill. But you’ll also see some deep cuts that tend to be left off other horror lists, and we’re proud to include them here. We’re all about being as eclectic as possible, and we hope this list reflects that. In the spirit of Halloween, enjoy the tricks and treats of our list of the 50 Best Horror Movies Ever Made, and feel free to tell us what we’re missing in the comments below.
50. 28 DAYS LATER
(2003) DIRECTED BY DANNY BOYLE
This film is so much more than just people killing people. It’s a gorgeous, visceral experience in confident, terrifying filmmaking. It’s the “zombie” movie to end all zombie movies. It is a meditation on the primal nature of man. It is a violent takedown of the modern military-industrial complex through social resistance. It is a love story between a meek man learning to harness hate for good, and a steely woman who learns that there is still a human element in the post apocalypse. Most of all, it’s fucking scary as fuck holy shit like look at this dude’s eyes oh my goodness.
Danny Boyle’s follow-up to his tepidly-received DeCaprio vehicle The Beach rejuvenated the zombie franchise as it stagnated in the 1990s, exemplified in the toothless Tom Savini remake of Night of the Living Dead. 28 Days Later has a style all it’s own, thanks to the excellent (and future Oscar-winning) combination of Boyle’s frantic, high-octane editing structure and cinematographer Antony Dod Mantle’s digital, Dogme 95 inspired framing and lighting techniques. The washed out, saturated picture gives the post apocalypse that gray specter-of-death feeling that should come after the end of the world. Colors still manage to pop, light tends to be scarce or wholly natural, and the camera moves fluidly and just as fast as those goddamn cross country-enthusiast zombies. Everything in the ten minute finale is pulse-pounding and cathartic, something not very consistent in the horror genre as a whole.
The on-camera talent really brings life to these uncertain times. Nobody is safe in this world, but many characters provide momentary comfort or even levity, and it’s hard not to root for everyone’s success (or demise, in some circumstances). Cillian Murphy provides a great audience surrogate as Jim, who wakes up after a coma. Good thing that plot point was never used again in a zombie drama! Naomie Harris shines as the brutal, no-nonsense Selina, wielding her machete better than Danny Trejo ever could. Everyone’s favorite though is probably Alastor “Mad-Eye” Moody himself, Brendan Gleeson, playing the ragtag family’s dad, Frank. They go through their fair share of blood-soaked ups and downs, even a literal high or two. Their fear is palpable during the unexpected raids, their sense of loss and sorrow genuine. I’d have chosen no other guides through this British wasteland. Whenever the option is presented, this horror nerd wouldn’t hesitate to watch 28 Days Later, not even for a heartbeat. — Josh Heath
49. THE INVITATION
(2016) DIRECTED BY KARYN KUSAMA
Karyn Kusama returned to filmmaking with a vengeance with 2016’s tense, terrifying The Invitation. There’s nothing supernatural at work in Kusama’s film, but right from the start it’s clear there’s something terribly wrong here. As a group of old friends reunite for a tense, uneasy gathering, paranoia and fear take hold. With The Invitation, director Karyn Kusama has crafted a film of propulsive, insurmountable dread — dread that takes hold almost from the very first frame and never lets up. The Invitation takes its time revealing its true nature, and like all great horror films, the horror comes real life. Through all of this, director Karyn Kusama masterfully creates menace and dread from every corner and frame of the film and the house it’s set it. As The Invitation builds towards its chilling climax, you’ll be in the film’s vice-like grip, unable to break free. And when the credits roll, you won’t be able to get what you’ve just seen out of your head. With The Invitation, Karyn Kusama has created one of the best horror films in years. — here playing with themes of grief, anger, acceptance and even faith. — Chris Evangelista
48. THE HOUSE OF THE DEVIL
(2009) DIRECTED BY TI WEST
Ti West (The Innkeepers, The Sacrament) directs an intelligent and taut tale of isolated intimidation with The House of the Devil. Jocelin Donahue (The End of Love) is Samantha, a cash-strapped college student that falls into a babysitting job for a mysterious client located in a remote home. The well-worn premise is clearly an homage to a number of horror movie cliches but utilizes uptempo music, slick editing and sinister performances to transform the material into fresh and clever suspense. Tom Noonan (Manhunter, Anomalisa) is a creepy pleasure to behold as Mr. Ulman, the man who recruits her to come out to the country. His eerie pauses, delicate speech and needy disposition add an uncomfortable hilarity to the dark, gory events unfolding before us. The spirited early 80s infused atmosphere is punctured by blunt and brutal violence that Samantha desperately tries to keep at bay. Samantha is alone in this house of horrors, kept alive by her wits and will to escape. A dread hangs over each tension filled step that Samantha takes around the Ulman’s house. Upsetting, bleak yet artistically deft- West’s The House of the Devil charms its way into being one of the best horror films in recent memory. — Lane Scarberry
47. DEEP RED
(1975) DIRECTED BY DARIO ARGENTO
“Psycho? Exorcist? Jaws? Now there’s Deep Red” proclaims the presumptuous poster for Italian horror master Dario Argento’s 1975 film Deep Red. Though Suspiria is the Argento film most audiences might include in this lineage of horror classics, Deep Red might deserve the spot more. I don’t know if I could actually tell you what Deep Red is about, but I can tell you that it’s a sumptuous plum of a movie, or maybe a fruit salad jellied by blood. It looks like its Italian title, Profondo Russo, sounds. Deep Red is Argento at his most screenshotable, drowning not only in blood, but luxurious interiors, gilded furniture, and sexy bodies. There’s a brutal – and kinky – edge to the violence Argento wields against his characters; it comes from blades, household objects, and the hands of a leather-bound sadist. But there’s also more than just eroticism. It’s rumored that Argento chose to film Deep Red in Turin because it had more practicing Satanists than any other European city at the time. You can feel the devil in Deep Red, so that location choice must have worked. There’s something so beautiful, so still, and so articulate about Argento’s sense of color and composition that makes it all the more evil to watch. It’s the prettiest movie Satan ever made. — Nathan Smith
46. DEAD ALIVE
(1992) DIRECTED BY PETER JACKSON
Most people know Peter Jackson, I think it’s safe to say. Primarily through his work with Frodo, Bilbo and King Kong. But if you’re feeling rather dexterous, and you really want to delve into his mad genius, I’d recommend exploring his early horror entrees. Most notably Dead Alive, or Braindead, depending on what part of the planet you preside. Widely considered one of the goriest movies of all-time, if not the goriest, Dead Alive is a splashing delight of explosive violence, excessive mayhem and gleeful comedic insanity, the kind of horror-comedy only mastered so prominently by the great Sam Raimi prior. I proudly call it not only one of the craziest horror films I’ve ever seen, but also one of my all-time favorites.
A zombie movie with all the baby-kicking, priest ass-kicking and lawn motor-related blood splatter you could ever hope for, Jackson’s third movie certainly isn’t meant for the faint of heart. But its madness is nevertheless complimented with competence, passion and feverish intensity. Dead Alive is the kind of film which only someone set to become the Peter Jackson could make. Unapologetically malicious and confident in its off-the-wall madness, it’s a low-budget New Zealand B-movie of extraordinary influence, one that would go on to inspire its own legacy of films, much like it was inspired by Evil Dead 2. Bawdy, lewd, manic and deprived as can be, it’s also an absolute blast. No Peter Jackson fan should miss it. — Will Ashton
45. THE BEYOND
(1981) DIRECTED BY LUCIO FULCI
As one of his three films to land on the notorious list of “Video Nasties,” Lucio Fulci’s The Beyond (1981) may also be his finest achievement. Brimming with eye-gouging, heads bursting, dogs attacking, and tarantulas maiming, it’s easy to see why a few feathers were ruffled—this story of evil unleashed upon Earth is undoubtedly a gory extravaganza. But one would be hard-pressed to find a more richly textured and portentous work where anything seems frighteningly possible. With sinister threats lurking near the seven gateways to hell, one of which rests beneath an old gothic hotel recently inherited by Liza Merril (Catriona MacColl), an increasingly ominous series of events transpire amidst the film’s moody Louisiana setting, and though Liza and a doctor accomplice (David Warbeck) remain temporarily skeptical, there is soon no denying the excavated malevolence. Fulci’s attention to gruesome detail during the typically prolonged bits of brutality showcase well-crafted carnage, while The Beyond also displays his knack for potent atmosphere, emerging in a number of noteworthy set pieces and evincing his talents in a more deeply unsettling aesthetic. — Jeremy Carr
44. THE DESCENT
(2005) DIRECTED BY NEIL MARSHALL
The thing about The Descent is that it’s not a great horror movie. It’s three great horror movies. Take one part psychological drama. Add one part nerve-wracking survival tale. Then throw in a side of blood-letting monster gore and you’re on the right track. But still … not even close. Just like the deep dark caves at the film’s center, there’s a lot going on below the surface of The Descent. And darkness reigns supreme throughout Neil Marshall’s bold and brutal sophomore film.
All that darkness is spawned from a relatively simple plot. And The Descent never strays too far from its tale of six thrill-seeking women embarking on a day of cave diving. But Marshall finds plenty of emotional complexity in that seeming simplicity. One of the women is reeling from a horrific and heartbreaking tragedy. One of them is carrying a couple of perilous secrets. And every relationship in between comes with its own set of personal drama. Once they begin their adventure, those relationships are quickly strained. By the time the women realize that they’re lost … and trapped … and that they’re not alone in the dark, relationships dissolve and an all out battle for survival begins. There’s gallons of blood. Plenty of gore. And some of the best jump scares you’ll ever experience. But The Descent is far from a cheap thrill ride. Marshall’s careful approach to character and atmosphere builds a thick sense of doom under the first half of the film. So much that you can’t help but be invested in the second. And every unfortunate ending comes with its own bit of anguish … particularly in the film’s devastating final moments. FYI – you haven’t actually seen The Descent unless you’ve seen it with Marshall’s pitch-black original ending in place.
At it’s core,The Descent is a film born of darkness. Darkness founded in despair, desire, loss, vengeance and even trust. And it quietly reels you in with with a searing bit of human drama before chomping down with a bloody set of fangs. It bites often. It bites deep. The pain will stay with you. And you’ll probably find yourself questioning everything you know about friendship. And about monsters. And maybe even yourself. That’s what the best horror movies do. The Descent just does it that much better. — Patrick Phillips
43. LAKE MUNGO
(2008) DIRECTED BY JOEL ANDERSON
Debuting to critical acclaim at SXSW in 2009, the low-budget Australian horror film Lake Mungo didn’t really come onto most people’s radar until it hit Netflix’s streaming service in 2012. From there, it became one of those hidden gems that spread via word-of-mouth between horror fanatics. At first glance, Lake Mungo appears to be like any of the myriad found footage horror cash-grabs that are littered throughout whichever streaming service you may use. Many factors set Lake Mungo apart from its peers, but the most obvious and compelling reason is that as soon as you think you know exactly where the film is headed, it abruptly changes direction and you as a viewer are left grinning from ear to ear trying to figure out where the film will take you next.
Lake Mungo masterfully utilizes and brings life into the otherwise rote tropes of found footage horror and faux-documentary style filmmaking by giving literally every aspect of the film purpose and weight. The characters, their motivations and their decisions are all well-reasoned and plausible which makes us truly and deeply care about the fate of the films subjects, despite the supernatural bend. Lake Mungo tells an eerie tale that would surely be scary if told in the traditional narrative, but the realistic tone of the documentary’s talking heads and the unsettling cinematography (bolstered by the desolate Australian wilderness) make this film downright terrifying. — Jeff Rollins
(1977) DIRECTED BY DARIO ARGENTO
Straying from straight giallo into the realm of the supernatural, Dario Argento took what was already an obvious penchant for stylistic bravura and enhanced both sights and sounds with Suspiria (1977). Invaluable audio-visual complements from Goblin and cinematographer Luciano Tovoli enhance an unceasing and enchanting sense of danger. From the time young Suzy Bannion (Jessica Harper) arrives in Germany, there to attend a prestigious dance school, Argento and company craft a kaleidoscope of terror that only intensifies as the film goes on. Aside from the tormenting pangs of being the new face on campus, putting up with disparaging comments and rude behavior from the other students, Suzy quickly discovers the far more wicked motives behind closed doors. Explicit butchery is relatively minimal in Suspiria (save for an astounding opening murder and death by shattered glass proxy); more than anything, the film succeeds as a dazzling and spellbinding descent into a menacing house of horrors. Though it is the first in what became Argento’s Three Mothers trilogy—Inferno followed in 1980 and the unjustly maligned Mother of Tears was released in 2007—Suspiria stands alone as a masterpiece from a great horror filmmaker in his prime. — Jeremy Carr
41. DON’T LOOK NOW
(1973) DIRECTED BY NICOLAS ROEG
John and Laura Baxter (Sutherland & Christie) are devastated by the loss of their young daughter and–haunted by memories of her in their home–decide to vacation in Venice. There, they meet a pair of sisters, one who claims to be psychic and says that she has seen their daughter. Laura is swept up in newfound hope, but John sneers at the idea. Yet, his own visions of his daughter walking the streets of Venice in her little red coat send him over the edge. If you remove the horror elements from Don’t Look Now, it resembles an arthouse treatise on loss and grief. One where parental love is turned into pure, psychological horror (amplified by the performances given by Sutherland and Christie). Anyone can a few jump-scares to land on an unsuspecting audience, but it takes a true talent like Nicolas Roeg to leave viewers mentally scarred. And that final scene is truly one for the ages. — Colin Biggs
(1996) DIRECTED BY WES CRAVEN
Few filmmakers have been capable of delivering both iconic installments of a genre and equally iconic send-ups of their typical work. Wes Craven’s two most legendary series, Nightmare on Elm Street and Scream, played from two opposites ends of the spectrum. The former helped to recreate the form of horror films, and the latter deconstructed all of that only a decade late (with the underrated New Nightmare an obvious pathway from sincerity to meta). Scream isn’t simply a parody of horror by any means; it’s truly terrifying in its own right with a plot that swirls with demonstrative dread and deserved paranoia. Yet so much of the dressing around the fright gets at what makes films like these work, while mocking their occasional obviousness. Jamie Kennedy’s Randy Meeks serves as the most thorough take on the subject, a running commentary on the mania these characters have become trapped within. In some ways, Scream goes beyond criticism to larger themes of art and life’s influence on one another. In other ways, it’s one of the genre’s largest bags of candy corn, satisfying every expectation that one has stepping into a Craven movie. It takes immense, irreplaceable skill to pull off something both studious and thrilling. In the years since, similar takes have been attempted but few have succeeded (and only Cabin in the Woods has begun to match the brilliance here). But with Scream, Craven made clear that he understood the horror genre not only from the inside but from the outside as well. — Josh Oakley
(1981) DIRECTED BY ANDRZEJ ZULAWSKI
Possession, from the late great Polish auteur Andrzej Żuławski, is a film that stuns and horrifies as much as it sparks conversation. Not one to offer a linear tale of a crippling marriage, the movie, set in Berlin (which in the 1980s was the epitome of the East-West Cold War ideological rivalry), ostensibly follows husband Mark (Sam Neill), a spy for the West, and wife Anna (Isabelle Adjani) as their relationship disintegrates in spectacular yet unnervingly obtuse fashion. Anna wants a divorce. Mark prefers working things out. Both slowly go completely insane, with special emphasis put on Anna’s mental and emotional deteriorating state.
Unfathomably discomforting shouting matches, self-mutilation, a legendary episode of hysteria in an underground passageway, director Żuławski keeps the viewer on his or her toes by never truly explaining why the characters are behaving the way they are. That he leaves up to the audience, although astute viewers can surely come away with their own interpretations linked to Cold War paranoia and the psychological trauma induced by a marriage that’s descending into the bowels of hell. Whilst none of this may read as fitting to be included into a list of great horror films, the biggest surprise, in a movie replete with them, is Żuławski’s supernatural, creature-feature twists sprinkled throughout. Despite her claims, Anna is indeed attracted to someone other than Mark, although just who that lucky someone is far and beyond what anybody would guess first. Or second. Or third. Revealing the twist would spoil some of the ‘fun’, but suffice to say that those that enjoy monsters in their flicks will get their money’s worth, no questions asked. — Edgar Chaput
38. THE FOG
(1980) DIRECTED BY JOHN CARPENTER
Saying the name John Carpenter is like a Rorschach test for horror fans, as doing so will conjure the title from the master of terror’s filmography which best appeals to their sensibilities: grindhouse aficionados will cite Assault on Precinct 13 or Escape from New York. The slasher fan will jump to Halloween. The sci-fi-minded with a taste for grue and slime will side with The Thing. But for those of us who love a good, classy, old fashioned ghost story, there can only be The Fog. Inspired by a trip to a foggy Stonehenge, during which producer/co-writer Debra Hill asked, “What do you think is in that fog?” leaving Carpenter to respond, “Maybe ghosts?”, The Fog is one of those rare films whose somewhat simplistic and even weak story is more than made up for by director Carpenter’s amazing talent for creating an eerie but beautiful atmosphere. His gothic musical score along with his mostly night-set film, the creeping cinematography by Dean Cundey, and the natural attractiveness of Inverness, CA (standing in for Antonio Bay), make The Fog tower over just being the sum of its parts. The Fog is, essentially, a story about people telling other stories. Old Mr. Machen (John Houseman) opens the film in which he talks about the myth behind the sinking of the Elizabeth Dane, and how it has left Antonio Bay haunted. Nick Castle (Tom Atkins) later tells a story about another ship, the Risa Jane, which has eerily similar details. And the journal of an ancestor that Father Blake finds in the stone walls of his church contains the real story of how the Elizabeth Dane met her end, which he recites to our characters during the end of the second act. Ghost stories live on because of those who tell them, and though their details change, the end is always the same. And that’s The Fog. The details of the story aren’t as important as the story it’s trying to tell, which is that Antonio Bay is cursed, and in a hundred years, the fog could return. So look across the water, into the darkness. Look for The Fog. — J. Tonzelli
(1985) DIRECTED BY STUART GORDON
Stuart Gordon’s delightfully twisted 1985 Re-Animator took the work of H.P. Lovecraft and added the one thing it was missing: a sense of humor. Gordon’s film features Jeffrey Combs giving the performance of a lifetime as a smug, brilliant, unethical med student Herbert West — a man who has harnessed the ability to reverse death. What follows is a funny, scary and massively entertaining film complete with zombie cats, disgusting make-up effects, and Barbara Crampton receiving some very unwanted attention from a sentient severed head. Re-Animator is one of those horror films that demands to be seen with an audience, especially an audience in tune with the film’s gonzo charm. — Chris Evangelista
36. MULHOLLAND DRIVE
(2001) DIRECTED BY DAVID LYNCH
A person’s favorite David Lynch movie can say a lot about them. Twin Peaks is probably the best answer; Eraserhead and Blue Velvet are the classic, uncontroversial choices; Elephant Man is the one your mom saw; Fire Walk with Me is the rookie from the undercard; Lost Highway and Inland Empire are the favorites of digital media fanatics. But for me, the answer is clear: 2000’s Mulholland Drive remains the most effective distillation of the style we like to call “Lynchian.” If Mulholland Drive looks like a big-screen soap opera, it’s because it was one; within the stomach of the film is the carcass of a rejected network pilot Lynch created and then reworked. There’s something about Mulholland Drive’s TV aesthetics, its soft focus and white lighting, which works better for me than almost all his other movies. It is so close to something we consider safe, secure, and comfortable, something we feel fine letting into our homes, that when it takes a left turn off the yellow brick road, the final destination is all the more disturbing. It’s The Wizard of Oz by way of Showgirls, filled with the small town humor and dream logic we expect from Lynch, but with spite towards the Hollywood machine turned on full blast. — Nathan Smith
35. CARNIVAL OF SOULS
(1962) DIRECTED BY HERK HARVEY
Herk Harvey’s lone feature film Carnival Of Souls is one of those ‘classic’ horror films that didn’t earn the title until well after its release. It was an utter failure in a limited theatrical run in 1962. But like all great cult films, it refused to go gentle into that dark and foggy night. Harvey’s bleak, atmospheric tale instead found a home on late-night TV and drive-in theater screens. It lurked there on the fringes of cinema for over two decades before being re-discovered in the late 80s. It was then that Carnival Of Souls began its climb out of the “cult-classic” closet and claimed its place at the “horror classic” table.
That resurgence earned the film a second theatrical run, a shiny Criterion Collection release and proved legions of late-nighters and bootleggers just in their worship. Even the snootiest of cineastes began calling Harvey’s film a minor genre masterpiece. And it’s easy to see why. Harvey and his crew of industrial filmmakers set out to shoot a movie that looked like Bergman and felt like Cocteau … and that’s exactly what they did. That they managed to tell a deeply unsettling supernatural story as well is just icing on the cake.
And it’s a complex, original story at that. Like so many horror films that came after, it begins with a tragedy. The ensuing narrative follows the lone survivor as she takes a job playing organ in a creepy church, finds herself drawn to an abandoned carnival ground and haunted by a dead-eyed apparition. Throughout, Harvey keeps the atmosphere thick and focuses on the fractured emotional state of the woman. In the process, he practically invents psychological horror and predates stylized genre classics like Repulsion (1966) and Eraserhead (1977). As the macabre tale progresses, the action slowly transforms into an eerie, surrealist nightmare fueled by chilling organ music and haunting spectral imagery. And all before it scores one of horror’s first great twist endings.
Somehow that all went for naught in 1962. The film’s failure drove Herk Harvey back to his day gig making industrial films. 54 years later we’re still talking about his moody little low-budget gem. And we’re still wondering why it took so long for folks to join the ghostly waltz that is Carnival Of Souls. May the dance continue for all eternity … and beyond. — Patrick Phillips
34. DAWN OF THE DEAD
(1978) DIRECTED BY GEORGE ROMERO
We now live in the post-apocalypse of zombie media, with the last decade oversaturating the market for tales of the undead wrecking havoc on what remains of the living world. Before all of that there was George Romero, and while the genre predated the legendary horror director he left an indelible stamp influencing nearly everything to come. Dawn of the Dead wasn’t Romero’s first zombie film, let alone the original document of the creature, but it created a potent and everlasting bond between the reanimated and societal criticism that lasts to this day. At this point “but we’re the real monsters, man” is somewhat trite, but Dawn of the Dead persists as a masterpiece even in present day context. That’s because the commentary on consumerism is sharp, a shopping mall being a brilliant setting for discussion of mindless materialism. But the film also remains relevant for its more immediate pleasures, from one of the best survival groups in the horror field to a pacing that knows precisely when to crouch and when to pounce. Despite centering on death and the end of human civilization, Dawn of the Dead has managed to outlive decades of quality zombie art, a remake from Zack Snyder and countless pale imitators. — Josh Oakley
33. THE OTHERS
(2001) DIRECTED BY ALEJANDRO AMENABAR
Despite her children’s insistence, Grace (Nicole Kidman) refuses to believe that ghosts have invaded her mansion. It isn’t until much later when she comes face-to-face with a roundtable of “spirits” that she’s convinced her house is haunted. Had The Sixth Sense not beaten this film to the punch by two years, The Others would have a much larger following. Though if that reveal had been all, the film would just gather dust in bargain bins. But writer/director Alejandro Amenábar has one more nasty surprise left for the audience. Twists are defined by how many viewers they catch off-guard, but this reveal is significant for how much devastation it causes. –– Colin Biggs
(1983) DIRECTED DAVID CRONENBERG
In the mid-to late 2000s, Canadian filmmaker David Cronenberg earned highbrow mainstream repute (not that that’s a bad thing, despite what some are quick to claim) with excellent dramas such as A History of Violence and Eastern Promises, but it was his penchant for what is popularly known by aficionados as ‘body horror’ that helped him get his start in the late 1970s and 1980s, to say nothing of the enviable acting talent that consistently agreed to partake in his bizarre, imaginative concoctions.
Videodrome is perhaps the one movie that best balances oddity, thought-provoking thematic texture, prescience, and just enough mainstream appeal to rear people in. Starring James Woods as a pornography television station producer operating in Toronto, Ontario, the plot has him fall down the proverbial rabbit hole when he discovers a mysterious station that depicts really hard core, masochistic content. Thinking that this is his ticket to reach a new market, nothing is what it seems. Nay, the only ticket the protagonist has punched is the one that leads one’s body and mind into Videodrome, a horrific transmission that alters one perception of reality…or does it open to door to a new one? Before too long, he and Videodrome become one of sorts, complete with vaginal openings in chests and mechanoid-biological pistols growing out of wrists. Peeling away the obvious, grisly surface layer fun reveals a dumfounding essay about society’s enslavement by television and the corporations that run them. When media dominates our lives as much as it did in the 1980s and still is, if not more so, today, then society enters a new phase of existence: long live the new flesh! — Edgar Chaput
31. PEEPING TOM
(1962) DIRECTED BY MICHAEL POWELL
Long before ‘slasher’ was a subgenre or even an acceptable, known cinematic term, there was Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho. The unbearable suspense he created culminating in two incredibly dramatic narrative crescendos and his navigation of space as it related to the psychosis of his star madman Norman Bates are only two fractions of what makes Hitchcock’s film a classic and unknowing creator of an entire subgenre. Wait, you say Michael Powell’s Peeping Tom was first? Oh, well, excuse me.
The point is that many either have forgotten or don’t know about the legacy Peeping Tom helped create with Psycho. Unlike Hitchcock’s film, Peeping Tom is a character study of a lonely man broken down and driven by murder. We know who he is, and the glimpse Powell provides of his normal life makes a little more sympathetic than his American counterpart. And yet, viewers must confront that sympathy with the disturbing POV perspective Powell places them in for each of Mark’s (Carl Boehm) victims. It’s horrifying and confrontational, especially for an audience in the early ‘60s, but it’s wickedly smart for being so. — William Penix
(1979) DIRECTED BY DON COSCARELLI
I first saw the movie Phantasm when I was around the same age as the film’s protagonist, Mike, even though I was years too young to legally watch an R-rated film. The theater was mostly empty, and I was grateful for that when the silver sphere claimed its first victim. I didn’t exactly scream, but I did emit a sound that I hope no one else heard. I thought it was a great horror film then, and I still think it is now. Though many people criticize the film for its loopy storyline and fractured dream logic, remember that to a 13-year-old, dream logic makes perfect sense. Do we ever grow out of our adolescent fears? The film played upon fear of death, enslavement, loss, adults, adulthood, and the thin line between reality and dreams. Those are things that never stop being scary. Then, as now, excellent horror movies didn’t come out every year, and this one made an impression on audiences that continues to this day. Many people are still frightened by this film, and many filmmakers are still influenced by it. Though the special effects seem handmade and homemade by today’s standards, at the time they were mind blowing, not to mention mind drilling. I recall seeing an interview with the filmmaker, in which he stated that they couldn’t find a better way to animate the flying silver sphere than attaching it to fishing line and throwing it down a hallway. The sphere itself was manufactured by an old friend of Don Coscarelli, the director. He used friends and acquaintances to cast the film, he got his mother to decorate the sets, and he got funding from his father and his father’s friends. The height of the Tall Man character was enhanced by a funky pair of shoes picked up at a secondhand store. The film was shot on weekends over the course of a year. For all that, Coscarelli’s handspun little vision of a horror movie scored at the box office and spawned multiple sequels and a huge cult following. Coscarelli tapped into that vein of fear that runs down everyone’s spine, and that sense of paralysis when one is having a nightmare but it feels too real to be a dream. Amateurish acting, kitschy effects, and lack of story cohesion don’t matter when terror is so effectively evoked. — Amy Anna
29. CABIN IN THE WOODS
(2011) DIRECTED BY DREW GODDARD
The Cabin in the Woods is basically what happens when you allow Joss Whedon (creator of Buffy, The Avengers films, Firefly, and much more) to comment on every existing horror trope. It’s the college road trip fright film, plus ghosts and monsters, with government conspiracies, aliens, and every other existing villain mixed in. It’s meta, sure, but also fun, flippant, respectful, and welcoming to genre newbies.
The film feels like a semester away at Horror University, complete with overused motifs, expected twists, and known character types. While calling all of these elements and their commonality into question, Cabin feels more like a love letter than a critique. It’s poking fun at itself, embodying and enjoying all of the expectations it overturns. Why choose one type of horror movie when you can choose them all? Why settle for a single storyline when you can lead the players from the first to a whole new level, create a genre-wide control room, cast a whole slew of reliable monsters, and involve both Bradley Whitford and Sigourney Weaver? Cabin casts a cleverly knowing lens on the scary movie, always probing and mimicking but never doubting the effectiveness of its examples. It’s a silly, sly, elegantly comprehensive dedication to the genre, hilarious and heartwarming in its sincerity. — Emily Ambash
(1922) DIRECTED BY F.W. MURNAU
Although the “real” Dracula from 1931 established the template and iconography of the character that still acts as the default today, the unlicensed 1922 adaptation is where it all started. To be clear, this IS the Dracula story we all know and love, the only significant difference being the names of the characters, changed to (unsuccessfully) avoid legal consequences. In this writer’s humble opinion, Nosferatu is actually the superior film, the much of that has to do with the appearance of Dracula himself (here known as Count Orlock). This is no suave, seductive gentleman – Orlock barely qualifies as humanoid, with his rodent-like teeth, clawed fingers and ghastly visage, as well as his tendency to slink and stalk through the shadows wherever he goes.
As a silent film, most of the horror effect must lean on the visuals, and the cinematography is up to the challenge. This is a profoundly creepy film, drawing on Black Plague imagery with a dash of German expressionism – heavy black shadows, skewed architecture and the like. A long steady shot of an endless row of occupied coffins being borne down the middle of a city avenue is one of the all time great horror scenes of the early period. If you’re searching for a good movie to play in the background of a Halloween get-together, to set the appropriately spooky mood, you could do a lot worse than Nosferatu. — Jon Gerblick
27. THE HAUNTING
(1963) DIRECTED BY ROBERT WISE
Sometimes it’s what we don’t see that can scare us the most. Take 1963’s The Haunting, directed by Oscar winner Robert Wise, whose unseen phantoms are effective and real, and sold by nothing more than camera angles, sound effects, and that old standby, good acting.
Based on Shirley Jackson’s novel, the movie follows a psychologist investigating paranormal activity at century-old Hill House, the site of untimely deaths and perhaps cursed since its construction. He’s joined by proclaimed psychic Theo, previous poltergeist victim Eleanor, and Luke, the skeptic nephew of Hill House’s current (absentee) owner. It doesn’t take long for the house’s horrors to manifest themselves: a little girl’s disembodied giggles and paint-peeling screams, phantom messages scrawled on the walls, doors that seem to breathe. A visiting reporter vanishes. After bedtime one night, Eleanor admits her fears to Theo, and turning the lights on reveals that it wasn’t Theo but someone – or something – else that was holding her hand in comfort. It doesn’t take long for everyone involved to become convinced of Hill House’s malevolent intent.
Wise’s design dovetailed with that of screenwriter Nelson Gidding, who believed that the movie was less about ghosts than it was Eleanor’s descent into insanity. Wise envisioned a Hill House that just looks indefinably wrong (it’s all odd angles and claustrophobic spaces), then filmed the interiors for the best effect: doors, walls and staircases often loom in shots. The rooms themselves seem to watch the inhabitants.
The Haunting works as well as it does because it frequently relies on the audience to fill in the unseen horrors, proving that the mind will imagine things more terrifying than anything the filmmaker could realize on screen. For its simplicity, and its raw depiction of terror (whether real or imagined), and its respect for the audience’s intelligence, The Haunting is an absolute classic. — Mike Grunwald
26. THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI
(1920) DIRECTED BY ROBERT WIENE
One of cinema’s oldest and most poignant horrors is the image of Cesare, the somnambulist night stalker at the heart of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. If the iconic line “I must become Caligari!” isn’t familiar then it’s likely the rest of the film will be regardless considering the iconic horror clichés, atmosphere and traits this film would go on to inspire.
During the Holstenwall annual fair, the nefarious Dr Caligari unveils his latest creature to two young men. The monster awakes from a death-like slumber and announces that one will ‘die before dawn’. When this prediction comes true, Francis and his beautiful girl Jane must stop the murders, help a beast fall in love and expose the evil Doctor.
Presented with jagged, revolutionary art design and one of the medium’s first ever twist endings- Caligari remains far ahead of its time- with a look akin to a Tim Burton film and coining the idea of the ‘horror film’ decades early. Roger Ebert referred to it as the ‘first true horror film’ whilst others have bestowed it the father of cult films and arthouse. Not only did Caligari prove to be the first worldwide draw to German cinema, but it also had a major influence on the Hollywood horror genre. –– Samuel Davis
25. INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS
(1978) DIRECTED BY PHILLIP KAUFMAN
Before helming one the most iconic films of man’s ventures into space with The Right Stuff (1983), director Philip Kaufman remade the 1956 Invasion of the Body Snatchers into a silly/sinister allegorical look at space venturing into man. Set in the Bohemian San Fransisco of the 70’s, the film tracks a group of artists and hippies as they discover an alien plot to replace all of humans with unfeeling pod-formed duplicates. The ragtag group of freethinkers hide in a Turkish bath, take speed to avoid the vulnerability of sleep, and generally run through vivid environment to try and save themselves from being transformed into pod people. A stand out film for its excellent visual and audio effects, as well as its cast of truly three-dimensional and interesting characters (with notables names Leonard Nemoy, Donald Sutherland, Jeff Goldblum, and Brooke Adams filling the credits), Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978) is packed with loaded imagery, as well as cynical-smart or flower-foolish dialogue, to create a deliciously amusing and critically-allegorical goulash of sci-fi horror. Available for streaming on Netflix. — A.R. Magalli
24. A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET
(1984) DIRECTED BY WES CRAVEN
Wes Craven is a gift to the horror genre, every decade since the 70s finding a way to renovate the way people do horror for that specific generation. After being burned to death, child-killing janitor Freddy Krueger lives on, butchering the children of Springwood in their own dreams. The supernatural thriller has cemented the iconic killer as part of pop culture iconography- spawning a franchise, remake, TV series and…Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master for better or for worse.
Nancy Thompson has recurring dreams of a scarred, claw-handed man chasing her at night. It seems though, she is not the only teenager on Elm Street with such dreams, the nightmare-dwelling Freddy Krueger hunts the youth down one by one at their most vulnerable. Can Nancy learn the rules of dream logic and draw Freddy into the real world?
Mixing surrealist dream imagery with the iconic slasher genre results in one of the most deservedly memorable horror films of today. Surrounded in mystery and undeserved bloodshed, it’s easy to forget that the original film that started it all- is a genius, inspired concept. With vacant, damaged and possibly even villainous parents, the ‘Nightmare’ franchises’ true fear comes from the isolation of the young and the deaths of innocents that are inherited from the previous generation. Representing ‘Youth power’ as a recurring theme, the Elm Street series features social isolation, feminist themes and even represents the gay community in later instalments. None though, quite come close to matching the one that started it all. — Samuel Davis
(1977) DIRECTED BY NOBUHIKO OBAYASHI
I think I can make this statement with the utmost confidence: you’ve never seen a movie like Hausu. I struggle to even describe it. Nobuhiko Ôbayashi’s film is a bizarre, avant-garde explosion of untethered creativity and plucky do-it-yourself weirdness. It’s like a Hello Kitty and Lisa Frank acid trip assembled in MS Paint that begins as impossibly optimistic fantasy and then tumbles into darkness. The plot, such as it is, involves a group of young girls named after their defining personality traits (Kung-Fu is an athlete, Prof is smart, Mac likes to eat, etc.) who go to stay with an aunt for the summer when strange things begin happening and the girls have to fight to avoid being picked off one-by-one. There’s an ominous, shape-shifting cat named Blanche. There’s a piano that eats people. There is a ton of terrible, amateurish blue screen matting. In short, it’s awesome. You’ll stare at it with mouth agape, privileged to live in a world where this movie is a reality. It’s a delirious, frantic, funny, and totally original vision that says “Hold the established rules of cinema, I’m going in.” — Daniel Stidham
22. SHAUN OF THE DEAD
(2004) DIRECTED BY EDGAR WRIGHT
Nobody else has mastered the fusion of horror and comedy much like Edgar Wright has, and you can’t tell me otherwise. With Shaun of the Dead, the first film in his deeply beloved Three Flavours Cornetto trilogy, Wright quickly established himself as smart as he is an incredibly sophisticated filmmaker. Starring Simon Pegg as Shaun (alongside the equally important and brilliant Nick Frost), the film tells the story of how his character copes with life post-breakup, all while a zombie outbreak threatens his very existence. Sincere as it is absurd, Wright’s trademark kinetic energy leaps out of every frame, with one clever line always feeding into the next. And with its unmistakable Englishness, the most mundane of British settings has never been such a perfect location for the sarcastic and self-deprecating hilarity that ensues. As a group of unlikely allies are forced to depend on each other for survival in the face of a zombie apocalypse, they fight the way only people who are neither very smart or strong do — as messily and ridiculously as possible.
This is a film that never takes itself too seriously, but it’s certainly as much of an homage to friendship as it is to classic zombie films. Shaun of the Dead is an unforgettable film, and even twelve years since its release, it’s only aged like fine wine. — Nix Santos
21. AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON
(1981) DIRECTED BY JOHN LANDIS
To describe John Landis’ film as the best werewolf movie ever made may be the very definition of damning with faint praise. I mean, what other competition does it have? Teen Wolf? Ginger Snaps? The entire Twilight saga? Landis’ film is about more than just the titular monster, as he manages to perfect the balance between blood curdling horror, a heartfelt narrative and a healthy dose of belly laughs in what is surely the holy grail for horror comedy. Few attempts at the genre manage to be simultaneously terrifying and hilarious like this- let alone boast a lead character who is genuinely empathetic.
Rick Baker’s monster makeup, especially during the groundbreaking metamorphosis sequence, were so groundbreaking the Academy invented a special make-up category just to give the film an award. Even in the age of CGI, there are few sights as blood curdling as what Landis and Baker achieved with prosthetics alone here. No matter how developed technology becomes, I highly doubt that future audiences will fail to be amazed by the gruesome, eye popping delights presented here. — Alistair Ryder
(1976) DIRECTED BY BRIAN DE PALMA
Carrie may be Stephen King’s invention, but Brian De Palma is the one who coaxed a near masterpiece from a simple tale of teenage revenge through telekinesis. De Palma, indebted to the empathically chilling performance from Sissy Spacek as Carrie, captures the teenage life as utter alienation, here marred only by hope; a hope for normalcy and acceptance which is washed away with blood. Yet Carrie is never as simple as an anti-bullying film, or an anti-religious one (although the abusive religious histrionics of Piper Laurie as Carrie’s mother give weight to much of the film’s iconic imagery and visual motifs) or one where all the symbolism and metaphors match up. High school in Carrie is often senseless a chaotic, unknowable hell. The most remarkable thing about the film, though, besides the material pleasures of the style De Palma brings to any of his films, is the sympathy with Carrie as a victim. In another film, the prom scene might even play as a triumphant victory over her oppressors –but then the film flips the tables and pushes her revenge beyond the vestiges of righteous anger into uncontrollable primal violence. — Josh Hamm
19. THE RING
(2002) DIRECTED BY GORE VERBINSKI
Some stories jump off the page at you, and some crawl off the screen. The Ring is an early aughts western remake of a Japanese thriller by the same name, based around a VHS tape (ooh!) of chilling footage.
Anyone who views the tape receives an epochal sinister house or flip-phone call (that’s why it’s called the “ring”, duh.) and will die in seven days. It’s moody, rainy and cold-toned throughout, with hindsight-obvious layers of the storyline permeating the insta-creepy imagery. The only way to survive impending death is to copy the tape and tell others about it, which is exactly why I wrote this.
Ironically, the scariest things happen while trying to decipher the film’s meaning, but it’s also a refresher course on Naomi Watts’ long history of remakes before Twin Peaks comes out next year. — Susie Nuessle
18. THE BABADOOK
(2014) DIRECTED BY JENNIFER KENT
As a moviegoer, there’s nothing quite like walking into an arthouse movie theater to see something that will change your life for the better. I’ve been fortunate enough to have more than a few of these experiences in my early lifetime, and among the most recent is The Babadook, the directorial debut of Jennifer Kent. It’s an immersive, haunting and astoundingly well-made first feature, one filled with as much empathy and insight as it is packed with genuine moments of suspense and terror. Guided by an incredible lead performance by Essie Davis, The Babadook grabs you from the first shot and never lets its grip loosen until the very end. Eerie, sharp and well-defined, Kent delves deep into the psyche of its woeful protagonist and presents an allegory for depression, grief and mental illness so frightening familiar, honest and true that it’s a wonder nobody tried to do this before. Impacting, thematically rich and captivatingly horrific, it’s among the best indie discoveries I’ve seen in this ongoing decade. Make a point to discover it yourself, if you haven’t seen it already. — Will Ashton
17. THE WITCH
(2016) DIRECTED BY ROBERT EGGERS
Robert Eggers’ fixed camera somehow makes the encroaching dread of evil in the woods feel both immersively real and like a beautiful old painting at the same time. Every shot of The Witch looks painstakingly planned but also fluidly natural. He not only brings the supernatural to life, but manages to make the most convincingly authentic depiction of Early American life.
The Witch is a haunting tale of religious paranoia, which cleverly plays on the idea of sin being the root of all evil, allowing all of the characters around Thomasin to commit sins while claiming their riotousness, all while she remains pure or thought, that is… until she decides she would like to live deliciously. — David Costill
16. BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN
(1935) DIRECTED BY JAMES WHALE
One of the few sequels to match or exceed the film which it followed, 1935’s Bride of Frankenstein delivers a film full of high camp and hidden depths, complete with body snatchers, murder, rampaging peasants, dining among the dead, kidnapping, and not one but two mad scientists. Although it is one of the original Universal monster movies and contains many of the common elements found in those flicks, Bride of Frankenstein also includes some fairly subversive messages about feminism, homosexuality, and the things that really turn people into monsters. Surprisingly, the electricity and the body parts scavenged from cadavers accompany some wise insights into human nature. As Dr. Pretorius states, “the human heart is more complex than any other part of the body.” The film functions as a treatise on cruelty and kindness, and points out that life without connection to other human beings is not worth living. It also makes clear that had the monster and his bride been created by people other than the arrogant scientists who were more concerned with achieving god-like power than with the well-being of the beings they created, this story could have been very different.
The film comments extensively on the inhumane treatment people who are different suffer. Further, though the film predates the women’s movement by decades, it recognizes the plight of women who do not control their own destiny. Elsa Lanchester based her portrayal of the monster’s bride, one of the brides of the title, on the behavior of the swans in Hyde Park, an elegant bird which epitomizes grace and femininity – yet she portrays the bride as a hissing, graceless, and tortured creature. Though the bride cannot speak, it’s as if she shrieks with horror, “you want me to do what?” when confronted with her creator’s expectations. This constitutes a subversion of all traditional notions of womanhood. It is interesting that Elsa Lanchester opened the film by playing Frankenstein’s progenitor, writer Mary Shelley, as well as the unfortunate bride. Shelley was a woman well ahead of her time; she not only understood the themes present in the film, she lived them. One wonders what the creator of Frankenstein and of the monster would have thought of this variation on her story. — Amy Anna
15. THE INNOCENTS
(1961) DIRECTED BY JACK CLAYTON
Some of you out there will take a look at this entry, see the year 1961, and think “It’s an old movie, it won’t be scary.” But here’s the thing: you’re wrong, and you should watch it anyway.
The Innocents is startlingly subversive, thematically subtle and visually bold. Based on the story The Turn of the Screw by Henry James, it tells of a governess who begins to suspect that the two young children in her care are being possessed by spirits. There’s nary a drop of blood but that doesn’t keep it from being creepy as hell. Chilling isn’t the word for it. It moves from one unsettling development to another, rarely giving you time to compose yourself. Jump scares and other traditionally spooky moments are scarce, but what is more impressive is the film’s ability to maintain intensity within scenes without resorting to quick cuts or loud music cues. The way the camera moves is unsettling in itself. Whenever someone walks across a room, the turning of the camera suggests unease as if someone or something is waiting just outside the frame. Add to that two impish children at once angelic and conniving, a creaky gothic mansion, and a world-class performance from Deborah Kerr and you got yourself some dynamite.
I’ll admit, this movie pushes a few of my buttons. For one, it’s a haunted house movie, which is one of my favorite horror sub-genres. The gothic mansion where the action takes place is a perfect setting. Second, it’s filmed in beautiful widescreen black and white. Movies with this particular look are unique to this period in the late 50’s – mid 60’s, and it’s lost very little of its punch over the years. I’m sure some viewers will be irritated at the lack of explanation and closure in a movie that doesn’t spell everything out for them; but if you like gothic horror, classic psychological thrillers, or great movies in general I’d can’t recommend The Innocents too highly. — Daniel Stidham
14. IT FOLLOWS
(2014) DIRECTED BY DAVID ROBERT MITCHELL
From the very first shot to the last, It Follows a is a film that leaves a mark like no other. The story follows a teenage girl named Jay (Maika Monroe), as she quickly discovers that after a brief sexual encounter, she now carries the burden of a strange, supernatural presence that tracks her every move, no matter the location or the time. The entity can take the shape of her most suppressed fears or the people that she knows, but in a sea of seemingly innocent faces, she’ll never know what hit her until it gets closer and closer… and closer. Set to a haunting score by Disasterpeace and matched with cinematographer Michael Gioulakis’s wide shots, the pair leaves a haunting effect that almost forces its audience to scrutinize every detail of the frame, all while Jay can’t stop looking over her shoulder.
Despite being an obvious tribute to the ghost of John Carpenter’s past (namely Halloween), It Follows establishes David Robert Mitchell as completely worthy of these comparisons as the young director/writer follows in his footsteps, creating something refreshingly unique in the age of cheap scares and cliches. Unlike Halloween, however, It Follows isn’t about any physical forces, but instead focuses on the unseen, of what might be lurking in the shadows or in the corner of the frame. The atmosphere is never, not even for a moment, without the sinking feeling of utter dread, one that lasts even long after the film is over. — Nix Santos
13. THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE
(1974) DIRECTED BY TOBE HOOPER
Could Tobe Hooper have known, in 1974, that his grimy, claustrophobic, Grindhouse-soaked second feature would one day be considered among the greatest horror movies ever made?
Eight years before his Spielberg-shepherded Poltergeist briefly made him a promising, ill-fated Hollywood talent, and eleven before his coke-fueled Lifeforce instead shackled him to the particular variety of questionable decisions conjured by the words “Cannon Films”, Hooper rounded up $300,000, a bunch of borrowed equipment, and a crew of amateurs for Texas Chain Saw. And changed American horror cinema forever.
Like the earlier Psycho and the later Silence of the Lambs, Texas Chain Saw drew on the uniquely American horror story of Ed Gein, swapping the real-life serial killer’s native Wisconsin for the sweaty Texas its protagonists inhabit, a place characterized by 1970s economic privation, ominous slaughterhouses glimpsed in passing, and lonely, failing gas stations. The hippie teens out for a stay in the country are astrology-reading flower children in Manson’s America, ushered to their fates like cows in the abattoirs the killers once staffed. Hooper knows exactly what he’s doing.
Pilloried upon release, banned in several countries, and to this day synonymous with extreme filmic brutality, the legacy of Hooper’s masterpiece eclipses the actual film. Many viewers remember, falsely, a film filled with blood. There is virtually none. With precious few resources to spend, Hooper opted instead for psychological scares: horror by implication, unsettling allusion, and an unrelenting anxiety far more troubling than the gore-fest its lurid title promises. The fictive and the real blend here, a living nightmare made of vulnerable flesh.
Ordinarily, in nightmares, you pinch yourself to wake up. At one point in Texas Chain Saw, a character instead reads another’s horoscope: “There are moments when we cannot believe that what is happening is really true. Pinch yourself and you may find out that it is.” — Rick Kelley
(1982) DIRECTED BY TOBE HOOPER (maybe)
There’d never been anything like it: a truly terrifying ghost story aimed at a family audience, with the imprimatur of Steven Spielberg, whose name was, at the time, mentioned in the same breath as that of Walt Disney. (Never mind that another name in the Poltergeist ads, director Tobe Hooper, was the man behind The Texas Chain Saw Massacre.) The movie was centered in pure Spielberg territory: contemporary suburbia. “The house looks just like the one next to it, and the one next to that, and the one next to that,” intones the trailer. “A young couple live in it with their three children…and something more.”
That family is Steven and Diane Freling, bratty teen Dana, middle child Robbie, and angelic Carol Anne. When items start moving on their own, child of the 60s Diane thinks it’s “fun.” But the fun stops when Carol Anne starts talking to the “TV people,” ghosts who eventually use the family Sony to suck the girl into their dimension, where the unseen “Beast” holds her captive. The requisite experts are called in, but none of them are prepared for the house’s nightmarish manifestations: a room full of flying objects, disembodied voices, bites from unseen creatures, ghostly figures, and a stuffed clown doll that develops a murderous streak. One poor man’s face decays before his eyes in a moment that must be attributed to Hooper.
If horror of the 50s was a thinly veiled expression of our fears of atomic energy and communism, Poltergeist was the first to symbolize the angst of the Reagan-era nuclear family, particularly the man at its head, charged with protecting home and hearth. Signs of Steven Freling’s helplessness are apparent everywhere: in the unfinished back yard swimming pool (which also plays a part in the movie’s horrors), in the revelation of his own role in the haunting, and when his boss pays a visit to find him unshaven, unkempt, and mumbling excuses for his daughter’s disappearance. It’s this humanity that makes Poltergeist special. The Frelings represent something absent from most horror tales: characters we care about. By focusing on the family, Spielberg made a one-of-a-kind ghost story, one that still captivates as well as it chills. — Mike Grunwald
11. THE FLY
(1986) DIRECTED BY DAVID CRONENBERG
Across a long and illustrious career bridging the gap between the demands of arthouse cinephiles and mainstream horror audiences, David Cronenberg managed to concoct some of the most distinctive genre films of the late 20th century. With The Fly, he pushed further into mainstream territory than he’d ever gone before, remaking a classic monster movie, transforming it into an allegory for the AIDS crisis that dominated headlines during the decade of Reagan and Thatcher.
Of course, this is still Cronenberg, so don’t expect him to be dragged into the mainstream consciousness without kicking and screaming. Some of the most disgusting creature designs of his entire career can be found in The Fly; from the slow, painful metamorphosis undergone by Jeff Goldblum (in a career best performance), to all manner of teleportation experiments gone wrong. After purchasing the movie on Blu-Ray, my retinas were damaged by the repugnant site of a baboon whose body had been turned inside out, leaving all its blood and guts on the outside. The design here is genuinely disgusting- which as any horror fan will know, is the highest compliment you can possibly give.
Chris Walas and Stephan Dupuis won Oscars for their make-up design here- the only time the Academy have awarded a Cronenberg directed movie. But this shouldn’t just be regarded as a high watermark in practical effects and creature design. This is one of the most human horror movies ever made, one of the best remakes of all time and certainly one of the strongest films in Cronenberg’s back catalogue- an embarrassment of riches if there ever was one. –– Alistair Ryder
(1960) DIRECTED BY ALFRED HITCHCOCK
Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho is, for many of us, emblematic of the modern psychological horror movie. The film combines a creeping sense of dread and hesitation with sudden, bloody shocks. While the iconic shower scene may have entered the lexicon of the general filmgoing public, the quiet, lurking, shadowy scenes helped usher in a still-strong body of menacingly human cinematic horror, evil unsettlingly devoid of fangs.
Initially, the plot revolves around a secretary going on the run post-theft — yet, as any viewer knows, the woman’s stormy detour to the Bates Motel is the real crux of the sinister story. It’s not about a woman on the run but about her what lurks at her pit stop. This misdirection allows Hitchcock to trick the viewer into a state of contemplative calm, then rip it all apart. The film induces goosebumps through silence, drafts, glances, shadows; its villains are reclusive, not offensive. But the scares are sudden, fierce, unfair. Psycho raises the hairs on the back of your head primarily out of what it doesn’t show, proving to audiences that waiting and wondering can be just as scary as fights and fury. It’s not without its share of knives and blood, but the film’s real legacy is its delivery of a painful, powerful uncertainty of when and where an unnamed but undeniable evil will emerge. — Emily Ambash
9. NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD
(1968) DIRECTED BY GEORGE ROMERO
Enjoy AMC’s The Walking Dead? Shaun of the Dead? Resident Evil? Or to dispense with examples, the entire concept of the zombie as a horror villain as we know them? This one film invented it. Not iterated upon it, or popularized it, but completely invented the characteristics of the modern zombie. You probably already knew that. Zombies existed before Night of the Living Dead, of course, but they were generally portrayed as mind-controlled slaves – somnambulists. The risen-from-the-grave, flesh-devouring horde zombie sprang whole cloth from the mind of George Romero in 1968, and though the zombie thing has been utterly played out in every possible fashion this past decade, that only serves to further illustrate the magnitude of Night of the Living Dead‘s influence on horror.
The incredibly timely and poignant racial politics of the film may be the thing that catapulted it from midnight horror hit to mainstream juggernaut. It defiantly features a man of color in the lead role (unheard of at the time, still rare today), opposite a white antagonist who is twitchy, ill-tempered and violent, establishing yet another now-standard zombie trope: regular humans are the real threat when all social order breaks down. We are the true monsters. Night of the Living Dead is required viewing for any horror fan, and highly recommended for just about everyone else. — Jon Gerblick
8. THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT
(1999) DIRECTED BY EDUARDO SÁNCHEZ & DANIEL MYRICK
I recall going to see The Blair Witch Project in theaters with an unusually quiet audience, which in this day and age is almost unheard of – especially for a horror film. No one at my screening, at the film’s conclusion, walked out complaining that it was overhyped, or that you “don’t see the witch.” In fact, everyone walked out quietly, as if in a daze. A film which, in the earliest days of consumer Internet, launched a very clever marketing scheme – that everything on screen was 100% real, and those kids in the film weren’t actors, but real students who were still missing – The Blair Witch Project was made for next to nothing, but would go on to make back its budget three times. Wait, did I say three times? Sorry, I meant three hundred times.
A simple concept with a surprisingly fleshed out backstory, the mythology that filmmakers Eduardo Sánchez and Daniel Myrick created for their little indie film was quite in-depth – so much that they were able to parley much of it into Curse of the Blair Witch, a fake historical documentary which aired on the Sci-Fi Channel during the film’s release and was later included on the DVD. The highly improvisational shoot among the actors allowed what was essentially a scripted narrative to come off as utterly genuine, and that “the witch” never appears on screen – much to the detriment of the unimaginative – allows you, the viewer, to decide what she looks like. As typical for any horror film worth a damn, once the initial shock wore off and it became common knowledge that a Hollywood studio had not, in fact, released a snuff film for the entertainment of mainstream audiences, the backlash then began. The biggest sticking point for the sea of complainers was that they’d thought it was real, and were disappointed to learn it wasn’t, which suggests an implication far scarier or sicker than anything seen in The Blair Witch Project: audiences wanted those kids dead for real, strewn about in bloody bits and turned into witch hats — especially Heather — and it’s a stain which has followed the film over the last near-20 years, making it one of the most controversial horror titles to be released since The Exorcist. — J. Tonzelli
7. THE THING
(1982) DIRECTED BY JOHN CARPENTER
In a modern era saturated with remakes across all genres, it may initially seem hard to believe for some that one could be widely considered as one of the all-time greats in its respective genre. A loose remake of The Thing from Another World, though a more strict adaptation of John W. Campbell, Jr.’s “Who Goes There?”, John Carpenter’s The Thing has stood the test of time for a few reasons.
First of all, it goes without saying that the special effects in the film are phenomenal. Everything you see from the Thing morphing out of its dog shape and the chest defibrillator scene will ensure that you are simultaneously awestruck and borderline creeped out. Though fortunately, the Thing comes in many forms and is never shown for very long on camera, keeping up the mystery of the ‘Thing’ the title promises. And speaking of mysteries, though The Thing is a creature sci-fi film, its narrative plays as a mystery of sorts, keeping the audience engaged as they’re forced to guess who is infected and who isn’t. — William Penix
6. LET THE RIGHT ONE IN
(2008) DIRECTED BY TOMAS ALFREDSON
The spellbinding story of a connection forged in blood, Let the Right One In skillfully careens between primal fear and a devoted albeit complicated love. Oskar (Kåre Hedebrant) is a picked upon boy who meets an another outcast- the otherworldly and androgynous Eli (Lina Leandersson). A deeply symbiotic relationship between the children emerges that’s informed and enhanced by violence. Their claustrophobic time together under the veil of darkness is intoxicating and nerve-racking nature of the plot doesn’t point to any obvious resolutions. The performances of the leads are laced with a playful innocence that emanate a bewitching curiosity in life and death. A savage struggle for survival unfolds with a chilling precision that grips the audience in an oddly romantic stranglehold. Let the Right One In proves that meaningful narratives with emotional repercussions that ring true can be perfectly melded into the horror genre without sappy or sloppy results. — Lane Scarberry
5. THE EXORCIST
(1973) DIRECTED BY WILLIAM FRIEDKIN
The Exorcist is still a household name more than 40 years after its release for a reason. It combines the dread and tension of something like Rosemary’s Baby with the practical effects of films like Night of the Living Dead, and it does it all with the grace of a bigger studio film. Incredible performances from the cast along with flawless practical effects and cinematography work the film’s themes into every single frame, from the deserts in the opening sequence to the cold, sterile hospital scenes and on into the film’s iconic finale. Not only did it spawn an entire subgenre of horror and even a tv show (for better or worse), the film’s influence can be seen in any number of supernatural horror projects and all sorts of other pop culture. In the same way that classic Hollywood monster films paved the way for modern horror, The Exorcist influenced young directors, leading to everything from Poltergeist to Evil Dead. The legacy of shaking beds and projectile vomit is only one facet of what this film left behind. Establishing horror as a genre that could win Academy Awards in the new studio system of the 70s didn’t hurt. — Chad Chidester
(1978) DIRECTED BY JOHN CARPENTER
It started off as a simple request to make a horror flick about babysitters getting murdered. What came out of that pitch has undoubtedly become one of the most iconic horror films of all time, starring one of the most famous killers of all time: Bill Shatner. At least, his blank, pale, emotionless, face. Nick Castle hiding under Shatnerface as Michael Myers haunts dreams to this day.
Credited as bringing the slasher genre to popularity, Halloween‘s massive success spawned numerous rip-offs and copycats, but none of them ever touched the level of genuine dread that horror legend John Carpenter managed to create on a shoestring budget. His expertise in lighting helped create iconic cinematography, including the famous “fade in” shot of Myers from the shadows. Through simple piano scales, authentic character-driven dialogue, and a very early and effective long take using a brand-new steadycam, Carpenter created a small town USA nightmare. Minimal but effective gore and violence kept this first installment grounded in reality. Halloween could very well happen in our own backyard. This writer happens to only be an hour away from the Illinois border, so the Samhain holiday always seems more spooky than it should be thanks to this film.
Featuring a big screen debut and breakout performance from a young, pre-Scream Queen status Jamie Lee Curtis, the real honor goes to the dearly departed Donald Pleasence as the terrible psychiatrist Dr. Loomis. He brings a seriousness and gravitas not often found in horror films, Hollywood’s trashiest genre. His memorable monologues about evil are diamonds in a field of gems, shining brighter than the already-glistening landscape. No other slasher/slashee adversarial combo has brought so much emotional weight or legitimate sense of struggle. Their battle is eternal, Dr. Loomis a sort of modern-day Van Helsing fighting pure, simple evil. It all adds up into a film rightfully synonymous with the holiday it’s named after. — Josh Heath
3. ROSEMARY’S BABY
(1968) DIRECTED BY ROMAN POLANSKI
Rosemary (Mia Farrow) and Guy Woodhouse (John Cassavetes) move into the much sought after Bramford apartments, and trouble follows. Roman Polanski’s brilliant, unsettling adaptation of Ira Levin’s novel gave a whole new meaning to “the neighbors from hell”, as Rosemary becomes pregnant and begins to suspect that the other apartment tenants have it in for her and her unborn child. In retrospect, everyone knows the truth — that Rosemary’s spawn is the Antichrist. But the brilliance of Polanski’s film is how it keeps us in the dark for so long. We, just like Rosemary, think it’s the neighbors who are the real monsters, trying to sacrifice Rosemary’s baby for some dark ritual. Farrow makes for an endearing, albeit clueless, heroine, and Cassavetes — despite much on-set drama with Polanski — turns in a great performance as a weasley, fame-hungry husband. For most of its runntime there’s nothing outwardly horrific about Polanski’s film — all of the drama and fear seem to exist in Rosemary’s paranoia. Yet there’s an unmistakable horror at play, with the real sense that danger is lurking around every shadowy corner of the Bramford. It all builds to the most horrifying of endings, where Rosemary is confronted with the truth of her demonic baby, and accepts it — ushering in a whole new era. “God is dead! Satan lives! The year is One!” — Chris Evangelista
(1979) DIRECTED BY RIDLEY SCOTT
Perhaps Ridley Scott’s finest film, Alien is horror via isolation and terror via the uncannily familiar. The seven-member crew aboard the Nostromo are trapped in a labyrinth of their own design, juxtaposing the agoraphobic existential dread of outer space with intense spatial claustrophobia of a once safe-space unmade by a creature born out of their own bodies. Like John Carpenter’s The Thing, Alien terrifies us not only through physical proximity, but an uncanny familial closeness. It’s a film which, for all of its moments featuring the various forms of the alien (the facehugger, chestburster, etc), is markedly reticent in revealing the creature outright. Formally, Alien returns again and again to the well of spatial awareness when considering its atmospheric dread of a known unknown. The film’s sense of pacing and rhythm build tension through anxiety of retreading familiar ground with the knowledge that it is now haunted. Scott highlights this not only through the set design and shot composition, but sound design, allowing eerie durations of silence to be punctuated by seemingly innocuous sounds: dripping of water, rattling of chains, breathing, etc to seemingly smother the ship’s corridors and rooms with a vague unease. Few horror films since Alien have managed to replicate the same effect of Scott’s taut, heightened sensibility of capturing atmosphere on display. — Josh Hamm
1. THE SHINING
(1980) DIRECTED BY STANLEY KUBRICK
From Jack Nicholson’s iconic performance to impossible windows, Stanley Kubrick’s labyrinthine The Shining is a masterpiece on its surface that only grows more sinister with further consideration. Is there any greater aim in cinema, horror genre or otherwise, than to make a movie whose mystery only grows with increased exposure, that becomes ungraspable even as it sets its claws of conspiracy in your cortex? Ostensibly a straight-forward ghost story of inner-demons and outer-limits phantasms, Kubrick’s legendary attention to detail and effect has created a movie that is alleged to really be actually about the faking of the moon landing, a critique of American imperialism, Greek mythology, and so on. In a genre which rarely satisfies the critical watcher, perhaps The Shining’s most potent attribute is how it opens its doors for consideration but can then book the incautious viewer a room in paranoia. — A.R. Magalli