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Best Horror Movies Ever Made Best Horror Movies Ever Made

Greatest Horror Films

150 Greatest Horror Movies of the 20th Century (Top 120)

“If these movies don’t make your skin crawl…it’s on too tight!”

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The List of the Best Horror Movies Continues

Man Bites Dog

Special Mention: C’est arrivé près de chez vous (Man Bites Dog)
Written by André Bonzel, Benoît Poelvoorde, Rémy Belvaux and Vincent Tavier
Directed by André Bonzel and Benoît Poelvoorde
France, 1992

Special Mention: C’est arrivé près de chez vous (Man Bites Dog)

Rémy Belvaux, André Bonzel, and Benoît Poelvoorde set out to make their first feature film with little resources and little money. In the tradition of filmmakers who can’t afford much film stock, the trio settled for a faux-documentary-style approach – the result is a high-concept satire of media violence that would spoof documentaries by following around a fictitious sociopath named Ben as he exercises his lethal craft. While the cinematic tradition of presenting villains as suave, charming, attractive, and intelligent individuals is nothing new, Man Bites Dog was still ahead of its time. Much like the great Hitchcockian villains such as Joseph Cotten in Shadow of a Doubt, Ben is a wise man full of ideas. He expounds on art, philosophy, poetry, music, nature, society, and life as he slaughters housewives, children, mailmen, pensioners, and other random bystanders he meets along the way. Every frame of this film is shot documentary-style in grainy black-and-white, and the pseudo-realism, complete with rough uneven editing and shaky hand-held camera work, gives a frightening air of legitimacy to the events that unfold. As a critique of our crime-saturated media and violence-dominated lifestyle, Man Bites Dog is a truly compelling indictment. Over the years Man Bites Dog surely has lost its bite, but at the time it was revolutionary, pre-dating such films as John Waters’ Serial Mom, Oliver Stone’s Natural Born Killers and Gus Van Sant’s To Die For. Like it or not, this Belgian award-winning film has gone on to influence everything from The Blair Witch Project to BoratMan Bites Dog also boasts graphic displays of violence. Yet what’s most disturbing about the mayhem is not so much its explicit presentation, but the actual attitude and tone surrounding the events. In fact, much of the violence takes place off camera or out of frame; but the way the movie presents these events with its own nonjudgmental point of view is what makes it disturbing. As the killing spree intensifies, it becomes clear that the camera crew following Ben at all times is equally responsible for the heinous acts documented. When the fictional crew (led by Belvaux and Bonzel) runs out of money, they rely on Ben to finance the rest of the picture. Eventually, they become active collaborators, and their mere presence alone incites Ben to continue his brutal savagery. At one point they even participate in the film’s most disturbing scene, which depicts the gang-rape and disembowelment of a young woman. Smart, deviant, scary, provocative, Man Bites Dog is a satirical stab at serial killers and our continued unhealthy obsession with them. In short, Man Bites Dog is profoundly disturbing – as it should be.

TheAddiction

120. The Addiction

Produced by Russell Simmons, Abel Ferrara’s 1995 black and white experiment blends the urban vampire adventure with philosophical analysis. Scripted by Ferrara’s longtime collaborator Nicholas St. John, the film stars Lili Taylor as a philosophy student in New York who goes out walking one night and gets bitten by vampire Annabella Sciorra. Pretty soon she must prowl the gritty New York streets sticking homeless people with a syringe and shooting it into her veins. Later, she runs into another immortal vampire (Christopher Walken) who teaches her a painful lesson about her ever-growing addiction. The Addiction is only superficially about vampires as it is really a meditation on human nature and its fundamental predisposition toward evil. The Holocaust, the My Lai massacre, and the philosophy of Heidegger and Nietzsche are just some of the themes and ideas addressed in the film, and these topics really do help make The Addiction an original reworking of the classic vampire mythology. Although unintentionally funny at times, the film is always entertaining and beautiful to look at. Fans of Christopher Walken will especially enjoy this.

DeathDream

119. Deathdream (Dead of Night)

Originally released as Dead of Night, Deathdream was Bob Clark’s second foray into horror cinema and in my opinion, his second-best film. The plot is fairly straightforward and follows a young man named Andy who was said to be killed in Vietnam but inexplicably returns home to his family’s surprise. Although effective as a flat-out horror film, Deathdream’s greatest strength is its commentary on the social implications of the Vietnam War. Andy’s struggles on the home front are a metaphor for the difficulties many veterans face when returning to civilian life, and a good portion of the film focuses on the lingering effects these soldiers have when returning to America. While the stress disorders and drug addiction that many veterans experienced are alluded to, the film, more importantly, points out that the war has affected not just the soldiers but the entire country. Not only does the war turn Andy into a literal monster but it also tears his entire family apart. Andy’s mother becomes more and more delusional as the horror unfolds and his father tries to forget his troubles by turning to the bottle. Mirroring the breakdown of his family is Andy’s body, which begins to decompose, forcing him to feed on the blood and flesh of others in order to rejuvenate his skin. Deathdream also served as a training ground for another horror veteran Tom Savini. Although the make-up and gore on this film are pretty restrained, Savini and Clark did a superb job in crafting a few hair-raising scenes despite the film’s meager budget. Shots from the killer’s point-of-view along with a jarring piano and string score go a long way in giving the film a sense of impending doom, and Richard Backus’s chilling performance is reminiscent of Anthony Perkins in Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho. The rest of the cast is equally good, especially Lynn Carlin and John Marley as Andy’s troubled parents. Two years later Bob Clark would direct the much more subtle horror classic Black Christmas, and it’s clear that Deathdream served as the genesis of some of the atmospheric directorial flourishes that Clark would use in that film. As a Horror film, Deathdream isn’t as effective as Clark’s 1976 slasher, but for a film that runs a mere 88 minutes, Deathdream is crammed with technical artistry and provocative social commentary to place it high on this list.

maniac

118: Maniac (1980)

Did you know that Michael Sembello’s 1983 hit song “Maniac” from Flashdance was originally written as the title track to William Lustig’s low-budget New York grunge slasher flick, Maniac? A precursor to Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, Lustig’s grimy snapshot of early ‘80s Manhattan is an unapologetically twisted study of a pathological murdering maniac. This harrowing, stomach-churning journey into a mad man’s psyche pissed off many critics upon release, and it is easy to see why, but one cannot deny the emotional impact the film has regardless if you like it or not. Yes, it was made on the cheap, but this isn’t just a pure exploitation film – it’s intelligent and appropriately unsettling given the subject matter. Maniac comes across as a slasher version of Taxi Driver (a film that star Joe Spinell also appeared in), and just like Deniro, Spinell is fully committed to his role, carrying the weight of the movie from beginning to end. Frank’s our main character, and the focus of this entire movie, so chances are you won’t always like what you’re seeing. Despite a low-budget, Maniac is extremely well-made. The atmosphere that Lustig creates is extremely effective in telling this story, and the 16 mm print gives it that dirty, rough, grimy look. It’s also incredibly violent and able to quench the thirsts of gore hounds while sending sensitive viewers running to the exits thanks to the effects by leading horror make-up expert Tom Savini (who actually has a fun little cameo in the film).

Anguish

117. Anguish (Angustia)

An insane mother (Zelda Rubinstein) telepathically controls her middle-aged son (Michael Lerner) to seek out deadly revenge on those who have done her wrong. When he’s finished murdering his victims, he gouges their eyes out and adds them to the family collection. But that’s only a movie within the movie: The real horror is in the theater, where the audience who is watching this story become victims of a mass-murdering spree. Spanish director J.J. Bigas Lunas does a stellar job of pulling off the story’s unconventional narrative. Although other movie-within-a-movie tricks have been tried, this one stands out from the rest thanks to the way it seamlessly switches from the reel to the “real world”. Anguish is certainly an unusual movie, but an extremely well-made film with first-rate performances, special effects, and wide-screen camera work that defies its small budget.

white zombie

116. White Zombie

In this haunting, low-budget, lyrical melodrama, director Victor Halperin brings into play voodoo, possession, and a virgin bride cursed to walk with the living dead. Bela Lugosi stars as voodoo master Murder Legendre, a devilish figure who exercises supernatural powers over the natives in his Haitian domain. Made by a small indie company on a minuscule budget, White Zombie was a huge box office hit on its initial release, yet it proved to be less popular than other horror films of the time, opening to negative reception. Even worse, it remained out of circulation for quite a while due to various legal battles. The film was shot in only 11 days, borrowing many props and scenery from other horror films shot on the Universal lot. Halperin did an astonishing job pushing the technical limitations of its day, with extravagant sets, multi-layered compositions, and a killer split-screen sequence, all elevating the film above simplicity, to near-operatic. The sugar mill sets are extraordinary. A repeated shot of Madeline walking down a grand staircase in Legendre’s castle is breathtaking, and the crossfade from Madeline and Neil into a shot of Lugosi’s deep penetrating stare is legendary. Halperin’s rough visuals fill the screen with surprisingly poetic images. The command of mood and emotion on display suggests a work from a master filmmaker, and Lugosi’s character here is one of his most fascinating creations. Many claim his performance here to be his best, and in my opinion, he never found a better role that could flaunt his range as an actor. Most independent productions of that era are downright awful, but White Zombie is a truly remarkable film that lands somewhere in between classic Universal horror and Val Lewton productions. Considered the first zombie film, White Zombie is essential viewing for any true horror fan.

Altered States

115. Altered States

Altered States is a rarity among Hollywood films, and it’s amazing it ever got made under the studio system. Ken Russell (The Devils) directs from a script by Paddy Chayefsky (Network), who adapted his own novel of the same name. William Hurt plays Eddie Jessup, a brilliant and slightly mad American scientist obsessed with discovering mankind’s true reason for existing. He submits himself to a series of mind-bending experiments with the help of mind-altering drugs. Enclosing himself in a sensory-deprivation chamber, Jessup explores various levels of human consciousness and begins to experience disturbing physical changes in his body that hint at an evolutionary regression. Ken Russell applies his usual psychedelic visuals, and the end result makes no sense because, as Russell claims, it’s not supposed to. Altered States works best as ‘body horror’ with its well-crafted transformation sequences both physical and metaphysical, but what makes this bizarre film truly awe-inspiring, is how it at times, is genuinely touching.

phantasm

114. Phantasm (The Never Dead)

Phantasm is an impressive film for 23-year-old director Don Coscarelli, who worked with a minuscule budget and somehow created one of the most memorable horror pics of the late ’70s. Coscarelli not only directed this remarkable film, but he was also its director of photography and its editor. Phantasm became a considerable sleeper hit in 1979, but it never became as popular as some the indie horror hits from the same period. Ask any horror fan if they’ve seen Nightmare On Elm Street, Friday the 13th and Halloween and the answer will most likely be yes, but very few people for whatever reason have seen Phantasm. It’s a shame really because Phantasm is filled with surreal offbeat images – such as the killer sphere that drills into a victims’ head and screws a hole into his brain and spatters his brain out behind it – and creepy characters such as the killer dwarves and the sinister figure of the Tall Man played by Angus Scrimm. The film doesn’t make a lick of sense (Coscarelli actually carved out over half of the film, leaving behind only 88 minutes of a 3-hour cut) — but Phantasm works if only because it’s suggested that the story is a recurring nightmare, complete with a twist ending that seems to validate nothing is what it seems.

black sunday

113. Black Sunday

Mario Bava’s directorial debut Black Sunday is a densely atmospheric black-and-white horror film that clearly took its inspiration from the classic Universal horror movies, but it still stands as one of the most influential and important genre films ever made. Although taken from the 1835 classic Russian ghost story The Vij by Nikolai Gogol, Bava tweaked the narrative to deliver a fine mixture of folklore, traditional superstition, and genre convention. Technically speaking, the film is a work of art, with superb sound design and striking camerawork. Already an established cinematographer, Bava, along with co-cinematographer Ubaldo, shot the entire film with a dolly. The result achieves a dream-like quality and despite the budget limitations, Black Sunday is one of the best-looking Italian horror films of the 60s, with its Gothic landscapes, shadowy black-and-white imagery, castles, crypts, and long passageways. The film also introduced the world to Barbara Steele, who has dual roles as the evil witch and princess. Her Gothic black hair and saucer-like dark eyes made her famous, but unfortunately, it was a role she would forever be typecast in. The film was ignored by the critics when released, but soon gained a cult following and opened the door for many Italian Gothic horror films to come. It was also a box office hit and forecast Bava’s career-long central theme of uncertainty.

Valerie_and_Her_Week_of_Wonders

112. Valerie and Her Week of Wonders (Valerie a týden divu)

Set in a vaguely defined Transylvanian town sometime in the last century, Valerie and Her Week of Wonders is a bizarre Gothic fable of a young woman’s descent into womanhood. There is no clearly defined story, but essentially the film works as a parable of menstruation. Directed and written by Jaromil Jires, a key member of the Czech New Wave, Valerie and Her Week of Wonders is one long, erotically charged nightmare of sexuality and death. And yes, there are vampires. An easy way to describe the film is to think Alice in Wonderland meets Nosferatu with a screenplay that bears similarities to Neil Jordan’s The Company of Wolves. Valerie features stunning visuals, a remarkable score, and a tour-de-force performance by Jaroslava Schallerová, who was only 13 at the time.

Best Horror Movies

111. Bay Of Blood / Twitch Of The Death Nerve / Reazione a catena

In 1971, Mario Bava unleashed Bay Of Blood, a film that pushed beyond the levels of gore that had yet been seen in a murder mystery thriller. Blood Zhas a body count of 13, spread across multiple killers – which is more dead bodies than the total of victims in the first Halloween, Nightmare On Elm Street and Friday The 13th movies combined. In place of a single psycho, Bay Of Blood hosts a cast of characters, all related (and all insane), and all after the property of a deceased Countess and her lofty inheritance. It was by far Bava’s goriest film, soaked in top-of-the-line practical effects, dripping in blood and featuring the most innovative kill sequences for its time. Bava was a cinematographer-turned-director, and Bay of Blood was the first film since 1962’s The Girl Who Knew Too Much for which he took credit in both capacities. Released as Twitch of the Death Nerve, the film would become a predecessor to the slasher sub-genre, and said to have heavily influenced Friday the 13th. Frederico Fellini once commented that he worked on writing a horror film for an acquaintance who gave him a script with numerous depictions of murders, but not one thread of story connecting them. Many believe it was Bava he was referring to, specifically this movie. Dario Argento loved the film so much, he had a friend (a projectionist) steal him a print of the film during its first run in Italy. One last piece of IMDb trivia: Roberto Rossellini (whom Bava had previously worked for) shot a day’s worth of second unit footage for Bava. While he was uncredited, most of the footage appeared in the final cut.

Best Horror Movies

Special Mention: Manhunter

What makes Michael Mann’s vision of Harris’ novel so incredibly good is that the plot is told from opposite views, based on Graham’s principal role. Although the killer does not appear until midway through the movie, his slant is experienced through Graham’s peerless investigation, leaving us with a disturbing voyeuristic look into the mind of both the criminal and the hunter chasing his prey. Writer/director Michael Mann’s measured approach pays off in spades. Manhunter is a clever race-against-time flick, in which the ticking of the clock is measured in Will’s attempt to retain his own sanity as he forces himself to think more and more like his quarry. Mann lays on the style thick with contrasting colour schemes to the seemingly contrary actions of his central characters, and cinematographer Dante Spinotti employs specific colours to emphasize emotional and jointed parallels. Mann and Spinotti deftly employ colour to heighten the mood, resulting in creating tension and uncertainty in the unlikeliest of settings. Mann explores all angles here, both visually and emotionally. Using light and shadow to enhance an atmosphere of horror, and working with a couple of highly stylized set pieces, the director’s taste for structural beauty is on full display. The score, with music by The Reds and Michael Rubini, along with the pulsating soundtrack of pre-existing music from bands such as Red 7, Shriekback, and Iron Butterfly, might seem dated, but in a strange way, the music helps elevate the mood. Meanwhile, throughout the film, Mann also makes a deliberate choice to snip out a couple of frames so that the shots flicker. While these choices won’t please most viewers, they do give the film its own unique sensibility. The movie’s emotional highpoint features Joan Allen as a physically vulnerable but emotionally strong blind woman named Reba, visiting an anesthetized tiger (perhaps symbolically used as a substitute for a dragon). As Reba strokes the animal and puts her head up against his body to hear his heartbeat, Dollarhyde (Tooth Fairy) watches from a distance, imagining her touching him. Noonan’s Tooth Fairy is insane of course, but he wasn’t born a monster; he was made into one, as told to us by Graham at one point. Allen is fantastic in the role, playing an assertive female character in a time when they were rarely seen on the big screen. Another memorable scene features a brief shot of the sleazy reporter Lounds thundering down a narrow hallway while strapped to a wheelchair lit on fire – as if he spat out of a dragon’s mouth. In addition – the breathtaking chill of Lecktor’s few scenes is enough to qualify Manhunter as a superior film to Silence of the Lambs. Cox’s Hannibal is a masterclass in restraint. His sociopathic killer is much less operatic than Jonathan Demme’s take, and Brian Cox’s brilliant portrayal is not only diametrically opposed to Hopkins’s performance but superior in every way. His Hannibal is far more cunning and terrifying than the campy portrayal in Silence of the Lambs. William Petersen’s performance as the troubled agent is central to the film, and while his character may be less memorable than Hannibal and the Tooth Fairy, he is no less complex. Graham is an archetypal Mann protagonist, and the actor offers a commanding performance crafting a multi-faceted character. The Tooth Fairy is also given much more depth than that typically afforded to serial killers. Tom Noonan makes him unhinged, but at the same time he can come across as retaining flashes of humanity. But he’s altogether discomfiting to watch, especially in his gentle scenes when his character shows a great deal of pain. The cast overall is stunning – even supporting roles, such as Dennis Farina’s Jack and Stephen Lang’s revolting tabloid journalist Lounds carry weight. Like The Silence of the Lambs, Manhunter isn’t really about the notorious cannibal – it’s about the unscrupulous psychological effects he has on those who surround him, and how his prowess continues to haunt Graham. Silence Of The Lambs might have gone on to be the film that put Lecktor on the map, but this slick and glossy thriller is every bit as compelling.

Best Horror Movies

110. The Girl Who Knew Too Much (La ragazza che sapeva troppo)

Mario Bava’s final black-and-white production is regarded as the seminal work in what would become known as the start of the Giallo genre. Much like Brian De Palma, Bava was influenced by and borrowed heavily from Alfred Hitchcock over the years. The title spoofs The Man Who Knew Too Much, a story Hitchcock adapted twice to the big screen. The Girl Who Knew Too Much helped kick-start a whole school of Italian thrillers, but only a few were able to surpass the genius of Bava. This is a beautifully shot film, composed of pristine blocking, framing, pans, dollies, and sharp edits, all creating suspense amidst the shadowy photography. Bava’s films might not always make a lick of sense, but as a former cinematographer working for directors such as Roberto Rossellini, his movies always look good. With a solid performance from the always reliable John Saxon, The Girl Who Knew Too Much is incredibly entertaining; features a few twists and even a surprise ending.

150 Greatest Horror Movies

109. The Changeling

This creepy tale of horror stars George C. Scott as John Russell, a recently widowed music professor, who has moved to Seattle in the hope of forgetting his personal tragedy. Unfortunately for him, his new residence (an old home owned by the local historical society) is haunted. Although many critics consider this one of the best in the haunted house sub-genre, the film was criminally underseen when released in 1980, a time when slasher films starring young good looking teens were in vogue. It’s a shame because this good old-fashioned ghost story is a skillfully-made thriller, one that unfolds slowly, choosing to take its time in setting up the characters before any real horror begins. This is a textbook example of how to do horror right without relying on any digital effects.

The Beyond

108. The Beyond

Sometimes labeled “Fulci’s masterpiece,” The Beyond is loaded with more than enough graphic gore to please the most jaded genre enthusiast. There are acid face-lifts, killer tarantulas and a scene reminiscent of Suspiria, where a blind girl has her ear ripped off when attacked by her seeing-eye dog. The Beyond is littered with Fulci’s iconic imagery, alternating between genuine frightening moments of gore and shocks and unintentionally funny and awkward interactions between the cast of odd characters, that despite its discernible lines of logic, one can’t help but be entertained. The gore here is splattered about in high style and the Italian prog-rock soundtrack is one of the best of all the Italian horror films. You’ll love the excellent camera work by Gand Fulci, the Gothic locales, the terrific sets, and the well-executed jump-scares.

Best Horror Movies

107. Terror at the Opera (Opera)

Opera mixed with horror is a fine fitting for Dario Argento’s extravagant style and dark trademarks as a filmmaker. Terror at the Opera was Argento’s most expensive production, and it shows in his color schemes, use of music, grand set design, and camera work – all of which are wildly inventive and appropriate. The film’s chosen opera is an avant-garde rendition of Giuseppe Verdi’s Macbeth, historically known for bringing bad omens to its cast and crew. Though Opera was never plagued by post-production problems, the director has been quoted as saying that “Opera‘s loveless tone was intended in part as a kind of AIDS metaphor” since star Ian Charleson learned during the filming that he was HIV+. Much like most of Argento’s work, the dialogue is over-the-top, and the acting is at times hammy, but one can’t deny its style and spectacular mood. Opera also features many incredible highlights, including one truly brilliant POV shot: At one point Betty is immobilized, as the killer ties her up and places a row of needles below her eyelids, forcing her to witness the excruciating deaths of her friends. We see the torture of unsuspecting supporting characters through her obstructed, terrifying view. I dare you not to blink.

Legend of Hell House

106. The Legend of Hell House

Based on Richard Matheson’s 1971 novel Hell House, The Legend of Hell House, much like The Haunting, involves a group of skeptics, mediums, and researchers tasked with spending a few days in a mansion allegedly haunted. Unexplained occurrences follow as interpersonal conflicts arise among the group. Things go bump in the night, glasses spontaneously shatter, furniture moves, people levitate, bedsheets hover over the mattress and strange sounds are heard coming from around the house. John Hough’s direction relies upon suggestion and anxious anticipation, and The Legend of Hell House earns a fair share of chills. Drenched in atmosphere and fog, the film is adeptly made — the art direction of Robert Jones and the cinematography by Alan Hume is beautiful, and the music by Brian Hodgson and Delia Derbyshire similarly work to enhance the film and keep viewers at the edge of their seat. With a single setting, slick visuals, a spooky score, minimal effects and an extremely talented cast of no more than half a dozen characters, The Legend of Hell House is one of the best ghost stories ever put to the big screen. This is one ghost story that will have you gripping your armrest.

gremlins__1984

105. Gremlins

The best way to describe Joe Dante’s Christmas Horror-comedy Gremlins is to quote the tagline: Cute. Clever. Mischievous. Intelligent. Dangerous. Gremlins offers enough thrills to please even the most well-seasoned horror fan, and enough laughs to satisfy the entire family. Not enough credit is given to Chris Columbus for his sharp script, which not only gives this monster movie a heart but introduced some truly iconic creatures and a cast of characters we’ve grown to love. Gremlins is not only a witty B-movie, but a minor classic and one of the best films released in the 80’s no matter what the genre. The special effects and puppetry designed by Chris Walas are rather incredible, even by today’s standards, and I would argue that the practical effects look much more realistic than something intangible, such as CGI. Though it sports a PG rating, Gremlins contains some surprisingly dark moments and was one of two films in 1984 to influence the MPAA to create the PG-13 rating (with Red Dawn being the first film given the new rating in August 1984). Gremlins also caused a resurgence of monster-orientated films and helped pave the way for C.H.U.D. and Critters, to name a few. This tribute to the 1950s matinee genre stands the test of time from a time when parents would take their children to family films that pushed the boundaries of the MPAA. Joe Dante is an under-rated director and was clearly making some of the most interesting Hollywood films in the ’80s. See it with your children. Gremlins makes the perfect gateway film into the world of Horror. And remember…

Never get them wet.
Keep them away from bright lights.
And no matter how much they cry. No matter how much they beg. Never, ever feed them after midnight.

Hour-of-the-Wolf

104. The Hour of the Wolf

The title alludes to the hour when nightmares come. Ingmar Bergman’s The Hour of the Wolf is the filmmaker’s companion piece to Persona, about a brooding artist who is undergoing a crisis in his work which causes his marriage to fall apart. He and his wife move to a remote and exotic island in hopes that the time away will help them resolve their problems, only his demons follow him along. Unable to distinguish reality from fiction, the artist begins to lose his grip on reality. The Hour of the Wolf is both a bleak psychological drama and a brilliantly conceived Gothic horror tale and features some of the most striking and unusual scenes Bergman ever created.

kuroneko

103. Kuroneko

Along with 1964’s Onibaba, Kuroneko (1968) is one of two horror films directed by Kaneto Shindo appearing on this list. Also translated as Black Cat, Kuroneko is a mixture of samurai adventures and supernatural ghost stories about two women living alone in a rural hut who are raped and murdered by a band of mercenaries. Years later, the women are reincarnated as feline vampires and are intent on seeking revenge on every samurai traveling their way. Director Kaneto Shindo’s 1968 folktale is in some ways a precursor to rape and revenge exploitation films such as I Spit on Your Grave, with the action perpetrated by a mother/daughter-in-law who leaves behind a pile of dead bodies in their wake. Beyond the political and social concerns, Kuroneko works exceptionally well as a ghost story. It’s also beautifully shot in stunning black-and-white 35-millimeter film and features a stunning climax. Not to be missed!

Sisters

102. Sisters

Sisters was director Brian De Palma’s first venture into Hitchcock territory and it set the stage for him as a filmmaker. In this self-confessed homage to Hitchcock, De Palma references everything from Psycho to Rear Window to Vertigo, but the spirit of the film is all his. Brian De Palma conceived the idea for Sisters after reading an article about a set of Russian Siamese twins. He set out to write a script that detailed the twins’ psychological problems as they grew older, and he even independently financed the low-budget pic himself. Quebecois model Margot Kidder brilliantly plays the twins, Danielle and Dominique, and Bernard Herrmann provided his last, but greatest score here. Sisters is also De Palma’s first excursion into the subjects of voyeurism and sexual horror, and in a way, Sisters is the culmination of all the themes he has developed over his long career as a filmmaker. No doubt he has far more accomplished films, but Sisters is the truest to his soul. It’s one of the best films of the 1970s — it’s stylishly made (I especially love how it explores using split-screens) — and it’s perverse, darkly funny, at times. Sisters is bloody good and an entertaining slasher pic with plenty of scenes that put the viewer on edge.

Martin-Romero

101. Martin

In between George Romero’s original trilogy of zombie movies, he made his first and only vampire film. Martin is arguably the most compelling cinematic deconstruction of the vampire myth to date. The vampire in question is just your average teenager who’s been sent to live with his eccentric Uncle Cuda (Lincoln Maazel) and cousin Christina (Christiana Forrest). He spends his days working in his Uncle’s store and delivering groceries to various customers. Martin has no supernatural powers and appears as a weak, slightly autistic 17-year-old. The problem is that Martin thinks he’s an 84-year-old vampire who must feed on the blood of the living to survive and to do so he stalks, sedates and rapes the women who are clients of his uncle’s business. In between, we also witness Martin’s fantasy/flashback scenes. These highly romanticized scenes, filmed in black and white, are visually and tonally different — and similar to what you’d come to expect in a Hammer Studios production, but it is unclear if they are memories of an 87-year old vampire or the twisted product of mental illness and family superstition. The question of whether Martin is actually a vampire or not is left ambiguous. Gruesome, gory and one of the best vampire movies ever made, even if it isn’t really a vampire movie. Martin is not for the weak at heart but if you think you can stomach its graphic violence, it is a must-see for Romero’s direction, writing and — his performance as the Catholic priest!

Best Horror Movies

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Some people take my heart, others take my shoes, and some take me home. I write, I blog, I podcast, I edit, and I design websites. Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Goomba Stomp and the NXpress Nintendo Podcast. Former Editor-In-Chief of Sound On Sight, and host of several podcasts including the Game of Thrones and Walking Dead podcasts, as well as the Sound On Sight and Sordid Cinema shows. There is nothing I like more than basketball, travelling, and animals. You can find me online writing about anime, TV, movies, games and so much more.

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Greatest Horror Films

150 Greatest Horror Films of the 20th Century (Top 20)

Things are about to get a little scary…

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Greatest Horror Films Ever Made

Here we go, the 20 Greatest Horror Movies

jaws-movie

20: Jaws

Richard Dreyfuss, Roy Scheider, and Robert Shaw star in this terrifying thriller about an enormous man-eating Great White Shark that terrorizes the fictional coastal summer resort town of Amity, Long Island on the Fourth of July weekend. Based on the trashy best-selling novel by Peter Benchley (who wrote the screenplay with Carl Gottlieb), Jaws was a surprise cash cow thanks to a sophisticated, unrelenting publicity campaign, and was the first film to rake in over $100 million (it grossed more than $260 million at the domestic box office and nearly $475 million worldwide). It went on to spawn three sequels (all terrible), laid out a blueprint for summer blockbusters, and put Steven Spielberg onto the A-list of Hollywood directors. Spielberg doesn’t serve up mass quantities of blood and gore, but what makes Jaws work is his confident direction, which draws the audience into relaxing at precisely all the wrong moments. Spielberg’s meticulous attention to creating suspense recalls the best of Hitchcock. Jaws remains tense by not showing audiences the shark for the majority of the film. For the first hour, the only glimpses we catch of the beast are fleeting and indistinct. The camera doesn’t dwell on it until the final act. We are only treated to a long hard look at the shark when it passes by the deck of the ship, setting up the film’s most memorable line, “We’re going to need a bigger boat.” In the final scenes, it becomes apparent why the shark gets so little screen time – it looks fake. Spielberg openly admits that if the technology had been better, he would have shown the shark more often. Ironically, it is this handicap that resulted in the film’s greatest strength. By keeping it hidden from the audience, the movie effectively builds suspense and the end result is an edge-of-your-seat thriller.

Videodrome

19. Videodrome

Like all of Cronenberg’s films, Videodrome works on several levels: It is a morality tale, a neo-noir, and a virtual reality sci-fi horror film about a sleazy cable-TV producer who’s searching for perverse sexual content to boost the ratings on his TV cable network. Videodrome has a lot to say about the danger of media overexposure and its effect within. Cronenberg views how people are not only influenced by media but how they can also become addicted to it. In a way, Videodrome foretold of popular reality TV shows that would emerge a decade later. The film was so ahead of its time, it even predates The Matrix in its exploration of a flesh-and-blood world merging with cyberspace. And while Cronenberg’s obsession with the relationship between machinery and man reappears in several of his films, Videodrome is a bit more raunchy, walking a fine line between pornography and sadomasochism. Videodrome might just be Cronenberg’s most visionary and audacious film of his early career, and in hindsight, it might just very well be his best. This is a remarkable film that continues to be debated and analyzed, and one of the smartest and most bizarre films ever produced.

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18. Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn

This high-octane, ferocious gross-out semi-sequel to Sam Raimi’s cult hit The Evil Dead nearly eclipsed its predecessor’s reputation thanks to an endless barrage of visual gags, hyperkinetic camerawork, rapid-fire editing, kegs of jet-propelled blood, slapstick gore, and the demented comic genius of Bruce Campbell (aided by an impressive arsenal of weapons, including a sawed-off shotgun and a chainsaw). Campbell’s performance shifts to match the needs of the script spitting out the greatest one-liners of any horror-comedy. Evil Dead 2 is so outrageously over-the-top that it attains a level of dizzying surrealism. This is a must-see for any self-respecting moviegoer.

Halloween 1978

17. Halloween

Halloween is a historical milestone that single-handedly shaped the future of the entire genre. This seminal horror flick actually gets better with age and holds up as an effective thriller that stands head and shoulders above the hundreds of imitators to come. Halloween was produced on a budget of $325,000 and grossed over $100 million worldwide, making it one of the most profitable independent films ever made. In 2006, it was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”. Halloween had one hell of an influence on the entire film industry. You have to admire how Carpenter avoids explicit onscreen violence, yet amplifies the suspense almost entirely through visual means; Carpenter’s widescreen frame, expert hand-held camerawork, and terrifying foreground and background imagery, along with the simple but moody piano melodies, is what makes Halloween a resounding success.

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16. Aliens

Big-budget special effects, expert direction, swiftly paced action, and a distinct feminist subtext from writer/director James Cameron turned what could have been a by-the-numbers sequel into a box office blockbuster and a seven-time Oscar nominee. Aliens offers a little bit of everything, and apart from the opening half-hour of exposition, Cameron barely gives viewers a chance to catch their breaths as he plunges his characters from one dangerous situation to the next. Cinephiles will forever argue as to which is the better film, Alien or Aliens, and truthfully, I myself cannot decide which I prefer. But one thing is for sure- Ridley Scott developed Alien as a horror film whereas Aliens is more of a straightforward action thriller. The horror elements are still there, but while Alien was a marvel of slow-building, atmospheric tension, Aliens packs a much more visceral punch. However, when James Cameron does get down to the suspense, Aliens becomes an extremely intense film indeed. Shot under red emergency lighting inside a narrow complex with low-gridded roofs and cramped airshafts, Cameron develops a powerful, claustrophobic sense of atmosphere. Whether it’s during the chaotic action sequences within the aliens’ hive or the big climax when Sigourney Weaver faces off against the giant mother alien on the edge of a depressurizing airlock, Aliens will have viewers gripping their armrests.

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15. An American Werewolf in London

Directed by the brilliant John Landis, and made well before the advent of CGI, An American Werewolf in London features the greatest werewolf transformation ever put to screen, thanks to the special effects by Rick Baker. The various prosthetics and robotic body parts used during the film’s extended werewolf transformation impressed the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences so much, they decided to add a category for make-up and effects, which of course Baker deservedly won. Landis, who was 19 when he penned the first draft, delivers a pitch-perfect mix of comedy and genuine scares. Apart from the thrills, atmosphere, romance and witty assemblage of moon-themed songs (“Blue Moon”, “Bad Moon Rising,” “Moondance”), An American Werewolf In London remains the best werewolf movie, if only, for the very tragic ending.

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14. Carrie

This classic horror movie based on Stephen King’s novel about a pubescent girl with telekinetic powers remains Brian De Palma’s best. This landmark of cinematic horror gives us a terrifying look at high school cruelty. Many films have featured school bullies, but Carrie is one of the first to focus on the cruelty inflicted by teenage girls. Both Sissy Spacek and Piper Laurie received Academy Award nominations for their performances, a rarity in the horror genre. Spacek showcases her range of acting talent with her convincing portrayal of Carrie’s pain and longing for acceptance. Carrie would be little without her ability to convey enormous conviction. Her performance in the title role is close to perfection, balancing the difficult task of playing both vulnerable and menacing. She was 27 when the film was shot, but looks half her age, and her uncanny combination of maturity and innocence makes us like and fear her all at once. Meanwhile, Laurie powers through the picture as the fiercely religious, sexually repressed, and unbalanced single mom. Brian De Palma is at the top of his game here as a master of visual flamboyance. Carrie brims with stylistic flourishes, including his trademark slow-motion and effective split-screen sequences. The film’s audacious technical excesses and homages to Alfred Hitchcock are considered by some to be the film’s greatest strengths, while others criticize De Palma as a hack. Carrie is arguably the most stylish of De Palma’s films, featuring two (if not three) memorable scenes that have entered the pop-culture lexicon.

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13. Bride Of Frankenstein

“She hate me,” he growls, “Just like others!”

The irony of James Whale’s masterpiece Bride of Frankenstein is that Frankenstein’s creation is called the Monster, yet he is the least menacing presence in the film. Boris Karloff dominates the screen with a powerhouse performance, managing to invest his character with emotional subtleties that are surprisingly nuanced. Bride of Frankenstein provides a searing citation of man’s inhumanity to man and still finds room for self-parody, social satire, and comedy. This is the second greatest of all Frankenstein movies and some would argue the best horror film of the 1930s. Bride Of Frankenstein has spectacular direction, a thoughtful script, wonderful performances, and is enhanced by the vivid Franz Waxman musical score. Whale’s genius holds it all together until the tragic, inevitable finale.

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12. Rosemary’s Baby

When Rosemary’s Baby was released in 1968, it was lauded by critics and was a massive success at the box office, but religious circles denounced the film for its shocking content, calling it a perverted and distorted view of fundamental Christian beliefs. This spellbinding tale of Satanism and pregnancy (adapted from Ira Levin’s horror bestseller) was Roman Polanski’s first American film and went on to be nominated for two Oscars, winning Best Supporting Actress for Ruth Gordon. Supremely mounted, the film benefits from its strong atmosphere, haunting soundtrack, claustrophobic apartment setting, and polished cinematography by William Fraker. The cast is equally brilliant, with Mia Farrow and John Cassavetes as the young couple playing opposite Gordon and Sidney Blackmer, the elderly neighbours. The most frightening aspect of Rosemary’s Baby is the way in which Rosemary loses total control of her mind and body. Her pregnancy dramatically alters her appearance and psyche until she is barely able to recognize herself. Take notice of the recurring motif of reflections throughout the film: when we are first introduced to Rosemary looking in a mirror, she is giddy and confident, but by the end, her reflection has become so alien to her that it makes her physically sick. With Rosemary’s rape, the distinctions between good and evil, reality and nightmares, begin to blur. In the end, Rosemary’s surrender to the anti-Christ represents the ultimate synthesis of good and evil. Rosemary is ultimately responsible for bringing evil into the world, but her unconditional motherly love allows her to accept her fate, rocking the baby to sleep in the final minutes. And yet, without ever seeing the child, how can we the viewers, even be sure there was a child?

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11.Frankenstein

Frankenstein will forever be regarded as the definitive film version of Mary Shelley’s classic tale of obsession, madness, and perverted science. From the standpoint of the subtext, commentary, story, cast, direction, editing, score and photography, the picture is nearly perfect. Frankenstein is certainly an atmospheric horror film, but it works best as a parable about an outcast, and anyone who ever felt like an outsider will certainly relate. The God complex raises eyebrows as well, questioning how far a man will go in the name of science. Far too many people to this day associate the title Frankenstein not to the scientist from whom the name is drawn, but instead to the monster he creates. Boris Karloff’s legendary, frightening performance as the childlike monster made him an overnight star and created a new icon of terror, but without Colin Clive as the monster’s creator, Frankenstein would be half as good. Clive’s over-the-top, theatrical style might seem excessive by today’s standards but was typical for the time of its release. Despite his flamboyant tendencies, Clive creates a complex and sympathetic character and his performance may very well be the ultimate portrayal of a mad scientist. His crazed scream of “It’s alive!” is as famous as the creature he brings to life. In the end, The Monster is at once Dr. Frankenstein’s greatest achievement and greatest failure – and their inability to coexist is the ultimate tragedy.

Alien 1979

10. Alien

Boasting one of the greatest taglines of all time – “In space, no one can hear you scream” – Alien blends science fiction, horror, and bleak poetry into what could have easily turned into a simple B-monster movie. In fact, the movie was pitched to producers as Jaws in space, but thankfully Ridley Scott, who was stepping behind the camera for only the second time, took the film far more seriously. Like Steven Spielberg’s great thriller, most of the running time relies on the viewer’s imagination since Scott carefully restricts how little we see of the creature. Be warned: Alien can test a viewer’s patience. This is an extremely slow burn and unusual for the genre. Despite the budget, stellar effects, and ambitious set design, Alien in a sense, is a minimalist film – from the simple opening title sequence to the first 45 minutes, it is all dialogue. There is no horror and there is certainly no action. But despite a slow start, the first half still conjures up a sense that something very, very bad is going to happen. The second half of the film, however, is a technical marvel: tense, horrifying, and visually breathtaking. Despite not featuring any big names at the time, the cast for Alien is comprised of credible actors, including Ian Holm and John Hurt. Alien also has a distinction of being one of the first films to feature a female action hero. Of all the actors, Sigourney Weaver would go on to be the most memorable, playing Ripley, the tough, resourceful, and independent crew member who strikes back against the creatures with a deadly vengeance. But the real stars of Alien are the production designers. Michael Seymour designed the perfect ship for the creature to terrorize, a maze of dark passages that enhance the sense of claustrophobia and mounting tension. The titular alien designed by Swiss surrealist artist H. R. Giger is one of unparalleled terror. Giger’s design for the Alien evoked many contradictory sexual images and creates a twisted vision of sex and death. The script, written by Dan O’Bannon, (who based the screenplay upon Star Beast, a story that he had written earlier on in his career), is also cluttered with Freudian and sexually charged symbolism and images, that the creature itself was designed with a phallic tongue and an open vaginal mouth. Note that in the film’s most shocking scene, it is a man who becomes impregnated by the creature as a surrogate mother. Also, note that the name for the starship’s computer interface that awakens the crew members is simply called “Mother” (or MU-TH-R 182). The decision to not give the alien any eyes only enhance its creepiness, while its metallic, reptilian body, razor-sharp teeth, and missing eyes make it one of the most memorable visions ever to appear in a movie. Alien also contains its fair share of genuine scares. The first occurs when the face-hugger leaps out of the egg and attaches itself to Kane. The second is when the alien explodes through Kane’s chest. But the best scene in the film comes when Ash (Ian Holm), calls it a “perfect organism matched only by its hostility,” and goes on to say: “I admire its purity, its sense of survival; unclouded by conscience, remorse, or delusions”. Alien was nominated for two Academy Awards, winning Best Visual Effects but losing in Best Art Direction – and because of the film’s success, Scott was able to finance his next futuristic film, Blade Runner.

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9. The Thing

The Thing was John Carpenter’s first theatrical film for a major studio (Universal) but was a tremendous box office flop during its initial release. Thankfully, the film gained a large cult following over the years and many consider it one of the best entries into the genre of sci-fi horror. The Thing is a paranoid masterpiece and that rare remake that surpasses the original. The film works on a visceral level, and not just because of the blood and gore but because Carpenter’s knack for creating suspense is honed to perfection. Throughout the entire story, the monster remains an amorphous blob, able to adapt and take the shape of anything it comes across. We are never sure where it is at any given time, and in the end, its true appearance is never revealed. The elaborate special effects (designed by then 22-year-old Rob Bottin) set a high standard for films that followed and these ground-breaking special effects feature some of the most spectacular scenes of body horror ever put on screen. A pivotal moment comes when a man’s head disengages itself from its body, sprouts legs, and transforms into a crab-like creature. In another scene, a stomach splits open to reveal a razor-toothed jaw. The Thing is now recognized as a nerve-shredding masterclass of suspense, paranoia and outright, nihilistic terror. Ennio Morricone’s Carpenteresque synth score of simple drones and repetitive bass lines punctuates the picture, as does the touch of comedic dialogue uttered by a fabulous ensemble cast, a cast led by the one and only Kurt Russell. The Thing can be viewed in many ways: a film about social alienation, fear of disease, over-reliance on science, a monster movie, a conspiracy thriller, a whodunit, and even a Western. Carpenter calls this the first of his “Apocalypse Trilogy,” which also includes Prince of Darkness and In the Mouth of Madness, and it’s easy to see why. The film is relentlessly grim, refusing to provide an easy out or a true ending. When the credits roll, you can’t help but think you’ve just witnessed the beginning of the end of mankind.

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7. The Exorcist

The phenomenon that was The Exorcist was a studio’s dream come true. With rumors that it was supposedly based on a true story, mass audience walk-outs, protests, vomiting and fainting in theaters, and even the legendary claims that the production was cursed, all helped make The Exorcist the second highest-grossing film at the time ($441 million to be exact). The film earned 10 Academy Award nominations, winning two (Best Sound and Best Adapted Screenplay), before losing Best Picture to The Sting. The film was released during a cycle of ‘demonic child’ movies produced in the late 1960s and early 1970s and featured the incredibly talented cast of Jason Miller, Ellen Burstyn, and Linda Blair, whose transformation from sweet innocent to demonic incarnate is one of the most terrifying performances of all time. This ever-haunting journey into demonic possession is likely as disturbing today as it was back then, and will always be an important film historically. A must-see for any true horror aficionado, The Exorcist is creepy, atmospheric, and contains some truly unforgettable and viscerally shocking scenes – not to mention spectacular special effects for its time.

TheVanishing

6. The Vanishing (Spoorloos)

Based on Tim Krabbe’s The Golden Egg, this clinical, maddening descent into the mind of a serial killer left audiences buzzing with excitement over its ending. The Vanishing could very well be the most intelligent but least influential serial killer film of all time. This is one of the most interesting character studies of obsession: both Gene Bervoets’ obsession with the missing Johanna Ter Steege and Bernard-Pierre Donnadieu’s obsession with stalking young women. Written in a nonlinear fashion, the egg-shaped overlapping narrative tells the same story from two points of view: the perpetrators and the victims. If it seems complex, it is, but the facts are laid out in a straightforward manner since we know so much so early in the film. The Vanishing is a simple story but manages to build one great idea over another throughout. The mystery isn’t who the kidnapper is, but why he took her, and more importantly, where she is now. Every key sequence, every beat, foreshadows the appalling dénouement. The Vanishing is a brilliantly crafted intellectual thriller that will leave you gasping for a breath of fresh air when over.

Greatest Horror Films

5. The Shining

Unlike Stephen King’s book which focuses heavily on the supernatural, Stanley Kubrick’s film is more ambiguous and less definitive in the interpretations the film offers. Jack Torrance only kills one person here, yet he is the monster of the film. No one ever questions Wendy, who not only repeatedly hits Jack over the head with a baseball bat, but also lashes after him with a knife, finally leaving him to die of hypothermia. The morality of The Shining is so fuzzy that the film never offers us any answers as to what is real and what could be fabrications of the family’s increasingly warped imaginations. Much of The Shining is presented from Jack’s point-of-view, and it becomes apparent that Kubrick wants us to become bogged down in his turmoil. Of course, a good chunk of the film is also seen from the point of view of Jack’s family; a necessary choice, if only to generate suspense. But it can be argued that the hotel itself has a rather puzzling mind of its own. It’s equally uncertain whether the images seen by Danny are real. There have been many books devoted to Kubrick’s work, and even a recent documentary about several crackpot theories that attempt to decode the hidden symbols and messages buried in the late director’s film. The beauty of The Shining is the ambiguity, and how so many of us walk away with various interpretations. With that said, The Shining is best viewed as a character study of a man haunted by the demons of alcohol and authority issues. Notice there’s a mirror in every scene in which Jack sees a ghost. Does this mean that those spirits are reflections of his tortured psyche? Putting aside speculation and theories, The Shining boasts a brilliant performance by Jack Nicholson, an unimpeachable set design, a superb score by Wendy Carlos and Rachel Elkind, and flawless cinematography by John Alcott. But the real star of The Shining is Kubrick’s direction. Kubrick creates an atmosphere in which suspense and dread infest every frame with a sense of the macabre. By the end of the film, every inch of the hotel hints at something sinister. The final chase through the snowy hedge labyrinth, Jack’s swinging of the axe, and the creepy teenage girls are just a few reasons why The Shining remains one of the most suspenseful and intense movies ever made.

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4. The Birds

Although not as shocking as Psycho, The Birds is a far more complex, ambitious, and sophisticated film, and represents a high watermark in the prolific career of the master of suspense. The Birds is a precursor to nature vs. man horror films as Psycho was to slashers. It is also the second masterpiece Alfred Hitchcock contributed to the genre of small-town thrillers – the first being Shadow of a Doubt. Perhaps the aspect that stands out the most is the long pauses between dialogue. When one thinks of a Hitchcock film, one remembers the long conversations between the characters. In The Birds, there are countless scenes in which the actors express more through physicality than words. Hitch apparently wanted The Birds to be a silent film or was flirting with the idea but decided it wouldn’t be marketable or profitable. Hitchcock was also experimenting with the idea to not include a score in his film and instead opted for sounds created on the mixtrautonium, an early electronic musical instrument invented by Oskar Sala. Along with Remi Gassmann, they composed a piece that consists primarily of screeching bird sounds, which provides a nerve-wracking, surrealistic backdrop to the sordid proceedings. Although the special effects are dated, they were still impressive for the time. Ray Berwick was responsible for training hundreds of birds, gulls, crows, and more to act like they were attacking without hurting anyone (although apparently, they did). By employing thousands of real birds intermixed with fakes, Hitchcock was able to create the illusion of a mass attack on the quiet community – the result is remarkable, featuring 370 effects shots, with the final shot composed of 32 separately filmed elements. Two images featured prominently in the film are cages and glass: the cage representing Melanie’s closed-minded way of thinking, and the broken glass that suggests the vulnerability of human life. Finally, what makes The Birds a true masterpiece is the final shot. The film does not finish with the usual “THE END” title because Alfred Hitchcock wanted to give the impression of unending terror, and boy, does he succeed.

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3. Psycho

There are many reasons why Psycho is a masterpiece: One of the principal reasons is its structure. We follow one apparent protagonist only to have her killed off abruptly. Hitchcock pulls the rug out from under our feet, in one of the most shocking scenes in cinematic history. The shower scene in which Janet Leigh is murdered has gone on to become the single most famous scene in any horror film. And yes, Psycho is considered the first psycho-thriller / slasher film, by most – Psycho invoked Freudian psychology as motivation for the killer and gave its murderer Freudian childhood traumas, split personalities, and confused gender roles, everything that would inspire the slasher films of the 70s and 80s. Psycho is pure perfection: Bernard Herman’s score, the shower scene, the mother in the cellar, the knife-wielding maniac, the creepy old house, the twist ending, and even the credits font. Psycho alsoproved an unexpected sleeper hit, largely due to a clever promotional campaign where Hitchcock managed to get theaters to sign a contract that refused to let people in after the film had started. He took the idea from Henri-Georges Clouzot, who did the same back in France with Les Diaboliques. Unfortunately, although Hitchcock was nominated for Best Director at the Academy Awards, he, of course, left the ceremony empty-handed. Regardless, he had the last laugh since Psycho stands the test of time!

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2. Night Of The Living Dead

George Romero set a new standard for horror with his low-budget directorial debut. The film, made in 1968, broached many taboos (cannibalism, incest, and necrophilia) and changed the face of American horror movies forever while setting the template for zombie films to come. Despite the shoestring budget, Night looks better than the majority of its future imitators and the racial subtext speaks volumes even today. As it was released the same year as Martin Luther King’s assassination, Romero’s film had a profound impact on audiences due to its underlining theme of race relations. Allegory aside, this dark look at human nature generates some claustrophobic terror as its human characters trap themselves within a boarded house, while the walking dead attempt to claw their way in. This is one of the best films of the 60?s, and possibly the most influential horror movie ever made. Even more, Night Of The Living Dead gets better with age.

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1. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre

When someone hears the title The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, they might pass it off as just another inane slasher flick, but Texas is much more; it’s a relentlessly agonizing, bleak masterpiece of horror cinema. Texas isn’t merely interested in scaring its audience; it’s an intelligent and visceral experience that examines the darker impulses found in people, a movie where unspeakably horrific acts take place mostly outside of the frame. Shot on a tiny budget of $83,000, director Tobe Hooper’s stylish debut achieves maximum effect through a combination of Daniel Pearl’s appropriately gritty cinematography, shrieking sound design, and an unnerving concrète score that will ring in your ears long after the end credits roll. The shaky, eerie documentary-style camerawork, practical effects, and the age-old trick of suggestion help lend the film an alarming and utterly believable quality. Hooper’s film is implicit, rather than graphic, but his directorial style will have you walking away thinking it was bloodier than it is. The Texas Chain Saw Massacre remains to this day a motion picture of raw, uncompromising intensity, and a punishing assault on the senses via the most vivid extended scenes of absolute sustained frenzy ever captured on celluloid. Marilyn Burns’s doomed screams will forever be etched in your memory as will the horror icon it produced, the raging chainsaw wielding lunatic Leatherface. Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chain Saw Massacre undoubtedly ranks as the best horror film of all time and also boasts one of the most unforgettable abrupt endings ever.

(see the full list on one page here)

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Greatest Horror Films

150 Greatest Horror Films of the 20th Century (Top 40)

Scream now, while there’s still room to breathe.

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Greatest Horror Films

The 40 Greatest Horror Films

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Special Mention: Un chien andalou

The dream – or nightmare – has been a staple of horror cinema for decades. In 1929, Luis Bunuel joined forces with Salvador Dali to create Un chien andalou, an experimental and unforgettable 17-minute surrealist masterpiece. The film went on to influence the horror genre immensely. After all, even as manipulative as the “dream” device is, it’s still a proven way to jolt an audience. Just ask Wes Craven, who understood this bit of cinematic psychology when he dreamt of the central force behind A Nightmare on Elm Street, a film intended to be an exploration of surreal horror. David Lynch is contemporary cinema’s most devoted student of Un chien andalou – the severed ear at the beginning of Blue Velvet is a direct allusion to Buñuel’s blood-curdling famous closeup on the slashing of an eyeball with a razor. Technically, that scene alone could classify Un chien andalou as the first splatter film. Though it is not a horror film per se, the film does contain a number of disturbing images: an army of ants crawling through a hole in a man’s hand, dead animals strung on top of a piano, and children playing with dismembered hands. Buñuel and Dalí compile images and scenes that will make you cringe and, in the case of the splitting eyeball, look away. Buñuel exploits the viewer through these horrific images, understanding that people enjoy seeing something macabre.

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40. The Devils

Ken Russell’s The Devils originally carried an X rating— even after several scenes were removed. An entire sequence referred to as “The Rape of Christ” was never shown until recently restored for a special screening at the Fantasia Film Festival in 2010. It remains one of the most powerful and most confrontational films ever to lay assault on the crimes and hypocrisies of the Church. Adapted from Aldous Huxley’s The Devils of Loudun, the story revolves around a liberal-thinking priest in 17th-century France whose womanizing exploits make him unpopular with the Catholic clergy and whose political views make him a liability for Cardinal Richelieu. He is denounced and accused of consorting with the Devil and having sexual activities with the nuns in the town’s convent, most notably Sister Jeanne, an unsatisfied, humpbacked nun who’s fallen in love with him. The Devils, however, is not an attack on religious belief, but an attack on governmental misuse and perversion of religion for its own selfish goals. As Cardinal Richelieu says, “You have turned the house of the Lord into a circus, and its servants into clowns. You have perverted the innocent.” Apart from Ken Russell’s genius direction, the entire village of Loudon is wholly created by legendary filmmaker Derek Jarman. The film always looks great thanks to his dazzling eye-catching sets, and if that wasn’t enough, Russell hired avant-garde composer Peter Maxwell Davies to do the score. Along with Oliver Reed’s powerful, sexually driven performance, and Vanessa Redgrave’s daring portrayal of Sister Jeanne, The Devils is a hypnotizing film and one you’ll never forget.

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39. Invasion of the Body Snatchers 

Jack Finney’s 1954 novel The Body Snatchers has been adapted to the big screen numerous times. In 1956, innovative director Don Siegel gave us the first adaptation. His tense, offbeat psychological sci-fi thriller is superbly crafted and remains potent to this day. It can be read as a political metaphor or enjoyed as an efficient, chilling blend of sci-fi and horror; either way, it works. The 1978 version directed by Philip Kaufman, and starring Donald Sutherland, Brooke Adams, and Leonard Nimoy, is even better. It is one of those rare sequels that holds on to both the spirit and political allegory of the original. The film was also a box office success and is considered by many to be among the greatest film remakes. This is a classic – a must-see and features one of the greatest endings to any horror film.

EvilDead1981

38. The Evil Dead

This advantageous feature debut from out-of-school filmmaker Sam Raimi remains a benchmark of modern horror. While many will argue the sequel is far more entertaining, The Evil Dead works far better as a straight-up horror film. It actually received an X rating (mostly due to the infamous tree-rape sequence), was banned in many countries, and was later cited as a video nasty. One of the most remarkable things about The Evil Dead is how much it was able to accomplish on such a small budget. The film was shot on 16mm in the woods of Tennessee for around $350,000, and yet the final product looks five times more expensive than the cost. Injecting considerable black humor, Raimi brings his pic to life by drenching the screen in copious amounts of fake blood. The woods come alive with the imaginative camerawork devised by Raimi and cinematographer Tim Philo, and Tom Sullivan’s amazing make-up effects climax remains a thing of beauty.

God-told-me-to

37. God Told Me To

In writer/director Larry Cohen’s occult/sci-fi thriller, Tony Lo Bianco (The French Connection, The 7-Ups) plays police Lieutenant Nicholas, who unravels a mysterious spree of murders in New York City, committed by regular citizens who each claim that God compelled them to commit the crimes. Cohen wrote and produced, as well as directed, this weird low-budget B-movie that blends sci-fi, occultism, pseudo-religion, crime mystery, and horror. Other elements that Larry Cohen throws into this melting pot of genres and themes include infidelity, paranoia, religion, extraterrestrial abductions and even a supernatural ‘Christ’-like figure with a vagina in his ribcage who was the product of a virgin birth. This stark police procedural succeeds thanks to all its truly bizarre otherworldly themes, surprising twists, solid direction and strong performances.

The Cat People

36. Cat People

One of the first films to reference the work of Sigmund Freud was Cat People, a story about an American man who marries a Serbian immigrant who fears that she will turn into a cat-like person if they are sexually intimate. Cat People plays out as a dark and fearless study of sexual repression and anxiety, underlining what would later make psycho-sexual supernatural horror popular. It was ahead of its time in many ways, and it was also the first film in a series of nine brilliant literate horror films produced by Val Lewton in the ’40s. Of the nine, it is arguably the best, and an evocative reminder of how powerful ‘less is more’ can be. Take for example the scene in which Alice is stalked by the feline Irena through the city streets at night. Just as the threat seems to creep up behind her, the sudden arrival of a bus terrifies her. It’s so simple yet so effective because Lewton is a master at creating mood and atmosphere. After Cat People was released, cinephiles would refer to jump scares as the “Lewton Bus” moment. The film is also blessed with the beautiful expressionistic cinematography courtesy of Nicholas Musuraca, and Roy Webb’s melancholy score, which accents the romantic and tragic love story at the center.

suspiria

35. Suspiria

The king of Italian horror, Dario Argento, directs what many consider to be his masterpiece. Suspiria is one of the most important and influential genre movies ever made and essential viewing for all horror fans. Suspiria’s overall charm resides in its technical triumphs and visual style. Taking his cues from Mario Bava, Argento, together with his director of photography Luciano Tovoli, creates a vibrant, colorful film apart from the standards of the genre. Argento’s masterful use of intense primary colors (he acquired 1950s Technicolor stock to get the effect) and stunning set designs gives the whole film a hallucinatory intensity. The dissonant, throbbing score, composed by Argento and performed by his frequent collaborators, Italian rock band Goblin, drives the picture with the occasional distorted shriek of “Witch!” A strange combination of the arthouse and horror film, Suspiria, although cited as one of the scariest movies ever made is, ironically, one of Argento’s least violent films. It relies more on tone and atmosphere than on blood and gore. Surreal and frightening, Suspiria still shocks audiences decades after its original release.

deep-red

34. Deep Red (Profondo rosso) (The Hatchet Murders)

Many will argue Suspiria is Argento’s full-fledged masterpiece, but Deep Red is a slightly better film. Argento’s trademarks are all visible here in copious amounts; every elaborate stylistic choice he would carry on for the remainder of his career is present and accounted for. From a technical standpoint, Deep Red is a masterwork, featuring stunning cinematography and a superb, jazzy score by Argento’s band Goblin. Deep Red is one of the most distinct sounding and looking horror films of the 70s and undoubtedly Argento’s finest picture. But more importantly, the film also excels where most Giallos fall short: it carries an engaging narrative heightened by an unpredictable course of events and a truly surprising twist ending.

nosferatu-1922

33. Nosferatu (Nosferatu, eine Symphonie des Grauens)

Nosferatu, F.W. Murnau’s 1922 adaptation of Bram Stoker’s novel Dracula, may be the finest of all vampire films; it’s certainly one of the best horror films ever made. In addition to being one of the first horror movies to delve into the mythology of vampirism, it’s one of the first horror movies, period. Nosferatu is the definitive screen adaptation of Dracula. And, while other versions, such as the 1931 Bela Lugosi interpretation or the 1958 Christopher Lee/Peter Cushing Horror of Dracula, have their adherents, none can match Murnau’s take. Nosferatu still holds up surprisingly well, including the special effects to represent the sun rising, or doors opening by themselves — all of which were ahead of its time. Nosferatu is a valuable milestone in the history of cinema. It is additionally a fascinating study of mood and carefully constructed mise en scene, using shadows and mirrors to construct a weighty sense of impending doom. Mentioning Max Schreck’s unforgettable portrayal of Count Orlok deserves to be the final word on Nosferatu. Whereas vampires usually are viewed as seductive, dangerous creatures whose sexuality goes hand-in-hand with their need for blood, Orlok is just as grotesque on the outside as he is on the inside. That his insatiable hunger prevails despite his off-putting demeanor lends the film an added macabre touch missing from future vampire stories. Schreck doesn’t so much play the character as he seemingly becomes him. It is because of him, above all else, that ensures Nosferatu will live on in the annals of horror’s history forever.

vampyr

32. Vampyr

Vampyr is just one of many reasons why Carl Theodor Dreyer is considered one of the greatest filmmakers of all time and ranks in many circles as one of the greatest horror films ever made. Almost entirely devoid of the outright scares we’ve come to expect of the genre, it creates instead a sense of unease, even more now than 75 years after its release. With the help of Rudolph Maté’s luminous photography, Dreyer creates a poetic psychological horror film. The coffin-carrying sequence and live-burial scene towards the end will forever be etched in your memory.

the-wicker-man

31. The Wicker Man

There is no denying that this early ’70s British export crisscrosses genres as easily as it defies audience expectations. Robin Hardy’s The Wicker Man is a film that rejects categorization; it can be considered a horror film, but also a psychological thriller, a musical, a melodrama, but perhaps it is best described as a prime example of a short-lived sub-genre known as folk horror. Arguably one of the greatest cult films to emerge from England, The Wicker Man presents the pagan elements objectively and accurately – accompanied by authentic and stirring traditional Celtic music, a believable, contemporary setting (shot around a remote Scottish isle), and with riveting performances by the ensemble cast. The film’s production history is as infamous as the movie itself. The Wicker Man was a misunderstood work of art passed through several unsympathetic distributors, butchered through several versions, and receiving only a minor, apathetic release, before being shelved outright. It has seemingly defied the odds, picking up a powerful reputation along the way and surviving despite what feels like a conspiracy to erase it from cinematic history: The master negative was lost when it was accidentally packaged along with a shipment of disposable material buried beneath the under-construction M3 freeway. Thankfully, The Wicker Man has endured, in large part due to the persistence of actor Christopher Lee, who calls it the best film he ever appeared in. First-time director Robin Hardy does a stellar job; his modest directing keeps things tense and scary, despite giving the film a brightly lit, sunny shine. The movie is chilling but bloodless – there is evil here, lurking about, but it doesn’t become quite clear until the unforgettable and shocking third act. The ending is brilliantly realized, keeping things provocative, unsettling, and outright bizarre. Those final images will burn in your memory long after the end credits roll, a scene as painful to watch as is the expression on the detective’s face. Like many of the best horror/thrillers, The Wicker Man works best in continuously surprising audiences by relying on carefully disciplined suspense rather than cheap, theatrical shocks. The Wicker Man is quite simply a one of a kind, a masterpiece and a film that demands to be seen.

Salo

Special Mention: Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom

Commonly referred to as Salò, this 1975 Italian film written and directed by Pier Paolo Pasolini with uncredited writing contributions by Pupi Avati, is one of the most controversial films ever made and banned in several countries to this day. If there was ever a film that earned such a notorious reputation, it would be Salò. Pasolini was a visionary, a provocateur, a poet, and a social critic. This was Pasolini’s last film as he was murdered shortly before Salò was released, and many still believe it was Pasolini’s political views and the content of Salò that got him killed. Based on the book The 120 Days of Sodom by the Marquis de Sade, Salo is quite easily one of the most shocking movies ever, depicting intensely graphic violence, sadism, and sexual depravity. This is a film of conviction, focussing on a place where demented values are brutally enforced. The “circle of shit” segment is usually when most people walk out vomiting. But seriously, this is the greatest movie you’ll see but never want to watch again. As Pasolini once said, “Artists must create, critics defend and Democratic people support work so extreme that it becomes unacceptable to even the broadest minds of the new state.” Anyone familiar with Michael Haneke’s work will understand why he calls Salo one of his three favorite films of all time. By watching to the very end, we become voyeurs, witnessing the most sickening finale of any motion picture to date.

Les yeux sans visage

30. Eyes Without a Face (Les yeux sans visage)

Eyes Without a Face pioneered the theme of the mad surgeon and spawned countless imitators, including Circus of Horrors and many Jesus Franco pictures such as Faceless and The Awful Dr. Orloff series. Eyes also influenced the Japanese art-house film The Face of Another. It was the feature-length directorial debut of Georges Franju, who had previously made a number of shorts – his best-known being The Blood of the Beasts (1949), a documentary that unraveled the horrors inside a slaughterhouse (available in the Criterion DVD release of Eyes Without A Face). The screenplay is credited to five writers, among them Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac, a duo of popular French writers who adapted a number of classics including Les Diaboliques, Vertigo, and even Body Parts. Along with Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho and Michael Powell’s Peeping Tom (all released in 1960), this mad-scientist fairy tale helped shape the modern slasher film with its dark themes, general air of malevolence, visual lyricism, jarring score (by Maurice Jarre), and its fairly graphic scenes of slicing through the skin. The film’s title has a double meaning, referring both to the surgical procedure of removing facial features and to the character of the daughter played brilliantly by Edith Scob: because of the mask, she wears, her eyes are the only visible moving part of her face.

les_diaboliques

29. Les Diaboliques

Les Diaboliques is a timeless classic. Henri-Georges Clouzot delivers a despairing character study masquerading as a thriller, jacking up the suspense with grueling intensity and presenting a bleak world full of suspicion, manipulation, fear, and loathing. Much like Hitchcock’s work, Les Diaboliques is peppered with perverse atmosphere and dark humor. The lead performances are all incredible, particularly Clouzot’s wife Vera Clouzot, who stars as the vulnerable lead. The twist ending is shocking –and one of the greatest of all time. Even more surprising is that the murder plot is in many ways the least disturbing element at play. Henri-Georges Clouzot (dubbed the French Hitchcock) created this masterpiece in 1955 – a film which served as the template upon which most psychological thrillers that were made in the aftermath of the success of Psycho were based. Hitchcock reportedly wanted to make this movie himself, but Clouzot bought the film rights to the novel Celle Qui N’etait Pas, supposedly beating Hitchcock by only a matter of hours, and asked Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac to adapt it. Not wanting to miss another opportunity, the Master of Suspense snapped up the rights to Boileau and Narcejac’s next thriller, D’entre les Morts, which would become Vertigo.

FritzLang-M

28. M

Fritz Lang’s is not, strictly speaking, a horror film, but a radical, analytical film that entertains many of Lang’s cinematic obsessions. A simple way to classify it would be a crime drama, but M is far more ambitious. was Lang’s first sound film and he took the liberty to experiment with the new technology. Here is a movie that knows when silence is more effective than noise. It is a film that features a complex soundtrack including many sounds occurring off-camera and suspenseful moments of silence before a sudden burst of loud noise. In M, a simple whistle or ring of a bell will set the audience off-balance. The director also experiments with pacing. While it begins with fast edits and some brilliant montage work, it slows down with time. Legendary cinematographer Fritz Arno Wagner, who shot several films for Lang (as well as Murnau and Pabst) does some of his best work here. Lang did not want to show any acts of violence or deaths of children onscreen and relied heavily on Wagner to suggest rather than show with the brilliant use of shadows and composition. Like Hitchcock, Lang implies violence and mayhem instead. For a movie with a simple title, there lie plenty of intricacies: the innovative use of sound; the detail of police procedural, and the parallels drawn between the law holders and the criminal underworld. Like the very best horror films, M works on many levels – it is a crime drama, but it’s also a commentary on German society masquerading as a suspense thriller. Mostly responsible for the horror portion of the film is actor Peter Lorre, whose bone-chilling performance is always the prime focus, even when he is not on screen. Equally frightening is Lang’s use of Grieg’s “In the Hall of the Mountain King” from “Peer Gynt.” This is the tune Lorre whistles throughout the film whenever he is on the prowl. Much can be said about M. The film has become a classic which Lang himself considered his finest work. It’s an impeccable film and a model of psychological suspense.

TheInnocents

27. The Innocents

The Innocents, which was co-written by Truman Capote, is the first of many screen adaptations of The Turn of the Screw. If you’ve never heard of it, don’t feel bad because most people haven’t – but The Innocents deserves its rightful spot on any list of great horror films. Here is one of the few films where the ghost story takes place mostly in daylight and the lush photography, which earned cinematographer Freddie Francis one of his two Oscar wins, is simply stunning. Director Jack Clayton and Francis make great use of long, steady shots, which suggest corruption is lurking everywhere inside the grand estate. The Innocents also features three amazing performances; the first two come courtesy of child actors Pamela Franklin (The Legend of Hell House), and Martin Stephens (Village of the Damned). Stephens’s goodnight kiss to Deborah Kerr lasts a little longer than normal, and his reading of poetry and dispensing words of wisdom seems far too advanced for his young age. Meanwhile, Franklin seems always distant, lost in her inner thoughts while never fully aware of her surroundings. The third powerhouse performance, of course, comes from Kerr, playing Ms. Giddens. Most of the film is seen through her point of view and so we are never sure what to believe. The few times we do catch any glimpse of an apparition, it is seen only through her eyes. And so it is never made clear whether the house is haunted, the children are possessed or if Ms. Giddens has simply gone mad. The Innocents opens in a most unsettling way – a creepy song written by Paul Dehn and Georges Auric is heard before and during the opening credits. The tune becomes a reoccurring motif throughout the film, played by a music box, hummed by a child, or faintly heard in the distance. The music only heightens the children’s strange behavior and Ms. Giddens’s increasing anxiety. The song alone is enough to send shivers up the spine. The Innocents is truly one of the greatest ghost stories of all time, blessed with one of the most risqué and devastating finales of any horror film. Stylish, intelligent, and creepy, The Innocents will haunt you long after the lights have been turned back on.

peepingtom

26. Peeping Tom

Michael Powell’s Peeping Tom is a methodical look at the psychology of a killer and a meditation on violence and voyeurism. The extremely controversial picture was branded as “sick” and “nasty” by major critics upon its 1960 release and banned in the UK. These harsh and despicable responses effectively destroyed Powell’s career, but later generations embraced the film and many regards it as a chilling work of voyeuristic cinema. The film revolves around a serial killer who murders women while using a portable movie camera with a blade attached to its tripod. In doing so, he is able to record their dying expressions of terror. Peeping Tom has been praised for its psychological complexity. On the surface, the film is about the Freudian relationship between the protagonist and his father, and the protagonist and his victims. However, several critics argue that the film is as much about the voyeurism of the audience as they watch the protagonist’s actions. A thoroughly opaque and gritty London atmosphere permeates the grisly proceedings, carried off by a powerful performance from Carl Boehm, who has the difficult task of convincing us he is a cold-blooded killer while eliciting sympathy for the trauma of his childhood. Powell’s roaming camera work and Otto Heller’s shadowy cinematography makes Peeping Tom a work of cinematic art.

henry-portrait-of-a-serial-killer

25. Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer

It seems that every decade has at least one incredibly bleak, indie, low-budget masterpiece of horror cinema that comes out of nowhere and surprises everyone. In the 1960’s it was Goerge A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead — and in the 70’s it was Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. In the 1980s John McNaughton made Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, his acclaimed but extremely controversial thriller, loosely based on the true-life story of serial killer Henry Lee Lucas. Like many of the great horror films, Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer was banned in several countries and it took three years to finally get a release in the United States. What makes Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer so disturbing isn’t so much the graphic killings, but its documentary-like feel. Many of the killings are presented as crime scenes, with only the sounds of the murder echoing on the soundtrack, and most of the film follows Henry stalking his victims and spending time with his only friend Otis and his sister Becky, who Henry takes a liking to. That said, the few murders that do appear onscreen will no doubt, shock and disturb most viewers — specifically the notorious home invasion scene filmed by the killers themselves and seen only on playback on a television set. John McNaughton did not dress his direction up in horror film trappings — instead, his movie is free of overt sensationalism and slasher clichés, setting it apart from almost every film made about a famous psychopath. Instead, the camera seems to just blankly focus on the characters, specifically, the titular character played with incredible restraint by Michael Rooker. His performance naturally garnered most of the attention for his still, quiet work as Henry, but Tracy Arnold as Becky and Tom Towles as her repulsive brother Otis, are equally great. Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer is powerful viewing, and one of the most disturbing and terrifying examinations of mass murderers ever filmed. Not for the weak of heart.

dont-look-now

24. Don’t Look Now

Based on a short story by Daphne du Maurier, 1973?s Don’t Look Now is one of the great horror masterpieces that are criminally overlooked. The film stars Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie, wrapped in an emotional blanket of fear, anger, guilt, and love. While the plot of the film is preoccupied with misinterpretation and mistaken identity, its primary focus is on the psychology of grief, and the effect the death of a child can have on a relationship. Directed by noted cinematographer Nicolas Roeg, Don’t Look Now arguably bears resemblance to giallos, but it leans more toward creepy than gory; patiently building suspense with haunting imagery and a chilling score by legendary composer Pino Donaggio (who won Best Soundtrack for his work). Roeg designs his film like an intellectual puzzle with a distinctive color scheme. Watch closely as recurring visual motifs combined with unorthodox editing techniques foreshadow key events that follow. Roeg’s ingenious editing job when cutting between flashbacks and flash-forwards creates a haunting meditation on fear, death, and the beyond. Don’t Look Now is frequently regarded as his greatest film, and its influence can be felt everywhere from Peter Weir’s The Last Wave to Paul Verhoeven’s The Fourth Man. If you are seeking a film with a unique directorial style, stunning imagery, and powerful performances, look no further.

The-Silence-of-the-Lambs

23. Silence Of The Lambs

Though Anthony Hopkins’ portrayal of the brilliant sociopath has always been the film’s calling card, his performance pales in comparison to Brian Cox’s less-celebrated Lecter from Michael Mann’s Manhunter. Foster’s Clarice Starling, on the other hand, deserves all the praise. She is the true star of the film, elevating The Silence Of The Lambs to greatness. To track Buffalo Bill, Clarice has to get inside Lecter’s mind; to catch a psychopath you have to be able to think like a psychopath, but in return, she must allow Lecter into her mind as well. What starts as a few effortless mind games quickly spirals into a fascinating back-and-forth game of chess, and mutual need. In Silence, it is a woman who is the hero and pursuer rather than the victim, and the pursued, a rarity in the genre. Clarice’s vulnerability and determination make her a winning combination and the spellbinding time spent between her and Hopkins is genuinely riveting. Hopkins is no doubt still a blast to watch, but it’s entirely to Foster’s credit that she holds her own during scenes of spine-chilling chatter. Based on the novel of the same name, The Silence of the Lambs grossed over $272 million and is one of the few movies to score Oscars in all five major categories: Best Picture, Best Actress, Best Actor, Best Director, and Best Adapted Screenplay. Silence is a smart, taut thriller and features one of the most memorable prison break sequences. This is no doubt Jonathan Demme’s best film.

blue-velvet

22. Blue Velvet

David Lynch mixed film noir with horror in Blue Velvet, placing a heavy emphasis on camera placement and sound to articulate the emotional state of his characters. This hallucinogenic thriller probes beneath the belly of suburban America to uncover the moral rot underlying the American Dream. Dennis Hopper stars as Frank Booth, one of cinema’s most memorable maniacs, and Lynch directs his greatest achievement – a film both poetic and powerful. A controversial film often criticized for its depiction of aberrant sexual behavior, this surrealistic, psychosexual small-town film is really a coming of age story, specifically a phase of transition from adolescence to adulthood, juxtaposed against sadomasochistic violence, corruption, drug abuse, mental illness, and prostitution. This is a must-see for Lynch’s breathtaking command of sight and sound and his idiosyncratic style, along with the lush cinematography by Frederick Elmes, the seedy production design by Patricia Norris, and the insinuating score by Angelo Badalamenti. Famously, Roger Ebert denounced Blue Velvet as “sadistic” and “marred by sophomoric satire and cheap shots.” Meanwhile, The New Yorker’s Pauline Kael called it “the work of a genius naïf.” Where do you stand?

freaks

21. Freaks

Loosely based on Tod Robbins’ 1923 short story SpursFreaks is the 1932 American Pre-Code horror film about sideshow performers. The film was directed and produced by Tod Browning, who had been a member of a traveling circus at a young age. He drew inspiration from his personal experiences and instead of using costumes and makeup, he chose to cast real people with deformities as the sideshow ‘freaks’. This peek behind the curtains of a circus sideshow caused quite the outrage on its initial release and still manages to shock and touch viewers to this day due to its unflinching portrayal of disability. But it isn’t the physically deformed who are the monsters here, but rather two of the seemingly “normal” members of the circus group who conspire to murder a colleague and obtain his large inheritance.

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150 Greatest Horror Movies of the 20th Century (Top 60)

“When there’s no more room in Hell, the dead will walk the earth”

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Greatest Horror Movies of the 20th Century

****

…and remember, the next scream you hear may be your own.

DeadRingers

Special Mention: Dead Ringers

Dead Ringers is arguably David Cronenberg’s masterpiece, and Jeremy Irons gives the most highly accomplished performance of his entire career – times two. This is the story of Beverly and Elliot Mantle (both played by Irons), identical twins who, since birth, have been inseparable. Together, they work as gynecologists in their own clinic, and literally, share everything between them including the women they work and sleep with. Jealousy comes between the two when Beverly falls in love with a new patient and decides he no longer wants to share his lady friend with Elliot. The twins, who have always existed together as one, have trouble adapting and soon turn against one another. As the tag-line reads, “Separation Can Be A Terrifying Thing.” Unlike the director’s previous films, the biological horror in Dead Ringers is entirely conveyed through the psychological exploration of the two main characters. Cronenberg’s film is actually based on the 1977 novel Twins by Bari Wood and Jack Geasland, which is, in turn, based on a true story. The real-life twins died by committing suicide together in their Manhattan apartment, but Cronenberg’s ending seems ideally appropriate. In Dead Ringers, the identities of the Mantle twins have become so embroiled that they can no longer go on living with each other, and so they do everything in their power to separate themselves. Cronenberg’s true-life tale is wholly original and quite disturbing.

Reanimator

60. Re-Animator

Stuart Gordon’s first feature film has since become a cult favorite, driven by fans of both Jeffrey Combs and H. P. Lovecraft. While Re-Animator fails as a faithful adaptation, the injection of grisly humor, disgusting visual gags, and extreme gore make this one incredibly demented take on body horror. Gordon gleefully plays laughter against fear, as Dr. Hebert West raises the dead back to life with a glowing green liquid injected directly into the brain of a recently deceased specimen. Combs delivers an iconic performance as the would-be Frankenstein, updating the mad scientist role for a whole new generation. His performance stands in the same league as Bruce Campbell’s Ash in the Evil Dead series. From the opening sequence of a head being sawed open and a brain removed, Re-Animator is littered with a barrage of special effects gore. In the most famous scene, heroine Barbara Crampton is tied naked to a morgue slab as a corpse slowly takes its decapitated head to perform cunnilingus on her. This scene was regarded as so outrageous it was originally censored when released.

The-Blair-Witch-Project

59. The Blair Witch Project

Perhaps no film has used the found footage gimmick to create fresh scares better than The Blair Witch Project. The 1999 horror film presented the narrative as a documentary pieced together from amateur footage, filmed in real-time. The film relates the story of three young student filmmakers who hike into the Black Hills near Burkittsville, Maryland to film a documentary about a local legend known as the Blair Witch, and subsequently go missing. The viewer is told that the three were never found, although their video and sound equipment (along with most of the footage they shot) was discovered a year later. The film caused a major stir at Sundance for its offbeat, energetic, and eye-opening approach to filmmaking. Artisan quickly picked it up for distribution, and with the help of a ground-breaking campaign that took to the Internet to suggest the film was real, The Blair Witch Project grossed $248,639,099 worldwide. With a final production budget of only $25,000, Blair Witch became the third-highest-grossing independent film of all time. The Internet swarmed with Blair Witch fan sites, web boards, mailing lists, newsgroups, trailer sites, and general excitement about the movie months before its release. The torrent of online talk about the movie aroused the curiosity of the offline press, and the anticipation for the movie’s opening drove ticket sales through the roof. Nielson NetRatings had listed the official site as the 45th most visited location on the Web for the week ending August 1, with a reported 10.4 million page views and an astounding average visit of 16 minutes and 8 seconds. However, the primary reason for its success is that it keeps audiences in the dark about its titular villain. The Blair Witch Project remembers that nothing onscreen can be as scary as your own imagination. It understands how to build anticipation and deliver the scares at precisely the right moment. Unlike most horror films, The Blair Witch Project isn’t simply designed to make you jump, nor ever gross you out. Instead, the film focuses on having the viewer feel discomfort, nausea, and terror – and thus some people respond by saying it is the scariest film of all time simply because it feels so real. The Blair Witch Project is a clever, entertaining stunt, and a terrific calling card for its fledgling filmmakers that opened up the genre for many more future filmmakers to come.

Dead-Alive

58. Dead Alive (Braindead)

New Zealand’s wunderkind and enfant terrible Peter Jackson made his big splash on the cult-movie scene with Dead Alive. Originally released as Braindead, Dead Alive is the godfather of Kiwi gore and the magnum opus of Jackson’s early career. Jackson’s second feature achieved truly remarkable heights: not only does it eclipse the gross-out quotient of his low-budget-shocker-debut Bad Taste, but of any movie ever made before or since. The finale is the greatest gore-fest ever put on celluloid, using 300 litres of fake blood pumped at five gallons per second. Tim Balme wades into battle with a bone-grinding lawnmower, taking out every zombie in sight and drenching an entire living room in showers of blood. The film is a work of both a perverse genius and a hopeless romantic. Yes, guts fly, heads rolls and blood spills, but amidst all the carnage, Braindead is really just a sweet story of innocent love set against a tale of suppression. After annihilating every other zombie at the party, Lionel watches his overbearing mother erupt into an enormous blob-of-a-beast who pulls her son back into her womb. Lionel must fight his way back out, this time separating the umbilical cord once and for all.

KingKong

57. King Kong

The granddaddy of all monster movies is arguably King Kong. Decades after its release, no other monster movie approached the high standard of this one. King Kong remains not only a milestone of movie-making but a heartbreaking experience. The stop-motion photographic effects by Willis O’Brien were groundbreaking and the title character, along with Fay Wray, captivated audiences of all ages worldwide. Kong is structured around the classic and familiar theme of Beauty and the Beast, but it is also a movie about making movies. In fact, this movie works as a meta-commentary. Robert Armstrong’s character Carl Denham is modeled on co-director Merian C. Cooper and like him, he is seeking out Kong in hopes to star him in the world’s greatest motion picture. And that is exactly what King Kong became. Every time we watch Kong climb the Empire State Building with the damsel in distress wrapped gently in his giant palm, we hope that things will end well, even though deep down inside, we know it won’t.

Threads-Movie

56. Threads

Is there anything more terrifying than the aftermath of a global thermonuclear war? The 80s brought with it several cautionary tales about the onset of World War III, and the horrors of nuclear warfare including The Day After, Testament, and Special Bulletin. But Threads is the most harrowing movie of the decade. The British television drama was produced by the BBC in 1984 and although it was never picked up by any of the major American networks, Threads was widely distributed in the US through the auspices of cable mogul Ted Turner. The film’s title refers to the tenuous connections that keep our modern society running, and how easily they can fall apart. This documentary-style account of its effects on the city of Sheffield in northern England makes it one of the most unsettling films you’ll ever see. Make no mistake about it, this film is relentlessly grim. Director Mick Jackson and writer Barry Hines pull no punches in showing you, in stupefyingly graphic reality, the end of days.

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55. Carnival Of Souls

This low-budget, independently made black-and-white film, produced and directed by Herk Harvey, for an estimated $33,000, did not gain any widespread attention when originally released, making it one of the greatest under-seen horror movies ever made. It has been cited as a major influence on the films of David Lynch and George A. Romero and without Carnival Of Souls, you would have no Sixth Sense. Set to the funereal organ score by Gene Moore, Carnival of Souls relies strictly on an atmosphere of melancholic, surreal dread to create a mood of unease and foreboding. The film’s subdued photography contributes considerably to its creeping mood of eerie otherworldliness and poetic nightmarish palate. This is a must-see for lovers of ghost movies.

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54. The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari)

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari is considered the quintessential work of German Expressionist cinema. Carl Mayer, an Austrian scenarist, and Hans Janowitz, a Czech poet, conceived the tale of a psychotic hypnotist (Werner Krauss) who takes control of another human being (Conrad Veidt) and drives him to murder. At 71 minutes, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari is pretty straightforward by today’s standards, but the script was inspired by various experiences from the lives of Janowitz and Mayer, both pacifists who were left distrustful of authority after their experiences with the military during World War I. The film’s design was handled by Hermann Warm, Walter Reimann, and Walter Röhrig, who recommended a fantastic, graphic style over a naturalistic one. The film’s dark and twisted visual style is stunning. Robert Wiene, along with a team of brilliant production designers, incorporated sharp-pointed forms, oblique and curving lines and structures and landscapes that lean and twist in unusual angles. Roger Ebert described the sets as “a jagged landscape of sharp angles and tilted walls and windows, staircases climbing crazy diagonals, trees with spiky leaves, grass that looks like knives”. It’s a seminal work and defined many of the tropes that went on to form the basis of modern horror films.

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53. Near Dark

What Near Dark does better than so many other vampire movies is keeping viewers off-balance by never knowing what to expect next. It is an amalgam of tropes and motifs from familiar genres, mixing in the likes of vampire legends and westerns, but reconstructed in such a way that the end result is creepy, smart, and at times funny. The film also benefits from some wonderful performances, stunning visual textures, and music by Tangerine Dream. Kathryn Bigelow’s Near Dark has been often described as “the best vampire movie you’ve never seen.” If you haven’t seen it, do yourself a favor and check it out soon!

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52. The Sixth Sense

By now, most cinephiles know the story of Cole Sear (Haley Joel Osment), a troubled, isolated boy who is able to see and speak to the dead, and an equally troubled child psychologist (Bruce Willis) who tries to help him. The film established M. Night Shyamalan as a writer and director and introduced the public to his traits, most notably his affinity for twist endings. The film was the second highest-grossing film of 1999 (behind Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace), grossing about $293 million domestically and $672 million worldwide. It was nominated for six Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, Best Supporting Actor, and Best Supporting Actress. There are some people out there who think once you’ve seen the movie and know the twist, The Sixth Sense is no longer a movie you could enjoy watching again, but I wholeheartedly disagree. One can find enjoyment on repeat viewings by carefully examining how well Shyamalan covers his tracks and blocks every shot to perfection. In fact, the look of the film is just as brilliant as the last minute revelation. Shyamalan and cinematographer Tak Fujimoto (Silence of the Lambs) focused on what is important for the viewer to see at that moment. In The Sixth Sense, the camera literally feels like our eye, and each frame is meticulously composed and artfully constructed, allowing audiences to take their time sorting things out. Cinema literates know when to expect the unexpected in a thriller, but very few people saw the twist coming thanks to Shyamalan’s careful direction. The Sixth Sense is not only a creepy horror film but a deeply moving drama, and the true reason for its success is that writer-director M. Night Shyamalan cares about his characters and more importantly, makes us care.

Se7en

51. Se7en

David Fincher’s Se7en is a dark, stylish thriller that boasts enough genre trappings to justify its presence on this list. Se7en pales in comparison to Fincher’s best film Zodiac, but regardless, it is one of the 1990s’ most influential box-office successes. This creepy and relentlessly grim shocker features a taut performance by Morgan Freeman, polished gore effects, and an unforgettable ending that not even Brad Pitt’s terrible acting could ruin. Se7en has all the hallmarks of the Giallo or serial killer genres – red herrings, a whodunit mystery, gruesome murders, and a surprise twist ending – but thankfully, it also turns out to be less predictable. One of its strongest aspects is the visuals. There are many unusual and innovative cinematographic techniques, including the opening credit sequence (one of the best of all time) and outstanding production, art, and set design – all of which focus on the seedy, depressing side of Se7en’s anonymous big-city setting. Even the closing credits, which run backward, are noteworthy. Only Fincher’s second feature, after Alien 3, Se7en goes well beyond the usual police procedural or serial killer film thanks to its great script, by first-time screenwriter Andrew Kevin Walker. This claustrophobic, gut-wrenching thriller about two policemen’s desperate efforts to stop a serial killer whose work is inspired by gluttony, greed, sloth, pride, lust, envy and wrath, is one of a handful of films based on the seven deadly sins, but also the best.

shock-corridor

Special Mention: Shock Corridor

Shock Corridor stars Peter Breck as Johnny Barrett, an ambitious reporter who wants to expose the killer at the local insane asylum. To solve the case, he must pretend to be insane so they have him committed. Once in the asylum, Barrett sets to work, interrogating the other patients and keeping a close eye on the staff. But it’s difficult to remain a sane man living in an insane place, and the closer Barrett gets to the truth, the closer he gets to insanity. Shock Corridor is best described as an anti-establishment drama that at times is quite funny. The film deals with some timely issues of the era it was made in, specifically the atom bomb, anti-communism, and racism, and it can be dissected and discussed at various levels: psychological, sociological, and symbolic. It features everything from a raving female love-crazed nympho ward, opera-singing psycho patients, fetishism of all sorts, electroshock therapy, racially-incited brawls, and classic prison-style riots. So why it include it as a special mention? The final scene, without giving anything away, could very well label Shock Corridor a psychological horror film. Either way, it is an amazing film that everyone should see and features some brilliant camera-work by Stanley Cortez, who also shot another film featured on this list, The Night of the Hunter.

NightoftheDemon

50. Night of the Demon

The black and white Curse of the Demon (originally called Night of the Demon) made its American debut in 1958 as the bottom half of a double bill with the Hammer sequel Revenge of Frankenstein. It’s too bad it wasn’t appreciated for all its greatness upon release, but thankfully it went on to earn a reputation as one of the finest horror films to come out of Great Britain. Directed by Jacques Tourneur, this adaptation of the M. R. James story Casting the Runes revolves around an American psychologist investigating a satanic cult suspected of more than one murder. Night of the Demon is one of those movies that professors should show their film students, particularity those interested in screenwriting. The screenplay by Hal E. Chester and Charles Bennett is near flawless with not one wasted moment. Every conversation, every frame, every word advances the plot. There’s not a drop of blood to be seen and there are few jump scares, but the sense of unease that permeates through every frame is remarkable — all caused by superstitions and the insecurities it springs from those who believe in them. Brilliant!

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49. Kill, Baby… Kill! (Operazione paura)

There’s a reason why Mario Bava has more of his films appearing on this list than any other filmmaker. Bava is without a doubt, the true master of horror and Kill, Baby… Kill! is all the evidence one needs to earn him that distinction. By 1970, Bava gave the world a different view of vampires and witchcraft and redefined space-opera. The Italian director planted the seeds for both the Giallo and the slasher genre, and in doing so, he also made one of the best anthology films I’ve ever seen. In Mario Bava’s masterpiece, Giacomo Rossi-Stuart stars as a doctor summoned to perform an autopsy in a remote European town, but he discovers that the superstitious villagers are frightened over the ghost of a little girl. The mystery at the center of Kill Baby … Kill! is what makes this movie so special, as all of the victims have actually been manipulated into killing themselves one by one. As with all his films, the plot takes a back seat to the mood and atmosphere, and Kill Baby … Kill! is also his most visually stunning work. The mansion itself is absolutely incredible; conceived 14 years before Kubrick would erect the Overlook and 50 years before Del Toro gave us the Allerdale Hall. The set is used masterfully during the frenzied, nightmarish climax with the characters running about in circles and getting lost in the vertigo-inducing staircases. Kill, Baby, Kill is a marvelous showcase of bizarre sights and sounds that inspire, surprise and thrill audiences with every frame. One of the great ghost stories in the history of cinema, the haunting power of Kill, Baby… Kill! resonates to this very day. Mario Bave is the master of Gothic horror and Kill, Baby, Kill! is his best film.

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48. Repulsion

This subtle horror film follows an isolated, sexually repressed, schizophrenic woman’s descent into madness, played by Catherine Deneuve, who gives her best performance at the age of 22. There are no explanations of Deneuve’s behavior and more importantly, one cannot make any clear distinction between reality and hallucination. Watching the film, we are entirely situated inside the mind of a madwoman. The sense of isolation we feel through Deneuve’s performance is only heightened by Roman Polanski’s astonishing control of the medium of film. This marks his first entry in his “apartment trilogy” (Rosemary’s Baby and The Tenant being the other two), and for some, it is the best. The apartment itself becomes a deranged character of sorts, as the very dimensions of the surroundings continue to change. Hallways extend to infinity, rooms enlarge or shrink, and the floors slowly tilt. If you can’t trust the floorboards beneath your feet and the walls that surround you, you know you’ve got some serious issues.

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47. Possession (The Night the Screaming Stops)

Think of Possession as an intense drama of marital collapse amidst occult happenings, intricate political conspiracies, and using the Berlin Wall as a backdrop. Andrzej Zulawski has stated that he wrote the screenplay in the midst of a messy divorce, and it is quite apparent. At Cannes, the film was nominated for the Palme d’Or (taken that year by another Polish film, Andrzej Wajda’s Man of Iron) and won a Best Actress award for Isabelle Adjani. The feature earned a place on the list of 39 ‘Video Nasties’ banned in the UK under the 1984 Video Recordings Act. The film draws similarities to David Cronenberg’s The Brood (1979), Don Siegel’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers, and in a way is a precursor to Lars von Trier’s AntichristPossession also features special effects from Carlo Rambaldi, who worked on Dario Argento’s Deep Red and Flesh for Frankenstein. Here, he designed an ominous, eroticised tentacular monster that looks like it was lifted from one of Cronenberg’s wet dreams. Most impressive of all is the cinematography by Bruno Nuytten, who uses ambitious hand-held takes, extensive dollies, and infinite tracking shots. The shape-shifting monsters reflect a film that is an amalgam of family tragedy, political thriller, and body horror.

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46. Dawn of the Dead

Released 10 years after Romero’s Night Of The Living Dead, Dawn Of The Dead sets itself apart in several ways fromits predecessor. Not only is it tonally distinct but Romero abandons the eerie black-and-white photography of its forefather in favor of a brightly lit color canvas. Romero also moves away from the small country setting and into the city. In fact, most of the film takes place in a shopping mall. Working on a much bigger budget, Romero was able to cram in more horror, action, comedy, and social satire than Night. Romero also expands on how he uses his walking dead as metaphors. The film effectively evokes the tensions between pacifist movements and more aggressive social orders of the time while also working as a denouncement of consumer culture. Make-up artist Tom Savini, who also has a small role, created groundbreaking gore effects that set a standard for realism. This time out, the actors are uniformly strong, particularly Ken Foree, who turns in a great performance as Peter. Gaylen Ross shines as Francine, a strong female role, unlike the weak, helpless, and neurotic Barbara from the first film, and gives women someone they can look up to, as Francine becomes a key player in determining the group’s survival. From the spectacular opening newsroom sequence to the shocking National Guard shoot-out in the urban city apartment complex, Dawn sets a tone of impending, inevitable doom. And while some of its cast do make it out alive, the ending of Dawn feels far more depressing than Night, leaving the outlook for humanity as a whole unclear. Fun fact: The film was a collaboration of sorts between Romero and Italian horror maestro Dario Argento, who helped arrange to finance in exchange for foreign distribution rights. Argento also provided an original score performed and composed by Goblin, the Italian progressive rock group whose music was so effective in Suspiria and Deep Red. Stephen King placed Dawn at the top of his list of the ten best horror films of the year while Roger Ebert gave the film a glowing review, proclaiming it “one of the best horror films ever made.” While admitting Dawn of the Dead to be “gruesome, sickening, disgusting, violent, brutal and appalling,” Roger Ebert pointed out that “nobody ever said art had to be in good taste.”

AliceSweetAlice

45. Alice Sweet Alice / Communion

Originally titled Communion, Alice Sweet Alice, despite its considerable cult following, has slipped into relative obscurity. Released in 1976, it was given glowing reviews by critics and won the top prize at the Chicago International Film Festival. The film was made not long after The Exorcist and it capitalized on that film’s themes of Catholicism and evil children. Alice features some of the more disquieting set pieces in any movie appearing on this list and also features the big-screen debut of Brooke Shields at age 11. The most memorable aspect of Alice comes from the tour-de-force performance given by the killer, one of the absolute best in the pantheon of movie murderers.

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44. Gojira (Godzilla)

Ishiro Honda’s grim, black-and-white post-Hiroshima nightmare stands the test of time. This allegory for the devastation wrought on Japan by the atomic bomb is quite simply a powerful statement about mankind’s insistence to continue to destroy everyone and everything the surrounds us. With just one shot (a single pan across the ruins of Tokyo), Honda manages to express the devastation that Godzilla represents. Since its debut, Godzilla has become a worldwide cultural icon, but very little is said about actor Takashi Shimura, who adds great depth as Dr. Yamane; his performance is stunning. Special effects director Eiji Tsuburaya originally wanted to use classic stop-motion animation to portray Godzilla, but time and budget limitations forced him to dress actors up in monster suits. Despite this minor setback, Tsuburaya’s scale sets of Tokyo are crafted with such great attention to detail, that in some scenes they don’t even appear to as effects. The film spawned 27 sequels (and counting), inspired countless ripoffs, imitations, parodies, homages, video games, comic books, cartoons, a series of novels for young adults, an American remake, and even an American reboot, soon to be released.

thefly

43. The Fly

Cronenberg’s The Fly is more a re-imagining as opposed to a remake. The movie uses the premise found in the original short story and the original film but changes everything else including names and basic plot points. Cronenberg has always been fascinated with the reshaping of the human body in various forms and the horror that comes with that change. With The Fly, Cronenberg focuses on the slow transformation and decomposition of a mad scientist, both mentally and physically. Chris Walas’ groundbreaking makeup and creature effects won him an Oscar, but they would be nothing without Jeff Goldblum’s strong emotional performance. In the last act, The Fly veers into a more traditional horror setting, but the picture is less about the gory effects than it is about Cronenberg’s obsessions. The Fly was released in what could arguably be called the most fertile period of David Cronenberg’s career. To date, it is still his most commercially successful motion picture and even spawned a sequel a few years later.

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42. Eraserhead

Filmed intermittently over the course of a 5-year period, David Lynch’s radical feature debut mixes Gothic horror, a pounding score, surrealism and darkly expressionist mise-en-scène to create a bizarre and disturbing look into a man’s fear of parenthood. Or maybe not. Lynch claims that not one critic has come close to his own interpretation of his film. Lynch has called it a “dream of dark and troubling things” and his “most spiritual movie.” First shown at Filmex 1977, the movie was not widely seen until 1978, when it ran for years as a midnight attraction at Greenwich Village’s Waverly Theatre. It is known, alongside El Topo, Pink Flamingos, and The Rocky Horror Picture Show, as one of the first true midnight movies and in 2004, the film was deemed “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” by the United States Library of Congress and selected for preservation in the National Film Registry.

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41. A Nightmare on Elm Street

Wes Craven intended Nightmare On Elm Street to be an exploration of surreal horror as opposed to just another stalk-and-slash horror movie, and not only does Nightmare offer a wildly imaginative, inspired concept, but it is a solid commercial genre entry for the dating crowd. Elm Street was New Line’s first genuine mainstream cinematic venture (after Alone In The Dark) and made the company a huge pile of money. The film was shot in 30 days at a cost of roughly $1.8 million, but it made back its figure and then some on opening weekend. New Line Cinema was saved from bankruptcy by the success of the film, and was jokingly nicknamed “the house that Freddy built.” Perhaps the most influential horror film of the ’80s, Craven’s 1984 slasher about a quartet of high school kids terrorized in their dreams by a torched boogeyman in a fedora hat and dusty pullovers spawned countless sequels and even a TV series. One great thing Nightmare offered, perhaps more than anything else, was a new horror star in Robert Englund. This was the film that introduced the world to Freddy Krueger, a monster who exists in his victims’ dreams and preys on them in the vulnerability of sleep. Freddy quickly became one of the most recognizable modern horror villains with his horribly barbecued visage, his ragged slouch hat, his dusty red-and-green striped sweater, and his sense of humor as sharp as his metal gloves with knives at the tip of each finger. In addition to offering the visceral thrills that are necessary for a genre entry, Craven’s screenplay works on several levels. Here, the idea of sleep as the ultimate threat is ingenious and incredibly insidious. Craven masterfully disguises dreams as reality and vice versa, and the idea that injuries sustained in dreams also exist outside helps to further blur the already murky distinction between the two. The primary element that elevates A Nightmare on Elm Street above many other slasher films is that the storyline invites intellectual observation: At times, we’re aware that the characters are trapped in a dreamscape, but there are times when we are not, and there are occasions when we suspect they’re awake and they are actually asleep – as if the children are in a never-ending state of hypnagogia. The ultimate revelation is that Freddy is really the byproduct of parental vigilantism. The teenagers in the film are paying for the sins of their parents —and the brute is determined to exact revenge in using their children as his victims. Nightmare has been described as a reaction to the perceived innocence of American suburbs: parents in the film’s fictional suburb dispose of Krueger and hide any form of his existence in an attempt to build a safe environment for their children. There’s a clear generational divide in A Nightmare on Elm Street, with the children trying to stay awake figuratively and literally, and the parents continuing to ignore the situation, utterly avoiding taking responsibility for their hideous actions. They instead bury their memories of the crime they once committed so deep down inside, it allows Krueger to amass incredible power in his nightmare world – power he uses to exact his revenge. More so, Freddy’s actions have been interpreted as symbolic of the often traumatic experiences of adolescence. Sexuality is ever-present in Freudian images and is almost exclusively displayed in a threatening and mysterious context (i.e. Tina’s death visually evokes a rape, Freddy’s glove emerges between Nancy’s legs in the bath, a centipede crawls out of the mouth of one of the victims, and a mattress swallows up Johnny Depp only to ejaculate him immediately after). Nightmare is also the story of the courage and resourcefulness of one extraordinary girl. At the age of 19, Langenkamp portrays one of the most perfectly realized and well-expressed heroines of the 1980s. The best slasher films all have realistic heroines, and Langenkamp ranks as close to the top as Janet Leigh or Jamie Lee Curtis. Her character is one of the greatest “final girls” in the history of slasher films and goes on to reappear throughout the franchise in the only two solid sequels (A Nightmare On Elm Street 3, Wes Craven’s New Nightmare). Visually, A Nightmare on Elm Street is a real treat, hovering somewhere between Gothic, supernatural imagery, and the typical 80s slasher fare. Cinematographer Jacques Haitkin’s work is innovative and atmospheric, capturing a malevolent mood with light and shadow, most notably in the surrealistic basement scenes set around the furnace. Like so many films of this genre, its artistic ingenuity is intensified with various bloody setpieces and visual effects. A Nightmare on Elm Street boasts several impressively conceived and well-executed dream/kill sequences. During production, over 500 gallons of fake blood were used for the special effects production. The special effects, most of which are low-tech, are surprisingly effective, and this was the first film to use a breakaway mirror. Finally, there’s Charles Bernstein’s spare score, the musical cues, synthesizers, creepy sound effects and the film’s unforgettable children’s rhyme – which is all perfect for the material – eerie but never overwhelming.

Best Horror Movies of the 20th Century

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