As with all lists, this is personal and nobody will agree with every choice – and if you do, that would be incredibly disturbing. It was almost impossible for me to rank them in order, but I tried and eventually gave up. Enjoy!
If there was ever a perfect setting for a horror movie, it would be the abandoned Danvers State Mental Hospital. Built in 1878 on an isolated site in rural Massachusetts, it was a multi-acre, self-contained psychiatric hospital rumoured to have been the birthplace of the pre-frontal lobotomy. The hospital was the setting for the 2001 horror film Session 9, where an asbestos clean-up crew discover a series of nine tapes, which have recorded a patient with multiple personalities, all of which are innocent, except for number nine. With a shoestring budget and no real special effects, Session 9 relies strictly on psychological horror to make its point. Director-writer Brad Anderson (The Machinist) knows how to pull all the strings to keep the audience guessing and squirming. This is one genuinely creepy thriller.
149: The Girl Who Knew Too Much (The Evil Eye, La ragazza che sapeva troppo)
Directed by Mario Bava
Written by Enzo Corbucci and Mario Bava
Mario Bava’s final black and white production is regarded as a seminal work in what would become known as the Giallo genre. Much Like Brian De Palma, Bava was very influenced by the master of suspense and borrowed heavily from Alfred Hitchcock over the years. The title itself 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. The Girl Who Knew Too Much is beautifully shot, composed of pristine blocking, framing, pans, dollys, and sharp edits, creating suspense amid all 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 looked better than other Giallos. With a a solid performance from the always reliable John Saxon, The Girl Who Knew Too Much is incredibly entertaining, with a few twists and a surprise ending as to “whodunit” and why. Part mystery, part horror, part comedy, part romance, The Girl Who Knew Too Much is essential viewing for any horror aficionado.
After the suspicious death of his sister’s ex-boyfriend, a teenage boy discovers the shocking reality behind the society that surrounds him: Directed by Bryan Yuzna and starring Billy Warlock, Society is a weird, mind-bending and clever satire about paranoia, social outcasts, and the relationship between the upper and lower class. The inventive, over-the-top and utterly shocking final act, with scenes of incest, insane orgies, rabid cannibalism and more, must be seen to be believed. The last ten minutes crammed full of Screaming Mad George’s special effects have become famous in the annals of low-budget horror. When the truth is finally revealed, Society takes body horror to an extreme level of insanity.
147: When A Stranger Calls
Directed by Fred Walton
Written by Steve Feke and Fred Walton
This film really doesn’t get enough respect. One of the first slasher films to follow on from the massive success of John Carpenter’s Halloween, When a Stranger Calls originally started out as The Sitter, a short film made by director Fred Walton, expanded out to form the basis of a feature. The slow-burn approach is book-ended by some truly excellent classic horror movie moments – the opening alone serves as the entire basis for Wes Craven’s Scream. Walton does an incredible job of mounting the tension almost entirely using sound – the constant phone ringing, the killer’s creepy voice and the powerhouse score. Charles Durning gives a more than capable performance – he gets the most memorable scene, in which he breaks down, completely nude, in front of his reflection in the washroom mirror. (The film’s portrait of its psycho is unusually sympathetic.) Highly recommended.
Inspired by a Korean legend, this is the odyssey of two sisters, who after spending time in a mental institution, return home to their father and cruel stepmother. There’s a reason why Hollywood has been so busy in recent years remaking Asian horror movies. There’s more overwhelming suspense and inscrutable mysteries in this South Korean psychological thriller than in most American mainstream horror films. Mixing classic horror in the vein of Hitchcock and Argento, A Tale of Two Sisters is a groundbreaking film, and well worth seeking out.
Directed by Tobe Hooper
Written by Michael Grais and Steven Spielberg
Poltergeist has become legendary for two major reasons other than being a great film: First, there were rumours that co-producer/co-writer Steven Spielberg took over as director midway through production. Secondly, its young co-star Dominique Dunne was murdered just before the film hit theatres. I will always remember Poltergeist, however, as the film that left me sleepless for a week as a child. Someone once famously said that Poltergeist does for TV sets what Psycho did for showers. I never had a problem taking a shower but I’m still left unsettled having a TV set left on over night. Hooper’s directing skill combined with Spielberg’s ability to make anything family-friendly makes this one of the few on the list the entire family might theoretically enjoy.
Gross-out horror comedy is my guilty pleasure. Among the best are Peter Jackson’s Dead Alive, Stuart Gordon’s Re-Animator, and James Gunn’s Slither. Essentially a pastiche of the zombie and alien-invasion genres, Slither combines a 50′s sci-fi plot with gross-out gore making for an effective, if familiar, horror film. This tongue-in-cheek flick shows off first-time director Gunn’s skill for blending comedy and horror. Slither recalls Tremors, only with much more gore; it’s the best kind of B-movie, one whose laughs are just as effective and intentional as the imaginative gross-out-effects. More importantly, Gunn probes the genre’s cliches without ever mocking them. Slither is a labor of love and a film that deserves higher praise. Regardless if Slither is your cup of tea or not, the film is so skillfully executed, you have to admire it.
143: Bubba Ho-Tep
Directed by Don Coscarelli
Written by Don Coscarelli
If you’re tired of conventional horror movies, try Bubba Ho-Tep, a cinematic oddity from director Don Coscarelli. Elvis Presley (Bruce Campbell), is an old man living in an East Texas retirement home, having switched identities with impersonator Dan Haff some time before his apparent death. The problem is he never got the chance to switch back. He teams up with fellow resident Jack (Ossie Davis), who believes himself to be John F. Kennedy, and the two of them battle an evil Egyptian mummy who attempts to take over their retirement home and use it as a hunting ground for souls on which to subsist. Featuring a bravura lead performance by Bruce Campbell, Bubba is a smart comedy that dares to take on the sublime and the ridiculous. It is kitschy, lowbrow, and aggressively low-budget film, but above all, it is a one-of-a-kind film experience.
142: The Mist
Directed by Frank Darabont
Written by Frank Darabont
There is no other director that has had more success in adapting the work of writer Stephen King than Frank Darabont. Along with The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile, The Mist is the director’s third film based on King’s work. The film is a dark, tense and uncompromising big-budget creep-fest – punctuated by just enough gore to keep viewers on edge. But it isn’t the creatures that makes The Mist a great film. Instead, The Mist strives to be more about the conflict taking place within the grocery store amongst the humans who begin to turn against each other. There is also a knockout performance from Marcia Gay Harden as a religious freak. She is every bit as scary as the monsters flying outside the supermarket. The film also features one of the ballsiest endings in a mainstream horror film. You’ll either hate it or love it.
Directed by Danny Boyle
Written by Alex Garland
Apart from being a terrifying horror movie with a sharp political allegory, 28 Days Later (along with Zack Snyder’s Dawn Of The Dead) is credited with reinvigorating the zombie sub-genre. It was also a critical and commercial success and was the first feature shot entirely on a digital camera. The film’s soundtrack and score is incredible as is the performances from the entire cast. Director Danny Boyle might not have brought anything new to the table in terms of epidemic / zombie films, but there is no denying that this movie is bloody entertaining.
140: The Tenant
Directed by Roman Polanski
Written by Gérard Brach and Roman Polanski
1976’s Le Locataire (The Tenant) is the final film in Polanski’s unofficial “Apartment Trilogy” following Rosemary’s Baby and Repulsion. Polanski stars as Trelkovsky, a Polish-born French citizen who moves into an spooky apartment whose previous tenant (a beautiful young woman) committed suicide. His neighbours eye him with suspicious disdain. Over the course of the film, Trelkovsky becomes increasingly paranoid believing that the other tenants are engaged in a conspiracy to drive him to suicide. The Tenant was poorly received on its release and is still overshadowed by Polanski’s more famous efforts, but the film is a perfectly crafted paranoid nightmare about a man’s loss of identity and descent into madness. It also features one hell of a shocking double climax.
139: The Hills Have Eyes
Directed by Wes Craven
Written by Wes Craven
Horror auteur Wes Craven’s sophomore effort The Hills Have Eyes is a demented morality fable about a a family who while on a road trip get stranded in the Nevada desert and become hunted by a family of deformed cannibals in the surrounding hills. Craven has an unique skill for creating an all-encompassing atmosphere of dread long before he unleashes the true terror. A heady mix of ironic allegory and nail-biting tension make Hills a solid entry in the genre.
From the striking and thoroughly engrossing opening sequence, it was clear Scream would become an instant classic. Admittedly, that stand-alone scene ultimately stands as the high point of the film, but Scream offers so much more. The film popularized a self-referential strain of the genre that’s resulted in the likes of Tucker and Dale Vs. Evil and Cabin In The Woods. The end result is a fun, well-paced slasher that remains one of the best modern examples of its kind and perhaps the most influential horror movie of the past thirty years.
Directed by James Wan
Written by Leigh Whannell
I assume everyone by now is familiar with Saw. The indie horror film, shot in less the three weeks for a miniscule budget, was a huge box office success and introduced a new iconic villain, Jigsaw, to the world of horror. Many like to classify Saw as torture porn, but writer Luke Y. Thompson of OC Weekly argued that unlike Hostel, the Saw films actually have less torture than most in the sense of sadism or masochism, as Jigsaw believes that those who survive his methods, will be stronger people for it. He called him a kind of a (deranged) philanthropist. Saw is twisted, constantly surprising, extraordinarily tense and features one of the best endings of any horror film to date.
Kwaidan (Kaidan) is a 1964 Japanese portmanteau film directed by Masaki Kobayashi; the title means ‘ghost story’. Based on stories from Lafcadio Hearn’s collections of Japanese folk tales, this impressively mounted anthology horror film consists of four separate and unrelated stories. It won the Special Jury Prize at the 1965 Cannes Film Festival, and received an Academy Award nomination for Best Foreign Language Film. Kwaidan’s haunting poetry is conveyed with what might possibly be the most beautiful horror film you will ever see. The soundtrack is equally impressive, and although it might not outright scare, you can’t help but admire the craft and artistry.
135: Village of the Damned
Directed by Wolf Rilla
Written by John Wyndham, Stirling Silliphant
Adapted by director Wolf Rilla from John Wyndham’s novel The Midwich Cuckoos, Village of the Damned, certainly has dated but regardless, it is a seminal piece of work and a timeless classic. Village doesn’t rely on gimmicks or special effects but remains an intelligent, creepy tale nonetheless. “Those eyes, those screams.” The chilling performances by the unknown cast of blank-eyed child actors remains incredibly creepy decades later.
William Peter Blatty, author of The Exorcist, directed this creepy, deliberately-paced thriller based on his novel Legion. Thankfully he ignores the events of John Boorman’s disappointing Exorcist II: The Heretic. It isn’t quite as good as the first film, but thanks to some powerful performances by Brad Dourif and George C. Scott, The Exorcist 3 is just as scary and ranks as one of the best sequels ever made.
Directed by Kaneto Shindô
Written by Kaneto Shindô
This landmark in fantasy cinema is bleak, sexually charged and dripping with depravity. Symbolism runs rampant and the dialogue is minimal in this harrowing study about the rotten nature of humanity and the useless wars they wage. Kiyomi Kuroda’s startling black-and-white cinematography, the excellent, percussive jazz soundtrack, and the final twist (one which might seem obvious today but not back then), is reason enough to watch this gem.
132: The Long Weekend
Directed by Colin Eggleston
Written by Everett De Roche
A very well executed and innovative film for the time, The Long Weekend marked the beginning of a solid run of good Australian horror films, penned by Everett De Roche, including Patrick (1978), Roadgames (1981) and Razorback (1984). The Long Weekend is an extremely tense thriller that doesn’t rely on the usual standard shock strategy to deliver its scares – and ranks as one of the best “nature vs.man” films – steeped in the mid-70s statements of environmentalism, and hinting at a broader ecological agenda with mention of nuclear testing and oil exploration. The small cast is solid despite the minimal amount of dialogue, the sound design is carefully layered gradually escalating to increase the tension, and the camera work by cinematographer Vincent Monton gives the pic a realistic feel with voyeuristic documentary-quality shots of the outback surroundings. Not a typical horror film in the standard sense but this small masterpiece is a must see for its slow, eerie pacing and atmosphere.
The slow, measured pacing may put off some people but if you have the patience to sit it out, Next of Kin offers one of the best payoffs of any film mentioned on this list. Next of Kin starts as a gothic style mystery-thriller with a hint of the supernatural and than jumps to a full on giallo-style third act – culminating with an unforgettable final shot. Perhaps influenced by Robert Wise’s The Haunting, Next of Kin is the closest I have seen to matching the atmosphere of The Shining. Along with an absolutely breathtaking distinctive musical score by Klaus Schulze (drummer of the early incarnations of Tangerine Dream) and incredible, stylish visual imagery, Next of Kin is a must see.
Directed by Peter Jackson
Written by Fran Walsh and Peter Jackson
1996, New Zealand / USA
Following the critically acclaimed Heavenly Creatures, Peter Jackson delivered his version of Ghostbusters. The Frighteners is an incredibly underrated horror-comedy that deserves more praise. Jackson directs at a breakneck pace and the cast all deliver fine performances – including Michael J. Fox, doing a better than adequate job in the lead, and Jeffrey Combs as the over-the-top Special Agent Milton Dammers. The special effects were done exclusively by Jackson’s New Zealand company Weta Digital, who of course went on to do the effects for The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Poltergeists, ghostbusters, serial killers, gore, laughs and mystery – The Frighteners is simply awesome.
As director Guillermo del Toro explains, “It’s a very moving and very dark fable about war. And within its walls is contained a ghost story.” Backbone is a supernatural allegory set against the backdrop of the Spanish Civil War. A multi-layered tale, following ten year-old Carlos in a remote orphanage which provides him refuge from the horror of war but leaves him vulnerable to the supernatural. Del Toro, working with cinematographer Guillermo Navarro, create a genuinely scary, exquisitely shot and eerie, unnerving mood that holds to the very end. In a nutshell, it’s a ghost story with soul.
Directed by Benjamin Christensen
Denmark / Sweden, 1922
Häxan (a.k.a The Witches or Witchcraft Through The Ages) is a 1922 Swedish/Danish silent documentary about the history of witchcraft, told in a variety of styles, from illustrated slideshows to dramatized reenactments of alleged real-life events. Written and directed by Benjamin Christensen, and based partly on Christensen’s study of the Malleus Maleficarum, Häxan is a fine examination of how superstition and the misunderstanding of diseases and mental illness could lead to the hysteria of the witch-hunts. At the time it was the most expensive Scandinavian film ever made, costing nearly two million Swedish krona. Although it won acclaim in Denmark and Sweden, the film was banned in the United States and heavily censored in other countries for what were considered at that time, graphic depictions of torture, nudity, and sexual perversion. Depending on which version you’re watching, the commentary is either in the form of inter-titles or narration recorded in the mid-1960s by William S.Burroughs. Haxan is a fascinating historical document and one of the earliest films that takes misogyny and sexual repression as its subject.
127: The Ordeal (Calvaire)
Directed by Fabrice Du Welz
Written by Fabrice Du Welz and Romain Protat
2004, Belgium / France
Director-co-writer Fabrice du Welz takes a clichéd premise and infuses it with a slick stylish perversity and the gory surrealism of early Wes Craven. Apart from the bravura direction and the slick cinematography of Benoît Debie (whose camera-work in the climax features an overhead shot in a slow 360-degree spin), the main draw comes from the gut-wrenching performance from actor Laurent Lucas. This is a strange, compelling horror film – part Misery and part Deliverance. Calvaire’s premise may be a familiar but it is still one of the better Backwoods Horror entries in recent memory.
David Cronenberg’s 1979 effort The Brood could provide the biggest genre-movie highlight reel of his entire body of work, with killings perpetrated by bizarre down-syndrome-mutant, pig-faced dwarves. The last scene in this movie, in which a mother bites through her “psycho-plasmic” placenta to lick the birth fluids from her angry spawn, is worth the price of admission alone. The Brood is visceral, highly disturbing, and downright disgusting. It was Cronenberg’s first major success and a highly personal one as well: It is also the director’s most bitter, uncompromising statement about gender politics, children, and sexuality. Often described as Cronenberg’s Kramer Vs. Kramer, The Brood is a definitive metaphor for the harsh realities of acrimonious divorce. The premise is simple – a crazy woman’s psychoses creates these evil murderous creatures. The husband if left to clean up the mess. Do yourself a favour and rent it if you haven’t yet seen it.
125: The Fly
Directed by David Cronenberg
Written by David Cronenberg
The Fly was released in what could arguably be called the most fertile period of David Cronenberg’s career. To date, it is easily his most commercially successful motion picture, winning an Oscar (for makeup) and later it spawned a sequel. Cronenberg’s The Fly is more a “re-imagination” as opposed to a “remake.” The movie uses the premise found in both 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 and abomination that comes with that change. With The Fly, Cronenberg focusses on the slow transformation and decomposition of a mad scientist and while Chris Walas’ makeup and creature effects is groundbreaking for the time, the picture is less about its effects than it is about Cronenberg’s obsessions. It also features some great dialogue:
Brundle: “I’m an insect who dreamt he was a man and loved it. But now the dream is over and the insect is awake.”
Four months after the death of her husband, a pregnant woman is tormented by a strange woman who invades her home with the intent on killing her and taking her unborn baby. This movie is not recommended for women on the brink of motherhood. Inside is one of the most vicious and cringe inducing horror thrillers on this list. It is bloody, gory, unsettling and chock full of suspense. Without a doubt, Inside is the best of the French new wave of horror. This is the perfect film to watch on Christmas Eve with a group of your friends.
124: (TIE) Amer
Directed by Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani
Written by Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani
2009, France / Beligum
The feature debut of Belgian co-directors Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani is a delirious pastiche of the blood-spattered Italian giallo genre. There’s no conventional story really; Amer is rather a psychodrama split into three parts. Stripping away the whodunit plots and violent murders always featured in giallos, Cattel and Forzani have boiled the sub-genre down to its purest essences: sex and fear. This is art-house horror; a thriller with the poetic touch of Mario Bava and the cutting precision of Dario Argento.
For the uninitiated, Zombi 2 is a 1979 horror film directed by Lucio Fulci. It is perhaps the best-known of Fulci’s films, banned in some countries, censored in others and is in my opinion one of the best zombie films ever made. Fulci’s direction is confident, the makeup and special effects done by Giannetto De Rossi and Maurizio Trani are fantastic (especially for the time) and the pulsating electronic score courtesy of Fabio Frizzi and Giorgio Tucci is one of the best in horror history. The movie also features two very famous scenes: One features an eyeball-popping out of the socket and the other has an underwater sequence in which a shark battles a zombie.
Directed by Richard Franklin
Written by Everett De Roche
Patrick was not only a pivotal film and a commercial success but it was also nominated in three categories, including Best Film, at the 1978 AFI Awards, and director Richard Franklin took home the Best Director prize at the prestigious Sitges Fantasy Film Festival in Spain.
Patrick has a truly original screenplay, wherein its villain remains in a comatose for the entire film. Everett De Roche’s script is surprisingly vivid and punchy, developing its characters well beyond your usual fright-flick archetypes, and Richard Franklin’s direction is elegant and suspenseful, relying on mood and atmosphere rather than blood and gore.
The strong cast includes some of Australia’s finest actors, from Julia Blake as the matron to Robert Helpmann as the dangerous doctor. As the titular character, Thompson is utterly mesmerizing on screen despite the fact that he doesn’t utter a single word and Susan Penhaligon who plays the feisty nurse pulls off a rather difficult act of looking convincing while having a conversation with a man in a coma.
Kathryn Bigelow’s Near Dark has been often described as “the best vampire movie you’ve never seen.” What Near Dark does better than so many other vampire movies, is keep us off-balance and 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 texture, and music by Tangerine Dream.
120: A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin (Una lucertola con la pelle di donna)
Directed by Lucio Fulci
Written by Lucio Fulci
After the success of Dario Argento’s The Bird with the Crystal Plumage, the Italian film industry set out to produce a slate of thrillers with animal-related titles. One of the first was Lucio Fulci’s A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin. Despite its Giallo status, Fulci’s film is a different beast from those made by his colleagues, and earned a reputation as one of Fulci’s finest works. As a convoluted thriller, Lizard works extremely well, though its climax falls somewhat short. The highlight of the film is an 11-minute chase sequence through the catacombs of a church, a nerve-wracking scene involving killer bats and ending in a bloody rooftop encounter. The strength of the movie (as with most Giallos) lies in the visuals. Fulci’s innovative camera work helps reinforce the sense of illusion throughout, and Ennio Morricone’s score complements the picture’s strange mood perfectly. At times it’s a bit slow, but Lizard in a Woman’s Skin is a unique and wild experience. Keep an eye out for the obvious ripoff/homage of Hitchcock’s The Birds.
Genre director Pete Walker (The Flesh, Blood Show, House Of Whipcord, and The Confessional, among others) gives us one of the my personal favourite British horror films ever made. Apart from border-lining the slasher genre, Frightmare displays an overwhelming distrust of psychiatry and related professions and examines the idea of nature vs. nurture. There’s an artistry to Peter Walker’s work; his fluid, studied camera movements, intentionally abrupt edits, project the gore and provide a a disarming atmosphere. The entire cast delivers superb performances, but this is Sheila Keith’s show. Her Dorothy is the epitome of the passive-aggressive mother, alternating between smart and feeble-minded, attentive and disoriented and so on. But don’t be easily fooled, as she eventually makes it very clear to the audience that above all else, it is her character who is always in control of every situation. Frightmare is a marvel, a genuinely shocking film that features a fabulous ending.
118: Dressed To Kill (1980)
Directed by Brian De Palma
Written by Brian De Palma
I’ve always been one of “those guys” who criticizes Brian De Palma for ripping off Alfred Hitchcock a little too often. With that said, I am still a huge fan of his early work. His films, like (but not as creatively as) Tarantino’s, are a cinematic mash-up of influences from the past. Dressed to Kill borrows heavily from the Italian giallo and once again Hitchcock, more accurately it is De Palma’s homage to Psycho. Still, one cannot deny how incredibly stylish Dressed is. The highlight here is an amazing ten-minute sequence with Angie Dickinson, set in an art gallery and conducted entirely without dialogue. There are a number of other well sustained set pieces including a chase in the subway and even yes, a gratuitous shower murder sequence. Dressed features an excellent cast, a mind-blowing score courtesy of Pino Donaggio, and some of the best camera work of any film featured on this list, via Ralf Bode.
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. Director Alfred Sole subsequently made two further genre films: Tanya’s Island (1980), and Pandemonium/Thursday the 12th (1982), a slasher film parody.
116: My Bloody Valentine
Directed by George Mihalka
Written by John Beaird
My Bloody Valentine, made at the height of the slasher/holiday trend, is noteworthy as one of the most distinctly Canadian horror films ever made. Produced by Happy Birthday To Me gurus John Dunning and André Link, and directed by George Mihalka, My Bloody Valentine is one of the best in the genre for several reasons: Mihalka’s direction is first-rate, the score by Paul Zaza is effectively creepy, the small town location and mining mill makes for a refreshingly unique setting, the film features a decent body count (though not much blood), and finally, the killer has bragging rights on the best costume of all slasher villains: an unstoppable miner, his identity is hidden by a gas mask and a construction helmet complete with its own headlight. Competently made, well shot, and expertly paced, Valentine features one hell of a “voice of doom,” a great cast and some creative kills.
Let’s Scare Jessica to Death is an overlooked, extremely eerie low-budget chiller, and one of the finest horror pictures of the 1970s. Director John D. Hancock is more content with examining the pure madness of the human psyche than he is with bloodshed or cheap attention- grabbing shocks and thrills. The more somber, subdued approach may disappoint many, but patient moviegoers will find themselves rewarded with the smart direction and slow burning tension. Like its central protagonist, it is a movie that remains extremely ambiguous. Is Jessica just outright insane or is there something more sinister at work in the small country town?
114: Anguish (Angustia)
Directed by Bigas Luna
Written by Bigas Luna and Michael Berlin
An insane mother (Zelda Rubinstein) telepathically directs 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 a the movie: The real horror is in the theatre where the audience watching is being murdered one by one. 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.The story flows for the most part and seamlessly switches from the reel to 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.
C’est arrivé près de chez vous (Man Bites Dog)
Directed by André Bonzel and Rémy Belvaux
Written by Rémy Belvaux
Some like to classify Man Bites Dog as a horror film but I don’t necessarily agree. Yes it follows around a serial killer but more in the tradition of Natural Born Killers than, say, Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer. Like many first time filmmakers who can’t afford much film stock, Rémy Belvaux, André Bonzel and Benoît Poelvoorde set out to make the cheapest movie possible. Intended as a calling card, Man Bites Dog would spoof documentaries by taking a fictitious serial killer around as he exercises his craft. He spends the majority of the pic talking in great detail about art, politics, music, society, and life as he murders various random people. Every frame of this film is shot documentary-style in grainy black-and-white and the pseudo-realism, rough uneven editing and shaky hand-held camera work, give a frightening air of legality to it’s deeply compelling charge of screen violence as entertainment.
Broken up into three segments spanning Hungarian history before, during and after communist rule, this cross-generational saga about an extremely bizarre family is undoubtedly a one of a kind. It’s the type of film you need to see to believe. Visually striking and provocative, Taxidermia is a tough watch, but director Palfi has assured its cult status thanks to its disturbing scenes of sex, violence and body horror. And, yes, a man lights his penis on fire, as seen in the poster.
112: The Birthday
Directed by Eugenio Mira
Written by Eugenio Mira and Mikel Alvariño
A young man and his girlfriend attend her father’s birthday party, held at a luxury hotel. Just as they arrive, strange things start to happen and guests and hosts alike become exceptionally aggressive. Shot in real time (a la Hitchcock’s Rope), The Birthday begins as an extremely unusual black comedy only to slowly unravel into a horror film reminiscent of Rosemary’s Baby. From its opening titles to the abrupt ending, The Birthday is a gem waiting to be discovered. A slick, good-looking picture beautifully photographed in cinemascope with award-winning art direction and ingenious sound design geared for maximum discomfort. This Spanish horror film, shot in English, stars an international cast and at the center is none other than Corey Feldman doing an odd, feature-length Jerry Lewis impersonation (a la The Bellhop). Feldman’s performance, easily the strangest in his career, reaches surprising levels of intensity. This film is quirky, campy and carries a hypnotic and seriously foreboding atmosphere.The Birthday is a unique and refreshingly inventive genre film that also features an unforgettable climax of complete hysteria. Director Eugenio Mira put it best at the 2004 screening at the Fantasia Film Festival when he quoted Back to the Future and said, “You may not like it, but your kids are going to love it.”
111: Wild Zero
Directed by Tetsuro Takeuchi
Written by Tetsuro Takeuchi
Wild Zero is the 2000 Japanese “Jet rock ‘n’ roll” zombie horror comedy cult classic, directed by Tetsuro Takeuchi, and starring the Japanese garage punk band Guitar Wolf. Borrowing many elements from other popular B-movies such as Psychomania and Evil Dead 2, Wild Zero would best be described as The Ramones remaking Night of the Living Dead under the wing of Roger Corman. Wild Zero is exuberantly silly and bursting with unstoppable energy from start to finish.
Just Before Dawn doesn’t do anything new in terms of backwoods horror slashers, but fuck is it ever good. The film is beautifully shot, competently acted – it features great locations, a brooding atmosphere, and realistic dialogue. It’s also deeply unsettling, and the twist ending is surprisingly effective. Just Before Dawn also carefully plays with gender roles and queer stereotypes. It featured early performances from actors Chris Lemmon (Jack Lemmon’s son) and Gregg Henry (Slither), as well as early work from music composer Brad Fiedel, who wrote and performed the films eerie score. Lieberman cites the 1972 film Deliverance as the main influence, and calls Just Before Dawn his personal favourite of his works.
109: Mumsy, Nanny, Sonny And Girly (aka Girly)
Directed by Freddie Francis
Written by Brian Comport
UK , 1970
Here is one of the best and most bizarre films of the late early ’70s Brit psycho-horror entries. Girly isn’t exactly suspenseful, and it’s not a horror movie in the traditional sense, but rather a sordid affair about perversions and power games. Based on the play Happy Family by Maisie Mosco, Girly is stuffed with clever dialogue (that often rhymes), great performances, and it also boasts confident direction from Freddie Francis, who served as the cinematographer for The Innocents. The film is imbued with disquiet and unease, but Francis plays up the absurdity of the story by keeping most of the violence and sex off-screen.
Spirits Of The Dead (Histoires extraordinaires)
Directed / Written by Federico Fellini (segment Toby Dammit), Louis Malle (segment William Wilson), Roger Vadim (segment Metzengerstein)
First thing to notice is the three directors: Federico Fellini, Louis Malle and Roger Vadim. Secondly, take notice of the cast, which includes Brigitte Bardot, Jane Fonda, Peter Fonda, Alain Delon, Terence Stamp, Salvo Randone, James Robertson Justice, Françoise Prévost and Marlène Alexandre. Spirits Of The Dead is an adaptation of three Edgar Allan Poe stories, one of which demands to be seen.
The first segment of the film, Roger Vadim’s Metzgengerstein, is unfortunately the least impressive, but is still great in its own right, and features a marvelous performance by Jane Fonda. Louis Malle’s segment is the second of the three. Malle turns Edgar Allan Poe’s 1839 story into an engrossing study in cruelty and sadism. This episode is an engaging enough entry, but pales in comparison to what follows.
They really do save the best for last. Episode three is the reason to see this anthology. Even if it hardly qualifies as horror, it still deserves to make my list. Federico Fellini’s Toby Dammit, which stars Terence Stamp, is a visual wonder. Fellini and his cinematographer shoot with an intensifying palette – the most brilliant mix of blues and reds, bittersweet shades and extraordinary camera movement you will ever see in any horror anthology. Stamp is truly terrifying as the dysfunctional Toby, and the world that Fellini creates perfectly mirrors the inner turmoil and self-destructive nature of his character. Toby Dammit feels like a stylish nightmare – a truly unsettling and intriguing film that makes the perfect gateway into the director’s oeuvre.
108: Who Can Kill A Child? (Island of the Damned)
Directed by Narciso Ibáñez Serrador
Written by Narciso Ibáñez Serrador
Narciso Ibañez Serrador’s 1976 cult classic Who Can Kill a Child?, a film adapted from Juan Jose Plans’s novel, is arguably one of the best Spanish horror films ever made. Due to haphazard distribution and saddled with a number of other titles (including Island of the Damned and Death is Child’s Play), Serrador’s film barely surfaced. Despite the limited exposure, the film eventually found a devoted following. Horror aficionados passed around bootleg VHS copies and occasionally the film would appear on late night television until it would receive an uncut release on DVD in 2007. The film was was made on heels of the Vietnam War and the Khmer Rouge massacre in East Timor in 1976 and actually opens with a montage from those recent atrocities against children. Working from the template established by George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead, Who Can Kill A Child takes place in a remote Spanish island where children who are afflicted by a kind of supernatural plague, begin to kill the entire adult population. Replace the flesh-eating walking dead with killer kids, undercut by a gratuitous Rosemary’s Baby subplot, and the result is genuinely unsettling.
107- The Last House on the Left
Directed by Wes Craven
Screenplay by Wes Craven
This cutthroat, bleak cautionary tale, presented in an honest, albeit provocative way, is ruthlessly violent and still unnerves audiences today. Last House On The Left emerged a few years after the Manson Family massacre and in the wake of the Vietnam war. Director Wes Craven intended it to be an evaluation of the decay of American Culture, onscreen violence, class divides and the naivete of the free-love era. It’s understandable why some may dismiss Last House as typical exploitation fare; the acting isn’t always great, several of the filmmakers and actresses worked in the porn industry at the time, the clumsy comedy feels out of place and the soundtrack, although notable for being heavily contrasted with the events on screen, is just plain awful. Thus, the film suffers from some harsh tonal shifts throughout. Craven, who had experimented in making documentaries prior, opted to shoot in a very grainy, verité style, and filmed under conditions that produced genuinely traumatized performances, making it seem and feel even more realistic and powerful. Last House On The Left is an important snapshot in Wes Craven’s career and a must see for horror fans – a genre landmark, offending nearly everyone who saw it, and more importantly inspiring a wave of “backwoods horror” films to come.
This 1989 Japanese cyberpunk film by cult-film director Shinya Tsukamoto combines Eraserhead’s monochrome industrial landscapes with David Cronenberg’s obsession with body horror. Tetsuo established Tsukamoto internationally and created him a worldwide cult following. Shot on 16 mm and on a shoestring-budget, the underground-experimental pic is unquestionably a feat of imagination with it’s creative imagery, homoerotic, nutty visuals, frenetic stop-motion, sharp editing and strong industrial musical score. Tetsuo: The Iron Man is completely surreal and off-kilter evoking an industrial flux between mankind and modern day technology. It is quite unlike any sci-fi/horror film you’ll ever see.
105: Drag Me To Hell
Directed by Sam Raimi
Written by Ivan Raimi and Sam Raimi
Many horror pioneers who’ve attempted to return to the cinematic styles that jump-started their careers have usually walked away with mediocre results (George Romero’s Diary of the Dead) and sometimes utterly embarrassing by-products (Dario Argento’s Mother of Tears). Sam Raimi on the other hand, effortlessly slips back into his Evil Dead roots with the outrageously fun Drag Me to Hell complete with all his trademark flourishes. This is horror directed with a light touch and delivered with hilarious, delightfully campy thrills.
Tucker & Dale unfolds not so much as a horror film but a comedy where most of the characters are convinced they are in a horror film. First-time director Eli Craig pulls off a good mix of splatter and laughs but wisely chooses to emphasize the comedy side of the equation. Helping things immensely is the fact that his two leads are perfectly cast. Alan Tudyk and Tyler Labine have a great rapport and the chemistry between them is impeccable. Splat-stick is harder to do than it seems, as blood-spattered comedy is a hard sell, but their comic genius is the driving force of the pic. Watching the duo’s onscreen bro-mance recalls best of the Apatow brand and places them alongside the most memorable protagonists in any genre piece.
103: Night Of The Creeps
Directed by Fred Dekker
Screenplay by Fred Dekker
The debut feature by writer/director Fred Dekker is notable as an earnest attempt at a B-movie and a throwback to the genre. Paying tribute to everything from plots, themes and to the filmmakers that created them, Night offers alien parasites, zombies, extra-terrestrials, a sorority house, Prom Night and a 50′s opening prologue involving an axe murder. Tom Atkins steals the show, delivering the film’s most memorable lines including the classic: ‘I got good news and bad news, girls. The good news is your dates are here. The bad news is they’re dead.’ He perfectly embodies the hardboiled detective – worn out, all attitude, sarcastic and tough as nails. Working on a shoestring budget, Dekker and award-winning make-up artist David Miller (Thriller music video) manage to deliver some quality effects and enough gore and blood to please horror aficionados. Visually, the film is a treat, from the opening grainy black and white photography to the vintage ’80s neon colors to the long tracking shots and the nostalgic period detail.
Although never considered a genuinely scary horror film, Night of the Creeps was a film that caught attention for its original screenplay, special effects and it’s campiness. Dekker succeeded in making a horror movie that has it all: a dash of romance, scares, lighthearted comedy, nostalgia, camp, a touch of drama and a bit of gore.
Former comic book illustrator Alex de la Iglesia took Spain by surprise in 1991 with his short film, Mirindas Asesinas. Four years later, he returned with his feature-length debut Day Of The Beast, a tongue-in-cheek thriller which picked up no fewer than six of Spain’s Oscar equivalent, the Goyas. Spiked with extreme violence and over-the- top performances, The Day of the Beast mixes comedy, horror and a considerable amount of dark humour without ever feeling like a parody or spoof. The film’s shocking and darkly comic opening sets the tone right away, and it’s a testament to the director’s talent that he is able to continuously up the hysteria as the film progresses.
101: House of the Devil
Directed by Ti West
Written by Ti West
House of the Devil hearkens back to the days of late 70s grindhouse cinema, complete with a synthesized rock soundtrack (one of the best soundtracks to any horror film), a freeze-frame opening credit sequence (marked with yellow title cards) and a cast that includes Mary Woronov (Silent Night, Deadly Night) and horror veteran Dee Wallace-Stone (The original Hills Have Eyes, The Howling). West is not interested in cheap shocks and scares but rather takes a simple situation and spins tension out of it through careful craft. He’s a patient filmmaker and has built a career on his preference for slow-building tension, atmosphere and suspense as opposed to fast-paced action, sex and splatter. His direction is smart, subtle, and passionate, and he makes great use of long sequences and static shots with an assortment of oddly askew camera angles, each camera positioned deliberately for creative reasons. Composer Jeff Grace and audio designer Graham Reznick create an atmosphere that suggests something terrible can happen at any moment, leaving you gripping on to your seat in anticipation. Eliot Rockett’s cinematography nails the feel of the early 80s – so carefully detailed and perfectly attuned to the style of the decade that one could actually mistake it for an 80s production. Meanwhile the Quantum Creation FX gang (who gave us the effects for Splinter) once again showcase their talent despite a minimal budget.
Amidst all the terror, my favorite scene still remains a sequence in which Samantha dances about (Walkman replacing iPod) to the sound of Fixx’s “One Thing Leads to Another.”
Special Mention: Gremlins
Directed by Joe Dante
Written by Chris Columbus
Gremlins gets a special mention because I’ve always considered it more of a comedy and a wholesome Christmas flick than an actual horror film. This tribute 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 80’s. See it if with your children. Gremlins makes the perfect gateway film into the world of Horror.
The Blair Witch Project is an homage to sitting by the campfire and listening to urban myths and various ghost stories, something most of us can relate to. However the primary reason for it’s 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.
99: Berberian Sound Studio
Directed by Peter Strickland
Written by Peter Strickland
British filmmaker Peter Strickland’s sophomore effort is many things: a sly deconstruction of 1970s hallucinatory Grand Guignol cinema, an audio geek’s wet dream celebrating the art of foley magic, a stylistic tour de force, and a blend of comedy and horror with a Lynchian twist. Strickland’s meta-horror film begins as dream, before spiraling into a nightmare of sorts. Set entirely in the offices of a sleazy Italian film company in the 1970s, a British sound technician, played to perfection by Toby Jones, travels to Italy to work on the sound effects for a gruesome blood-soaked giallo film called The Equestrian Vortex. His nightmarish task slowly takes over his psyche as Gilderoy is unable to distinguish between the perverse fantasies of the film he is working on and so-called reality.
By the beginning of the 1970s, British Hammer Films began to dwindle. William Hinds, had retired from the company, and the studio struggled to produce successful films in the face of the shifting interests of young audiences. The post-modern movement was changing the cinematic landscape and the existing Dracula series continued to unleash a string of films with mixed results. So in the early 70’s filmmakers began to tweak the standard vampire mythos in strange and innovative new ways – hoping to breathe new life into the genre. One of those entries is Vampire Circus. The result is one of the studio’s more stylish and intelligent projects.
English filmmaker Robert Young made his directorial debut with Vampire Circus, and while it features neither Peter Cushing nor Hammer counterpart Christopher Lee, Young keeps things stylish, gory, silly and right out entertaining. Shot in Technicolor, Circus is a beauty to observe, with it’s outlandish art direction and colourful cinematography. The film is erotically charged and could easily be labeled a ’70s sexploitation film, albeit with rich subtext and multiple readings. Undermentioned and underrated, this is one film I highly recommend.
97: (TIE) Pan’s Labyrinth
Directed by Guillermo del Toro
Written by Guillermo del Toro
2006, Spain / Mexico
Guillermo del Toro blends reality and fantasy in two horrifying stories, one set in the aftermath of the Spanish Civil War and the other in a parallel realm of fairies and fauns. The horrors of both worlds are intertwined with such artistic ambition, Pan’s Labyrinth might be the most technically accomplished film on this list. The end result is visually stunning and emotionally shattering. Pan’s Labyrinth is an extraordinary, fascinating fable, a cross between Alice in Wonderland and H.P. Lovecraft – but full of it’s own unique poetry. Although told through the eyes of a little girl whose imaginary world is inhabited by grisly creatures, Pan’s Labyrinth is an adult fairy tale, one full of power, beauty and yes horror.
Cronos introduced the dark genius of Guillermo del Toro. This stylish and innovative take on the familiar vampire movie marked the directorial debut of the Mexican filmmaker. The film garnered international acclaim and several awards and many of the aesthetic qualities and thematic devices that del Toro made a career of are already present here. Starring veteran Argentine actor Federico Luppi and American actor Ron Perlman, Cronos was the first of several films on which del Toro collaborated with the two actors. Cronos is simply one of the most beautiful, compelling, hypnotic and creepy films listed here, and a must see.
Directed by Rob Reiner
Screenplay by William Goldman
Elevated by standout performances from James Caan and Kathy Bates, Misery remains one of the best Stephen King adaptations to date. Director Rob Reiner is clearly more interested in the dark humour and humanity than the gory detail in King’s novel. But make mistake about it, Misery is a tough watch – soaked in sharp dialogue, a brooding atmosphere, and disturbing bodily harm inflicted on Mr. Caan by sweet old Mrs. Bates. I can still feel his pain.
95: Altered States
Directed by Ken Russell
Written by Paddy Chayefsky
Altered States is a rarity among Hollywood films, and its 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, an American scientist obsessed with discovering mankind’s true role in the universe. 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.
Altered States works best as “body horror” with some well-crafted transformation sequences both physical and metaphysical. Russel applies his usual psychedelic visuals and the end result purposely makes no sense, because as Russell claims, it’s not supposed to.
94: The Snowtown Murders
Directed by Justin Kurzel
Screenplay by Shaun Grant
First-time director Justin Kurzel and screenwriter Shaun Grant, using pointers from the books The Snowtown Murders and Killing for Pleasure, tell the story of John Bunting, Australia’s most notorious serial killer, whose modus operandi led to his 1990s killing spree – dubbed the “bodies in the barrels” case.
Snowtown is unrelentingly grim and terrifying – a strong directorial debut, showing great promise for a first time filmmaker. Director Justin Kurzel delivers a slow, effective burn, examining how one man’s harmful beliefs spread through a community in the most horrific way possible. Kurzel for the most part avoids sensationalistic, macabre or exploitative techniques. Snowtown shows the irrational paranoia and prejudice of a small community, and how Bunting carefully infected the minds of those around him – spotlighting the very worst attitudes in society. The result is depressing and at times unbearable to watch.
93: (TIE) Gojira (Godzilla) / King Kong
Directed by Ishirô Honda /Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack
Written by Ishirô Honda / James Ashmore Creelman and Ruth Rose
1954- Japan / USA
The grand-daddy of all monster movies is arguable King Kong. Decades after its release, and 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 world-wide. Kong is structured around a classic and familiar theme (Beauty and the Beast), but this is also a movie about making movies. In fact, this movie is really about itself in a way. 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 hand, we hope that things will end well, even though deep down inside, we knew it won’t.
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.
92:(TIE) Haunted Strangler (Grip of the Strangler) / I Walk With A Zombie
Directed by Robert Day / Jacques Tourneur
Written by John Croydon and Jan Read / Curt Siodmak, Ardell Wray
1958, UK / 9143, USA
In I Walk With A Zombie, a young Canadian nurse named Betsy Connell visits the West Indies to care for the wife of a plantation manager who seems to be suffering from a kind of mental paralysis as a result of fever. Betsy soon discovers her patient is somewhat, undead – her vital signs are all intact, but she has no emotional or mental awareness. Desperate to cure her, she consults a powerful group of local voodoo practitioners who unleash their black magic. As with Cat People, producer Val Lewton and director Jacques Tourneur present a story where superstition is compounded, not discredited, by logic. Tourneur, working with cinematographer J. Roy Hunt, paints a beautiful if haunting motion picture via sight and sound and I Walk with a Zombie uses Caribbean folklore and strange religious imagery to transcend the conventions of the horror genre.
The Haunted Strangler (better know as Grip of the Strangler), directed by Robert Day, was adapted from Stranglehold, a story which screenwriter Jan Read had written specially with Boris Karloff in mind. It was filmed back to back with producer Richard Gordon’s Fiend Without a Face, and later released as a double bill by MGM. The film is often confused with the very similar Corridors of Blood, which also stars Karloff and looks as though it was shot in the same studio set. Moreover, the plots have a number of parallels and both films are a retelling of the Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde tale. For my money, The Haunted Strangler is a notch better (Although it should be noted that Corridors and Fiend Without a Face almost made my list), and Karloff’s performance, albeit absurd, undeniably carries the film.
91: Don’t Torture a Duckling (Non si sevizia un paperino)
Directed by Lucio Fulci
The best Giallos boast two main components – horror and mystery. Lucio Fulci’s Don’t Torture a Duckling doesn’t quite have a mystery, nor does it actually succeed as a horror film, but it is considered a giallo by the majority, so let’s just go with it. This stylish modern-day murder mystery follows a serial child killer on a rampage in a remote southern Italian village. Fulci is often criticized as misogynist and Don’t Torture a Duckling sure won’t help in his defence. With that said, I’d argue most horror films, especially those made in Italy in the 70s, are generally misogynistic. Still, Duckling is quite entertaining, and a clever and complex social commentary on the effects of mob mentality on vigilante justice, pedophilia and the disrespect youth have for traditional values. Despite a few shortcomings, Duckling is a beautifully realized horror film with shades of Arthur Miller’s The Crucible.
90: Trouble Every Day
Directed by Claire Denis
Written by Jean-Pol Fargeau and Claire Denis
The increasingly diverse French auteur Claire Denis directs a film that is profoundly disturbing, and unlike anything you’ve seen. Trouble Every Day is a modern-day horror story about a man and a woman, living thousands of miles apart, who are afflicted with the same self-destructive brain damage that affects their sexual appetites. Trouble looks, sounds and simply feels like no other vampire film in recent memory. It can be viewed as more of an oddity than a true horror film but many cinephiles will be thrilled at its strange and ambitious take on the genre. The score, provided by the Tindersticks, carries the film along with a slow, menacing, edgy sense of unease, building up to a gruesome, bloody and unforgettable finale. Trouble Every Day is cinematically astonishing.
89: Nosferatu: The First Vampire
Directed by F.W. Murnau
Written by Henrik Galeen
The earliest surviving film based on Dracula is Nosferatu, an unauthorized adaptation of Bram Stoker’s novel. One of the first vampire movies, it is perhaps still one of the best vampire movies ever made. Thoroughly creepy from first to last frame.
88: The Children
Directed by Tom Shankland
Written by Paul Andrew Williams and Tom Shankland
The concept of killer kids is nothing new, but The Children can safely join the list of great horror movies like The Omen, Home Movie, The Exorcist, The Innocents and Village of the Damned. The film is directed by Tom Shankland who also adapted the script form a story by Paul Andrew Williams (the director and writer of London to Brighton and The Cottage). Shankland delivers a simple film, with a simple set up and a simple pay off. What’s not simple are his sublime directorial flourishes. Shankland might add a few jump scares, but avoids genre clichés and wisely chooses an effective slow burn. The journey is unnerving, relentless, and jam packed with suspense and a terrifying, brooding atmosphere. Easily one of the best horror films of the present decade and destined to become a Brit Classic.
Once upon a time, director M. Night Shyamalan was considered to be an A list director. Oh how times have changed. Signs was the filmmaker’s third feature and the last to receive glowing reviews. Clearly influenced by Steven Spielberg and Alfred Hitchcock, Shyamalan creates a sense of pace, atmosphere, and mood that is near-flawless (until the last reel). The script is extremely well written drawing a parallel between faith in God and the belief in intelligent alien life forms. Signs also features two fine performance by Mel Gibson and Joaquin Phoenix, superb camera work and a much appreciate dose of comedy.
86: The Howling
Directed by Joe Dante
Written by John Sayles
Based on the best-selling novel by Gary Brandner, this horror film makes effective use of the classic werewolf tale but more importantly The Howling deserves respect simply for being the first to actually show the lycanthrope transformation process in slow, painstaking detail through a combination of clever edits and animatronics. The Howling may not be as polished or effective as John Landis’ 1981 An American Werewolf in London, but the film delivers on action, gore and true scares.
Originally released as Braindead, Dead Alive is the Godfather of Kiwi gore and the magnum opus of Peter Jackson’s early career. Jackson’s second feature gleefully eclipses the gross-out quotient of not only his splatter-fest debut, but of any movie ever made before it. The finale is the greatest gore-fest ever put on celluloid, using 300 litres of fake blood pumped at five gallons per second. The tone is cartoonishly comic, and the premise is simple, but Dead Alive is one of the most inventive and outrageous splatter-fests ever made.
84: (TIE) Seconds
Directed by John Frankenheimer
Written by David Ely and Lewis John Carlino
Not for weak sisters! May not even be for strong stomachs!
John Frankenheimer’s ultimately terrifying Twilight Zone-like, futuristic thriller Seconds, received mixed reviews, and was critically panned at the Cannes Film Festival. But what do they know? Seconds is a chilling character study and a distressing examination of happiness, loneliness, consumerism, and the American dream. This paranoid take on the legend of Faust remains widely unseen. Thankfully repeated showings on late night television helped the film find a much deserved cult following.
83: Seven (Se7en)
Directed by David Fincher
Written by Andrew Kevin Walker
One of a handful of films that is based on the religious concept of “seven deadly sins,” director David Fincher’s Seven is a dark, stylish thriller that boasts enough horror genre trappings to justify its presence on this list. Seven pales in comparison to Fincher’s best film Zodiac, but regardless, it is one of the decade’s most influential box-office successes. This dark, 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 horrible acting could ruin. Seven has all the hallmarks of the giallo or serial killer genres – red herrings, a whodunnit 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 focuses on the seedy, depressing side of Seven’s anonymous big-city setting.
Opera collides with horror, a fine fitting for Dario Argento’s extravagant style and dark trademarks as a filmmaker. Opera was Argento’s most expensive production and it shows in his colour 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, terrified view. I dare you not to blink.
81: The Loved Ones
Directed by Sean Byrne
Written by Sean Byrne
The winner of the first ever Midnight Madness Audience Award at the Toronto International Film Festival, The Loved Ones is one of the best horror films of the last decade – a unique mix of teen angst, torture porn, melodrama and the conventional slasher tropes. It’s a gore-filled shocker that goes for laughs by paying homage to the outlandish low-budget video nasties of the ’70s and ’80s. Think Misery, Saw, Prom Night, The Evil Dead and Carrie all mixed into one feature. This Australian flick is dark, intense, sharp, extremely gruesome and incredibly funny at times. The balance of humour and horror is scaled so perfectly that the scares sneak up when least expected. D.O.P. Simon Chapman makes great use of long, steady takes, and shows great patience in holding the camera still for long periods of time. The lighting and set design make the picture seem like it had a much bigger budget – the filmmakers rely on good old make-up and practical effects over anything digital – and editor Andy Canny cuts away at just the right frames, mounting the tension in key sequences to just the right level before each payoff is delivered. With a great rock soundtrack, intertwining story lines, slick dialogue and fresh characters, The Loved Ones is vivid, sometimes scary, sometimes funny but always thrilling.
This low-budget, independently made black-and-white film, produced and directed by Herk Harvey for an estimated $33,000, did not gain widespread attention when originally released, and was billed as a B-movie – but it’s actually one of the greatest under-seen horror movies ever made. 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 atmosphere of melancholic, surreal dread to create a mood of unease and foreboding. It has been cited as a major influence on the films of both David Lynch and George A. Romero. The film’s subdued black and white photography contributes considerably to its creeping mood of eerie otherworldliness and poetic nightmarish palate.
79: Alucarda, La Hija De Las Tinieblas / Innocents From Hell
Directed by Juan López Moctezuma
Written by Alexis Arroyo and Juan López Moctezuma
Part nunsploitation, part possession/satanism movie, and part vampire flick, Alucarda (“a Dracula” backwards) finds satanic going-ons in a convent after orphan Justine comes along, only to be seduced by another orphan named Alucarda. Director Juan López Moctezuma came along during the new wave of 70′s Mexican genre pics that expressed radical and subversive views. Alucarda never received much attention from critics nor audiences, but over the years became something of an underground cult classic. Moctezuma (who also produced Jodorowsky’s El Topo and Fando Y Lis) was an important intellectual figure in Mexico in the fifties, sixties and seventies, and his three horror films (which also includes Mansion of Madness, and the American co-production Mary, Mary, Bloody Mary) were all distinctive works. The film was independently financed outside of the Mexican mainstream industry and was shot with an English-speaking cast. The set design and art direction is stunning as well as Xavier Cruz’s cinematography. The grueling exorcism conclusion to Alucarda reminds one of the final scene in Brian De Palma’s Carrie. While it is not widely known by many cinephiles, many fans who have seen it, including myself, consider it an unrecognized gem. Seriously, this movie is batshit crazy and a must see!
The clever high-concept Cabin In The Woods is without a doubt the best and most inventive cabin-in-the-woods picture since Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead 2. It is also the most clever genre deconstruction since Wes Craven’s Scream. Screenwriters Drew Goddard and Joss Whedon tease us with a simple set-up, only to turn the joke upside down and on its head. Crammed with small unanticipated and unexpected incidents and comical twists, director Drew Goddard defies conventions while demonstrating a strong understanding of modern horror. This over the top blend of Scream and The Adjustment Bureau puts a clever spin on Whedon’s longstanding obsession with violence and voyeurism. With two interwoven narratives taking place at once, Goddard’s multi-layered approach is ambitious – digging deeper than a self-reflexive game of name-checking. A horror film embedded in a conspiracy flick embedded within another horror movie; Cabin is a must see, if only for the final 20 minutes in which all Hell breaks loose.
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. Argento’s first major non-Giallo directing job doesn’t stray too far from the style he established in his previous film Deep Red. 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 quite apart from the standards of the genre. Argento’s masterful use of intense primary colours (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.
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. This is a classic – a must see and features one of greatest endings to any horror film.
The 1978 version directed by Philip Kaufman, and starring Donald Sutherland, Brooke Adams and Leonard Nimoy is just as good. 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.
Directed by Mary Harrron
Written by Mary Harron
Bret Easton Ellis’s dark and violent satire of America in the 1980s was brought to the big screen by director Mary Harron. Initially slapped with the MPAA’s kiss of death (an NC-17 rating), American Psycho was later re-edited and reduced to a more commercially dependable “R”. Perhaps the film works best as a slick satire about misogyny, materialism, narcissism, and classism, but it is so bloody, graphic and grotesque, it warrants a mention on this list. Harron finds an equal blend of horror and humour, thanks mostly in part to the fine performance by actor Christian Bale – and the surprise/ambiguous ending has since been interpreted in more ways than one. American Psycho was extremely controversial on its release and with reason. It is one of the most daring and invigorating movies of that decade.
Wait until Dark
Directed by Terrence Young
Written by Robert Carrington
Directed by Terence Young, this well-made thriller is based on the Broadway hit play by Frederick Knott (who also wrote Hitchcock’s Dial M for Murder). Wait Until Dark stars Audrey Hepburn as a young blind woman who is terrorized in her apartment by two men (Alan Arkin and Richard Crenna) searching for heroin that made its way into a doll given to her as a gift. Hepburn is mesmerizing in the lead and earned her a fifth (and last) Best Actress nomination (losing to Katharine Hepburn). The film is filled with spell-binding tension and its climax is ranked tenth on Bravo’s 100 Scariest Movie Moments. Wait Until Dark is innovative, highly entertaining and chock full of suspense.
It may be best classified as a thriller but it receives a special mention on this list for literally giving birth to the term “jump scare.”
Tagline: “STARE INTO THESE EYES… discover deep within them the unspeakable terrifying secret of BLACK SUNDAY… it will paralyze you with fright”
A densely atmospheric black-and-white horror film that clearly took its inspiration from the classic Universal horror movies. Mario Bava’s directorial debut 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 story 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 who was renowned for making a film look much better than its limited resources would normally allow, he along with co-cinematographers Ubaldo, shot the entire film with a dolly, achieving a dream-like look. Sunday is one of the best looking Italian horror films of the 70′s, 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 both the evil witch and princess whose blood the witch wants to drain. Her gothic black hair and saucer-like dark eyes made her famous, but sadly 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. An absolutely essential cornerstone of any worthwhile horror DVD collection.
Not to be confused with Black Sunday, Black Sabbath is a horror anthology composed of three atmospheric tales. “The Drop of Water” concerns a nurse who steals a ring off a corpse, only to have it’s spirit seek revenge. “The Telephone” features a prostitute who is terrorized by phone calls from a presumably dead client from the past. “The Wurdalak” stars Boris Karloff as a vampire who feeds on the blood of those closest to him. Horror anthologies are rarely this good – In Bava’s film, the final resting place of evil is found living inside us.
The Masque of the Red Death was one of the seven Edgar Allan Poe adaptations made by producer-director Roger Corman, between 1960 and 1964. In my opinion, it is Corman’s most extravagant and visually impressive picture. Take note of the superb cinematography by Nicolas Roeg and the diabolic performance from Vincent Price. Many will argue I could include better films from the king of exploitation on this list (Bucket of Blood for starters), but there is just something about Masque that marks it as my personal favourite.
Directed by Jaume Balagueró and Paco Plaza
Written by Jaume Balagueró and Paco Plaza
A brilliant horror / thriller which may start slow but eventually accelerates to a fever pitch of complete and utter terror and hysteria. Directors Jaume Balagueró and Paco Plaza became stars in the Spanish horror scene with this short, stripped-down, first-person horror picture that delivers some unforgettably effective shocks while gradually building a haunting atmosphere of ever-increasing panic and despair.
72: The Others
Directed by Alejandro Amenábar
Written by Alejandro Amenábar
Spain / US, 2001
Some say The Others is a one trick pony, and once you know the secret, the gig is up. Regardless of its twist ending, one of the greatest in cinema, the film holds up in other respects. In fact, I have seen this film multiple times and each time it scares the bejeezus out of me. The Others showcases stylish photography, a fine score and great cast. The plot is well thought-out and its secrets and mysteries are revealed in a slow and clever manner – and did I mention it’s scary as hell? Marking his English-language debut, Spanish director Alejandro Amenabar (Open Your Eyes) impresses with his ability to evoke the supernatural in a convincing manner.
71: The Haunting
Directed by Robert Wise
Written by Nelson Gidding
1963, UK /USA
One of the most highly regarded haunted house films ever produced is The Haunting, directed by Val-Lewton-disciple Robert Wise. Based on Shirley Jackson’s novel, the film weaves the dark tale of a questionably sane woman and a spooky old mansion which is rumoured to hold a terrifying dark secrets. Even if you strip away all of its supernatural undertones, the film remains a sophisticated and fascinating character study. And apart from the generally neurotic group of characters, The Haunting further succeeds in that Wise makes the house itself, the central character of the story.
70: Cemetery Man (Dellamorte Dallamore)
Directed by Michele Soivi
Written by Gianni Romoli
Italy, France, Germany
British actor Rupert Everett stars as Francesco Dellamorte, a cemetery grounds keeper who must dispatch of corpses who return from the dead seven days after burial. Cemetery Man is a quirky blend of romance, surrealism, horror, and black comedy. It’s a movie about zombies but more importantly, a movie about the living who are spiritually dead. Sadly, Cemetery Man also marked the end of a wave of brilliant Italian horror films.
The Descent may not only see more feminist deconstruction than the original Alien, but it is also one of the most tightly effective genre films in quite some time. Much like his previous film Dog Soldiers, director Neil Marshall relies on our familiar memories of past horror movies, but the fascination of this film is anticipating how it will morph these familiar elements, particularly the inferior ones, in creative new ways.
68: Night Of The Hunter
Directed by Charles Laughton
Written by James Agee
Night of the Hunter is truly a compelling and haunting masterpiece. This American gothic, Biblical tale of greed, innocence, seduction and murder, is one of the greatest American films of all time.
“The wedding night, the anticipation, the kiss, the knife. BUT ABOVE ALL…THE SUSPENSE!”
Actor-turned director, Charles Laughton unfortunately never made another film even though he demonstrated such promise and skill for a first time filmmaker. The film did poorly at the box office and critics were extremely harsh in their reviews. Nevertheless, the film has found a wider audience over the years, and Robert Mitchum’s performance, in particular, has been praised.
Hunter was shot in only thirty-six days – in black and white when colour was the new craze – and in standard ratio when theatres were beginning to show Cinemascope. The disturbing, complex story was based on the popular, best-selling 1953 Depression-era novel of the same name by first-time writer Davis Grubb, and adapted for the screen by famed writer-author James Agee.
Robert Mitchum stars as Harry Powell, a perverted, pedophile, self-appointed Preacher, turned serial killer, who carries a switchblade and has “HATE” and “LOVE” tattooed on the knuckles of either fist.
He is a charming, sleek monster, much like Joseph Cotten in Shadow of a Doubt. Mitchum’s portrayal of an obsessive, sexually repressed misogynous maniac is one of cinema’s greatest villains. And his terrifying religious anthem “Leaning on the Everlasting Arm” is one of the most chilling vocal performances ever put on film.
Night of the Hunter is chilling, experimental, sophisticated, avante garde, dream-like, expressive and truly, a one of a kind.
67: (TIE) Cat People / Curse of the Cat People
Directed by Jacques Tourneur / Robert Wise
Written by DeWitt Bodeen / DeWitt Bodem
1942, USA / 1944, USA
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, and it was the first film in a series of nine brilliant literate horror films produced by Val Lewton in the ’40s. It is arguably the best.
Val Lewton, a Jack-of-all-Trades is a producer any director would dream to work with as he was always more concerned with a film’s artistic integrity than it’s commercial success. Despite working with a number of already established directors, each of his nine RKO horror films is recognizably a Lewton production, marking him a true auteur. Cat People is an evocative reminder of how powerful ‘less is more’ can be – Lewton and director Jacques Tourneur preferred to suggest much but show little. Cat People is a masterpiece of mood and atmosphere thanks to the expressionistic cinematography courtesy of Nicholas Musuraca and Roy Webb’s melancholy score which accents the romantic and tragic love story at the centre. Cat people underlines what would later make psycho-sexual supernatural horror popular, and was ahead of its time in many ways.
Lewton brought in editor-turned director, Robert Wise, to helm the dream-like sequel, The Curse Of The Cat People, an engrossing and charming fantasy about childhood alienation told from a child’s point of view. Curse of the Cat People, much like Bride of Frankenstein is in many ways superior to it’s predecessor. However choosing which I like best is impossible.
66- Pulse (Kairo)
Directed by Kiyoshi Kurosawa
Written by Kiyoshi Kurosawa
One of the most cutting-edge and exciting Japanese filmmakers to come along in recent memory is director Kiyoshi Kurosawa. His spine-tingling thriller Kairo is the creepiest and most frightening sample of J-horror I’ve seen. Kurosawa prefers the power of suggestion rather than relying on a barrage of blood, gore and special effects to terrify his audience. Kario works equally well as social commentary and as a horror film, and is guaranteed to make the tiny hairs on the back of your neck stand up.
The tagline couldn’t be better: “Forget Everything You Have Ever Seen.”
Santa Sangre manages to make El Topo look mainstream.
Santa Sangre follows Fenix, a young man who was raised in the circus. His dad Orgo, was the owner of the carnival and his mother was a semi-famous trapeze artist. After Concha discovered Orgo was having an affair, she took revenge by throwing acid on his crotch. He responded by cutting off her arms and immediately after, slicing his throat. Years later, Fenix, is sent to a mental hospital in hopes that the doctors can rehabilitate him from his childhood trauma, only instead he quickly escapes and rejoins his handicapped mother. Against his will, he “becomes her arms” and the two undertake a terrifying campaign of murder and revenge.
Santa Sangre is a mind fuck and near-indescribable: A circus carnival freak show as conducted by Luis Buñuel masquerading as Ken Russell. It contains a fair amount of graphic horror and bodily mutilation but also features some truly tender moments. Santa Sangre is a bitter allegory of self-discovery, a satire on church hypocrisy and colonial predation, and a twisted thriller about the unhealthy bond of mother and son.
Fun fact: The film is purportedly inspired by a meeting between Jodorowsky and a redeemed Mexican serial killer who wanted Jodorowsky to make a movie about his life.
Directed by Adrian Lyne
Written by Bruce Joel Rubin
I haven’t had time to revisit this film since I first watched it many years ago. However I remember loving and thinking it was one of the best horror films I had ever seen, so it deserves a special mention:
Is war veteran Jacob Singer (Tim Robbins) going insane from the aftereffects of a powerful drug tested on him during his tour in Vietnam, or is he suffering from a severe post-traumatic stress disorder? From director Adrian Lyne comes Jacob’s Ladder, a war film, a powerful psychological horror film, and a mystery with a surprise ending that will have you talking long after the credits roll.
64- (TIE) Blood And Black Lace / Six Women for the Murderer (Sei donne per l’assassino)
Directed by Mario Bava
Written by Marcello Fondato and Giuseppe Barilla
Blood and Black Lace is light on story but rich in style. This is one of Bava’s most accomplished works, Lace is a beautiful piece of workmanship executed with dazzling, unparalleled use of bright colours and deep shadows. Choreographed with cruel precision, with an always mobile camera (mounted on a child’s wagon due to a lack of budget), Lace is a web of murder and intrigue, elevated to a higher level through Bava’s visual style. Some argue this started the Giallo genre; others credit Bay Of Blood, but as noted earlier on this list, I’ve always considered The Girl Who Knew Too Much to be the first true Giallo.
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 has a body count of 13, spread across multiple killers – in place of a single psychopath, Bay Of Blood hosts a cast of crazies, all related, 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 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 who was a projectionist, steal him a print during its first run in Italy. One last piece of 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.
Loosely based on Tod Robbins’ 1923 short story “Spurs”, Freaks 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 today due to its unflinching portrayal of disability. But it isn’t the physically deformed who are the monsters, but rather two of the seemingly “normal” members of the circus group who conspire to murder a performer, to obtain his large inheritance.
62: The Devils
Directed by Ken Russell
Written bu Ken Russell
Ken Russell’s The Devils originally carried an X rating— even after several scenes were removed. It remains one of the most powerful, 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 whose fallen in love with him.
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 also how they can become addicted to it. In a way, Cronenberg forecasted popular reality TV that would emerge a decade later. The film was so ahead of its time, it predates The Matrix in its exploration of a flesh-and-blood world merging with cyberspace. Although Cronenberg’s obsession with the relationship between machinery and flesh was nothing new, Videodrome was far more outrageous and disturbing than his previous work – often 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 remains one of the most bizarre and smartest horror films ever produced.
Kill List is presented in three distinct but smartly connected tissues: Ben Wheatley and his wife and scriptwriting partner, Amy Jump, have created somewhat of a kitchen-sink gothic horror film that blends black comedy, domestic drama and the whole buddy hit-man movie element into a seamless whole. The film’s off-kilter take on violence can be traced back to movies like The Parallax View, Race with the Devil, Rosemary’s Baby, Pulp Fiction and The Wicker Man.
Utterly gripping, deeply unsettling and genuinely terrifying, Kill List is remarkably clever and resourceful filmmaking. This is a brilliantly directed, superbly written British horror film with terrific performances from its skillful cast of actors that will be dissected and argued long after its theatrical run is over.
59: Seul Contre Tous (I Stand Alone) (One Against All)
Directed by Gaspar Noé
Written by Gaspar Noé
I’ve noticed many lists online include Gaspar Noé’s Irreversible. However, I cannot justify placing it on my list since it doesn’t quite fall in the spectrum of horror, despite its gruesome material. Instead, I am including Noé’s previous feature, I Stand Alone, a French nouveau Taxi Driver – that is sure to arouse controversy with its scenes of explicit sex and bloody violence. The film opens with these words of narration: “morality is made by and for the rich, power comes from the barrel of a gun,” and Noé proceeds to prove this point, while attacking what he sees as the social and cultural complacency of mainstream French cinema and television.
I Stand Alone is a violent and verbally vulgar assault on the senses, but the far more deeply disturbing element at play isn’t the onscreen violence, but how Noé takes us inside the mind of the protagonist. What elevates I Stand Alone from an average horror film is the way it refuses to cut away from the butcher’s head-space. We get his point of view from the first frame to the very last. The butcher never for a moment becomes a sympathetic character and Noé doesn’t for a moment try to justify or excuse his behaviour. Philippe Nahon’s performance is strong and fearless and Nahon refuses to make the character a stereotype or cartoon.
Three quarters into the film, Noé takes a page from legendary schlockmeister William Castle’s 1961 Homicidal by giving the audience a 30-second warning to either leave the theatre or avert their eyes, before continuing to the film’s bloody climax. The flashy scope cinematography – the twisted, bitter and cynical voiceover – the aggressive shooting style – the deliberate widescreen close-ups – the endless shots of empty corridors, vacant, industrial streets – the repeated uses a swish pan or a skip frame – and the marvelous score accompanied by a sharp electronic sounds of gun shots – all help make I Stand Alone one of the nastiest entries into the genre you will ever see.
Unlike most cannibal films, We Are What We Are eschews the easy options of excessive gore, graphic violence, sex and and cheap laughs, instead creating a deeply moving drama with a spoonful of black comedy and a healthy serving of horror. It’s a slow burning film with an engulfing atmosphere that occasionally leaves you feeling uneasy and other times laughing along. For every moment of bloodshed, there are nuances and surprises that transcend this exhausted subgenre. Though the violence is nowhere near as brutal as the cannibal movies of the late ’70s or early ’80s, We Are What We Are hasn’t forgotten its roots, administering just enough bloodshed to upset mainstream movie-goers. It also provides us with nice, small moments of color for the characters, short but clever lines of dialogue and plenty of room for development. Director Jorge Michel Grau (who also wrote the script) conjures up one of the best, most imaginative and resonant family-themed horror stories to date. The picture’s leading attribute is Santiago Sanchez’s dazzling photography, a dark and dirty pallette which beautifully highlights the sleazier neighborhoods of Mexico City. Grau balances beautiful, long, static shots while at times having the camera move kinetically, juxtaposed with a remarkably eerie and complex score composed by Enrico Chapel. It is without a doubt one of the most layered, atmospheric, and textured movies in recent memory. Beautifully crafted and expertly acted, We Are What We Are is a haunting, emotionally involving journey into the macabre.
57: Daughter of Darkness (Les lèvres rouges)
Directed by Harry Kümel
Written by Harry Kümel
Belgium’s premier horror filmmaker Harry Kümel directs this lesbian-themed vintage vampire flick heightened by a stunning performance from Delphine Seyrig. I’m generally not a huge fan of lesbian vampire films but Daughter of Darkness is subdued rather than exploitative. Best described as a European art-house film that sways far away from the traditional vampire movie, the film boasts bold strokes of atmosphere and psycho-sexuality. Cinematographer Eduard van der Enden, who shot Jacques Tati’s Trafic, infuses the film’s imagery with a pervading sense of the modern gothic. Unlike most lesbian vampire films, Daughters of Darkness is not only worth watching, but worth revisiting.
Exploitation maverick Jack Hill, who went on to make some of my favorite cult films including Switchblade Sisters, The Mack and Foxy Brown, made his solo directorial debut with Spider Baby. Spider Baby is somewhat unclassifiable as it is quite unique. It features one of Lon Chaney Jr.’s last performances, and although he was battling with alcoholism at the time, his screen presence is still quite charming. The premise concerns a strange family who is cursed with a regressive gene that causes them to become more and more like monsters as they age. As with Freaks, the viewer ends up siding with characters who would normally be the villains in most horror films.
Shot in 1964, Spider Baby collected webs on the shelf until 1968, when it was briefly released as the second half of a horror double-bill. But it wasn’t until the early 80’s when it was finally released on home video that it began to develop a following. The eerie black-and-white cinematography, freaky performances and Chaney’s bizarre song and dance about cannibal orgies helped amplify its cult appeal. Now it is regarded as one of the best films of swinging Sixties horror.
55: Even Dwarfs Started Small (Auch Zwerge haben klein angefangen)
Directed by Werner Herzog
Written by Werner Herzog
Barely released in 1971 amid great controversy from just about every corner of the globe, Dwarfs essentially went on to influence many filmmakers, most notably Harmony Korine, who borrowed heavily from it for his feature Gummo. Dwarfs is as unapologetic and affirming as Tod Browning’s Freaks. Even in the director’s extensive oeuvre, there are few films in the his portfolio that are as beautifully shot, impressively scored, and strangely composed as this one. Whether you see it as a powerful political/philosophical allegory or as exploitation, Dwarfs will linger in your thoughts for a long time.
The cast includes 28 dwarfs and midgets, a tormented one-legged chicken, and a limp camel that at one point defecates amidst his frustration of being handicapped.
54: Dead Of Night
Written / Directed by Alberto Cavalcanti (segments Christmas Party and The Ventriloquist’s Dummy), Charles Crichton (segment Golfing Story), Basil Dearden (segments Hearse Driver and Linking Narrative), Robert Hamer (segment The Haunted Mirror)
Considered the greatest horror anthology, the classic British chiller Dead of Night features five stories of supernatural terror from four directors. The whole film ends with a bravura final sequence recapitulating the stories ultimately making them all feel like a unified whole. Cavalcanti’s story about a mad ventriloquist played by Michael Redgrave is the best of the bunch, a brilliant precursor to Hitchcock’s Psycho, featuring an early uncensored gay relationship. Even the weakest segment – Golfing Story, directed by Charles Crichton – is still pretty amazing.
53: Deep Red (Profondo rosso) (The Hatchet Murders)
Directed by Dario Argento
Written by Bernardino Zapponi and Dario Argento
Many will argue Suspiria to be Argento’s full-fledged masterpiece, but for my money it is Deep Red – gorgeous, gory and gruesome, and undoubtedly his finest picture. The alluring David Hemmings steals much of the show as a music teacher who investigates a series of murders performed by a mysterious figure wielding a hatchet. Argento’s trademarks are all visible here in ample amounts, as it prefigures some of the plush stylistic choices that he would carry on for the remainder of his career. Add in the superb, jazzy score by Argento’s band Goblin, and you have one of the most distinct-sounding and looking horror films of that decade. From a technical perspective, the film is a masterwork, but Deep Red 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.
Directed by David Lynch
Written by David Lynch
Blue Velvet may be shocking, perverse, twisted and at times frightening, but I’d classify it as a mystery, thriller or crime film before labeling it a horror movie. So I’ve decided to include it as a special mention:
David Lynch’s hallucinogenic thriller probes beneath the belly of suburban America in the ’50’s to uncover the the moral rot underlying the American Dream. Dennis Hopper stars as Frank Booth, one of cinema’s most memorable maniacs and Lynch directs one of his greatest achievements – both poetic and powerful.
Terence Fisher was arguably the best director to ever work with Hammer and was responsible for some of the greatest and most influential films in the early days of the studio. In the late 1960s, Fisher and co. would make his two greatest: The Devil Rides Out and Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed.
The Devil Rides Out was one of a number of British films during the 1960s about occult matters, predating many of the more popular American counterparts such as Rosemary’s Baby and The Exorcist. Adapted by Richard Matheson from a novel by Dennis Wheatley, The Devil Rides Out stars Christopher Lee as a French nobleman who sets out to save the soul of his best friend (Patrick Mower) who foolishly gets involved in black magic.
Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed was the fifth of Hammer’s Frankenstein films but considered the darkest and best of the handful. Peter Cushing plays Baron Victor Frankenstein to perfection – a chilling portrayal as the obsessive mad doctor – and Fisher proves a master of mise en scene. If you’ve never seen any Hammer film, these two films would be a fine place to start.
Despite popular belief, Sisters is not Brian De Palma’s first film, but it did set the stage for him as a filmmaker. This self-confessed homage to Hitchcock referencing everything from Psycho to Rear Window, might just be the director’s best film. 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 independently financedthe low budget pic himself. Sisters is De Palma’s first excursion into the subjects of voyeurism and sexual horror.
There are many reasons why Carrie is such a landmark of cinematic horror. It is Stephen King’s first book-to-film adaptation, and undoubtedly the best. Carrie is a horrifying look at high school cruelty, and teen angst and one of the most realistic cinematic tragedies of the 70’s. De Palma is at the top of his game here and Sissy Spacek showcases her range of acting talent with her convincing portrayal of Carrie’s pain and longing for acceptance.
Thunderstruck! is by far the most obscure film you will find on this list. It is without a doubt one of the true landmarks of Underground cinema. With a screenplay by veteran underground film maker George Kuchar (story and characters by Mark Ellinger) and directed Curt McDowell (than student of Kuchar),
Thundercrack! is a work of a crazed genius. While it starts out as an atmospheric gothic horror tale, it quickly turns into a ultra-bizarre, ultra-low-budget pornographic black comedy. Thundercrack! is raunchy, graphic and extremely warped. Because of its graphic conent including masturbation, and sex between heterosexual and homosexual couplings, the film is unavailable in many areas of the world. The inclusion of full hard core sex runs the gamut of crude, messy, and honest, but the sex is masterfully weaved into the film’s structure and becomes an essential element of the plot. You won’t soon forget Mrs Hammond’s voyeuristic bedroom which includes a vacuum operated ‘blow job’ device, nor the collection of dildos and blow up dolls. Crass, sick and hilarious, this no-budget b&w feature revels in taboo-shattering shocks. Imagine if John Waters and Jack Smith had a child and their deranged offspring grew up to direct a film while smoking crack! It’s wonderful!
Written by Dennis Paoli
Stuart Gordon’s first feature film after years as a director of experimental theater has since become a cult film, driven by fans of Jeffrey Combs (who stars as Herbert West) and H. P. Lovecraft. While Re-Animator fails as a faithful adaptation, the injection of grisly humour, disgusting visual gags and extreme gore, make this one incredibly demented movie in its own right. A brilliant tour-de-farce – Combs delivers an iconic performance, updating the mad scientist role for a whole new generation – a performance which stands in the same league as Bruce Campbell’s Ash in the Evil Dead series.
American Werewolf in London is one of the all-time great horror movies, with a pitch-perfect mix of comedy and genuine scares. Directed by the brilliant John Landis and made well before the advent of CGI, it features werewolf transformations (courtesy of genius effects wizard Rick Baker) that are more realistic than those of recent horror films. Landis – who was 19 when he penned the first draft – delivers a clever mixture of comedy and horror which succeeds in being both funny and scary. Along with the thrills, atmosphere, romance, sex, nudity and a witty assemblage of moon-themed songs (“Blue Moon”, “Bad Moon Rising,” “Moondance”), American Werewolf In London remains the best werewolf movie to date – so good that Rick Baker received a well deserved Oscar for his makeup (in the first year of that category).
Directed by Takashi Miike
Written by Daisuke Tengan
This art-house cult horror film will be talked about for a long time to come. The last section of the film features some of the most harrowing, graphic closeups of torture ever put on celluloid, but even in its gore-filled moments, the film is a monumental achievement by a director willing to take chances and challenge his audience. Based on a novel by Ryu Murakami, Audition isn’t nearly as gory as Ichi the Killer, but it has to be Miike´s most disturbing and most powerful film. Listed at #11 on Bravo´s 100 Scariest Movie Moments, Audition is not for the faint of heart.
David Lynch’s prequel to his cult television series Twin Peaks is every bit as strange and twisted as the popular TV show. The story concerns the last horrific seven days in the life of Laura Palmer.
Perhaps more than any other Lynch film, Twin Peaks – Fire Walk With Me contains a great deal of nightmarish imagery and every frame leaves a clue to the mysteries behind both the film and the television series. This is a seriously underrated work and one of Lynch’s finest films.
45: Shaun Of The Dead
Directed by Edgar Wright
Written by Edgar Wright
Like all self-respecting zombie flicks, Shaun of the Dead has that most vital ingredient, an underlying layer of social commentary. But if that’s not enough, director Edgar Write manages to mix a bit of genuine romance, ridiculous gore, riotous comedy, and somber drama, making it the funniest film to appear on this list. Shaun Of The Dead is an instant cult classic.
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 that since birth have been inseparable. Together they work as gynaecologists in their own clinic, and literally share everything between them including the women they work with and the women they 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 psychological exploration of the two main characters. Cronenberg’s true-life tale is wholly original and quite disturbing and without question, my personal favourite of Cronenberg’s oeuvre.
43: Let Me In
Directed by Matt Reeves
Written by John Ajvide Lindqvist and Matt Reeves
The pressure in adapting a story or remaking a film is that the filmmakers already have an archetype to which everyone will compare their work to. Some people will be unwilling to give this film a chance, but those who do, will be thankful. Let Me In is a film that achieves the rare feat of remaining faithful to its source material while emerging as a highly accomplished work in its own right.
Filmed intermittently over the course of a five-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. 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. 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.
41: Black Swan
Directed by Darren Aronofsky
Written by Mark Heyman and Andres Heinz
In Black Swan, Aronofsky shows off his skill for synthesizing influences: Black Swan is partly inspired by Giallos, Polanski, Cronenberg, Perfect Blue and even Hitchcock. Aronofsky has made sense out of the incoherent plot line of the classic ballet, in the process conjuring memories of everything from The Red Shoes to All About Eve to Ingmar Bergman’s Persona and even Dario Argento’s Opera. At its bare bones this is really a tense drama about backstage anxiety in the performing arts, but Black Swan is also one of the greatest physiological thrillers ever made. There is a sense of dread that pervades the film, justifying its presence on my list. Much like The Wrestler, Aronofsky goes to great lengths to show in excruciating detail how much physical pain some artists are willing to inflict upon themselves in the pursuit of perfection. Natalie Portman gives the best performance of her career (so far), nearly in every frame of the movie, often in close-up, conveying a barrage of intense and complicated emotions: fear, confusion, excitement and so on. Cinematographer Matthew Libatique shoots with a mixture of documentary-style handheld and traditional set-ups, gorgeous visuals and deliberately jarring edits, and Aronofsky makes great use of a colour scheme featuring mostly black and white and the occasional deep, bleeding red. Composer Clint Mansell’s score is menacing and the intricate sound design heightens the horrific proceedings.
In both concept and execution, the first A Nightmare on Elm Street has a great deal more to offer than most slasher films. Wes Craven intended Nightmare to be an exploration of surreal horror as opposed to just another slice-and-dice slasher movie. 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. Robert Englund based the physicality of Freddy on Klaus Kinski’s performance in Werner Herzog’s Nosferatu: Phantom der Nacht (1979), making Freddy one of the most recognizable modern horror villains: vicious, but with a sense of humour as sharp as the blades on his gloves. Nightmare was both the feature debut and breakthrough for actor Johnny Depp, but the film acted more as a launch pad for its director, who despite having directed two cult classics prior, became a household name. 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.
Directed by John Carpenter
Written by John Carpenter and Debra Hill
A historical milestone that single-handedly shaped the future of the entire genre. This seminal horror flick actually gets better with age; it holds up with determination as an effective thriller that will always stand head and shoulders above the hundreds of imitators to come. Halloween had one hell of an influence on the entire film industry. You have to admire how Carpenter avoids explicit onscreen violence, and achieves a considerable power almost entirely through visual means, using its widescreen frame, expert hand-held camerawork, and terrifying foreground and background imagery.
We never did find out who Billy was. Maybe it’s for the best, since they never made any sequels to Bob Clark’s seminal slasher film, which predates Carpenter’s Halloween by four years. Whereas Texas Chainsaw Massacre, released the same year, blends backwoods horror with the slasher formula, Black Christmas is widely considered the first proper slasher and is noted as one of the earliest films to present some of the sub-genre’s defining characteristics: a mysterious stalker, a set of adolescent or young-adult victims, a secluded location with little or no adult supervision, point-of-view camera shots representing the “killer’s perspective,” and graphic depictions of violence and murder. Like Carpenter, Clark avoids graphic bloodshed, focusing instead on suggestion and careful mise-en-scene and editing. Clark leads us through a labyrinth of red herrings and skillful handling of such plot devices as obscene phone calls from within the house. More importantly, unlike many of the slashers that followed, Black Christmas cannot easily be accused of misogyny; the violence against the female protagonists isn’t the picture’s raison d’etre. If there was ever a character from a slasher film to be chosen for a thesis on feminist work, it would have to be the film’s “final girl,” Jessica.
37- Valerie and Her Week of Wonders (Valerie a týden divu)
Directed by Jaromil Jires
Written by Jaromil Jires
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 co-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. Think Alice in Wonderland meets Nosferatu, with stunning visuals and a remarkable score. Easily one of the most influential fantasies ever made. Schallerová (13 at the time) gives a tour-de-force performance.
Antichrist is perhaps the most divisive horror film made in the last ten years. Often the film community grumbles about filmmakers seldom creating original works, yet Lars Von Trier and all his artistry and ambition is continuously frowned upon. Antichrist is a fine horror film – and one that understands that genuine terror is what resides within people.
I quote the fox:
Directed by Lars Von Trier
I’m not including TV shows on this list but I just wanted to give a quick shout out to The Kingdom, originally made for Danish television, but released in the North America as a theatrical film. The Kingdom is four episodes long and all four are directed by Lars Von Trier. The best way to describe the series is; an E.R.-like medical drama intertwined with a ghost story. The closest thing to it in recent memory is perhaps David Lynch’s Twin Peaks.
Two psychotic young men play “home invasion”. They terrorize a family of three (a mother, father, and son), hold them hostage and then force them to play sadistic games for their own amusement. There’s no better, nor more difficult filmmaker in the world than Michael Haneke today. I’ve always praised his work and if time as thought us anything, he gets better with age. Funny Games is one of his earliest films (later remade in the US by the director himself), and it remains one of his most controversial and divisive pics to date. Nevertheless Funny Games is a fine piece of filmmaking – even if Haneke thinks you’re in the wrong to enjoy watching it.
34: Death Proof
Directed by Quentin Tarantino
Written by Quentin Tarantino
Tarantino’s homage to the road-fury genre is really two movies in one, offering two manifestations of the same story: Two separate groups of beautiful women are stalked by a homicidal maniac who uses his “death proof” car (his weapon of choice) to terrorize and eventually kill his victims. Death Proof is essentially two slasher films, with the second half acting as a sequel, offering new, beautiful victims for the murderous Stuntman Mike (Kurt Russell) to menace.
As Tarantino clearly identifies in the film, the obvious reference points of Death Proof are such movies as Vanishing Point, Roadgames, Dirty Mary Crazy Larry and even Steven Spielberg’s Duel – but Proof is influenced by more than just vehicular horror. It’s a grim stalk and slash picture, and a blaring commentary of female empowerment. It’s also a small masterpiece, dredged up from a cinematic human encyclopedia. Yes he toys with genre rules, but Tarantino doesn’t try to follow the “grind-house” formula step by step and thus avoids creating a carbon-copy. Replace the typical sharp edged blade with a car, and Death Proof is every bit a slasher film as Halloween, Black Christmas and A Nightmare On Elm Street.
33: The Thing
Directed by John Carpenter
Written by Bill Lancaster
Bill (son of Burt) Lancaster’s script ignores Howard Hawks’s original The Thing from Another World, and instead hews more closely to John W. Campbell’s short story Who Goes There. 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 faithful 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. Carpenter keeps the creature hidden for much of the movie, but when we do see the beast, he and special effects wiz, Rob Bottin, don’t shy away from showing off some of the most ground-breaking and disturbing special FX in some of the most spectacular scenes of body horror ever put on screen. 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, led by the one and only Kurt Russell.
32: Donnie Darko
Directed by Richard Kelly
Written by Richard Kelly
Although Donnie Darko was removed from the big screen after a few weeks, it never disappeared. Thrown away by its distributor it ended up finding its audience on home video and at midnight screenings. Recurrent chats on the Internet indicated a rapidly growing fan base for the movie. People in and out of the industry continued to talk about it. It became a cult film in the truest sense of the term and its audience base continues to grow. No other movie (post 1989) is able to capture that late ’80′s feel with such accuracy and as a result, Donnie Darko already seems nostalgic. Darko is a movie that demands to be explored, analyzed and debated among its aficionados.
Think of Possession as an intense drama of marital collapse amidst occult happenings, intricate political conspiracies, and the Berlin Wall as backdrop. The director 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 awards 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 anticipates Lars von Trier’s Antichrist.
Possession features special effects from Carlo Rambaldi who worked prior on Dario Argento’s Deep Red and Flesh for Frankenstein. Here, he designed the ominous “creature,” an 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.
Directed by Roman Polanki
Written by Gérard Brach and Roman Polanki
This subtle horror film follows an isolated, sexually repressed, schizophrenic woman’s descent into madness, stunningly played by Catherine Deneuve, who gives her best performance at the age of 22. Polanksi’s determination to dismiss as much baggage to explain the proceedings only intensifies the pic. There are no explanations of Catherine Deneuve’s behaviour 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 mad woman. The sense of isolation we feel through Deneauve’s performance is only heightened by Polanski’s astonishing control of the medium of film. This marks his second entry in his “apartment trilogy” (Rosemary’s Baby and The Tenant being the other two), and also 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 surrounds you, you know you’ve got some serious issues.
Vampyr ranks in many circles as one of the greatest horror films of all time, and I agree. Almost entirely devoid of the outright scares we’ve come to expect of the genre, it creates instead a sense of unease, even more than 75 years after its release. Vampyr is just one of many reasons why director Carl Theodor Dreyer is considered one of the greatest filmmakers of all time. 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. An absolute masterpiece.
28: Silence Of The Lambs
Directed by Jonathan Demme
Written by Ted Tally
1991 – USA
Directed by Jonathan Demme, The Silence Of The Lambs features two powerhouse perfoermance by it’s stars – Jodie Foster and Anthony Hopkins. The film’s principle attraction stems from the thrill of the hunt, and the spellbinding time spent between Foster’s heroine and Hopkins’s chilling Hannibal Lecter. Based on the novel of the same name, The Silence of the Lambs grossed over $272 million and won the top five Academy Awards: Best Picture, Best Actress, Best Actor, Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay. A smart, taut thriller that teeters on the edge between psychological study and straight up horror.
I’ve been arguing all week long as to wether or not The Last Wave should be considered a horror film . Well I think it is. In fact the tagline reads, “The Occult Forces. The Ritual Murder. The Sinister Storms. The Prophetic Dreams. The Last Wave.”
The Last Wave is an especially evocative horror film, but a horror film nevertheless. Peter Weir follows up on his critically acclaimed masterpiece Picnic at Hanging Rock with this visually striking and totally engrossing surrealist psychological thriller. Weir’s film expresses a rather apocalyptic sensibility – a doomsday machine derived from native Aboriginal mythology. Absolutely brilliant.
26: Rosemary’s Baby
Directed by Roman Polanski
Written by Roman Polanski
Roman Polanski’s brilliant horror film was nominated for two Oscars, winning Best Supporting Actress for Ruth Gordon. The director’s first American film, adapted from Ira Levin’s horror bestseller, is a spellbinding and twisted tale of Satanism and pregnancy. Supremely mounted, the film benefits from it’s strong atmosphere, apartment setting, eerie childlike score and polished production values by cinematographer William Fraker. The cast is brilliant, with Mia Farrow and John Cassavetes as the young couple playing opposite Ruth Gordon and Sidney Blackmer, the elderly neighbors. There is ominous tension in the film from first frame to last –and the climax makes for one of the greatest endings of all time. Rarely has a film displayed such an uncompromising portrait of betrayal as this one. Career or marriage – which would you choose?
Directed by Samuel Fuller
Written by Samuel Fuller
Shock Corridor stars Peter Breck as Johnny Barrett, an ambitious reporter who wants to expose the killer at the local insane asylum. In order 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.
Much has been written about George Romero’s Dawn of the Dead, perhaps more than any other horror film. Released 10 years after Romero’s original Night Of The Living Dead, Dawn Of The Dead was tonally distinct from its predecessor. Working on a much bigger budget, Dawn carried a blend of horror, action, and comedy, containing more humor and social satire than the original. Romero’s framing of social depravity via his decaying, walking dead as metaphors is ingenious. The film effectively evokes the tensions between pacifist movements and more aggressive social orders of the time. Dawn works as a horror movie and as a denouncement of consumer culture as illustrated by the indoor shopping mall where a group of human survivors take shelter from the plague sweeping the nation.
Dawn sets itself apart in several ways from Night. Leaving behind the eerie black and white shadowy look of its forefather, it favors a brightly lit color canvas. Extending the scope of the original, the small farmville setting is replaced with a shopping mall, and the epidemic has spread upon the world at large. The film feels and looks like a bigger picture; broader, and bloodier, establishing a new record at the time for explicit on-screen carnage.
Having to follow in the footsteps of two of the two most highly regarded zombie movies in history couldn’t have been easy. Day ofthe Dead is unquestionably the most controversial and divisive entry in George A. Romero’s original trilogy. During production, Romero openly admitted that the script he ended up with was far different from his original vision. The comic relief of Dawn is nowhere to be found, and the director’s obsession with social decline is the most opinionated of his canon. Unlike most of the films found within the subgenre, the movie is concerned more with existentialism and gender/political divides than scares. Romero chose to directly address the nature of human emotions and prejudices, resulting in bitter and cynical characters barricading themselves in concrete bunkers, and forced to hide like an oppressed minority. In Day Romero comments on racism, tribalism and social and governmental concerns.
Gore wizard Tom Savini has identified this film as his magnum opus, and the Dead series helped Savini to become an idol in modern horror filmmaking. As the climax hits, some of the most spectacular and disgusting onscreen effects ever filmed unfold.
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. 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 patience is a virtue. The second half of the film is technically a marvel – tense, horrifying and visually breathtaking. Alien remains one of the best examples of sustained tension and despite a slow start, the first half still conjures up a sense that something very, very bad is going to happen. Hold on to your stomachs, it is going to be a bumpy ride. Oh and I just can’t go one without mentioning how incredible Sigourney Weaver is. She, single-handed, carries the majority of the picture as the tough resourceful, independent, and extremely bad-ass heroine.
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 head 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).
Nominated for two Academy Awards, Best Visual Effects and Best Art Direction/Set Decoration, it won a single Oscar for Best Visual Effects (awarded to H. R. Giger and four others). Because of the original film’s success, Scott was able to finance his next futuristic film, Blade Runner, still considered to be his best.
Directed by Fritz Lang
Written by Fritz Lang and Thea von Harbou
Fritz Lang’s M is not, strictly speaking, a horror film but a radical, analytical film that entertains many of Fritz Lang’s cinematic obsessions. A simple way to classify it would be crime drama, but M is far more ambitious. M was Lang’s first sound film and Lang took 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 that includes many sounds occurring off camera and suspenseful moments of silence before a sudden 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 had 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 on screen and relied heavily on Wagner to suggest rather than show with brilliant use of shadows and composition. Like Hitchcock, Lang implies violence and mayhem instead. Behind its single-letter title lies plenty of intricacies: the innovative use of sound; the detail of police procedure 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 focus of the film, 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 that 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.
22: Picnic at Hanging Rock
Directed by Peter Weir
Written by Cliff Green
Based on Joan Lindsay’s 1967 novel, which suggests the events actually occurred, Picnic at Hanging Rock relates the story of the disappearance of several schoolgirls and their teacher during a picnic to Hanging Rock on St. Valentine’s Day in 1900, and the subsequent effect on the local community.
Weir recalled that when the film was first screened in the United States, American audiences were disturbed by the fact that the mystery remained unsolved. The questions that linger after seeing Weir’s masterpiece reveal as much about you as they do about the film. Picnic at Hanging Rock creates a haunting atmosphere with tour-de-force imagery, score, pacing, direction and performance. Simply a masterpiece.
If you’ve never heard of it, don’t feel bad because most people haven’t – but just take my word that it deserves its rightful spot on any list of great horror movies. Co-written by Truman Capote, the movie has the most startling opening of any ghost film to date, with a creepy song written by Paul Dehn and Georges Auric sung over a black screen. The lush photography is by two time academy award winning cinematographer Freddie Francis, who would go on to direct his own features. The film also features an amazing performance of intense, neurotic seriousness by Deborah Kerr and two great child actors (including Martin Stephens, previously known as the lead child in Village of the Damned). Stylish, intelligent and creepy, The Innocents ends with one of the most brave and devastating finales of any horror film. Truly one of the greatest ghost stories of all time.
20: Eyes Without a Face (Les yeux sans visage)
Directed by Georges Franju
Written by Pierre Boileau
Eyes Without a Face pioneered the theme of the mad surgeon, and spawned countless imitators including Circus of Horrors and at least four Jesus Franco pictures (including 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 is 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.
Methodical and haunting, Eyes Without a Face is an anomaly in the horror genre: a mad-scientist fairy tale. Along with Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho and Michael Powell’s Peeping Tom (all released in 1960), Eyes helped shape the modern slasher film with its dark themes, general air of malevolence, visual lyricism, Maurice Jarre’s mad jarring score and of course it’s 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.
Is there anything more terrifying that the aftermath of the global thermonuclear war? Threads is a British television drama produced by the BBC in 1984. Written by Barry Hines and directed by Mick Jackson, it is a documentary-style account of a nuclear war and its effects on the city of Sheffield in northern England. Make no mistake about it – this film is relentlessly grim and one of the most disturbing films I have ever seen. You’ll want to take a long hot shower once you’re done watching.
–18: Let the Right One In
Directed by Tomas Alfredson
Written by Tomas Alfedson
Even in a pop culture landscape littered with the bloodthirsty undead, Let The Right One In stood out as a poignant coming of age story as well as a bone-chilling horror film. The haunting mediation on the difficult and often painful transition into adolescence garnered plenty of praise on the festival circuit in 2008 and earned a loyal cult following through word of mouth. Based on the novel of the same name by John Ajvide Lindqvist, who also wrote the screenplay, Sweden’s Let The Right One In is hypnotic, horrific, and groundbreaking. It follows the classical rules of vampire mythology but takes those very same rules we are accustomed to and updates each of them in new and exciting ways. Perfectly paced, and patient in building its atmosphere to set us up for some truly shocking moments. An instant classic of modern horror cinema and easily the most fascinating vampire film to appear on this list.
There is no denying that this early ’70s British export crosses 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 and 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 riveting performances by the ensemble cast. 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 ts unforgettable 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 films, 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.
16: Don’t Look Now
Directed by Nicolas Roeg
Written by Allan Scott
Based on a short story by Daphne du Maurier, 1973′s Don’t Look Now remains one of the great horror masterpieces, patiently building suspense with haunting imagery and a chilling score. Directed by noted cinematographer Nicolas Roeg, Don’t Look Now arguably bears resemblance to giallos, but leans more toward creepy than gory. The film stars Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie wrapped in an emotional blanket of fear, anger, guilt, and love. There is so much to say about this gem. Don’t Look Now is a flawless film, with a unique directorial style, stunning imagery, and powerful performances. Roeg’s ingenious editing job cutting between flashbacks and flash-forwards creates a haunting meditation on fear, death and the beyond.
Henri-Georges Clouzot (dubbed the French Hitchcock) created this masterpiece in 1955 – a film which served as the template upon which most of the 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 original novel, supposedly beating Hitchcock by only a matter of hours. Based on the novel Celle Qui N’etait Pas, the script was adapted by the French duo Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac, also responsible for a few other films appearing on this list. 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.
Les Diaboliques is a timeless classic. Clouzot delivers a despairing character study masquerading as a thriller, jacking up the suspense with grueling intensity, 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 humour. The lead performances are all incredible, particularly Clouzot’s wife Vera Clouzot, who stars as the vulnerable lead. The twist ending is shocking – one of the greatest of all time – but what is even more amazing is that the murder plot is in many ways the least disturbing element at play.
14: Night Of The Living Dead
Directed by George A. Romero
Written by George A. Romero and John A. Russo
George Romero set a new standard for horror with his low-budget directorial debut. The film, made in 1968, broached many taboos (cannibalism, incest, necrophilia) and changed the face of American horror movies forever while setting the template for zombie films to come. The racial subtext speaks volumes even today, and the film still looks better (despite the shoestring budget) than the majority of its future imitators. One of the best films of the 60′s, and possibly the most influential horror movie ever made. Night Of The Living Dead actually gets better with age.
Commonly referred to as Salò, this controversial 1975 Italian film written and directed by Italian director 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 its notorious reputation, Salo is it. Pasolini was a visionary, a provocateur, a poet, a social critic and one of my all time favourite filmmakers.
It was Pasolini’s last film; he was murdered shortly before Salò was released. 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 intense graphic violence, sadism, and sexual depravity. This is a film of conviction, showcasing a hell on earth, a place where demented values are brutally enforced. The “circle of shit” segment is usually when most people walk out vomiting. Good luck! But seriously, this is the greatest movie I’ve only ever seen and never want to see again (yet I own three different DVD editions). 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 favourite films of all time. By watching to the very end, we the viewers become voyeurs, witnessing the most sickening finale of any motion picture, and Pasolini calls us out in the most obvious way in its twisted conclusion.
12: (TIE) Peeping Tom
Directed by Michael Powell
Written by Leo Marks
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 from any release. These harsh and despicable responses effectively destroyed Powell’ career, but later generations embraced the film and many, including myself, regard it as a masterpiece – a chilling work of voyeuristic cinema. The film revolves around a serial killer who murders women while using a portable movie camera 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 very 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.
11- (TIE) The Evil Dead / Evil Dead 2
Directed by Sam Raimi / Sam Raimi
Written by Sam Raimi / Sam Raimi and Scott Spiegel
1981, USA / 1987, USA
This auspicious feature debut from fresh out of film school filmmaker Sam Raimi – shot on 16mm in the woods of Tennessee for around $350,000 – remains a benchmark of modern horror. While many will ague the sequel is far more entertaining, The Evil Dead works far better as a straight up horror film. It actually received a X rating, was banned in many countries, and was later cited as a video nasty.
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 camera work, rapid-fire editing, kegs of jet-propelled blood and splatstick 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 and is a must see for any self-respecting movie-goer.
Thriller is not so much a music video as it is a short horror film, featuring choreographed zombies performing with Michael Jackson. It was directed by John Landis who had previously directed the hit film An American Werewolf in London and choreographed by Michael Peters who worked with Jackson on Beat It. The video contained a spoken word performance by horror film veteran Vincent Price, co starred former Playboy centerfold Ola Ray and incidentally contained music by composer Elmer Bernstein (who also worked with Landis on An American Werewolf in London). The video set new standards for production, having cost $500,000 to film and the choreography in Thriller has become a part of global pop culture, replicated everywhere from Bollywood to the Philippines. The Thriller short film marked an increase in scale for music videos, and has been named the most successful music video ever, firmly cementing the notion that videos could be something more than just commercials for singles.
Directed by Steven Spielberg
Written by Peter Benchley and Carl Gottlieb
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 also provides the screenplay along with Carl Gottlieb), Jaws was a surprise cash cow thanks to a sophisticated, unrelenting publicity campaign, and 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 onto 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 the confident direction combined with stellar editing that 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 upon 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 simply 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.
Jack Torrance only kills one person, 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. I’m just saying.
Putting aside all violence, this is no ordinary horror film, boasting a brilliant performance by Jack Nicholson, an incredibly eerie score, beautiful cinematography and flawless direction. There has been books devoted to Kubrick’s work. I’m sure you’ve all heard of it, so let’s move on.
8: (tie) Bride Of Frankenstein
Directed by James Whale
Written by William Hurlbut
The irony of James Whale’s masterpiece The Bride of Frankenstein is that Frankenstein’s creation is called the Monster, yet he is the least menacing presence in the film. Karloff yet again dominates the screen with a powerhouse performance, managing to invest his character with emotional subtleties that are surprisingly nuanced. The 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 greatest of all Frankenstein movies and quite possibly the best horror film of the 30′s.
“She hate me,” he growls, “Just like others!”
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.
#8 (TIE) Frankenstein
Directed by James Whale
Written by Garrett Fort and Francis Edward Faragoh
Frankenstein is and forever will be regarded as the definitive film version of Mary Shelley’s classic tale of tragedy and horror, and with great reason. Frankenstein may not be my favourite horror film, but I do believe it is pure perfection. From the standpoint of the subtext, commentary, story, cast, direction, editing, score and photography, the picture is without a flaw. Boris Karloff’s legendary, frightening performance as the monster made him an overnight star and created a new icon of terror. This is essential viewing for any true horror aficionado.
#7: Outer Space
Directed by Peter Tscherkassky
Written by Peter Tscherkassky
Outer Space has gained a reputation over the years as being a key experimental film alongside the works of such legends as Stan Brakhage and Michael Snow. Horror buffs will recognise the actress in the short as Barbara Hershey from veteran Canadian-born filmmaker Sidney J. Furie’s film The Entity. Director Peter Tscherkassky (an Austrian filmmaker at the forefront of avant-garde film practice) essentially samples a sequence from that 1981 Hollywood flick, reducing the original work with heavy photo-manipulation and editing to astonishing effects and unimaginable beauty. Tscherkassky strips the colour and reworks the frames with superimposing images, fragmented through a rapid montage, and adds a new, highly aggressive soundtrack. The result is magnificent. Though only ten minutes in length Outer Space is a lush cinematic production and a relentless assault on our senses.
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
Written by Joseph Stefano
Psycho proved an unexpected sleeper hit, largely due to a clever promotional campaign where Hitchcock managed to get theatres 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. Hitchcock was nominated for Best Director at the Academy Awards and of course left the ceremony empty handed.
I figure there hasn’t been a film more analyzed than Psycho, but let me point out a few things. 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 probably the single most famous scene in any horror film. And yes Psycho is considered the first psycho-thriller / slasher film, by most, but not everyone – 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 70′s and 80′s. 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 – even the credits font. Psycho stands the test of time!
Special Mention: Un chien andalou
Directed by Luis Buñuel
Written by Salvador Dalí and Luis Buñuel
The dream – or nightmare – has been a staple of the horror cinema for decades. In 1929 Luis Bunuel joined forces with Salvador Dali to create Un chien andalou, an experimental and unforgettable seventeen-minute surrealist masterpiece. Buñuel famously said that he and Dalí wrote the film by telling one another their dreams. The film went on to influence the horror genre indefinitely. 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 fully well that people enjoy seeing something macabre. The film has lived up to its aim to shock, as viewed in modern times it’s still shocking.
Much like Inland Empire, it is almost impossible to summarize Mulholland Dr. in a brief capsule review. Many will say Mulholland Dr. makes little, if no sense, but upon a second viewing, one will find interesting new ways to interpret Lynch’s mesmerizing dreamlike thriller. Mulholland Dr. is a thing of dark mystifying beauty – a highly contemplative piece of filmmaking that leaves many obsessed with attempting to untangle the mysteries lurking deep within. This is a horror picture which deconstructs Hollywood as the dream factory and continues to explore the director’s obsession of dreams vs. Nightmares v.s film, and the blurry line between.
You either love or hate David Lynch. So to sum up Inland Empire, I will quote the Village
Voice’s J. Hoberman: “It’s an experience. Either you give yourself over to it or you don’t. And if you do, don’t miss the end credits.” I am not even going to attempt to describe this mind fuck of a film in a brief capsule review, except to say, it is utterly brilliant, haunting, bewildering and totally unforgettable.
4: The Exorcist
Directed by William Friedkin
Written by William Peter Blatty
1973 – USA
The phenomenon, that was The Exorcist was a studio’s dream come true. With rumours that it was supposedly based on a true story, masse audience walk-outs, protests, vomiting and fainting in the theatres, and even the legendary claims that the production itself was cursed, all helped make The Exorcist the second highest grossing film at the time ($441 million to be exact). The film earned ten 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 who can forget, Linda Blair – whose transformation from sweet innocent to demonic incarnate is one of the most terrifying performances of all time. The Exorcist has been influential in the genre, spawning several sequels, and similar films such as The Omen, none which have come close to matching it’s power.
This ever haunting journey into demonic possession is likely just as disturbing today as it was back than, 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 it’s time. I still have no idea how they created the “spider walk” sequence.
The Exorcist makes an interesting contrast to Ken Russell’s The Devils, a film also about the Catholic church and demonic possession. However in Ken Russell’s movie (also featured on this list), demonic possession is viewed as something not real but instead, a product of religious hysteria.
Based on Time 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 non linear fashion, the egg-shaped overlapping narrative tells the same story from two points of view –the perpetrator’s and the victim’s. 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 great idea throughout. The mystery here isn’t who the kidnapper is, but why he took her, and more importantly, where is she now? Every key sequence, every beat, foreshadows the appalling dénouement. This is potent stuff, a brilliantly crafted intellectual thriller that will leave you gasping for a breath of fresh air when it’s over.
2: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre
Directed by Tobe Hooper
Written by Tobe Hooper and Kim Henkel
The Texas Chain Saw Massacre remains to this day a motion picture of raw, uncompromising intensity, 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 one of the best horror flicks of all time, and also boasts one of the most unforgettable abrupt endings ever.
1: The Birds
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
Written by Evan Hunter
Although not as shocking as Psycho, The Birds is a more complex, ambitious and sophisticated film, and represents a high watermark in the prolific career of the master of suspense. Hitchcock’s inspiration for the film was an actual news report about a bird attack that occurred for unknown reasons, specifically a bird that was known to be prey and not a predator. 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 in The Birds is the long pauses between the dialogue. When one thinks of a Hitchcock film, one remembers the long well drawn conversations between the cast of characters. In The Birds, there are countless scenes in which the actors express more through physicality than in words. Hitch apparently wanted The Birds to be a silent film or at least was flirting with the idea of making a silent film, but decided it wouldn’t be marketable nor 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, by Oskar Sala. Along with Remi Gassmann, they composed a piece that consists primarily of screeching bird sounds, which provides a nerve wrecking, surrealistic backdrop to the sordid proceedings. Although the special effects are dated, they were still rather impressive for the time. Ray Berwick was responsible for training hundreds of birds, gulls, crows, etc. to act like they were attacking without actually hurting anyone (although apparently they did). By employing thousands of real trained 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 own closed minded way of thinking (her own insular cage), and the glass (more importantly 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.