I believe it was Franklin Delano Roosevelt who famously said “Only thing we have to fear, is fear itself.” I take umbrage with that ridiculous notion. There’s plenty of things to fear. The world is goddamn cornucopia of terror. Take for example a random clown walking around a forest at night. What the fuck is he doing there? Evil. That’s what. Or what about an abandoned mannequin factory? I guarantee some of those mannequins are sentient. And some might’ve even voted for Trump.
The world is a scary place but thankfully Hollywood has been there to capitalize on our fears for over 100 years. Their greed has helped generations confront and overcome their fears with the magic of cinema. Yay movies! Yay Capitalism! Boo Roosevelt! He was a cripple and had no idea the terror of a forest clown. Worst president ever.
Let’s celebrate Hollywood’s obsession with horror with a list of The Greatest Horror Films Of All Time. The ranking and selection of the films is based on my weird algorithm of influence, impact and plain ol’ spookability.
Enough of the rabble, on with the list.
90. Carnival Of Souls
The film that wrote the book on do-it-yourself filmmaking, this was the movie that inspired Romero to make Night of the Living Dead. So, without this film, horror as we know it, wouldn’t exist.
Made on a shoestring budget of only 33,000 dollars and utilizing guerrilla techniques to complete, Carnival of Souls proves that you don’t need a huge budget to be an effective horror film.
89. Black Sunday
I don’t believe there’s a more underrated or underappreciated director of genre than Mario Bava. When you mention the Italian masters of horror, Argento and Fulci are always the first and usually only names that are associated with that country but neither exist without Bava. He knew that that light and shadow were an artist’s greatest tools and there’s no better example of this than his gothic masterpiece Black Sunday.
Picking up right were Hammer left off, Black Sunday built off the backs of its predecessors to create something wholly original. It seamlessly blends the medieval aesthetic of the Universal Monster films with his unique Italian sensibilities to craft arguably the most influential witch film of all time.
88. Eyes Without A Face
One of the things you’ll notice if you Google some of the films on this list, is the large amount of one and done horror directors that appear. Georges Franju is one of those directors. That’s probably do to the fact that he didn’t consider this a horror film. He just thought it was a drama about “anguish.”
And although that’s technically correct, it has one of the most graphic scenes ever committed to celluloid for the time. I’m actually astonished that this film passed the censors. The face removal scene must of blown fucking minds in 1960 because it definitely holds up today.
Tarantino once said “violence is the only thing done in film that’s attacked for being done correctly.” And although this film isn’t the most violent, the violence sticks to your memory because of how effective it is. That’s the mark of a great director. Shame he never made another horror film because he had the potential to be the next Hitchcock.
87. The Night Of The Hunter
This technically belongs in the “suspense” or “thriller” category but I believe there’s no better film about depicting the horrors of childhood than this.
At what one point, a character proclaims “it’s a hard world for little things” and not only is that painfully true, it’s made exponentially worse by a literal boogeyman chasing you wherever you go. I firmly believe, that Robert Mitchum’s performance in this and Cape Fear (which almost made the cut) created foundation on which every slasher was born from. He’s evil personified and his performance alone earns this film a spot on this list.
86. You’re Next
With the passing of every new year, technology progresses more and more and with it, the believability of horror dies more and more. Because we livin’ in the future, every horror film has to have the obligatory “my cellphone isn’t getting any reception” or “i dropped my cellphone” cliche which is essentially the 21st century equivalent of the car that won’t start. Because our phones can literally fix anything. Need a quick Exorcist? Just Google one bitch. Need a new place to live because your crib be haunted by spooks? Ask fucking Jeeves.
Phones kill fear because they’re like magic wands. So any film that logically eliminates a cell phone from their story automatically gets brownie points.
Home invasion films are at there most effective when they put you in the shoes of the victims. Nothing is scarier than some outside force invading your domain. Your house is your sanctuary from the elements and there’s something primal about wanting to protect it.
So mix the built in tension the genre automatically generates with a script that logically explains the reason as to why you can’t leave, why you can’t call for help and why fighting is your only option and you have the extremely clever and immensely entertaining You’re Next.
85. The Phantom Of The Opera
Lon Chaney was commonly referred to as “the man of 1000 faces” and I think the most terrifying of them all is the phantom. (Even though you should Google his look for the unreleased London After Midnight. It might be his most impressive work)
There’s certain literary works that have been adapted ad nauseam and The Phantom of the Opera is certainly one of them but none have held a candle to the OG. (I’m hip. I know the lingo)
As amazing as some of the actors are that have stepped into the shoes of the phantom over the years, none are Chaney, so all are automatically inferior. It’s arguably the best silent age horror performance and that infamous reveal will continue to shock generations for years to come.
84. The Changeling
No offense to actors working today but there was a time where some of the greatest actors alive, were signing up for horror. I don’t know if the studios thought their stature would lead some credibility to the genre but whatever the case, sometime in the beginning of the 80’s, the paradigm began to shift. They stopped casting from the theater from and turned their attention to whoever had the best face and was willing to pop their tops on camera.
The last gasp of the old school way of thinking was The Changeling. Released right before Mrs. Vorhees started chopping up teenagers at Camp Crystal Lake, The Changeling was a horror film for adults. In a genre built on the money from blood/titty obsessed teenagers, a film made for the older crowd no longer exists but if The Changeling was the swan song, it went out on a high note.
83. Kill List
Another film that, on first glance, would be more appropriate on a thriller list. But appearances can be deceptive. Starting off as a Tarantino-esque hitman yarn, Kill List slowly devolves into something far more sinister. The clues to what this film is and where it eventually hires, are there from the beginning but director Ben Wheatley effortlessly diverts our attention like a slight of hand magician.
He’s showing you the trick and you subconsciously know that you should be paying attention to the opposite hand he’s telling you to look at but you just can’t. You’re hypnotized by the mis-direct.
This film is exactly like a magic trick. It shows you one thing but then reveals everything else entirely and the end result is fucking brilliant. Go into this one cold. Read nothing. Watch nothing. Don’t let the experience be tainted by spoilers because you really need to know nothing going in.
82. Don’t Look Now
Another film that will be instantly ruined for you if you so much as Google it. People really love talking about this films ending and for good reason. It’s one of the most shocking reveals in cinema history. I believe the ending is probably 90% of the reason Hitchcock desperately tried to get the rights to make it.
I’m not saying I’m happy he missed out because the world could always use another Hitchcock masterpiece but there’s something about Nicolas Roeg’s style that perfectly lends itself to the source material. It has all the trademarks of a Giallo: Serial killer on the loose, unexplained psychic phenomenon and the logic of the dream. The entire film feels like an elongated nightmare of Donald Sutherland’s and the film finally ends when he wakes up.
If there was a Mount Rushmore of horror, Stephen King would definitely be up there. The man has shat out more horror masterpieces while in a drugged out haze than most do in an entire lifetime. Writing about ghosts and demons is his bread and butter but that bread usually bought him the demon in the bottle. He suffered from a hardcore drinking habit that almost cost him everything. The drink was a literal monster that kept him paralyzed and enslaved.
So, it comes as no surprise, that one of his best written works is about a writer being held captive by a monster. Because he lived it. Replace Annie Wilkes with Jack Daniels and Paul Sheldon with Stephen King and it’s his story. His story about finally overcoming the monster that had imprisoned for so long. It’s cathartic for him and entertaining as fuck for us, the viewers.
There’s a constant debate on which King adaptation is the best and although Misery might not always win, it should always be brought up in the conversation. It’s fantastic.