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.
30. Get Out
A film that could only be told by the most gifted of satirists, Jordan Peele’s directorial debut is a pitch perfect allegory of modern race relations in suburban American.
Taking inspiration from films like The Stepford Wives and Rosemary’s Baby, the film uses its inspirations as a blueprint to craft a distinct, singular vision but the true backbone is it’s brilliant racial metaphors.
Where most films are as subtle as a sledgehammer, Get Out bounces between visual analogies like the most graceful of acrobats.
There’s the silver spoon as a controlling device, the significance of Jim’s (Stephen Root) blindness, the opening scene, the “uncle tom” presence, Georgina’s tears and the fact that a flashing light saves the protagonist.
Get Out is a brilliant masterpiece that is unfortunately getting more and more relevant every. Single. Day.
Brian De Palma is probably best known for Scarface or his Hitchcock-esque thrillers but I still contend that his only true horror film is still his best work. (Or second best. Blow Out is fucking brilliant)
Based on Stephen King’s first novel, Carrie tells the story of probably the worst treated teenage girl in cinema history. She gets bullied at school, tormented at home and even her own body is betraying her by leaking copious amounts of blood from her lady parts.
It gets to a point that you start to believe that there was a real Carrie White that made fun of Stephen King’s penis or something because this poor woman, she can’t catch a fucking break.
High school is hell. That’s a universal truth but this high school is made up of nothing but demons (including a baby faced John Travolta) and keeping with the hell metaphor, her mother is the devil.
….And then she gets baptized in blood? I’m a gamblin’ man and I’m not afraid to double down on a metaphor but that was clearly snake eyes. They ain’t always going to be winners folks.
Carrie stands the test of time because at It’s center, is a revenge story and there’s not a teenager alive that didn’t wish they had the power get a little comeuppance.
Plus that ending is an all timer. It gets me every time.
horror films starring kids are literally a dime a dozen. There’s almost no horror film that doesn’t have at least one kid running around but there’s not many that accurately depict what it’s like to be a kid.
This film as all the hallmarks of a stone cold classic. It spawned four sequels, that span nearly 40 years, has the iconic Tall Man and his instantly recognizable flying death spheres, and even has little Star Wars looking ghouls. With all this iconic shit, why has it always felt like an outlier, even amongst horror fans? It’s never the first horror franchise you’ll think of when rattling them all of nor is it listed as part of the 70’s heavy hitters like The Exorcist and Invasion of the Body Snatchers.
Phantasm lives all alone in its own little bubble and that couldn’t be more appropriate to the theme and tone of this film. Teenagers have always felt out of place in this world. They feel as though no one listens to them and they’re unsure about their place in this world. Now add a towering undertaker that may or may not be a diabolical ghoul to the mix and you got yourself a horror film with built in drama.
Take all of the the horror elements: the villain, his weapons, his minions, the otherworldly element. Add in the drama of real life teenage angst. Mix with one of the greatest horror scores ever made and top it off with the nightmare feel of a David Lynch film and you have a perfect horror cocktail.
27. The Wicker Man
In the states, Deliverance is the by word for creepy woods and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is used to describe a creepy stretch of highway that feels eerily deserted. You and your friends will mockingly hum the banjo ditty when shit gets too creepy or joke that the crazy hitchhiker will pop up and get em if they’re driving through Texas.
Across the pond, The Wicker Man is code for “creepy ass town” and has been for over 40 years. But unlike Massacre and Deliverance, the inhabitants of the island of Summerisle are nice as hell. There’s nothing seemingly threatening or creepy about who they are or what they’re all about. Granted all the dancing around naked in papier-mâché animal masks at night is a bit crazy but it’s the 70’s, that shit happens all the time. The weird phallic symbols and placing toads in the mouths of the sick as a cure all is a bit more odd but that can be chalked up to backwards town folk do-it-yourself ingenuity.
This almost cult like reverence for their annual celebration is understandably freaky and what’s with that giant ass wicker statute?
26. 28 Days Later
Almost as revolutionary as the original Night of the Living Dead, the decision to make zombies* ass kickingly fast, is the best innovation since the talking ones** in Return of the Living Dead.
One of the first films to be shot on digital cameras, this film was able to build a believable post apocalyptic world mostly thanks to this new technology. Some will complain about It’s grainy look or its cheap looking cinematography and others will praise it’s fly on the wall aesthetic, that makes you feel like you’re with them, instead of watching them. Whatever your take away, this film couldn’t be made with film cameras and was such a success, that it changed cinema forever.
*they’re fucking zombies. I’m not having this argument again. When you steal your 3rd act from Romero’s Day of the Dead, you forfeit the right to call them something different.
**why didn’t this ever catch on? “Send… more…paramedics” is fantastic and talking zombies should be a staple of the genre by now.
25. The Sixth Sense
I love this movie but good god, was “I see dead people” infuriatingly everywhere. I see [blank] people was the overused meme of its day. In fact, I saw a “I see dumb people” T-shirt at Wal-Mart just the other day. The shit never ends.
But there’s no bigger evidence of this films long lasting imprint on cinema than the fact that everyone knows that quote and most know the twist. It’s indelibly burned into the public conscience.
And the lions share of that credit goes to M. Night Shyamalan’s stellar script and astounding directing. It’s a perfectly made thriller with some of the best designed scares you’ll find in any horror film.
Shyamalan was once referred to as “the next Spielberg” and this is his Jaws.
24. The Silence Of The Lambs
Straddling the line between horror and thriller, The Silence of the Lambs is essentially the artsy version of William Lustig’s Maniac. You replace the sewer like filth that oozes from every pour of that film with class and sophistication (which sounds like an oxymoron considering this film has Buffalo Bill, who is as grimy as they come), and change the point of view from the killer to the detective hunting him and you kinda have this film? If you squint a little bit and change most of the films to fit the analogy, it’s there. Look, it kind of made sense in my mind and the booze is kicking in. Just roll with it.
There’s not many films that are considered perfect across the board and this one unquestionably qualifies. Having two of the absolute greatest performances in cinema history from Anthony Hopkins and Jodie Foster respectively, (not to mention Ted Levine who’s always sadly overlooked) this film not creates iconic characters but more importantly, knows how to properly use them. There’s no superfluous characters and no wasted moments. It’s one of the tightest thrillers not made by Hitchcock and actually kinda feels like the film he always wanted to make.
That comparison makes much more sense than Maniac.
23. The Cabin In The Woods
There’s a moment in this film, where a character does a thing (that I can’t reveal without spoiling the film) that immediately propels the film into the 3rd act that is one of the greatest movie moments I’ve ever seen.
It’s one of those moments that you have while watching a film where, right before it happens, you think “what I’m thinking will never happen but if it does, this will be the greatest movie ever made.” This is going to be a deep cut but the A and B plot lines eventually converging in Walter Hill’s extremely underrated Extreme Prejudice is a perfect example. At first, you don’t understand how this film is going to resolve itself but once the last act happens, you realize you’re in the hands of a master. That’s The Cabin in the Woods. A great film that makes one insane choice that instantly makes it one of the all time greats.
I’m purposefully skating around what this film is, so if you want the best experience, go in blind. Which also includes skipping the trailer.
22. The Descent
Where Alien used Bava’s Planet of the Vampires as a loose blueprint, The Descent mirrors the structure of Alien perfectly. A group of explorers get trapped in an enclosed location with what is basically an invisible creature and are picked off one by one till there’s one last final girl in search of survival.
Whether it was intentional or not, the similarities are striking but where Alien focused on the xenomorph for the bulk of that films scares, the majority of The Descent taps into the extremely common fears of claustrophobia. The film’s locations are so intimidating, that the film would’ve made the cut even without the monsters.
But monsters it has and my god, are they great. They’re strong, they’re fast and they’re hungry.
21. The Fly
Has there ever been a better example of a directors trademark stamp than Cronenberg’s The Fly? Focusing more on the human tragedy than the mystery of the original, this film is hallmark Cronenberg.
For some reason, Cronenberg has spent his entire career obsessed with body horror. The betrayal of the flesh. It’s a recurring theme in almost every one of his films but none have come even remotely close to The Fly.
But body horror is only effective if you care for the characters and the chemistry of the two leads is the heart and soul of this film. It’s easily their best performances and the film doesn’t work without them. That and the second greatest visual effects of all time.
Here’s my favorite review I found which is from Mick LaSalle of The San Francisco Chronicle which simply said:
“This picture is disgusting.”