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.
40. Friday The 13th
Part of the wave of slasher films created by the massive success that was Halloween, Friday the 13th actually took it’s inspiration from the Italian slasher A Bay of Blood released eight years previous. I use the word inspiration loosely considering it straight up lifts some of its best kills but adds a much more streamlined plot.
It’s easily as influential as Halloween but the only reason it isn’t on this list is because it’s convoluted as fuck and Bava didn’t have Tom Savini. Besides the iconic theme song, the true star of the film is the make up effects of Savini. Starting his life as a Vietnam photographer, he quickly transitioned from the real life horrors of war to the fake horrors of cinema and used his real life experience to craft some of the greatest effects ever. The Kevin Bacon kill is in the hall of fame of great horror deaths. It’s such a perfectly constructed scene with a great fucking pay off.
In all honesty, Friday the 13th isn’t the greatest made film and it’s nobodies favorite film in the franchise but the kills still hold up, impact is undeniable and the ending is still shocking.
39. The Witch
It’s hard to pick the best aspect of this film. The score is perfectly dread inducing; the tone is deadly serious, which adds to Its creepiness; the acting is top shelf brilliant and the cinematography looks like a goddamn Malick film but with witches.
The entire film is almost perfect which makes the fact that this is director Robert Eggers first film, Even more insane. Most directors will work their entire careers and not even come close to this films brilliance. It’s Kubrick levels of good and I don’t use that comparison lightly. But since I have to constantly explain my insane judging methods, the only reason it’s not higher is simply the fact that it’s missing one huge scare scene. It’s less a horror than a dread infused drama but the peek-a-boo scene that transitions immediately into a scene with a witch and a baby, is so ballsy, it easily qualifies as horror.
Wouldst thou like to live deliciously?
38. The Conjuring
After the horror boom of the 80’s, came the horror crash of the 90’s and with it, the end of the quote-unquote “masters of horror.” Wes Craven had a sudden resurgence with Scream but almost every other master of the 70’s and 80’s were no where to be seen. It wouldn’t be until the beginning of the new millennium till we’d eventually get the “splat pack” which included directors like Eli Roth, Rob Zombie and Greg McLean but none would have the same impact of James Wan.
The man is a one man franchise machine. He created Saw–which is still 9 films deep, created Insidious–which is getting It’s 4th sequel soon, and created The Conjuring–which, my god, is the closest thing we have to a marvel universe of horror franchises. Not only is it about to get a second sequel, it’s spin off just got a sequel and it’s getting 2 more spin offs. It’s a seed that grew a tree made of nothing but branches.
And the thing is, he deserves it. His films get sequel after sequel after spin off after spin off because he makes horror films that people want to see. He is without a doubt, a true master of horror and deserves to be listed among the greats.
37. The Omen
There’s a million films about creepy kids. Kids taking over towns by killing all of the adults, kids that are secretly sociopaths that are trying to hide their true natures and the most popular one- kids that may or may not be the devil.
It’s a well worn trope but it’s popular for one specific reason: Kids are the devil. They’re little monsters that are constantly putting things in their nose or eating things that are not even remotely edible. The Omen would’ve been equally as effective if it was just about a kid doing normal day to day horrible kid shit but this kid just happens to be the antichrist. I can’t think of a more terrifying image than the devil being that kid who always had cookie in the corner of his mouth with a constant snot bubble. Shudder.
36. Rosemary’s Baby
I didn’t intend for it to happen (blame my list making buddy Jack Daniels) but the last four films in this list are all about the devil. The devil as a goat. The devil as an entity. The devil as a snot nosed kid and now the devil as a stupid baby. All these films prove, is that Satan is not a credible threat. Buy yourself some holy water or get yourself a handful of candy and the devil hath been thwarted.
I wish someone would’ve given Rosemary some Hershey kisses or at least a bag of trail mix because she doesn’t have a great time in this film. But what sets this film apart from every other film in the creepy kid sub genre, is the fact that the devil isn’t the antagonist. You could pitch the same premise to a million different directors and they’d all be about a scary devil baby but Polanski ain’t no hack. He takes what is essentially a hokey ass premise and makes one of the greatest thrillers of all time.
I just mentioned the horror crash that happened in the 90’s and I wasn’t just being glib. The 80’s had a glut of horror films but this decade was a desolate hellscape for gorehounds. Fans were like castaways, deserted on an island made of terrible films, desperately waiting till the day they could escape. Just like Tom Hanks in that film I can’t remember the title of.
All of that changed with the release of Scream. Picking up where A New Nightmare left off, this film took the ironic, self referential hook of Craven’s previous film and perfected it. The characters know not only the rules and tropes of horror but will call them out while they’re doing them. It’s a meta commentary on the state of horror while also being a damn good slasher. It tells you it’s going to follow the rules but since it’s so tightly constructed, it never loses the suspense.
It injected new life into a dying genre and kickstarted the slasher resurgence that didn’t last as long as we hoped but horror was never more popular thanks to Scream.
I have a theory about horror sequels. The best ones are the ones that either completely change the tone or switch gears and become a different genre. Terminator was a slasher, Terminator 2 was a badass action flick. The Evil Dead was a down and dirty, low budget horror film and the sequel was pretty much a live action Looney Toons film. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre was a brutal grindhouse film and the sequel, well, the sequel is what happens when you give Tobe Hooper unlimited amounts of cocaine to pay Dennis Hopper with.
The same goes with Alien. Alien was a haunted house film set in space but with a xenomorph in place of ghosts. Aliens, however, is Alien cranked all the way to 11. Instead of one alien, there’s hundreds. Instead of one face hugger, there’s dozens. Instead of focusing on claustrophobic horror, It’s a balls to the wall action extravaganza. This film is proof that sometimes bigger is better.
Takeshi Miike is a crazy goddamn workhorse. The man started his career the same year as Reservoir Dogs and has released 92 more films than Tarantino. He makes Eric Roberts look like a lazy bum. Seriously, Google Roberts upcoming film schedule, it’s crazy.
Obviously when you release that many films, the hit/shit ratio is going to be astronomical but Miike is all about that quantity over quality. It’s literally 1 in every 10 that’s even watchable and even less that are actually good.
Even though the man produces more shit than a trump rally, he does have three unquestionable masterpieces. 13 Assassins, Ichii the Killer and Audition and as much as I’d love to talk about the other two, they ain’t horror, so they’re irrelevant.
Audition, however, is very much a horror film. I first heard about this film when Bravo covered it in their 100 scariest movie moments list and it blew my mind that a film I had never heard of Almost cracked the top 10.
Although, they picked the wrong scene to cover (there’s seriously like three better scenes they could’ve picked), it’s inclusion is well deserved. Miike may not make many good films but when you have Audition in your filmography, you really don’t need to. It’s a masterpiece.
32. The Evil Dead
Has there been a bigger “dick on the table” debut than this? This film is the definition of cocky. With little more than pocket change, Sam Raimi came out the gate swinging and inadvertently changed the cinematic landscape forever.
Utilizing every low budget trick in the book including stop motion animation, extreme zoom in’s, whip pans, scale perspective, reverse and trick photography and even mounting a camera on bike and driving through the house.
Besides creating the most iconic male hero of a horror film, the film killed the the excuse of “I didn’t have enough money” dead for all time. Because if you’re talented, you don’t need a budget.
31. Invasion Of The Body Snatchers
Remaking one of the greatest 50’s horror films ever made is a tall order but Philip Kaufman proves that you can always go back to the well. The 78′ version replaces the themes of communism and McCarthyism with post Vietnam paranoia and ups the tension to an almost unbearable degree; this remake is far bleaker in tone than the original.
Sound design is a facet of film making I never comment on but if there was ever case for sound being the the centerpiece of a film, it’s this one. The screams of the snatchers are more terrifying than any visual you could throw at me and this film has a scene involving a goddamn dog with a human face. And the screams are still more chill inducing.
Every time you think about Hollywood remaking this or that, remember this film and the dog with the human face before you start bitching about the lack of originality in film because some of the greatest horror films are remakes.
Just like this one. But you should also check out the original. And the Abel Ferrara version. And the Robert Rodriguez version. And the Edgar Wright version. But not the Daniel Craig one. Never the Daniel Craig one.