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.
60. Paranormal Activity
Made for less money than it takes to buy a used AMC Gremlin, Paranormal Activity went on to gross so much money, that it’s the most successful film of all time. Not including porn though. People in the 70’s loved them some porn.
Built around the simple premise of a couple filming the unexplained phenomena they keep experiencing, the film crafts scares out of stupidly easy to do tricks like fishing lines tied to a doors or sheets yanked off of a bed but it worked. The simple gags payed off and the film created a series that became essentially a cinematic haunted house you’d go to every October until they bled it dry and killed it. But that first couple are great.
59. Sleepaway Camp
There was so many ‘A maniac killing promiscuous teens at a summer camp’ films made in the 80’s, That it became an honest to goodness genre. While critics bemoaned the lack of originality and the over reliance on blood, sex and violence, audiences suddenly became like fat guys at an all you can eat buffet, they couldn’t get enough.
The cream of the crop (well, silver place because there’s another summer camp slasher still to come ) is arguably Sleeapaway Camp. Sharing a lot of similarities with Friday the 13th, such as: a killers POV, summer camp setting and both having amazing endings.
Seriously, the ending to Sleepaway Camp is so great, the rest of the film could be shit and the film would still make the list. It’s one of the only things that has genuinely unsettled me. It’s amazing.
58. Drag Me To Hell
There is no better director at mixing comedy with horror than Sam Raimi. There’s been many a contender to the throne but the majority mainly focus on the comedy side of the equation while ignoring the horror completely. Think of your favorite horror comedy and odds are it would feel more at home in the comedy section of your local video store. Or hypothetical movie store because as we all know, movie stores were imaginary things that never existed. Just like bigfoot and the female orgasm.
Raimi understands that you don’t need to sacrifice one for the other. The human body can produce laughs as well as screams and one doesn’t necessarily dilute the other. Drag me to Hell isn’t exactly a comedy like Evil Dead 2 but the tone and the subject matter are so over the top, you can’t help but to laugh and cheer. It’s like a haunted house mixed with a roller coaster. Thrills and spooks a minute. Oh and it’s also a clever metaphor for bulimia, so it’s deep too.
57. The Birds
Younger audiences today would guffaw at the special effects and the pace would make them count the seconds till they could look at their phones again but at the time, This was as big as Jaws or Jurassic Park. What Hitchcock was able to accomplish without the use of CGI, is literally incomprehensible to today’s generation. And I’m speaking from experience.
I’ve watched this film in school with people who had never seen it and half thought it was a comedy and the other half thought it was hokey as shit. When the teacher asked them how they thought he was able to get all the birds on screen, they all automatically assumed it was done with computers and then when he explained it wasn’t, some argued that it was impossible to do it effects without them.
Is this film dated? Possibly. Is this film slow? Debateable. Are the effects still blowing fucking minds? Absolutely.
56. The Babadook
First things first, Essie Davis was straight up robbed an Oscar nomination for her performance in this film. The level of emotional grief she portrays throughout the film is astonishing and that’s not even mentioning the character transformation she goes through in the third act. It’s a performance that would instantly be in the hall of fame of horror performances.
I honestly believe you’d have to go all the way back to Lon Chaney Sr or one of the Universal stable of actors to compare her too. No offence to Robert Englund, Kane Hodder or any of the scream queens but the genre doesn’t usually require much from its actors. The women have to scream and/or pop their tops and the men are funny, if they’re lucky. That’s about it. But every once in awhile we get a Kathy Bates in Misery or a Anthony Perkins in Psycho or now–an Essie Davis in The Babadook. But the performance can’t live in a vacuum and thankfully the film lives up to her performance.
After the phenomenal success of The Sixth Sense, M. Night Shyamalan slowly became a punchline in the industry. He went from “the next Spielberg” to “what-a twist!” In less than a decade. Whether or not the criticisms or mockery are deserved, I’ll leave to you to discuss but what is not up for discussion, is how fucking good Signs is.
Most horror films have the one great scene. The scene that sticks with you long after the film has ended. A jumpscare you can’t wait to show your friends or that awesome FX shot you’ll puzzle over for weeks. Signs has two.
The birthday party scene and the pantry scenes are two of the greatest jumpscares in cinema history. Not to mention the cornfield and the basement scenes. Whatever your thoughts on Shyamalan are or your thoughts on the ending, there’s no denying how well crafted the jumpscares are.
But in all honesty, that ending ain’t the best. It’s wonky as hell, even if you subscribe to the demon theory but a bad ending doesn’t ruin a film. What a-twist!
54. Child’s Play
Before we get into that amazing scene with the batteries or the performances of Brad Dourif and Catherine Hicks, let me first regale you with a story involving a young me and the time Chucky almost put me into a goddamn coma.
I have to preface this with the fact that the Good Guy brand doll that Chucky is, was based on an actual doll called My Buddy. Another relevant fact to the story is before I saw a commercial or even the film itself, I had already been previously traumatized by the clown coming alive in Poltergeist and a scene involving dolls coming to life to murder a guy in the terrible tv movie The Tommyknockers.
So dolls coming to life was already a bugaboo for me. Coupled with the fact that I owned a My Buddy Doll.
When I was 7-8, I was spending the night at a cousins house, which I did all the time and we get bored, so he decides to put on Child’s Play for us to watch. We usually watched horror films or episodes of Are you afraid of the dark, so watching a horror film at night wasn’t out of the norm. I have no recollection of the events of that night but apparently, the film scared me so bad, that I locked myself in a toybox overnight.
Cut to the next couple of months, where my mother would watch the television with the remote glued to her hand just in case she needed to frantically change the channel if the commercial for the vhs release would play.
It was the weekend, which meant I got to rent a video game, so we went to our neighborhood video store and we weren’t even there two minutes before she’s trying to subtlety get me out of the store. Trying to coherence me with another game rental if we left right then but I wasn’t picking up what my mother was putting down. She knew something I didn’t know and that thing was the fact that the entire ceiling of the store was lined with nothing but Chucky dolls.
I decided to look up for some reason and I don’t remember leaving the video store. Because of Chucky, I’ve lost an accumulated 5 hours of my life. The mere sight of his image terrified me so profoundly, that I’ve literally wiped it from memory.
That’s the power of effective horror.
Now that that story is over, let’s talk about the film and Hicks and Dourif’s performances. It’s great and they’re great.
53. Return Of The Living Dead
I have a similar story about how much this film affected me as well but instead of losing time from fear, I was losing time in the bathroom. Because this film (specifically Linnea Quigley) turned me into a man. I can trace all of my childhood obsessions back to this film: punk rock, tits, zombies, zombie tits and horror. This film had it all.
When I was compiling this list, I wanted an wide array of different genres and time periods represented. From the silent age to the digital age, from slashers to more serious arthouse horror, I wanted everything covered but sometimes you gotta throw one in there just for you. This isn’t the scariest horror but I would argue It’s easily the most entertaining.
Clive Barker’s other famous creation, Candyman will forever live in the shadow of Pinhead and the cenobites and that’s a shame considering his mythology is far more interesting. Starting life as a slave who had the audacity to look at a white woman, he was eventually captured and tortured to death. His captors turned his ass into a figurative honey baked ham in order to get ants to eat him alive. They also replaced his hand with a hook. I don’t know why but it’s rad as fuck.
Freddy was burned alive. Jason drowned. Candyman was eaten alive by fucking ants. That’s an origin so tragic, you kind of sympathize with him. Plus, his entire arc consists entirely of him trying to get laid, So is he truly that bad?
All jokes aside, there’s no other horror film like Candyman. It has a deep mythology, a compelling villain played brilliantly by Tony Todd and is beautifully shot, oddly enough. It’s a gorgeous film and I feel like it doesn’t get the love it deserves.
51. The Mist
Stephen King is fucking great. I’ve mentioned him twice before and he’ll pop up two more times in future entries. He’s all over this list and for good reason. He’s fucking great. You know what else is great? Frank Darabont’s adaptations of Kings work. He directed what IMDB considers the greatest film of all time and followed that up with the greatest Christ allegory ever made. He was two for two and decided to got back to the ol’ King well one more time but this time, he decided to skip the King dramas and adapt one of his horror stories instead. And goddamn did that decision pay off in spades.
Talking place almost entirely in a supermarket which is surrounded by an unexplained mist, the film is proves that mob mentality and unchecked religious fanaticism is far more terrifying than any Lovecraftian monster. Or at the very least equal to because this film has some pretty great fucking monsters. Which is also the only negative of the film. Some of the creatures are amazingly looking, while others (tentacle in the storeroom), look terrible.
I believe the reason for that is the fact that Darabont always intended for this film to be in black and white and I believe he designed the film around that color palette. If you haven’t watched this film in the intended black and white, I highly recommend it. Not only is that the directors preferred version of the film but it adds a layer of unease. It’s hard to explain but in the absence of color, everything seems darker and more bleak. Which, considering the infamous ending, makes the film 2x bleak. Which I’m pretty sure is a record.