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.
The torture porn subgenre is a bit contentious among fans. Gorehounds love the excessive violence, while others dismiss it as being mean spirited and distasteful. Wherever you stand on the subject, there’s no denying the impact of Saw.
Kickstarting a bona fide franchise thats still going strong (the latest entry releases this year. 2017 to be specific for those reading this in the far future where the frog people rule and colors are outlawed), audiences everywhere were asking themselves the same question “Am I willing to do literally anything to stay alive?”
That simple question is the true star of the series. The most iconic horror films usually all have unstoppable supernatural villains that dismember teens in gruesome ways but they don’t make you cut open your eyeball with a fucking scalpel. That shit is truly monstrous.
69. Peeping Tom
Just like how The Night of the Hunter killed Charles Laughton’s directorial career dead, Peeping Tom essentially destroyed Michael Powell’s reputation. Audiences today wouldn’t even bat an eyelash at the subject matter but at the time, Critics called it abhorrent and audiences called it repulsive and he was honest to God called a smut peddler. This was the landscape of horror before Psycho.
Dealing with themes of voyeurism and sexual repression, the film depicts a man who gets off to the act of making his victims watch themselves die. He has camera rigged with a mirror on top for his victims to look at and a razor sharp tripod he uses to forcibly thrust into the victims. The phallic imagery wasn’t lost on audiences and although the sexual gratification isn’t specifically stated, it’s heavily implied. It’s a masterpiece that should get as much credit in creating the “new wave” of horror that Psycho gets.
68. The Wolf Man
Easily the most sympathetic of all the Universal monsters, The Wolf Man isn’t about science gone awry like Frankenstein and The Invisible Man or humanoid creatures running amok like The Mummy and Creature from the Black Lagoon nor is it about a sex fiend trying to get some like Dracula. No, The Wolf Man is about a man cursed with being a monster. He doesn’t do anything wrong, yet because of circumstances beyond his control, he’s technically the villain.
Being hunted just because you’re different? Doesn’t that sound awfully close to something that was a major problem in the 40’s? I’m obviously hinting to the prosecution of the Jewish people at the time. This film was an allegory for the Jewish plight but can be applied to any minority and that’s a testament of the strength of its theme. We’re all the wolf man. And that doesn’t make us monsters. Unless you are a monster. Like someone who kills children or something. That statement doesn’t apply to child killers. Or people who eat your lunch at work. Janice.
67. Ju-on: The Grudge
Ghosts are scary. Ghosts kids are scarier. Ghost kids that sound like cats in heat? Goddamn piss puddle making fright machines. There’s a phenomenon called “the uncanny valley” where human beings get unsettled by things that look human but are slightly askew. That explains why most people are afraid of clowns and why so many horror films use mannequins as a scare prop, it’s a thing that has all the characterizations of a human being but isn’t. Like a little ghost kid that makes cat noises for example. He looks like lil timmy from down the street but…what’s that lil timmy?
Jesus fuck me, that’s not lil timmy! That’s a goddamn Japanese cat ghost trying suck down my delicious human meats. I’m assuming. I don’t know what cat ghosts eat and truth be told, I never finished this film. I turned it off every time lil timmy the cat ghost showed up. But those first 17 minutes sure were spooky.
66. The Host
Not to be confused with the dumpster fire that is Twilight + aliens, The Host is a Korean monster film that might be the greatest monster film since the original Gojira, depending on your definition of monster. Do the alien slugs from Slither count as a monster or an alien invasion film? Deadly Spawn? Tremors? What about huge ass animals like Night of the Lepus?
Whatever your definition is, The Host is probably better. Darkly comedic at times, the film plays sort of like a cross between The Royal Tennenbaums versus a kaiju but not played for laughs. This isn’t a comedy but there is humor. All the characters are well defined but their foibles make for some hilarious moments at times. At its core, it’s a rich character drama with well written characters that could easily fill up 5 seasons of a TV show but instead of a TV show, they get a huge ass monster and you get an amazing movie.
65. Jacob’s Ladder
Dreams are fascinating. What the subconscious mind conjures up while we sleep is akin to witchcraft. It’s like a magic trick: every night our minds put us under by convincing us that we’re sleepy and then they hypnotize us with dreams. Dreams that are cobbled together from fragments of memories or ideas but what if they weren’t? What if dreams came from some other unexplained place that may or may not have malevolent intentions.
Tim Robbins in the film Jacob’s Ladder is stuck in a dream or better yet, he’s stuck in a waking nightmare. A nightmare populated by hideous demons and malformed men. Where nothing is safe and everyone might be out to get you. Is his mind creating these images or is there an unseen entity at play? The genius of the film is the fact that it’s ambiguous. There’s definitely an ending but the meaning is left purposefully obtuse. Is he crazy? Is he dreaming? Is he dead? Is Tim Robbins secretly a scarecrow brought to life by Christmas magic like my crazy grandmother believes? All are possible.
64. Under The Skin
The most controversial pick on this list. Debateably horror but if Scarlet Johansson was just a prostitute picking up men and killing them, would that make it more or less horror? If you remove the science fiction angle, you’re still left with a woman killing men and how is that any different than say, Maniac?
But with the other worldly element, you get some of the most striking images put to screen. How she disposes of her victims is one of the most shocking and unsettling things I’ve ever seen. It literally took me by surprise. There’s also a scene involving a beach that deeply affected me.
But make no mistake, this is barely a horror film. Image if Kubrick direted The Man who fell to Earth but instead of Bowie trying to scrounge up water to send to his dying planet, he’s out killing prostitutes and you have Under the Skin.
63. Last House On The Left
Oof, this film still has it. More controversial than the torture porn subgenre is the rape revenge film. Movies like I spit on your grave, Thriller, and Rape Squad were all an excuse to “empower” women as an excuse to satiate some directors rape fetish*
A reworking of Bergman’s The Virgin Spring, this film is far more than an excuse to film rape and murder. There’s a strong anti-Vietnam message just under the surface. In order to protest extreme violence, sometimes you need to depict extreme violence and that’s what it does. And it does it better than anyone else. Just keep repeating, It’s only a movie…it’s only a movie…it’s only a movie.
*among many others. There was waaay more rape revenge films than I thought there was. And now thanks to this article, I have “list of rape films” along with: “is wolf man jewish?” “Do ghosts eat human meat and if so, cannibals?” And “Proof that Tim Robbins isn’t a scarecrow” saved on my Google search.
62. Day Of The Dead
Closing out Romero’s original Dead trilogy, Day is often passed over in favor of its predecessors and while they’re admittedly better, Day of the dead ain’t no slouch either. Taking place in an underground military facility instead of a farm house and mall respectively, the tone of this one is far more bleak.
Not that the other two were chuckle-a-minute gag factories themselves but there’s something far more insidious about a power gone corrupt in an underground steel and concrete coffin. How the military is portrayed in this and the constant struggle for power is the inspiration for the 3rd act of 28 Days Later and The Walking Dead definitely wouldn’t exist without it. Not bad for bronze place.
REC is probably the only found footage film that has even a modicum of logic behind its premise. The biggest problem that every single found footage film faces is “why are they still filming? Drop the camera and run ya goof.” And REC has very simple solution to that problem: it’s a reporter and camera crew stuck in an apartment complex over run with zombies and they’re filming everything for a news story. It’s not reinventing the wheel but it’s a simple solution to a problem every film has.
It’s not just a gimmick or an excuse to hide the directors lack of talent either. The film is built from the ground up with the handheld approach in mind, so every scare is designed around that concept. The director wisely knows that a news cameraman might get distracted easily or focus on something irrelevant and in those moments, he takes advantage of it. It’s a damn good horror film that has a pretty great sequel. Just skip the other 2 and the remake.