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.
80. Black Sabbath
Horror anthology films are akin to eating at a buffet. You’re swimming in variety but it’s almost always a gamble. But there’s usually one or two items they always get right that keep you coming back for more. Black Sabbath is no different.
The first segment-The Telephone is an ok thriller with a slight twist.
The second segment-The Wurdalak is such a solid take on the vampire mythos, that another film took its plot, stretched it out, and made it feature length. That film was Night of The Devils and although it’s a pretty good horror film, the segment in Black Sabbath is still more effective.
The third and final segment is- A drop of water and that’s the segment that landed this film on the list. It’s about a nurse that takes something from a dead patient that she definitely shouldn’t have taken.
It’s impossible to watch this film without the effects burning their way into your subconscious. I’m pretty sure this segment is the reason the band Black Sabbath decided to not call themselves “The Metal guys who love Satan.”
The human mind is without a doubt, the scariest thing to be locked inside of. There’s no prison on earth that can hold a candle to what we do to ourselves when we’re all alone with our thoughts. That’s why solitary confinement has been deemed as torturous as regular torture. We can literally drive ourselves insane if we spend too much time deep inside our own mind.
And that’s if you’re already sane. Add in any of the literal hundreds of mental disabilities like schizophrenia or extreme paranoia and you have the recipe for instant insanity.
You also have the perfect setting for a horror film. You would think we’d have more film’s dealing with the horrors of paranoia but I guess everyone saw Repulsion and collectively realized it was impossible to top. And they’re right.
Every generation gets a thriller with the perfect premise. Whether it’s a detective working with one serial killer to catch another or a serial killer who kills his victims by creating extreme scenarios to test their willingness to live, Seven might hold the distinction of having the greatest serial killer “gimmick” of all time.
It’s brilliant in its simplicity. The killer chooses victims based on the seven deadly sins. Every target he chooses is, in his mind, the personification of that sin. Like a morbidly obese man being guilty of Gluttony or a superficial woman being guilty of Vanity for example.
It’s a tight script with an ingenious premise that has one hell of an ending. Oh and I know the title is officially “Se7en” but I refuse to write that unironically.
77. Trick R Treat
Unfortunately, new horror icons are few and far between nowadays. Back in the day, it seemed like every other film produced a new icon that instantly got 6-7 terrible sequels. But that’s not the case anymore. There’s probably a societal theory about how we’re more afraid of an unknown or unseen boogeyman now than when we were in the 80’s. Maybe something to do with terrorists. I don’t fucking know. I’m not a goddamn philosopher but what I do know is, we don’t have enough new horror icons.
There’s Jigsaw, Babadook maybe? The guy from Sinister? And maybe Tiny Tim’s vocals from Insidious. That’s about it.
Or that’s what I would say if it wasn’t for Sam from Trick R Treat. You get it? I tricked you with a mis-direct and the film has the word trick in the title.
Anywho, Trick R Treat is an anthology film that connects all the stories seamlessly. There’s no act break, each story flows into the next by incorporating the same actors in every story. There’s no host of the stories but Sam is featured in every segment.
With his orange onsie, burlap sack covered head and half eaten lalapalooza, he’s an instant halloween costume waiting to happen. He’s the closest we have to a new icon and I can’t wait to see him return for future installments.
76. The Orphanage
With no offense meant to Guillermo Del Toro but I feel as though this is the better version of The Devil’s Backbone. Not that they’re anything a like per say but I can’t help but feel as though Del Toro focused too heavily on the human horror and lost focus on the ghost element. He got lost in the forest of plot. It’s still an incredible movie but I think if it had spent as much time with the ghosts as this film does, I would like it a lot more.
And that’s my slightly roundabout explanation as to why The Devil’s Backbone didn’t make my list. For the zero percent of you that will ask.
When it comes to ghost stories, there’s two kinds of ghosts: the malicious poltergeists and the wronged dead. The first just wants to fuck your shit up. They’re angry and that anger carried over with them to the afterlife. Those are the confrontational type films that usually end in an exorcism or a family finally getting the fuck out of the house.
The second and the one that The Orphanage belongs to, is the wronged dead. The ghosts can still be scary but they usually don’t mean any harm. They just can’t pass over till the main character either gets over their grief or the ghosts murder is solved. These are usually mysteries.
The Orphange is definitely a drama with a mystery at It’s center. What happened to their son? Did he disappear or was he taken and who is that odd looking child with the sack on his head?*
*It was a complete coincidence that two films with kids with sacks on their heads happened to be placed back-to-back. Or was it? Oooooo spooky sounds.
Remember that non existent Mount Rushmore I made up that consisted of horror icons back when I discussed Misery? Well, if you don’t, here’s a refresher: It’s Mount Rushmore but instead of old slave owners, it’s the masters of horror with Stephen King included on it. I don’t know why you needed a refresher. The explanation to what it is was in the question in the first place.
On the monument right next to King would be Romero. The two are undeniable titans of genre. One has created more hit novels than almost any other author and the other fucking created zombies. They’re absolutely indispensable to the world of horror.
So what happens if you were to combine their unique talents into one movie? You get the film Creepshow.
Much has been written about the faithfulness of certain comic book adaptations like Sin City or Scott Pilgrim vs The World but one that always gets overlooked is Creepshow. I don’t know if they forget it’s based on a series of comics they just plain ol’ forget it exists but Creepshow nails the tone and humor of the comics while also faithfully recreates panels straight from the books.
There might not be a better love letter made for comics or horror in genre.
74. Henry: Portrait Of A Serial Killer
Loosely based on real life serial killer Henry Lee Lucas, Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer might be the most accurate depiction of a serial killer ever caught on film. Henry doesn’t have a clever MO like John Doe in Seven or the charisma of the killer in Man Bites Dog (which is number 101 if y’all are wondering), and there’s no cat and mouse game between him and a detective. He’s just an evil man in an uncaring world.
He doesn’t get caught because nobody cares about his victims and he doesn’t stop because he can’t. He was built wrong. There’s no backstory, so there’s no empathy or sympathy. Just his actions.
Test audiences were so appalled by its unflinching levels of violence, that it’s one of the main contributors for the creation of the NC-17 rating. And still one of the only ones to get it an X rating for violence. It’s a hard film but if you can stomach it, you’ll find one of the most important horror films ever made.
The only note I have written down that apparently ‘drunk last night’ me wanted to discuss was the Bush administration. I’m pretty sure this film is a clever commentary on the price of a human life but I’m not social theorist. I ain’t got the brains to articulate the state of the world in the time this film was made and how the war on terrorism blah blah blah.
I believe Eli Roth is certainly saying something and I’m pretty sure I get it but at the end of the day, it’s on the list because it ushered in the age of “torture porn” and it created a pretty great mythology which the sequel greatly expands upon. A mythology that’s far more frightening than a burnt child predator with knife hands because it’s probably real.
72. The Ring
The original The Ring (or Ringu if your nasty) created the J-horror craze (horror films made in Japan that usually involved creepy kids, ghosts or creepy kid ghosts) that’s still going strong today. It was a huge hit, so an Americanized remake was inevitable. But unlike the horror remakes produced by Michael Bay that have no idea what audiences liked about the original, The American Ring got it right.
Trading the unexplained nuance of the original for a more aggressive, disturbing experience, The Ring is designed to elicit a sense of unrelenting unease in the viewer by integrating subliminal images along with a consistent tone of dread. It’s the perfect amalgamation of western and eastern philosophies and techniques coming together to scare the living fuck out of you.
70. Dead Alive
What happened to this Peter Jackson? The Peter Jackson that was inspired by The Evil Dead to make cheap-o horror films in essentially his own backyard. The Peter Jackson that made a film so bloody, it held the record for “the most fake blood ever used in a film.”
I miss that Peter Jackson. Because that Peter Jackson made one of the greatest zombie films of all time: Dead Alive. A great horror film usually has one really great scene. A shocking death in the beginning, a huge jump scare in the middle or an unexpected twist at the end. There’s usually the one but Dead Alive is gags-a minute.
There’s the dead zombie baby, the ear in the soup, the kick ass priest, “your mother ate my dog” and the infamous lawnmower scene. It’s a 8 layer bean dip made up of the most delicious gore and comedy. And rat monkeys.