Your official Scariest Things guide to our favorite horror movies!
The Scariest Things crew assembled a committee of 30 horror movie experts from all over the industry with some of the biggest horror fans we know, to assemble a comprehensive list of films to serve as a gateway guide for people looking for a good path into the horror genre, or to uncover a hidden gem that you may not have been aware of.
We tasked the jury with naming their top 25 horror films and weighted the scoring so that the #1 selection was worth 25 points, the #2 film 24 points, until we get to the final selection which was worth 1 point. We left the voting criteria open to each juror, and one of the cool things here is that every juror had a different take on their favorites. You may find that if you don’t agree with one juror’s take, you’ll find one that matches your taste in horror… from the comedic horror, to grindhouse, to J-Horror, to vintage matinee fare.
We had an absolute blast putting this list together, debating what belongs and what we wish we could have included. There were a total of 326 films that received votes for inclusion on this list, so there are 225 films that unfortunately fell short. (Note… there is a 4-way tie for 98th place so we actually have 101 films in the top 100… it’s the new math!) Remember, every voter’s list has been posted so you can find those films by reading the top 25 lists.
We will unveil 10 films per week, and announce them on the Podcast, and this master list will get updated until we get to our top film of all time. Any guesses? Here we go!
98(TIE): THE EXORCISM OF EMILY ROSE (2005)
Directed by Scott Derickson (Dr. Strange, Sinister, Deliver Us from Evil)
Starring: Laura Linney, Jennifer Carpenter, Tom Wilkinson, and Shoreh Agdashloo.
A lawyer takes on a negligent homicide case involving a priest who performed an exorcism on a troubled young woman suffering from seizures and demonic visions, that ends up in her death. This is a movie based upon a true story from Germany in 1976, and transports the story to the American midwest, and This took a very clear-eyed take on exorcism and brought into question whether the process of doing the exorcism is ethical and effective, in a rare horror movie and courtroom drama mashup. It’s a cold and grim affair, not afraid to tackle the philosophical and theological aspects instead of going full-on vomit spewing Pazzuzzu on the audience. If you like your horror thoughtful more than gory, this would be a good gateway for you.
98(TIE): SPOOKY ENCOUNTERS (1980) [Hong Kong]
Directed by Sammo Hung.
Starring: Sammo Hung, Lung Chan, Fat Chung, and Ha Huang
A comedy kung-fu horror film starring the wonderfully nimble Sammo Hung as Bold Cheung… a ghost story involving a dare to stay in an abandoned haunted house, where Bold has to peel an apple in front of a mirror and avoid breaking the skin of the apple, or else something horribly wicked will happen. He fails in the apple peeling. Lots of eating (it is a Sammo Hung movie, after all) and splendid kung fu action, along with corpses, ghosts, and vampires… plus possession by a monkey god. Corpse fu! Hopping vampires! The trailer for Spooky Encounters is totally bonkers.
98(TIE): THE CHANGELING (1980)
Directed by Peter Medak
Starring: George C. Scott (John Russell), Trish VanDevere(Claire Norman), Melvyn Douglas (Senator Charmichael), and Jean Marsh (Joanna Russell)
Still heralded as one of the creepiest ghost stories ever made. This classic slow-burning spooky drama stars the legendary George C. Scott, who plays a composer staying at a secluded Gothic mansion finds himself being haunted by the presence of a specter. This is a movie that is expertly crafted weaving in a murder mystery and a political thriller into what would otherwise be somewhat standard fare and is elevated by the prowess of Scott’s formidable acting chops. The utilization of an animated wheelchair and ball provide all the spookiness necessary to sell the supernatural.
98(TIE) SATAN’S TRIANGLE (1975)
Directed by Sutton Roley (Chosen Survivors)
Starring: Kim Novak (Eva), Doug McClure (Lt. Haig), and Alejandro Rey (Father Peter Martin)
Remember when network television used to produce horror movies? Well, you’ll need to be of a certain age. The 1970’s was full of them, with films like A Taste of Evil (1971), The Horror from 37,000 Feet (1973) , and Dead of Night (1977) were commonplace back then. Satan’s Triangle explains one of the favorite 1970’s mysteries, the Bermuda Triangle, an obsession of that era, along with UFO’s and Sasquatch. According to this film, it’s SATAN who is making all these people disappear. Well of course it is! Kim Novak is the sole survivor of a boat that she claims that everyone else on board was killed by something supernatural. A classic loopy twist ending caps this tale, a prime example of the TV horror offerings of the 1970’s.
97: RACE WITH THE DEVIL (1975)
Directed by Jack Starrett
Starring: Peter Fonda (Roger), Warren Oates (Frank), Lara Parke (Kelly), And Loretta Swit (Alice)
Could you get more grindhouse? Two couples go on what they think is a fun vacation, taking the Winnebago out along with their dirt bikes, and they stumble across a Satanic cult human sacrifice. Now they’re on the run, and there’s nobody that they can turn to for help. The movie poster says it all. Shotguns! Car crashes! Hooded cultists! Major Houlihan! All the car crashes plus, a classic doom-filled horror movie ending.
96: BLACK SUNDAY (1960) [Italy]
Directed by Mario Bava
Starring: Barbara Steele (in a dual role Katja Vandals/Princess Asa Vadja), John Richardson (Dr. Gorobec), Ivo Garrani (Prince Vajda), Arturo Domenici (Igor Javutich), and Andrea Checchi (Dr. Kruvajan)
A bloody and controversial homage to the 1930’s horror fare. The original Giallo film that started a long trend that continued on with Fulci and Argento. 1960 was a revolutionary year for horror. This was a movie that pushed the Hayes code envelope, along with Psycho, Eyes Without a Face, and Peeping Tom, with all four films proving a willingness to show blood and violence never before shown in popular cinema. The death mask scene that opens the movie was beyond the pale for audiences at the time. A mask full of nails. Stakes through eyeballs! Barabara Steele was famously difficult on the set… she didn’t know any Italian and felt isolated from the entire cast and crew. But, she delivers a performance for the ages, and her wide-eyed haunting presence as both the executed (and undead) witch Katja Vajda and Princess Asa Vajda cemented her as one of the great horror movie presences of all time. One of Eric’s favorites!
94(Tie) FRIDAY THE 13th PART VI: JASON LIVES
Directed by Tom McLoughlin
Starring: Thom Mathews (Tommy), Jennifer Cooke (Megan), David Kagan (Sherriff Garris), and C.J. Graham (Jason Voorhees)
Friday the 13th makes an appearance in the Top 100! And… Spoiler alert… it’s the only time you’ll be seeing this franchise on the list. Surprising, no? Our friends at the Tremble Podcast have ensured that Jason Voorhees gets some representation on the big board. The first movie got some votes, but not enough to get in. C.J. Graham takes his turn, and his only appearance, as the killing machine, in this outing. What makes this one special? Well, it has a HUGE body count. We have a fun infographic that shows all of Jason’s kills, and in this outing, he dispatches 18 victims, with probably the most memorable being Sherrif Garris who gets folded in half, backward. Ouch! It’s also memorable in that he preposterously gets reanimated by lightning, as Tommy, the survivor from Friday the 13th Part V: A New Beginning pulls an all-time idiot move and disinters Jason to stake him with a lightning rod, only to have said lightning bring him back to life. Thanks, Tommy. A massive killing spree ensues. I find the Friday the 13th Titles amusing. At some point, there will be a title Friday the 13th: Yep, he’s Still Alive.
94(Tie): SANTA SANGRE (1989) [Mexico]
Directed by Alejandro Jodorowsky
Starring: Axel Jodorowsky (Felix), Blanca Guerra (Concha), Thelma Tixou (The Tattooed Woman), and Guy Stockwell (Orgo)
Welcome to the surreal! Axel is a former circus entertainer who has escaped from a Mexican mental hospital and rejoins his armless mother (who had her arms cut off by her husband) who leads a strange religious cult, and endeavors to act as his mother’s deadly and vengeful will. This is a brutal NC-17 movie, told in a series of flashbacks and hallucinations.. Rape, dismemberment, disfigurement, and the death of an elephant… all from the mad genius of Jodorowsky. Roger Ebert called it “A horror film, one of the greatest, and after waiting patiently through countless Dead Teenager Movies, I am reminded by Alejandro Jodorowsky that true psychic horror is possible on the screen. Horror poetry, surrealism, psychological pain and wicked humor all at once.” Not an easy watch, and not a traditional horror movie by any means. This is Tommy Greer’s #1 movie.
93: EVENT HORIZON (1997)
Directed by Paul W.S. Anderson
Starring: Laurence Fishburne (Captain Miller), Sam Neill (Dr. Weir), Kathleen Quinlan (Peters), Joely Richardson Lt. Starck), Richard T. Jones(Cooper), Jack Noseworthy (Justin), Sean Pertwee (Smith), and Jason Isaacs (D.J.)
Visually stunning, with fantastic sets and art direction, Event Horizon takes the haunted house to space. Event Horizon blends the look of Alien and Hellraiser, and is supported by an impressive cast of veteran Hollywood stars. Conceptually interesting, in that, the act of folding space as a means to travel to other galaxies can open a portal to Hell. The movie is noisy and over-cooked in many instances, and Sam Neill pushes the boundary of over-acting… and who in their right mind would ever create a ship that is so inherently unsafe to walk around in. That trans-dimensional engine room is OSHA’s worst nightmare. Still, you will not easily forget seeing Event Horizon, and it certainly made enough of an impression on the Scariest Things jury to find a spot in the Top 100.
92: FINAL DESTINATION (2000)
Directed by James Wong
Starring: Devon Sawa (Alex Browning), Ali Larter (Clear Rivers), Kerr Smith (Carter Horton), Kristen Cloke (Valerie Lawton), Amanda Detmer (Terry Chaney), Seann William Scott (Billy Hitchcock), and Tony Todd (Bludworth)
Somewhere out there is a fan of our website giggling and yelling “I told you so!” In a notable hot take of a review, Eric came down hard on Final Destination. We also included this in our Episode XXX: Overrated Horror Movies. And yet, here we are! Congratulations to Final Destination fans. My feelings aside, this movie has a legion of fans. It is pure popcorn studio fare: horror movies by way of the CW network, full of pretty teenagers having communication issues. All of the Final Destination movies feature three definitively interesting components:
1. A slavish adherence to the idea that you cannot cheat death.
2. Spectacular set-piece disaster sequences. These are often breathtakingly well done.
3. Intricate and clever Rube-Goldberg like death sequence “traps”, full of bait and switch moments and sleights of hand.
So, democracy works in funny ways, and the voters have spoken: Final Destination is one of the Top 100 Horror films of all time, whether Eric and Mike think so or not!
91: KING KONG (1933)
Directed by Merian C. Cooper and Earnest B. Schoedsack (uncredited)
Starring: Fay Wray (Anne Darrow), Bruce Cabot (John Driscoll), and Robert Armstrong (Carl Denham)
Simply put, one of the best movies of all time, of any genre. It suffers in a poll like this one, due to its age, and the fact that our threshold for what we consider to be scary has changed over the decades. As the original giant monster movie, it did scare audiences of its era. Nobody had seen ANYTHING like this. Willis O’Brien’s signature achievement in the stop-motion animation of Kong is the first leg of the great special effects relay that got handed off to Ray Harryhausen and then to Rick Baker, Rob Bottin, and George Lucas, up to Guillermo Del Toro and the digital wizards of today’s blockbusters. Along with Frankenstein, Kong represented a sympathetic monster, one who both fascinated and frightened you. And, I can definitively say that Kong inspired the seven-year-old in me to be a monster movie fan for life. So many iconic moments, from the Empire State Building to the fight with the T-Rex and a Pterodactyl, and the moment where Kong breaks through the village gates looking for Anne Darrow… Kong, and the movie he starred in, is now the stuff of legends. I’m glad it made the list. I wish it got more votes and finished higher!
90: SUICIDE CLUB (2001) [Japan]
Directed by Sion Sono
Starring: Ryo Ishibashi (Detective Kuroda), Masatoshi Nagase (Detective Shibusowa), Yoko Kamon (Kiyoko), Saya Hagiwara (Mitsuko), and Rolly (Genesis)
A uniquely Japanese thriller that follows detectives trying to uncover the rationale for a series of mass suicides in a six-day period, and put a stop to what they believe to be a suicide club. The movie is made famous for a scene in which 54 school girls jump in front of a speeding train at the station and leaving a bloody mess. Of all countries, Japan seems more tied to suicide than any other. Whether it’s the self-sacrifice of the Kamikaze, the saving face of seppuku, or the lonely one-way trip to Aokigahara Forest, Japan has a unique relationship with suicide. This is a sociological horror tale and proves to be a difficult movie in that there is no antagonist. There are no definitive solutions, as it frames this cultural struggle in a haunting and doom-like construct.
89: Salem’s Lot (1979)
Directed by Tobe Hooper (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre)
Starring: David Soul (Ben Mears), James Mason (Richard Straker), Lance Kerwin (Mark), Reggie Nadler (Kurt Barlow), and Bonnie Bedelia (Susan Norton)
Our second 1970’s made-for-TV movie, this time for CBS, and done as a two-part mini-series. Salem’s Lot uses a classic Stephen King Trope: An author, Ben Mears returns home to his Maine roots, to the town of Salem’s Lot when soon afterward, people start disappearing. Reggie Nadler plays an ancient master vampire who has plotted his takeover of the town long in advance, and he has set his plan into motion. the whole town becomes subject to vampiric infection, as Ben and his young buddy Mark (Lance Kerwin) try and foil the plan, and rescue as many people as they can. The scenario descends into the apocalyptic as the whole town catches fire and the vampires… just… won’t… stop! This story marks return to a more creepy rodent-like vampire, ala Nosferatu, after decades of the suave Dracula as the archetype of the monster. This movie leaves a lingering question… what happens when the whole town gets infected?
88 Ichi The Killer (2001) [Japan]
Directed by Takashi Miike
Starring: Nao Omori (Ichi the Killer), Tadanobu Asano ((Kakihara the Enforcer), and Shinayama Tsukamoto (JiJii the Cleaner)
For those of you wondering if The Scariest Things had the guts to go full on gory… I give you Ichi The Killer! This notoriously violent and disturbing Yakuza tale spares nothing and nobody, as director Takashi Miike cements his legendary status following his equally cringe-inducing film Audition. This film features lots of katana slice and dice, prostitutes, tongue removal, rapes, face skewering, ear-gouging, faces sliced off, people hanging from hooks… it is a visceral stew of nasty. So rough, this film provided barf bags for the screening audience at the prestigious Toronto Film Festival. Banned in Norway, Germany, and Malaysia, this movie will test the fortitude of the most hardened movie watcher. Don’t say that we’re not including the rough stuff on the list! The question is… is this horror or merely horror adjacent?
87 Candyman (1992)
Directed by Bernard Rose
Starring: Tony Todd (The Candyman), Virginia Madsen (Helen), and Xander Berkeley (Tyler)
Say his name three times and face the consequences. Candyman follows Helen, (Madsen) who is researching a classic urban legend tale, about the Candyman: a successful artist at the turn of the century, the son of a slave who became prosperous after developing a system for mass-producing shoes and fell in love with a white woman. That drew the attention of an angry lynch mob, and he was captured, tortured, and after cutting off his painting hand, and was covered in honey, inducing him to get stung to death by bees. Thus, the Candyman was born. The twists of fate reveal that Helen bears a striking resemblance to the Candyman’s lover, and soon the Candyman becomes as interested in her as she is in him. Coincidence? Of course not! This supernatural serial killer story gets elevated from the rest of its peers by the phenomenal orchestral score from Phillip Glass, and solid veteran actors taking their roles seriously. This role became the calling card for Tony Todd, who in time became a stalwart in genre films. (Night of the Living Dead, Wishmaster, Final Destination, House of Grimm… to name but a few.)
Still, I wish there was more of a revenge motive for Candyman. Something more palpably meaty for the story to follow… if he was killed by a lynch mob, why not come back to haunt the descendants who did him wrong in the first place?
86: It (2017)
Directed by Andy Muscietti
Starring: Bill Skarsgard as Pennywise, Jaeden Liberher (Bill), Finn Wolfhard (Richie), Sophia Lillis (Beverly), Wyatt Oleff (Stanley), Cosen Jacobs (Mike), Nicholas Hamilton (Ben), and Jack Dylan Glazer (Eddie)
A recent box office smash, and the return of a big studio (NewLine/Warner Brothers) bringing in a larger budget horror film ($30,000,000), bolstering it with a great script with talented young actors and trusting that an R rated movie can turn a profit. The brilliant marketing suggested a terrifying movie that attracted a much broader audience than would ordinarily go see a horror film, and it succeeded to the tune of 20X their investment worldwide. ($700,381,748 and counting… and trust me, Warner Brothers is definitely counting!) All this would be for naught if Skarsgard was unable to supplant the legendary Tim Curry as the definitive devil clown, and had not the brilliant young cast for the Losers Club not been so spot on. Protagonists you could root for put into serious peril, with a scary clown for the ages. That, apparently, gets you some serious box office cheese. Let’s see if the adults can do better in 2019’s second half of the story offering. Scariest Things review can be found here.
85: Zombieland (2009)
Directed by Ruben Fleischer
Starring: Woody Harrelson (Tennessee), Jessie Eisenberg (Columbus), Emma Stone (Wichita), and Bill Murray playing himself.
Comedy horror arrives in the top 100! In this goofball telling, surviving the zombiepocalypse comes in two varieties, those who survive by adhering to a strict set of rules (Columbus) and those who have made it by explicitly breaking all the rules (all the other cast members of this film). This film does a ton of fourth wall breaking, with lots of explanations of the rules. My favorites: #10 “Always Check the Back Seat” and #18 “Limber Up”. (Definite nods to Max Brooks and his Zombie Survival Guide.) The Harrelson and Eisenberg are fantastic foils for each other, and there is real magic in their chemistry. In the end, though, what everyone will remember is Bill Murray playing himself turning into a zombie.
Prince of Darkness (1987)
Directed by John Carpenter
Starring: Donald Pleasance (The Priest), Victor Wong (Professor Birak), Jameson Parker (Brian), Ann Howard (Susan), Lisa Blount (Catherine) and Dennis Dun (Walter)… and Alice Cooper as a creepy homeless guy.
Though neither Mike or I had this movie on our top 25 list, it has a very special spot in the history of The Scariest Things, as this was the very first film we saw together! We went to Eugene’s Valley River Center Cinemas, and caught a late night showing… I think we had just met in the dorms earlier in the month, October of 1987. Ah! Good times! As for the movie, this was prototype John Carpenter. Filled with some of his favorite regular actors, like Donald Pleasance (Halloween), Victor Wong and Dennis Dun (Big Trouble in Little China), and Susan Blanchard (They Live). The story is that a priest invites a quantum physics professor to explain a mysterious glowing cylinder that was found in the basement of an abandoned church in LA. Of course, this happens to be found to be a sentient cylinder of goo… and later determined to be the ESSENCE OF SATAN! Dor. Wong has plenty of grad students to get killed off. Tons of fun!
Young Frankenstein (1975)
Directed by Mel Brooks
Starring: Gene Wilder (Frederick Frankenstein), Peter Boyle (The Monster), Marty Feldman (Igor), Teri Garr (Inga), Cloris Leachman (Frau Blucher), Madeline Kahn (Elizabeth), and Gene Hackman (The Blind Hermit)
Puttin on the Riiiiiitz!!! One of the best comedies of all time, and it just so happens to be a horror comedy. Brooks is the master of satirizing familiar properties, but he arguably was never better than when he to his turn to essentially re-make Frankenstein into a comedy. It lovingly creates the look, and the plot, of the original movie, but is done with hilarious loving care. It pokes fun at the original, while in a full embrace of the source material. SO DODDAMNED FUNNY! The all-star cast is clearly eating up every scene they are in, and each performer absolutely is memorable. Still, with repeat viewings, still funny! Boris Karloff would be proud had he made it that long.
Editorial errata note: Mike referenced Bernadette Peters in the Podcast, I think he meant Madeline Kahn… whose sassy Bride of Frankenstein was a total scream!
Raw (2017) [France]
Directed by Julia Ducourmau
Starring: Garance Marillier (Justine), Ella Rumpf (Alexia), and Rabah Nait Oufella (Adrien)
Straight off, I normally don’t like cannibal films. I loved this one! This is a movie, much like the Fly, where the protagonist is the monster. It is incredibly sympathetic in its portrayal of the horror. If you can understand when something is more horrifying than terrifying, this is a prime example of that kind of movie. It gets under your skin. Justine is a freshman vegan veterinary school student, who through a hazing ritual of eating a rabbit’s kidney becomes ravenous for human flesh. But she can’t just go around attacking her schoolmates, and her struggles are cringe-inducing, and emotionally exhausting to watch. You will need a sturdy stomach to watch this one, but it isn’t inherently mean, like most cannibal movies. An oddly sympathetic flesh munching portrait of a film. Here is the Scariest Things full review.
81: Kill List (2011) [United Kingdom]
Directed by Ben Wheatley
Starring: Neal Maskell (Jay), MyAnna Buring (Shel), Harry Simpson (Sam), and Michael Smiley (Gal)
Jay and Gal are former soldiers who have become hitmen, and get sent on increasingly diabolical missions, and mixed in with some serious cult activity. The tables turn on the two old friends, as their marks prove to be as dangerous, and more sinister than they are. Admission… Mike and Eric haven’t seen this yet! But, our expert jurors in the know have been raving about the tight and tense script, with a wicked and dark ending.
80: A Tale of Two Sisters (2003) [South Korea]
Directed by Jee-woon Kim
Starring: Soo-Jung Im (Soo-Mi Bae), Geun-young Moon (Soo-yeon Bae), Kap-su Kim (Moo-Hyon Bae – Father), Jung-ah Yum (Eun Joo Heo – Stepmother)
A teenage girl, S00-mi, is being treated for shock and psychosis in a mental institution and has just returned home to be reunited with her sister, S00-Yeon. The reunion is awkward, and there is palpable tension with their Stepmother, Eun Joo, and their disaffected father, Moo-Hyon. There is a terrible legacy in this family, and the revelation of what happened to the girls’ mother is a secret that the movie clings tightly to as a secret. Ghostly elements creep in, suggesting what might have happened, and there are equal measures of murder mystery and insanity that play into how the story unfolds… but in the end this is a family drama. A family in disintegration. It to me resembles some pieces of Audition, Hereditary, and Goodnight Mommy… and is worthy of being side by side with those movies. I particularly liked the Stepmother, Jung-ah Yum’s performance as she does so much with her eyes. You really wonder how villainous she is, or if this is all a figment of the sister’s imagination. The mystery reveals come at well-placed intervals, and keep you interested in the mystery without telegraphing the “solution”
To date, it is both the highest-grossing Korean horror film and the first to be screened in American Theaters. This is a beautifully shot movie and it is a slow builder. It’s a very complex story, and the whole puzzle locks together in the final ten minutes. It isn’t a twist, so much as that it allows you to stitch all the clues together that the movie has been laying in front of you.
79: The Strangers (2008)
Directed by Bryan Bertino
Starring: Scott Speedman (James Hoyt), Liv Tyler (Kristen McKay), Kip Weeks (Man in the Mask), Laura Margolis (Pin-Up Girl) and Gemma Ward (Dollface)
The Strangers may be the Prototype home invasion movie. Three masked psychopaths terrorize a couple, Kristen and Scott who are relaxing in an isolated vacation house after attending a friend’s wedding. Repeated knocks at the door, a threat and then lots of jump scares. The movie features considerable menace and stalking by these masked strangers, very much a game of cat and mouse, and these disruptive strangers are clearly toying with the couple. These masked villains are essentially terrorists, in the truest sense of the word. Their aim is to terrorize, and you really don’t get a sense of what else is making them do this, so the plot motivation is an issue. They have a Joker-like desire to cause fear and disruption… and in some ways what gives this film strength is also its biggest limitation. The simple plot conveys lots of primal frights and manages to get some good scares in without being particularly gory. Oddly, the director, Bertino, is not a fan of slasher or home invasion movies, of which this is both.
78: The Birds (1963)
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
Starring: Tippi Hedren (Melanie Daniels), Rod Taylor (Mitch Brenner), Jessica Tandy (Lydia Brenner), Suzanne Pleshette (Annie Hayworth), and Veronica Cartwright (Cathy Brenner)
I got this off my “Shame “ list! I hadn’t gotten around to watching this film until spurred on by the requirement of watching it for this list. I have to concur with many, that this is a masterpiece in character development and study, no surprise given that this is an Alfred Hitchcock movie. The chemistry between Tippi Hedren and Rod Taylor is palpable, and particularly remarkable since this was Hedren’s movie debut, having been a model before this. I love that she plays a mischief maker, a bit of a rogue, which is a fantastic twist in genre films. The characters in this movie are layered and rich with character arcs. The birds are genuinely frightening, bringing animals we take for granted, and making the ominous. The chimney scene took my breath away, and the apocalyptic end sequence was a mind blower.
Like Cat People, I don’t think you can say “No Animals were hurt in the making of this production”. they had a bird wrangler on set, and part of the effects was to utilize as many real birds as they could. Toss another finch at them! On a lamentable side note, Alfred Hitchcock became a boor towards Hedren, as he was obsessed with her and harassed her during the production of their second film together, Marnie.
77: The Legend of Hell House (1973)
Directed by John Hough
Starring: Roddy McDowell (Benjamin Franklin Fischer), Pamela Franklin (Florence Tanner), Clive Revill (Dr. Lionel Barrett), and Gayle Hunnicutt (Ann Barrett)
Physicist Lionel Barrett and his wife lead a team of mediums into the Belasco House reported to be “The Mount Everest of Haunted Houses”. It is supposedly haunted by the victims of its late owner, a six-foot-five serial killer, the “roaring giant” Emerick Belasco. One of my favorite lines from the trailer is when Florence asks Ben, “What did he do to make this house so evil?” And he responds “Murder, vampirism, cannibalism, drug addiction, alcoholism, sadism, mutilation…” My podcasting partner Mike notes that he should have tossed bestiality into that mix. Nice.
The house in question is a magnificent mansion and is perhaps the star of the show. If the house wasn’t it might have been the black cat who is prominently featured throughout the proceedings. In an era that predated PG-13, this movie really pushed the limits of what was allowable for PG, with quite a bit of sex appeal, and people getting crushed by heavy objects. This movie is based on a Richard Matheson novel.
76: Saw (2004)
Directed by James Wan
Starring: Cary Elwes (Dr. Gordon), Leigh Wannell (Adam, also the writer), Shawnee Smith (Amanda) Danny Glover (Detective Tapp), Ken Leung (Detetctive Sing), Dina Meyer( Kerry), and Michael Emerson (Zep) and Tobin Bell as Jigsaw!
The touchstone of torture porn! Puzzly and tricky utilizing the premise of what will desperate people do under duress. At what point do you drop all pretense of societal norms and decide to act in your best interests at the expense of others. Just how far would YOU go? Green-tinged, dirty, and claustrophobic, this film launched James Wan’s directorial career. Hugely profitable, downright scary and expertly paced… this movie proved to be too grim and grisly for most critics. Not a great Rotten Tomatoes score (44) but this movie is well loved by the fans of the horror genre, and thus it shows up here.
The sequels by Darren Lynn Bousman are solid fare, and ups the ante with the tricks and traps, and establishes Jigsaw as one of the critical personae in horror cinema.
75: Coraline (2009)
Directed by Henry Selick
Starring the voice talents of: Dakota Fanning (Coraline Jones), Teri Hatcher (Other Mother), John Hodgeman (Other Father) and Keith David as The Cat.
A true gateway to horror! An adventurous 11-year-old girl finds another world that is a strangely idealized version with her frustrating home, but it has sinister secrets. An Oscar-nominated dark fantasy film utilizing state-of-the-art stop-motion, this marked the first feature film from Laika. This movie scared kids. Sent them home crying, and had parents wondering what they had gotten themselves into. The whole concept of replacement parents was too much for some, and the buttons for eyes were spookylicious. For those kids who wanted spooky, they were richly rewarded. From an acclaimed children’s book by Neil Gaiman, it starts the tradition that Laika created for creepy but whimsical imagery.
Not surprisingly, this was a favorite from our friend Marne Oyen (Mom horror!) and Kian Doughty (an actual kid!) In truth, the movie probably goes side by side with other dark fantasies, like Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, or A Nightmare Before Christmas… so it’s understood if you claim “THAT’S NOT HORROR!” But, I will push back to suggest that we are casting a broad net of what horror might be, and that each juror was left to their own criteria selections for what they wanted to include. We will be getting to other family-friendly gateway horror films on this list, and I approve!
74: Goodnight Mommy (2014) [Austria]
Written and Directed by Severin Fiala and Veronika Franz
Starring: Lukas Schwarz (Lukas), Elias Schwarz (Elias), and Suanne Wuest (Mama)
The IMDb description is “Twin boys move to a new home with their mother after she has face changing cosmetic surgery, but under her bandages is someone the children don’t recognize.” A movie in the same vein as A Tale of Two Sisters, Audition, Misery, and The Sixth Sense. Very early on there is a scene with the twin brothers are playing in a cornfield, and it appears that something happens to one of the brothers, but it is left ambiguous. Moments later, the story begins in earnest, with Mama returning home and the boys race home to greet her, but they suspect something is wrong, and that mama is an impersonator.
This is a dysfunctional family psychodrama. There are ghostly suggestions, as there are multiple heavy hints that Mama can’t see Lukas. So, the question is… is Lukas a ghost? Is he an imaginary brother? Is mama insane? Is she an impostor? The situation shifts multiple times. It doesn’t really get scary (like Audition) until late into the third act, and then it goes full torture porn. Be wary, and don’t lapse into complacency when watching this movie. It has some traumatic elements at the end. A satisfying story, and kudos to the Schwarz twins, this is their only screen credit to date. You can see the full Scariest Things review here.
73: Train To Busan (2017) [South Korea]
Directed by Sang Ho Yeon
Starring: Yoo Gong (Seok-woo (The dad)), Su-An Kim (Soo-an,the daughter), Yu-mi Jung (Seong-Kyeong, the pregnant beauty) , Dong Seok Ma (Sang-Hwa, the tough guy), Eui-sung Kim (Yon-suk, the corporate asshole)
We get our second Korean horror movie to hit the top 100 with this recent addition, proving that Korea is in full stride when it comes to giving the rest of the world nightmares. The best fast zombie movie ever? Perhaps! It’s Proof that a zombie movie doesn’t have to be a one-note story. Great character development and story arcs, particularly for Seok-woo, the dad who is determined to make right by his daughter and put aside his workaholic ways. An impressive cast, and a truly apocalyptic sense about the spread of the contagion. Self-contained horror, with the train acting as a superb backdrop for the spread of the apocalypse. If you like your horror movies action packed and gory, but also want a solid story with solid characters, look no further than this 2017 instant classic. Full Scariest Things review here.
72: Creepshow (1982)
Directed by George Romero
Starring: Hal Holbrook (Henry), Adrienne Barbeau (Billie), Leslie Nielsen (Richard), Ted Danson (Harry), Stephen King (Jordy Verill), EG Marshall (Upson Pratt), Ed Harris (Hank), and Carrie Nye (Sylvia)
An anthology that pays homage to the EC Comics of yore, featuring titles Tales from the Crypt, Vault of Horror, Haunt of Fear, and Weird Tales. Done very tongue in cheek, with comic panels popping to life. Bright color pink and blue splashes when something terrible happens. My favorites are “The Crate” wherein an old crate found in a University basement has something hungry inside, and “Something to Tide You Over” which is a double-revenge play between Leslie Nielson and Ted Danson. “Father’s Day” and “They’re Creeping Up on You” are quite entertaining as well. “The Lonesome Death of Jordy Verrill” seemed tonally a little out of place, and is hampered by Stephen King’s inability to act.
This is Eric’s favorite horror anthology of all time, and harkens back to a time when Robert (ZED) had the Creepshow graphic novel at his house and we would read the book and watch the movie on VHS over and over as young teenagers. Other anthologies worth checking out include V/H/S (2012), Trick R’ Treat (2007), Cat’s Eye (1985), and Trilogy of Terror (1975)… all of which received top 100 votes, but didn’t’ quite crack the top 100. And, Creepshow 2 is a respectable anthology follow up.
71: The Descent (2005)
Directed by Neil Marshall
Starring: Shauna Macdonald (Sarah), Natalie Mendoza (Juno), Alex Reid (Beth), Saskia Mulder (Rebecca), MyAnna Buring (Sam), and Nora-Jane Noone as Holly.
Maybe the most claustrophobic movie ever. A really tense movie, with badass chicks doing badass stuff. Plausible-ish… with moments that made me pause the movie to catch my breath. (Almost literally). There is only one big mistake that the protagonists make, the hubris of Juno in wanting to make this an epic exploration and leaving the guidebook behind. Otherwise, these women behave rationally, and even after getting spooked, rally and show tenacity given the horror around them. The monsters are dangerous but beatable. However, they do have the serious home turf advantage, and behave like predatory animals, and not like completely fearless supernatural creatures. The characters are given real story arcs to follow, particularly Sarah who is recovering from the accidental death of her husband and daughter. The other big running dramatic thread in the movie is the awkward tension of whether there was any behind-the-scenes hanky panky between Juno and her husband, prior to the car accident that claimed him, and how that plays out between Juno and Sara. Not to be underestimated is the reckless abandon of Holly the rebel, and the magnificent athleticism of Rebecca.
Not really Hillbilly horror but, this movie does take place in Appalachia! (By a group of English actresses. This is high-grade action horror and is a real entertaining crowd pleaser.
EPISODE XXXVI: 70-61
69(TIE) Monster Squad (1987)
Directed By Fred Dekker
Starring: Andre Gower (Sean), Robby Kiger (Patrick), Ashley Bank (Phoebe), Stephen Macht (Del, Sean’s Dad), Duncan Regeher (Count Dracula), Tom Noonan (Frankenstein’s Monster), Michael Reed MacKay (The Mummy), Carl Thibault (Wolfman), Tom Woodruff Jr. (The Gillman) and Leonardo Cimino as “The Scary German Guy”.
One of the prevailing tropes of 1980’s family adventure films is that of kids unmasking the plots of something big and nefarious, and devising countermeasures to foil these plans. Emblematic of this trope is the fan-favorite The Monster Squad. Mention this film to anyone older than thirty, and you will get a wistful “Awwwwwww… Monster Squad!” reaction. Similar in many ways to films like The Goonies, E.T., The Lost Boys, and The Gate, this film plays out pre-adolescent fantasy wish fulfillment, with a fun monster twist. The story is that a group of kids, who are classic monster fans, get their hands on the diary of the famed vampire hunter, Abraham Van Helsing, and use the tome to find an amulet to foil the nefarious plots of Count Dracula and his team of Universal monsters to bring the world into eternal darkness.
It’s very light in tone, and silly, but the humor works quite well, and the film has left an impression with many a Gen-Xer. The interaction with Frankenstein’s monster is the framework for much goofiness, and the Shane Black penned script has some winning dialogue like “The Wolfman’s got nards!” and “The Creature stole my Twinkie!”. The spirit of this movie lives on with current retro horror like It and Stranger Things.
69 (TIE): Gremlins (1984)
Directed by Joe Dante
Starring: Zach Galligan (Billy), Phoebe Cates (Kate), Hoyt Axton (Randall, the dad), Frances Lee McCain (Lynn, the mom),Corey Feldman (Pete), Keye Luke (Mr. Wing), and the voices of Howie Mandel (Gizmo), and Frank Welker as Stripe.
Back to back 80’s gateway horror pictures! Madcap adventure and mischief reign in this landmark piece of kid-friendly scares. Inventor Randall Peltzer stumbles across an adorable little critter, a mogwai named Gizmo, in a mysterious shop in Chinatown, and decides to give this little fella to his son Billy for Christmas. The thing is, there are rules, and the #1 rule to remember… don’t feed the mogwai after midnight, or the fluffy little cutie is gonna change, for the worse. Of course, Billy cannot adhere to these rules, and Gizmo turns into Stripe, his gremlin alter-ego and a reign of mayhem ensues! Somewhat different from its brethren film The Monster Squad (which tied Gremlins for #69) the young protagonists in this film are more in scramble mode, almost unable to keep up with the proliferation of the gremlins and subject to all the chaos that the Gremlins revel in.
The film is packed with notable people on the production, Stephen Spielberg produced it, Chris Columbus (Harry Potter) wrote the script, Chris Walas (The Fly) did the animatronics, and Jerry Goldsmith (Star Trek) composed the score. The movie was a runaway hit, and begat films like Ghoulies, Critters, and Puppet Master. And, the next step in gory goodness for fans of this kind of film would do well to check out The Blob and Slither (2006).
68: Nosferatu (1922) [Germany]
Directed by F.W. Murneau
Starring: Max Schreck (Count Graf Orlok), Gustave Von Wangenheim (Huter), Greta Schröder (Ellen), and Georg H. Schnell as Harding.
Where would the genre be without the Gothic greatness of Nosferatu? Still hauntingly scary a century after its release, this movie launched the horror film as we know it today. Coming in at a fairly robust 94 minutes, the movie was longer than most of its era, and considerably longer than Dracula, which followed some nine years later. This is actually the story of Dracula, but due to some transactional difficulties, the producers decided to switch the name of the count from Dracula to Orlok, but the vision of the vampire, the Nosferatu, could not be more different from the suave and sophisticated Count Dracula of Bela Lugosi. Schreck was a nightmarish vision, a creepy and vile apparition that if you send you fleeing in a panic if you saw him in person. The film is extra convincing due to the use of real Eastern European sets, a real castle, and a real ship.
Film school students across the world study this production, which almost became an impossibility when the Stoker estate tried to bury this vampire movie. Fortunately for all of us, several copies survived, and the movie has an undead life to this day. Less fortunate were some of the crew of the film, some of who disappeared or died during the production of the movie… the first of the cursed horror movies, and a prelude to Poltergeist and The Omen. A fine companion piece to this film is the film biography Shadow of the Vampire (2000), starring John Malkovich and Willem Dafoe as Max Schreck, which explores the bizarre personality of Nosferatu’s leading man. The movie was remade in 1979 by Werner Herzog, and Robert Eggers, director of the Witch is currently exploring Nosferatu as an upcoming production.
67: Ju-On (The Grudge) (2002) [Japan]
Directed by Takashi Shimizu
Starring Megumi Okina (Rika Nishina), Misaki Ito (Hitomi Tokunaga), Misa Uehara (Izumi Toyama), Kanji Tsuda (Kazumi Toyama), Takako Fuji (Kayako Saeki… the woman ghost), and Yuya Ozeki (Toshio Saeki… the boy ghost)
Ju-On (The Grudge) is a cornerstone of J-Horror. This film is a constricting python of a ghost story, squeezing you into tighter and tighter corners and not letting you up for air. The Kayako and Toshio are malevolent haunts that torment each successive tenant in the home in which they were murdered by Kayako’s husband Takeo. The ghosts are relentless; leaving the scene of the haunt will not allow you to escape them… and they are vengeful ghosts, not satisfied with scaring off the intruders, but holding some supernatural desire to destroy anyone they come into contact with. The ghosts have a knack for cornering and trapping their prey, no matter where the victims try to flee to. For a ghost story, this has a surprisingly high body count.
This is a grim picture, but elegantly done. This film, along with Audition, Ringu, and the Eye were so impressive that they found widespread western appreciation, and were essential for bringing horror out of the doldrums that were the 1990’s. The Sara Michelle Gellar starring western adaptation of the Grudge was also good and followed many of the same tonal beats and shifts, but for the real scares, check out the Japanese original.
66: The Fog (1980)
Directed by John Carpenter
Starring: Adrienne Barbeau (Stevie wayne), Jamie Lee Curtis (Elizabeth Solley), Janet Leigh (Kathy Williams), Tom Atkins (Nick Castle), Hal Holbrook (Father Malone), and John Housemen as Mr. Machen.
John Carpenter’s second horror film, something of a progenitor of the Pirates of the Carribean movies, in that it is about ghostly pirates. The town of Antonia Bay is about to receive a reunion of sorts, by the crew of the Elizabeth Dane, plundered and sunk by the founders of the city a hundred years ago. Sounds like a pretty salty tale, no? They are out to strike vengeance upon the descendants of those who had done them wrong, lo so many years ago. Some of Carpenter’s favorite cast members for future films are present here, Jamie Lee Curtis, of course, along with Adrienn Barbeau (without her trademark tight curls), Tom Atkins, and Hal Holbrook.
The film is full of fun Easter eggs, too. Tom Atkin’s character is named Nick Castle, which is also the name of the actor who portrays Michael Myers… and fun note… will be in the Michael Myers mask again, in the upcoming Halloween reboot! Jamie Lee Curtis and Janet Leigh, of course, are a mother and daughter duo but do not play a mother and daughter in this movie. There is a character named Dr. Phibes, taking the namesake of a famous Vincent Price character. There is also a character named Dan O’Bannon, named after the screenwriter for Dark Star, Carpenter’s first film, and also, later on, more famously scripting Alien. A very young Rob Bottin, who would two years later provide the amazing effects work for The Thing, plays the undead pirate Blake. You have to admit that Carpenter likes to wink at the audience with his references!
65: Phantasm (1979)
Directed by Dan Coscarelli
Starring Angus Scrimm as the Tall Man, Michael Baldwin (Mike), Bill Thornbury (Jody), Reggie Bannister (Reggie) and Kathy Lester as The Lady in Lavender
Armed with the one-two punch of the inimitable Angus Scrimm and the deadly silver sphere, Phantasm mixed a coming of age movie, with alien kidnapping, mutant dwarfs, and a reflection up death, or in other words… everything that The Scariest Thing’s Mike Campbell is afraid of! Coscarelli combined his love of two properties, Invaders from Mars (1953) and the Ray Bradbury tale Something Wicked, This Way Comes, and formed up this curious dreamlike tale of brothers Jody and Mike, who are investigating the death of Jody’s friend Tommy. The story evolves into a tale of alien abductions and waking dreams. Trust me, it’s easier if you just watch it. Made on a tight budget of only $300,000 (even back in 1979 this is considered a small budget), Phantasm managed to usher in the VHS era of horror with this unique sci-fi horror film, and it proved to be a surprise hit pulling in almost $12 million at the box office. Where the film really made its mark, however, was in the new video rental market, where it managed to spawn several sequels, and beckoned teenagers to rent it, with its compelling box art.
If you listen to the soundtrack on our Episode XX you will also hear the remarkable score that was created, that was influenced by Goblin (Suspiria) and Mike Oldfield (Exorcist). Fun fact… Don Cascarelli’s jacket caught fire on set, from a misfired shotgun blank. (Thank you Wikipedia, the fountain of all information!)
63 (TIE) The Bride of Frankenstein (1935)
Directed by James Whale
Starring: Boris Karloff (The Monster), Elsa Lanchester (The Bride), Colin Clive (Henry Frankenstein), Valarie Hobson (Elizabeth Frankenstein), Ernest Thesiger (Dr. Pretorius), and Dwight Frye as Karl.
Considered by many to be the best of the Golden Age Universal Movie pictures, as well as one of the best horror sequels ever made, The Bride of Frankenstein reuinites much of his cast from Frankenstein, and unlike the first movie, where Boris Karloff gets no credits, he gets top billing… and deservedly so. The movie takes place immediately after the end of Frankenstein, at the site of the burned mill that the villagers believed had doomed the monster. But no! The monster lives, and he goes off on a short killing spree, before settling in, and actually tries… and in the case with a blind hermit… succeeds in making friends among the countryfolk.
Meanwhile, Dr. Frankenstein has hooked up with his mentor, Dr. Pretorius, and are attempting to recreate Frankenstein’s experiments, and he arrived with homunculi, miniature automatons that Pretorius had imbued with life. He intends to create a bride for the monster, and they cobble together the magnificent golem that is Elsa Lanchester. For a movie so identified with this character, she is actually in it for only a short period, but she made the most of it. The bride is one of the most recognizable profiles in all movie history. The movie has a bit more humor in it than the original, and famously, in this movie, the monster speaks. “GOOOOOD!” “Friend!” Sadly, for the two monsters, they were not a good match. Unlike most zombies, the undead Karloff was imbued with emotion, and he sheds a tear as he buries himself and his would-be mate in the collapse of the laboratory.
63 (TIE): Black Christmas (1974)
Directed by Bob Clark
Starring: Olvia Hussey (Jessica), Kier Dullea (Peter Smythe), Margot Kidder (Barb), John Saxon (Lt. Fuller), Andrea Martin (Phyl), Lynne Griffin (Clare) and Marian Waldman as Mr. MacHenry.
This movie is a progenitor of the modern slasher movie, Black Sunday hitches a ride on several universal fears. The crazy stalker who leaves nasty prank calls. The unseen assailant, just out of view, and closer than you think. It’s one fateful holiday break, at a sorority house in Bedford, Canada, and there is a creepy man leaving threatening phone calls to the sorority house. The unseen stalker then embarks on a killing spree that takes a while for anyone to notice, because the holiday break serves as a good enough reason for the absence of missing women… who have actually been slain by the caller who gets more and more brazen and explicitly ferocious in his threats. By the time the cops are finally able to try and get a handle on things and trace the call, the killing spree is in full swing. Unique among slasher movies in that the Billy is never shown, and never found. For a movie as powerful and as genre-defining as it is, and particularly given that Billy is never discovered, the fact that this film didn’t get any sequels is both remarkable and refreshing. This is a fantastic movie to watch on your holiday break. (Do a double feature with Gremlins!)
Black Christmas is the third #1 film to be revealed. This is Friend of the Podcast, Sharon Yablon’s #1 horror movie. Also, due to an arithmetic quirk (or Eric’s inability to do math properly) the fact that there was a tie at 64 allowed for one extra movie to sneak in! So… it’s a bonus movie! It’s the new math folks. You get some extra horror bonus coverage due to some ties in the voting. Yay? YAY!
62: The Wicker Man (1973) [United Kingdom]
Directed by Robin Hardy
Starring: Edward Woodward (Sgt. Neil Howie), Christopher Lee (Lord Summerisle), Britt Ekland (Willow MacGregor), Diane Cilento (Miss Rose) and Geraldine Cowper (Rowan Morrison)
In 1973, Christopher Lee was getting tired of his Hammer movie type-casting and wished to be starring in something more intellectually rigorous. He collaborated with writer Anthony Shaffer, and they came up with this heady and contemplative picture, an examination of belief systems crashing into each other that is delivered in the form of a cult mystery. This somber tale follows Sgt. Howie, who is investigating a missing girl, Rowan Morrison, in the bleak and windswept New Hebrides off the coast of Scotland. Howie is a devout Christian and he is mortified to discover that the residents of this island are still practicing Pagan rituals, and he is convinced that young Rowan has been targeted to be the sacrifice in an upcoming ritual. The leader of the island, Lord Summerisle dismisses Howie’s concerns and informs him that the May Day ritual is a celebration to bless the fruit tree crops. Howie is blinded by his preconceptions of Pagan idolatry, and schemes to undue the ceremony, and becomes the unwitting fool, both literally and symbolically… and it spells his doom.
The Wicker Man is indeed a more cerebral story, and it is the thematic cousin of a number of 70’s movies like Let’s Scare Jessica to Death and Don’t Look Now, which emphasized the situational and emotional stakes of horror and veered away from the visceral and gory. Everything about the production, from the famously folky soundtrack, to the desaturated palette, and the overall quiet tones reinforce the melancholy nature of the film. Make sure if you are looking to see this film, you catch the 1973 production and not the horrifically BAD 2006 film starring Nicolas Cage in a famous display of over-acting.
61: What We Do in the Shadows (2014) [New Zeland]
Directed by Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi
Starring: Jemaine Clement (Vladislav – The boastful former tyrant), Taika Wititi (Viago – The uptight and dapper leader), Jonny Brugh (Deacon, the “young rebel” of the group… who is neither particularly rebellious nor young), Ben Fransham (Petyr, a monstrous Count Orlok like vampyr), Cori Gonzalez-Macuer (Nick), Jackie van Beek (Jackie), Stu Rutherford (Stu), and Elena Stejko (Pauline-The Beast)
This is pure horror wackiness! A mockumentary that takes the Spinal Tap idea and applies it to a group of vampires, Viago, Vladislav, Deacon, and Petyr living in an old Wellington, New Zealand flat. We are introduced to this group of vampires doing their daily routines through the lens of a documentary team, that has been promised that they will not be harmed by this daffy group of bloodsuckers. They still live in a Victorian “lifestyle” and are trying their best to adapt to a modern world, and only partially succeeding. They send their familiars (servants) out to help roust some victims and run some errands, including cleaning up after their bloody killings, but this leads to petty jealousies and groupie behavior that the vampires struggle to handle. The topper for the film is a masquerade ball, the big society ball for the Wellington undead, but this year’s event happens to be featuring the presence of THE BEAST, an ex-lover of Vladislav, whose normal swagger and braggadocio take a serious beating when he is around her.
Clement and Waititi came at this after their work on Flight of the Conchords, and the wit and chemistry that these two generated is a match for the ages. The jokes almost all land, with my particular favorite being about a sandwich. I won’t spoil that for you, as you will want to savor that particular joke for yourself. The unsung hero in this production is the actual IT technician, Stu Rutherford, essentially playing himself, and provides the ultimate straight-man in the crazy shenanigans that the vampires employ. The whole team skewers all of the vampire tropes, and yet lovingly embraces the Gothy weirdness of it all. Hands down one of the best horror comedies of all time!
60: Don’t Look Now (1973)
Directed by Nicholas Roeg
Starring: Donald Sutherland (John Baxter), Julie Christie (Laura Baxter), Hilary Mason (Heather), Clelia Matania (Wendy).
A daring exploration of loss and desperation. Nicholas Roeg wraps a tale of a couple, John and Laura Baxter who are having real difficulty coming to grips with the loss of their daughter, Christine, who drowned in a pond outside their English estate. The story follows the Baxters to Venice, for John’s work, where they are led to believe by a pair of elderly sisters, Heather and Wendy, that, through a seance, they can “See” their daughter again. When Laura meets with the sisters they reveal a warning, and that the Baxters should leave Venice. Soon afterward, John starts spotting what he believes to be Christine, dressed in her red raincoat, slipping in and out of the shadows of Venice, and he obsessively pursues what he believes to be his daughter. Meanwhile, there is a serial killer at large in Venice, and the third act provides a crashing resolution to the warning that the sisters issued.
This movie is perhaps best known for the infamous sex scene between Sutherland and Christie, graphic enough to have an X rating initially slapped on it when it came out. If you are prone to click-baity headlines about movies where the actors actually did the deed while acting… this will be one of the movies that get mentioned. (Ah, the power of “research” right?) In the end, however, the film is revered for Roeg’s artistic framing of the film, and how well it uses Venice as a backdrop. The two powerhouse performances by Sutherland and Christie pack real emotional weight into the story, and the themes of obsession, loss, and grief are palpable throughout. This is a thinking person’s horror movie, full of dread, and is capped off with a memorable boffo conclusion.
(NOTE: A clerical (Eric) error meant that we had a numbering correction… and we actually recorded 59-51 for episode XXXVII… new math strikes again!)
59: Aliens (1987)
Directed by James Cameron
Starring: Sigourney Weaver (Ripley), Michael Biehn (Cpl. Hicks), Bill Paxton (Pvt. Hudson), Carrie Henn (Newt), Lance Henrickson (Bishop), Paul Rieser (Carter Burke), Al Matthews (Sgt. Apone), and Jeanette Goldstein (Cpl. Vasquez)
Aliens is a masterclass in action-sci-fi-horror-adventure. It is also, squarely a film that is subject to the discussion of “horror or not?” but there is no doubting that the source material is the stuff or horror. The movie thrills and scares, and I vividly remember being a 17-year-old, gripping the theater armrests until my hands hurt. The movie really doesn’t need much of an introduction, here, but this movie is the gold standard for sci-fi epic action films. The so-real-you-can-touch-it sets, the fantastic ensemble, the super-tight editing, everything was so convincing and was one of the last of its kind to rely almost entirely on physical props and practical effects, in the pre-Jurrasic Park era of movie making. One of the most re-watchable films ever made, and one that actually has a director’s cut that improves the movie. Horror? Maybe. One of the best genre films ever? No doubt. If we did a top 100 science fiction films, this would be in the top 5.
58: Re-Animator (1985)
Directed by Stuart Gordon
Starring Jeffrey Combs (Dr. Herbert West), Bruce Abbott (Dan Cain), David Gale (Dr. Carl Hill), Barbara Crampton (Megan Halsey), Robert Sampson (Dean Halsey)
An Over-the-top modern Frankenstein-like tale based loosely upon the H.P. Lovecraft tale “Herbert West-Reanimator”. One of the all-time great mad-scientist movies and a landmark moment in the VHS era, the definitive version of this film is Unrated (would have been X at the time) and it represents the high-water mark for Charles Band’s straight-to-video production company Full Moon Features. Sometimes lost in the memorable Jeffrey Combs portrayal of Herbert West is the bonkers fun that David Gale brings to the equally mad and power-mad Dr. Hill…. And later as a telepathic re-animated head. The intestinal strangulation of Herbert West is a gross-out moment for the ages, and those gross-out moments along with a gorgeous Barbara Crampton being naked for a good portion of the movie made it must see VHS watching for legions of teenage boys.
57 Hostel (2005)
Directed by Eli Roth
Starring: Jay Hernandez (Paxton), Derek Richardson (Josh), Eythor Gudjonsson (Oli), Barbara Nedljakova (Natalya), Jana Kaderabkova (Svetlana), Jennifer Lim (Kana), Rick Hoffman (The American Client), Petr Janis (Johan, the German Surgeon), Jan Vlasak (The Dutch Businessman)
Oh, the humanity! Brutal, vicious, and convincing… if Saw was the originator of popular torture porn, Hostel is the apex of the sub-genre. Three recent college graduates travel through Eastern Europe, looking for cheap sex and high adventure, and see the tables get turned on them as their libidos get them into a trap that is set by The “Elite Hunting Club” where young tourists get captured, tortured, and killed by the Club clientele. Unflinchingly nasty, this is a very, very hard movie to watch. Limbs get severed, eyeballs get scooped out, power tools are used as torture devices… this film pushes past most norms of what you can show on screen. The movie is almost entirely devoid of humor to offset the grim story, and it sits on your conscience even heavier as a result. Upon hearing criticism by Slovakian and Czech culture officials, Roth claimed that his goal was to show American ignorance of the world around them, and not to indict the eastern Europeans on being murderous thugs.
56: Se7en (1995)
Directed by David Fincher
Starring: Brad Pitt (Detective David Mills), Morgan Freeman (Detective Lt. Williams Somerset), Gwyneth Paltrow (Tracy Mills), Kevin Spacey (John Doe)
What’s in the BOOOOOX!!!??!! We all know what is in the box, Detective Mills, you don’t want to see it. One of the all-time great thrillers… it is debatable about whether this is a horror film, but it bears the hallmarks of the best in horror. The seven deadly sin themed kills are absolutely horrifying, and Fincher is wise to play some show and tell, with some of the horror coming by inference and exposition (which is just as well, in the case of the Lust killing). In some of these cases the description of the how and the why is just as brutal as the scene of the crime itself. Phenomenal acting by all of the actors involved… this allowed Fincher to apply a great narrative to his already established visual style that was evident in his Madonna videos and the much-maligned Alien 3.
55: [REC] (2007) [Spain]
Directed by Jaume Blaguero
Starring: Manuela Velasco (Angela), Pablo Ross (Pablo), Ferran Terraza (Manu), David Vert (Alex), Jorge-Yaman Serrano (Sergio), Javier Botet (Tristana)
One of the best uses of the shaky-cam in cinema. Unlike other found-footage films in the post-Blair Witch wake, [REC] managed to find a means and method to make the presence of a camera make sense. And, that convincing application makes [REC] palpably terrifying. Reporter Angela Vidal and her cameraman Pablo play ride-along with the Barcelona Fire Department and are called in to rescue an old woman who is trapped in her apartment. Turns out, this is the outbreak of a demon-inducing plague enzyme courtesy of the Vatican. The camera crew, the firemen, and all the residents get trapped inside, with this growing horror, as the building gets quarantined. Good times ensue! [REC] features of the all-time great endings to a horror movie (which I dare not spoil), and fantastic use of night-vision. One of the jurors voting for this is Marc Martinez Jordan, director of another Spanish horror film, Framed, which may one day end up on this list, as well… and I would suggest you can see elements of pacing and character influence of [REC] in Framed.
54: Army of Darkness (1992)
Directed by Sam Raimi
Starring: Bruce Campbell (Ash)< Embeth Davidtz (Sheila), Marcus Gilbert (Lord Arthur),
Gleefully goofy. Shop smart! Shop S-Mart! Act III of the Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell collaboration extends the story on the other side of the demonic portal introduced in Evil Dead II. By far the lightest and silliest of the series, this film feels like Evil Dead by way of Monty Python and the Holy Grail, replacing the Grail with the Necronomicon as the MacGuffin… if he finds it he gets to go back to his time and space. All that seems to be missing is a vampiric bunny, though it would not have surprised me if one had made an appearance in this movie had it happened. There is a bit of a free-form feel that seems to be Raimi and Campbell just having a joyous romp through a zombie hell. This movie doubles down on the general doofiness of Ash, and helps to hand-off the famous line from The Day the Earth Stood Still: Klatuu Barada Nikto… if only he got it right.
53: Session 9 (2001)
Directed by Brad Anderson
Starring: David Caruso (Phil Cronenberg), Peter Mullan (Gordon Fleming), Steven Gevedon (Mike King), Josh Lucas (Hank Romero), and Larry Fessenden (Craig McManus)
A sleeper surprise showing, but highly deserved! A ghost story that follows a group of asbestos abatement contractors who are mitigating a derelict asylum. One of the crew stumbles across a reel-to-reel set of recordings of a series of psychological treatment sessions in which the madness escalates with each successive session until the 9th session, where literally all hell breaks loose. The mitigation company, already on shaky ground when accepting the job begins to come apart at the seams, and the tensions internal to the business unravels along with the psyche of the crew, as the insidious recording works its menace on each of the construction workers. Very tense, and layered with paranoia, logically built over the course of the story, go find this underseen gem of a ghost story. In a starring role, the Danvers State Hospital in Massachusetts, formerly The State Lunatic Hospital at Danvers served as the perfect creepy surrounding for this story.
52: The Haunting (1963)
Directed by Robert Wise
Starring Julie Harris (Elanor Lance), Clair Bloom (Theodora), Richard Johnson (Dr. John Markway), Russ Tamblyn (Luke Sanderson), and Fay Compton (Mrs. Sanderson)
The mother of ghost story movies! Dr. John Markway brings a team of hand-picked note-takers to participate in a study of the notorious Hill House, where multiple mysterious deaths have occurred to see if he can document a real haunting. Richard Johnson is incredibly smooth and charismatic as Dr. Markway, and his confidence is what keeps this group together. Julie Harris is a troubled young woman dealing with the death of her mother and falls into the spell of the house. Clair Bloom gives some wink-wink lesbian vibes, that for the age must have seemed quite scandalous, and Russ Tamblyn’s spirited young socialite is leavened in that despite his greedy streak, is actually a noble soul. The relationships make this movie. And the sound. And the house. OH, THE HOUSE. So cool looking, and so important to the success of a haunted house movie. This was followed up with an appreciated but note-for-note remake in 1999. This movie looks better, and though that film also had a great cast (Liam Neeson, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Owen Wilson, and Lilli Taylor in the pivotal role) the look and sound and relationships of the 1963 film were not topped.
51: The Evil Dead (1981)
Directed by Sam Raimi
Starring Bruce Campbell (Ash), Ellen Sandweiss (Cheryl), Hal Delrich (Scott), Betsy Baker (Linda), and Sara York (Shelly)
The legend! This is the totemic cabin in the woods movie. Sam Raimi gives every young filmmaker a template, and a legacy to hold up to. Done on a miniscule budget, and stretching every prop, and every camera trick that their tiny budget would allow, Raimi, Campbell, and crew managed to pull off a terrifying feat of low budget horror. Blood simple, and full of blood, the simple tale of demonic possession by reading a forbidden and blasphemous book was so notorious that it was banned in the UK, and it initially received an X-rating, and was the poster child of the Video Nasty that had censors so concerned in the Reagan era. This is the embodiment of VHS era horror. Now, the gate that this movie opened has spurred so many referential indie horror flicks… but is rarely matched. It has lost some of its shock value, but this time, as the gore effects are so over the top to be cartoonish, but it is a much more serious movie than either of its sequels. Fun fact: This film was edited by Joel and Ethan Coen!
50: The Autopsy of Jane Doe (2016)
Directed by Andre Ovredal
Starring: Brian Cox (Tommy), Emile Hirsch (Austin), Ophelia Lovibond (Emma), Michael McElhatton (Sherriff Burke), Olwen Catherine Kelly (Jane Doe)
An underseen and utterly unique little horror film, filled with great characters, and a wonderful mystery whodunnit. The corpse of an unidentified woman is found at the scene of a bloody and bizarre homicide, and the local sheriff brings a remarkably undamaged corpse of an attractive young woman to the local coroner, Tommy, who runs the morgue out of the basement of his house. Tommy and his assistant son, Austin, have a very difficult time determining what happened, with lots of very bizarre conditions. Supernatural shenanigans begin to animate Jane’s body.
A bunch of the fun for this movie lies in the desire to pull back the curtain, and wanting to see what a coroner does. There’s a bit of CSI wrapped in this mystery box. Well researched, (I looked up a 10-79 report… contact coroner). Both Brian Cox as the dad coroner and Emile Hirsch give subtle understated performances. Very procedural. A high icky unease factor. Each new revelation about the cadaver ups the tension. Our own Scariest Robert is a big fan, and you can read his review here. A spectacular cadaver model also highlighted.
49: Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954)
Directed by Jack Arnold
Starring: Richard Carlson (David), Julia Adams (Kay), Richard Denning (Mark), Ricou Browning (The Gill man – in the water), Ben Chapman (The Gill Man – out of the water)
A personal favorite of both Mike and Eric. This is the most recent of what would be considered the classic Universal Monsters to hit the silver screen, and in many ways embodies the whole 50’s vibe. One of the most significant films to be shot in 3D it pioneered the technology, both with the 3D and the underwater film techniques. It’s a proto-environmentalist movie, and is a departure from many movies of the Matinee era that typically portray scientists as aloof or worse… mad. The scientists want to study and examine the creature… and get away from it, but the financier of the trip, Mark, wants to kill it and bring it home as a trophy. In the running for the best movie poster of all time, and best movie costume of all time. We discussed whether we considered Creature from The Black Lagoon a true horror movie… or not, way back in our Podcast Episode 3.
48: Godzilla (1954) [Japan]
Directed by Toshiro Honda
Starring: Haruo Nakajima (In the Godzilla suit), Takashi Shimura (Hideto Ogata), Momoko Kochi (Emiko Yamane), Akihiko Hirata (Daisuke Serizawa-hakase), and Raymond Burr
Speaking of men in rubber suits… here is the king of all rubber suit monsters! This film doesn’t need too much of an introduction, as Godzilla is so important for so many reasons. It gave birth to the modern Japanese film industry, and allowed American Audiences to embrace another culture’s horror. It is THE cautionary tale of the atomic age, and the symbolism for the destruction due to the bombs over Hiroshima and Nagasaki is potent still. It also gave birth to the giant atomic monster era, which went gangbusters in the 50’s and is carried on to this day with movies like Pacific Rim, and the upcoming Godzilla King of the Monsters. We at the Scariest Things have discussed this movie on several occasions, including our review of the Beginnings of the Matinee Era Episode 29, and our favorite Monster Movies Episode 7
This was the #1 selection for our Matinee horror fanatic, Ingo Tants.
47: Ringu (1998) [Japan]
Directed by Hideo Nakata
Starring: Nanako Matsushima (Reiko Asakawa), Miki Nakatani (Tomoko Oishi) Yuko Takeuchi, Hiroyuki Sanada (Ryuji Takayama)
The original movie that produced a similarly revered America remake helped usher in J-Horror to an American Audience, as well as similarly themed films from Korea (A Tale of Two Sisters) and Hong Kong (The Eye). The merger of the classic curse stories, and applying it to the (at the time) modern notion of a VHS tape that spelled doom to whoever watched it proved to be extremely potent. The look and feel of the film would go on to be hugely influential in both Japanese and Western film. This was also the introduction to western horror audiences of girls with hair in front of their faces, which we never realized was so scary until this film arrived.
The movie proved to be a rare breakout opportunity for Hiroyuki Sanada, who has gone on to star in a number of western feature films, like The Last Samurai, Sunshine, The Wolverine, 47 Ronin, and Life. There’s a prequel, Rasen also featuring Asakawa and Sanada. The Western version of the Ring is also a stellar movie, and it is one of those rare occasions where a western remake can live up to the expectations set down by its predecessor.
46: A Quiet Place (2018)
Directed by John Krasinski
Starring: John Krasinski (Lee Abbott), Emily Blunt (Evelyn Abbott), Milicent Simmonds (Regan Abbott), Noah Jupe (Marcus Abbott)
A masterfully crafted and hugely popular movie that in time could move up this list. The mere premise of the movie begs for audience participation, and it is one of the very best movies to see with a big audience. The premise of monsters that have overrun the environment and track their prey by hearing, and is so magnificently depicted by the cast, that the audience holds their collective breath in hope that you don’t attract the monsters for either yourself or for the characters on screen. John Krasinski went from lovable Jim from the office to a powerhouse horror director, and his ability to set up and frame the narrative was genius. The set up of the nail, the pregnancy, the space shuttle toy… he paid them all off brilliantly. Millicent Simmonds will go down as providing one of the great performances by a deaf actress ever.
Until further notice, this movie goes onto Mike Campbell’s “Ashamed not to have seen it list.” Gotta call it like it is, Mike! The full Scariest review can be seen here. In Eric’s mind, this movie stands a very high chance of remaining on top 100 lists like this for generations.
45: Return of the Living Dead (1985)
Directed by Dan O’Bannon
Starring: James Karen (Frank), Thom Matthews (Freddy), Clu Gulager (Burt… the boss), Don Calfa (Ernie the mortician), Mark Venturini (Suicide), Beverly Randolph (Tina), Linnea Quigley (Trash), Miguel A. Nunez (Spider)
The “other” sequel to Night of the Living Dead… and this time with an explanation… it’s chemicals (Tripxina 4-5)! They give a more than oblique wink at “Cesar” Romero’s “Day of the Living Dead” and that it all was true. (Of course) A technicolor VHS classic that had a full cast of idiot characters and reveled in it. Whoops, shouldn’t have smacked that container of toxic zombie gas so hard! Very punk rock, featuring a soundtrack with the Damned, The Cramps, and T.S.O.L. among other 80’s punk stalwarts.
Featuring all-time classic lines like “Brrraaaaaaiiiiins!” and “Send more cops!” Also some favorite moments include the half dog, and the total destruction of Louisville Kentucky with a nuclear super-gun. What, that’s the plan? Oh look! The rain has picked up the radiation and chemicals and now the living dead are spreading! This raunchy and rowdy zombie flick has developed a massive cult following over the years, and deservedly so.
44: You’re Next (2011)
Directed by Adam Wingard (Blair Witch, VHS, Godzilla Vs. Kong)
Starring: Sharni Vinson (Erin), Joe Swanberg (Drake), Wendy Glenn (Zee), Nicholas Tucci (Felix), Rob Moran (Paul), Barbara Crampton (Aubrey), Margaret Laney (Kelly Davison), Amy Seimetz (Aimee Davison), Ti West (Tariq)
If you see one home invasion horror movie… see this one. Supremely tense, and rather than walking the straight line of what you expect, weaves a winding path through the tropes, without making it so twisty that it doesn’t make any sense. Erin and Drake head for a dysfunctional family gathering, in Drake’s parent’s lovely estate in the woods, and it becomes the scene of a home invasion massacre, that opens with a flurry of crossbow bolts. It’s a cat and mouse game where the mouse fights back, and the initial chaos of the home invasion by masked intruders is countered with Erin going completely Rambo on the killers. The motivation for the killing spree is plausible if a bit of a stretch.
The return of Barbara Crampton back to the cinema screen, after a couple of decades in the wilderness, is a wonderful return of one of the best horror female protagonists to the silver screen… and it appears that Sharni Vinson is following in her footsteps, with a number of b-movie genre flicks on her resume since.
43: Scream (1996)
Directed By Wes Craven
Starring: Neve Campbell (Sidney Prescott), Skeet Ulrich (Billy Loomis), Lawrence Hecht (Neil Prescott), Courtney Cox (Gale Weathers), Rose McGowan (Tatum Riley), David Arquette (Deputy Dewey), Matthew Lillard (Stuart) and Drew Barrymore (Case Becker)
Perhaps the most successful horror movie of the 1990s, due in large part in that it became the meta-referential guide to the preceding twenty years of horror films, and nursed all the tropes of the genre and used them as a guide for the movie. Wes Craven expanded on his idea from Wes Craven’s A New Nightmare, and created a movie that was both incredibly reflected and celebrated the recent history of the horror genre but also recognized its weak spots, and as a result, came up with a fresh idea in a decade largely devoid of fresh ideas. Of course, they sequelized this film to death, but even the sequels for Scream were actually pretty good. The ghost face killer became yet another great visual villain for the ages. Scream has to be considered the high-water mark for 90’s horror, which is both a testament to the quality of the film, but also an indication of the weakness of the genre in that decade.
42: The Amityville Horror
Directed by Stuart Rosenberg
Starring: James Brolin (George Lutz), Margot Kidder (Kathy Lutz), Rod Steiger (Father Delaney), Don Stroud (Father Bolen)
Following the murder in 1974 in Amityville, Long Island, NY, of a troubled young man of his father, mother, two brothers, and two sisters… the house ends up selling for a song, well under value. The Lutz couple moves in a year later, and then weird shit happens. Turns out the house is on an Indian Burial ground! What? Again? And then later a devil worshiper lived there. So, it’s a house with a past. A movie that built a lot of momentum off of a best seller.
The jury has spoken, and loudly! Mike and I are not fans of this movie, as we indicate in Episode XXX “Overrated Horror” (One of our more popular episodes, I must admit).. but there are legions of fans of this films. And, this might just mean that Eric and Mike are a pair of idiots, and don’t know what we’re talking about. Oh, Democracy.
41: Hellraiser (1988)
Directed and Written by Clive Barker
Starring: Doug Bradley (Pinhead) Andrew Robinson (Larry), Clare Higgins (Julia), Ashley Laurence (Kirsty), Sean Chapman (Frank), Nicholas Vince (Chatterer), Simon Bamford (Butterball), Grace Kirby (Female Cenobite)
Clive Barker makes his directorial debut with this graphic film of a man, Larry, who moves into a house that has a creature who happens to be the disfigured and flayed remnant of his half-brother, Frank… also his wife’s former lover… hiding upstairs. Frank has been dabbling with the dark arts and uses a mystical device to power his return to form, making a pact with a group of leather-clad demons, the cenobites. Kinda slow. Famously bloody, executing Barker’s twisted take on pain and power. Pinhead is a silhouette for the ages, and an Oscar for makeup and maybe costume work could have been bestowed upon this film.
Back to back hot takes, though! This is another one of the films that Eric and Mike bagged on in our Overrated podcast. Yet more proof that we might not really know what we’re talking about.
40: The Omen (1976)
Directed by Richard Donner
Starring Gregory Peck (Robert Thorn), Lee Remick (Katherine Thorn), David Warner (Keith Jennings), Harry Stephens (Damien), Patrick Troughton (Father Brennan), Billie Whitelaw (Mrs. Blaylock) and Martin Benson (Father Spiletto)
“Look at me Damien! I do it all for you!” (GAK!) – Damien’s nanny just before hanging herself.
Ask most parents, and at some point they think their child is the devil. For American diplomat Robert Thorn and his wife Katherine, their child IS most definitely the devil. This is perhaps the definitive scary kid movie, although there will be another film in this block that may lay claim to that title. In the 1970’s, movie studios got back to taking their horror movies seriously, and with big budgets, with the extraordinary success of The Exorcist, and Jaws, and The Omen is certainly one of those. It has an all-star cast, and a serious religion based drama, and made $60,000,000 off of its $4,000,000 budget.
The Omen is a powerhouse of a film. From its Oscar winning soundtrack (As noted in Episode XX scariest horror soundtracks), to a talented and dedicated cast, and the plotline of the rise of absolute evil, the Omen is a landmark in horror cinema. The movie is one of those movies purported to have been actually cursed. There is a fantastic breakdown of that on the Stuff You Should Know podcast.
39: The Lost Boys (1987)
Directed by Joel Schumacher
Starring: Jason Patric (Michael), Corey Haim (Sam), Dianne Wiest (Lucy), Edward Hermann (Max), Kiefer Sutherland (David), Jami Gertz (Star), Corey Feldman (Edgar Frog), Jamison Newlander (Alan frog), Billy Wirth (Dwayne), and Alex Winter as Marco
This is 100% Gothic vampire cool covered in Biker Bon Jovi sauce. Before there was Blood Rayne, Underworld, Blade, or The Vampire Diaries… there was the Lost Boys. Vampires had always had a subtle sexiness to them (Nosferatu excepted) as the drinking of other people’s fluids is rather kinky. However, Lost Boys largely succeeded to make vampires not just sexy, but cool. Cool, that is, for an 80’s teenager. The Lost Boys look like they stepped right out of an MTV video stage. Kiefer Sutherland oozes pure charisma, and pretty much steals the show, even if Jason Patric is nominally the lead of the movie.
I get the desire to attract the specific demographic that graduates from the Goonies up to The Lost Boys, with the Frog Brothers and Sam playing meddling pre-teens, but I think I would have preferred a straight up Jason Patric vs. Kiefer Sutherland showdown. The Echo and the Bunnymen cover of the Door’s “People are Strange” is a perfect complement to this production. The hairspray budget for this film must have been immense.
38: The Babadook (2014)
Directed by Jennifer Kent
Starring Essie Davis (Amelia), and Noah Wiseman (Samuel)
This is a somber portrayal of depression as it takes monstrous form. Jennifer Kent’s debut feature film is a tightly scripted, desaturated descent into the madness of a family’s sorrow. A sorrow built over the revelation that the father in the family died in a car crash on the way to Samuel’s birth. It sticks with and haunts both Essie and Samuel, and is manifested in one of the creepiest children’s books ever created. The Babadook. (Very Austrailian souding, that) This really is a two person play, as the whole movie centers around Amelia trying to come to grips with her manic and seizure prone son, who exhibits lots of antisocial behavior. This movie is a slow builder, but it really unfolds nicely, and the movie allows these two characters to have real arcs to them. The relationship between the two is vital to them overcoming their monsters, but Amelia is very much slipping into the neurotic world of her son.
37: Pet Sematary(1989)
Directed by Mary Lambert
Starring Dale Midkiff (Louis Creed), Denise Crosby (Rachel Creed), Fred Gwynne (Jud Crandall), Brad Greenquist (Victor Pascow) and Mike Hughes (Gage Creed)
What is it about Indian burial grounds that hold so much supernatural power? And why don’t dead things come back friendly, like Casper? Well, Pet Sematary allows us to test some of those systems to define evil undeadly doings. Mike Campbells #2 movie! One of the most unsung reflections about how badly some people cope with loss and grief. It’s a theme for our films in the 40-31 zone! Louis seals his fate by repeating his errors… learn from your mistakes, man!
36: Blue Velvet (1986)
Directed by David Lynch
Starring Isabella Rossellini (Dorothy Vallens), Kyle MacLachlan (Jeffrey Beaumont), Dennis Hopper (Frank Booth) Laura Dern (Sandy Williams), Hope Lange (Mrs. Williams), and Dean Stockwell (Ben)
Here’s a surprising entry, no doubt! Unquestionably, this is a masterfully done and hugely disturbing thriller. But is it a Horror film? Two of our voters thought it was the BEST horror film of all time. Joseph Perry, one of our esteemed Horror Journalists (Diabolique, Gruesome Magazine, Scream, as well as Ghastly Grinning) had this as his #1 film, and so did Hellboy writer and editor Scott Allie. So, we’re taking this seriously… and Wiki does list this as a psychological horror film… so there we go!
David Lynch knows how to get under your skin. Soaked in imagery and atmosphere. His taste for the surreal was well established with Eraserhead, and this movie may be his masterpiece. In this day of the Me Too movement, there may not be a scarier scene for women than Frank’s assault upon Dorothy. Really hard to watch, and bizarre at the same time. So for that, I think you could make a strong argument that this is a horror film.
35: Shaun of the Dead (2004)
Directed by Edgar Wright
Starring: Simon Pegg (Shaun), Kate Ashfield (Liz), Nick Frost (Ed), Lucy Davis (Dianne), Dylan Moran (David), Phyllis MacMahon (Bernie) and Bill Nighy (Phillip)
If you ask somebody if they like horror comedy, odds are they will say, “Like Shaun of the Dead? Yeah, I LOVE that movie!” Like any great horror comedy, this movie can be watched on a continuous loop and still be funny. This is the movie that brought Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, and Edgar Wright to American households. I love that they still stick to the Romeric tropes of zombie rules. It probably has the best “Shamble like a zombie” scene ever done. Ha! That fooled them. So many classic scenes like the Winchester Jukebox “Don’t Stop Me Now” fight, the passing of the “mirror” crews, and the vinyl toss. Instant classic scenes!
34: Let the Right One In (2008)
Directed by Tomas Alfredson
Starring: Kåre Hedebrant (Oskar), Lina Leandersson (Eli), Per Ragnar (Håkan), Henrik Dahl (Erik), Karin Berquist (Yvonne)
My best friend is a bloodsucking vampire! But she’s so adorable! Is it so wrong that she can pull a man’s head from his shoulders? Can’t be all bad, right? Right? One of the best bully revenge movies out there. There’s something rather stunning about the color of bright red blood against the stark whiteness of snow. It’s also a little disconcerting about a how deep Eli’s voice is. This is a quiet and contemplative piece… all twinkly pianos until the screaming starts. Per Ragnar is wonderful as Eli’s dutiful minion, grimly going about the business of providing blood for his master.
Some of the most honest and relatable child acting in the genre, coupled with some terrific storytelling. This is Roberta Pennington’s #1 Film, and she stumped for this in Episode #10, Kid Themed Horror.
33: The Witch (2015)
Directed by Robert Eggers
Starring: Anya Taylor-Joy (Thomasin), Ralph Ineson (William), Kate Dickie (Katherine), Harvey Scrimshaw (Caleb), Ellie Grainger (Mercy), Lucas Dawson (Jonas)
Along with The Babadook, Hereditary, A Tale of Two Sisters, and Goodnight Mommy, this movie is part of a strong contemporary trend of following the dissolution and struggle of a family in existential crisis. William and his wife Katherine are puritans, the most devout and strict Christians in 17th Century New England, and they get exiled from their village for challenging the church. Fine, William believes, God will provide for us, and we will farm the land. The problem is, he is not a farmer, and the land is ill-equipped to provide much sustenance.
The family’s newborn baby is stolen in broad daylight by a witch, in front of Thomasin while playing peek-a-boo. Recriminations abound, and the plot follows the toxic brew of accusations of one family member to another until eventually, the witch’s influence manages to pretty much destroy the whole lot of them. Beautiful and stark, and done with 100% natural lighting, to exhibit a real honesty of the period. (Period costumes and dialogue back all this up impressively.)
32: Night of the Living Dead (1968)
Directed by George Romero
Starring: Duane Jones (Ben), Judith O’Dea (Barbra), Karl Hardman (Harry Cooper), Marilyn Eastman (Helen Cooper), Keith Wayne (tom), Judith Ridley (Judy), Kyra Schon (Karen Cooper), and Russell Streiner as Johnny
The starting marker for the modern zombie movie. No questions asked. Also probably the real start of the Grindhouse movie movement. A cult classic that spawned a whole subgenre. It was not the first zombie movie, but it set in motion many of the tropes we associate with the genre. Additional proof that, like The Evil Dead and the Blair Witch Project, which would follow in its footsteps, George Romero proved that you could make a movie on a miniscule budget, and create something so powerful and popular that people would be lauding it 50 years later. R.I.P. George.
31: Curse of the Demon (Night of the Demon) (1957)
Directed by Jacques Tourneur
Starring: Dana Andrews (John Holden), Peggy Cummins (Joanna Harrington), Niall MacGinnis (Doctor Karswell), Maurice Denham (Professor Harrington)
Proof that having a great looking monster, and using it sparingly really can work. Curse of the Demon feels more like a 1940’s horror noir movie than a 1950’s Matinee era classic. This is an exposition heavy, but always interesting discourse on belief and fate. The curse in question is a malleable thing, you just don’t want it attached to you at the prescribed hour or that big ol’ demon is going to pay you a visit, and destroy you. A good portion of the fun of this movie is finding out about the nature of the curse, and to see how you might be able to pawn it off on some other sucker.
Dana Andrew’s skeptic is one of the all-time great skeptics in the genre, but he comes around to believing in the curse, so much so that he manages to play a very high stake game of hot potato with the curse with Doctor Karswell, wherein Holden keeps trying to slip the script with the demonic curse onto Karswell’s possession… amounting to the last man standing getting a demonic turd in his pocket. Henceforth, after our podcast, this is referred to as the infamous CURSE TURD.
Since this film isn’t nearly as well known as the Universal classic monsters, and it still managed to land an impressive 6 votes from our panel, I would suggest that any of you who enjoy a good mystery/noir/horror story to check this film out.
30: It Follows (2014)
Directed by David Robert Mitchell
Starring: Maika Monroe (Jay Height), Keir Gilchrist (Paul), Daniel Zovatto(Greg), Jake Weary (Hugh), Lili Sepe (Kelly), and Olivia Luccari (Yara)
A return to 80’s era sex as a killer vibe, and frankly, doing it better than they did back then. The unstoppable force is the embodiment of the insidiousness of bad decisions. Our protagonist Jay decides to put up a fight against fate, and trap the shadowy pursuer. It Follows is one of the turning point moments in modern horror, returning respectability to the genre, even in a retro slasher-type film.
29: Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)
Directed by Phillip Kaufman
Starring: Donald Sutherland (Matthew Bennell), Brook Adams (Elizabeth Driscoll), Leonard Nimoy (Dr. David Kibner), Jeff Goldblum ( Jack Bellicec), Veronica Cartwright (Nancy Bellicec), and Kevin McCarthy (from the original… as the Running Man)
A remake of a classic 1956 film, and one of the best remake’s ever. (As we noted in our Podcast Episode XXIII) A post-Watergate take on the original film’s red scare, this movie is the embodiment of paranoia. Donald Sutherland at the height of his career, and Jeff Goldblum just starting his. The apocalyptic conclusion never gets old.
28: Paranormal Activity (2007)
Directed by Oren Peli
Starring: Katie Featherston (Katie) and Micah Sloat (Micah)
The film that built Blumhouse, and established the Blumhouse method of developing inexpensive films and giving the filmmakers the freedom to do what they want. Interestingly, given how crazy successful this film was, the Director Peli has only directed two films (this and Area 51), and the actors haven’t done anything of note outside the franchise. So, in this way, it’s very much like the Blair Witch Project, which is a very close cousin both thematically and by execution. HUGELY influential, and a much-beloved movie, but the primary performers really didn’t get the career boosts you would have expected.
27: In the Mouth of Madness (1994)
Directed by John Carpenter
Starring: Sam Neill (John Trent), Julie Carmen (Linda Styles), Jürgen Prochnow (Sutter Cane), David Warner (Dr. Wrenn), John Glover (Saperstein), Bernie Casey (Robinson), Charlton Heston (Jackson Harglow)
Perhaps the most successful of all movies attempting to create something truly Lovecraftian. Madness and reality begin to warp thanks to the scribblings of Sutter Cane. It’s a gradual build, and doesn’t really feature the tentacular monstrosities so often attached to Lovecraft Lore, but it reinforces the Lovecraftian theme of blasphemous tomes and dealing with that which should not be understood by the minds of mortal men. A standout in 90’s horror.
26: Martyrs (2008)
Directed by Pascal Laugier
Starring: Mylène Jampanoï (Lucie Jurin), Morjana Alaoui (Anna Assaoui), Catherine Begin (Mademoiselle), Isabelle Chasse (The Creature) , Robert Toupin (Mr. Bedford – the father), Patricia Tulasne (Gabrielle Belfond – The Mother)
OK… this movie is hard to watch. Very, very high on the horror meter. I may have been premature to anoint Hostel as the peak of torture porn… that title probably goes to Martyrs. It also happens to be the #1 movie for both Liz Williams, our newly minted book reviewer, and Luca Pincelli of Horror World & Reviews. Liz would officially like to state that this is NOT torture porn, and that the torture involved IS the point of the movie. Mike and Eric have to muster up the courage to see this one through.
25: Hereditary (2018)
Directed by Ari Aster
Starring: Toni Collette (Annie), Gabriel Byrne (Steve), Alex Wolff (Peter), Milly Shapiro (Charlie), and Ann Down (Joan)
Hereditary is a revelation. It tore through the festival circuit, making many mainstream and indie film critics claiming at the scariest thing that they’ve seen. It has a Rotten Tomatoes score of 89%, But a Cinema score that is MUCH lower. It is a meticulously crafted and scripted family drama that ramps up the horror in a big way at the end. It is NOT a feel-good movie, and people looking for A Quiet Place or Get Out would have probably been unnerved. It has indie horror written all over it, and includes stellar performances by the whole cast. Toni Collette will be a fairly certain nomination for Best Actress for her emotional rollercoaster of a performance.
24: 28 Days Later
Directed by Danny Boyle
Starring: Cillian Murphy (Jim), Naomie Harris (Selena), Brendan Gleeson (Frank), Noah Huntley (Mark) and Christopher Eccleston (Major West)
The graduate course in zombie pandemic movies. Not truly zombies, but the Romero rules hold here, but on speed dial. The Rage virus gets spread like all zombie plagues, through the blood. And though it isn’t clear that the people are killed by the virus, it eliminates all their humanity and creates fast predatory cannibals. For my money, 28 Days Later sports the most sympathetic gathering of horror protagonists ever survivors put on screen. How they managed to get London to look so empty was astounding. This is Eric’s #2 movie.
23: The Fly (1988)
Directed by David Cronenberg
Starring: Jeff Goldblum (Seth Brundle), Geena Davis (Veronica Quaife), John Getz (Stathis Borans)
The ultimate in body horror from the master of body horror, David Cronenberg. Groundbreaking makeup effects by Chris Walas, monumental acting by Jeff Goldblum, and a star-making turn by Geena Davis. This has been used as a metaphor for the AIDS era, but it also explores the folly of pushing the boundaries of the known. Like Invasion of the Body Snatchers, this adaptation took a great movie and improved it. The original fly was great and loaded with pathos, but nobody will out-pathetic Jeff Goldblum’s Brundlefly, nor will there be many more disturbing transformations ever put to film,
22: The Exorcist III (1990)
Directed by William Peter Blatty
Starring: George C. Scott (Kinderman), Ed Flanders (Father Dyer), Brad Dourif (The Gemini Killer), Jason Miller (Patient X – The original Father Karras)
One of the great underestimated sequels of all time. This one lives up to the scary mantle put down by its originator, one of the scariest movies ever made. The fact that there are some debates in some corners that this is a superior film to the 1973 original is about as good a testimony as you will get. Blatty, the author of the Exorcist novel, didn’t intend to have an exorcism in the movie, but the studio demanded it. And, by in large it pays off. This is Mike Campbell’s #4 film, and Jay Kay’s #2.
21: The Ring (2002)
Directed by Gore Verbinski
Starring Naomi Watts (Rachel), Martin Henderson (Noah), Brian Cox (Richard Morgan), David Dorman (Aidan),
You will die in seven days… (Just try and stop it!) Why do people watch this accursed videotape, anyway? A note to the unwise… don’t mess with strange VHS tapes with dire warnings. Dreary and bleak, the Ring manages to meet or potentially exceed Ringu in execution. Nomi Watts makes a star turn as a woman trying to dodge fate. In our Episode XIV The Scariest PG Movies, this was one of our top films. Incredibly scary for PG-13.
20: Evil Dead II (1987)
Directed by Sam Raimi
Starring : Bruce Campbell (Ash), Sarah Berry (Annie), Dan Hicks (Jake), Dan Hicks (Jake), and Kassie Wesley DePaiva (Bobby Joe)
Horror Comedy from an unexpected Source! This movie feels very much like the Three Stooges meets the Exorcist. Essentially the retelling of the first movie, but with a more clever script and a real sense of humor that was entirely absent in the first take. Sam Raimi returns to the movie that started his career, now more confident in his process, but still using his practical gory effects roots, and having a blast while at it. GROOVY!
19: The Cabin in the Woods (2012)
Directed by Drew Goddard
Starring: Kristen Connolly (Dana), Chris Hemsworth (Curt), Anna Hutchison (Marty), Jesse Williams (Holden), Richard Jenkins (Sitterson) and Bradley Whitford (Hadley)
Ironic that it is back to back with Evil Dead II, which gave so much of its referential material, along with horror favorites Cabin Fever and Friday the 13th. The betting market was a terrific Wall Street take on cult shenanigans, and one of Eric’s all-time favorite individual moments in horror, when the doors Open up and one of the most madcap sequences ever unleashed in a Horror movie is unveiled. Mike likes to compare this to the ultimate Scooby Doo episode.
18: Audition (1999)
Directed by Takashi Miike
Starring: Ryo Ishibashi (Shigeharu Aoyama), Eihi Shiina (Asami Yamazaki)
One of the biggest tonal flips of anything on this chart. A very slow burn romantic drama for the first hour of the film, before any real horror elements are introduced… and then FULL-ON HORROR. Ryo is getting over the loss of his wife, and decides to get back into the dating scene by holding an audition. He picked the wrong woman! Asami has some serious psychological issues, and they don’t show up until it’s too late. Some of the very hardest scenes to watch in filmdom, made even harder by all the background information that you are given about the characters. Mike and I curled up into fetal position when Asami unleashes her torturous ways on Ryo. (Kiri! Kiri! Kiri!) Nastiest scenes ever with needles.
17: Pyscho (1960)
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
Starring: Anthony Perkins (Norman Bates), Vera Miles (Lila Crane), John Gavin (Sam Loomis), Janet Leight (Marion Crane), Martin Balsam (Det Arbogast)
The trendsetter and groundbreaker that brought real violence back to horror. 1960 was a watershed moment in horror movies, and Psycho, more than any of its siblings smashed the standard for fear. And, in a big switcheroo, the lead character is removed from the equation early in the second act. Leave it up to Alfred Hitchcock to completely invert your expectations on how a movie is supposed to unfold! For a while, on our list, this movie hadn’t received many votes, and then came a flood of ballots that brought this masterpiece to its rightful spot in the top 20.
16: Poltergeist (1982)
Directed by Tobe Hooper
Starring: Craig T. Nelson (Steve Freeling), JoBeth Williams (Diane Freeling), Dominique Dunne (Dana Freeling), Oliver Robins (Robbie Freeling), Heather O’Rourke (Carol Anne Freeling), Zelda Rubenstein (Tangina)
A perfect blend of Tobe Hooper’s grindhouse scares sensibility and the family drama narrative that producer Stephen Spielberg has mastered. This is perhaps the perfect gateway horror film. Just gross enough, and told with an A+ plot, characters that are indelible to this day, and practical effects that led to perhaps the scariest PG movie ever made. Sadly, this film is also scarred by tragedy, in the premature deaths of two of its cast, Heather O’ Rourke and Dominique Dunn.
15: Get Out (2017)
Directed by Jordan Peele
Starring: Daniel Kaluuya (Chris Washington), Allison Williams (Rose Armitage), Catherine Keener (Missy Armitage), Bradley Whitford (Dean Armitage), Calebe Landry Jones (Jeremy Armitage), Lil Rel Howery (Rod Williams), LaKeith Stanfield (Andre King), and Stephen Root (Jim Hudson)
In twenty years, when people look back at the new Golden Age of Horror Movies, Get Out will still stand out. This movie is wicked. Wicked funny. Wicked smart. And it successfully paints a portrait of the awkward state of race relations of the moment. On the surface, things may be better, but there is something very sinister underneath, with some nasty mad science. Jordan Peele’s debut earned him an Oscar for his original screenplay, and the film garnered two other nominations, for best picture, direction, and best actor (Kaluuya).
14: A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)
Directed by Wes Craven
Starring: Heather Langenkamp (Nancy Thompson), Amanda Wyss (Tina Gray), Johnny Depp (Glen Lantz), Jsu Garcia (Rod Lane), John Saxon (Lt. Thompson), Ronee Blakley (Marge Thompson) and Robert Englund (Freddy Krueger)
So… have you heard of this one? The first, and the most frightening of the revered series of films starring the inimitable Robert Englund as the teenager killing machine Freddy Kreuger. The first film did not revel in the puns and dad humor that populated the sequels, and as such comes off as a much more serious, much more frightening film. This is the killer you can’t get away from, and Lordy, if he gets his claws on you, it won’t be pretty.
13: Suspiria (1977)
Directed by Dario Argento
Starring: Jessica Harper (Suzy Bannion), Sefania Casini (Sara), Barbara Magnolfi (Olga), Flavio Bucci (Daniel), Udo Kier (Dr. Frank Mandel), Alida Valli (Miss Tanner) and Joan Bennett (Madame Blanc)
The Italians had a run of films from the 60’s to the 80’s that cast a surreal spell on the genre, that is known as Giallo. And no film embodies the spirit of Giallo better than Suspiria, the tale of Suzy, an American Ballet student who finds that the school houses a coven of witches. Dario Argento’s full palette of color is on display here, in fabulous magenta and cyan in a style that still carries weight today, as many emerging genre directors have embraced this look for their films. I believe that Suspiria should have been nominated for and should have won the Oscar for best art direction in 1978. The soundtrack by Goblin is a perfect marriage of looping mystery to this trippy triumph. Of all horror films, this would be one that you would suspect would be impossible to remake… but auteur Luca Guadagnino is going to give it a shot this year.
12: The Silence of the Lambs (1991)
Directed by Jonathan Demme
Starring: Jodie Foster (Clarice Starling), Anthony Hopkins (Hannibal Lecter), Scott Glenn (Jack Crawford), Anthony Held (Dr. Frederick Chilton), Brooke Smith (Catherine Martin) Ted Levine (Jame Gumb/Buffalo Bill)
Perhaps the greatest thriller ever made. Is it horror? Well, there are two psychopaths in the story, and one of them is a cannibal. So, let’s say yes. A horror-thriller, to be sure. And the scene where Clarice is fumbling around in the dark with Buffalo Bill coming up on him? Pure horror stuff! This is Sir Anthony Hopkins at his best, Jodie Foster at her best, and the late great Jonathan Demme at his best. Ted Levine needs to get more credit for how creepy he was as Buffalo Bill, and was perfectly cast as the unfocused oddball serial killer. This was a juggernaut at the Oscars, and is one of the few genre films to get a lot of golden hardware, and it completely deserved it.
11: Dawn of the Dead (1977)
Directed by George Romero
Starring: Ken Foree (Peter), David Emge (Stephen), Scott H. Reiniger (Roger), Gaylen Ross (Francine), and lots of local Pittsburgh extras!
The king of zombie movies! George Romero’s greatest achievement, and a brilliant dark satire on American consumerism. While the film is notoriously gory, it has a beating heart to it, that binds you to the surviving protagonists who believe they have found their salvation in a suburban Pittsburgh shopping mall. The group has anything they could need, but it’s largely a lonely existence. The complacency is broken wide open with the appearance of a biker gang, and the zombies are unleashed in the mall. All of the tropes that Romero first gave us in Night of the Living Dead are present here and are further embellished. The propagation of the zombie plague. The rationale that hell is full, so the dead walk the Earth. The headshot needed to kill the zombies. This is the touchstone film that all zombie films pay homage to.
#10 The Blair Witch Project (1999)
Directed by Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez
Starring: Heather Donahue, Michael C. Williams, and Joshua Leonard.
When an aces viral marketing campaign meets a so-real-you-can-touch-it presentation, you get the Blair Witch Project. The undisputed champion of the found footage/shaky camera sub-genre, fans flocked to the theaters and overcame their tendency for motion sickness to be part of what is one of the great achievements in micro-budget filmmaking. The simplicity of the story, and the earnestness by which the actors pulled off this survival tale meets a legendary force set the tone for the next twenty years. Rarely has there been a movie with so little violence that produced so many nightmares. Implicit threats and things that go snap in the night were enough. Brilliant!
#9 Rosemary’s Baby (1968)
Directed by Roman Polanski
Starring: Mia Farrow (Rosemary Woodhouse), John Cassavetes (Guy Woodhouse), Ruth Gordon (Minne Castevet), Sidney Blackmer (Roman Castevet), Maruice Evans (Hutch) Ralph Bellamy (Dr. Saperstein)
Speaking of movies that have a big horror to violence ratio, I give you Rosemary’s Baby. This movie is all dread and suspense, and the horror is almost completely situational. But what a situation! Rosemary, of course, is having a baby, and as her suspicions mount that those around her, including her husband, her neighbors, and her doctor are all Satanists. It doesn’t help that people close to her start dying off mysteriously, and her body is giving her clues that something is seriously wrong.
Rosemary’s Baby is a hugely sophisticated horror story and one that for women is perhaps the biggest nightmare possible. Ruth Gordon won an Oscar for her role as the creepy Satanist neighbor, Minnie, and Roman Polanski (So creepy) was nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay.
#8 The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)
Directed By Tobe Hooper
Starring: Marilyn Burns (Sally), Allen Danziger (Jerry), Paul A. Partain (Franklin), William Vail (Kirik), Teri McMinn (Pam), Edwin Neal (Hitchhiker), Gunnar Hansen (Leatherface), John Dugan (Grandfather),
Who could possibly love a bunch of in-bred Texas hillbilly cannibals? Why, the Scariest Jury would! Brutal, terrifying, and defying all previous conventions of good taste, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is Legend. In a cinemascape that now allowed for R rated movies to test the boundaries of what an audience could endure, and they pushed right past that boundary. The grindiest of the grindhouse, this is not a film built upon the subtle nuance of psychological drama. This is pure 1970’s movie horror id at its most visceral. The mere invocation of the title will make your toes curl. This may have been more appropriately entitled the Texas Sledgehammer Massacre, but it would have been a hair less scary.
#7 Jaws (1975)
Directed by Stephen Spielberg
Starring: Roy Scheider (Chief Martin Brody), Richard Dreyfus (Matt Hooper), Robert Shaw (Quint), Lorraine Gary (Ellen Brody), Murry Hamilton (Mayor Larry Vaughn), and Susan Backlinie (Chrissie Watkins)
Sometimes you forget that Spielberg can film first-rate horror. Should that be a surprise? The master storyteller spins one for the ages, and he populated this movie with characters that are a joy to watch playing off each other. Scheider, Dreyfus, and Shaw give you the dutiful lawman, the inquisitive egghead, and the salty dog, and each plays his role in this bloody Melvillian epic. Famously plagued with shooting issues, notably that the shark didn’t work, Spielberg delivered perhaps the best “hide your monster” until it really counts, by necessity.
The opening sequence is one of the most powerful moments in film history, and it left such an indelible impression on me that it changed my behavior. To this day, I cannot swim in open ocean water without fear of being eaten. In shallow water, I’m fine, but if I can’t see the bottom, I get the heebie jeebies, and I blame Jaws for that.
#6 An American Werewolf in London (1981)
Directed by John Landis
Starring: David Naughton (David Kessler), Jenny Agutter (Nurse Alex Price), Griffin Dunne (Jack Goodman), and John Woodvine (Dr. Hirsch)
A bit of a surprise at #6! An American Werewolf in London is in our estimation, the best werewolf film of all time. And actually, it’s the only pure werewolf movie in the top 100. Honorable mentions to The Wolfman (1941) Ginger Snaps (2000) and The Howling (1981). This movie, however, gives us the best transformation scene of all time, and it might never be topped, ever. Not to be lost in all the spine popping, hand stretching, hair sprouting, and muzzle growing is the editing in that sequence. All of this in full lighting, no mean feat, that.
In the great tradition of the Universal monsters of yore, David Naughton makes an incredibly sympathetic protagonist/monster, and you actively root for the poor guy, even though he is a monstrous killer. His painful transformation is as traumatic for him as it is for the audience. There is some very wry and keen humor laced throughout the movie and every scene with Naughton and Dunne is a treat. The relationship between Naughton and Agutter also spot on. And then add in a whole bunch of fun moon themed pop tunes, and you have a thoroughly enjoyable lycanthrope movie.
This is Chris McInroy’s #1 movie. Chris has been producing some of the funniest and best-received horror-comedy shorts that have hit the festival circuit over the past few years. Check out his Death Metal and keep your eyes out for We Summoned a Demon. This pick is significant because Chris has informed me that his first feature film will be a werewolf movie! You picked a good precedent, Chris.
#5 Halloween (1978)
Directed by John Carpenter
Starring: Jamie Lee Curtis (Laurie Strode), Donald Pleasance (Dr. Loomis), P.J. Soles (Lynda), John Michael Graham (Bob), Nancy Loomis (Annie), and Brian Andrews (Tommy)
In a year where the Halloween reboot/sequel just got released, we get a chance to revisit the most significant slasher film ever made. This is the prototype that all other horror films are judged. Two major tropes get firmly established here… not for the first time, that would be Black Christmas… the first trope being that of the silent unstoppable force serial killer, and the second being that of the final girl. Fundamentally, this is a simple script, but in Carpenter’s hand, it became a juggernaut of terror and suspense.
Mike likes to point out that this movie isn’t nearly as gory or violent as you might think. The movie substitutes viscera with the application of constant pressure and ominous dread. The boogeyman is coming, and there’s nothing anyone can do about it. Michael Myer’s Shatner mask (Which I still fail to see as an effective Shatner likeness) managed to establish the minimal amount of humanity to ensure he wasn’t a robot, but no doubt about it, he is a killing machine. Carpenter’s instantly recognizable score and his razor-sharp editing, combined with Jamie Lee Curtis’ iconic victim as hero turn lifted this movie far above the ordinary serial killer fare.
Though it wasn’t anyone’s #1 film, it did manage to garner #2 status for Willie Greer, Jeff Dean, and Marne Oyen.
#4 The Exorcist (1972)
Directed By Robert Friedkin
Starring: Linda Blair (Regan MacNeil), Ellen Burstyn (Chris MacNeil), Max Von Sydow (Father Martin), Jason Miller (Father Karras), Lee J. Cobb (Lt. William Kinderman)
Even at #4 on our list, I think a strong argument that this is the scariest movie on the list. And, if I’m being honest, I was surprised that it wasn’t #1. The Exorcist is emblematic of smart 70’s horror movies, and at its core it is a family drama. You’ve seen that with a number of our top 100, but the most powerful of all these dramas is The Exorcist. Remember, this is a slow builder. It invests you in the fate or Regan and Chris, a mother and daughter, and the possession comes on slowly and in a way that many parents can identify with. A little anxiety and depression, to start with, and then some very odd behavior.
It is a slow, but dramatically powerful and well-scripted build up to the grand finale, the exorcism that we all know and love (or fear). That finale is so foul, so obscene, and utterly engrossing, that it has to be considered one of the greatest scenes in all filmdom. Remarkably, as a big-budget studio film by Warner Brothers, they took a ton of chances with how horrific they made this film. This is not a Texas Chainsaw Massacre, where a small investment paid big dividends, this was a $12,000,000 project in 1972, a huge sum for a movie that would repulse so many potential viewers. They got the last laugh though, as the worldwide box office is $402,735, according to Box Office Mojo.
Recognize that the MPAA ratings were only four years old at this time, and two years old when the film went into production, so they were taking a HUGE risk, and the fact that it was so successful allowed the flourishing of serious horror films, and gross horror films alike. (And sometimes serious AND gross!)
#3 The Thing (1982)
Directed By John Carpenter
Starring: Kurt Russel (MacReady), Wilford Brimley (Blair), Keith David (Childs), David Clennon (Palmer), Richard Dysart (Dr. Copper), Charles Hallahan (Norris), Donald Moffat (Garry), Richard Masur (Clark), T.K. Carter (Nauls), Joel Polis (Fuchs), and Thomas Waites (Windows)
And now we come to Eric’s favorite movie! (Of any genre!) I’ve expressed my love for this movie many times on this blog and on the Podcast. It’s also Robert’s (ZED) #1 film. We saw this together with our good pal Mike Fryer, also one of our jurors as a group of 13 year olds during a sleepover at Mike’s house, and it left an imprint with all of us. Check out Robert’s overview of the film HERE. He also has a great breakdown of the Howard Hawks 1952 film, and the 2011 prequel.
Usually remembered for Rob Bottin’s over-the-top practical monster effects, the movie is underestimated for the dramatic tension that the group of stage thespians brought to the proceedings. In some ways it is like 12 Angry Men meets Invasion of the Body Snatchers plus… well… there’s nothing preceding this movie that would get you ready for the alien transformations. This is one of the most re-watchable films ever made, and the little nuances you pick up of the small plot elements that keep revealing fun new tidbits with each repeated viewing.
It bears repeating that this, unlike the Exorcist, was not an immediate blockbuster. This film, despite being considered a masterpiece today, was widely panned by critics. It got trounced by E.T. at the Box Office, and maybe has been the biggest beneficiary of all horror movies for redemption via home video. Truly one of the greats of the VHS era. The individual scenes are so memorable: The Kennel. The Blood Test. And, of course… “You Gotta be fucking kidding!”
#2 The Shining (1982)
Directed by Stanley Kubrick
Starring: Jack Nicholson (Jack Torrance), Shelley Duval (Wendy Torrance), Danny Lloyd (Danny Torrance), Scatman Crothers (Hallorann), Philip Stone (Grady), Joe Turkel (Lloyd)
Stanley Kubrick. Full Stop. OK, I’ll throw in a Jack Nicholson and Shelley Duval as a bonus. A master class in filmmaking, editing, and acting… in the form of a horror film. Powerhouse acting with Jack Nicholson eating the scenery and Shelly Duval being bullied by Kubrick into the performance of her life cement the Stephen King story and sears it into your memory.
Visually startling and striking, down to the carpet of the Overlook Hotel, no detail was left to chance by Mr. Kubrick. The editing is absolutely engrossing and startling, in a way that jolts you to attention. The quick cuts and splashes manage to hit your sub-conscience and alligator brain at the same time. The lighting plays a huge role in the ability to spin the story, and the unravelling of Jack’s psyche. Though King had issues with the movie, The Shining is an example of the movie superseding the source material.
This is the #1 film for Sara Sometti Michaels, Marc Martinez Jordan, and Kian Doughty, which is interesting since these are our horror professionals! Marc is the director of the home invasion giallo, Framed. Sara wrote the nunsploitation, St. Agatha. and Kian is an actor in the short film Made You Look.
#1 Alien (1979)
Directed by Ridley Scott
Starring: Sigourney Weaver (Ripley), Tom Skerritt (Dallas), Yaphet Kotto (Parker), Harry Dean Stanton (Brett), Veronica Cartwright (Lambert), Ian Hom (Ash), and John Hurt (Kane)
And here you have it! The #1 horror film of all time, according to our esteemed panel of judges is ALIEN. And, remarkably, it’s not even close! Alien was on 19 of the 30 ballots, and finished with a whopping 387 points, where the Shining came in at 370 points… and if you go down to Halloween at #5, it only had 201 points.
This is a nearly perfectly crafted film. The direction by Ridley Scott. The creature and art direction by H.R. Giger. The soundtrack by Jerry Goldsmith. The script by Dan O’Bannon. And that fantastic cast of normal people, put under horrific situations. This was not your typical Sci-Fi spacefaring crew. These are blue collar folks who are haulers, not starship troopers. The acting is so natural and nuanced and intense that you really bought into their plight.
You also have to recall what a dramatic thing it was at the time to see the facehugger and the chestburster, and Giger’s final form Alien. They were complete mind-blowers back in 1979. Now, with the franchisement of the Alien series, the monsters seem very familiar, but when it first came out, the xenomorph was pure nightmare fuel. In watching the documentary that came with the DVD, the cast and crew remarked as to how traumatic the movie was at the time. Ushers in the theater passed out. People ran to the bathroom to vomit after the chestburster scene. This was TERRIFYING, back in the day.
I know many people of my age who were children when this movie came out were absolutely mesmerized by the prospect of this movie. We got the graphic novel which was quite novel at the time, in an era when comics were just floppies. We heard all the stories about this movie, and had to wait for it to come out on VHS, and then we watched the hell out of it. Essentially, a simple haunted house in space, it captures all the claustrophobia of a classic ghost tale, but it set a new benchmark for all horror and science fiction films to come.
This is the #1 fil for Gwen Callahan, Mike Fryer, Marne Oyen, Chris Ralph, and Andrew Migliore, by far the most #1’s for any film in our top 100.