I grew up on horror movies, from cheesy Full Moon films like Puppet Master to slasher franchises like Friday the 13th to random direct-to-video creature features like Pumpkinhead. A lot of it is junk, but there’s a lot of crap in every medium and every genre. Horror just gets a bad wrap, hindered even more by the fact that professional critics usually seem unable to recognize good filmmaking when it comes to horror. I’m always looking for a good horror film, and I usually get pretty excited when one comes out with a little buzz around it - I just have a special place in my heart for them, and I pride myself on the fact that I’m widely versed in them. I’m currently in the midst of my annual horror movie marathon, where I watch nothing but horror films during the entire month of October, so it’s certainly an appropriate time to list my favorites of all time, at least for now…
1. The Blair Witch Project (1999) - All three films at the top of my list are movies where I had to have the light on to fall asleep that night. This was the first such film that I ever encountered like that. Before it went to mainstream theaters, I saw this at the Landmark in Minneapolis with a full house. Everyone was utterly silent throughout the movie from beginning to end, which was amazing in itself, and it completely blew me away. The faux history surrounding The Blair Witch, the film that launched the whole “Shaky hand-held camera” fad, and the fact that we never really “see” anything. The scariest things are truly left to our imagination, and the final scene of The Blair Witch Project is utterly chilling.
2. The Ring (2002) - The American remake of Ringu, starring Naomi Watts, features an old videotape that’s creepy as hell. Once someone views the video, they’re doomed to die. The ending of the movie may have gone one step too far, but the mystery and wonder surrounding the videotape is haunting. This movie may have spawned a whole slew of Japanese horror remakes like The Grudge and Pulse, but let’s not fault this film for that.
3. The Exorcist (1973) - The classic story of a young girl possessed by a demon who may be the devil himself, and the priest who tries to exorcise it. This film is full of horrifying images and haunted me with the idea of possession for weeks.
4. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) - A brutal, bloody look at a family of killers who torture a group of teenagers, this is based in reality and makes for quite the blood-curdling film. A bold, unflinching vision in horror that’s influences can be seen far and wide.
5. The Shining (1980) - A slow-building atmospheric story of horror that takes place in a secluded mansion, based on the novel by Stephen King. There’s plenty of horrific stuff happening in this film that doesn’t so much feel the need to explain as it does scare.
6. The Descent (2006) - Easily the best horror film of the new century, this film follows a group of women who go cave-diving following a tragedy, and the horrors they encounter there. There are plenty of homages to other horror films in the movie, from Carrie to Alien. While this film takes awhile to get to the real terrifying material, it’s still utterly compelling as a movie following spelunkers.
7. I Walked With a Zombie (1943) - It’s been described as Jane Eyre meets zombies, and that’s kind of accurate. But the atmosphere and chilling voodoo elements make this classic a force to be reckoned with.
8. Black Sunday (La Maschera del demonio) (1960) - This beautiful Gothic-entrenched film follows the accidental return of a witch from beyond the grave and the horror she causes to a local family. The opening scene is classic.
9. Night of the Living Dead (1968) - This thread-bare budget horror film set the tone for all zombie movies that came afterward, and launched George Romero’s career of sequels and social commentary horror.
10. Dawn of the Dead (2004) - Better than Romero’s original, Snyder’s remake boasts one of the best opening scenes for a movie period, with plenty of creepy scenes of fast-moving zombies thereafter.
11. Hellraiser (1987) - Clive Barker’s vision of demons and blood offerings makes for quite the horror experience, introducing Pinhead as a horror icon. There are a lot of cool, crazy ideas in this movie, and the demons look really damn freaky once they come into play.
12. Funny Games (1998) - While I liked the recent American remake of Funny Games starring Naomi Watts (by the director of the original film, Michael Haneke), I think I prefer the original just because it was my first time experiencing that brutality full of long shots and bare emotion. The film follows a family that’s terrorized by a pair of intruders.
13. A Nightmare On Elm Street (1984) - Dreams have never been so scary as in Wes Craven’s film, which brought us our first look at the wise-cracking knife-wielding maniac Freddy Krueger.
14. Jaws (1975) - This movie made people fear deep water, and I think I’m still a little afraid of the ocean to this day. Steven Spielberg really hit one out of the park with this one - the fin at the top of the water, the music…it all made for a classic that won’t soon be forgotten.
15. An American Werewolf In London (1981) - I actually just saw this recently, and was pretty much blown away. I’d been disappointed by other werewolf films - The Howling, Wolf, Ginger Snaps, Dog Soldiers, The Brotherhood of the Wolf… Werewolves usually just aren’t done very effectively. This one was. Great creature effects, great environments for the monster.
16. Inferno (1978) - I’m probably in the minority here, but I prefer the second film in Dario Argento’s Three Mothers trilogy over the much-hailed Suspiria. There’s something about that creepy building and that beautiful underwater scene at the beginning… There is that unfortunate song at the end, but you have to go into Argento expecting some weird shit.
17. Halloween (1978) - John Carpenter’s original Halloween is a classic. I can’t say much for the other movies in the franchise (Halloween 3 - big misstep), but Michael Myers is a scary-ass bastard. I also liked Rob Zombie’s remake, but I think I still prefer the original.
18. 28 Weeks Later (2007) - I love the opening scene of this zombie movie. I liked 28 Days Later okay, but that scene, its lingering effects, and many of the ideas throughout this movie are pretty brilliant.
19. Scream (1996) - I saw this movie in the theater three times. And watched it on video many more times after. This is just a great slasher film that does everything in a knowing way. Smart and sassy, Wes Craven hit another one on the bullseye with this one. The sequels are really damn good too.
20. Freddy vs. Jason (2003) - I was highly anticipating this movie before it came out, and with those high expectations, I was still pretty damn impressed. I’ve always been a big Jason fan, so it was fun to see the big guy up against the sharp-tongued dream master. It couldn’t have been more satisfying.
21. The Orphanage (2007) - There could be a few more good ghost stories on this list... This film about a missing boy is pretty creepy. Great cinematography and some really stupendous, eerie scenes make this quite the crowning achievement.
22. Alien (1979) - Ridley Scott’s science fiction horror film is utterly chilling. Monsters in space don’t work as well as they could for the most part, but this was done right. Fantastic monster designs and a great strong female lead in Ripley, played by Sigourney Weaver.
23. Nosferato, eine Symphonie des Grauens (1922) - I recently watched Vampyre, and couldn’t help comparing that silent horror film to this one, to its detriment. Nosferatu has the creepy factor down pat - great use of shadows and movement to make for a chilling story.
24. The Wolf Man (1941) - The Wolf Man is the best of the classic Universal monster movies, followed closely by The Creature From the Black Lagoon. Nice effects for its day with a great mythology built up for the terrorizing monster.
25. (TIE) Poltergeist (1982) - A family is haunted by a poltergeist in their new home that was conveniently built over a cemetery. Some pretty freaky horror moments in this film that really terrified me when I was too young to be watching this type of thing.
25. (TIE) The Silence of the Lambs (1991) - An FBI trainee (Jodie Foster) tries to locate a serial killer by holding interviews with the notorious Hannibal Lector (Anthony Hopkins) in this acclaimed, intense thriller.
31 Honorable Mentions (In Alphabetical Order)
Baron Blood (1972)
Black Sabbath (1963)
The Creature From the Black Lagoon (1954)
The Evil Dead (1979)
Friday the 13th (1980)
Jason Goes To Hell: The Final Friday (1993)
John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982)
The Last House on the Left (1972)
Night of the Demons (1989)
The Ninth Gate (1999)
Pet Sematary (1989)
Rosemary’s Baby (1968)
The Serpent and the Rainbow (1987)
The Strangers (2008)
Tales From the Crypt: Demon Knight (1995)
The Tenant (1976)
The Unnamable (1988)
Wes Craven’s New Nightmare (1994)
Wolf Creek (2005)