Thursday, October 22, 2009

25 Best Horror Movies (Updated)

I devote the entire month of October to watching horror movies, culminating in a day-long marathon event (complete with Halloween cookies and the like). 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. There's a lot of crap out there, but there's a lot of junk in every medium in every genre. Horror just gets a bad wrap, hindered more by the fact that professional critics usually seem dismissive of horror films, overlooking good film making because of their distaste for its content. I'm always looking for a good horror film, and I usually get pretty excited when one comes out with a lot of buzz around it. I just have a special place in my heart for them, and I pride myself that I'm widely versed in them. Anyways, between this year and last, I've seen some more great horror films that deserve a spot on my favorites of all time, and with Halloween quickly approaching, here are the best that horror has to offer...
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1. The Blair Witch Project (1999) - All three films at the top of my list are films that I had to have the lights on to fall asleep after watching them. This was the first such film that I encountered like that. Before it went to mainstream theaters, I saw this at the Landmark Theater in Minneapolis with an audience that was utterly silent the entire time, completely entranced. And it blew me away and scared the crap out of me. 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 prove that the scariest things are left to our imagination.
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2. The Ring (2002) - The American remake of Ringu, starring Naomi Watts, features an old videotape that's scary 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 video tape 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.
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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.
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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 whose influence can be seen far and wide.
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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.
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6. The Descent (2006) - This claustrophobic survivalist horror tale follows a group of women who go cave-diving following a tragedy, and the horrors they encounter hidden in the depths. There are plenty of homages to other classic horror films like Carrie and Alien in the movie, but is something completely unique itself. While this film takes a while to get to anything supernatural, it's still utterly compelling the entire way through.
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7. I Walked With a Zombie (1943) - It's been described as Jane Eyre meets zombies, and that's actually pretty accurate. But the atmosphere and chilling voodoo elements make this classic a force to be reckoned with.
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8. Black Sunday (La Maschera del demonio) (1960) - This beautiful, Gothic-entrenched film features the accidental return of a witch from beyond the grave and the horror she causes to a local family. The opening scene is classic.
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9. The Phantom of the Opera (1925) - This black-and-white silent horror masterpiece retains all of its horrific elements over eighty years later, and sees a ghastly figure haunting the actors of an opera house in France. Accompanied by the right music brings the film to a whole new level.
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10. 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.
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11. The Haunting (1963) - The original version of The Haunting is chilling. You never see anything throughout this movie, but something is terrifying a group of people staying in a large haunted mansion, a cast of characters as fascinating as its creepy components.
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12. 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 scenes of fast-moving zombies thereafter.
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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 wise-cracking, knife-finger-wielding horror icon Freddy Krueger.
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14. Funny Games (1998) - While I did enjoy the recent American remake of this film starring Naomi Watts (by the director of the original film, Michael Haneke), I think I prefer the origin 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.
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15. Jaws (1975) - This movie made people fear deep water, and I'm still 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 soundtrack...it all made for a classic that won't soon be forgotten.
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16. Hellraiser (1987) - Clive Barker's vision of demons and blood offerings makes for quite the horror experience, introducing Pinhead and his horde of pain-inducing monstrosities. There are a lot of crazy cool ideas in this movie, and the monster designs are out of this world.
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17. An American Werewolf In London (1981) - I'd always kind of thought that the werewolf got the shaft when it came to quality in its huge number of disappointing horror movies (The Howling, Wolf, Ginger Snaps, Brotherhood of the Wolf, Dog Soldiers). Excluding the original Wolf Man, werewolf movies just aren't done very effectively. But this one was, boasting great creature effects and great environments for the monster to cause havoc.
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18. 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 like Rob Zombie's remake, but I think I still prefer the original.
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19. Paranormal Activity (2009) - Ignoring so much hype around a movie can be difficult, but once I got past the "best horror movie ever" word-of-mouth and the initial disappointment that it didn't live up to that hype, I realized that this really was a good horror film, effectively creepy and minimalist. And since it kept me awake at night, watching my bedroom door warily...well, it deserves a slot on this list.
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20. 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 haunting underwater scene... There is that unfortunate song at the end, but you have to go into Argento expecting some weird shit.
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21. 28 Weeks Later (2007) - I love the opening of this zombie movie. I liked 28 Days Later alright, but that scene, its lingering effects, and many of the ideas throughout the movie are pretty brilliant.
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22. Scream (1996) - I saw this movie in theaters 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, and spawned two really good sequels.
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23. Eyes Without a Face (1960) - This haunting film is riveting, following the disappearances of young women left without their faces, as a mad doctor's attempts to restore his daughter's beauty following an accident.
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24. Freddy vs. Jason (2003) - I was really impressed how this highly-anticipated pairing of two horror icons played out. I've always been a big Jason fan, so it was fun to see the big guy up against the sharp-tongued dream master.
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25. Alien (1979) - Monsters in space don't usually work as well as they could, but Ridley Scott's science fiction horror film got it right. Fantastic monster designs with a great strong female protagonist in Ripley, played by Sigourney Weaver.
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31 Honorable Mentions (in alphabetical order)
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Audition (2001)
Baron Blood (1972)
Cloverfield (2008)
The Creature From the Black Lagoon (1954)
The Evil Dead (1979)
Friday the 13th (2009)
Gremlins (1984)
High Tension (Switchblade Romance) (2005)
The Hills Have Eyes (2006)
Hostel (2006)
Inside (2007)
John Carpenter's The Thing (1982)
Let the Right One In (2008)
Night of the Demons (1989)
The Ninth Gate (1999)
Nosferatu (eine Symphonie des Grauens) (1922)
Onibaba (1964)
The Orphanage (2007)
Pet Sematary (1989)
Poltergeist (1982)
Psycho (1960)
Rosemary's Baby (1968)
The Serpent and the Rainbow (1987)
Signs (2002)
The Silence of the Lambs (1991)
The Strangers (2008)
Tale From the Crypt: Demon Knight (1995)
The Unnameable (1988)
Wes Craven's New Nightmare (1994)
Wolf Creek (2005)
The Wolf Man (1941)

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