The 100 Best Horror Movies of All Time

The best horror films insist on the humanity that’s inextinguishable even by severe atrocity.

The 100 Best Horror Movies of All Time

One of the most common claims made about horror films is that they allow audiences to vicariously play with their fear of death. Inarguable, really, but that’s also too easy, as one doesn’t have to look too far into a genre often preoccupied with offering simulations of death to conclude that the genre in question is about death. That’s akin to saying that all an apple ever really symbolizes is an apple, and that symbols and subtexts essentially don’t exist. A more interesting question: Why do we flock to films that revel in what is, in all likelihood, our greatest fear? And why is death our greatest fear?

A startling commonality emerges if you look over the following films in short succession that’s revelatory of the entire horror genre: These works aren’t about the fear of dying, but the fear of dying alone, a subtlety that cuts to the bone of our fear of death anyway—of a life unlived. There’s an explicit current of self-loathing running through this amazing collection of films. What are Norman Bates and Jack Torrance besides eerily all-too-human monsters? Failures. Success also ultimately eludes Leatherface, as well as the socially stunted lost souls of Kurosawa Kiyoshi’s Pulse. What is the imposing creature at the dark heart of F.W. Murnau’s Nosferatu? He makes for quite the presence, but his hungers ultimately lead him to oblivion.

So many films, particularly American ones, tell us that we can be whatever we want to be, and that people who don’t achieve their desired self-actualization are freaks. The horror film says: Wait Jack, it ain’t that easy. This genre resents platitude (certainly, you can count the happy endings among these films on one hand), but the best horror movies of all time usually aren’t cynical, as they insist on the humanity that’s inextinguishable even by severe atrocity. Which is to say there’s hope, and catharsis, offered by the horror film. It tells us bruised romantics that we’re all in this together, thus offering evidence that we may not be as alone as we may think. Chuck Bowen

Editor’s Note: Click here for a list of the titles that made the original 2013 incarnation of our list.


Get Out

100. Get Out (2017)

Get Out’s central conceit, about a plot by blithely entitled suburban whites to colonize black people’s bodies, is a trenchant metaphor for white supremacy. The timing, character development, and gift for social satire that writer-director Jordan Peele honed as a sketch comedian all translate effortlessly to horror, allowing him to entrance us as deftly as Catherine Keener’s Missy mesmerizes Daniel Kaluuya’s Chris with that tapping teaspoon. The Sunken Place where Missy maroons Chris is the film’s most indelible image, a stomach-churning representation of how it feels to be stripped of your autonomy and personhood by a dominant culture that remains cruelly blind and deaf to your plight. In a world where almost no one is what they initially appear to be, Get Out anatomizes the evil lurking in the relatively benign-seeming prejudice that plays out as fetishization or envy, a form of racism that doesn’t see itself as racist at all. Elise Nakhnikian

The Host

99. The Host (2006)

Scott Wilson’s deliciously hammy presence as the American captain in the opening scene indicates that South Korean auteur Bong Joon-ho’s The Host is, in the broadest sense, a politically charged diatribe against both American and Korean political cover-up machinations of misinformation. But that aspect is rather bland in comparison to what else the film has to offer. For, like any great monster movie, this isn’t a film strictly about a monster—or, for that matter, the monstrous countries that spawned it—but about something else: the significance of sustenance. That is, The Host is a film chiefly concerned with food: who, how, and where we get it from, what it is we choose to eat, and why we eat it at all. Ryland Walker Knight


98. Climax (2019)

Gaspar Noé’s Climax reminds us how pleasurable it can be when a filmmaker essentially discards plot for the sake of unhinged formalism. The film is an astonishing celebration of body and movement, as well as an examination of the sexual resentment that drives a mixed-race dancing troupe. In early passages, actors more or less speak to the camera, a device that suggests a blunt clearing of the air. Later, when the dancers succumb to the effects of LSD-spiked sangria, Climax becomes a brilliant fever dream, an orgy of raw, flamboyantly colored psychosis that’s truer to the spirit of Dario Argento’s Suspiria than Luca Guadignino’s recent remake. Above all else, Climax feels pure, as Noé cuts to the root of his obsession with the intersection between sex, violence, and power. It’s a horror musical of hard, beautiful nihilism. Chuck Bowen

A Bay of Blood

97. A Bay of Blood (1971)

Compared to the other giallo films that comprise most of Mario Bava’s canon, A Bay of Blood (also known as Twitch of the Death Nerve) represents a more stripped-down and economic filmmaking from the Italian master. Notably absent are the supernatural undertones and fetishistic sexuality, and Bava even suppresses the vigorous impulses and desires that drive his characters to exteriorize their feelings in vicious bursts of violence by offering no valid (or convincing) psychological explanation. Despite being one of Bava’s simpler works, or perhaps because of that very reason, A Bay of Blood has proven to be the foremost progenitor of the slasher film, the one in which the Jason Voorheeses and Ghostfaces owe their blade of choice to. But it’s only the basic tenor of a psychopath slaying victims one by one that’s remained intact within the subgenre in the 40-plus years of this film’s existence. It’s in this film’s elementary plotting that Bava, by withholding information and leaning more on animalistic themes dictating bizarre character motivation, unveils a deceptive depth that the film’s acolytes can’t discern among the copious amounts of blood spilled within its frames. Wes Greene


Alice, Sweet Alice

96. Alice, Sweet Alice (1976)

Throughout Alice, Sweet Alice, Alfred Sole paints a rich and febrile portrait of how society enables dysfunction on multiple fronts, from the domestic to the religious to the psychiatric. (The police are shown to be restorers of order, though they serve that function almost inadvertently.) The filmmaker also invests his narrative with references to classic horror films, most notably Psycho, though his own direction lacks Alfred Hitchcock’s polish, which in this case is a blessing. In the film’s best sequences, particularly the moments following Karen’s (Brooke Shields) murder, Sole allows for tonal inconsistencies that reflect the true shock of violence. In such instances, Alice, Sweet Alice turns momentarily shrill, with actors screeching their lines almost directly to the camera—a device that expresses pain and refutes the fashions with which many horror directors rush through the grief process haphazardly in order to move the narrative along. In other moments, though, Sole’s directorial control is magisterial. Annie’s (Jane Lowry) near murder, when she’s stabbed on the stairway, is framed in a prismatic image, with a mirror reflecting the assault back on itself and suggesting, once again, the intense insularity of this world. Bowen

Bram Stoker’s Dracula

95. Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992)

“See me. See me now,” Gary Oldman’s undead vampire intones, so as to magically compel virginal Mina Murray (Winona Ryder) to turn his way on a crowded London street. The two wind up at a cinematograph, “the greatest attraction of the century.” The intersection of vampire and victim in front of a labyrinth of movie screens is telling, as Francis Ford Coppola’s take on the classic Bram Stoker material winds up collapsing history and cinema together. Coppola shunned budding CGI technology in favor of in-camera techniques such as rear projection (as when we see Dracula’s eyes fade in over the countryside, overlooking a callow Keanu Reeves) and forced perspective (such as trick shots using miniatures of castles, which seem to loom over the full-sized actors and coaches in the foreground). However flagrantly artificial and constructed, the whole film feels uniquely alive. Dracula has “crossed oceans of time” to find Mina, and Coppola shows how the cinematically preternatural similarly finds and seduces audiences—how movies offer their own sparkle of immortality. Bram Stoker’s Dracula is noteworthy for how un-scary it is, and yet Coppola’s fanciful movie tool-box conceits, in perfect sync with Oldman’s deliciously over-the-top performance, exert an overpowering sense of the uncanny. Like the vampire, the film infects us and offers an illusory respite from death. Niles Schwartz


94. Martyrs (2008)

Writer-director Pascal Laugier’s Martyrs leaves you with the scopophilic equivalent of shell shock. The gauntlet that his film’s heroine, a “final girl” who’s abducted and tortured by a religious cult straight out of a Clive Barker novel, is forced to endure is considerable. Which is like saying that King Kong is big, Vincent Price’s performances are campy, and blood is red. Laugier’s film is grueling because there’s no real way to easily get off on images of simulated violence. The film’s soul-crushing finale makes it impossible to feel good about anything Laugier has depicted. In it, Laugier suggests that there’s no way to escape from the pain of the exclusively physical reality of his film. You don’t watch Laugier’s harrowing feel-bad masterpiece—rather, you’re held in its thrall. Abandon hope all ye who watch here. Simon Abrams


93. Raw (2016)

As in Ginger Snaps, which Raw thematically recalls, the protagonist’s supernatural awakening is linked predominantly to sex. At the start of the film, Justine (Garance Marillier) is a virgin who’s poked and prodded relentlessly by her classmates until she evolves only to be rebuffed for being too interested in sex—a no-win hypocrisy faced by many women. High-pressure taunts casually and constantly hang in the air, such as Alexia’s (Ella Rumpf) insistence that “beauty is pain” and a song that urges a woman to be “a whore with decorum.” In this film, a bikini wax can almost get one killed, and a drunken quest to get laid can, for a female, lead to all-too-typical humiliation and ostracizing. Throughout Raw, director Julia Ducournau exhibits a clinical pitilessness that’s reminiscent of the body-horror films of David Cronenberg, often framing scenes in symmetrical tableaus that inform the various cruelties and couplings with an impersonality that’s ironically relieved by the grotesque intimacy of the violence. We’re witnessing conditioning at work, in which Justine is inoculated into conventional adulthood, learning the self-shame that comes with it as a matter of insidiously self-censorious control. By the film’s end, Ducournau has hauntingly outlined only a few possibilities for Justine: that she’ll get with the program and regulate her hunger properly, or be killed or institutionalized. Bowen


The Devil’s Backbone

92. The Devil’s Backbone (2001)

Guillermo del Toro’s films are rabid commentaries on the suspension of time, often told through the point of view of children. A bomb is dropped from the skies above an isolated Spanish orphanage, which leaves a boy bleeding to death in its mysterious, inexplosive wake. His corpse is then tied and shoved into the orphanage’s basement pool, and when a young boy, Carlos (Fernando Tielve), arrives at the ghostly facility some time later, he seemingly signals the arrival of Franco himself. A rich political allegory disguised as an art-house spooker, The Devil’s Backbone hauntingly ruminates on the decay of country whose living are so stuck in past as to seem like ghosts. But there’s hope in brotherhood, and in negotiating the ghostly Santi’s past and bandying together against the cruel Jacinto (Eduardo Noriega), the film’s children ensure their survival and that of their homeland. Ed Gonzalez

Black Cat

91. Black Cat (1934)

Based loosely on one of Edgar Allen Poe’s most disquieting tales, 1934’s The Black Cat is one of the neglected jewels in Universal Studios’s horror crown. Edgar Ulmer’s melancholy film is a confrontation between two disturbed World War I veterans, one warped by an evil faith and the other a shattered ghost of a man driven by revenge, and the young couple that becomes entangled in their twisted game. It’s a fable of modernity darkened with war, obsession, and madness. Much like the other tone poem of the Universal horror series, Karl Freund’s gorgeously mannered The Mummy, Ulmer’s deeply elegiac film is a grief-stricken work, a spiraling ode to overwhelming loss, both personal and universal. Josh Vasquez


90. Gremlins (1984)

Outlining his customary commentary on American society via an artistry informed by influences ranging from B horror films to Looney Tunes, Joe Dante satirizes our neglect of rationality under rampant commercialism through the nasty titular creatures. All raging id, the Gremlins want nothing more than to indulge in every vice that our increasingly corporatized culture has to offer. The resulting anarchy unleashed by the Gremlins during the yuletide season is appropriate, considering they were created when Zach Galligan’s Billy, like an official advocating free-market deregulation, ignored foreboding warnings that terror would occur if he had just stuck to the three simple rules of caring for Gizmo, the cutest of all Gremlins. Greene

Let the Right One In

89. Let the Right One In (2008)

Not unlike Matt Reeves’s American remake, Tomas Alfredson’s Let the Right One In is, in its color scheme and emotional tenor, something almost unbearably blue. When Oskar (Kre Hedebrant), a 12-year-old outcast perpetually bullied at school, meets Eli (Lina Leandersson), the mysterious new girl at his apartment complex, one child’s painful coming of age is conflated with another’s insatiable bloodlust. The film treats adolescence, even a vampire’s arrested own, as a prolonged horror—life’s most vicious and unforgiving set piece. This study of human loneliness and the prickly crawlspace between adolescence and adulthood is also an unexpectedly poignant queering of the horror genre. Don’t avert your eyes from Alfredson’s gorgeously, meaningfully aestheticized vision, though you may want to cover your neck. Gonzalez



88. Angst (1983)

Gerald Kargl’s Angst is a 75-minute cinematic panic attack. Body-mounted cameras, high-angle tracking shots, amplified sound design, and a bone-chilling krautrock score swirl together to create a manic, propulsive energy that’s as disorienting to the viewer as the implacable urge to kill is for Erwin Leder’s unnamed psychopath. Angst elides all psychological trappings, instead tapping directly into this all-consuming desire for destruction on a purely physiological and experiential level. Kargl’s camera prowls around Leder’s madman like an ever-present ghost—a haunting, torturous presence that captures every bead of cold sweat, each anxiety-ridden movement, and the agony of all his facial expressions as he tracks his prey. Angst is as singular and exhausting an account of psychopathy as any put to celluloid, thrusting the viewer helplessly into discomfiting closeness with a killer without attempting to explain or forgive his heinous acts. Derek Smith

The Devils

87. The Devils (1971)

Ken Russell brings his unique sensibility, at once resolutely iconoclastic and excessively enamored of excess, to this adaptation of Aldous Huxley’s nonfiction novel The Devils of Loudun, which concerns accusations of witchcraft and demonic possession that run rampant in an Ursuline convent in 17th-century France. Like Michael Reeves’s Witchfinder General, and set in roughly the same time period, Russell’s film serves as an angry denunciation of social conformity and the arbitrary whims of the political elite that effectively disguises itself as a horror movie. By brazenly conflating religious and sexual hysteria, and depicting both with his characteristic lack of restraint, Russell pushes his already edgy material into places that are so intense and discomforting that the film was subsequently banned in several countries and is to this day still unavailable on home video in a complete and uncut version. Budd Wilkins

The Blair Witch Project

86. The Blair Witch Project (1999)

Before the flourishing digital age paved the way for social-media naval-gazing, YouTube, and selfies galore, The Blair Witch Project foreshadowed the narcissism of a generation, its success unsurprisingly paving the way for an army of imitators that failed to grasp the essence of Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sánchez’s terrifyingly singular and effortlessly self-reflexive genre exercise. The heartbreaking fall from sanity experienced by the trio of nave filmmakers preys with ecstatic precision on our most instinctive fears, building to a rousing crescendo of primordial terror that’s arguably unrivaled by anything the genre has seen before or since. Rob Humanick

Who Can Kill a Child?

85. Who Can Kill a Child? (1972)

Narciso Ibáez Serrador’s Who Can Kill a Child? takes its time building a mood of palpable dread, eking menace out of every social encounter faced by a British couple, Tom (Lewis Fiander) and Evelyn (Prunella Ransome), vacationing on the coast of Spain. When they charter a small boat and travel out to a remote island village, the streets are curiously empty and the only residents seem to be sullen, introspective children. Ibáez Serrador methodically draws out the waiting game, and as the kids gather their sinister forces and close in on our unsuspecting couple, a moral conflict arises. The adults are forced to contemplate the unthinkable, doing battle with the little monsters and struggling with the notion that they may have to kill or be killed. Tom manages to get his hand on a machine gun, and he carries it around with him protectively as the audience wonders to themselves how he’ll answer the question posed in the title. Whether or not the answer surprises us during these cynical times, the aftermath is as disarming as it is disturbing. The closing 10 minutes come from a different era in filmmaking, when horror movies could spit in the eye of the status quo and say that good doesn’t always prevail, no matter how much we’d like it to. Jeremiah Kipp


The Haunting

84. The Haunting (1963)

Cacophonous knocking, inexplicable coldness, and doors that have a habit of opening and closing when no one’s looking—the horrors of Hill House are almost entirely unseen in Robert Wise’s adaptation of Shirley Jackson’s famous novel The Haunting of Hill House. But they’re nonetheless chillingly tangible, brought to life by The Haunting’s supercharged production values: Elliot Scott’s dazzlingly florid interiors; Davis Boulton’s swooping, darting wide-angle cinematography; and, most of all, a quiet-loud-quiet sound design that suggests the presence of the spirit world more forcefully than some corny translucent ghost ever could. The film’s oh-so-1960s psychosexual subtext may be slightly under-baked, but that only serves to heighten the verisimilitude of its supernatural happenings. After all, there are some things in this world even Freud can’t explain. Keith Watson


83. Hxan (1922)

Near the conclusion of Hxan, an intertitle asks: “The witch no longer flies away on her broom over the rooftops, but isn’t superstition still rampant among us?” Such a rhetorical question is in keeping with the implications of Benjamin Christensen’s eccentric historical crawl through representations of evil. Though the film begins as something of a lecture on the topic of women’s bodies as a threat, it morphs into an array of sketches, images, and dramatizations of mankind’s fundamental inability to conceive itself outside of power and difference. Contemporary footage of insane asylums and women being treated for hysteria confirms a truth that’s still with us, nearly a century later: that the horrors of the past are never so far away. Clayton Dillard

In the Mouth of Madness

82. In the Mouth of Madness (1994)

John Carpenter’s 1995 sleeper is a lot of things: a noir, a Stephen King satire, a meta-meta-horror workout, a parody of its own mechanics. Carpenter can’t quite stick the landing(s), but watching his film twist and turn and disappear inside of itself as it twists its detective thriller beats into a full-on descent into the stygian abyss proves consistently compelling. Perhaps the best tack is that of Sam Neill’s driven-mad investigator, pictured in the film’s final frames hooting at images of himself projected in an abandoned movie theater. Perhaps the best way to enjoy In the Mouth of Madness is to relinquish your sanity, losing yourself inside of its loopy, Lovecraftian logic. John Semley

Near Dark

81. Near Dark (1987)

The zenith of a career phase defined by sneakily subversive genre films, Kathryn Bigelow’s melancholic Near Dark remains a singular milestone in the evolution of the vampire myth. It’s a delirious fever dream grounded periodically by masterfully constructed scenes of carnage and the rooting of its mythology in the period’s twin boogeymen of addiction and infection. An excellent cast of pulp icons—Bill Paxton and Lance Henriksen are particularly unhinged—bring restless energy to the story of itinerant vampires cruising the neon-soaked highways of a beautifully desolate Southwest. It’s Gus Van Sant through a Southern-gothic haze, thrumming with an urgency bestowed by Tangerine Dream’s score and thematic heft alike. Abhimanyu Das


Kill, Baby…Kill!

80. Kill, Baby…Kill! (1966)

The Carpathian village of Kill, Baby…Kill! is among Mario Bava’s most indelible achievements—a physicalized realm of fear. Partially shooting in Calcutta, Bava uses the location as a source of found German expressionism, merging the canted windows and seemingly irrational angles of streets and stacked buildings with candy-colored cinematography and pointedly artificial sets. This contrast between the discovered and the created suggests a porous boundary between reality and subjectivity, the past and present, and the antiquated and modernized. In Kill, Baby…Kill!, as in many other Bava films, a character can stroll recognizable streets into dimensions that are rooted in their own psyches, trapping themselves in temporal loops that may embody encroaching madness. Bava renders insanity as both a place and a contagion. Bowen

The Howling

79. The Howling (1981)

Invaluable for proving that werewolves, with their pronouncedly rotating interior/exterior lifestyles, are ideal candidates for adopting the yuppie-outdoorsman pretension usually favored by more conventional weekend warriors who aren’t burdened with sprouting hair and teeth and claws upon the rise of the full moon. One of the most purely enjoyable of all horror films, The Howling is also one of the more free-spirited and tonally elastic movies of director Joe Dante’s career, which is saying something. Playful, erotic, scary, and even ultimately quite mournful, this film reminds us that postmodernism needn’t always be a haughty dirty word. Bowen

God Told Me To

78. God Told Me To (1976)

Larry Cohen, that mad genius whose A-list ambitions were thankfully preoccupied with funky, B-list concepts, had already plunged his rusty instruments into the heart of the feminine mystique and racial identity (Dial “Rat” for Terror) and the sanctity of the womb (It’s Alive) when he dared to connect the diseased dots between rampage shootings, religious revivalism, alien abduction, original sin, and bicentennial apocalyptic dread. More than any other film in any genre, God Told Me To, a grindhouse basilica that practically craves for oblivion, could only have been made during the collective insanity that was 1970s America. Eric Henderson


77. Scream (1996)

It can be annoying when horror movies are set in alternate universes in which horror movies don’t exist—where no one knows what a zombie is or that they shouldn’t go skinny-dipping in that lake. Scream is a slasher movie, but it exists in a world in which slasher movies aren’t only popular video rentals but have also shaped people’s lives and behaviors. Kevin Williamson’s script is self-aware, sure, elucidating the rules of its genre predecessors, but in director Wes Craven’s hands, it’s not just snarkily postmodern. The filmmakers transform the horror movie itself into a means of menacing its victims—as well as of evading detection. Scream is set in a world in which art doesn’t imitate life but the other way around, a world in which the cops might believe any pat story you sell them, because that’s what Hollywood has conditioned them to expect—in other words, our world. Henry Stewart


The Thing from Another World

76. The Thing from Another World (1951)

Though Howard Hawks’s frequent editor Christian Nyby received the directing credit, some historians believe Hawks actually directed large portions of The Thing from Another World—but maybe Nyby simply learned everything he knew from the master. After all, the film is in the mold of Only Angels Have Wings: a tight ensemble of flyboys and others rapidly firing off overlapping dialogue, providing wit and romance in between the action—here, the fallout from the discovery beneath a sheet of arctic ice of a killer extra-terrestrial. The recklessness of The Thing from Another World’s scientists suggests an atomic-age skepticism of science while the film also accidentally establishes the central theme of all future climate-change horror: When you melt polar ice, you unleash terror. Stewart


75. Tenebre (1982)

Dario Argento’s vicious riposte to Roland Barthes’s “The Death of the Author” (the opening shots depict an instructive text being tossed onto a pile of burning embers), the gruesome giallo shocker Tenebre decisively fuses artistic intentions and hazy personal experience with furious outcomes. The result is a CliffsNotes for perversion. The intersection of art and violence has rarely been as brutal (deaths are usually intertwined with architecture, and one victim’s blood fans across a white wall like a grisly Jackson Pollock), and Argento’s self-implication has rarely yielded something that argues so strenuously against interpretation. Understandably, given the body count. Henderson

An American Werewolf in London

74. An American Werewolf in London (1981)

Few films balance horror and comedy with the deft assurance of An American Werewolf in London. Two American teenagers hike across Yorkshire moors and right into a tooth-and-claw encounter that converts one (Griffin Dunne, inadvertent star of the show) into a particularly talkative corpse and the other (David Naughton) into a werewolf. What follows is a series of loosely associated set pieces that alternate between the blackly hilarious and the disturbingly violent. John Landis plumbs the Freudian subtext of lycanthrope mythology for all its camp value, both literalizing it through the best transformation scene in werewolf cinema and parodying it in several mischievously off-kilter dream sequences. Das


73. Antichrist (2009)

Lars von Trier’s two-hander psychodrama Antichrist draws heavily from a rich tradition of “Nordic horror,” stretching back to silent-era groundbreakers like Hxan and Vampyr (and Carl Theodor Dreyer’s later Day of Wrath), in particular their interrogation of moral strictures and assumptions of normalcy. In the wake of their son’s death, He (Willem Dafoe) and She (Charlotte Gainsbourg) follow a course of radical psychotherapy, retreating to their wilderness redoubt, Eden, where they act out (and on) their mutual resentment and recrimination, culminating in switchback brutal attacks and His and Her genital mutilations. Conventional wisdom has it that von Trier’s a faux provocateur, but that misses his theme and variation engagement with genre and symbolism throughout, which renders Antichrist one of the most bracingly personal, as well as national cinema-indebted, films to come along in a while. It’s heartening to see that real provocation still has a place in the forum of international cinema. Bill Weber


A Nightmare on Elm Street

72. A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)

Writer–director Wes Craven codes his supernatural killer Fred Kreuger as a sexual assailant—he has knives for fingers!—personifying a menacing flipside to his teen victims’ healthy biological urges. Most slasher movies punish promiscuous adolescents, but Craven takes it a step further: Kreuger polices their very unconsciousness. If John Carpenter’s Halloween suggested that the urban violence white people were fleeing had followed them to the suburbs, Craven circumvents conventional geography altogether, pushing his victims into an oneiric dimension and proving that A Nightmare on Elm Street’s baby-boomer parents are even more incapable than Carpenter’s to protect their children: You can run from the boogeyman but not from your dreams. The film advanced Craven from the grindhouse to the multiplex, as his reality-blurring editing and balletic violence elevate spectacular gore to grand artistry. Stewart


71. Deathdream (1972)

A grindhouse threnody for the Vietnam generation, Bob Clark’s emotionally overwhelming Deathdream is a raw nerve radiating pure shock and grief, as evidenced by the reunion of Faces’s Lynn Carlin and John Marley to play the parents of a young private who, after apparently dying in battle, returns to their doorstep. With echoes of “The Monkey’s Paw,” it gradually dawns on the initially relieved family that Andy’s purple heart may no longer beat, and yet he thirsts for blood, which would be horrifying enough if the film didn’t also seem to be suggesting that, whether soldiers return home from war decorated or draped by the flag, they never return as they were before. Henderson


70. Opera (1987)

Dario Argento’s last masterpiece, Opera, to date is one of his supreme essays on the possibilities of the subjective tracking shot for elaborating on the diseased pitfalls of the oft-discussed “male gaze.” Spritely, funny, atmospheric, and formally masterful, this clever fusing of The Phantom of the Opera with the legendarily cursed theatrical history of Macbeth also offers one of the horror film’s greatest metaphors: a collection of pins taped directly under the heroine’s eyes that literalizes a viewer’s astonished inability to look away from the atrocities a filmmaker springs forth. Bowen

The Old Dark House

69. The Old Dark House (1932)

Director James Whale is unparalleled for his masterful blending of camp and horror elements, and The Old Dark House could be his most skillfully sustained balancing act. What begins as an account of strangers seeking shelter from a storm at the Femm estate, trading acerbic barbs with the eccentric owners with a deftness that rivals the Marx Brothers, gradually turns into an atmospheric study in repression. Throughout, Whale pays special attention to the behavior of the film’s characters, as the house seems to cause them to disclose untold secrets—including the Femms’ 102-year-old patriarch, who, in a squeaky woman’s voice, reveals through macabre ramblings that the family’s eccentricities, amusing on the surface, are products of a shared psychosis. As characters move through rooms and up and down floors, the film seems less a tour through the creaky titular house than a dark journey through a collective psyche. Greene


Wolf Creek

68. Wolf Creek (2005)

A blistering jolt of existential terror that doesn’t come with the noxious sexual baggage that typically dooms its horror ilk, Wolf Creek begins with the stunning image of sunset-tinted waves crashing onto the sands of an Australian beachfront. For a split second, this expressionistic shot resembles a volcano blowing its top, and the realization that it’s something entirely more mundane exemplifies the unsettling tenor of the film’s casual shocks. Like The Hitcher and Near Dark before it, Wolf Creek is propelled by a lyrical sense of doom, expressing a gripping vision of characters struggling and resisting to be made out by a terror that seems at once terrestrial and alien. Gonzalez


67. Diabolique (1955)

Henri-Georges Clouzot was somehow a realist and expressionist in roughly disconcertingly equal measure. Diabolique’s boarding school is portrayed with the stressed and rumble-ready textures of a real school, yet it also appears to exist in a realm of otherworldly myth that’s particularly embodied by the creepy pool into which Christina (Vera Clouzot) and Nicole (Simone Signoret) eventually decide to dump Michel’s (Paul Meurisse) body. The tedium of murder seems to be conveyed in unusually specific terms, such as the logistics of lifting a chest containing a body up into the back of a car, while other scenes make sense only in symbolic fantasy terms, such as the classic moment where Michel slowly unexpectedly rises out of the cold bathtub. Like much of Clouzot’s work, Diabolique is really a caustic, despairing character study masquerading as a thriller. It conjures an atmosphere of suffocating rot that’s so palpable, in fact, that the murder plot is in many ways its least disturbing element. Bowen

Dressed to Kill

66. Dressed to Kill (1980)

An elegant fusion of giallo tropes, grindhouse transgression, and art-house cool, Dressed to Kill is a checklist of the auteurist trademarks that earn Brian De Palma constant comparisons to Alfred Hitchcock. Chock-full of Hitchcockian fetishes like doubles, blondes, and voyeurism, it plays like Psycho dialed up to 11 for a post-Hays Code audience—relentlessly violent and casually provocative. The lurid story, in which a sexually frustrated housewife, creepy psychiatrist, and beleaguered call girl cross paths, is almost irrelevant. The film is about the manipulation of image and audience. It’s a dazzling display of craft, wielded like a straight razor to dissect the viewer’s id. Every shot is visual perfection, forcing you to look exactly where you’d rather not. Das

Halloween II

65. Halloween II (2009)

An alternate title for Rob Zombie’s Halloween II could be Sympathy for the Devil. If Michael Myers was almost a phantom presence in John Carpenter’s Halloween, here he’s unmistakably and chillingly real. Throughout, Michael suggests a nomad single-mindedly driven by a desire to obliterate every connection to his namesake, and the scope of his brutality suggests a clogged id’s flushing out. In this almost Lynchian freak-out, whose sense of loss comes to the fore in a scene every bit as heartbreaking as its violence is discomfiting in its graphic nature, Zombie’s prismatic aesthetic is cannily rhymed with Michael’s almost totemic mood swings, every obscenely prolonged kill scene a stunning reflection on an iconic movie monster’s psychological agony. Gonzalez



64. Re-Animator (1985)

Among the great debuts of the 1980s, Stuart Gordon’s Re-Animator landed like a rusty fork in the eye of the sterile values trafficked by Reagan’s America—a breathless cornucopia of premarital sex, mutilated cats, bloody entrails, zombies, and, to quote Matt Zoller Seitz, “Barbara Crampton being subjected to the most ridiculous visual pun of all time.” Where it stands above so many of similar aim is in its sincere affection for its characters and refreshing abstention from irony. Like Frankenstein for Generation X, Re-Animator’s shock factor suggests the absurdities of life (and death) writ large, a sublime reminder that sometimes we must laugh so we may not cry. Humanick

The Birds

63. The Birds (1963)

Every Alfred Hitchcock film could be said to be about the world’s fragile appearance of balance, and how complete chaos seems to be just a shot away. And arguably no Hitchcock film expresses that sense of breakdown in as wide and vivid a scale as The Birds, his stunning vision of nature itself turning ferociously against humanity. Startling with peculiarly Antonioniesque scenes of would-be romantic couple Melanie (Tippi Hedren) and Mitch (Rod Taylor) complacently pecking at each other around Bodega Bay, the narrative takes a radical turn and becomes nothing less than the prototype for future zombie apocalypses. Under Hitchcock’s mordant gaze, we’re all headed toward the precipice with vengeful seagulls tangled in our collective hair. Fernando F. Croce

Invasion of the Body Snatchers

62. Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)

Each iteration of Invasion of the Body Snatchers speaks to its contemporary zeitgeist. In Don Siegel’s film, the corrosion of conformity represented by the affectless pod people cuts both ways: a free-floating metaphor readable either as an indictment of communist groupthink or as a condemnation of HUAC’s anti-communist witch hunts. Any way you cut it, Siegel infuses the material with a shadowy noir sensibility, doubling down on canted angles and low-key lighting as the film unfolds, and shoehorning his two leads into increasingly close quarters, culminating in the unforgettable reaction shot where the sheen of sweat on Kevin McCarthy’s face cascades over the upturned lens like a cataract. Wilkins

Blood and Black Lace

61. Blood and Black Lace (1964)

Mario Bava’s mixing of emotionally motivated color and object-centric tactility set the visceral template for the giallo. Thematically, Blood and Black Lace offers the giallo an irresolvable obsession with female violation that’s simultaneously cruel and heartfelt. Here, the murders are understood to reflect a debasement that suggests a furthering of the debasement of modeling, a suggestion that’s literalized by the killer’s placement of the bodies in hideous poses, and by a purposefully fake substitution of a dummy for an actress in a drowning scene. This thematic is complicated further by the identity of the killer, who reflects the fashion industry’s self-loathing and self-consumption, driven by a mixture of profound self-interest and neurosis that would be enormously influential to the subgenre at large. In a giallo, a woman’s worst enemy is often a woman driven to shirk the chains of status quo that shackle her. Bowen



60. Kwaidan (1964)

Working from source material by Lafcadio Hearn, Kobayashi Masaki treats his four adaptations to mighty doses of studio artifice to achieve a painterly hyper-reality. Kobayashi’s directorial control of the milieus is total, which is apropos given the fact that Hearn’s stories feature characters in thrall to the whims of outside forces. For what ultimately amounts to slim (in incident, if not necessarily in length) and predictable tales of ghostly infringement on quotidian life whereby the arcs and the outcomes are more or less the same, it’s the complete harmoniousness of the mise-en-scène that keeps them engrossing on a moment-to-moment level, unfolding less like crescendos to narrative surprises than wades through persistent and inexorable hauntedness. Carson Lund

Day of the Dead

59. Day of the Dead (1985)

The qualities that alienate some from George A. Romero’s third Dead film are also its most rewarding: the pressure-cooker narrative, the protracted philosophizing, the over-cranked emotions, the despair befitting the end of days. Acknowledging an impossibly bleak present and gazing with steadfast, and perhaps stubborn, hope toward the future, Day of the Dead rejects the partisan binaries its clashing human characters transparently embody, infusing its apocalyptic vision with an allegorical thrust that ultimately transcends futile politics. That a zombie is arguably the film’s most humane character remains a scathing testament to the film’s enduring relevance. Humanick

The Seventh Victim

58. The Seventh Victim (1943)

Just about any filmmaker can make intruders trying to get into someone’s home scary. It took a genius like Val Lewton to make a horror film wherein no one tries to get into the doomed victim’s home and her grim death isn’t even accorded a shrug by her neighbor. The Seventh Victim, if not Lewton’s most famous film, then almost certainly the one with the most slavish cult fanbase, is a lean-and-mean modernist nightmare that’s on the surface concerned with the diabolical schemes of a Satanic cult, but truly resonates as a portrait of cold, indifferent urban isolationism. You don’t truly know the dread of being alone until you’re surrounded by millions of strangers. Henderson

Inland Empire

57. Inland Empire (2006)

Radical even for director David Lynch, Inland Empire suggests the potential emergence of a new medium that remains unfulfilled, a medium that fuses the emotional and narrative containment of cinema with the elusive impermanency of the Internet. The entire history and future of cinema seems to flow intangibly through this film, which suggests, at times, an epic expansion of the visionary imagery from A Page of Madness. Laura Dern’s fearless performance embodies the loss of someone who’s torn between forces that are suggestive of bottomless chaos. It’s one of the most truly terrifying films ever made, but is it a horror movie? It’s every movie. Bowen


The Fog

56. The Fog (1980)

In the first shot of John Carpenter’s underrated follow-up to Halloween, a crusty campfire-side storyteller snaps a pocket watch shut with a start, a gesture that announces Carpenter’s intentions to unfurl his pirate ghost story on his own anachronistic timetable. Tinged with pioneer American folklore even as it delivers the wormy goods (reportedly at the studio’s behest), The Fog is at its best when it strips away the mechanics and focuses on atmospheric locations, uncannily imbalanced compositions, and syncopated scare rhythms, proving just how much unnerving mileage a director can get from simple, old-fashioned craft. Henderson

The Fall of the House of Usher

55. The Fall of the House of Usher (1928)

Through kaleidoscopic composition, of prismatic swamp water, soggy terrain, and branches that caress the sky like fingers, Jean Epstein affects Rorschach-like chiaroscuro, every image a dense, sludgy viscera, a looking glass held up to the audience and characters, daring us to pass through. And from The Fall of the House of Usher’s first image of a visitor with busy fingers wading through a tangle of trees and branches to the final orgy of poetic destruction, Epstein intensely considers the precarious push-pull relationship between life and art. He treats celluloid not unlike Usher’s delicate and fragile canvas, and to look at the screen of this film is to witness a portal into a complex, heretofore unknown dimension of cinematic representation. Gonzalez


54. Audition (1999)

For all its reputation as a stomach-churning endurance test awaiting eager new horror fans, it’s worth reminding audiences that Takashi Miike’s Audition is a masterpiece because the filmmaker brilliantly plumbs the poignant human desperation that often fuels both the romantic comedy and the horror film. Aoyama’s (Ryo Ishibashi) ridiculous self-absorbed quest to find a mate isn’t merely parodied as a symptom of social objectification, as it might have been in an Eli Roth production. You feel for Aoyama, and you somehow even feel for Asami (Eihi Shiina), the vengeful wraith who must assert her own form of deranged romantic self-actualization, regardless of the collateral damage. Bowen

The Tenant

53. The Tenant (1976)

The masterful final panel in Roman Polanski’s remarkable “Apartment Trilogy,” The Tenant surpasses even Repulsion and Rosemary’s Baby in its portrayal of claustrophobia and dissipating sanity. Casting himself as Trelkovsky, a meek Polish wanderer whose new Paris residence comes equipped with sinister neighbors, mysterious hieroglyphs, and mystical intimations, the great director employs a comically escalating sense of dread to crystallize a worldview in which weaklings and barbarians jostle for power and everyone is an outsider, as powerless against bullying as they are to helping the suffering of others. A master class in ominous, insinuating mise-en-scène, this is the ultimate Polanski skin-crawler and one of cinema’s supreme paranoid fantasias. Croce



52. Onibaba (1964)

Long identified with either the epic samurai saga or intimate domestic drama, Japan has staked a more contemporary international claim on the horror genre. But these roots stretch back as far as any larger trend. Shind Kaneto’s Onibaba, for one, is something of a mid-century classic, a stylistically influential dramatization of a bygone Buddhist folktale wherein a mother and daughter-in-law sacrifice wandering swordsmen, stripping them of their possessions before depositing their corpses in a nearby pit. It’s the game of sexual cat and mouse that results from the appearance of a mysterious mask, however, that renders the film both feminist polemic and unnerving fable of moral comeuppance. Jordan Cronk

A Page of Madness

51. A Page of Madness (1926)

The tasteful picturalism of Gate of Hell may have brought director Kinugasa Teinosuke festival awards, but it’s the feverish frenzy of A Page of Madness that lingers most vividly in the minds of cinephiles. Making use of just about every cinematic device—from Murnau’s expressionistic camera movements to Eisenstein’s flickering montage—to visualize a tale of unspeakable loss taking place inside an insane asylum, this silent Japanese classic builds startlingly on The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari for a vision of characters locked in a dungeon of hallucinations not unlike a movie theater, where celluloid itself wavers and churns like a bedeviled entity. Croce

The Brood

50. The Brood (1979)

A film that externalizes all its subtexts like nervous welts in order to mock the burgeoning self-help and divorce crazes that had parents everywhere willfully unable to look beyond their own navels, David Cronenberg’s dark comedy The Brood is as perverse as it is incisive. The message that, no matter what parents try to do to internalize their own therapies and protect their loved ones from the messes they’re inside, there’s no possibility for a clean separation from the beds they make coincided with Cronenberg’s own divorce, which may account for the film’s transitional tone, alternately savage and chilly. Henderson

Eyes Without a Face

49. Eyes Without a Face (1960)

Robin Wood, that great analyzer of screen frissons, once noted that “terrible buildings” were the recurring theme in the films of Georges Franju, and perhaps none is more terrible than the mansion-clinic presided over by Prof. Genessier (Pierre Brasseur) in the French surrealist’s masterpiece Eyes Without a Face. As the surgeon operates on captive young women in hopes of restoring the face of his disfigured daughter Christiane (Edith Scob), an unforgettable portrait of subverted normalcy emerges—one where angelic doves and grisly hounds, obsessive love and appalling violence, the gruesome and the poetic, are all perpetually leaking into one another. Croce


The Vanishing

48. The Vanishing (1988)

A disquieting expression of pragmatism as proof of godlessness. Director George Sluizer devises a mystery that very purposefully collapses in on itself, as the terror of The Vanishing resides in its ultimate revelation that there isn’t any mystery at all, a development that carries obviously existential notes of despair. There’s no guiding motivation behind the disappearance that drives the film, and no cathartic purging of guilt or triumph of good; there isn’t even really a triumph of evil. A few things randomly happen, then a few more things, then nothing. The end. That non-ending, though, is one of the greatest in all of cinema and the source of many a nightmare. Bowen

Invasion of the Body Snatchers

47. Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)

Throughout Invasion of the Body Snatchers, one of the subtlest and most extraordinarily fluid of American horror films, Philip Kaufman crafts textured scenes, rich in emotional and object-centric tactility, that cause our heads to casually spin with expectation and dread. Kaufman and screenwriter W.D. Richter fuse paranoia, eroticism, and flippancy to arrive at their own distinctly flakey yet intense genre-movie style. The filmmakers have gone out of their way to devise scenes which are set in places that have rarely hosted a horror-movie set piece before, such as a dry-cleaner’s, a book store, and the creepy swamp-colored spa that provides their film with one of its shock centerpieces. The soundtrack is particularly unnerving when we get a prolonged glimpse at how the pod people hatch out of the flowers blooming all over the city, which Kaufman stages as a simultaneous birth and rape. Bowen


46. Frankenstein (1931)

James Whale’s adaptation of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein incited many vital developments in our consideration of cinema. Besides ushering in the concept of the modern American horror film, it also made a star of Boris Karloff, sent Whale off on a lengthy career in both film and theater, and brought censorship into the cultural conversation as no film had ever previously done. But on a more elemental level, it remains an intimate accomplishment in character-based drama and ethical inquisitiveness, spawning a legacy diverse enough to accommodate the likes of everyone from Victor Erice to Bill Condon, not to mention a franchise character in no threat of extinction. Cronk


45. Poltergeist (1982)

Tobe Hooper is officially credited for having directed Poltergeist, but it’s co-scripter Steven Spielberg’s fingerprints that are all over this dark-mirror image of E.T. and Close Encounters of a Third Kind, about unseen spirits tormenting a suburban family. It’s structured as an escalating series of reveals, from the frisson elicited by inexplicably mobile furniture on up to third-act hysteria derived from birth imagery, child peril, and the eternal creep factor of video snow in a dark room. Hooper’s Grand Guignol flourishes are occasionally evident, particularly when a paranormal investigator pulls his own face off, but the technical proficiency is all Spielberg’s, as is the abiding interest in families and the influences (supernatural or otherwise) that disrupt them. Das



44. Jaws (1975)

The thriller that helped to dubiously restructure Hollywood’s methods of selling its films to the public is also cinema’s most enduring comic-horrific deconstruction of the macho-man-at-sea story. The shark in Jaws is the shark of our collective worst nightmares, a great big phallic joke that can mean anything you want it to mean, or nothing, and that uncertainty epitomizes the movie’s lasting appeal. Steven Spielberg’s film is the pop masterpiece as happy accident—a parody of America’s can-do spirit that’s also, by the end, a celebration of it. Bowen

The Silence of the Lambs

43. The Silence of the Lambs (1991)

Detective thrillers often concern contests of male ego, involving brilliant investigators who confront physically superior and equally brilliant psychopaths. Often lost among such face-offs are considerations of the lives that are destroyed and ruined over the course of the narratives, as these thrillers exist to evoke and satisfy our own fears and resentments. By contrast, Jonathan Demme’s The Silence of the Lambs is grounded in the psyche of a ferocious yet unproven female protagonist, whose thoughtful fragility intensifies the film’s violence, invigorating it with a sense of dread and violation. The film is a strange and still novel mixture of coming-of-age character study, murder mystery, and Grand Guignol horror spectacle. Bowen

The Phantom Carriage

42. The Phantom Carriage (1921)

Not unlike Fritz Lang in Destiny, Scandinavian cinema pioneer Victor Sjstrm in The Phantom Carriage sees Death as a sorrowful figure, gathering wretched souls with the eponymous spectral chariot in a limbo of despair. “His is a hard task,” says a brooding tramp (Sjstrm) amid the tombstones, moments before meeting his end and being handed the Reaper’s cloak and scythe. Chronicling a lout’s humbling awakening, the film weaves a thorny, haunting web of spiritual anguish, using double-exposure photography astonishingly as an incantation of overlapping realms and the connection between body and spirit, physical action and emotional effect, fright and epiphany. Croce

The Last House on the Left

41. The Last House on the Left (1972)

Before the slashing talons of A Nightmare on Elm Street and the spectral smirk of the Scream series, Wes Craven first brought dread to suburban America in his magnificently appalling directorial debut, The Last House on the Left. Kicking off the director’s troubling inquiries into broken-mirror family doppelgangers, the film mercilessly chronicles the fate of two young women captured by a gang of monstrous maniacs, a gory ordeal answered by equally bloody retribution once the criminals unknowingly seek refuge with the family of one of their victims. Based on The Virgin Spring, but exchanging Ingmar Bergman’s classical compositions for purposefully debased, all-pervasive trauma, this remains a draining, lacerating experience. Croce


Hour of the Wolf

40. Hour of the Wolf (1968)

A harrowing, hallucinatory portrait of the fracturing relationship between a difficult artist, Johan (Max von Sydow), and his supportive, long-suffering wife (Liv Ullmann), Ingmar Bergman’s Hour of the Wolf anticipates the stark-raving-mad surrealism of Darren Aronofsky’s mother! by nearly 50 years. But where Aronofsky’s film inflated this theme into portentous all-purpose allegory, Bergman explores it with typically uncompromising psychological insight, burrowing deep into the couple’s terrifying folie à deux. Filmed by Sven Nykvist in starkly luminescent black and white, Hour of the Wolf is filled with some of the strangest and most indelible images of Bergman’s career, such as a man walking on the ceiling of a small room, and a woman peeling off her own face. But the film’s most haunting moment may be its quietest: Johan staring at his watch with an expression of complete desolation, illustrating how immensely long a minute can feel for a man who has lost all hope. Watson

The Wicker Man

39. The Wicker Man (1973)

A film that’s become synonymous with British horror, The Wicker Man follows a conservative Christian policeman (Edward Woodward) seeking a missing girl on a Hebridean island inhabited by pagans. The first half has an (intentional) air of the faintly ridiculous about it, embodied equally by Christopher Lee’s gloriously campy portrayal of the cult’s leader and the life-on-the-island sequences that are Pythonesque in their absurdist look at culture clash. But the film’s impish wit and soft, Arcadian glow belie its cruel streak. The gathering clouds of unease building into a shocking third act that’s aesthetically and structurally reminiscent of the end of Nicolas Roeg’s Don’t Look Now, possibly the highest praise one can give to the conclusion of a horror film. Das

Dead Ringers

38. Dead Ringers (1988)

In one grave, inevitable climatic gesture, Dead Ringers simultaneously brought director David Cronenberg’s initial phase to a close and his body-horror predilections to a logical plateau. Following a series of increasingly gruesome films pitting natural order against the outgrowths of the mind and flesh alike, Dead Ringers deconstructed at an uncomfortably intimate level the psychosexual intrigue between a pair of fraternal gynecologists and a genetically unique actress as they plunge into a moral gray area of drug abuse and professional malpractice. Sure, not the stuff of traditional horror, but in the hands of Cronenberg, one of the most macabre, haunting films of the 1980s. Cronk

The Evil Dead II

37. Evil Dead II (1987)

Sam Raimi pioneered the splatstick genre with this upmarket sequel. Effectively remaking the first Evil Dead film with a bigger budget and tongue planted firmly in cheek, Raimi tosses loony Lovecraft references, sight gags worthy of the Three Stooges, and even the stray surreal non sequitur (like a roomful of revoltingly animated objects) into his pop-cultural Cuisinart and somehow still finds time to tear through the woods with his camera precariously mounted on a two-by-four. Seismic shifts in tone extend to Bruce Campbell’s Ash, depicted this time out as more akin to a rubber-faced action hero (complete with strap-on chainsaw and holstered 12-gauge) than the first film’s hapless victim. Wilkins


Don’t Look Now

36. Don’t Look Now (1973)

Don’t Look Now is driven by a crushing sense of emotional desolation. The phrase “psychic thriller,” which was used to market the film, is technically true, but misleading, given that psychics are normally used by directors as springboards for action set pieces or as agents for ushering forth the explicit arrival of ghosts. There are certainly ghosts in Don’t Look Now, and maybe even the kind that populate traditional horror stories, but the prevailing specters here are those that people come to know through disappointment or tragedy as allusions to things lost or desired, which have a way of suddenly opening mental portals to the past, and, in the case of this film and quite a bit of supernatural fiction, the future. Don’t Look Now suggests a ghost story that Faulkner may have written, as it offers characters who’re at the mercy of their streams of consciousness. There’s barely a present tense here at all, as it’s swallowed up by what’s already happened and what will happen. Bowen

Carnival of Souls

35. Carnival of Souls (1962)

Herk Harvey’s Carnival of Souls certainly benefits from the discrepancy that exists between its fantastically subjective vision and raw and inconsistent vérité formality. The filmmaking includes compositions of startling sophistication as well as flat images and threadbare effects that wouldn’t be out of place in a 1950s-era drive-in monster movie, collectively conjuring a kind of uncanny banality that would greatly influence George Romero and David Lynch, among others. Harvey creates a film that’s paradoxically all of a piece for its very unevenness, as the occasional disparity between rough effects and accomplished shot placement indicates the fractured sense of being that torments the heroine, Mary (Candace Hilligoss). Bowen


34. Alien (1979)

A film whose shadow looms darkly over subsequent decades of horror and sci-fi, Ridley Scott’s Alien is a master class in the evocation of escalating dread. Made forever distinctive by H.R. Giger’s visual rendering of psychosexual horror and biomechanical hellscapes, not to mention the unusual foregrounding of working-class and female characters, Alien is still—at its core—a prototypical haunted-house picture. It just happens to be one of the most artful, flawlessly executed examples of that type, the rationed-out shocks underscored by groundbreaking creature effects, jarring sound design, and the talents of a magnificent ensemble. It’s the stuff of primordial nightmare, mapping the infinite reaches of human anxiety—about everything from sexuality to technology—into two agonizing hours. Das

Nosferatu the Vampyre

33. Nosferatu the Vampyre (1978)

Nosferatu the Vampyre’s delineation of Dracula’s castle typifies Werner Herzog’s method throughout: an amalgam of dense poetic imagery and unadorned materiality. Caked with cobwebs and littered with the accumulated detritus of disuse, this cavernous space exudes what D.H. Lawrence called the spirit of place. Klaus Kinski’s Dracula is a fascinating creature, passionate and pestilential in equal measures, whether tossing aside the furniture to get at Jonathan Harker’s (Bruno Ganz) bleeding finger, or delivering pensive soliloquies full of poetry and real pathos. Kinski makes you feel the unendurable weight of the years when he says, “Time is an abyss. Centuries come and go. Death is not the worst.” Wilkins


Trouble Every Day

32. Trouble Every Day (2001)

While Trouble Every Day operates, superbly, as a biological-themed horror film, it would cheapen Claire Denis’s achievement to say that she merely literalizes the violent implications of sex, even when manifested as traditional “romantic” lovemaking. The filmmaker expounds on the notion of sex-as-violence with an unnerving clarity that appears to explain why acts of theoretical love and brutality assume such disconcertingly similar outward appearances, as both involve attempts to foster illusions of control where there aren’t any. Theoretically, sex involves a search for communion, intimacy, whereas violence is often an expression of dominance, and Denis shows that intimacy and dominance are similarly impossible concepts to realize with any degree of permanency, if we’re to be truthful with ourselves. Bowen

Under the Skin

31. Under the Skin (2013)

Under the Skin’s extraterrestrial seductress, Laura (Scarlett Johansson), shrinks in stature as the film progresses, from an indomitable, inviolable man-eating ghoul to an increasingly fragile woman suffering from the psychic trauma wreaked by her own weaponized sexuality. It’s a heartbreaking process to witness, one that flips a sleek, mysterious sci-fi thriller into a singular melodrama focused on the unlikeliest of protagonists. Establishing an atmosphere in which each new intrusion of feeling delivers another blow to the character’s once-steely exterior, director Jonathan Glazer spins out a maelstrom of dread as Laura simultaneously contracts and expands, adapting to the frailty of her assumed human form. Jesse Cataldo

The Leopard Man

30. The Leopard Man (1943)

Chris Fujiwara once said of Jacques Tourneur: “Unlike the classic auteur who imposes his vision on his film, Tourneur effaces his vision, not by the absence of style but by a style that emphasizes absence.” Indeed, who else but Tourneur could tell a story almost entirely in shadows? In Leopard Man, where a resistance to tradition and authority and the desire for privilege provocatively links the deaths of three Mexican women, he was able to deliriously evoke the presence of the film’s killer cat with as little as a darkened alleyway and with no more than a swaying tree branch. And Tourneur’s chiaroscuro is as striking as his use of sound, with the terror roused by a dancer’s ever-clinking castanets suggesting culture turning against itself. Gonzalez

They Live

29. They Live (1988)

With They Live, John Carpenter took the idea of allegorical horror, acknowledged it, and proceeded to upend all notions of subtlety, casting a professional wrestler in the lead role and turning his villains into human aliens spearheading a worldwide media brainwash. As Roddy Piper roams the streets of Los Angeles, rifle in hand, chewing scenery and bubblegum alike, a one-man wrecking crew on a mission to thwart invasion and open the third eye of a populace too drugged on consumer culture to realize their utility as vessels of widespread conspiracy, the blunt impact of Carpenter’s missive and subversiveness of his humor proves more potent than any comparable dramatic conception. Cronk


Cat People

28. Cat People (1942)

Cat People lyrically and metaphysically gives prominence to its sense of atmosphere, occasionally suggesting a film noir in its velvety chiaroscuro. Producer Val Lewton and director Jacques Tourneur borrow freely from German Expressionism, from Murnau, Lang, and Wiene, but its original story ensures that it will never derivative. RKO demanded Lewton make a film called Cat People, but rather than phone in a hokey monster movie, he delivered a complex tale of cultural dislocation that homes in on people’s fears of myth, the preternatural, and femininity. For his part, Tourneur orchestrated one of horror cinema’s most iconic set pieces, a pool scene that suggests that the fear of the unseen in perhaps the greatest fear of all. Drew Hunt

Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me

27. Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me (1992)

One of David Lynch’s most densely coded dream worlds, this hallucinogenic preamble to Twin Peaks is a perverse cautionary tale of sorts. In a world of blue, Laura Palmer walks with fire near a metaphorical bridge between here (a place consumed by pain and sorrow, known as garmonbozia and visualized as, yes, creamed corn) and there, the subconscious docking port (The Red Room) for demons and angels alike. Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me chillingly and subversively propels its little girl lost toward inevitable doom, but Lynch takes empathic pains to make his heroine conscious of her own downfall, showing her the flight of angels from bedroom paintings, even gifting her an angel once she sheds, at once horrifically and rapturously, her mortal coil. Because a death unenlightened isn’t one worth suffering. Gonzalez

The Innocents

26. The Innocents (1961)

The fear of sex underlining Cat People is a mere copped feel compared to the turbulent erotic paranoia moistening Jack Clayton’s adaptation of Henry James’s psychological ghost story The Turn of the Screw. As Deborah Kerr’s governess discovers the kids are far from all right, Clayton contrasts her cold sweats against an endlessly ripening, mossy English backdrop, where the screams of humans are usurped by the mating calls of mocking birds. As an acquaintance aptly put it, this is the prurient horror film Last Year at Marienbad, underneath its own self-imposed confusion, was trying to be. Henderson


25. Vampyr (1932)

Deepening and epitomizing Vampyr’s mystery are prismatic compositions abounding in skulls, coffins, candles, paintings, and other gothic bric-a-brac, which merge with the striking architecture of faces and found buildings. These images are so loaded with stimulation that one feels rushed and overwhelmed, particularly considering the geometric dislocation. The soundtrack alludes to acts that remain unseen, such as the baying of wolves and crying of children, and plot points are frequently introduced and dropped. Carl Theodor Dreyer plummets the audience into a vortex in which conventional rules of play have been suspended. From top to bottom, the film refutes the myth of truth’s singularity. Bowen


The Exorcist

24. The Exorcist (1973)

The “demon seed” film cycle, which gained purchase roughly around 1956’s The Bad Seed and on through Rosemary’s Baby and The Omen in the ’60s and ’70s, seemed to represent the repressed anxiety of post-baby boomer America. In The Exorcist, this terror gurgles up at the speed of projectile pea soup. In William Friedkin’s proto-blockbuster, the anxiety toward that most parochial duty of reproduction rears its ugly head and spins it around 360 degrees. The slow-burning subtlety of Rosemary’s Baby (or even The Omen) explodes in a gnarly spew of abject terror: a dovetailing of simmering suspense and exploitative shock encompassing most of what the horror film—as a genre, as a mode—is capable of accomplishing. Semley


23. Possession (1981)

The dissolution of a married couple takes on a manically supernatural air in Andrzej Zulawski’s Possession, a hypnotic and sickly hysterical monster movie that pathologizes everything from sex and monogamy to identity and subjectivity to biology and the preternatural. Essentially, nothing in the film is sacred, effectively heightening its deliberate descent into madness. Still, as crazy as this fever dream gets, its emotional core remains intact, thanks to unbelievably committed performances by Sam Neil and especially Isabelle Adjani, as well as by Zulawski’s persistence of (batshit) vision. This may be the most surreal and disturbing relationship drama the movies have ever given us. Hunt

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari

22. The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920)

Robert Wiene’s capstone of German Expressionism envisions the world as if it were created by an insane god, all jagged edges and precipitous landscapes. The artificial stylistics complement the nefarious motivations of a murderous physician who uses a somnambulist to do his lethal dirty work. Madness seems to engulf every distorted composition. Throughout The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, innocent characters are chased through a psychologically skewed nightmare that defies logic. Here, serial murder, mind control, desire, and brutality are all a means to an end, fully realized to appease the sadistic urges of a monster posing as a man. Heath

Dawn of the Dead

21. Dawn of the Dead (1978)

Whether he knew it or not, George A. Romero was working toward Dawn of the Dead throughout the 1970s, his ambitions crystallizing into an operatic, seamy, tragic and trashy horror-action canvas. The film dramatizes cycles of revolution, following working-class characters as they get a taste of rarefied life, walling themselves off from the populace, in the traditions of our political leaders and celebrities, and resenting the people who come clawing at the gates for a taste of the wealth. When the protagonists are overthrown from the perch of their shopping mall, the new revolutionaries are corrupted as well, destroying a utopia that’s really a hell of impersonal corporate consumerism, leaving the dead—an endlessly evolving symbol of society’s marginalized outliers—to finally inherit the Earth. Yet Dawn of the Dead also revels in the promise of America. The film’s most exhilarating scenes show a miniature democracy in action, as men of color bond with white men and women to course correct a society that’s in its death rattle. They fail, but, in an ending that implicitly reverses Night of the Living Dead’s hopeless coda, they will themselves to rise again. Bowen



20. Eraserhead (1977)

Despite never indulging in outright horror, it’s no surprise to find David Lynch’s name on this list nearly as much as more traditionally inclined genre filmmakers, so disquieting is his imagery, so unnerving his thematic spectrum. And Lynch’s debut film, Eraserhead, may be his most disarming, disturbing, and unforgettable experiment in a career that’s only grown stranger. Pieced together over a period of years, the film is nonetheless a lucid nightmare, following Jack Nance’s meek protagonist on a transformative odyssey, both emotionally and physically, through an industrial wasteland which recycles souls and collapses time and space into a slipstream of subconscious guilt and longing. Heaven’s never felt so enticing. Cronk

The Bride of Frankenstein

19. The Bride of Frankenstein (1935)

For Frankenstein’s sequel, James Whale turned up the dial on the extravagantly expressionistic set designs and sly sense of black humor. Especially notable in a storyline that more or less picks right up where the first film concluded is the addition of a prologue featuring a tale-spinning Mary Shelley (played by the Bride herself, Elsa Lanchester) and Ernst Thesinger’s mad, Mephistophelean Dr. Pretorius, who seduces Henry Frankenstein (Colin Clive) back into the laboratory by dangling the prospect of unnatural knowledge before him. Whale isn’t ashamed to plumb for pathos either (witness the scene where Boris Karloff’s Monster sheds a tear), when he isn’t waxing macabrely poetic with the Monster’s final summation: “We belong dead.” Wilkins


18. Videodrome (1983)

“Just torture and murder: No character, no plot—I think it’s the future.” Predicting an entire cottage industry of torture porn, not to mention presaging an untold number of contemporary corporate conspiracies and government-surveillance controversies, David Cronenberg’s Videodrome fused a generation’s nascent fascination with the entertainment value of the perverse into a hallucinatory hybrid horror-thriller with vast cinematic and social intent. When James Woods’s underground television producer stumbles upon a sadistic network transmission, his attempts to co-opt the program leads to a procession of double-crosses and waking nightmares, the implications of which the character can never escape and which cinema has yet to reconcile. Cronk

The Thing

17. The Thing (1982)

For all of the Grand Guignol overload of its special effects, The Thing is first and foremost an atmospheric film, one predicated on the claustrophobia and paranoia generated by its remote Antarctic-base setting. It’s there that a scientific crew discovers, then falls prey to an alien that can assume the form of any living being it touches, forcing the men stationed at the base to question the true identities of those around them. This is fitting material for director John Carpenter, who ironically used his biggest budget to return to the kind of small-scale, inward-looking horror of Assault on Precinct 13 and Halloween. But if the physical scope of the film is narrow, its tone is one of vast, cosmic terror, influenced in no small part by H.P. Lovecraft. Jake Cole


I Walked with a Zombie

16. I Walked with a Zombie (1943)

“Everything seems beautiful because you don’t understand,” warns cynical Brit Paul Holland (Tom Conway) to a nave Canadian woman as they both travel by boat to the West Indies. Considering the deceptive menace that plagues every sweaty frame of Jacques Tournuer’s woozy I Walked with a Zombie, his wise words act as an omen for things to come. Death here is elemental, riding on the wind, buried beneath the earth, and glimmering like fluorescents in the ocean current. Western stoicism proves to be useless in an exotic place with such deep-seated historical trauma. For the emotionally frustrated living of the film, survival means respecting local traditions and superstitions, even if that means jumping headfirst into a voodoo-tinged rabbit hole of horrors. Heath

Peeping Tom

15. Peeping Tom (1960)

“The great ones feel alone all the time.” Serial killer and director Mark Lewis (Karlheinz Bhm) is referring to the isolation felt by legendary actors, but he might as well be talking about the legendary murderers as well. Michael Powell’s incredibly frightening film explores the mind of this disturbed voyeur by merging the camera’s perspective with that of Mark’s. Eventually you can’t separate one from the other. It makes for an incredibly twisted exercise in formalism and point of view, where most of the bloody kill shots are left entirely up to the imagination. Heath


14. Pulse (2001)

Empowered by the rise of the internet culture, spirits draw humans away from one another, entombing them in a realm of their own private obsessions. Does this even count as a metaphor anymore? Until the recent The Bling Ring, Pulse is the closest a film has come to fully capturing the paradoxical and deceptively empowering trap of online societies that allow you to indulge an illusion of socialization alone in the privacy of your own home. Kurosawa Kiyoshi’s ferocious act of despairing protest is also one of cinema’s most unnerving and suggestive ghost stories. Bowen


13. Repulsion (1965)

Repulsion remains a thrilling experiment in sang-Freud, its two-way prism of audio-visual embellishments intuiting a woman’s fractured psyche and catching super-cool flashes of the audience’s perverse cine-desires. A searing, clockwork synergy, the lucid sights and sounds of Carole’s world are conduits and conspirators of madness and pleasure. Roman Polanski’s triumph is a weird, tense depolarization of space, a chipping away at psychological walls so that fear and desire become synonymous. The film is like a slyly misanthropic theme-park ride for the sane—a satiric, disturbing approximation of insanity by way of a master-class mosaic of aural detail and visual sleights of hand. Gonzalez


The Fly

12. The Fly (1986)

A beautifully poignant tale of love and heartbreak cocooned in the outré trappings of its maker’s distinctive splatter-punk aesthetic, The Fly represents the apotheosis of David Cronenberg’s early obsessions. The story of scientist Seth Brundle (Jeff Goldblum), who, in a fit of drunken jealousy, tests his new teleporter only to find himself fused with a housefly, the film is a testament to the elastic properties of genre as metaphor. Cronenberg reappropriates the original’s schlocky damsel-in-distress plot as the delivery system for a thoughtful, witty, and literate consideration of his pet preoccupations: sex, death, technology, biology. It’s tragedy pitched at an operatic scale, body horror at its most visceral, pop philosophy at its most insightful. Insect politics for a blockbuster age. Das

Deep Red

11. Deep Red (1975)

Deep Red’s nesting symbols have been planted with a delirious sense of emotional logic. The murder scenes complement and anticipate one another in myriad fashions, and are informed with a piercing loneliness that’s unusually disturbing and moving. In the film, when a woman is nearly drowned in a bathtub of scalding water, she collapses onto the floor and attempts to write the identity of her killer in condensed steam on a mirror. Dario Argento lingers, with rapturous calm, on the woman’s outstretched finger as she tries and fails to make this final clarifying gesture before dying. Worthy of Michelangelo Antonioni, this sequence has agonizing existential power, standing in for all the fruitless tasks that govern our lives as we gradually approach death. Bowen


10. Halloween (1978)

John Carpenter’s masterful Halloween introduced the world to Michael Myers, a natural-born killer of such ruthless skill and force that his power seemed alien in nature. Stalking suburbia on that fateful October night, this massive behemoth murders his way home in order to erase his family name for good. It’s not just personal, as there’s an instinctual nature to his savagery. The trembling synthesizer score tracks his every move, building to a crescendo of violence that feels like the dawn of an entirely new breed of terror. Herein lies the origin of species for the postmodern movie monster. Heath


9. Freaks (1932)

In many ways, Tod Browning’s Freaks is the antithesis of the typical horror film, which isn’t to suggest that its rain-soaked climax is anything less than scary as hell. A clear-eyed portrait of a traveling circus’s community of disabled performers, the film is most famous for effectively ending director Tod Browning’s career, an outcome that ironically underscores his film’s unflinching humanitarianism. In defense of their own, the film’s disfigured characters are capable of great horrors, but it’s those who see them as less than human—audiences included—to whom the title of this masterpiece most scathingly refers. Humanick



8. Carrie (1976)

The definitive tale of a person who summons the courage to try and engage with the world around her, only to be terribly, terribly rebuffed. One of the most influential of American horror movies, Carrie was also director Brian De Palma’s most emotionally direct film up to that point, as it broke through the belabored gimmickry of his earlier work to pave the way for an astonishing career that remains under-heralded. Over 30 years after its release, Carrie still best encapsulates, more than any other movie before or since, one of the prevailing subtexts of nearly every horror film: the fear that your private, most horrible thoughts about yourself are entirely, inescapably true. Bowen


7. Nosferatu (1922)

There’s an ephemeral quality to this classic vampire story’s images that haunts the mind, like the disease of Count Orlock’s very presence, long after the final credits have rolled: the cargo ship stacked with coffins, a silhouetted Max Schreck climbing a set of stairs, the enigmatic final sequence that blurs the line between heroism and sadism. There are also the striking point-of-view shots that illustrate the experiential qualities of horror cinema, a technique whose influence has been felt in films as disparate as Halloween, Rear Window, and Cloverfield. As F.W. Murnau allows his sense realism to rub eerily against his most ostentatiously expressionistic flourishes, even the most mundane occurrences exude a feeling of the otherworldly. Hunt


6. Suspiria (1977)

Suspiria is overwhelming in the breadth and intensity of its aesthetic, offering a radical departure from the sporadic surreality of Dario Argento’s prior gialli. The aesthetic weds with the irrational and sketch-like narrative to fashion an abstract horror film that’s more closely aligned with A Page of Madness than with the American slasher genre that arose in the 1970s, partially in response to Argento’s early films. Argento plunges the audience into Suzy’s (Jessica Harper) fragile consciousness, painting a rich and bottomless tapestry of fear. Bowen

Rosemary’s Baby

5. Rosemary’s Baby (1968)

“This is no dream!” Mia Farrow’s Rosemary screams, while being set upon by the devil, “This is really happening!” It’s this permeating sense of plausibility that makes Roman Polanski’s 1968 masterpiece so chilling. It’s not just the naturalism of the performances (of Farrow, of John Cassavetes, even of Ruth Gordon and Sidney Blackmer as the doddering old Castevets), but of the scenario. Released pre-Roe v. Wade, Rosemary’s Baby entered into a culture where the feminine body was tantamount to the maternal body. The film radically disrupts this narrative, depicting a bourgeois upward-mobility that can only be assured through pacts with Lucifer, and offering a stern reply to the pro-life line that all children are gifts from God. Semley


The Shining

4. The Shining (1980)

By 1980, Stanley Kubrick had made a practice of adopting genres, pushing their perceived limitations, and often perfecting the formula. Despite its base predilections, The Shining proved to be a risky experiment. A formally bold, elliptically structured translation of Stephen King’s pop novel, the film revels in horror tropes, raising as many questions as it answers while encoding its text with an added degree of discomfort by playing logic against itself and heightening the primal fear in character and audience alike. Simply one classic, unsettling sequence after another, the film is at once the paradigm of modern horror and the most audacious employment of genre the cinema has ever known. Cronk


3. Psycho (1960)

From the moment Janet Leigh’s Marion Crane checks out of the Bates Motel a little earlier than expected, the shock of the new resounds throughout Alfred Hitchcock’s genre game-changer. In an era dominated by Technicolor terrors and gothic grotesqueries, Hitchcock shot the film in unvarnished black and white and situated his sanguinary shudders squarely in the present day. But beyond even Hitch’s impeccable craftsmanship, what positions Psycho as an ever-renewable resource, a wellspring for academic and amateur discussion whose bottom likely will never be scraped by the rusty buckets of critical inquiry, is the intricate skein of metaphors, both verbal and visual, that runs like a scarlet thread throughout the film. Wilkins

Night of the Living Dead

2. Night of the Living Dead (1968)

Roger Ebert memorably described the effect George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead had on a group of Saturday matinee kids, writing that their accelerating awareness that the film wasn’t going to play nice—and was, in fact, going to plunge a garden trowel deep into Mommy’s chest cavity—drove them to hysterical tears. Perhaps they subconsciously recognized in the political and social subtext of the film the many ways adults were failing them, how upheavals were destroying all illusions of social stasis, how the arms race was pushing the Doomsday Clock toward midnight, how the nuclear family unit was on its deathbed. Or maybe Romero’s pitch-black, impressionistic, gory depiction of the living under siege by the dead simply was and remains among the scariest goddamned movies ever made. Henderson

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre

1. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)

Opening in utter darkness illuminated by sudden, dreadful flashes, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre begins with a police report describing a violated corpse as “a grisly work of art,” a term that also applies perfectly to Tobe Hooper’s legendary grindhouse masterpiece. A rough-hewn American Gothic canvas, the film charts the trajectory of a batch of youngsters from a clammy van to the dangling hooks of an abbatoir run by a cannibalistic clan. Materializing in the middle of the horror genre’s most transgressive decade, this is a cacophony of piercing shrieks, metallic clanks, and roaring machinery that looks back to Psycho’s view of ingrown monsters even as it outdoes the older film in sheer, visceral impact. Snapshot of Vietnam-era outrage? Indictment of all-devouring capitalism? Blood-spattered redneck Theater of Cruelty? Yes to all, plus the screen’s most grueling portrait of mushrooming terror. Decades of sequels, remakes, and imitators can’t take away its scabrous power. Croce


  1. Admittedly, I may just be in a foul mood from watching “Halloween Ends” but I think you have misinterpreted the original film (the stalker is neither a massive behemoth nor making a personal attempt to erase any family name) and are viewing it backwards through the timeline of the multiple travesties that have both followed and diluted it. Still a great list, but this particular entry stood out.

  2. I’ve always felt that Kubrick’s The Shining was a colossal mess. Nothing in it quite works, because Kubrick and Nicholson never commit to anything, they try everything, but always treat what they are doing as a joke, or an experiment. As if they were holding their noses with one hand while they grabbed for a paycheck with the other. Admittedly, I am not a Stephen King fan either, but seeing this movie when it came out, I remember how disappointed the audience was. The high point was “Here’s Johnny…” and that seemed to signal to most audiences that this was a movie for people who hated movies and looked down on TV… a movie for snobs. And yet, when it came out it seemed like even the snobs were bored by it. Yes, there are visually striking moments, but most of those are better suited for stills. Having to sit through a whole movie for a few steady cam shots felt like Kubrick’s idea of a joke. And maybe he and Nicholson were the only ones in on it.
    But, I loved your list and I love your notes. There are a bunch of movies here I now want to see. Especially the silents.

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