I started by creating a list of all my faves, which was around 125 films, and then whittled the list down to just the 50 best, based solely on my personal preferences. Of course, it is absolutely right and there is no room for discussion on the subject. Just kidding, but really.
EDIT: I am also creating a “10 best horror films of each year” beginning with 2009 – 1970. The lists can be found here.
Without further ado here is my completely unscientific and majorly biased Top 50 horror films list:
50. Scream (1996)
Stylish, smooth, and sexy sums up this mid-nineties entry from horror maestro Wes Craven. While not the scariest flick in pure terms, outside of the first few minutes, Scream packs a punch and redefined slasher flicks as we know them.
49. Cujo (1983)
I was torn between this or Maximum Overdrive as Stephen King’s finest adapted work. Just kidding, but in all honesty Cujo stars a rabid St. Bernard and a Ford Pinto. What more could you want? The ending of this movie may be a bit of a letdown but don’t let that stop you from biting into this flick. Note: I want to apologize for the cheesy pun, I just couldn’t resist.
Virginia Madsen is a looker. The atmosphere is dark and real. This movie is able to sustain fear for long periods of time. You get the feeling that this whole movie could be real life and that helps to drive home the Candyman’s badassness.
47. The Entity
This is a fantastic horror movie and it is nice to know that Martin Scorsese agrees with me. There aren’t many more terrifying plot devices than being repeatedly raped by an invisible demon on a nightly basis. To this day I want to believe that magic, and only magic, was used to create the crazy realness of the rape scenes.
46. Let the Right One In (2008)
One of the coldest, calculating, and menacing characters in all of horror cinema lives in this film. I hate to be one of those, “Everything is either the best or worst thing ever people” but I can’t help it in this case. I won’t be surprised if this movie makes its way to the top of many best of all time lists. LTROI blows the door off the vampire genre in both its originality and beauty. (Rated low on my list because I want to see how it stands up over the next few years)
45. Cemetery Man
Aka Dellmorte Dellamore – loosely translated from Italian it means awesome movie (or Of Death, Of Love). This movie is hard to describe other than a series a bizarre and funny events occur in a world where the dead come back from the grave seven days after burial. This is what good horror movies should aspire to be – nothing cliché, no marketing ploys in effect, just some people out to make an entertaining movie about decapitated heads, necrophilia and death puppets.
44. Zombi 2 (1979)
A big thank you to Lucio Fulci for bringing ocular violence to the zombie genre. Memorable for all the right reasons, well mostly for the gore and the most superb giant-wood-stick-in-your-eye scene you can imagine. Is it campy? Yes. Does that matter? No.
43. May (2003)
May is a sociopath whose only friend is a handmade doll, at least when the film starts. This movie reminds me not to date the creepy chick who works as a veterinary assistant. She has access to all kinds of tools and medicines that *if* put to the wrong use could make for a nice little bit of niche filmmaking.
42. The Abominable Dr. Phibes
Revenge is a dish best served in large quantities. Dr. Phibes doesn’t care if you didn’t kill his wife. He still wants to drain your blood while having a conversation with you. Having seen tons of violent scenes that don’t bother me at all; something about watching a live person being drained of blood still creeps me out to this day. I am also a sucker for villains that have a lot of time and money on their hands and like to see how it all plays out.
41. Rosemary’s Baby (1968)
If you like child molesters then you’ll love Roman Polanski. Before he ran away from the U.S. for raping an underage girl he made a film about Satan raping a supple Mia Farrow. Very sophisticated, slow building horror masterpiece. Check out The House of the Devil for a modern take.
40. Dawn of the Dead (1978)
Americans love their malls and guns. Any horror aficionado has likely seen this flick many times over. Zombie and Romero go together like fat kids and cake or reality shows and suck.
39. Pet Semetary (1989)
Killing children can payoff big time in horror movies. This Stephen King adapted movie scared the crap out of a generations of kids. The image of Gage’s shoe on the freeway still haunts my nightmares along with a host of disturbing images from this flick. Horror fans might also know Miko Hughes (Gage) went on to star in A New Nightmare, Mercury Rising, and told Arnold that, “Boys have a penis and girls have a vagina.”
38. Salem’s Lot (1979)
Outside of making it into the lyrics of an Emimen song (sigh) this movie had a lot going for it. For starters, Tobe Hooper (Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Poltergeist, Lifeforce) directs this made for television vampire romp. On the other hand, the sequel is one of the worst movies ever made and is responsible for launching Tara Reid’s career.
37. In the Mouth of Madness (1995)
The words H.P. Lovecraft and John Carpenter send horror freaks spewing accolades left and right for good reason. Sam Neil portrays a horror writer on the edge of sanity with superb brilliance. Must watch to truly appreciate. Live any good books lately?
36. Friday the 13th (1980)
The Voorhrees are good at spawning sequels. The original is still a fun watch and features a young Kevin Bacon.
35. Gremlins (1984)
Be careful of the “Mogwai” and for goodness sake, don’t get him wet. As with any good horror movie it takes blatant acts of stupidity to unleash the fury of evil. One of the finest Christmas horror/comedies ever made. I mean c’mon, Gizmo is just so damn cute. What was that rule about midnight again? Give him more to eat or something like that.
34. Motel Hell (1980)
It takes all kinds of critters to make Farmer Vincent’s fritters. Ever seen a scary butcher with a pig mask? This is the movie where that image originates. Motel Hell also features humans buried up to their necks and “plowed” to make the perfect snack meat. Honestly, this flick makes me smile with joy every time I see it (want proof – look me up on Xbox Live – my Gamertag is Motel Hell).
33. Psycho (1960)
Birds of prey are scary. So is Norman Bates.
32. The Haunting (1963)
A fine (and one of the first) additions to the haunted house movie motif. The lack of seeing the “bad guy” lets our imagination grow wild and enhances the fear throughout. Still to this day, The Haunting remains far more frightening than any number of remakes bearing a similar name.
31. 28 Days Later (2003)
Fast zombies are more frightening than slow herds of zombies. Danny Boyle wants us to believe so anyway. Nice take on the genre. How do you direct Trainspotting, 28 Days Later, and then Slumdog Millionaire? Dude is a genius, that’s how.
30. Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (1986)
So damn real that it could be a documentary. I mean eff, Henry is a crazy SOB completely brought to life by Michael Rooker. Unflinching is the best way to describe this movie. The camera plays no tricks. What you see is what you get. An what you get is a movie that will make you feel very uncomfortable.
29. Cube (1997)
You may have the urge to bone up on some math after watching this thriller. Made mostly in one room (kinda like the first Saw movie) on a shoe-string budget (400K) but still manages to thrill the piss out of you. This movie is compared to the original Saw in many ways but, is in fact, much, much better. Note: I hate Saw movies.
28. Pumpkinhead (1988)
Don’t mess with crazy small town people who can conjure up demons. Especially, don’t kill said crazy small town person’s kid in a dirt bike accident. Otherwise, well you know, all hell will break loose on you and your teenage friends. One of my favorite film and titles from the horror genre.
27. Puppet Master (1989)
Horror nonsense at its best and most ridiculous. The puppet with the knife is quite scary and the plot is well, something that only Full Moon could produce. Don’t even pretend Chucky was better than Mr. Toulin and his puppets.
26. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)
Not bad for a first time director (Tober Hooper). Okay, well a lot more than not bad. Who would win in a fight? Leatherface, Jason, Freddy, Ash? Let the debate rage.
25. Dead Alive (1992)
Brain Dead (aka Dead Alive) has been deemed the goriest movie of all time. Enough said. Well almost, Peter Jackson directed this gem and the lawnmower scene is pure cheese horror awesomeness.
24. A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)
This is not the movie you want to fall asleep to while watching. This horror classic stars one of the most recognizable figures in the genre – Freddy Krueger. Similar to Friday the 13th, this movie spawned a ton of crappy sequels that have nearly destroyed the legacy of the first film. For the Johnny Depp fans in the world, this was his first movie ever.
23. Blair Witch Project (1999)
After this movie came out some friends of mine and I went camping and built our very own Blair Witch set in the mountains. We also brought the movie along and watched it in the tent at night. I fully recommend this as one of the best ways to enjoy Blair Witch; just don’t get it confused with The Bare Wench Project.
22. Phantasm (1979)
The Tall Man is (imo) the scariest bad guy of all time. His spiked balls are not good, especially if they are in your face. With a vibe and feeling all of its own, this movie shows that horror classics CAN be made with little money and great vision alone.
21. Fright Night (1985)
Easily my favorite vampire movie starring Amanda Bearse of Married With Children fame. This 80’s cheese fest is radical dude. With a huge tribute to Vincent Price this movie is not only a classic, but also a horror buffs delight. Screw the remake in the face.
20. Frailty (2001)
Bill Paxton is given a mission from God to destroy demons. The demons reside in every day ordinary people scattered throughout town. Bill Paxton uses a divine axe to dispatch evil. Yeah, I’m sold. Told in similar style as The Usual Suspects, Frailty builds suspense slowly and methodically to a near perfect pitch by the end of the film.
19. Carnival of Souls (1962)
Basically, if this movie was made in 1998 it would be on everyone’s best of all time horror lists and M. Night Shyamalan would not be directing crappy movies with even crappier endings (Oh really? Water kills them! Go die in hole Shamasuck!) I don’t want to give away too much if you haven’t seen it but this movie was WAY ahead of its time.
18. Event Horizon (1997)
This movie is flat out scary. Say what you will but Sam Neil losing his mind in space while literally traveling through hell is awesome. This one will give you night terrors for a long time to come.
17. An American Werewolf in London (1981)
Movies that make you laugh first then scare you are often the best and AAWIL is no exception to that rule. The werewolf transformation is still to this day one of the best on screen morphs, crushing the CGI crap used in modern films. The Slaughtered Lamb, and Piccadilly Circus scenes are among the best of all time. On a side note, I am glad that Rick Baker came back and did the wolf effects in The Wolfman, saving that film from being a disgrace.
16. Night of the Creeps (1986)
I could talk about the merits of this film for hours, but I think it sums it up best when I say I was on the original petition to get this movie to DVD (which it has finally!). Hands down this is one of the best 80’s horror flicks. Night of the Creeps and Monster Squad are my John Hughes movies. Good news girls is your dates are here. The bad news. They’re dead.
15. The Shining (1980)
I prefer the Simpson’s take in the now classic Tree House of Horrors episode “The Shinning” only slightly more than the actual movie. No TV and no beer do make Homer go crazy. If you somehow haven’t seen this I doubt you are reading this list anyway.
14. Videodrome (1983)
This is a movie that has to be seen to be appreciated. How much of what is going on is real vs. what is just in James Woods’ head? One may never know. This movie is outright weird and creepy from start to finish. Long live the new flesh!
13. Ginger Snaps (2000)
Not exactly sure why I like it so much, well, there is tons of blood and gore, two Goth obsessed sisters, great acting, ingeniously smart writing, directing, and solid scares. I guess that makes it easy to love this film and announce it as the best werewolf movie of all time, sorry Lon Chaney.
12. Prince of Darkness (1987)
This film is highly underrated, until now. John Carpenter’s other works may be more popular but this is one of his finest efforts. Basic plot: Something very “evil” is trapped in a jar downstairs in a church and Donald Pleasance hires a group of scientists to check it out. They soon discover the jar contains Satan, the real deal himself, and they may have just let him loose.
11. Last House on the Left (1972)
A retelling of The Virgin Spring, Wes Craven delivers a shock fest that will get under your skin. This film looks like trash, sounds like trash, and it IS mostly trash, which makes it the perfect exploitation film. Along the way a guy named Kruger shows up and one of the most disturbing and painful scenes of cinema reside in LHOTL. It’s only a movie, It’s only a movie…
10. The Return of the Living Dead (1985)
The cult following of this film continues to grow with each viewing of this splatter fest of comedy and chills. Essentially, this is the perfect mix of horror and comedy. While others have fallen to the wayside, TROTLD has stood up to the test of time and is every bit as enjoyable as the day it came out. Anybody need a split a dog?
9. Hellraiser (1987)
Clive Barker is a weird son of a bitch, and for that, we should all be grateful. This flick is considered a masterpiece of the genre by many top critics. Unfortunately, Hellraiser suffers from sequel overdose as do most of the greats. But, if you are looking for some grisly action and date with a dude who has pins in his head, then this movie will abide, just like The Dude.
8. Creepshow (1982)
This movie stars Ted Danson and Leslie Neilson. That alone makes it great. If you didn’t already know, Creepshow is a series of short films based on old time comics, directed by George Romero. Stephen King’s cameo as the man with green moss growing all over him is just classic, I tell ya.
7. The Ring (2002)
It’s not often that an American remake of an Asian horror movie is even worth watching. This makes it all that much more impressive that The Ring not only is worth watching, but is one of the scariest movies ever made. I remember walking out of the theater thinking to myself that I sure hope some idiots don’t come along and spoof the opening scene using Pamela Anderson and Jenny McCarthy in place of the high school girls.
6. The Descent (2005)
A near perfect horror movie. This is the story of what happens when spelunking goes terribly wrong. Every horror film in the 2000’s wishes it could be this frightening. Much like what Jaws did for the ocean, The Descent does for caves. Parents would be wise not to let children watch this movie unless they are jaded assholes who want to screw their kids up.
5. The Exorcist (1973)
If you have seen this movie a million times I recommend picking up a copy of the book. There were points while reading when I would have to get up and turn more lights on or simply put the book down and go watch some mindless comedy to get my mind right. The movie of course stands tall among the greats of all time.
4. Evil Dead II (1987)
Sam Raimi delivers the best horror comedy movie of all time in his sequel to Evil Dead. My affection for this film borders on the kind of love that needs a restraining order. Heck, I am not at all embarrassed to let you know that my dog’s name is Ash. A true masterpiece of blood, guts, and gore. On a side note, If you like the one man alone for most a movie idea, then 1408 is a nice little flick.
3. The Thing (1982)
I wish Hollywood horror movie producers would take a look at the effects used in this movie. This is the kind of stuff nightmares are made of. There are tons of jumpy moments, claustrophobia, and enough Wilford Brimley to please even the most discerning of viewers.
2. Night of the Living Dead (1968)
Yes Barbara, they are coming for you. The original movie has spawned more spinoffs, shows, and books than can even be counted. This is indeed a landmark film.
1. The Changeling (1980)
It’s odd how much certain films can impact you at the time you watch them. Changeling is one of those films for me. I truly believe this movie is absolutely terrifying and will defend it to my grave. There are some qualifiers though about how you watch the movie. My recommendation: Watch alone, with no lights, cellphones, or other distractions to take you out of the moment. Oh, if you have an old abandoned house you can use for the night go ahead and watch it there. This flick is all about storytelling and needs your full attention. There is no gore nor special effects, just pure mind-numbingly frightening horror. Good luck.