The 100 Greatest Horror Movies (10-1)

The phrase “art is subjective” really seems to hit home with the horror genre as much as any other type of movie. What makes a great horror movie? Is it the one that scares us the most? The one that has the best performances or best direction and cinematography? Is it the goriest or the one with the best practical effects? Or is it the best one at using horror elements to comment on the social issues of its time? The answer is simply yes. Yes to all because horror is subjective. We can count the beats, the number of jump scares and rate the overall quality of the film, but ultimately what makes a great horror movie is its effectiveness on the viewer.

So, to determine what I feel are the best of the best horror films of all time, I set a few rules for myself. Of course, critical reception, importance to and influence on the genre were part of the process. I also limited myself to only one movie from an original series so I wouldn’t put all the Friday the 13th films on here. I did allow myself to add remakes and a film from a rebooted series, however. The last and most important rule is simply my personal freakin preference.

This is the 100 Greatest Horror Movies of All Time!

10. Psycho (1960)

A masterwork in suspense and film structure that is technically flawless and narratively satisfying. Alfred Hitchcock’s classic originally had mixed reviews with some praising his filmmaking while others criticized it for being melodramatic that hinged on the gimmick of no one being allowed in the theater after the movie started. Through time, Psycho would not only be considered one of his greatest works but regarded as one of the best horror movies of all time. He was able to manipulate the viewer by giving them a fantastic female protagonist in Marion Crane that he had * 50-YEAR-OLD SPOILER ALERT* violently killed in one of the most famous scenes of all time. Janet Leigh deserves praise for her performance during the infamous shower scene and earned recognition by winning a Golden Globe for her performance. Also, Anthony Perkins is fascinating as Norman Bates, the iconic disturbed motel manager with major mommy issues.

09. Alien (1979)

Everything about this film just clicks and works extremely well. With most horror movies, the viewer can yell at the people on the screen what they should or shouldn’t do. The usual advice is “why don’t they just run or leave?!” Well, the Nostromo crew had nowhere to run when they went up against a sneaky killing machine aboard a spaceship. Alien is essentially a slasher movie set in space with incredible special effects, Roger Christian’s sets and  H.R. Giger’s creature designs that still hold up to this day.

Ridley Scott would direct a damn fine sci-fi horror film that had a palpable sense of claustrophobia while also giving us one of the most unexpected horror scenes when an alien burst through a poor crew member’s chest.  We would also be treated to one of the best and most iconic female heroes in Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley.

08. A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)

Slashers had been running rampant since 1978’s Halloween creating few memorable and a lot not so memorable ripoffs. However, the genre would get a shot in the arm with Wes Craven’s fresh take on a different kind of slasher. We had seen the boogeyman behind the mask stalk and kill the kiddies in real life, but Craven would introduce a boogeyman that would kill you in your sleep and would become a horror icon. Even though Freddy Krueger would become more of a jokester killer with some great one-liners, the original would showcase his more sinister side. By entering your nightmares to try and kill you, there was nowhere to hide since everyone has to sleep sometime. That made A Nightmare on Elm Street scary as hell.

The groundbreaking effects and the surreal kills combined with career-defining performances by Robert Englund (underneath some gnarly makeup) and a kick-ass final girl in Heather Langenkamp’s Nancy, help make ANOES an all-time classic. Wes Craven was one of the best.

07. Night of the Living Dead (1968)

George A. Romero’s masterpiece is one of the most important films in history. He showed what could be done on a minuscule budget while creating a whole new subgenre of film. Taking zombies from being mindless racial stereotypes to a horde of social commentary with influences still being felt today. He also introduced us to horror’s first black hero in actor Duane Jones during the height of the Civil Rights movement.

NOTLD would spawn countless sequels, ripoffs, remakes, tv shows, etc. while creating a number of horror tropes that are still used today such as the house as a fortress, the fight for the role of patriarch, the “Oh no! The phones are broken!”, and of course the moral of many zombie films: emotion is your worst enemy.

06. Halloween (1978)

John Carpenter’s phenomenal Halloween is an exercise in terror that spawned countless imitators and launched the slasher genre. Halloween would help set the rules for future ripoffs and for Scream to be able to make fun of those rules. However, this isn’t a violent or bloody slasher as there are very few kills but each kill meant something. There were no throw away kills or disposable characters. By keeping the killer calculating and in the shadows, Carpenter was able to construct a chilling figure in Michael Myers as a presence of pure evil. The simplistic piano tune of Carpenter’s nerve-racking iconic score still sends chills up the spine.

Carpenter was the main star here, but you can not overlook Donald Pleasance’s Dr. Loomis and Jamie Lee Curtis would become the ultimate final girl with her frantic and likable Laurie Strode. From the opening scene to the final frame, Carpenter may have constructed the perfect horror film.

05. Hereditary (2018)

I wrote my first ever movie review of Hereditary because of the instant impact it made on me. I was honestly skeptical if I would enjoy this film or not going into the theater, however, it instantly grabbed me and still has not let go of my mind-brain. It’s one of those films I find myself constantly thinking about months after watching it and the moment it starts to fade I end up watching it again.

Following the death of her mother, Annie Graham and her family wander into an inescapable nightmare of grief and agony, where every choice and circumstance brings them closer to their inevitable doom. Shot with tremendous precision, as carefully constructed as one of Annie’s miniatures, Hereditary drags you into the nightmare alongside the Grahams and features some of the most stunning technical filmmaking of the year, bar none.

This all starts with writer and director Ari Aster. The fact that this was his debut full-length feature film is ridiculous. His command of every scene is astonishing and not to mention a score and sound design that would give you nightmares even if you weren’t watching the screen. Toni Collete helped put this over the top with her portrayal as the grieving mother/daughter who seems like she is losing touch with reality. You feel every inch of her grief and remorse about the events taking place. This is another one of those rare films where everyone involved just killed it.

04. Jaws (1975)

Steven Spielberg’s adaptation of Peter Benchley’s novel Jaws does a number of things that make it one of the greatest horror movies of all time. It practically defined the term “blockbuster”, was able to improve on its source material and scare an entire generation from ever wanting to go swimming. Because of mechanical issues, Speilberg had to call an audible and go the “less is more” approach when filming the massive mechanical shark. Well, it worked superbly. How do you scare the audience when you can’t show them what they’re supposed to be afraid of? Jaws is proof that it’s what you don’t see that is scarier than what you do see especially when you add in John Williams’s primally unsettling musical score.  And you can’t forget about Roy Scheider, Richard Dreyfuss, and Robert Shaw’s pushed-to-the-edge dynamic that helps make the whole thing a lot of fun.

03. The Silence of the Lambs (1991)

The Silence of the Lambs is arguably the best horror film ever made if you consider it truly a horror film. The debate rages on and will probably never end but I feel that it gets overlooked on most horror lists because of that “is it or isn’t it” debate. As you can see I clearly believe it is a horror film falling under the psychological horror sub-genre.

So why is it arguably one of the best you ask? Most horror films have some flaws in certain areas like acting, screenplay/plot, direction, etc. or simply might not stand the test of time. There is no deficiency in any area of this film. The acting is superb on all fronts. Anthony Hopkins as Hannibal Lecter and Jodi Foster as Clarice Starling are the main attractions of course who deserve all the praise they received for their performances. Ted Levine is usually overshadowed by those two but his performance is stellar and ambitious. All the role players were fully utilized without feeling wasted or overused. The direction by Jonathon Demme was on point as was the screenplay. It is one of the few perfect movies. All of this is why I would argue it is technically one of the best horror films ever made.

02. The Thing (1982)

The first of John Carpenter’s ‘Apocalypse Trilogy’ and also happens to be his best film. The Thing was adapted from 1951’s The Thing From Another World, which was based on the novel Who Goes There? but far surpassed its predecessor. The feeling of paranoia and isolation is palpable with the alien entity having the ability to imitate anyone that plays on our inherent distrust. The fact the group is in freaking Antarctica really helps sell their helplessness. The whole movie is an exercise in mounting tension that has your heart racing from the beginning till the end. Macready’s blood test scene alone makes it feel as if your heart is going to burst through your chest.

Carpenter makes a true classic. However, the special effects by Rob Bottin,  the haunting score by Ennio Morricone, Dean Cundey’s gorgeous cinematography and committed performances by each actor are all that help make this become an absolute masterpiece.

01. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)

I believe The Texas Chainsaw Massacre will always be number one for me. Watching this for the first time as a kid, I could tell something was just different about what I just witnessed. It felt real unlike the other masked killers who I knew were just men behind makeup and monsters that were nothing but practical effects. At the time I didn’t know what found footage was but that would have been the best way to describe how it felt to watch TCM. It was frenetic and dirty.

Tobe Hooper shot this film to leave a lasting impression on the viewer and he accomplished just that. Most would describe this as a bloody or gory film but Hooper was able to masterfully film the carnage in a way that most of that was left to our imagination and our minds to fill in the horror. I mean Leatherface’s first kill is one of the most brutal on film when he smacked Kirk in the head with a mallet. Very little blood or brains shown. Simply the noises and the way Kirk’s body convulsed on the ground, left a sickening impact.

Understanding the history and meaning behind everything that takes place and the chaotic nature of the events just makes this movie all the more tremendous and gut-wrenching.

20-11 | Replay

What do you think of the selection so far? What are some of your favorite horror films? Maybe they will show up further on the list!

Author: Vincent Kane

I hate things.