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!
70. Frailty (2001)
If there is one film on this list that I feel is more overlooked than the rest, it would be this entry. The late great Bill Paxton not only starred but also directed this dark and fascinating occult chiller. In his directorial debut, Paxton was able to concoct a well-paced and thought-provoking thriller that keeps you guessing up until the end.
The chilling story of an overzealous father (Paxton) who believes he has been chosen by God to kill demons who are disguised as people and makes his two young sons help carry out his assignments. Paxton as the “God’s Hand” serial killer delivers a stellar performance with the horrors coming from fanatical religious beliefs and the fact he carries out his mission in front of his young sons.
69. The Lost Boys (1987)
The coolest and most heartthrobiest (idk) pack of vampires this side of Nosferatu. It was as if Joel Schumacher just opened a Tiger Beat in 1987 and said, “I need as many of these people as I can get for my vampire flick”. The Lost Boys is just a fun vampire romp imbued with all the ‘80s goodness. Long hair, leather coats, and the Corey’s of course.
Jason Patric and Corey Haim are siblings who sense something is amiss in their new coastal California town, where a lot of people have gone missing lately. While Patric’s Michael falls in with hottie Star and her gang leader/vamp BF David, Haim’s Sam bonds with the nerdy vampire-hunting Frog brothers, Edgar and Allan, at the local comic book store. It’s super slick, cheesy and a nostalgia trip for the pre-Twilight generation. Schumacher scores bonus points for casting Dianne Wiest as a newly single mom, Edward Herrmann as her suspicious new suitor, and Barnard Hughes as the boys’ curmudgeonly gramps.
68. The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920)
Considered the quintessential work of German Expressionist cinema. It is a definitive silent film that would impact cinema worldwide at that time and one of the most famous films of all time. A standard-bearer of horror films that showcased delirium and Gothic features. A nightmarish vision told through flashbacks by Francis as he sits on a park bench. As he tells his story we witness twisted visuals and revolves around this mysterious figure Dr. Caligari. Not only do we get these incredibly wicked visuals and entertaining story, we also get one of the earliest twist endings in film.
I can readily admit I’m not the biggest silent film fan, but this is a must-watch for any true horror fan or if you are a cinephile in general. It predates some great early films like Nosferatu and Metropolis. Robert Wiene’s Caligari is hailed as the first film to launch the medium into a work of art. “Why do you have it so low?” you may ask. Because I’m honest. It is not my bag and I have only seen it once which is enough for me. I recognize everything it has meant to cinema and the genre I love so much, therefore, I give it praise.
67. The Innocents (1961)/ The Others (2001)
So, here is one of my first cheats as I think The Others feels like an unofficial remake of The Innocents, right down to Nicole Kidman’s hairstyle, but both can stand on their own. The characters are confined single space that feels like a bigger world than most movies filmed outside of a mansion. They are both very simplistic that lean more towards the atmosphere, pacing and acting. Haunted house stories can feel very contrived and too familiar, but when done well, they can take on a character and tone of itself that draws you in while having you look over your shoulder in your own home. Generally, less is more with these types of films and that pays off nicely in both films.
66. From Dusk Till Dawn (1996)
I feel a number of horror movies would be better for the viewer to go in blind without knowing too much of the story and this is one of the best examples of that theory. Fortunately, I was able to witness this movie in the theater without knowing much of anything other than it starred George Clooney, some director guy named Quentin, and it seemed like a crime thriller set in Texas. Oh, and Cheech Marin was in it. Little did I know what I was in store for and this has become one of my favorite films to share with people who have no idea what it is about as well. I have a spoiler warning above but I am going to add another here simply because if you don’t know any of the particulars, I want you to go in as blind as possible. It just makes it that much better. So, *Spoiler Warning Again*.
Written by Quentin Tarantino and directed by Robert Rodriguez we start off with an already dark action comedy where we think the Gecko Brothers are just going to be on the run from the cops till they are able to reach the Mexican border and that was a great half a movie already. Solid performances, drama, violence, and laughs. What more could you ask for? Well, for one sultry Salma freakin Hayek as Santanico Pandemonium and then we get…a vampire movie? What the hell, right? Halfway through the movie everything is turned on its head and we get a nasty looking monster ripping innocents to shreds as our core group reacts to this craziness. It is a fun ride that gets better with rewatches because of the anticipation of what’s to come. Cheech gives one of the greatest speeches in all of movie history and this is by far my favorite Clooney role.
65. Candyman (1992)
While researching for a project on urban folklore, a college student investigates some housing projects to try and find out more information about this mysterious Candyman. It is said that if someone looks in a mirror and says his name five times, he appears and slashes his victims with a metal hook. After witnessing this mayhem for herself, she is further horrified that he wants her to join him in the afterlife.
Tony Todd delivers his career-defining performance as the titular character and Virginia Madsen compliments here well. Like most Clive Barker works, Candyman deals with dark themes with this one being about slavery and oppression. This is not your “fun” slasher flick but is a bold film in how the themes are told and how well it was made by writer and director Bernard Rose.
64. The Orphanage (2007)
Director Juan Antonio Bayona gave us a gothic haunted house story about a long-abandoned orphanage with an unsettling troubled past. A former ward of the orphanage, Laura, returns with her husband and child hoping to reopen the dilapidated institution that meant so much to her. While there, her son’s behavior becomes more bizarre and worrisome which the parents chalk up to an overactive imagination until Laura begins to fill the effects herself and plans to unearth some dark secrets of the past.
This Guillermo del Tor produced psychological horror builds one of the most intense atmospheres with pretty much no blood relying mainly on atmosphere and suspense. In the middle of a horror decade placing more emphasis on gore and shock, The Orphanage managed to use intelligence and storytelling to get under your skin.
63. Child’s Play (1988)
Was this an inspiration for Toy Story? I like to think so. Slashers were all the rage in the ’80s and most filmmakers were trying to find something different or fresh to make their mark on the sub-genre. We had seen men in masks, women behind the scenes and shadowy figures that attack you in your sleep, and even kids as killers but hadn’t seen a pint-sized doll with the spirit of a serial killer voiced by the great Brad Dourif slashing up fools before!
A clever slasher that hides just enough of what’s going to not know what was really going on at first. Was it actually the doll or did the kid go crazy and start murdering people? It was a fun and energetic horror film that is a good time and helped spawn a franchise and an iconic doll killer that crossed over into pop culture in the form of Chucky.
62. Shaun of the Dead (2004)
I think what helps Shaun of the Dead stand out above the rest of comedy zombie “spoofs” is that it feels more like a love letter to the sub-genre as opposed to making fun of it. Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright wrote and directed a tight horror comedy that is full of laughs, horror, and genuine character drama. There are plenty of homages to zombie features of yesteryear, coupled with Wright’s vibrant storytelling and pop culture references. There is laugh out loud comedy, but you also feel these real characters and the stakes at hand that help Shaun feel more soulful than most horror comedies.
Pegg plays the titular character, who is a likable going nowhere young man whose life is flipped upside down by the zombie apocalypse. With his crass and foul-mouthed best friend, Nick Frost, by his side, Shaun tries to reunite with his estranged girlfriend and sort out issues with his mom all while trying to survive and keep his group alive as well. Shaun of the Dead is one of those horror fans and people who don’t care for horror can all relate to and enjoy.
61. Inside AKA À l’intérieur (2007)
This is not a film for everyone. Inside is one of the most brutal and bleakest films out there as the film revolves around a pregnant woman who is attacked inside her home by a mysterious woman who simply wants to take her baby by any means necessary. Part of what was dubbed “New French Extremity” came a wave of brutal and extreme horror films that were often uncomfortable to watch. Inside was part of that but I feel it is the best of the bunch because it blends an extremely tense and claustrophobic story with some solid performances by the two stars, Alysson Paradis and Béatrice Dalle.
Julien Maury and Alexandre Bustillo were able to direct a simple home invasion angle into an 82-minute clenched fist and bloody fight for survival that leaves more questions than answers. This film is not for the faint of heart and will stick with you longer than you will want it too long after the credits have rolled. You have been warned.
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!