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!
80. The Wolf Man (1941)
During the early part of the 20th century, Larry Talbot returns to his home town to reconcile with his estranged father after learning about the death of his brother. While there, he becomes romantically involved with the lovely Gwen. Throughout the film there is a poem repeated by other villagers when werewolves are brought up “Even a man who is pure in heart and says his prayers by night; May become a wolf when the wolfbane blooms and the autumn moon is bright.” Larry attempts to rescue one of Evelyn’s friends from a sudden wolf attack and is successful in slaying the beast but was bitten in the process. We learn that wasn’t any ordinary wolf…
Unlike Frankenstein, Dracula and The Invisible Man, The Wolf Man was an original Universal Monster that wasn’t based on any previous literature. The film was bolstered by the performance from the great Lon Chaney Jr., unique special effects of that time and creepy atmosphere. It is said that the man to werewolf transformation took 24 hours to film. The look of Lon Chaney’s Wolf Man is still the definitive werewolf no matter how many imitations continue to pop up. This is simply a timeless classic that is a must-watch.
79. Goodnight Mommy (2014)
A single mother returns home after facial plastic surgery that leaves her entire face bandaged while it heals, but her twin sons aren’t too sure who this person is impersonating their mother. As this woman exhibits strange behavior, the boys begin to question her identity and try to unravel the mystery themselves.
Dread. Dread is the word that comes to mind anytime I think about this film. Usually, in horror movies when young child actors are involved, they can be rather annoying or simply pull you out of the film because of their acting, but Elias and Lukas Schwarz do a fantastic job here. These two really carry this film as they are on screen the most. The writers and directors, Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala, do an excellent job of letting the slow pace and atmosphere help these to young actors, as we begin to feel sympathy for their situation up until the brutal climax. If you like heavy and bleak films, then this is for you.
78. What We Do in the Shadows (2014)
The Office meets Interview with a Vampire but with better acting and less melodrama. What We Do in the Shadows takes us on a behind the scenes documentary-style look at the daily routine of a group of vampires. We see the vampires, ranging from 183 to 8,000 years old, squabble over daily chores, picking on local werewolves, cruising for ladies and struggling with new technology.
WWDITS is a fresh take on the vampire sub-genre that turns out some good laughs. Even though writer/directors Taika Waititi and Jemaine Clement poke fun at vampires, you can tell there is a lot of respect and love here for the bloodsuckers. It is one of those films that even nonhorror nuts can enjoy and gain a new perspective on the genre.
77. Event Horizon (1997)
Set in 2047, it follows a crew of astronauts sent on a rescue mission after a missing spaceship, the Event Horizon, spontaneously appears in orbit around Neptune. Searching the ship for signs of life, the rescue crew learns that the Event Horizon was a testbed for an experimental engine that opened a rift in the space-time continuum and left our universe entirely, allowing a hostile entity to possess the ship. This film had a solid concept with some strong performances from the likes of Sam Neill and Laurence Fishburne. Combine that with a genuinely dreadful atmosphere, decent scares and an incredible score, you should have had decently successful sci-fi horror thriller on your hands. Instead, through studio meddling, Event Horizon was critical and box office bomb. However, it would find a strong cult following and get the love it deserved.
If I were to ever do a list (I’m not) of films most effected by studio interference, I believe this would easily make the top 10 all time. With a rushed schedule and poor test screens because of the amount of gore being “too much”, a lot of editing and cuts had to made to the chagrin of director Paul W.S. Anderson. At least we got the directors cut, right? Sadly, no. The cut footage was improperly stored, and the tape rotted away. Simply heartbreaking.
76. The Vanishing AKA Spoorloos (1988)
An extremely disturbing story about a man who searches for his girlfriend who mysteriously disappeared at a rest stop during a road trip. He obsessively searches for her for three years without much success. The kidnapper, who has been watching the boyfriend for some time, is intrigued by his obsession and decides to contact the boyfriend. He offers the boyfriend the opportunity to learn what happened to his girlfriend by experiencing what she did firsthand.
Director George Sluizer gives us a bleak look at evil and obsession that culminates in one of the most chilling endings that haunts you long after the film ends. Bernard-Pierre Donnadieu, as Raymond Lemorne, gives us one of the most unassuming monsters in horror history while Gene Bervoets plays the obsessive boyfriend extremely well. Sluizer is able to build suspense effectively even while he is laying out of the information that we need and ultimately know where this is all headed.
75. Evil Dead (2013)
I will say this is one of the best remakes of a classic out there. For most, Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead films were untouchable and revered classics. I was in that camp until I saw Fede Alvarez’s version. Like most good remakes, he was able to take the core elements of its predecessor and tell the story in his unique way. Where Raimi utilized an almost slapstick take to compliment the mayhem, Alvarez fueled it with pure terror, sick effects (practical and CGI), and a sympathetic final girl smack dab in the middle of it all.
Usually, gender-swapping isn’t effective but seeing how Bruce Campbell’s Ash was essentially a final girl in a male’s body, it works perfectly here. The third act is an exhaustive descent into bloody carnage that offers up what all horror fiends crave in an intense and satisfying execution of being frightening, unsettling and gory.
74. The Omen (1976)
You youngins out there wanting to start a family, whatever you do, please don’t secretly adopt a baby after yours dies during birth and not tell your wife. Why? Because that’s how you end up raising the Anti-Christ and help bring about the end of the world. It ain’t worth it. That exactly what Robert Thorn (the great Gregory Peck) did and soon after strange events begin to follow the Thorn’s like weird rottweiler’s appearing out of nowhere, a nanny hanging herself during his 5th birthday party, “Look at me, Damien. It’s all for you.”, among other weird occurrences.
Richard Donner directed a fine horror film that was a box office and critical hit. There is a creepy shadow that follows you along during the film while giving us one of the best creepy kid characters in Damien and some memorable deaths including a decapitation by a plate glass window that was shocking for its time. One of the eeriest films that stands the test of time with solid performances by all involved with the well-respected actor of Gregory Peck’s status helping give credence to the horror genre.
73. Drag Me to Hell (2009)
Sam Raimi delivers one of the most fun horror films that is as playful as it is disgusting even with a PG-13 rating. This is how you make a horror-comedy where they compliment each other instead of hurting one another. The scares are as on the nose as is the title, but it’s the way Raimi is able to tell his story through a tense soundtrack, timing and delivering on gory good without going over the top. There are numerous gags that all land with the viewer either laughing, saying “ew’ or both.
Alison Lohman does an admirable job as the once chubby and sweet country girl who is trying to rise above her status until her world is put on hold as she has an unfortunate encounter with Mrs. Ganush, who casts a curse on her for shaming and embarrassing the aging gypsy. This is one of those horror films that I will never tire of and gets more fun with each rewatch.
72. Halloween II (2009)
I can hear the groans now. Rob Zombie’s 2007 remake of the classic Halloween was and still is very polarizing for horror fans. Many hated the fact that he had given a back story to Michael Myers with his redneck horror style claiming it undermined the original (it didn’t) while others (yours truly) enjoyed his vision and the story he told in his own way without just retreading the original. My only complaint would be that he didn’t go far enough to make the film his because it felt like he had to hit certain beats to make the film still feel like Halloween. Which brings me to why I think his follow up is so damn good and underrated.
Zombie’s sequel is not a movie for fans of the Halloween franchise. After the first few minutes of the film that pays a quick homage to the original Halloween 2, Zombie fully embraces making this film his own creation. Yes, there are some of the same characters, but he gives us insights into their PTSD and the aftermath of the earlier events better than any slasher sequel has done. We see all the survivors forever changed because of his attack including the effects on Michael himself. Instead of looking at the film as a Halloween entry but as an examination of what horrific events do to ordinary people and you may be able to appreciate it a little more.
71. Session 9 (2001)
If there was ever a movie sold solely on its setting and atmosphere alone, it’s Session 9. And, of course, David Caruso’s acting. The film was shot at the actual abandoned Danvers State Mental Hospital and follows a crew who are there to clear out the asbestos that plagues the structure. The crew begins to experience growing tensions while working in the eerie place while one stumbles upon some old therapy tapes of a particular patient’s sessions. The haunting tapes showcase this patient’s regression as more unexplained happenings take place around the creepy site.
Directed by Brad Anderson builds an effective psychological thriller by utilizing an incredible set-piece that compliments the atmosphere he wanted to create with a well-paced story that gives you just enough to keep you invested till the end. It is also one of those films that stays with you once the film ends. There are some genuinely spooky shots with one of the best being the wheelchair stranded in the decrepit hallway. Instantly screams turnaround and leave this place. Peter Mullan delivers an incredible performance to keep you engaged throughout
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!