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!
90. Ravenous (1999)
Would you be interested in a movie if it was described as a spaghetti horror western that is a black comedy about cannibal soldiers set during the 1840s? I’m sure there are many that said no to that question, but for those who said yes, I give you Antonia Bird’s Ravenous. I think what makes Ravenous stand out above the rest is the number of different sub-genres it has packed into one film while remaining fun and entertaining. Oh, and it’s pretty gory to boot. Guy Pearce and Robert Carlyle play off each other really well as rivals with the other role players playing quirky characters to help round out the cast.
Director Bird could have just made a solid western horror but what really makes this film stand out are the chances she took to try something different by combining horror, black comedy, gore, and even a little supernatural element to give us a unique film. Plus, there is the gorgeous snowy mountain setting that instantly makes almost any horror movie better.
89. The Devil’s Backbone (2001)
Guillermo Del Toro just knows how to tell quality horror stories. They each feel like dark horror fairy tales that are designed to scare young children and adults alike. For the most part, he is able to tell his stories with plenty of dread but also with heart the keeps you fully engaged throughout. The Devil’s Backbone was his first movie that I ever watched, and he just hooked me as a director that I would want to watch whatever he did next.
The Devil’s Backbone is a multilayered ghost story about revenge set in the late 1930’s Spain. Carlos arrives at an orphanage that harbors some dark secrets as he begins having visions of a mysterious apparition and hearing unsettling stories about an orphan who went missing the day a defused bomb appeared in the orphanage’s courtyard. Del Toro is able to create a creepy atmosphere with frightening images that rattle around your mind long after the movie is over.
88. [REC] (2007)
TV host, Angela, is on a routine assignment where she and her camera crew spend the night on patrol with local firemen at their station. That night, completely seen through the news camera, turns into a nightmarish journey to try and survive the night as they respond to a call at the wrong building. A deadly virus breaks out and other local authorities quarantine the entire structure not letting anyone in or out.
[REC] is a Spanish found footage horror film that is one of those rollercoaster films that once the mayhem begins, it doesn’t let up till the bitter end. Before the found footage gimmick became overdone and a somewhat different take on the zombie/infected genre by having the victims trapped in a building with nowhere to go, helped make this movie feel distinct. We had all seen zombie/infected films where the monsters are chasing the helpless victims in open fields or streets but being trapped in a confined space with no hope for escape created a whole new level of terrifying claustrophobia. The U.S. remake Quarantine is a fun time as well.
87. The Strangers (2008)
This might be one of the guiltiest of guilty horror movies, but I feel like it is one of the most fun popcorn home invasion films that this genre has to offer. Sometimes straight and to the point premises are the best. One’s where you can yell at the idiots on the screen what they should or shouldn’t be doing while some creepy people in mask toy around with their prey.
I know this movie gets a lot of hate, however, I feel like if people were to look at it through a different lens, they could appreciate what first time director Bryan Bertino goes for in his debut. He gives some heavy emotional baggage to the victims before they are thrust into these random acts of violence. The randomness of the whole thing is what makes the movie scary and work. The key ingredient here is the humanity portrayed. The two leads (Scott Speedman and Liv Tyler) give real and vulnerable performances while we see the worse side of humanity from the fiends that are playing around with them. It’s a bleak story that is summed up when one of the victims asked their predators “Why are you doing this?” We get a simple but terrifying answer, “Because you were home.”
86. Braindead AKA Dead Alive (1992)
The slapstickiest of slapstick horror comedies this side of the Tasmanian Sea. (I don’t know if that is a thing or not). Peter Jackson, you know that guy that made the classy Lord of the Rings trilogy, made one of the goriest films of all the times with this hilarious and over the top zombie love story. Jackson is able to deliver a silly splatterfest that never goes into goofy territory which helps keeps us entertained all the way through.
The story is simple enough, a “Sumatran Rat Monkey” bites and infects an oppressive mom of the timid Lionel as he tries to court the lovely Paquita. Their budding romance is put to the test when Lionel’s domineering mother begins to transform into a flesh-eating zombie. Lionel tries to keep the fire burning with his love but also keep his monstrous and deteriorating mother alive and away from others. Jackson is able to tell this story through laughs and gore through an almost jovial style that never bores and makes you keep the barf bag handy.
85. StageFright: Aquarius (1987)
A stylish Giallo thriller where a killer in a mascot like owl head slowly picks off members of a stage play one by one. The killer traps the victims in the theater building as he attacks separately which lends to a neat setting for a slasher and gives us some fun kills. The owl head is one of the most unique masks a killer has worn in a horror film and becomes more and more sinister as the movie goes on no matter how impractical that headdress is to murdering fools.
This was Michele Soavi directorial debut that takes many inspirations from mentor Dario Argento but gives his own vision with this low-budget slasher film with a killer soundtrack and some decent performances. Soavi is able to blend some “Hitchcockian” flavor to the film, especially in the finale, to help make Stagefright not feel like an “Argento lite” film, but something all his own.
84. The Conjuring (2013)
James Wan directs a technically well-made haunted house movie utilizing old fashioned scares and a creepy atmosphere. It is well-acted and has some genuine scares in this true story about a family being terrorized by a dark presence in the new house they just moved into. Paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson, Vera Farmiga) step in to try and help this tormented family that we find out is dealing with a powerful demonic force.
The Conjuring would be a box office and critical success which would go on to produce “The Conjurverse” with multiple horror films being connected. The best thing about this film is just how well it’s made which is typical for most horror movies. I think The Conjuring is close to being a great film but falls apart with the third act. Sympathetic performances combined with how well this movie is made makes it hard to deny its place in horror history.
83. Pulse AKA Kairo (2001)
A Japanese techno-thriller that is essentially a ghost story where the haunting takes place via the internet as opposed to some old house. Like most horror movies revolving around new technology, Pulse had something to say about our online presence is as prevalent or even more so than our real-life selves. Where Pulse succeeds, however, is by not being too on the nose and utilizing more atmosphere, sounds and the power of its idea over gore and jump scares.
Sadly, Pulse missed the J-Horror craze of the late ’90s and early ’00s by being bought but not released till several years later and after a lame U.S. remake. A film this good doesn’t stay hidden for long because once it was released, it quickly gained a following and was placed up the with some of the best horror movies Japan has had to offer. One line from Pulse, “Ghosts won’t kill people, because that would just make more ghosts. Instead, they’ll try to make people immortal, by quietly trapping them in their own loneliness.” Chilling.
82. Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter (1984)
It’s rare that any franchise, horror or otherwise, gets better as the series goes on, however, that is the case with Friday the 13th. I know most would put the 1980 original on their list but unlike most horror franchises there is no consensus on which film is the best overall. Therefore, I simply decided to go with not only my favorite but the one that I feel is the best film of the F13 franchise and that is 1984’s The Final Chapter.
Part 4 is the most raw and gritty that had everything you would want in an F13 movie. Great characters that you want to see survive the night, a hulking Jason with his iconic hockey masks, some fantastic kills, and Crispin Glover dancing. The movie builds quite well with a heart-pounding finale and gives us one of the best final confrontations of any slasher flick.
81. Dawn of the Dead (2004)
A horror movie written by James Gunn and directed by Zack Snyder is an easy win for me. They were able to update a classic and not only make it horrifyingly good but also make it feel like their own. Before zombie fatigue would sit in, Dawn would show that fast and ferocious zombies are more terrifying than the slow-moving ones. The use of shooting during daylight help set the film apart from others at that time and the main setting of the film being in a mall made for some fun moments as well.
Gunn and Snyder were able to make their zombies truly scary while also giving us some characters we could buy into and want to see survive this nightmare. It has as much action as it does horror which makes for a fun thrill ride during multiple rewatches. This one of the few remakes that are worth watching.
100-91 | 80-71
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!