The 100 Best Horror Movies Streaming on Shudder

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timecrimes.jpg 35. Timecrimes
Year: 2007
Director: Nacho Vigalondo
I won’t try to make an argument that Timecrimes is a horror film, but this is a ranking of all the films on Shudder, so I’ll simply state it thusly: Timecrimes is a sci-fi film you’ll also want to see. The plot of Spanish film Los Cronocrímenes (a.k.a. Timecrimes) emulates classic pulp science fiction, redolent of Alfred Bester or Philip K. Dick, as a middle-aged man finds his quiet afternoon disturbed by an intruder. Soon, he begins stalking, and being stalked by, a mysterious figure whose face is disguised in pink medical gauze. There’s also a naked girl involved, and a research scientist (Vigalondo) in an adjacent office park who happens to be testing out a new time machine. The bogeyman is an homage to James Whale’s 1933 film, The Invisible Man, but his identity doesn’t stay secret for long. Watching the Chinese Box-like narrative unravel is the whole point, and Vigalondo choreographs the action with a suspenseful touch. Someday, someone is going to give Vigalondo a big-budget sci-fi film, and it’s going to be great. — Jim Vorel


opera 1987 poster (Custom).jpg 34. Opera
Year: 1987
Director: Dario Argento
Giallo is not the kind of genre where directors end up receiving a lot of critical aplomb … with the occasional exception of Dario Argento. He is to the bloody, Italian precursor to slasher films as say, someone like Clive Barker is to more westernized horrors—an auteur willing to take chances, whose gaudy works are occasionally brilliant but just as often fall flat. Opera, though, is one of Argento’s most purely watchable, fun films, following a young actress who seems to have developed a rather homicidal admirer—anyone who gets in the way of her career has a funny way of ending up dead, and her constant nightmares hint at a long-buried connection to the killer. Essentially the giallo equivalent of Phantom of the Opera, its canvas is splashed by Argento’s signature color palette of bright, lurid tones and over-the-top deaths. If you love a good whodunnit and especially if you have an interest in cinematography, it’s a study in craftsmanship. — Jim Vorel


16. pontypool (Custom).jpg 33. Pontypool
Year: 2008
Director: Bruce McDonald
A quick plot summary of Pontypool makes it sound like just a rehash of Orson Welles’ 1938 The War of the Worlds broadcast with zombies in the place of aliens, and although it’s certainly more than a little bit indebted to that work, that would be giving the film far too little credit. The movie instead draws thematic inspiration from the words of its radio broadcast and recasts the zombie disease as verbal, a product of mindless repetition and meaningless phrases in the English language. Pontypool’s clever script is superbly acted, and the film manages to take the zombie genre in a different direction without going the route of ironic deconstruction. In the end, they’re not truly “zombies,” but our insistence upon the term is part of the point the movie is trying to make. It’s a horror film where the horror is the shallowness of modern society. —Sean Gandert


they look like people poster (Custom).jpg 32. They Look Like People
Year: 2015
Director: Perry Blackshear
I fully expect there to be someone in the comments—one of the few people who has actually seen this film—arguing that it doesn’t belong on a “horror” list, but it’s on Shudder, and that’s our only qualifier. And indeed, They Look Like People is far more genuinely creepy than many other, more traditional horror films on this list that aim to entertain more than legitimately scare. What we have here is a very unusual, unflinching portrait of mental and emotional illnesses that spin wildly out of control. It would be really easy for the story to be more conventional—guy’s friend visits, but it turns out the friend is crazy—but They Look Like People messes with the audience’s expectations for the narrative by giving both of the male leads their own mental hurdles to overcome. They never react quite like we expect them to, because neither sees the world in a healthy way. It’s a film where the threat and implication of terrible violence, evoked via constantly on-edge atmosphere, becomes almost unbearable, whether or not it actually arrives. Thanks to some very, very strong performances, you always feel balanced on the edge of a knife. Deliberately paced but thankfully brisk (only 80 minutes), it leaves much unanswered, but we still feel satisfied anyway. — Jim Vorel


night of the creeps poster (Custom).jpg 31. Night of the Creeps
Year: 1985
Director: Fred Dekker
Night of the Creeps feels like a bastard child of both Return of the Living Dead (primarily) and Re-Animator tangentially, but it’s honestly a weirder film than either of them, and that’s saying something. Haphazardly blending sci-fi with horror-comedy, it’s about an invasion of parasitic alien slugs that turn their hosts into superpowered zombies. Directed by Fred Dekker, who would go on to helm the much more family-friendly Monster Squad a year later (which strangely enough, doesn’t have any zombies), it’s a risque, rather tawdry horror film set at a college, and thus often feels like some kind of zombified twist on Animal House. Like ROTLD, its inherent ’80s-ness is absolutely off the charts, but it has more of a science-y, lab-based feel thanks to the presence of aliens and a presumed plot to take over the world. In this way, it’s like the zombies were used to make the kind of ’50s-style B-movie that otherwise would have starred alien invaders. They took the monster of the decade, zombies, and substituted them into an earlier style of film, ramped up the sexualization and rock ’n’ roll, and a cult classic was born. – Jim Vorel


we-need-to-talk-about-kevin-australian-poster.jpg 30. We Need to Talk About Kevin
Year: 2012
Director: Lynne Ramsay
We Need To Talk About Kevin concerns the experience of a mother struggling with the aftermath of a school massacre carried out by her son. In its narrative construction, it draws upon two key tropes: that of the “whydunnit” thriller, in which the the mystery of the perpetrator’s motivations are a driving factor, and that of the family horror, in which some dark element tears a traditional household apart. Indeed, the real horror is not that a teenager chose total negation over the banality of normative family life—it’s that these appeared to be the only two choices available. Tilda Swinton is brilliant in the starring role as a mother who grapples with guilt about what her son has done and reflects on his childhood, wondering what, if anything, could possibly have been done differently when one gives birth to a “bad seed.” —Donal Foreman


24. night of the living dead (Custom).jpg 29. Night of the Living Dead
Year: 1968
Director: George A. Romero
It’s not really necessary to delve into how influential George Romero’s first zombie film has been to the genre and horror itself—it’s one of the most important horror movies ever made, and one of the most important independent films as well. The question is more accurately, “how does it hold up today?”, and the answer is “okay.” Unlike, say Dawn of the Dead (not on Shudder), Night is pretty placid most of the time. The story conventions are classic and the black-and-white cinematography still looks excellent, but some of the performances are downright irritating, particularly that of Judith O’Dea as Barbara. Duane Jones more than makes up for that as the heroic Ben, however, in a story that is very self-sufficient and provincial—just one small group of people in a house, with no real thought to the wider world. It’s a horror film that is a MUST SEE for every student of the genre, which is easy, considering that the film actually remains in the public domain. But in terms of entertainment value, Romero would perfect the genre in his next few efforts. Also recommended: The 1990 remake of this film by Tom Savini, which is unfairly derided just for being a faithful remake. — Jim Vorel


23. the host (Custom).jpg 28. The Host
Year: 2006
Director: Bong Joon-ho
Before he was breaking out internationally with tight action films such as Snowpiercer, this South Korean monster movie was Bong Joon-ho’s big work and calling card. Astoundingly successful at the box office in his home country, it straddles several genre lines between sci-fi, family drama and horror, but there’s plenty of scary stuff with the monster menacing little kids in particular. Props to the designers on one of the more unique movie monsters of the last few decades—the creature in this film looks sort of like a giant tadpole with teeth and legs, which is way more awesome than it sounds. The real heart of the film is a superb performance by Song Kang-ho (also in Snowpiercer) as a seemingly slow-witted father trying to hold his family together during the disaster. That’s a pretty common role to be playing in a horror film, but the performances and family dynamic in general truly are the key factor that help elevate The Host far above most of its ilk. It’s not a coincidence that it became one of the most successful Korean films of all time. — Jim Vorel


room 237 poster (Custom).jpg 27. Room 237
Year: 2012
Director: Rodney Ascher
This attention-grabbing documentary from Rodney Ascher on the power and mythos of Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining has gotten a lot of criticism from viewers who don’t seem to understand what the film is actually about. In short, it’s not about The Shining. It’s not about the conspiracy theories based around The Shining. It’s about the people and frame of mind that give birth to all these disparate, loony conspiracy theories. It’s about the seemingly unhinged mind that watches The Shining dozens of times, obsessing over tiny details while coming to the conclusion that the film is about native American oppression. Or the Holocaust. Or Kubrick faking the moon landings. Or minotaur-centric Greek mythology that is too confusing to explain here. Room 237 is about the depths of obsession. Ascher doesn’t even comment on that obsession—he simply allows the subjects of the documentary to dig their own individual holes while we stand outside and wonder how deep they’ll go. It’s not a perfect documentary, but it’s pretty damn creepy to simply see such obsession in a naturalist way, especially when the theories are coming from people who seem otherwise “normal.” It’s a film that makes you wonder what your friends and family are obsessing over behind closed doors. — Jim Vorel


lost soul poster (Custom).jpg 26. Lost Soul
Year: 2014
Director: David Gregory
Two documentaries in a row? Why not? Lost Soul is like a horror version of Lost in La Mancha or Jodorowsky’s Dune, a documentary about the strange, twisted journey toward making the much-derided 1996 version of The Island of Dr. Moreau. Originally intended for directorial duty was South African experimental/indie art film director Richard Stanley, who had become a hot name on the strength of the creative vision in early psychedelic horror efforts like 1992’s Dust Devil. However, up against the massive egos of stars like Val Kilmer and the monolithic Marlon Brando, Stanley crumbles under the pressure and is forced out. What unfolds is like a diary of the most troubled, insane Hollywood shoot imaginable, with Brando rewriting entire scenes and characters as he sees fit while the replacement director, John Frankenheimer, goes to war with the cast and crew. Stanley, meanwhile, ends up secretly back on set, wearing a dog mask, appearing as an extra on the film he was supposed to direct right under the nose of those who stole it from him. It’s an incredibly cautionary tale of Hollywood politics. — Jim Vorel


REC poster (Custom).jpg 25. REC
Year: 2007
Director: Jaume Balagueró and Paco Plaza
2007 was a breakthrough year for post-Blair Witch found-footage horror, including the first Paranormal Activity and Romero’s own Diary of the Dead, but it wasn’t only in the U.S. that people were effectively employing that technique. The best of all the found-footage zombie films is still probably REC, another film on this list that exhibits some playfulness in redetermining exactly what a “zombie” is or isn’t. The Spanish film follows a news crew as they sneak inside a quarantined building that is experiencing the breakout of what essentially appears to be a zombie plague. The fast-moving infected resemble those of 28 Days Later and are later revealed to be demonically possessed in a way that moves through bites, ably blending traditional zombie lore and religious mysticism. It’s a capable, professional-feeling film for its low budget, and there are some excellently choreographed scenes of zombie mayhem that feel all the more claustrophobic for being filmed in a limited, first-person viewpoint. Zombie horror seems to go hand-in-hand with the found-footage approach more naturally than some other horror genres—perhaps it’s the fact that in the digital age, we’d all be compelled to document any such outbreak on our phones or other devices? Regardless, it’s not nearly so forced as some entries in this particular horror subgenre, and gives an excellent sense of what it might be like if you were just an average person locked in a huge apartment building filled with zombies. – Jim Vorel


17. black sunday (Custom).jpg 24. Black Sunday
Year: 1960
Director: Mario Bava
Technically Mario Bava’s directorial debut, and still considered by just about everyone his best film, Black Sunday is an extremely influential movie in the history of Italian horror and also managed to introduce audiences to ’60s scream queen mainstay Barbara Steele. It establishes so many different tropes, such as its opening sequences of brutal Spanish Inquisition-era torture that establishes the supernatural evil that will return over time. A beautiful gothic horror picture, it’s fascinating how closely it in some ways mirrors the work of Terence Fisher over at Britain’s Hammer Studios—Black Sunday is to Italy what Horror of Dracula was to Britain, some two years later, and with a sexy female witch/vampire instead of the gaunt Christopher Lee, one who returns 200 years later to terrorize her descendents. It’s one of the most notable cases of a director delivering his greatest film on the first try and never again quite reaching the same heights. — Jim Vorel


black christmas poster (Custom).jpg 23. Black Christmas
Year: 1974
Director: Bob Clark
It’s debatable as to what film deserves the title of the first true “slasher” movie, but Bob Clark’s underappreciated 1974 classic Black Christmas deserves as much credit as any of them. Sure, the elements of this style already existed in a number of Italian giallos, but Black Christmas stylishly codified many of the tropes that would go on to be integral to the likes of Scream, decades later. The movie takes place in that holiest of slasher locales, a sorority house, as a number of female residents prepare for Christmas and begin to go missing. Could it have something to do with the obscene, disturbing phone calls the house keeps receiving? “Final Girl” Jess Bradford is an absolutely iconic character, placing at #1 in Paste’s own ranking of the 20 best final girls of all time. She’s both realistic and relatable, brave and independent. She’s more than a screaming face, but less cliched than an action hero. She’s a great character, who receives one of the more iconic lines in slasher history: “The calls are coming from inside the house!” – Jim Vorel


we are still here poster (Custom).jpg 22. We Are Still Here
Year: 2015
Director: Ted Geoghegan
We Are Still Here never wants for scares. It might actually be the single most terrifying movie of 2015, even next to David Robert Mitchell’s acclaimed and unsettling It Follows. But Geoghegan handles the transition smoothly, from the story of running away from tragedy We Are Still Here begins as to the bloodbath it becomes. There’s no sense of baiting or switching; the director flirts with danger confidently throughout. Plus, there’s that New England winter to add an extra layer of despair. The elements forebode and forbid in equal measure. The weather outside is frightful…and the carbonized wraiths in the basement even more so. In the end, this is one haunted house that won’t be denied. – Andy Crump


the wicker man poster (Custom).jpg 21. The Wicker Man
Year: 1973
Director: Robin Hardy
The original Wicker Man, a British film released in 1976, was a unique new horror tale with haunting cinematography and a deeply creepy soundtrack. The film explored gender politics and sexuality in a way that only 1970s horror flicks really could, combining eroticism with violence to titillate and horrify viewers. The acting is top-notch, with Edward Woodward’s protagonist Sergeant Howie and Christopher Lee’s Lord Summerisle stealing the screen. Woodward manages to portray a virginal, overly righteous character in a way that is both sympathetic and thought-provoking. And it all builds to a conclusion that has to be regarded as among the most shocking of its era. – Danielle Ryan


deep red poster (Custom).jpg 20. Deep Red
Year: 1975
Director: Dario Argento
Dario Argento movies would be exceedingly easy to pick out of a police lineup, because when you add all of his little quirks together they form an instantly iconic style—essentially the literal definition of auteur theory. Deep Red is one of those films that simply couldn’t have been made by anyone else—Mario Bava could have tried, but it wouldn’t have the instantly iconic soundtrack by Argento collaborators Goblin, nor the drifting, eccentric camerawork that constantly makes you question whether you’re seeing the killer’s POV or not. The story is a classic giallo whodunit: Following the brutal murder of a German psychic, a music teacher who lives in her building starts putting the pieces together to solve the mystery, uncovering a tragic family history. Along the way, anyone who gets close to the answer gets a meat cleaver to the head from a mysterious assailant in black leather gloves. Except for the ones who die in much worse, more gruesome ways. Argento has a real eye for what is physically disconcerting to watch—he somehow makes scenes that are “standard” for the horror genre much more grisly and uncomfortable than one would think, simply reading a description. In Argento’s hands, a slashing knife becomes a paintbrush. — Jim Vorel


repulsion poster (Custom).jpg 19. Repulsion
Year: 1965
Director: Roman Polanski
Roman Polanski’s landmark psychological horror film was the start of his so-called “apartment trilogy,” which also contained Rosemary’s Baby and The Tenant, but Repulsion is the most stark and intimate of the three. We spend much of the film with a single woman, cloistered in a cracking, crumbling apartment that represents the slow erosion of her sanity. Carol is disgusted—repulsed—by modern society, sexuality and the shallowness of interpersonal relationships, relying on her sister’s presence to get by and keep her grounded. But when her sister leaves Carol alone on an extended trip to Italy, her fragile ties to reality quickly become unmoored. Modern audiences are likely to have some difficulty with Repulsion, as the minimal plot moves glacially and takes quite a long while to reach a conclusion that viewers will be aware from the beginning is headed their way. But at the same time, the dream sequences and hallucination scenes are the stuff of nightmares, a sort of evolution of the expressionist horror of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and others that deftly use both imagery and especially sound design to slowly ratchet up the intensity. It’s not a horror film for the multiplex crowd, but students of film will find something in Repulsion that sticks with them for a long time. – Jim Vorel


carnival of souls poster (Custom).jpg 18. Carnival of Souls
Year: 1962
Director: Herk Harvey
Carnival of Souls is a film in the vein of Night of the Hunter—artistically ambitious, from a first-time director, but largely overlooked in its initial release until its rediscovery years later. Granted, it’s not the masterpiece of Night of the Hunter, but it’s a chilling, effective, impressive little story of ghouls, guilt and restless spirits. The story follows a woman on the run from her past who is haunted by visions of a pale-faced man, beautifully shot (and played) by director Herk Harvey. As she seemingly begins to fade in and out of existence, the nature of her reality itself is questioned. It’s vintage psychological horror on a miniscule budget, and has since been cited as an influence in the fever dream visions of directors such as David Lynch. To me, it’s always felt something like a movie-length episode of The Twilight Zone, and I mean that in the most complimentary way I can. Rod Serling would no doubt have been a fan. — Jim Vorel


the fog poster (Custom).jpg 17. The Fog
Year: 1980
Director: John Carpenter 
If you’re a horror fan, it’s hard not to love the basic premise of The Fog, with its billowing clouds of white vapor that bring swift death along with them. John Carpenter’s follow-up to Halloween had a somewhat larger budget to work with, and the practical effects look great as a result, although it wasn’t as successful at the box office. Regardless, The Fog is a superior film from a production standpoint, reuniting Carpenter with Jamie Lee Curtis, albeit in a less important role. It concerns a Californian coastal town that is celebrating its 100th anniversary when dark secrets from the 1800s begin to emerge. Turns out that the “city fathers” committed some pretty serious crimes against humanity, and now a crew of restless revenants has returned to dish out some much-deserved revenge. Caught up in the madness is Adrienne Barbeau, Carpenter’s wife of the time, who was making her screen debut in the role that would make her a scream queen figure for decades. There’s simply a great sense of atmosphere in The Fog, especially in the dense, otherworldly way that the creeping, glowing banks of fog move throughout town, which is only amplified by a classic John Carpenter synth soundtrack. Anyone who knows Carpenter would be able to pick out his unique style immediately. – Jim Vorel


the battery poster (Custom).jpg 16. The Battery
Year: 2012
Director: Jeremy Gardner
The concept of a low-budget zombie drama is one that has become fairly common in the 2010s, likely owing to the influence of The Walking Dead and games such as The Last of Us, which treated zombies more like a set-piece to allow human drama to take shape. The Battery is an extrapolation of this format, a story about two men, a former baseball pitcher/catcher duo, traveling across the country together in the wake of a zombie apocalypse. And as for plot? That’s pretty much it. It’s a self-contained film that leans entirely on the performances of two actors, showcasing the ways that two men with vastly different personalities handle the mental strain and emotional challenges of continuing on each day and finding a reason to exist. The zombies are there, but they don’t really feel like active antagonists, as it were—they’re more like a constant roadblock and painful reminder of everything these men have lost in their former lives. It’s a film that almost mirrors the struggle of just getting out of bed in the morning to tackle another day—call the zombies your neighbors, your coworkers, etc. That’s what zombies have become today: A walking representation of 21st century ennui. — Jim Vorel


nosferatu poster (Custom).jpg 15. Nosferatu and Nosferatu the Vampyre
Years: 1922 and 1979
Directors: F.W. Murnau and Werner Herzog 
Both of these Nosferatu versions are streaming on Shudder, and I combine them into one entry because they’re equally worthy of viewing in 2016, for different reasons. It’s only natural for a modern viewer to think to themselves, at least somewhat snidely, that the 1922 silent original isn’t likely to be very “scary,” but they might be mistaken. If anything, the silent nature and griminess of old film stock give it a more ethereal quality that adds to its creep factor—not to mention the fact that Max Schreck’s otherworldly performance is truly incredible. The way he moves, coupled with the disturbing makeup, make Count Orlok one of the most frightening film vampires of all time, even today. Seriously, don’t show Nosferatu to your young children. The Werner Herzog remake in 1979, on the other hand, somewhat tones down the outwardly frightening aspect, but Klaus Kinski’s nuanced portrayal makes Orlok (or Dracula, this time) a much more interesting and emotionally invested character—a tragic monster invested with pathos, more in line with Frankenstein’s monster than most of the post-Lugosi Dracula clones. They’re both great films, but in significantly different ways. — Jim Vorel


dr caligari poster (Custom).jpg 14. The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari
Year: 1920
Director: Robert Wiene
Good luck understanding the concept of German Expressionism without seeing The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari at least once. The quintessential work of an entire cinematic style, it was described by Roger Ebert as the “first true horror film,” although a modern viewing is understandably unlikely to elicit chills. Still, in the same vein as Nosferatu, its fantastical visual palette is instantly iconic and sticks in the memory forever. Buildings are canted in impossible angles and light plays strange tricks—are those shadows real, or painted directly onto the set? The story revolves around a mad hypnotist who uses a troubled sleepwalker as his personal assassin, forcing him to exterminate his enemies at night. The astonishingly creative and free-thinking designs have had an indelible influence on every fantasy landscape depicted in the near-100 years since. You simply can’t claim an appreciation for the roots of cinema without seeing the film. — Jim Vorel


innkeepers.jpg 13. The Innkeepers
Year: 2011
Director: Ti West
When you’re working in indie horror, a big part of success is learning how to turn your budgetary limitations into a positive—to rely less heavily on effects and setting and more on characterization and filmcraft. Ti West understands this better than most, which is part of what made his earlier House of the Devil so effective. The Inkeepers has some of the same DNA, but it’s rawer and more “real,” following the mostly unremarkable exploits of two friends as they work in a dingy old bed & breakfast and conduct nightly paranormal research in their place of business. They’re well-cast and feel like two of the most “real people” you’re likely to see in a horror film—West, feeling in moments like a horror Tarantino, enjoys lingering on them during their conversations and small-talk, which builds a sense of casual camaraderie present between long-time co-workers. Of course, things do eventually start going bump in the night, and the film ratchets up into a classically inflected ghost story. Some will accuse it of being slow, or of spending too much time dawdling with things that are unimportant, but that’s “mumblegore” for you. Ultimately, the reality imbued into the characters justifies the time it takes to give them characterization, and you still get some spooky “boo!” moments in the final third. It succeeds on the back of strong performances. — Jim Vorel


15. tucker and dale (Custom).jpg 12. Tucker & Dale vs. Evil
Year: 2010
Director: Eli Craig
Let’s face it, hillbillies and their ilk have been getting the short end of the pitchfork in movies since the strains of banjo music faded in 1972’s Deliverance. And whether due to radiation (The Hills Have Eyes) or just good old determined inbreeding (Wrong Turn and so, so many films you’re better off not knowing about), the yokel-prone in film have really enjoyed slaughtering innocent families on vacation, travelers deficient in basic map usage skills, and, best of all, sexually active college students just looking for a good time. But fear not, members of Hillbillies for Inclusion, Consideration & Kindness in Screenplays (HICKS)—writer/director Eli Craig has your hairy, unloofahed back. His film, Tucker & Dale vs. Evil, answers the simple question: What if those hillbillies are just socially awkward fellows sprucing up a vacation home and the young college kids in question are just prone to repeatedly jumping to incorrect, often fatal, conclusions? Think Final Destination meets the Darwin Awards in a film that is extremely funny and big-hearted but also doesn’t skimp on the violence. —Michael Burgin


zombi 2 poster (Custom).jpg 11. Zombi 2
Year: 1979
Director: Lucio Fulci
In the ’70s and ’80s, it was hard to beat Italy in terms of fucked-up horror movie content, and given that market’s fondness for the “cannibal film,” is it any surprise they also came to love the zombie genre as well? Zombi 2 is the crown jewel of all the Italian zombie movies, cleverly implied as essentially a direct follow-up (thematically, not plot-wise) to Romero’s Dawn of the Dead, which had been released in Italy to great success under the title Zombi. Helmed by Italian giallo/supernatural horror maestro Lucio Fulci, Zombi 2 significantly upped the crazy factor and pushed gore to a new ceiling. The effects and makeup on this film are absolutely disgusting, and it’s filled with iconic moments that have transcended the horror genre. Scene of someone having an eye poked out? They’re always compared to the eye-poking scene in Zombi 2. Scene where a zombie fights a freaking SHARK? Well, nobody compares that, because nobody has the balls to try and one-up Zombi 2’s zombie shark-fighting scene. That’s one contribution that will stand the test of time. Zombi 2 has had countless foreign imitators since, but none of them can measure up. Note, this is just titled Zombie on Shudder. — Jim Vorel


the devils backbone poster (Custom).jpg 10. The Devil’s Backbone
Year: 2001
Director: Guillermo Del Toro 
Before he was the worldwide acclaimed director of Pan’s Labyrinth, Guillermo Del Toro’s greatest macabre fantasy was The Devil’s Backbone, a story that shares much of the same DNA and ideology as his latter film. Like Pan, it’s set in Spain during the Spanish Civil War, but this time instead of a world of faerie magic, our child protagonist finds himself delving into the realm of ghostly remnants caught between life and death. When a young boy is orphaned and sent to an orphanage with a “deactivated” bomb ticking away in the central courtyard, he faces trials both physical and spiritual while uncovering a mystery buried deep in the heart of his new home/prison. Del Toro’s visual flair is already fully developed, and the setting is rife with chills. It feels a bit like a Hammer-era ghost story, or some Spanish-inflected version of The Innocents, except with ghosts that are far more visceral and literal. The design of the ghosts themselves are among the best of all time, beautifully illustrating tortured souls still displaying fresh marks of how they were wronged in life. It’s a sumptuous film that, despite coming out 16 years ago, looks like it was released yesterday. – Jim Vorel


frailty poster (Custom).jpg 9. Frailty
Year: 2001
Director: Bill Paxton
Frailty is scary in much the same way that Jeff Nichols’ Take Shelter is so unsettling—they’re both about fathers who become possessed by the idea that they have a mission in life, a secret commandment from on high that may or may not be due to the slow onset of mental illness. The late Bill Paxton wrote and starred in this passion project, giving himself one of the best roles of his career as that disintegrating father, who has come to believe that he’s living in a world surrounded by “demons” that God has ordered him to eradicate. From the point of view of his young protagonist sons, they’re trapped in a situation that is both hopeless and terrifying. On one hand, their father has become an alien, unknowable personality ordering them to assist him in committing atrocities, but on the other they’re cognizant of the fact that revealing his apparent madness to the world will likely mean losing him forever. Matthew McConaughey is supplied with an unexpectedly juicy, unheralded role as one of the grown-up brothers, who has come to terms with his nasty childhood, but Paxton really steals the show with the kind of nervous energy that makes it impossible to tell what he’ll do next. Also: Prepare yourself for one zany ending. – Jim Vorel


i saw the devil poster (Custom).jpg 8. I Saw the Devil
Year: 2010
Director: Kim Jee-woon
I Saw the Devil is a South Korean masterpiece of brutality by director Kim Ji-woon, who was also behind South Korea’s biggest horror film, A Tale of Two Sisters. It’s a truly shocking film, following a man out for revenge at any cost after the murder of his wife by a psychopath. We follow as the “protagonist” of the film makes sport of hunting said psychopath, embedding a tracker in the killer that allows him to repeatedly appear, beat him unconscious and then release him again for further torture. It’s a film about the nature of revenge and obsession, and whether there’s truly any value in repaying a terrible wrong. If you’re still on the fence, know that Choi Min-sik, the star of Park Chan-Wook’s original Oldboy, stars as the serial killer being hunted and turns in another stellar performance. This is not a traditional “horror film,” but it’s among the most horrific on the list in both imagery and emotional impact. — Jim Vorel


12. hellraiser (Custom).jpg 7. Hellraiser
Year: 1987
Director: Clive Barker
The head villain/eventual hero (there’s a sickening number of terrible Hellraiser sequels) behind Clive Barker’s Hellraiser franchise is the Cenobite Pinhead, sent from the pits of his own personal hell dimension to drag you down into the depths with him. Where he tortures you. For eternity. All because you opened a fancy Rubik’s Cube. Pinhead has zero remorse, looking you dead in the eye as he delivers a deadpan promise to “tear your soul apart.” Oh yeah, and they’re indestructible. Personally, it turned me off to puzzle boxes forever. As in his fiction, Barker’s obsessions with the duality of pain and pleasure are on full display in the film version of Hellraiser, an icky story of sick love and obsession. Barker has presented plenty of other film stories as director, writer and producer, but he never quite managed to top the visceral thrills of this one. —Rachel Haas


demons poster (Custom).jpg 6. Demons
Year: 1985
Director: Lamberto Bava
Lamberto Bava’s career as an Italian horror maestro picked up right where the blood-soaked giallo movies of his father, Mario Bava, left off. Demons, his best work, catches several different genres at an interesting crossroads. On one level, its demons remind one Sam Raimi’s deadites in Evil Dead, as does its sick sense of humor. At the same time, though, it’s just as indebted to the classic zombie film, and the demonic infestation is transmitted in much the same way. The plot involves a movie theater besieged by demons during a horror movie screening, in a structure that mimics Night of the Living Dead. Given that it’s an Italian production, one might expect some of the plodding artistic splashes of Lucio Fulci, but Demons feels like a much more Western, much more American work—frenetic, fast-paced, gory and relentlessly entertaining. It’s not a film with artistic aspirations, but it’s a rollicking good time for those who love the gauzy excesses of ’80s horror. — Jim Vorel


9. house of the devil (Custom).jpg 5. The House of the Devil
Year: 2009
Director: Ti West
Detractors complain that Ti West’s movies are “slow,” which is missing the point. A better adjective is “deliberate.” On The House of the Devil, the first film to really start giving him a reputation as a director to watch, West builds the tension gradually and carefully, as though there is nothing scarier than watching a young woman dance around an empty house while listening to the Fixx. By the time the second act ends, you’ve been holding your breath for an hour when the film explodes into its gory, violent third act, which offers a perverse sense of release. It also gives Jocelin Donahue’s heroine her finest moment, as she at least attempts what the audience is by then shouting for her to do. It’s another film where the low-budget look perfectly fits the aesthetic, mirroring the style of “old dark house” and Satanist films that West is clearly drawing on as inspiration. —Stephen M. Deusner


7. day of the dead (Custom).jpg 4. Day of the Dead
Year: 1985
Director: George A. Romero
Dawn of the Dead (not on Netflix streaming) is often cited as Romero’s best zombie movie, but there’s a certain, discerning breed of horror geek, myself included, who will tell you that Day of the Dead is really number one. Dawn is great, and elevated the genre far above Night with its dark humor and sly critique of American consumerist culture, but Day has the best characters of the entire series, along with the best effects and coolest story—watching them all today, Day of the Dead has aged very well. Our survivors this time are holed up in an underground base where the alpha male military goons are enforcing their will upon the meeker scientists in a human powder keg waiting to go off. It’s a film that reveals fascinating truths about the nature of the zombies themselves in Romero’s universe, as discovered by the hilarious “Dr. Frankenstein Logan” character—given enough time and training, certain zombies such as the iconic “Bub” even seem capable of remembering certain elements of their pre-undead lives. It’s a gory, weird, sort of mean-spirited film with over-the-top performances and great bloodletting from FX wiz Tom Savini. There’s not much more to ask for in a zombie flick. — Jim Vorel


5. re-animator (Custom).jpg 3. Re-Animator
Year: 1985
Director: Stuart Gordon
Ironically, the most entertaining take on H.P. Lovecraft is the least “Lovecrafty.” Stuart Gordon established himself as cinema’s leading Lovecraft adaptor with a juicy take on the story “Herbert West, Re-Animator,” about a student who concocts a disturbingly flawed means of reviving the dead. Re-Animator more closely resembles a zombie film than Lovecraft’s signature brand of occult sci-fi, but it boasts masterful suspense scenes, great jokes and Barbara Crampton as a smart, totally hot love interest—i.e. it’s a near-perfect ’80s horror movie. Jeffrey Combs is brilliant, establishing himself as the Anthony Perkins of his generation as West, a hilariously insolent and reckless genius whom he played in two Re-Animator sequels. The actor even played Lovecraft in the anthology film Necronomicon. The film is a near-perfect crystallization of best aspects of ’80s horror, from its delight in perversion to its awesome practical effects. —Curt Holman


behind the mask poster (Custom).jpg 2. Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon
Year: 2006
Director: Scott Glosserman
In the years following Scream there was no shortage of films attempting similar deconstructions of the horror genre, but few deserve to be mentioned in the same breath as the criminally underseen Behind the Mask. Taking place in a world where supernatural killers such as Jason Voorhees and Freddy Krueger actually existed, this mockumentary follows around a guy named Leslie Vernon, who dreams of being the “next great psycho killer.” In doing so, it provides answers and insight into dozens of horror movie tropes and clichés, such as “How does the killer train?” How does he pick his victims? How can he seemingly be in two places at once? It’s a brilliant, twisted love letter to the genre that also develops an unexpected stylistic change right when you think you know where things are headed. It’s one of the most creative indie horror films of the 2000s, and despite a lack of star power, boasts tons of cameos from horror luminaries—Robert Englund, Kane Hodder, Zelda Rubinstein and even The Walking Dead’s Scott Wilson. Every, and I mean every horror fan needs to see Behind the Mask. — Jim Vorel


3. let the right one in (Custom).jpg 1. Let the Right One In
Year: 2008
Director: Tomas Alfredson
Vampires may have become cinema’s most overdone, watered-down horror villains, aside from zombies, but leave it to a Swedish novelist and filmmaker to reclaim frightening vampires by producing a novel and film that turned the entire genre on its head. Let the Right One In centers around the complicated friendship and quasi-romantic relationship between 12-year-old outcast Oskar and Eli, a centuries-old vampire trapped in the body of an androgynous (although ostensibly female) child who looks his same age. As Oskar slowly works his way into her life, drawing ever-closer to the role of a classical vampire’s human “familiar,” the film questions the nature of their bond and whether the two can ever possibly commune on a level of genuine love. At the same time, it’s also a chilling, very effective horror film whenever it chooses to be, especially in the absolutely spectacular final sequences, which evoke Eli’s terrifying abilities with just the right touch of obstruction to leave the worst of it in the viewer’s imagination. The film received an American remake in 2010, Let Me In, which has been somewhat unfairly derided by film fans sick of the remake game, but it’s another solid take on the same story that may even improve upon a few small aspects of the story. Ultimately, though, the Swedish original is still the superior film thanks to the strength of its two lead performers, who vault it up to become perhaps the best vampire movie ever made. — Jim Vorel


Jim Vorel is Paste’s news editor and resident horror geek. You can follow him on Twitter.

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