The 50 Best Movies About Serial Killers

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25. The Bad Seed
Year: 1956
Director: Mervyn LeRoy

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The Bad Seed is one of the most disturbing American portraits of pure psychopathy or sociopathy, coming from the least suspected of all sources: an 8-year-old girl. The piercing eyes of little blonde, pigtailed Rhoda (Patty McCormack) are terrifying to behold, moreso once we begin to suspect what lays behind her facade. Rhoda’s ability to function and hide her true self with wily cunning foretells the likes of Patrick Bateman or Henry in Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, but the seeming ease with which she does so is especially disturbing. There could be no We Need to Talk About Kevin without The Bad Seed there to ask the question: What is the nature of innate evil? The menace and sheer, unflinching look into human cruelty in The Bad Seed is truly unique for its time period, with young McCormack’s performance ranking among the all-time greats for children in a horror film. The Bad Seed is about the horrors of responsibility as a parent, when there’s something you know needs to be done but the act of carrying it out is something the world will never be able to understand. It’s a film that may turn you off pigtails for life. —Jim Vorel


24. Man Bites Dog
Year: 1992
Directors: Rémy Belvaux, André Bonzel, Benoît Poelvoorde

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An undeniable forebear to Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon, Man Bites Dog won the International Critics’ Prize at the 1992 Cannes Film Festival, only to receive an NC-17 rating upon its US release, banned in Sweden altogether. One can understand the squeamishness: Man Bites Dog unflinchingly portrays serial murder in its graphic banality, victims ranging from children to the elderly to a gang-raped woman whose corpse is later photographed with her entrails spilling all over the table on which she was violated, the perpetrators lying in drunken post-revelry, heaped on the floor. Filmed as a mockumentary, Man Bites Dog goes to distressing lengths to portray the exigencies of murder as basely as possible, incorporating the reluctance of the crew filming such horrors to offer the audience a reflection of the ways they were probably reacting. The fascinated sorrow expressed by the documentary film’s director (Rémy Belvaux) as he realizes what making a documentary film about a serial killer actually means, becoming more and more complicit with the killings as the film goes on, explicitly points to our willingness as bystanders to stomach the horrors displayed. Still, we react viscerally while the film explores conceptual themes of true crime as pop culture commodity and reality TV as detrimental mitigation of truth, ultimately indicting viewers apt to enjoy this movie while simultaneously catering to them. Benoit (Benoît Poelvoorde), the subject of the faux film, is of course an incredibly intelligent societal outcast beset by xenophobia and misogyny, offering up countless neuroses to explore behind his psychopathy and serial murder, which he treats as a legitimate job. But Man Bites Dog is more about the ways in which we consume a movie like Man Bites Dog, concerned less about the flagrant killing it indulges for laughs than it is the laughs themselves, implying that the real blame for such well-known horror falls at our feet, in which each day we take big, basic steps to normalize the violence and hate that constantly surrounds us. —Dom Sinacola


23. American Psycho
Year: 2000
Director: Mary Harron

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There’s something wrong with Patrick Bateman (Christian Bale)—really wrong. Although he writhes within a Christopher Nolan-esque what-is-a-dream conundrum, Bateman is just all-around evil, blatantly expressing just how insane he is, unfortunately to uncaring or uncomprehending ears, because the world he lives in is just as wrong, if not moreso. Plus the drug-addled banker has a tendency to get creative with his kill weapons. (Nail gun, anyone?) Like anybody needed another reason to hate rich, white-collar Manhattanites: Mar Harron’s adaptation of Bret Easton Ellis’ is a scintillating portrait of corporate soullessness and disdainful affluence. —Darren Orf


22. Frailty
Year: 2001
Director: Bill Paxton

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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” 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, between their father, an alien, unknowable personality ordering them to assist him in committing atrocities, and 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


21. Eyes Without a Face
Year: 1960
Director: Georges Franju

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I remember seeing my first Édith Scob performance back in 2012, when Leos Carax’s Holy Motors made its way to U.S. shores and melted my pea brain. I also remember Scob donning a seafoam mask, every bit as blank and lacking in expression as Michael Myers’, in the film’s ending, and thinking to myself, “Gee, that’d play like gangbusters in a horror movie.”

What an idiot I was: At the time of my Holy Motors viewing, Scob had already appeared in that horror movie, Georges Franju’s Eyes Without a Face, an icy, poetic and yet lovingly made film about a woman and her mad scientist/serial killer dad who just wants to kidnap young ladies that share her facial features in hopes of grafting their skin onto her own disfigured mug. (That’s father of the year material right there.) Of course, nothing goes smoothly in the film’s narrative, and the whole thing ends in tears plus a frenzy of canine bloodlust. Eyes Without a Face is played in just the right register of unnerving, perverse and intimate as the most enduring pulpy horror tales tend to be. If Franju gets to claim most of the credit for that, at least save a portion for Scob, whose eyes are the single best special effect in the film’s repertoire. Hers is a performance that stems right from the soul. —Andy Crump


20. Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer
Year: 1986
Director: John McNaughton

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Henry stars Merle himself, Michael Rooker, in a film which is essentially meant to approximate the life of serial killer Henry Lee Lucas, along with his demented sidekick Otis Toole (Tom Towles). The film was shot and set in Chicago on a budget of only $100,000, and is a depraved journey into the depths of the darkness capable of infecting the human soul. That probably sounds like hyperbole, but Henry really is an ugly film—you feel dirty just watching it, from the filth-crusted urban streets to the supremely unlikeable characters who prey on local prostitutes. It’s not an easy watch, but if gritty true crime is your thing, it’s a must-see. Some of the sequences, such as the “home video” shot by Henry and Otis as they torture an entire family, gave the film a notorious reputation, even among horror fans, as an unrelenting look into the nature of disturbingly mundane evil. —Jim Vorel


19. I Saw the Devil
Year: 2010
Director: Kim Jee-woon

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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


18. Halloween
Year: 1978
Director: John Carpenter 

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For students of John Carpenter’s filmography, it is interesting to note that Halloween is actually a significantly less ambitious film than his previous Assault on Precinct 13 on almost every measurable level. It doesn’t have the sizable cast of extras, or the extensive FX and stunt work. It’s not filled with action sequences. But what it does give us is the first full distillation of the American slasher film, and a heaping helping of atmosphere. Carpenter built off earlier proto-slashers such as Bob Clark’s Black Christmas in penning the legend of Michael Myers, an unstoppable phantom who returns to his hometown on Halloween night to stalk high school girls (the original title was actually The Babysitter Murders, if you haven’t heard that particular bit of trivia before). Carpenter heavily employs tools that would become synonymous with slashers, such as the killer’s POV perspective, making Myers into something of a voyeur (he’s just called “The Shape” in the credits) who lurks silently in the darkness with inhuman patience before finally making his move. It’s a lean, mean movie with some absurd characterization in its first half (particularly from the ditzy P.J. Soles, who can’t stop saying “totally”) that then morphs into a claustrophobic crescendo of tension as Jamie Lee Curtis’ Laurie Strode first comes into contact with Myers. Utterly indispensable to the whole thing is the great Donald Pleasance as Dr. Loomis, the killer’s personal hype man/Ahab, whose sole purpose in the screenplay is to communicate to the audience with frothing hyperbole just what a monster this Michael Myers really is. It can’t be overstated how important Pleasance is to making this film into the cultural touchstone that would inspire the early ’80s slasher boom to follow. —Jim Vorel


17. The Vanishing
Year: 1988
Director: George Sluizer

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Ever wondered what makes a mastermind like Stanley Kubrick shake in his boots? The answer is The Vanishing, which was apparently the most “terrifying” film he’d ever seen (and this, coming from the guy who made The Shining). In fact, what makes this thriller so unnerving is that it’s told all topsy-turvy: Instead of spending two hours trying to figure out the identity of the bad guy, we’re introduced to him right away. Based on Tim Krabbé’s book The Golden Egg (Het Gouden Ei), the film tells the story of Raymond (Bernard-Pierre Donnadieu), a self-diagnosed sociopath trying to put himself through the ultimate test. Having saved a young girl from drowning, and celebrated as a hero by his daughters, he wants to find out whether his act of kindness can be followed up by a similarly impressive act of evil. As the film allows Raymond to, over time, investigate the line between sociopathy and psychopathy, he spends hours meticulously planning how to best go about abducting a woman, rather than rescuing one. He experiments with chloroform, purchases an isolated house and practices different ways of getting unknowing women to get into his car. Sluizer later remade his own film for American audiences, with Jeff Bridges and Kiefer Sutherland, but its ending was drastically changed. —Roxanne Sancto


16. Scream
Year: 1996
Director: Wes Craven

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Before Scary Movie or A Haunted House were even ill-conceived ideas, Wes Craven was crafting some of the best horror satire around. Although part of Scream’s charm was its sly, fair jabs at the genre, that didn’t keep the director from dreaming up some of the most brutal knife-on-human scenes in the ’90s. With the birth of the “Ghost Face” killer, Craven took audiences on a journey through horror-flick fandom, making all-too-common tricks of the trade a staple for survival: sex equals death, don’t drink or do drugs, never say “I’ll be right back.” With a crossover cast of Neve Campbell, Courteney Cox, David Arquette, Matthew Lillard, Rose McGowan and Drew Barrymore (OK, she’s only in the opening, but still), Scream arrived with an incisive take on a tired batch of movies. It wasn’t the first of its kind, but it was the first to be embraced by a huge audience, which went a long way in raising the genre IQ of the burgeoning horror fan. —Tyler Kane


15. Opera
Year: 1987
Director: Dario Argento

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Giallo is not the kind of genre in which 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 English-language 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 films, about a young actress who seems to have developed a rather homicidal admirer, because anyone who gets in the way of her career has a funny way of ending up dead. Meanwhile, her constant nightmares hint at a long-buried connection to the killer. Essentially the giallo equivalent of Phantom of the Opera, Opera’s canvas is splashed by Argento’s signature color palette of bright, lurid tones and over-the-top deaths, laced with interesting subtext about the nature of watching horror films, as the heroine is often forced by the killer to witness the crimes unfold. Like even Argento’s worst, Opera is a master class study in craftsmanship. —Jim Vorel


14. Arsenic and Old Lace
Year: 1944
Director: Frank Capra

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Frank Capra’s adaptation of this darkly comedic Broadway play (some of the Broadway cast reprised their roles in the film) stars Cary Grant as Mortimer Brewster, one of a family of Mayflower bluestocking WASP types who have, over the generations, become—I think the phrase is “criminally insane”? Brewster, an author of many tomes on the stupidity of marriage, gets married. On the eve of the honeymoon he drops by his family home to check in with his loony and sweetly homicidal aunties (Josephine Hull and Jean Adair), a charmingly delusional brother (John Alexander) who believes he is Theodore Roosevelt, and another brother, Jonathan (Raymond Massey), who has bodies to bury and a flat-out crazy alcoholic plastic surgeon in tow. Peter Lorre plays the surgeon, who has altered Jonathan’s face to make him look like Boris Karloff (naturally). And that’s just the setup. More than seven decades after its release, this film is still snort-soda-out-your-nose funny, even though it’s tame and a bit hammy by contemporary standards. The endurance of this film is a testament to both the wonderful script and the magic of Frank Capra with a stable of talented comedic actors at his disposal (and not in the “bodies in the basement” sense). —Amy Glynn


13. Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon
Year: 2006
Director: Scott Glosserman

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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 (Nathan Baesel), 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, like: 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. And, despite a lack of star power, Behind the Mask 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. It’s criminal that Glosserman has never managed to put together a proper sequel follow-up, but a fan-funded comic series raised twice its goal on IndieGoGo, so maybe it’s still possible. —Jim Vorel


12. The Honeymoon Killers
Year: 1969
Director: Leonard Kastle

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In a film that acted as something of a spiritual antecedent to the sensibilities of John Waters, Terrence Malick’s Badlands and the exploitation films of the ’70s, Leonard Kastle delivers greatness with The Honeymoon Killers. Shot with absolute care—in a verite style, unafraif to show gruesome details—and a wonderful attention to detail amidst long, lingering frames, this marks the only foray into directing for Kastle, an artist who knows the most power can be held in what he doesn’t show. Kastle’s sense of lighting is one of the film’s strengths, not to mention the rather great performances by Shirley Stoler and Tony Lo Bianco, playing the real couple of Martha Beck and Ray Fernandez, whose story unravels more and more through every passing act of grotesqueness and horror, their bickering throughout one of this low-budget shock classic’s highlights. —Nelson Maddaloni


11. Monster
Year: 2004
Director: Patty Jenkins

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Charlize Theron’s transformation into notorious serial killer Aileen Wuornos in Patty Jenkins’ heartbreaking drama goes beyond her becoming downright unrecognizable in the role. (Roger Ebert famously did not know it was her in the role when he first saw Monster). Anything we had previously known about Theron’s persona and demeanor as a movie star she completely strips away to embody this extremely troubling, yet inherently tragic figure. Theron is completely submerged in her character. Every glance, every hand gesture and every physical tick seem to be those of Wuornos. There’s not a single moment in the film in which the actress peeks out from behind those eyes. Charlize Theron captured something essential and magical (if very disturbing)
Oktay Ege Kozak and Tim Regan-Porter


10. The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari
Year: 1920
Director: Robert Wiene

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The quintessential work of German Expressionism, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari 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, Robert Wiene and Willy Hameister’s fantastical visual palette is instantly iconic: Buildings cant 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 (Werner Krauss) who uses a troubled sleepwalker (Conrad Veidt) as his personal assassin, forcing him to exterminate enemies at night. The film’s 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


9. Se7en
Director:   David Fincher  
Year: 1995

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It’s hard to think of a movie that did more short-term damage to the length of your fingernails in the ’90s than David Fincher’s Se7en. Sticking close to detectives David Mills (Brad Pitt) and almost-retired William Somerset (Morgan Freeman) on the trail of John Doe, a murderer who plans his kills around the seven deadly sins, the film allows us to watch Somerset teach a still-naive Mills valuable life lessons around the case, which has morally charged outcomes aimed at victims that include a gluttonous man and a greedy attorney. For all the disturbing crime scenes considered, Se7en’s never as unpredictable or emotionally draining as in its infamous finale, in which Mills and Somerset discover “what’s in the box” after capturing their man. —Tyler Kane


8. The Texas Chain Saw Massacre
Year: 1974
Director: Tobe Hooper

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One of the most brutal mainstream horror films ever released, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, based on notorious Wisconsin serial killer Ed Gein, resembles art-house verité built on the grainy physicality of its flat Texas setting. Plus, it introduced the superlatively sinister Leatherface, the iconic chainsaw-wielding giant of a man who wears a mask made of human skin, whose freakish sadism is upstaged only by the introduction of his cannibalistic family with whom he resides in a dilapidated house in the middle of the Texas wilderness, together chowing on the meat Leatherface and his brothers harvest, while Grandpa drinks blood and fashions furniture from victims’ bones. Still, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre might not be the goriest horror film ever made, but as an imaginal excavation of the subterranean anxieties of a post-Vietnam rural American populace, it’s pretty much unparalleled. Twisted, dark and beautiful all at once, it careens through a wide variety of tones and techniques without ever losing its singular intensity. (And there are few scenes in this era of horror with more disturbing sound design than the bit where Leatherface ambushes a guy with a single dull hammer strike to the head before slamming the metal door shut behind him.) —Rachel Hass and Brent Ables


7. M
Year: 1931
Director: Fritz Lang

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It’s rather amazing to consider that M was the first sound film from German director Fritz Lang, who had already brought audiences one of the seminal silent epics in the form of Metropolis. Lang, a quick learner, immediately took advantage of the new technology by making sound core to M, and to the character of child serial killer Hans Beckert (Peter Lorre), whose distinctive whistling of “In the Hall of the Mountain King” is both an effectively ghoulish motif and a major plot point. It was the film that brought Peter Lorre to Hollywood’s attention, where he would eventually become a classic character actor: the big-eyed, soft-voiced heavy with an air of anxiety and menace. Lang cited M years later as his favorite film thanks to its open-minded social commentary, particularly in the classic scene in which Beckert is captured and brought before a kangaroo court of criminals. Rather than throwing in behind the accusers, Lang actually makes us feel for the child killer, who astutely reasons that his own inability to control his actions should garner more sympathy than those who have actively chosen a life of crime. “Who knows what it is like to be me?” he asks the viewer, and we are forced to concede our unfitness to truly judge. —Jim Vorel


6. Peeping Tom
Year: 1960
Director: Michael Powell

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In one respect, Michael Powell’s Peeping Tom is a meticulous, human, thoughtful movie about the mechanics and emotional impulses that drive the filmmaking process. In another, it’s a slasher flick about a loony tune serial killer-cum-documentarian who murders people with his camera’s tripod. (The tripod has a knife on it.) Basically, Peeping Tom is precisely as silly or as serious as you care to read it, though as absurd as the premise sounds on the page, the film is anything but on the screen. In fact, it was considered quite controversial for a time—and depending on whom you ask it may still be. Understanding why doesn’t take a whole lot of heavy lifting; movies about women in peril have a way of striking their audience’s nerves, and Peeping Tom takes that idea to an extreme, giving its slate of victims-to-be little room to breathe as Mark Lewis (Carl Boehm) closes in on them, capturing their exponentially increasing fear from second to second as they face dawning comprehension of their impending deaths. It’s a tough film to sit through, as any film about a psychopath with a habit of brutally slaying women would be, but it’s also thorough, insightful, impeccably made and brilliantly considered. —Andy Crump


5. Badlands
Year: 1973
Director: Terrence Malick 

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Why did two seemingly normal people go on a cross-country killing spree, and what is it that makes theirs so strikingly different from all the other movies about serial killers on the run? Those two broad questions steer first-time director Terrence Malick in Badlands. It begins with Spacek’s narration as Holly; the entirety of her backstory comes from this first monologue, through which we’re told her mother died of pneumonia and how, after her death, “[Her father] could never be consoled by the little stranger he found in his house.” Then the film gives us a montage of images from this small town in Texas before introducing us to Kit (Martin Sheen), who’s shown working as a garbageman. Kit sees Holly twirling a baton in front of her house and their fates are sealed. The basic plot of Badlands was drawn from Charles Starkweather’s murder spree with his girlfriend in 1958, but Malick only uses that story as a loose frame for his big questions about the nature of evil and our compulsion to watch movies like this. “Our sense of the past is always already influenced by our present understanding of the world (we see the past through the present); and yet our present understanding of the world is itself always already influenced and determined by the past (we see the present through the past).” Theorist Leland Poague’s understanding of the “reception theory” provides an ideal framework for Terrence Malick’s 1973 debut feature. It’s impossible to view Badlands outside the lenses of his later work, but it’s also impossible to view his later work outside the lenses of Badlands.
Sean Gandert and David Roark


4. The Night of the Hunter
Director: Charles Laughton
Year: 1955

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Film noir or horror—in which category does Charles Laughton’s Night of the Hunter belong? Frankly, all such quibbles are needless. The film fits snugly beneath either appellation, for one thing: It’s a hybridized version of both. For another, it’s a masterwork, so fie upon labels. Night of the Hunter lurks in shadows and revels in misogyny. Whether you’ve seen it or not, you probably have the image of Robert Mitchum’s tattooed knuckles imprinted upon your brain thanks to pop culture osmosis. Reverend Harry Powell is quite the villain, a man as quick to distort the truth with honey-coated lies as Laughton is to distort reality through oblique perspective, unnerving use of shadows and light, and a dizzying array of camera compositions that make small-town West Virginia feel altogether otherworldly. —Andy Crump


3. Zodiac
Director:   David Fincher  
Year: 2007

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I hate to use the word “meandering,” because it sounds like an insult, but David Fincher’s 2007 thriller is meandering in the best possible way—it’s a detective story about a hunt for a serial killer that weaves its way into and out of seemingly hundreds of different milieus, ratcheting up the tension all the while. Jake Gyllenhaal is terrific as Robert Graysmith, an amateur sleuth and the film’s through line, while the story is content to release its clues and theories to him slowly, leaving the viewer, like Graysmith, in ambiguity for long stretches, yet still feeling like a fast-paced burner. It’s not Fincher’s most famous film, but it’s absolutely one of the most underrated thrillers since 2000. There are few scenes in modern cinema more taut than when investigators first question unheralded character actor John Carroll Lynch, portraying prime suspect Arthur Leigh Allen, as his facade slowly begins to erode—or so we think. The film is a testament to the sorrow and frustration of trying to solve an ephemeral mystery that often seems to be just out of your grasp. —Shane Ryan


2. The Silence of the Lambs
Year: 1991
Director: Jonathan Demme

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In the face of grotesque sequels, lesser prequels and numerous parodies, The Silence of the Lambs still stands as a cinematic work of art among crime dramas and serial killer movies, only the third film ever to win the five gold rings of Oscar-dom: Best Picture, Director, Actor, Actress and Screenplay. Anthony Hopkins’ portrayal of the murderous Hannibal Lecter especially proves the worth of surrounding one of cinema’s greatest thespians with a stellar supporting team, though director Jonathan Demme deftly wields the brush of that talent to bring audiences into the dark, sadistic world of Dr. Lecter while leaving them gasping at the twists and turns of novelist Thomas Harris’ gruesomely wonderful story. As happens with all great films, second and third viewings fail to diminish the ride, but instead reveal even more subtleties of characterization. And Demme’s own style behind the camera makes the close-up world of Silence of the Lambs an unforgettable visual parlor of grotesqueries. —Tim Basham


1. Psycho
Year: 1960
Director: Alfred Hitchcock 

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The big one. The biggest one, perhaps, though if not, it’s still pretty goddamn big. Almost 60 years after Alfred Hitchcock unleashed Psycho on an unsuspecting moviegoing culture, finding new things to say about it feels like a fool’s errand, but hey: Five decades and change is a long time for a movie’s influence to continue reverberating throughout popular culture, but here we are, watching main characters lose their heads in Game of Thrones, their innards in The Walking Dead, or their lives, in less flowery language, in films like Alien, the Alien rip-off Life and, maybe most importantly, Scream, the movie that is to contemporary horror what Psycho was to genre movies in its day. That’s pretty much the definition of “impact” right there (and all without even a single mention of A&E’s Bates Motel).

But now we’re talking about Psycho as a curio rather than as a film, and the truth is that Psycho’s impact is the direct consequence of Hitchcock’s mastery as a filmmaker and as a storyteller. Put another way, it’s a great film, one that’s as effective today as it is authoritative: You’ve never met a slasher (proto-slasher, really) like Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins), and no matter how many times the movies try to replicate his persona on screen, they’ll never get it quite right. He is, like Psycho itself, one of a kind. —Andy Crump

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