The 100 Best Horror Movies of all Time

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75. The Nightmare, 2015
Director: Rodney Ascher

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The Nightmare may very well lay claim to the title of the most purely frightening documentary film ever made. Yes, it’s a documentary, from Rodney Asher, director of the similarly horror-themed doc Room 237. The simple structure of the film involves in-depth interviews with eight people who all suffer from some form of sleep paralysis, describing the horrifying visions they encounter on a nightly basis. It’s equal parts tragic and chilling to hear how the condition has made their nighttime hours into living hells, and legitimately frightening to watch those scenes reenacted. On the other hand, the documentary is frustrating at times for not asking or answering what seem like fairly obvious questions: Does medication aid with these sleep paralysis episodes? Have any of the subjects of the documentary ever been studied in an overnight sleep study? Personally, this is a fear I’ve always dreaded experiencing, so if you’re anything like me, you’ll agree with the subject who describes his experiences as “the kind of horror that is worse than movies.” That sounds bad enough, but then there’s the guy who describes experiencing sleep paralysis immediately after being told about sleep paralysis, purely by suggestion. That will really freak you out. Don’t watch The Nightmare before falling asleep. —Jim Vorel


74. The Cabin in the Woods, 2012
Director: Drew Goddard

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When drafting this list of 100, we decided to keep horror comedies by and large out of the fold—this is a list of “horror films,” pure and simple. There was no room for beloved parodies such as Shaun of the Dead, but The Cabin in the Woods is the exception that proves the rule, capable in some moments of being frightening while primarily functioning as one of the best-crafted meta-commentaries that the genre has ever seen. It’s shocking that Drew Goddard hasn’t directed a film since, even though he’s been flying high while penning the likes of The Martian. But his deep knowledge and clearly slavish devotion to the tropes of the horror genre that are on display in Cabin in the Woods, which neatly breaks down the “five man band” of camp-style slashers while being simultaneously uproarious and gratifyingly unique. Another film that sat in development hell after completion because studios weren’t sure how to market it, the movie can probably thank the Hollywood ascendancy of Chris Hemsworth for the fact that it eventually got a release, but the powerhouse performances come from Kristen Connolly, Fran Kranz, and especially Bradley Whitford and Richard Jenkins, whose wry commentary as this horror story’s puppet masters is indispensable and never short of side-splitting. In the end, it’s the little things that Cabin in the Woods does so right—from the properly grizzled “harbinger” who warns the kids of their impending doom, to the running jokes around mermaids that finally see themselves to a very satisfying conclusion. Every loose thread is accounted for en route to a decidedly punk rock finale. —Jim Vorel


73. REC (2007)
Director: Jaume Balagueró and Paco Plaza

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2007 was a breakthrough year for post-Blair Witch found footage horror, including the first Paranormal Activity and George Romero’s 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 re-determining exactly what a “zombie” is or isn’t. The Spanish film follows a news crew as they sneak inside a quarantined building experiencing the breakout of what appears to be a zombie plague. The fast-moving infected resemble those of 28 Days Later, later revealed to be demonically possessed in a way that moves through bites, ably blending traditional zombie lore and religious mysticism. REC is 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, REC isn’t 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


72. Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, 1986
Director: John McNaughton

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Henry stars Merle himself, Michael Rooker, in a film which is essentially meant to approximate 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


71. Opera, 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 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 films, following a young actress (Cristina Marsillach) 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, Opera’s canvas is splashed with 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, Opera is a primer in horror craftsmanship. —Jim Vorel


70. The Fog, 1980
Director:   John Carpenter  

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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, debuting on screen 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 glowing banks of fog move throughout town, amplified by a signature John Carpenter synth soundtrack. Anyone who knows Carpenter would be able to pick out his unique style immediately. —Jim Vorel


69. Son of Frankenstein, 1939
Director: Rowland V. Lee

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Deciding which of the classic Universal Monster movies should be featured on this list proved an incredibly difficult proposition. Notably absent is Tod Browning’s Dracula, a film with discrete, iconic moments but a lack of vitality in the nuts and bolts of its direction and cinematography—a sort of holdover from the silent era, rather than the more vivacious films in the Universal series that follow. But absent also is James Whale’s 1931 classic Frankenstein. Why? Well, despite what you may have heard, Frankenstein may very well be the third best film of its own series, surpassed not only by the well-recognized Bride of Frankenstein but also by the much less appreciated Son of Frankenstein as well. Director James Whale and original Dr. Colin Clive have moved on, the latter replaced by classic Sherlock Holmes portrayer Basil Rathbone as our new protagonist, Wolf Frankenstein, who returns to his father’s ancestral castle only to find that the legendary monster isn’t quite as dead as he’s been led to believe. Bela Lugosi, of all people, enters the series as the first Frankenstein character called “Igor” (although it’s actually “Ygor”), a ghoulish caretaker who claims to literally be undead—hanged by the villagers and sustaining a broken neck, but somehow not dying. His master plan: To use Wolf’s scientific knowledge to resurrect the monster (Boris Karloff, one final time) and then use the monster as a tool of vengeance to hunt down the men who hanged him. With cavernous, opulent sets in Frankenstein manor, Son of Frankenstein is a lush, prestigious-feeling production that boasts masterful performances from Rathbone, the one-armed inspector (parodied in Young Frankenstein) played by Lionel Atwill and especially from Lugosi, who is at his absolute best in a role that is far more nuanced than that of Dracula. With its gorgeous, gothic visuals and expanded run-time, Son of Frankenstein is the secret crown jewel of the entire Universal Monster series. —Jim Vorel


68. Zombi 2, 1979
Director: Lucio Fulci

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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 epitome 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 film’s effects and makeup 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. —Jim Vorel


67. Dead & Buried, 1981
Director: Gary Sherman

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Dead & Buried is a thoroughly unusual horror film that revolves around the reanimated dead, but in a way all its own. In a small New England coastal town, a rash of murders breaks out among those visiting. Unknown to the town sheriff (James Farentino), those bodies never quite make it to their graves—though people who look just like the murdered visitors are walking the streets as permanent residents. The zombies here are different from most similar movies in the genre in their autonomy and ability to pass for human, although they do answer to a certain leader…but who is it? Dead & Buried is part murder mystery, part cult story and part zombie flick, featuring some absolutely revolting creature work and gore from the legendary Stan Winston. It’s got a feel all its own, and one notable for some unusual casting choices, including a pre-Nightmare on Elm Street Robert Englund as one of the possibly zombified town locals, and, in a major role, Jack Albertson (Grandpa Joe from Willy Wonka) as the eccentric, jazz-loving town coroner/mortician, who steals every scene he’s in. More people should seek out this weird little film. —Jim Vorel


66. It Follows, 2015
Director: David Robert Mitchell

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The specter of Old Detroit haunts It Follows. In a dilapidating ice cream stand on 12 Mile, in the ’60s-style ranch homes of Ferndale or Berkley, in a game of Parcheesi played by pale teenagers with nasally, nothing accents—if you’ve never been, you’d never recognize the stale, gray nostalgia creeping into every corner of David Robert Mitchell’s terrifying film, but it’s there, and it feels like Metro Detroit. The music, the muted but strangely sumptuous color palette, the incessant anachronism: in style alone, Mitchell is an auteur seemingly emerged fully formed from the unhealthy womb of Metro Detroit. All of which wouldn’t work were Mitchell less concerned with creating a genuinely unnerving film, but every aesthetic flourish, every fully circular pan is in thrall to breathing morbid life into a single image: someone, anyone slowly separating from the background, from one’s nightmares, and walking toward you, as if Death itself were to appear unannounced next to you in public, ready to steal your breath with little to no aplomb. Mitchell inherently understands that there is practically nothing more eerie than the slightly off-kilter ordinary, trusting the film’s true horror to the tricks our minds play when we forget to check our periphery. It Follows is a film that thrives in the borders, not so much about the horror that leaps out in front of you, but the deeper anxiety that waits at the verge of consciousness—until, one day soon, it’s there, reminding you that your time is limited, and that you will never be safe. Forget the risks of teenage sex, It Follows is a penetrating metaphor for growing up. —Dom Sinacola


65. Near Dark, 1987
Director:   Kathryn Bigelow  

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Kathryn Bigelow’s Near Dark was one of her first films with a decent budget, and she invested those funds wisely into making a moody, pulpy vampire Western with an excellent supporting cast, from the iconic Bill Paxton (whose character’s demise is beautiful) to horror staple Lance Henriksen in one of his higher-profile appearances outside Aliens. It’s a film that really drives home the light vs. shadow, day vs. night aspect of the vampire psyche and physiology. So much of the movie, in fact, involves the biker gang-like vampires laying low, hiding from both sunlight and the human police, their existence hardly “romanticized” at all. In fact, these vampires project more of a tragic streak than anything: They’re outlaws who have convinced themselves that they’re living a life of freedom and immortality when their existence is actually fragile and just a blast of UV light away from being cut short. Near Dark is like one of the many ’70s-era Hells Angels biker films—a Wild Rebels where the vampires are those doomed outsiders who live fast and die (relatively) young. —Jim Vorel


64. The Beyond, 1981
Director: Lucio Fulci

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The Beyond may be the best of Lucio Fulci’s non-zombie movies. Which isn’t to say there aren’t any zombies in it, but it’s not a Romero-style zombie movie, like the former. The Beyond is the middle entry in Fulci’s “Gates of Hell” trilogy, and takes place in and around a crumbling old hotel that just happens to have one of those gates to Hell located in its cellar. When it opens, all Hell—of course—starts to break loose in the building, in a film that combines a haunted house aesthetic with demonic possession, the living dead and ghostly apparitions. As with so many of the other films in this mold, it’s not always entirely clear what’s going on—and honestly, the plot is more or less irrelevant. You’re watching it to see demons gouge people’s eyes out or watch heads being blown off, and there’s no shortage of either. Thinking back to Lucio Fulci movies after the fact, you won’t remember any of the story structure, you’ll just remember the ultra gory highlights, splattering across the screen in a way that continues to influence filmmakers to this day. —Jim Vorel


63. Cat People, 1942
Director: Jacques Tourneur

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To this day, it doesn’t seem entirely fair that so much credit for Cat People is almost universally given to producer Val Lewton, rather than director Jacques Tourneur or writer DeWitt Bodeen, but it’s true of the entire run of low-budget horror films that Lewton produced at RKO. Regardless, Cat People was a populist hit in its day before being reevaluated decades later as a landmark of ’40s horror. In stark contrast to Universal’s monster movies of the same era, it leans on suspense and carefully constructed shots rather than Jack Pierce makeup to make an impression. The story of a young Russian immigrant (Simone Simon) with a dark family past, Cat People combines aspects of film noir and mystery movies with Hitchcockian suspense, while pioneering several staple tropes of horror cinema that have been used hundreds, if not thousands of times since. The scene with a young woman walking home on a dark night, stalked by an unseen presence, builds to an unexpected conclusion that must have made audiences in 1942 come jumping out of their seats. —Jim Vorel


62. Horror of Dracula, 1958
Director: Terence Fisher

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Horror of Dracula is either the second or third most iconic “classic vampire” film ever made, trailing only the 1931 Bela Lugosi Dracula and possibly the original Nosferatu. But really, if you were going to put together the ultimate, time-spanning Dracula film, you’d choose this version of the vampire, as played by the regal, intimidating Christopher Lee at the height of his powers. Horror of Dracula is simply a gorgeous movie, with lush, gothic settings—crypts, foggy graveyards and stately manors—photographed with the Golden Age charm of Technicolor. It has the best version of Van Helsing ever put to film (the aquiline, gaunt-looking Peter Cushing), some of the best sets and an omnipresent feeling of refinement and grandeur. Dracula, as played by Lee, is a creature of dualities—preferring to use very few words and simply influence through his magnetic presence, but also just moments away from leaping into action with ferocious animality. Along with Curse of Frankenstein, Horror of Dracula is the film most responsible for the late ’50s to early ’70s revival of classic gothic horror via Hammer Film Productions in the UK, which would produce dozens of takes on Frankenstein, The Mummy, and no fewer than eight Dracula sequels. The first, however, is unquestionably the best—so effective that it typecast Christopher Lee as a horror icon for decades, exactly as Dracula did to Bela Lugosi. —Jim Vorel


61. The Omen, 1976
Director: Richard Donner

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In the canon of “creepy kid” movies, the original 1976 incarnation of The Omen stands alone, untainted by the horrendous 2006 remake. It has a palpable sense of malice to it, largely because of the juxtaposition of restraint and moments of extremity. Damien (Harvey Spencer Stephens) isn’t this little devil boy running around stabbing people, he’s full of guile, deceit and, scariest of all, patience. He knows that he’s playing the long game—it will be years and years before he achieves his purpose on the Earth, which gives him the uncomfortable attitude of an adult (and a pure evil one) in a child’s body. The film is brooding, sullen, broken up by staccato moments of shocking violence. In particular are the infamous scene wherein a sheet of glass leads to a decapitation, or the fate of Damien’s nurse in the film’s opening. The Omen can genuinely can get under your skin, especially if you’re a parent. —Jim Vorel


60. Ginger Snaps, 2000
Director: John Fawcett

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Ginger Snaps is a high school werewolf story, but before you go making any Twilight comparisons, let me state for the record: Where Twilight is maudlin, Ginger Snaps is vicious. A pair of death-obsessed, outsider sisters, Ginger and Brigitte, are faced with issues of maturation and sexual awakening when Ginger (Katharine Isabelle) is bitten by a werewolf. As she begins to become bolder and more animalistic in her desires, the second, meeker sister (Emily Perkins) searches for a way to reverse the damages before Ginger carves a path of destruction through their community. Reflecting the influence of Cronenberg-style body horror and especially John Landis’s American Werewolf in London, Ginger Snaps is a surprisingly effective horror movie and mix of drama/black comedy that brought the werewolf mythos into suburbia in the same sort of way Fright Night managed to do so with vampires. It also made a genre star of Isabelle, who has since appeared in several sequels and above average horror flicks such as American Mary. Even if the condition of lycanthropism is an obvious parallel to the struggles of adolescence and puberty, Ginger Snaps is the one film that has taken that rich vein of source material and imbued it with the same kind of punk spirit as Heathers. – —Jim Vorel


59. Misery, 1990
Director: Rob Reiner

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Although most writers are more likely to experience “misery” over the persistent belief that no one cares about their work, Rob Reiner’s adaptation of Stephen King’s novel reminds us that sometimes there is an upside to obscurity. James Caan plays Paul Sheldon, author of a popular series of Regency bodice-rippers featuring a protagonist named Misery Chastain. Eager to embark on a more serious phase of his career and leave Misery behind (as it were), he’s knocked unconscious in a snowstorm car crash and wakes up in the remote home of a nurse named Annie Wilkes (Kathy Bates), who’s rescued him. And by rescued I mean abducted. Annie’s not such a nice lady, as it turns out, and being stuck with broken legs in the remote hideaway of a violent stalker-superfan has some disadvantages. Reiner is better known as a director of comedies, and even in a horror film he’s not shy about grabbing a cheap laugh: Sometimes it’s hard to tell how seriously we’re supposed to take Bates as a monster, as she careens from sledgehammer-wielding psychopath to Liberace-adoring…um, psychopath. Overall, though, it’s a powerful trope, being helpless and at the mercy of someone who might snap at any second. Stephen King’s written a lot of horror stories, many of which have become commercially successful films, but this one just might be the best of his adaptations, in part due to the stellar performances by Caan and Bates (who won the Oscar for Best Actress for her portrayal of the unhinged Annie), but it’s also pretty fabulous as a meta-meditation on the nature of fame, isolation and obsession, especially if you happen to be a writer. It’s not a terribly profound film, but it has some serious audacity and a kind of simultaneously cerebral and visceral tension that reminds us that sometimes the real horrors aren’t paranormal—sometimes the mundane monsters are the truly scary ones. —Amy Glynn


58. Trick ’r Treat, 2007
Director: Michael Dougherty

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One might call Trick ’r Treat the best kind of anthology—one that features plenty of disparate, interesting stories, but also ties its stories together in a distinctly satisfying, chronology-bending way. Director Michael Dougherty’s debut film sat on the shelf after being delayed for years, which was a great shame, as it’s far and away the best horror anthology of the last decade. Somewhat less concerned with outright scares, it’s instead a celebration of Halloween, the idea of the holiday and of fright itself. The stories and characters intertwine on the same small town throughout Halloween night, intersecting in ways both classical (the ghosts of a long ago tragedy return) and modern (a coven of female werewolves, out on the town). Sly comedy and great performances from an array of familiar faces (Brian Cox, Dylan Baker, Anna Paquin) power each of the segments, and none of them overstay their welcome. Indeed, Trick ’r Treat is actually best enjoyed through repeat viewings, which reveal the crossovers between each story even better. In the middle of it all is Sam (Quinn Lord), the disturbing but somehow lovably round-headed spirit of Halloween, who observes in silence and punishes those who trample over the holiday’s traditional observances. It’s seminal “Halloween night” viewing—spooky but approachable, and fun in all the right ways. Here’s hoping that the long-discussed sequel actually shows up one of these days. —Jim Vorel


57. We Need to Talk About Kevin, 2012
Director: Lynne Ramsay

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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.” The heartbreaking nature of the film is perfectly encapsulated by the scene wherein Kevin as a child briefly drops his sociopathic tendencies while ill, giving Swinton’s character a brief chance to feel like a cherished mother, only to emotionally shut her out again as soon as his physical health returns, dashing her hopes that some kind of breakthrough had been made. —Donal Foreman


56. Onibaba, 1964
Director: Kineto Shindo

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Kaneto Shindo’s Onibaba will make you sweat and give you chills all at once, with its power found in Shindo’s blend of atmosphere and eroticism. It’s a sexy film, and a dangerous film, and in its very last moments a terrifying, unnerving film where morality comes full circle to punish its protagonists for their foibles and their sins. There’s a classicism to Onibaba’s drama, a sense of cosmic comeuppance: Characters do wrong and have their wrongs visited upon them by the powers that be. (In this case, Shindo.) But what makes the film so damn scary isn’t the fear of retribution passed down from on high, it’s the human element, the common thread sewn in a number of modern horror movies where the true monster is always us. Did demons, or demonic idols, foment the civil war that serves as Onibaba’s backdrop? Are spirits culpable for the ruthless survivalism of the film’s two main characters? Nope and nope. Put a checkmark next to “mankind” in reply to both questions, and then wish that demons and spirits were real, because that’d be preferable to acknowledging reality. Back a human into a corner, and they’ll throw you into a ditch, leave you for dead and steal your shit, and what’s more unsettling than “better you than me” as a guiding principle for living? —Andy Crump


55. Starry Eyes, 2014
Director: Kevin Kölsch

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Starry Eyes might be the most difficult film on this entire list to watch. Not necessarily because it will frighten you, although it will. But this is a harrowing film experience, an ordeal, in the same way the protagonist’s journey is a major transformation. At the beginning, you think you have a pretty decent idea of the surface-level points Starry Eyes is trying to make, its “Hollywood against Hollywood” bitterness and cynicism about fame and the film industry’s pettiness. But the film is so much more destructive and subversive than that. Sarah (Alex Essoe) is a tragic figure, and this is a “horror tragedy,” if such a thing exists, made worse by the fact that she brings it all onto herself, fueled by deep-seated inadequacy and a crushing lack of self-identity. Her ambition turns her into a monster because she has nothing else: Her life is so devoid of meaning that doing the unthinkable has no downside. Hers, then, is a horrific self-destruction that leads into an abandonment of self and an orgy of truly grotesque violence, but there’s no joy or titillation in any of the ways it’s depicted. No one is going to describe Starry Eyes as light viewing, and no one is going to laugh at the deaths. You don’t show this thing at a party—you dwell on it in the depth of night while self-identifying with its horrors. —Jim Vorel


54. Martyrs, 2008
Director: Pascal Laugier

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French horror, at least the French horror produced since 2003’s High Tension, has a reputation for shedding blood in quantities and through methods that might make even devoted gorehounds hoark. (Look, France was churning out horror flicks long before Alexandre Aja began pushing the boundaries of human constitution with his movies, but let’s not pretend that French horror didn’t experience a shift in graphic intent after his third feature made him internationally recognizable.) And among that post-Tension crop of movies, you can take your pick as to which is the grossest, the most distasteful, the most agonizing to watch: Frontier(s), for instance, or maybe Inside. For our money, though, you simply can’t beat Pascal Laugier’s Martyrs, a movie about transcendence that manages to achieve a form of transcendence itself; just as the film is about a malevolent bourgeois cult peering into the world beyond our own, so too does Laugier envision choreographed torment more explicitly than most horror dares to. Describe Martyrs as disturbing, and you’ll sell it short. Movies like it, movies that sear their images on our brains forevermore after watching them, are rare in cinema, and in most cases that sear is gratifying. Here, it’s nightmarish, which is likely what Laugier was going for. But Martyrs is unrequired-required viewing, a horror effort that you probably ought to watch for sake of edification and completion, but you also might not want to, assuming you’re the type who enjoys keeping down food. (Put it this way: Ramsay Bolton would watch it in the spirit of comedy and amusement.) —Andy Crump


53. Black Sabbath, 1963
Director: Mario Bava

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There was once a time before “Black Sabbath” merely conjured up images of Ozzy Osbourne caterwauling about an “iron man,” “war pigs” or being paranoid over the sounds of Tony Iommi shredding. Indeed, the band in question famously took their name from this celebrated anthology film, which spins three tales of Mario Bava-directed horror. The best is middle chapter, “The Wurdulak,” starring horror icon Boris Karloff as a man who sets out to slay an undead creature (the titular “wurdalak”). To say any more would be to spoil this fascinating and subversive take on the vampire story, an absolute essential totem of the horror genre. —Mark Rozeman


52. Scream, 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 out there. And 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, for like 10 minutes), Scream arrived with a smart, funny take on a tired genre. It wasn’t the first film of its kind, but it was the first one to be seen by a huge audience, which went a long way in raising the “genre IQ” of the average horror fan. —Tyler Kane


51. The Fly, 1958, 1986
Directors: Kurt Neumann (1958) and David Cronenberg (1986)

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Between The Blob, The Thing and The Fly, the ’80s were a magical decade for remaking already iconic ’50s horror/sci-fi movies. The original Kurt Neumann/Vincent Price version of The Fly is sometimes waved away as nothing more than a “camp classic,” but it’s a substantial film that is often more mystery than it is horror—a tightly focused narrative hinging around the question of why a woman has confessed to messily crushing her husband to death in a hydraulic press. Vincent Price is as entertaining as the fly-crossed scientist as you would no doubt expect him to be. The Cronenberg version, like the remake of The Blob, takes that basic premise and dresses it in both gallows humor and body horror, as Jeff Goldblum’s researcher literally watches pieces of his body gelatinize and melt away in front of him. As “Brundle” he’s great, full of manic energy, ingenuity and eventually insectoid-enhanced physicality. Along with The Thing, the film is one of the last great hurrahs of the practical effects-driven horror era, featuring some of the more disgusting makeup and gore effects of all time. After seeing a man-sized Brundlefly vomiting acid, it’s difficult to ever look at a common housefly in the same way again. —Jim Vorel

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