The 100 Best Horror Movies of all Time

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25. Peeping Tom, 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 looney 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 who 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 sociopath with a habit of brutally slaying women would be, but it’s also thorough, insightful, impeccably made and brilliantly considered. Whether you’re a horror aficionado or not, if you call yourself cinephile, it’s required viewing. —Andy Crump


24. Get Out, 2017
Director:   Jordan Peele  

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Peele’s a natural behind the camera, but Get Out benefits most from its deceptively trim premise, a simplicity which belies rich thematic depth. Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) and Rose (Allison Williams) go to spend a weekend with her folks in their lavish upstate New York mansion, where they’re throwing the annual Armitage bash with all their friends in attendance. Chris immediately feels out of place; events escalate from there, taking the narrative in a ghastly direction that ultimately ties back to the unsettling sensation of being the “other” in a room full of people who aren’t like you—and never let you forget it. Put indelicately, Get Out is about being black and surrounded by whites who squeeze your biceps without asking, who fetishize you to your face, who analyze your blackness as if it’s a fashion trend. At best Chris’s ordeal is bizarre and dizzying, the kind of thing he might bitterly chuckle about in retrospect. At worst it’s a setup for such macabre developments as are found in the domain of horror. That’s the finest of lines Peele and Get Out walk without stumbling. —Andy Crump


23. Day of the Dead, 1985
Director: George A. Romero

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Although Dawn will probably always have more esteem, and is significantly more culturally important, Day of the Dead is my personal favorite of George Romero’s zombie films, and I don’t think it ever quite gets the respect it deserves. It comes along at a sort of sweet spot for the director—bigger budget, more ambitious ideas and Tom Savini at the zenith of his powers as a practical effects artist. The human characters this time are scientists and military living in an underground bunker, which for the first time in the series gives us a wider view of what’s been going on since the dead rose. This film reintroduces the science back into zombie flicks, finally making one of the main characters a scientist (Matthew “Frankenstein” Logan, played by Richard Liberty) who has had some time to study the zombies in the relative safety of a lab. As such, the movie redefines the attributes of the classic Romero ghoul—they’re dumb, but not entirely unintelligent, and some of them can even be trained to use tools and possibly remember certain aspects of their previous lives. That of course brings us to “Bub,” (Sherman Howard) maybe the single most iconic zombie in Romero’s oeuvre, who displays a unique level of personality and even humor. Day of the Dead ultimately takes a monster that audiences thought they knew pretty well at this point and suggests that perhaps they were only just scratching the surface of the subgenre’s potential. —Jim Vorel


22. Rosemary’s Baby, 1968
Director: Roman Polanski

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The banality of evil isn’t a concept new to the horror genre—look to recent shock-plagued entries like The Eyes of My Mother, or, say, Mickey Keating’s interminable Psychopaths to watch bad things happen for no other reason than that they can—but in Roman Polanski’s troubled hands, that banality is an unadulterated expression of a deep-seated, institutionalized horror, one so ingrained in our society it becomes practically organic. With Rosemary’s Baby, the body of young Rosemary (Mia Farrow) is the institution through which Satan’s malice gestates, a body over which everyone but Rosemary herself seems to have any control. At the mercy of her overbearing neighbors (played by a pitch-perfect Ruth Gordon and Sidney Blackmer), her Ur-Dudebro husband, Guy (John Cassavetes), and the doctor (Ralph Bellamy) recommended by her high society cadre of new friends, Rosemary is treated as if she’s the last person who knows what’s best for her and her fetus—a position she accepts as a matter of fact. She’s only a woman, a homemaker at that, so such is her lot. Of course, the worse she feels and the more fraught her pregnancy becomes—as well as the recurring flashes of a ghastly dream she can’t quite shake—the clearer Rosemary begins to suspect she’s an unwilling pawn in something cosmically insidious. She is, is the absurd truth: She is the mother of Satan’s offspring, the victim of a coven’s will to worship their Dark Lord much more fruitfully. More than the director’s audacious Hollywood debut, not to mention the omen of what New Hollywood would be willing to do to tear down tradition, Rosemary’s Baby is a landmark horror film because of how ordinary, how easy, it is for everyone else in Rosemary’s life to crush a woman’s spirit and take her life. “It’s alive!” Rosemary screams, echoing Frankenstein with outsize aplomb, her declaration hardly one of triumph, but of disbelief that such a nightmare is the life she’s just going to have to accept. —Dom Sinacola


21. Re-Animator, 1985
Director: Stuart Gordon

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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 as West is brilliant, establishing himself as the Anthony Perkins of his generation, 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


20. Nosferatu, 1922
Director: F.W. Murnau

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What can you say about a film that not only serves as an essential architect of a young medium’s development but also remains terrifying more than 90 years after the fact? Indeed, F.W. Murnau’s Nosferatu didn’t just help birth the cinematic horror movie, it revolutionized the ways one could tell a story through film. And to think this version only exists because Bram Stoker’s widow refused to grant permission for the studio’s planned adaptation of Dracula, thus forcing Murnau to reconceive Dracula as the more monstrous Count Orlok. Delivering one of the most memorable turns in cinema history, actor Max Schreck, with his grotesque makeup job and reptilian body movements, thoroughly embodies one of the most nightmarish images ever to grace the screen. There’s nothing romantic, sensual or charming about his Orlok; rather, the character connotes simple, unadulterated horror. Moreover, when film was still considered little more than a gimmick, it was productions like Nosferatu that would help elevate the rough new medium to the status of a genuine art form. So long as people continue to document history, the image of Schreck’s Orlok rising from his coffin will undoubtedly be among the first definitive images in the story of film. Watching Murnau’s masterpiece today, one can still be frightened by its set pieces, awed by its technical wizardry and become emotionally invested in a cast of long-deceased actors flailing about in fright. Nosferatu, in many ways, represents the beauty of cinema in its purest form. —Mark Rozeman


19. Poltergeist, 1982
Director: Tobe Hooper

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They’re heeeeeeeeeere…   Steven Spielberg’s first big success in the producer’s chair (and notionally directed by Tobe Hooper) was released concurrently with ET: The Extraterrestrial and could arguably be seen as the dark side of a dyad about alienation in suburbia. Nonetheless, it retains the Spielberg Feel Good Stamp even as a horror film. The Freelings are a “typical” unassuming middle class family living in a peaceful suburb that becomes not-so-peaceful as the house is caught in the grip of supernatural disturbances. The pet canary dies. There are bizarre weather events. Youngest-kid Carol Ann (Heather O’Rourke) stands entranced in front of the TV in one of the most iconic moments in horror film history, lit by a mysterious beam of green light while the room begins to shake. As Carol Ann is repeatedly drawn to the television, where she begins to talk to “the TV people,” and eventually gets sucked into a dimensional vortex in the closet, father Steve (Craig T. Nelson) consults parapsychologist Dr. Lesh (Beatrice Straight). Lesh finds she’s in over her head and calls for an exorcist. The anatomization of the “happy family” is lavishly paced, making the ensuing horror all the more vivid. Not the deepest movie ever made, certainly, but an enduring classic of the genre, a highly detailed take on the “unassuming regular-Joe family savaged by invisible menace” trope, and still pretty damn creepy. —Amy Glynn


18. Hellraiser, 1987
Director: Clive Barker

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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.” As in his fiction, Clive 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 never quite managed to top the visceral thrills of this one, with Ashley Laurence giving an all-time most resourceful “final girl” performance. —Rachel Haas


17. Return of the Living Dead, 1985
Director: Dan O’Bannon

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John Russo is a huge unknown in terms of important figures in zombie cinema, at least among those who aren’t big horror geeks. Russo is the man who created the original story for Night of the Living Dead alongside George Romero, and thus is essentially one half of the driving force for the most famous zombie film of all time. After the two parted ways post-NOTLD, their settlement dictated that Russo would retain the rights to any future films with the phrase “living dead” in the title. Thus, Romero’s “of the dead” monikers in future films. Russo, meanwhile, wrote his sequel as a novel, which was then finally adapted as a film 17 years after the original NOTLD with extensive rewrites by director Dan O’Bannon. The result is one of the all-time zombie classics, a film that is equal parts gory and hilarious while making a concerted effort to capture the youth movement, art aesthetic and, especially, music of the mid-’80s. It’s influential in so many different ways: the comedic tone; the youth focus; the scapegoating of an American military experiment gone wrong as the genesis of the zombies. The zombies too have been completely redesigned with all-new capabilities—they’re intelligent, they can speak, they can move fast and, for the first time ever, they’re specifically targeting human brains. That last point was so influential and so ubiquitous in the genre after 1985 that it’s incorrectly been assumed by many people for decades that the Romero zombies are brain-eaters. For these reasons, ROTLD is undoubtedly one of the most significant zombie films ever. And by the way—with ROTLD, Day of the Dead, Demons and Re-Animator all being released in 1985, is it safe to say this was the greatest year in the history of zombie cinema? —Jim Vorel


16. Eraserhead, 1977
Director:   David Lynch  

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It can be a painful experience to watch a film and have no idea what it’s about—to have the film’s meaning nagging at the core of you, always out of reach. Yet, that’s exactly the molten, subterranean fuel that pushes David Lynch’s visions forward, and with his debut, the perplexing and terrifying Eraserhead, the director offers no consolation for the encroaching feeling that with him we’ll never find any sort of logical mooring to keep our psyches safe. A simple tale about a funny-haired worker (Jack Nance) trundling nervously through a phantasmagoric industrial landscape, in the process fathering a mutant turtle-looking baby who he’s left to raise after his new wife abandons her “family,” Eraserhead is an astounding act of burying independently-minded cinematic experimentation in the popular consciousness. You may not know much about Eraserhead, but you probably know what it is. And whether or not it’s a meditation on the horrors of fatherhood, or a glimpse of the weird devolution of physical intimacy in a dying ecosystem, or a groundbreaking work of DIY sound design, or whatever—Eraserhead is a black hole of influence. It’s gross, it’s soul-stirring, it’s a visceral nightmare, and to this day, it’s unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. Which may or may not be a compliment. I can’t be sure. —Dom Sinacola


15. 28 Days Later (2002)
Director:   Danny Boyle  

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The classical zombie film was effectively dead by the time 28 Days Later came along in 2002 and completely reanimated the concept. (And yes, we all know that the “infected” in this film aren’t technically zombies, so please don’t feel that you have to remind us.) The definition of “zombies” is fluid, and always expanding. Here, they’re living rather than dead, poor souls infected by the “rage virus” that makes them run amok, tearing through whatever living thing they see. It’s a modernization of the same fears that powered Romero’s ghouls—unthinking assailants who will stop at nothing and are now more dangerous than ever because they move at a full-on sprint. It’s hard to overstate how big a quantum leap that mobility was for the zombie genre—the early scenes of 28 Days Later where Jim (Cillian Murphy) tries to navigate a deserted London in hospital scrubs, chased by fast-moving zombies, did for this genre what Scream did for the slasher revival, sans the humor. Indeed, 28 days Later is a dead-serious horror film, marking a return to seeing these types of creatures as a legitimate, frightening threat. It’s indicative of another trend of the 2000s, which was to reimagine the classic rules of zombie cinema to fit the needs of the film. The Zack Snyder Dawn of the Dead remake replicated a lot of this film’s DNA when it was released two years later, although it marries the concept with the more traditional Romero ghoul. Together, those two movies gave birth to the concept of the 21st-century serious zombie film. —Jim Vorel


14. Kwaidan, 1964
Director: Masaki Kobayashi

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Ghost stories don’t get much more gorgeous than the four in Masaki Kobayashi’s sprawling Kwaidan. Between two acerbically political and widely lauded samurai epics, Hara-kiri (1962) and Samurai Rebellion (1967), Kobayashi led what was then Japan’s most expensive cinematic production ever, an anthology film with its parts loosely connected by Lafcadio Hearn’s collection of Japanese folk tales and Kobayashi’s intuitive penchant for surreal, sweepingly lush sets. In “The Black Hair,” a selfish, impoverished ronin (Rentaro Mikuni) abandons his wife to marry into wealth, only to realize he made a dire mistake, plunging him into a gothic nightmare of decay and regret. “The Woman of the Snow” follows a craftsman (the always welcome Tatsuya Nakadai) doomed to have everything he loves stolen from him by a patient bureaucratic specter. The movie-unto-itself, “Hoichi the Earless,” pits the titular blind monk musician (Katsua Nakamura) against a family of ghosts, forcing the bard to recite—in hushed, heartbreaking passages on the biwa—the story of their wartime demise. Rapt with indelible images (most well known, perhaps, is Hoichi’s skin completely covered in the script of The Heart Sutra to ward off the ghosts’ influence), “Hoichi the Earless” is both deeply unnerving and quietly tragic, wrung with the sadness of Kobayashi’s admission that only forces beyond our control hold the keys to our fates. The fourth, and by far the weirdest, entry, “In a Cup of Tea,” is a tale within a tale, purposely unfinished because the writer (Osamu Takizawa) who’s writing about a samurai (Noboru Nakaya) who keeps seeing an unfamiliar man (Kei Sato) in his cup of tea is in turn attacked by the malicious spirits he’s conjuring. From these disparate fairy tales, plenty of fodder for campfires, Kobayashi creates a mythos for his country’s haunted past: We are nothing if not the pawns of all those to come before. —Dom Sinacola


13. Bride of Frankenstein, 1935
Director: James Whale

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I’ve already gone to bat for Son of Frankenstein in this list, but thankfully that’s not so necessary with Bride, which is already widely regarded as superior to Whale’s own 1931 original. Colin Clive returns as the Doctor in this first sequel, now haunted by the destruction his creation has wrought. He would happily wash his hands of the incident, but for the interjection of an old colleague, Dr. Pretorius (Ernest Thesiger), who seduces Frankenstein back into additional morbid business by revealing to him his own macabre discoveries. The monster, meanwhile, has survived its near immolation in the conclusion of the first film, and experiences unexpected character development—first bonding with an old hermit in the woods, before being unfortunately discovered by the ambitious Pretorius, who teaches him to speak and turns him against his idealistic (but deluded) creator. It’s Boris Karloff’s finest hour, as he imbues the tragic monster with not only sorrow but righteous anger and a deep yearning for acceptance and anonymity that he believes he can find in the titular “Bride.” The film is a gothic masterpiece of old-school, lightly campy spooks, swinging ably from broad humor to impressionistic fright, to the Poe-esque crypts where Pretorius sets up shop. Ernest Thesiger, utterly steals the show by truly bringing the “mad” into “mad scientist.” His initial meeting and salutation to the Monster, sitting comfortably among the skulls of a mass grave without a hint of fear, may be the most iconic horror scene of the ’30s. —Jim Vorel


12. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, 1974
Director: Tobe Hooper

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One of the most brutal mainstream horror films ever released, The Texas Chainsaw 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 Chainsaw 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


11. The Silence of the Lambs, 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, winning 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


10. An American Werewolf in London, 1981
Director: John Landis

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Few directors have ever displayed such an innate tact for combining dark humor and horror the way John Landis does. At the height of his powers in the early ’80s, one year removed from The Blues Brothers, Landis opted for a much grittier, scarier story that stands as what is still the best werewolf movie of all time. When two travelers backpacking across the English moors are attacked by a werewolf, one is killed and the other, David (David Naughton), infected with the wolf’s curse. Haunted by the simultaneously unnerving and hilarious visions of his dead friend, David must decide how to come to terms with the monster he has become, even as he strikes up a relationship with a beautiful nurse played by Jenny Agutter. The film lulls you into comfort with its witticism before springing shocking, gory dream sequences on the viewer, which repeatedly arrive unannounced. The key moment is the protagonist’s incredibly painful, traumatic full transformation, set to the crooning of Sam Cooke doing “Blue Moon,” which is still unsurpassed in the history of the genre. Legendary FX and monster makeup artist Rick Baker took home the first-ever Academy Award for Best Makeup and Hairstyling for creating a scene that has given the wolf-averse nightmares ever since. —Jim Vorel


9. The Innocents, 1961
Director: Jack Clayton

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There are few sights in gothic horror more instantly iconic than the female protagonist, dressed in a flowing nightgown, wandering the halls of a pitch-black Victorian country mansion at midnight, flaming candelabra in hand, brushing cobwebs out of the way as she searches for the source of a mysterious sound. That’s Deborah Kerr in The Innocents, one of the greatest of all gothic chillers. Based on Henry James’ Turn of the Screw, it concerns the young governess with a love for children as she finds herself in a challenging new locale, caring for two orphaned kids whose rich uncle has no room in his heart for family members. From the opening moments, the ghostly presence of the past is palpable, and the stage is set thematically by the repeated musical motif of “O Willow Waly,” which is chilling to hear even without the context of the film. There’s a mystery to be unraveled here, but The Innocents is a cinematic feast even if you’re watching on mute, featuring cinematographer Freddie Francis’ experimentation with deep focus and loving shots of the country mansion that hides a secret past. The child actors, meanwhile, are nothing short of phenomenal—it may be the best performance by a couple of kids in the entire history of the genre. Martin Stephens in particular, as the troubled and oddly mature young boy Miles, is spellbinding, forcing Kerr’s Miss Giddens to question the possibility of supernatural influence from beyond the grave. It’s a beautiful ghost story best viewed by candlelight. —Jim Vorel


8. Dawn of the Dead, 1978
Director: George A. Romero

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Where Night of the Living Dead is rough, fuzzy and decidedly cheap-looking, Dawn of the Dead makes a giant leap forward in terms of presentation, professionalism, thematic complexity and groundbreaking special effects. It took Romero 10 years to get his first sequel off the ground, but he ups the ante in every way possible. The plot is more engaging and smartly satirical, with anti-consumerism themes that become apparent as a crew of survivors hole up in a tacky mall overrun by the walking dead. The zombies flood in, not specifically to chase the survivors but to simply wander, as the characters speculate that something has compelled them to return to a location that was “important to them in life.” Special effects wizard Tom Savini turns in his first really great adventure in gory experimentation, raising the bar for everyone else who ever wanted to explode a zombie head on screen in the years to come. Dawn is often cited as the all-time greatest zombie film, and although I could make an argument for a few others in the top 10, it’s hard for any of them to compete with it in terms of sheer iconic imagery. The violence is rather gleeful, but the sobering reality of the collapse of civilization contains a nihilistic streak common to zombie apocalypse films, and strikes a balance. Even more than NOTLD, this film sets a specific tone that future zombie films attempted to either duplicate or subvert. Where zombie films from 1968 to 1978 attempted to capture the aesthetic of NOTLD, nearly every zombie movie since 1978 has made some attempt at channeling Dawn. —Jim Vorel


7. Jaws, 1975
Director:   Steven Spielberg  

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Because someone is sure to ask: Is Jaws a horror film? For those who worry that it’s “not safe to go back in the water,” then most certainly it is. But regardless of how you’d classify it, there’s no denying that Jaws is anything but brilliant, one of Spielberg’s great populist triumphs, alongside the likes of Jurassic Park and E.T., but leaner and less polished-looking than either, which actually works in its favor. Much has been made over the years of how Jaws as a film really benefits from the technical issues that plagued its making—the story originally called for more scenes featuring the mechanical shark “Bruce,” but the constantly malfunctioning animatronic forced the director to cut back, which ended up maximizing each appearance’s impact. The first time that Martin Brody (Roy Scheider) sees the literal “jaws” of the beast while absentmindedly throwing chum into the water is one of the great, scream-inducing moments in cinema history, and it’s a shock that has literally never been matched in any other shark movie since. Likewise with the death of Quint (Robert Shaw), whose mad scramble to avoid those gnashing teeth is the kind of thing that created its very own sub-genre of children’s nightmares. Ultimately, Jaws is made into a great film via memorable characters, but it’s made into a scary film by novelty and perfect execution. —Jim Vorel


6. Let the Right One In, 2008
Director: Tomas Alfredson

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Some vampire films are scary. Some are gory. Some are visually striking. Some are cerebral. Some are emotionally resonant. A select few embody two or three of these qualities. Let the Right One In is the full package. As unnerving as it is heartfelt, John Ajvide Lindqvist’s adaptation of his own vampire-centric coming-of-age tale feels as though it should be rife with contradictions and tonal shifts. Instead, it’s a film that expertly captures both the isolation of childhood and the blush of first love. Tracking the relationship between a lonely young boy (Kåre Hedebrant) and the mysterious young vampire girl (Lina Leandersson) with whom he becomes infatuated, the film takes what, in lesser hands, could easily have just been a perverse subversion of puppy love and explodes it into something as emotionally honest and universal as any movie that graces the Oscar stage. Though director/co-editor Tomas Alfredson emphasizes the bleak, cold hues of the Stockholm suburbs, he tempers this dour melancholy by directing some of the warmest, most true-to-life interactions between children ever to be captured on screen. And if all this ranting makes the story seem like little more than an arty drama, rest assured that Alfredson still takes time to include all manner of gore and badass vampire action. Most vampire flicks are happy to transcend their horror trapping and become something that traditional audiences can appreciate as a satisfying thrill ride. Let the Right One In transcends such expectations. Yes, it’s an unquestionably a great horror film, but, much more than that, it’s a flat-out cinematic masterpiece. —Mark Rozeman


5. The Thing, 1982
Director:   John Carpenter  

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No disrespect to the classic Christian Nyby/Howard Hawks version of The Thing From Another World from 1951, but John Carpenter’s 1982 reimagining of that story into The Thing is one of cinema’s greatest acts of modernization. In a manner that was mimicked six years later by the remake of The Blob, Carpenter took a thinly veiled Cold War allegory and cloaked it in his taut, atmospheric style, ratcheting up both suspense and the lurid payoff delivered by groundbreaking FX work, while expanding the mythology and capabilities of the titular monster. Every frame is a visual puzzle, as Carpenter’s camera drifts over empty hallways, open door frames and cloaked figures in the arctic air. Who is The Thing, and more contentiously, when and how did they become The Thing? The theories spiral endlessly into dark corners of the internet, as Carpenter’s visual clues and Bill Lancaster’s script seem to provide the audience with most—but never quite all—of the information they need to be certain. Rob Bottin delivers what may be the literal zenith of practical effects in the history of horror cinema during The Thing’s several transformation scenes, and particularly in the mind-blowing sequence featuring the severed head of Norris (Charles Hallahan) sprouting legs to become a crab-like creature, which attempts to scuttle away. The Thing has become an artifact of big-budget ’80s horror purity: Next-level special effects, a mind-expanding mystery, masterful direction and the awesomeness that is Kurt Russell/R.J. MacReady as the cherry on top. —Jim Vorel


4. Psycho, 1960
Director:   Alfred Hitchcock  

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The big one. The biggest one, perhaps, though if not, it’s still pretty goddamn big. 57 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: We’re fools. 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 (and to the movies in total) in its day. That’s pretty much the dictionary 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


3. Alien, 1979
Director:   Ridley Scott  

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Conduits, canals and cloaca—Ridley Scott’s ode to claustrophobia leaves little room to breathe, cramming its blue collar archetypes through spaces much too small to sustain any sort of sanity, and much too unforgiving to survive. That Alien can also make Space—capital “S”—in its vastness feel as suffocating as a coffin is a testament to Scott’s control as a director (arguably absent from much of his work to follow, including his insistence on ballooning the mythos of this first near-perfect film), as well as to the purity of horror as a cinematic genre. Alien, after all, is tension as narrative, violation as a matter of fact: When the crew of the mining spaceship Nostromo is prematurely awakened from cryogenic sleep to attend to a distress call from a seemingly lifeless planetoid, there is no doubt the small cadre of working class grunts and their posh Science Officer Ash (Ian Holm) will discover nothing but mounting, otherworldly doom. Things obviously, iconically, go wrong from there, and as the crew understands both what they’ve brought onto their ship and what their fellow crew members are made of—in one case, literally—a hero emerges from the catastrophe: Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver), the Platonic ideal of the Final Girl who must battle a viscous, phallic grotesque (care of the master of the phallically grotesque, H.R. Giger) and a fellow crew member who’s basically a walking vessel for an upsetting amount of seminal fluid. As Ripley crawls through the ship’s steel organs, between dreams—the film begins with the crew wakening, and ends with a return to sleep—Alien evolves into a psychosexual nightmare, an indictment of the inherently masculine act of colonization and a symbolic treatise on the trauma of assault. In Space, no one can hear you scream—because no one is listening. —Dom Sinacola


2. The Shining, 1980
Director:   Stanley Kubrick  

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Stephen King  famously hates Kubrick’s 1980 adaptation of his novel The Shining, which is difficult to understand until you actually read King’s original book, whereupon things become much more clear. Kubrick, ever the mad genius, largely rejected the emotional core of King’s story because he saw within the bones of The Shining an opportunity for a journey into the heart of visually and sonically inspired terror that few films have ever come close to replicating. Unlike in King’s novel, Jack (Jack Nicholson) is never treated with any kind of sympathy or pathos in the eyes of the audience—he’s a creep from the very first moment we meet him during his job interview, and he only gets worse from there, with the implied threat of his physical violence toward Danny (Danny Lloyd) and Wendy (Shelley Duvall) hanging over every scene like the sword of Damocles. His madness is alluded to masterfully through some of the most iconic visual and especially sound editing in cinema history—few horror films, or any film in general, has ever used sound as unnervingly as The Shining. Go watch The Witch, and the aural comparisons are obvious. This movie, like The Exorcist, seeps into your bones, infecting every perspective you have on the horror genre for the rest of a lifetime. It’s a monumental film. —Jim Vorel


1. The Exorcist, 1973
Director: William Friedkin

The Exorcist is a bit of a safe pick, but then you wrestle with whether any other film on this list is more disturbing, more influential or just plain scarier than this movie, and there simply isn’t one. The film radiates an aura of dread—it feels somehow unclean and tilted, even before all of the possession scenes begin. Segments like the “demon face” flash on the screen for an eighth of a second, disorienting the viewer and giving you a sense that you can never, ever let your guard down. It worms its way under your skin and then stays there forever. The film constantly wears down any sense of hope that both the audience and the characters might have, making you feel as if there’s no way that this priest (Jason Miller), not particularly strong in his own faith, is going to be able to save the possessed little girl (Linda Blair). Even his eventual “victory” is a very hollow thing, as later explored by author William Peter Blatty in The Exorcist III. Watching it is an ordeal, even after having seen it multiple times before. The Exorcist is a great film by any definition. —Jim Vorel

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