The 100 Best Horror Movies of All Time

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50. The Orphanage, 2007
Director: J.A. Bayona

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It seems safe to say that director J.A. Bayona was more than a little influenced by Guillermo Del Toro’s The Devil’s Backbone when he laid out The Orphanage, but the film also channels a more stately, gothic brand of horror rather than the dusty, dingy realism of Del Toro’s Spanish Civil War ghost story. Here we have something with a bit more grandeur—a crumbling, seaside mansion that would look out of place if it didn’t have a ghost. Belén Rueda is fantastic as Laura, a woman who moves into the orphanage where she grew up with her husband and young son, before being drawn into the secret history of both the house and the other former orphans who once lived there alongside her. Deep-seated emotion and the impossible desire to protect loved ones from the inevitable permeate the film, but once the home’s restless spirits become active, it’s also quite chilling. Tomás (Oscar Casas), the sack-masked young boy you’ll no doubt see on the DVD cover of The Orphanage, cuts an iconic figure among child ghosts, but it’s the things left unseen that make The Orphanage chilling. The scene featuring a reprise of the knock-knock game once played by the orphans is almost unbearably tense. —Jim Vorel

49. Eyes Without a Face, 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 by dint of its surreal meta-text commentary. 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 movie 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.) But 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

48. The Descent, 2005
Director: Neil Marshall

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True camaraderie or complex relationships between female characters isn’t so much “rare” in horror cinema as it is functionally nonexistent, which is one of the things that still makes The Descent, nominally about a bunch of women fighting monsters in a cave, stand out so sharply, 12 years after it arrived. But ah, how The Descent transcends its one-sentence synopsis. The film’s first half is deliberately crafted to fill in the personalities of the women, while slowly and almost imperceptibly ratcheting up the sense of dread and foreboding. As the women descend deeper into the cave, passageways get tighter and the audience themselves can feel the claustrophobia and dankness creeping into their bones—and that’s before we even see any of the resident troglodytes. Neill Marshall’s screenplay makes masterful use of dubious morality, infusing its protagonists, particularly the duo of Sarah (Shauna Macdonald) and Juno (Natalie Mendoza), with numerous shades of gray. Not content to simply paint one of the two as flawed and the other as resourceful and ultimately vindicated, he uses a series of misunderstandings to illustrate human failing on a much more profound and universal level. Ultimately, The Descent is as moving a character study as it is terrifying subterranean creature feature, with one hell of an ending to boot. —Jim Vorel

47. Halloween, 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

46. Videodrome, 1985
Director: David Cronenberg

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Videodrome wears many skins: It’s a near-future thriller about the lines between man and machine blurring, a sadomasochistic fantasy, a chronicle of one man’s tragic descent into madness and even a screed against society’s abusive relationship with theatrical violence. Yet, more than any dermis it claims as its own, Videodrome is horror down to its bones, a shard of phantasmagorical mania wielded by the genre’s most cerebral master. The mind is where Cronenberg creeps, taking his imagination’s darkest wanderings—steeped in symbolism and subconscious detritus—to visceral extremes. The same could be said for smut peddler Max Renn (the always sweaty James Woods), manager of a cable TV channel devoted to finding new boundary-breaking entertainment, who stumbles upon a pirated broadcast signal carrying “Videodrome,” a seemingly unsimulated series filled with graphic torture and death. As Cronenberg’s dark dreams tend to do, “Videodrome” begins to warp Renn’s reality—our mind’s eye, as one episode explains to him, is the television screen—and the malevolent forces behind “Videodrome” convince him to go on a killing spree, armed with his newly grown mutant cyborg hand, which might be a hallucination but probably isn’t. Throughout, Cronenberg literalizes Renn’s grossest thoughts, opening up a vaginal orifice in his stomach (into which he salaciously sticks his handgun) or transforming his television set into a pulsating, veined organ, manifesting each apocalyptic vision with immediate, tactile reality. In Videodrome, maybe more saliently than in any of his other films, Cronenberg squeezes the ordeals of the slumbering mind like toothpaste from the tube into the disgusting light of day, unable to push them back in. Long live the new flesh—because the old can no longer hold us together. —Dom Sinacola

45. Don’t Look Now, 1973
Director: Nicolas Roeg

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Don’t Look Now is one of cinema’s great treatises on grief that falls within the realm of horror cinema, an emotionally devastating film that likewise functions as a masterclass on the use of visual and aural leitmotifs. After a married couple (Julie Christie and a typically unhinged Donald Sutherland) loses their sole daughter to a drowning accident, they travel abroad while trying unsuccessfully to cope with the loss, until the wife is contacted by a psychic who claims to be able to speak with their deceased daughter. What follows is a descent down a rabbit hole of faith, doubt and precognition, which tests the limits of Sutherland’s character’s sanity in particular. Highly atmospheric, and making spectacular use of the natural canals and bridges of Venice, Don’t Look Now winds through dark streets both visually and symbolically in search of answers to its burning questions. Famous in its time for a fairly explicit sex scene that has long since been surpassed by modern cinema, Don’t Look Now instead deserves to be remembered for its performance by Sutherland as the truth-seeking father, which slowly ramps up into a conclusion that will haunt your nightmares. If ever I have beseeched you to not spoil a film’s ending, it is now. —Jim Vorel

44. Repulsion, 1965
Director: Roman Polanski

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

43. Carrie, 1976
Director: Brian De Palma

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The tropes and individually famous scenes of Carrie are so ingrained into our pop cultural consciousness that one might not even really need to see the original film to understand what makes it significant. But Carrie is much more than a precariously balanced bucket of pig’s blood: De Palma’s classic vacillates between darkly humorous and legitimately disturbing, mean-spirited and cruel, with a tone set immediately by what happens to poor Carrie White (Sissy Spacek) in her high school’s locker room. Rarely has abject terror and helplessness been so perfectly captured, Spacek desperately, pathetically clinging to her classmates in terror of her first menstruation, only to be derided and pelted with tampons as she lies in a screaming heap. There’s simply no coming back from the kinds of humiliations she suffers, and none of her peers care to find out that Carrie’s home life is even more abusive. Spacek was rightly rewarded with an Oscar nomination for her performance in this, the first film adaptation of a Stephen King work, as was Piper Laurie as her mother—this is back in the ’70s when not one but two actresses from a horror film could actually receive Academy Award nominations (my how things have changed). Carrie is a brisk film which thrives on those two strong, central performances, building to the gloriously cathartic orgy of revenge we all know is coming. Still, there’s joy in watching the irritating P.J. Soles get bumped off yet again. —Jim Vorel

42. We Are What We Are, 2013
Director: Jim Mickle

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Jim Mickle is the best young horror director to consistently get left out of discussions of “best young horror directors.” His remake of this 2010 Mexican film of the same name is a brooding, tense blend of thriller and horror, the story of a seemingly normal (if stuffy) rural family that harbors a dark secret of religious observances based around yearly acts of cannibalism. When a family member dies and the long-held tradition is threatened, allegiances come into question, familial ties crumble and the younger generation faces an extremely difficult decision in potentially breaking away from the customs that have bound the family together for many generations. It’s part crime story, part grisly, gutsy horror, and features Michael Parks in a role that is about 100 times better than what he was sentenced to do in Kevin Smith’s Tusk. In particular, the conclusion and final 20-30 minutes of We Are What We Are is shocking in both its brutality and emotional impact, an intimate case study of family dysfunction driven by the changing times and the impracticality of archaic traditions that sustain us. Look too closely, and you’ll end up questioning your own familial routine. —Jim Vorel

41. Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon, 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 in May, so maybe it’s still possible. —Jim Vorel

40. Evil Dead 2, 1987
Director:   Sam Raimi  

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On the surface, Evil Dead 2 is essentially a remake of the first 1981 Evil Dead: Sam Raimi going back to an idea he clearly enjoyed with a bigger budget and more experience to “get it right” by upping the ante of the original. But Raimi also offers up some tweaks that fundamentally alter the nature and tone of the first film, changing the recipe from “horror with occasional moments of black comedy” to a more even mix of both that still doesn’t skimp on scares or guts. Bruce Campbell as Ash goes from being almost a passive “final girl” character in the first film to a much more capable, wisecracking hero right from the get-go, and significantly more of the film features him in a tour-de-force solo performance, which helps make Evil Dead 2 one of the most tightly paced horror films ever. It wastes no time, going straight into its comic violence within the first 10 minutes and never letting up. It’s a film indicative of the changing attitude toward zombies—at this point in the late ’80s it’s becoming rare that zombies are ever treated as simply “scary.” More and more frequently, they’re instead incorporated into madcap comedies and action films à la Evil Dead, and this is a trend that continued through the ’90s. —Jim Vorel

39. The Babadook, 2014
Director: Jennifer Kent

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Classifying Jennifer Kent’s feature debut, The Babadook, is tricky. Ostensibly this is a horror film—freaky stuff happens on an escalating scale, so qualifying Kent’s tale of a single mother’s fractious relationship with her young son with genre tags seems like a perfectly logical move. But The Babadook is so layered, so complex and just so goddamned dramatic that categorizing it outright feels reductive to the point of insult. There’s a grand divide between what Kent has done here and what most of us consider horror. You’ll spend your first week after the experience sleeping with the lights on. You will also come away enriched and provoked. Australian actress-turned-filmmaker Kent has made a movie about childhood, about adulthood and about the nagging fears that hound us from one period to the next. There’s a monster in the closet—and under the bed, and in the armoire, and in the basement—but the film’s human concerns are emotional in nature. They’re not aided by the ephemeral evil lurking in the dark places of its characters’ hearts, of course; going through personal trauma is enough of a chore when you’re not being stalked by the bogeyman. —Andy Crump

38. Demons, 1985
Director: Lamberto Bava

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

37. The Witch, 2016
Director: Robert Eggers

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From its first moments, The Witch strands us in a hostile land. We watch (because that’s all we can do, helplessly) as puritan patriarch William (Ralph Ineson) argues stubbornly with a small council, thereby causing his family’s banishment from their “New England” community. We watch, and writer-director Robert Eggers holds our gaze while a score of strings and assorted prickly detritus—much like the dialogue-less beginning to There Will be Blood —rise to a climax that never comes. It’s a long shot, breathing dread: The wagon lurches ever-on into the wilderness, piling the frontier of this New World upon the literal frontier of an unexplored forest. It’s 1620, and William claims, “We will conquer this wilderness.” Eggers’ “New England Folk Tale” is a horror film swollen with the allure of the unknown. To say that it’s reminiscent of the Salem Witch Trials, which take place 70 years after the events in the film, would be an understatement—the inevitable consequences of such historic mania looms heavily over The Witch. All of this Eggers frames with a subconscious knack for creating tension within each shot, rarely relying on jump scares or gore, instead mounting suspense through one masterful edit after another. The effect, then, is that of a building fever dream in which primeval forces—lust, defiance, hunger, greed—simmer at the edges of experience, avoided but never quite conquered. But what’s most convincing is the burden of puritanical spirituality which blankets the film’s every single moment, a pall through which every character—especially teenage Thomasin (Anya Taylor Joy)—struggles to be, simply, a regular person. There is no joy in their worship, there is only gravitas: prayers, fasting, penitence and fear. And it’s that fear which drives the film’s horror, which eventually makes even us viewers believe that, at the fringes of civilization, at the border of the unknown, God has surely abandoned these people. —Dom Sinacola

36. Night of the Living Dead, 1968
Director: George A. Romero

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What more can be said of Night of the Living Dead? It’s pretty obviously the most important zombie film ever made, and hugely influential as an independent film as well. George Romero’s cheap but momentous flick was a quantum leap forward in what the word “zombie” meant in pop culture, despite the fact that the word “zombie” is never actually uttered in it. More importantly, it established all of the genre rules: Zombies are reanimated corpses; zombies are compelled to eat the flesh of the living; zombies are unthinking, tireless and impervious to injury; the only way to kill a zombie is to destroy the brain. Those rules essentially categorize every single zombie movie from here on out—either the film features “Romero-style zombies,” or it tweaks with the formula and is ultimately noted for how it differs from the Romero standard. Night of the Living Dead is essentially the horror equivalent of what Tolkien did for the idea of high fantasy “races.” After The Lord of the Rings, it became nearly impossible to write contrarian concepts of what elves, dwarves or orcs might be like. There hasn’t been a zombie movie made in the last 48 years that hasn’t been influenced by Romero in some way, and you can barely hold a conversation on anything zombie-related if you haven’t seen it—so go out and watch it, if you haven’t. The film still holds up well, especially in its moody cinematography and stark, black-and-white images of zombie arms reaching through the windows of a rural farmhouse. Oh, and by the way: NOTLD is public domain, so don’t get tricked into buying it on a shoddy DVD. —Jim Vorel

35. The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, 1920
Director: Robert Wiene

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The quintessential work of German Expressionism, of an entire cinematic style, 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, its 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 his 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

34. Black Sunday, 1960
Director: Mario Bava

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After years spent toiling as a cinematographer and (at times uncredited) co-director on an assortment of moderate to low-budget horror and sword-and-sandals productions, Mario Bava broke out in a big way with Black Sunday. Loosely (and I mean loosely) based on a short story by Nikolai Gogol, the film centers on the resurrection of a 17th century vampire-witch (Barbara Steele) and her paramour (Arturo Dominici) as they seek revenge on the descendants of the brother who executed her. Designed as a throwback to the Universal Monster movies of the 1930s, Black Sunday drew significant controversy for several gruesome sequences (including, but not limited to, the implementation of a spiked death mask and a moment where a cross is stabbed through an eye). Naturally, this kind of notoriety only intensified the film’s popularity. Though time has since lessened the impact of the gorier scenes, the movie still packs a huge punch with its nightmarish atmosphere, which is further accentuated by its vivid black-and-white photography and striking production design. An influence on filmmakers from Tim Burton to Francis Ford Coppola, Black Sunday remains a towering beast in the history of the horror genre. —Mark Rozeman

33. The Sixth Sense, 1999
Director: M. Night Shyamalan

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Featuring great performances by Bruce Willis and Haley Joel Osment, along with a legitimately chilling atmosphere, The Sixth Sense was nothing short of a phenomenon when it hit multiplexes in 1999. Critical examination aside, it truly is a frightening film, from the scene where Cole is locked in a box with an abusive ghost to the little moments (I always found the scene where all the kitchen cabinets and drawers open at once while off-screen to be particularly effective). For better or worse, though, this is the defining film of M. Night Shyamalan’s career, and its success was a double-edged sword: It bestowed the “brilliant young director” label on him, but also pigeonholed his personal style as a writer to the extent that his next five features at least were all reshaped by the aftershocks of The Sixth Sense. Rarely has the danger of success been so clearly illustrated for an artist—Shyamalan crafted a scary film that still holds up today, and then spent most of the next decade chasing that same accomplishment with rapidly diminishing returns that have only recently been rehabilitated with the likes of Split. —Jim Vorel

32. The Devil’s Backbone, 2001
Director:   Guillermo Del Toro  

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Guillermo Del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth has been widely celebrated as one of the Spanish fantasist’s most beautifully macabre masterpieces, but it was that movie’s earlier “sister film,” The Devil’s Backbone, that was his most chilling (and personal) work in the horror genre. Against a similar backdrop of the Spanish Civil War, and again told from the perspective of a young child (Fernando Tielve), The Devil’s Backbone is less about escaping from a world of horrors via either imagination or the existence of a faerie realm, and more about confronting those personal terrors in the starkness of reality and with all the limitations of being virtually powerless. Santi, the young ghost haunting this Spanish orphanage, is a mystery, a cipher whose desires are alien to us, brackish as the ghostly water consistently weeping from his wounds. Slowly ratcheting up the tension as an unexploded bomb from the war merrily ticks away in the courtyard as a living memento of the violence around them, The Devil’s Backbone combines some of the chilling, ghostly scares of J.A. Bayona’s The Orphanage with the sense of childhood secrecy and pacts that Del Toro understands so well (a la Stephen King). It remains his purest horror film. —Jim Vorel

31. A Nightmare on Elm Street, 1984
Director: Wes Craven

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Of the big three slasher franchises—Halloween, Friday the 13th and this—it’s Nightmare on Elm Street that presented us with the greatest and most complete of original installments. No doubt this is a factor of being the last to come along, as Wes Craven had a chance to watch and be influenced by the brooding Carpenter and the far more shameless and tawdry Cunningham in several F13 sequels. What emerged from that stew of influences was a killer who shared the indestructibility of Myers or Voorhees, but with a twist of Craven’s own demented sense of humor. That’s not to say Freddy Krueger (Robert Englund) is a comedian—at least not here in the first Nightmare, where he’s presented as a serious threat and a genuinely frightening one at that, rather than the self-parodying pastiche he would become in sequels such as Final Nightmare—but his gleeful approach toward murder and subsequent gallows humor make for a very different breed of supernatural killer, and one that proved extremely influential on post-Nightmare slashers. The film’s simple premise of tapping into the horrors of dreaming and questionable reality was like a gift from the gods presented directly to the artists and set designers, given carte blanche to indulge their fantasies and create memorable set pieces like nothing else ever seen in the horror genre to that point. It’s a phantasmagoria of morbid humor and bad dreams. —Jim Vorel

30. The Wicker Man, 1973
Director: Robin Hardy

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

29. The Changeling, 1980
Director: Peter Medak

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George C. Scott tempers his natural irascibility to play a melancholy composer grieving for his recently deceased wife and daughter in Peter Medak’s conflation of haunted house movie and supernatural whodunit. Dubbed one of the scariest movies of all time by Martin Scorsese, The Changeling deals the terror out in spades, with Medak playing up the tightening fear of the unknown with the precision of a horror maestro. (Indeed, it’s amazing Medak had never even been near the genre before.) Having moved into a new home, a century-old manor also occupied by the restless spirit of a young boy, Scott’s John Russell digs to discover the tale of an institutional cover-up, and of power wielded monstrously in the name of financial gain. The Changeling may be a showcase for an effortlessly magnetic veteran lead, but it’s also a mystery thriller that engrosses as it frightens. What begins as another haunted house story ends as a commentary on the history of America: a nation built not just on hard work, but also on blood and not-always-heroic sacrifice. —Brogan Morris

28. Suspiria, 1977
Director: Dario Argento

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Dario Argento’s 1977 Suspiria is the director’s best-loved movie, but it’s also his most atypical work. Unlike the rest of his peak-era filmography (its direct, uneven 1980 sequel Inferno excepted), it’s not strictly a giallo—the lurid murder mysteries Italian directors churned out in the mid-20th century—but instead an abstraction of the genre, removing the procedural narrative layer to replace it with pure aesthetic wonder. Plenty of giallo, like Mario Bava’s formative, drum-tight 1964 Blood and Black Lace, were gorgeous, but the occult-tinged Suspiria makes gorgeousness its primary concern. In that sense, in spirit, it’s closer to the gothic languor of French master Jean Rollin than any contemporary proto-slasher. From the film’s hypnotic opening sequence, which follows Suzy Banyon (Jessica Harper) as she takes a cab ride through a perfectly Grimm forest, the audience is bludgeoned with Goblin’s demented, baroque score and Luciano Tovoli’s phantasmagorical lensing. He and Argento used imbibition Technicolor film stock (unusual even in 1977) and innovative lighting techniques to achieve the film’s singular, Disney-inspired washes of red, yellow, blue and green—colors which become “the monster” of the film, a visible manifestation of the supernatural. Tellingly, when Suzy comes face-to-face with the film’s antagonist, the witch Helena Markos, Markos is invisible. Only her rattling, pained breathing marks her physical presence, but her insidious influence is everywhere, in every frame, drowning the world around her. Argento similarly corrupts the film’s formal structure: Goblin’s score wavers between diegetic and non-diegetic, while murder scenes become spiraling jump-cut departures from reality. Argento would go on to film sharper mysteries, and burrow further into self-reflexive madness, but Suspiria endures as his purest, most singular aesthetic statement. As such, it’s absolutely essential. —Astrid Budgor

27. Invasion of the Body Snatchers, 1978
Director: Philip Kaufman

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There’s no real need for the film’s credit-limned intro—a nature-documentary-like sequence in which the alien spores soon to take over all of Earth float through the cosmos and down to our stupid third berg from the Sun—because from the moment we meet health inspector Matthew Bennell (Donald Sutherland) and the colleague with whom he’s hopelessly smitten, Elizabeth Driscoll (Brooke Adams), the world through which they wander seems suspiciously off. Although Philip Kaufman’s remake of Don Siegel’s 1956 Invasion of the Body Snatchers begins as a romantic comedy of sorts, pinging dry-witted lines between flirty San Franciscan urbanites as Danny Zeitlin’s score strangely lilts louder and louder overhead, Kaufman laces each frame with malice. Oddly acting extras populate the backgrounds of tracking shots and garbage trucks filled with weird dust fluff (which we eventually learn spreads the spores) exist at the fringes of the screen. The audience, of course, puts the pieces together long before the characters do—characters who include Jeff Goldblum at his beanpole-iest and Leonard Nimoy at his least Spock-iest—but that’s the point: As our protagonists slowly discover that the world they know is no longer anything they understand, so does such simmering anxiety fill and then usurp the film. Kaufman piles on more and more revolting, unnerving imagery until he offers up a final shot so bleak that he might as well be punctuating his film, and his vision of modern life, with a final, inevitable plunge into the mouth of Hell. —Dom Sinacola

26. The Haunting, 1963
Director: Robert Wise

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Director Robert Wise purportedly hoped to experience paranormal phenomena during the filming of this adaptation of a Shirley Jackson novel, and disappointingly never did. Nonetheless he left viewers with a fairly chilling and highly stylish imagined experience. Anthropology professor Dr. John Markway (Richard Johnson) investigates reports of psychic phenomena at the spooky New England mansion called Hill House. His entourage consists of two ESP-gifted-but-very-different-women, Eleanor and Theodora (Julie Harris and Claire Bloom, respectively), as well as skeptic and Hill House heir Luke Sanderson (Russ Tamblyn). Johnson and Tamblyn both give great performances, but the heart of the film is the high-voltage and high-contrast acting by Harris and Bloom, who both respond to the house’s various presences in very different ways. Wise creates a tapestry of unease and suspense with an allusive, suggestive directorial style that leaves a lot of room for speculation as to how much of what we’re witnessing is genuinely paranormal and how much is driven by the distorted perceptions of the troubled characters—especially of Harris’s Eleanor, a distraught caregiver desperate to escape the clutches of her overbearing family. Wise, along with cinematographer Davis Boulton, uses wide-angle lenses and infrared photography, as well as incredibly creepy sets, to create a sense of unreality and distortion; unexpected angles serve to keep us off-kilter. In turn, The Haunting is a gooseflesh-inducing study in detachment from reality and a masterful deployment of ambiguity. The ghostly phenomena might be real or might be in the characters’ heads, and the sense of uncertainty is what creates profound unease. —Amy Glynn

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