The 50 Best Horror Movies on HBO Max Right Now

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The 50 Best Horror Movies on HBO Max Right Now

The first thing one notices, looking at the horror genre as it exists on HBO Max, is that there’s an unusual level of genuine curation involved here. The overall scope of the service might not be quite as broad as something like Netflix, but you’re likely to have heard of far more of these films. That’s because unlike the horror selections of Netflix, Hulu or (especially) Amazon Prime, the bulk of the selections here aren’t made up of modern, straight-to-VOD, zero-budget productions with vague, one-word titles like Desolation or Satanic. Rather, almost everything here received a wide release at some point.

That makes for an interesting horror library indeed, one that balances total schlock from Roger Corman with acclaimed works by the likes of Guillermo Del Toro and Steven Spielberg. There are foundational early horror films, such as Haxan or Vampyr, along with classics of world cinema like Japan’s Kwaidan, Onibaba and House. There are also franchise staples and blockbusters like Jaws, A Nightmare on Elm Street or Jordan Peele’s Us. It really does run the gamut of variety, although it seems that HBO Max has recently lost its Hammer Horror classics in 2021.

Regardless, of all the major streamers, HBO Max likely has the horror library most focused on what you’d call older “classics,” rather than newer releases—fine with us, considering that segment tends to be less well represented.

Here, then, are 50 best horror movies streaming on HBO Now. You may also want to consult the following horror-centric lists:

The 100 best horror films of all time.
The 100 best vampire movies of all time.
The 50 best zombie movies of all time.
The 50 best movies about serial killers
The 50 best slasher movies of all time
The 50 best ghost movies of all time
The best horror movies streaming on Netflix
The best horror movies streaming on Hulu
The best horror movies streaming on Shudder
The best horror movies on Amazon Prime


1. The Exorcist

the-exorcist-poster.jpg Year: 1973
Director: William Friedkin
Stars: Linda Blair, Ellen Burstyn, Max von Sydow, Lee J. Cobb, Jason Miller, Kitty Winn, Jack MacGowran
Rating: R
Runtime: 121 minutes

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The Exorcist is a bit of a safe pick for the #1 horror film of all time, but then you wrestle with whether any other film you can think of 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


2. Alien

alien-1979-movie-poster.jpg Year: 1979
Director: Ridley Scott
Stars: Tom Skerritt, Sigourney Weaver, Veronica Cartwright, Harry Dean Stanton, John Hurt, Ian Holm, Yaphet Kotto
Rating: R
Runtime: 117 minutes

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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 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 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 vicious, 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. Maybe that’s because no one is listening. —Dom Sinacola


3. Jaws

jaws poster (Custom).jpeg Year: 1975
Director: Steven Spielberg
Stars: Roy Scheider, Richard Dreyfuss, Robert Shaw, Lorraine Gary, Murray Hamilton
Rating: PG
Runtime: 124 minutes

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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 than either,. 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 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 rarely 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 a great film via memorable characters, but a scary film care of novelty and perfect execution. —Jim Vorel


4. King Kong

king-kong-1933-poster.jpg Year: 1933
Directors: Merian C. Cooper, Ernest B. Schoedsack
Stars: Fay Wray, Robert Armstrong, Bruce Cabot
Rating: NR
Runtime: 100 minutes

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There had been monster movies or “creature features” before Kong, but it became the key reference point for that entire film demographic from the time of its release until the genre underwent an atomic-age reimagining with the likes of The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms in 1953 and Them! in 1954. Likewise, it set the bar on its special effects at such a high level that in many instances, shots and sequences from King Kong weren’t suitably duplicated for decades to come. Much of the credit belongs to pioneering stop-motion animator Willis O’Brien, who was inventing new techniques on the set of Kong on a daily basis, laying a foundation for an entire field of visual effects that are still being refined by studios such as Laika today. Those techniques were likewise carried on and further refined by O’Brien’s arguably more famous protege, Ray Harryhausen, who used them to great effect in the second golden age of the monster movie, from the 1950s through the 1970s.

Kong, though, stands as an unparalleled achievement for its time—far grander and more ambitious in scope than most anything you can compare it to back then. On one hand it’s a rollicking adventure film, with a classic “journey into the unknown” plot that is still being recycled for modern monster installments like Kong: Skull Island. At the same time, though, it was likewise an interesting experiment in genre-blending—an FX-driven adventure-drama film with horror elements and no clear-cut, traditional “antagonist.” Carl Denham might fit the bill, but he’s better described as a naive dreamer with stars in his eyes, oblivious to the ethical quandary of shanghaiing a huge beast to display in the middle of New York City. Kong, meanwhile, is a misunderstood creature, operating on the sense of self preservation he learned in a home where he’s only ever known a daily fight for survival against a neverending stream of monsters. The film’s empathy for Kong, and its condemnation of the hubris that led to his ascent of the Empire State Building, are what helped make the story such an emotionally affecting classic. —Jim Vorel


5. Kwaidan

kwaidan-movie-poster.jpg Year: 1964
Director: Masaki Kobayashi
Stars: Rentaro Mikuni, Tatsuya Nakadai, Katsua Nakamura, Osamu Takizawa, Noboru Nakaya
Rating: NR
Runtime: 184 minutes

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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


6. Godzilla

godzilla-criterion-movie-poster.jpg Year: 1954
Director: Ishiro Honda
Stars: Sachio Sakai, Takashi Shimura, Momoko Kochi, Akira Takarada
Rating: NR
Runtime: 95 minutes

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Early in Godzilla, before the monster is even glimpsed off the shore of the island of Odo, a local fisherman tells visiting reporter Hagiwara (Sachio Sakai) about the play they’re watching, describing it as the last remaining vestige of the ancient “exorcism” his people once practiced. Hagiwara watches the actors “sacrifice” a young girl to the calamitous sea creature to satiate its hunger and cajole it into leaving some fish for the people to enjoy—at least until the next sacrifice. Ishiro Hondo’s smash hit monster movie—the first of its kind in Japan, the most expensive movie ever made in the country at the time, not even a decade after the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki—is, after 20-something sequels over three times as many years, a surprisingly elegiac exorcism of its own, a reminder of one nation’s continuing trauma during a time when the rest of the world jonesed to forget.

As J Hoberman describes in his essay for the film’s Criterion release, much of Honda’s disaster imagery is “coded in naturalism,” a verite-like glimpse of the harrowing destruction wrought by the beast but indistinguishable from the aftermath of the Americans’ attacks in 1945, especially when the U.S. and Russia, among other powers, were testing H-bombs in the Pacific in the early 1950s, bathing the Japanese in even more radiation than that in which they’d already been saturated. And yet, Godzilla is a sci-fi flick, replete with a “mad” scientist in an eye patch and a human in a rubber dinosaur suit flipping over model bridges. That Honda handles such goofiness with an unrelentingly poetic hand, purging his nation’s psychological grief in broadly intimate volleys, is nothing short of astounding. Shots of Godzilla trudging through thick smoke, spotlights highlighting his gaping maw as the Japanese military’s weapons do nothing but shock the dark with beautiful chiaroscuro, have been rarely matched in films of its ilk (and in the director’s own legion of sequels); Honda saw gods and monsters and, with the world entering a new age of technological doom, found no difference between the two. —Dom Sinacola


7. Aliens

aliens-movie-poster.jpg Year: 1986
Director: James Cameron
Stars: Sigourney Weaver, Bill Paxton, Jenette Goldstein, Paul Reiser, Lance Henriksen, Michael Biehn
Rating: R
Runtime: 138 minutes

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James Cameron colonizes ideas: Every beautiful, breathtaking spectacle he assembles works as a pointillist representation of the genres he inhabits—sci-fi, horror, adventure, thriller—its many wonderful pieces and details of worldbuilding swarming, combining to grow exponentially, to inevitably overshadow the lack at its heart, the doubt that maybe all of this great movie-making is hiding a dearth of substance at the core of the stories Cameron tells. An early example of this pilgrim’s privilege is Cameron’s sequel to Ridley Scott’s horror masterpiece, in which Cameron mostly jettisons Scott’s figurative (and uncomfortably intimate) interrogation of masculine violence to transmute that urge into the bureaucracy that only served as a shadow of authoritarianism in the first film. Cameron blows out Scott’s world, but also neuters it, never quite connecting the lines from the aggression of the Weyland-Yutani Corporation to the maleness of the military industrial complex, but never condoning that maleness, or that complex, either. Ripley’s (Sigourney Weaver) story about what happened on the Nostromo in the first film is doubted because she’s a woman, sure, but mostly because the story spells disaster for the corporation’s nefarious plans. Private Vasquez’s (Jennette Goldstein) place in the Colonial Marine unit sent to LV-426 to investigate the wiping out of a human colony is taunted, but never outright doubted, her strength compared to her peers pretty obvious from the start. Instead, in transforming Ripley into a full-on action hero/mother figure—whose final boss battle involves protecting her ersatz daughter from the horror of another mother figure—Cameron isn’t messing with themes of violation or the role of women in an economic hierarchy, he’s placing women by default at the forefront of mankind’s future war. It’s magnificent blockbuster filmmaking, and one of the first films to redefine what a franchise can be within the confines of a new director’s voice and vision. —Dom Sinacola


8. Day of the Dead

day-of-the-dead-poster.jpg Year: 1985
Director: George A. Romero
Stars: Lori Cardille, Terry Alexander, Joe Pilato, Richard Liberty
Rating: R
Runtime: 100 minutes

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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


9. Night of the Living Dead

24. night of the living dead (Custom).jpg Year: 1968
Director: George A. Romero
Stars: Judith O’Dea, Duane Jones, Marilyn Eastman, Karl Hardman, Judith Ridley, Keith Wayne
Rating: N/A
Runtime: 96 minutes

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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 movie 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. It’s 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. Romero’s impact on zombies is of that exact same caliber. There hasn’t been a zombie movie made in the last 50-plus years that hasn’t been influenced by it 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


10. A Nightmare on Elm Street

nightmare-on-elm-poster.jpg Year: 1984
Director: Wes Craven
Stars: Heather Langenkamp, Robert Englund, John Saxon, Johnny Depp, Ronee Blakley, Amanda Wyss, Nick Corri
Rating: R
Runtime: 91 minutes

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Of the big three slasher franchises—Halloween, Friday the 13th and this—it’s A Nightmare on Elm Street that arguably presented us with the most complete and perfectly polished 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


11. Shaun of the Dead

shaun-of-the-dead.jpg Year: 2004
Director: Edgar Wright
Stars: Simon Pegg, Kate Ashfield, Lucy Davis, Nick Frost, Dylan Moran, Bill Nighy
Rating: R
Runtime: 97 minutes

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Together, 28 Days Later and Shaun of the Dead established precedents for the “modern” zombie film that have more or less continued to this day. The former made “zombies” scary again, and the latter showed that the cultural zeitgeist of zombiedom (which was picking up around this point) could be mined for huge laughs as well. Most importantly, the two types of films could exist side by side. Shaun of the Dead makes a wry, totally valid criticism of modern, digital, white-collar life through its wonderful build-up and tracking shots, which show slacker Shaun wandering his neighborhood failing to even realize that a zombie apocalypse has happened. Once he and his oaf of a friend finally realize what’s happening and take up arms to protect their friends and loved ones, the film becomes a fast-paced, funny and surprisingly emotional action-comedy. Few horror comedies have actually combined the elements of humor and serious horror the way this one does in certain scenes—just go back and watch the part where David is dragged through the window of The Winchester by zombies and literally torn to pieces. It’s a film that works on so many levels, and manages to be uproariously funny while still being quite faithful to the fidelity of Romero-style zombies. Much in the same way as Zombieland (a definite spiritual successor), it shows that whether the zombies are “scary” is ultimately a matter of how everyone reacts to them. Shaun of the Dead was so momentous that it’s next to impossible to make a zombie comedy at this point without being accused of ripping it off. —Jim Vorel


12. Eraserhead

eraserhead-poster.jpg Year: 1977
Director: David Lynch
Stars: Jack Nance, Charlotte Stewart, Allan Joseph
Rating: R
Runtime: 90 minutes

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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


13. An American Werewolf in London

american werewolf poster (Custom).jpg Year: 1981
Director: John Landis
Stars: David Naughton, Jenny Agutter, Griffin Dunne, John Woodvine
Rating: R
Runtime: 97 minutes

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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 dirtier, 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 infected with the wolf’s curse. Haunted by the simultaneously unnerving and hilarious visions of his dead friend, he 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 For Best Makeup and Hairstyling for creating a scene that has given the wolf-averse nightmares ever since. – Jim Vorel


14. Les Diaboliques

les diaboliques poster (Custom).jpg Year: 1955
Director: Henri-Georges Clouzot
Stars: Véra Clouzot, Paul Meurisse, Simone Signoret
Rating: NR
Runtime: 107 minutes

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Watching Henri-Georges Clouzot’s Les Diaboliques through the lens of the modern horror film, especially the slasher flick—replete with un-killable villain (check); ever-looming jump scares (check); and a “final girl” of sorts (check?)—one would not have to squint too hard to see a new genre coming into being. You could even make a case for Clouzot’s canonization in horror, but to take the film on only those terms would miss just how masterfully the iconic French director could wield tension. Nothing about Les Diaboliques dips into the scummy waters of cheap thrills: The tightly wound tale of two women, a fragile wife (Véra Clouzot) and severe mistress (Simone Signoret) to the same abusive man (Paul Meurisse), who conspire to kill him in order to both reel in the money rightfully owed the wife, and to rid the world of another asshole, Diaboliques may not end with a surprise outcome for those of us long inured to every modern thriller’s perfunctory twist, but it’s still a heart-squeezing two hours, a murder mystery executed flawlessly. That Clouzot preceded this film with The Wages of Fear and Le Corbeau seems as surprising as the film’s outcome: By the time he’d gotten to Les Diaboliques, the director’s grasp over pulpy crime stories and hard-nosed drama had become pretty much his brand. That the film ends with a warning to audiences to not give away the ending for others—perhaps Clouzot also helped invent the spoiler alert?—seems to make it clear that even the director knew he had something devilishly special on his hands. —Dom Sinacola


15. Onibaba

onibaba-poster.jpg Year: 1964
Director: Kineto Shindo
Stars: Nobuko Otowa, Jitsuko Yoshimura, Kei Sat?, Taiji Tonoyama
Rating: NR
Runtime: 102 minutes

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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


16. Us

us-peele-movie-poster.jpg Year: 2019
Director: Jordan Peele
Stars: Lupita Nyong’o, Winston Duke, Tim Heidecker, Elisabeth Moss, Shahadi Wright Joseph, Evan Alex
Rating: R
Runtime: 120 minutes

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Us clarifies what Get Out implies. Even after only two films, Jordan Peele’s filmmaking seems preconfigured for precision, the Hitchcock comparisons just sitting there, waiting to be shoved between commas, while Peele openly speaks and acts in allusions. Us, like Get Out before it but moreso, wastes nothing: time, film stock, the equally precise capabilities of his actors and crew, real estate in the frame, chance for a gag. If his films are the sum of their influences, that means he’s a smart filmmaker with a lot of ideas, someone who knows how to hone down those ideas into stories that never bloat, though he’s unafraid to confound his audience with exposition or take easy shots—like the film’s final twist—that swell and grow in the mind with meaning the longer one tries to insist, if one were inclined to do so, that what Peele’s doing is easy at all. A family comedy studded with dread, then a home invasion thriller, then a head-on sci-fi horror flick, Us quickly acquaints us with the Wilson family: calming matriarch Adelaide (Lupita Nyong’o), gregarious dad Gabe (Winston Duke), daughter wise beyond her years Zora (Shahadi Wright Joseph) and adorable epitome of the innocent younger brother, Jason (Evan Alex). Though far from shallow, the characters take on archetypal signifiers, whether it’s Zora’s penchant for running or that Gabe’s a big guy whose bulk betrays a softer heart, Peele never spoonfeeding cheap characterizations but just getting us on his wavelength with maximum efficiency. Us isn’t explicitly about race, but it is about humanity’s inherent knack for Othering, for boxing people into narrow perspectives and then holding them responsible for everyone vaguely falling within a Venn diagram. Regardless of how sufficiently we’re able to parse what’s actually going on (and one’s inclined to see the film more than once to get a grip) the images remain, stark and hilarious and horrifying: a child’s burned face, a misfired flare gun, a cult-like spectacle of inhuman devotion, a Tim Heidecker bent over maniacally, walking as if he’s balanced on a thorax, his soul as good as creased. Divorced from context, these moments still speak of absurdity—of witty one-liners paired with mind-boggling horror—of a future in which we’ve so alienated ourselves from ourselves that we’re bound to cut that tether that keeps us together, sooner or later, and completely unravel. We are our undoing. So let the Hitchcock comparisons come. Peele deserves them well enough. Best not to think about it too hard, to not ruin a good thing, to demand that Us be anything more than sublimely entertaining and wonderfully thoughtful, endlessly disturbing genre filmmaking. —Dom Sinacola


17. Eyes Without a Face

eyes-without-a-face-movie-poster.jpg Year: 1959
Director: Georges Franju
Stars: Édith Scob, Pierre Brasseur, Francois Guerin
Rating: NR
Runtime: 91 minutes

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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, in which she donned a seafoam mask, every bit as blank and lacking in expression as Michael Myers’, in the film’s ending. I thought to myself, “Gee, that’d play like gangbusters in a horror movie.” What an idiot I was: Scob had already appeared in that movie, Georges Franju’s Eyes Without a Face, an icy, poetic and yet lovingly made film about a woman and her mad scientist dad, who just wants to kidnap young ladies that share her facial features in hopes of grafting their skin onto her own disfigured mug. (That’s father of the year material right there.) Of course, nothing goes smoothly in the film’s narrative, and the whole thing ends in tears—plus a frenzy of canine bloodlust. Director Franju plays Eyes Without a Face in just the right register, balancing the unnerving, the perverse and the intimate, as the most enduring pulpy horror tales tend to do. 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


18. The Conjuring

conjuring.jpg Year: 2013
Director: James Wan
Stars: Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, Ron Livingston, Lili Taylor
Rating: R
Runtime: 112 minutes

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Let it be known: James Wan is, in any fair estimation, an above average director of horror films at the very least. The progenitor of big money series such as Saw and Insidious has a knack for crafting populist horror that still carries a streak of his own artistic identity, a Spielbergian gift for what speaks to the multiplex audience without entirely sacrificing characterization. Several of his films sit just outside the top 100, if this list were ever to be expanded, but The Conjuring can’t be denied as the Wan representative because it is far and away the scariest of all his feature films. Reminding me of the experience of first seeing Paranormal Activity in a crowded multiplex, The Conjuring has a way of subverting when and where you expect the scares to arrive. Its haunted house/possession story is nothing you haven’t seen before, but few films in this oeuvre in recent years have had half the stylishness that Wan imparts on an old, creaking farmstead in Rhode Island. The film toys with audience’s expectations by throwing big scares at you without standard Hollywood Jump Scare build-ups, simultaneously evoking classic golden age ghost stories such as Robert Wise’s The Haunting. Its intensity, effects work and unrelenting nature set it several tiers above the PG-13 horror against which it was primarily competing. It’s interesting to note that The Conjuring actually did receive an “R” rating despite a lack of overt “violence,” gore or sexuality. It was simply too frightening to deny, and that is worthy of respect. —Jim Vorel


19. Ugetsu

Ugetsu285x400.jpg Year: 1953
Director: Kenji Mizoguchi
Stars: Mitsuko Mito, Masayuki Mori, Eitaro Ozawa, Kinuyo Tanaka
Rating: NR
Runtime: 98 minutes

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During an incredibly prolific point at the end of his career, Kenji Mizoguchi released Ugetsu between The Life of Oharu (1952) and Sansho the Bailiff (1954), only three years before his death. Like in those two films, Mizoguchi set Ugetsu in feudal Japan, using the country’s civil war as a milieu through which he could explore the ways in which ordinary people are kept from seeing to their basest needs, ground instead to dirt by forces far beyond their control. So it goes with two couples: Genjuro (Masayuki Mori), a potter hoping to profit from wartime, and his wife Miyagi (Kinuyo Tanaka); Tobei (Eitaro Ozawa) and Ohama (Mitsuko Mito), who rightly indicts her husband’s dreams of being a well-decorated samurai as foolish, especially considering that Tobei shows no signs of physical mettle, let alone a brain with any sense of militaristic prowess. Ignoring both their wives’ grave concerns and the ecliptic tide of war, the two men set out to make one last big bid for fame and fortune, setting out only to find a country haunted, literally sometimes, by casualties. Ugetsu is a lushly elemental film, epitomized by Mizoguchi’s long takes and aloof mise-en-scene, highlighted the callousness of what he was trying to capture. Seamlessly shifting between ethereal setpieces—the iconic rendezvous between boats, set amidst a hellish waterscape of mist and portent is perhaps the crux around which the film unwinds—and grittier clusterfucks of mass pain in progress, Mizoguchi conjures up a sense of inevitability: No matter how much these characters learn about love or family or themselves, they are doomed. Misery unfolds supernaturally and pointlessly in Ugetsu—so much so that by the time anyone’s noticed that tragedy’s struck, it’s already well-burrowed into the bones of those at its mercy. —Dom Sinacola


20. Wes Craven’s New Nightmare

11. new nightmare (Custom).jpg Year: 1994
Director: Wes Craven
Stars: Robert Englund, Heather Langenkamp, Wes Craven, John Saxon, Miko Hughes
Rating: R
Runtime: 112 minutes

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By 1994, 10 years had passed since the original A Nightmare on Elm Street, and Wes Craven had watched a cavalcade of directors run wild with Freddy Krueger in both good (Dream Warriors) and terrible (Final Nightmare) sequels. When he decided to return to the series, the horror visionary therefore came up with a very “proto-Scream” idea—he set the film in the “real world,” casting himself, Robert Englund and the original film’s “final girl,” Heather Langenkamp, as themselves—movie industry people making yet another Freddy sequel. Except this time, the malevolent spirit of Freddy—or perhaps the idea of Freddy, starts jumping out into the real world. It’s a concept that perfectly encapsulates the idea of memetics and how it’s applied today on the Internet in particular. The actual horror scenes can’t quite match up to the best stuff in parts 1 and 3, but it’s never hurting for imagination. What New Nightmare does do really well is rein in the cartoonishness that the series had drifted into in order to make Freddy more clever (and frightening) once again. By approaching it from a new angle, Craven was able to reclaim some of Nightmare’s tarnished dignity. —Jim Vorel


21. The Invisible Man

invisible-man-2020-movie-poster.jpg Year: 2020
Director: Leigh Whannell
Starring: Elisabeth Moss, Oliver Jackson-Cohen, Harriet Dyer, Aldis Hodge, Storm Reid, Michael Dorman
Rating: R
Runtime: 110 minutes

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Aided by elemental forces, her exquisitely wealthy boyfriend’s Silicon Valley house blanketed by the deafening crash of ocean waves, Cecilia (Elisabeth Moss) softly pads her way out of bed, through the high-tech laboratory, escaping over the wall of his compound and into the car of her sister (Harriet Dyer). We wonder: Why would she run like this if she weren’t abused? Why would she have a secret compartment in their closet where she can stow an away bag? Then Cecilia’s boyfriend appears next to the car and punches in its window. His name is Adrian Griffin (Oliver Jackson-Cohen), and according to Cecilia, Adrian made a fortune as a leading figure in “optics” (OPTICS!) meeting the self-described “suburban girl” at a party a few years before. Never one to be subtle with his themes, Leigh Whannell has his villain be a genius in the technology of “seeing,” in how we see, to update James Whale’s 1933 Universal Monster film—and H.G. Wells’ story—to embrace digital technology as our primary mode of modern sight. Surveillance cameras limn every inch of Adrian’s home; later he’ll use a simple email to ruin Cecilia’s relationship with her sister. He has the money and resources to peer into any corner of Cecilia’s life. His gaze is unbroken. Cecilia knows that Adrian will always find her, and The Invisible Man is rife with the abject terror of such vulnerability. Whannell and cinematographer Stefan Duscio have a knack for letting their frames linger with space, drawing our attention to where we, and Cecilia, know an unseen danger lurks. Of course, we’re always betrayed: Corners of rooms and silhouette-less doorways aren’t empty, aren’t negative, but pregnant with assumption—until they aren’t, the invisible man never precisely where we expect him to be. We begin to doubt ourselves; we’re punished by tension, and we feel like we deserve it. It’s all pretty marvelous stuff, as much a well-oiled genre machine as it is yet another showcase for Elisabeth Moss’s herculean prowess. —Dom Sinacola


22. Häxan

haxan-criterion-cover.jpg Year: 1922
Director: Benjamin Christensen
Stars: Clara Pontoppidan, Maren Pedersen, Oscar Stribolt
Rating: NR
Runtime: 107 minutes

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A truly unique silent film, Häxan is presented as both a historical documentary and a warning against hysteria, but to a modern audience it plays with a confounding blend of genuine horror and humor, both intentional and not. Director Christensen based his depictions of witch trials on the real-life horrors codified in the Malleus Maleficarum, the 15th century “hammer of witches” used by clergy and inquisitors to persecute women and people with mental illness. The dreamlike—make that nightmarish—dramatization of these torture sequences were almost unthinkably extreme for the time, leading to the film’s banning in the U.S. But put simply: There’s iconography in Häxan that grabs hold of you. Puffy-cheeked devils with long tongues lolling lazily out of their mouths. Naked men and women crawling and cavorting in circles of demons, lining up to literally kiss demonic asses. Scenes of torture straight out of Albrecht Dürer woodcuts or Divine Comedy illustrations. The grainy silence of black and white only makes Häxan more otherworldly to watch today—it feels like some kind of bleak Satanic relic that humankind was never supposed to witness. This is one silent film you won’t want on with children in the room.

Häxan is also an oddball testament to one of the enduring qualities of human nature, which is our tendency to be snarky assholes in our appraisal of previous generations. Christensen’s film often points a finger at the “superstitious” and “religious fanatic” persons of 1922 with a modern sense of cynicism and superiority in its implication that society had long since grown past such things. Obviously, almost 100 years later, we know this is not the case: We’re still deeply informed by the dusty trappings of religion and supernatural superstition, just as Christensen’s contemporaries were. Watching Häxan, then, becomes a different kind of warning: to not think too highly of our own sophistication, or make the assumption that we have in some way evolved from what we once were. People, as it turns out, have always been this way, and may always be. —Jim Vorel


23. Vampyr

vampyr-poster.jpg Year: 1932
Director: Carl Theodor Dreyer
Stars: Julian West, Maurice Schultz, Rena Mandel, Jan Hieronimko, Sybille Schmitz, Henriette Gerard
Rating: NR
Runtime: 73 minutes

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While wandering the countryside, a naïve young man with a propensity for the occult stumbles upon a castle where he learns that the owner’s teenage daughter is slowly descending into vampirism. Upon seeing the village doctor trying to poison the girl, the boy intervenes and complications, naturally, ensue. Notable as being one of the few early vampire movies not even passingly based on Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Vampyr nonetheless brought very little joy to its creator, legendary Danish director Carl Theodor Dreyer (he of The Passion of Joan of Arc). Forced to shoot the production in three different languages (French, German and English), Dreyer’s first sound film experience was a proverbial trial by fire. To add salt to the infuriating production, the film was released only after some fairly heavy censoring. The reception was no less brutal, with critics delivering scathing reviews. As the years have passed by and an appreciation for Dreyer has grown, however, so has an appreciation for the film, with many modern critics citing its subversive take on sexuality to be years ahead of its time. Shot with the delicacy and elegance of a dream, Dreyer quickly plunges the viewer into an expressionistic hellscape of shadows and dread. Though it may be a bit slow for some audiences, even with a sparse 73-minute runtime, Vampyr is a intense mood piece that picked up where Nosferatu left off. —Mark Rozeman


24. Hausu

hausu-poster.jpg Year: 1977
Director: Nobuhiko Obayashi
Stars: Kimiko Ikegami, Miki Jinbo, Ai Matubara, Kumiko Oba, Mieko Sato, Eriko Tanaka
Rating: NR
Runtime: 88 minutes

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Oh, how to describe Hausu? Anyone who has seen this crazed Japanese mishmash of horror, comedy and fantasy knows this is no easy task—it’s simultaneously as simple as saying “It’s about some girls who go to a haunted house,” and much more complicated. Hausu has often been described as being “like Jaws, but with a house,” but the comparison isn’t exactly accurate—where Spielberg’s film is classic adventure, Obayashi’s is like a bad acid trip, sporting trippy, day-glo color schemes and mind-bending visuals. Animated cats, disembodied flying heads and stop-motion monsters are all par for the course as Hausu goes for the jugular, seemingly trying to overwhelm the viewer with an all-out assault on the senses. As a piece of modern camp spectacle it’s top tier, but it would be a shame to overlook the genuinely imaginative visual effects and how they would seem to presage the likes of Evil Dead 2 in the years to come. If there’s another film where a woman is eaten by a living, evil piano, I haven’t yet seen it. —Jim Vorel


25. Scream 2

22. scream 2 (Custom).jpg Year: 1997
Director: Wes Craven
Stars: Neve Campbell, Courteney Cox, Sarah Michelle Gellar, David Arquette, Jamie Kennedy, Liev Schreiber
Rating: R
Runtime: 120 minutes

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It was going to be hard to follow up the original Scream for plenty of reasons: Aside from it being one of the more innovative, self-aware horror films in years, Wes Craven killed off all of its bad guys in the final scenes of the movie. Here’s where Scream 2—a respectable follow-up and one that sets the stage for all of the film’s lesser sequels—comes into play. It follows a new string of “ghost face” murders, this time centering around the creation of Stab, a film based upon the Woodsboro murders. As always, the film is painfully critical of the horror movie genre while still scaring the pants off audiences in voice-morphed, quizzical phone calls and Ghost Face pop-ups. It remains the only Scream sequel to approach the original in terms of overall quality, thanks to its ability to turn over new leaves in examining the conventions of film sequels. It was really the only way a Scream sequel ever would have worked. —Tyler Kane


26. Scanners

scanners.jpg Year: 1981
Director: David Cronenberg
Stars: Michael Ironside, Jennifer O’Neill, Stephen Lack, Patrick McGoohan, Lawrence Dane
Rating: R
Runtime: 103 minutes

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Everything to love about David Cronenberg rests squishy and bulging in Scanners—but this is before The Fly, before VIdeodrome, before Dead Ringers, and long before Naked Lunch—and so everything we love about Cronenberg is in Scanners, squishy and bulging and also with the slight gleam of nascent dew. To be sure, the body horror is egregious, and its tension visceral, but the bonus of Scanners is that, still so early in his career, Cronenberg had an obviously dubious time trying to figure out what kind of films he wanted to make. Sci-fi thriller, old-timey cyberpunk, grody procedural—Cronenberg litters his typical themes of transformation and transmutation throughout a story that, at practically any moment, feels like it could turn completely on its head. A head which would then, in a firework of brains and bone, explode—nothing if a gratuitous sign of genius things to come.—Dom Sinacola


27. Blade 2

blade 2 poster (Custom).jpg Year: 2002
Director: Guillermo Del Toro
Stars: Wesley Snipes, Ron Perlman, Leonor Varela, Norman Reedus, Luke Goss
Rating: R
Runtime: 117 minutes

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Leave it to gothic horror extraordinaire Guillermo del Toro to take our unstoppable vampire hunter and crank the style past 11 as he plays up the comic book craziness to the tilt. Arguably even more enjoyable than its predecessor, Blade II sees a fragile alliance between Blade (Wesley Snipes) and the Bloodpack—basically, the Dirty Dozen of vampires—as they face off against Reapers (super-vampires who enjoy them some tasty vampire blood). Not only are there great new characters in the ’pack, but as this is a del Toro joint, there’s 100% more Ron Perlman. Fang-tastic. —Scott Wold


28. Carnival of Souls

carnival of souls poster (Custom).jpg Year: 1962
Director: Herk Harvey
Stars: Candace Hilligoss, Herk Harvey
Rating: PG
Runtime: 80 minutes

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


29. Gremlins

gremlins.jpg Year: 1984
Director: Joe Dante
Stars: Zach Galligan, Phoebe Cates, Hoyt Axton, Polly Holliday, Frances Lee McCain, Dick Miller
Rating: PG
Runtime: 106 minutes

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In the same vein as Die Hard, Joe Dante’s Gremlins is a yearly Christmastime argument waiting to happen: Both are annually tossed onto “best Christmas movie” lists, but when it comes to the latter, at least, those debates often overlook the dark comedy of an expertly crafted ‘80s horror film from Dante at the height of his powers. Taking the lessons he learned as a ‘70s Roger Corman protege, Dante borrows character actors like Dick Miller to create a cynical, biting rebuke of maudlin sentimentality and children’s entertainment. The film’s surprising counterpoint between comedy and graphic violence was a source of consternation that led directly to it being in the early class of genre films that led to the PG-13 rating, but its more important impact was shaping the aesthetic of nearly every horror comedy to come. —Jim Vorel


30. Cronos

cronos-movie-poster.jpg Year: 1993
Director: Guillermo del Toro
Stars: Federico Luppi, Ron Perlman, Claudio Brook, Margarita Isabel, Tamara Shanath
Rating: R
Runtime: 92 minutes

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Even working with a small budget in his first feature film, the vitality of Guillermo Del Toro’s imagination was immediately on full display in Cronos, his Mexican vampire horror drama. Reflecting themes and visual elements that the director has continued to refine in The Devil’s Backbone, Pan’s Labyrinth and Crimson Peak, Cronos is a simply told but visually striking story about an antique shop owner who is slowly and unwittingly transformed into a vampire-like creature after a 450-year-old mechanical device clamps onto his arm and refuses to let go. At first he enjoys the new vitality of the transformation, before other parties come hunting for the device, turning the movie into almost a vampire crime story, as it were. Regardless, Cronos features a very sympathetic vampire at its core, an old man who is simply thrilled by what at first appears to be a new lease on life but eventually requires deadly sacrifices. It’s certainly not Del Toro’s most spellbinding feature, but it was an excellent debut. —Jim Vorel


31. A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master

nightmare-on-elm-4-poster.jpg Year: 1988
Director: Renny Harlin
Stars: Robert Englund, Lisa Wilcox, Danny Hassel, Tuesday Knight
Rating: R
Runtime: 93 minutes

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The Dream Master is the entry where things start to go off the rails for the Nightmare franchise, in ways both appreciably silly and ultimately damaging. If Freddy’s increased humor in Dream Warriors was seen by many as a positive or iconic quality for the character, it’s The Dream Master where it arguably starts to go too far, undercutting any menace that he might have left. On the plus side, however, The Dream Master can boast a final girl who is both compellingly assertive and unexpected, building logically on some of the expanded universe lore established by Dream Warriors, which helps to make it an obvious double feature with the preceding story. The film is also home to some of the series’ best individual kills, which goes a long way—particularly the demise of bug-hating tough girl Debbie, who is turned into a cockroach in a roach motel, in a particularly Kafkaesque sequence of body horror. Although it presages some of the problems the Nightmare series would experience in its lesser sequels to come, The Dream Master also contains some final flashes of bloody brilliance that would sustain the series all the way until Wes Craven’s New Nightmare. —Jim Vorel


32. It

it-2017-poster.jpg Year: 2017
Director: Andy Muschietti
Stars: Jaeden Martell, Bill Skarsgård, Jeremy Ray Taylor, Sophia Lillis, Finn Wolfhard, Wyatt Oleff, Chosen Jacobs, Jack Dylan Grazer
Rating: R
Runtime: 135 minutes

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Whereas the relative disappoint of 2019’s It: Chapter 2 was somewhat expected, given that most readers and horror geeks have always been far more fond of the front half of Stephen King’s novel than the second part of the story starring the Loser’s Club as adults, the sheer, exhilarating success of the first half of Andy Muschietti’s retelling of the story still took the world by surprise. This was the big-budget, beautifully cast and genuinely disturbing take on It that some had thought impossible, driven by a fantastically alien performance by Bill Skarsgård as Pennywise, a “dancing clown” that is hiding a much more unknowable, exotic form of evil than the jokester played by the equally great Tim Curry in the 1990 TV adaptation. Perhaps it’s the strength of King’s elemental story, but everything in this first It film just works, from the camaraderie of the Loser’s Club to their satisfyingly visceral final confrontation with Pennywise—and the film looks great throughout. Sadly, it wouldn’t be able to maintain that momentum in the more staid second half of the story, but it does little to diminish the effectively spooky vibe cast by the 2017 film. Perhaps it’s best to simply treat it as a stand-alone story. —Jim Vorel


33. Blade

blade 1998 poster (Custom).jpg Year: 1998
Director: Stephen Norrington
Stars: Wesley Snipes, Stephen Dorff, Kris Kristofferson, N’Bushe Wright, Donal Logue
Rating: R
Runtime: 120 minutes

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History seems to have forgotten that the modern gold rush of “serious” Marvel comic book movies didn’t begin with Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man in 2002, or even Bryan Singer’s X-Men in 2000. In 1998, screenwriter David Goyer (The Dark Knight Trilogy) and director Stephen Norrington (uhh… The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen), brought a Marvel property to the big screen, and took full advantage of a hard-R rating. Likely because of not being one of the comic giant’s better-known characters, the filmmakers were able to make significant changes to the Daywalker, upping his coolness level since his debut in 1973’s Tomb of Dracula by about, say, a thousand-jillion percent—starting with casting Wesley Snipes, who absolutely crackles with badass-ness. This version of the half-vampire is the ultimate predator or predators who, along with his guru/weaponsmith Whistler (the awesomely grizzled Kris Kristofferson), slices and stakes his way through the secret vampire society. The history of this world’s vampires and their various castes is well-explored—and strangely believable. While they do clandestinely rule from the shadows, they unfortunately are (un)dead meat to our titular dhampir, and look nowhere as stylish wearing shades. —Scott Wold


34. The Brood

the-brood-poster.jpg Year: 1979
Director: David Cronenberg
Stars: Oliver Reed, Samantha Eggar, Art Hindle
Rating: R
Runtime: 92 minutes

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Even by the standards of David Cronenberg, The Brood is a particularly nasty piece of work. This is a meanspirited and misanthropic yarn that blends body horror and science fiction into a new-aged parable of revenge and repressed rage, erupting forth whether we want it to or not. The titular “brood” are a deformed band of what look like dwarf-like children, created not by mad science but new-age psychobabble—a woman turns her latent anger, fear and mental illness into a physical product, which becomes a series of small, psychically linked killer dwarves who are sent out to destroy those who caused her grief. Totally absurd? Oh, 100% accurate, but also just as deeply off putting as you’d expect the work of Cronenberg to be in so many cases. It’s a messed-up metaphor on the destructive power of pent-up bitterness, inspired by Cronenberg’s own rancorous divorce. —Jim Vorel


35. The Frighteners

the-frighteners-poster.jpg Year: 1996
Director: Peter Jackson
Stars: Michael J. Fox, Jeffrey Combs, Trini Alvarado, Peter Dobson, John Astin, Dee Wallace Stone, Jake Busey
Rating: R
Runtime: 110 minutes

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The Frighteners, along with films such as Dead Alive and Heavenly Creatures, make one wonder what kind of career Peter Jackson would have continued having had he not been tapped to bring The Lord of the Rings to life, becoming Hollywood royalty in the process. Few directors have had such a weird knack for horror and gross-out humor as early career Jackson—he’s in a company shared by the likes of early career Sam Raimi in that regard. The Frighteners was his first major film for the North American market, and it’s a weirdo blend of fantasy, horror and comedy that would likely find admiration from the likes of Guillermo Del Toro. Michael J. Fox was a blessing for Jackson to land as the lead; he gives protagonist Frank Bannister his typical charm and inherently likability in what ended up being his last feature-length leading role. It’s a tale of supernatural revenge, and one that benefits from some frenzied character acting from the likes of Jake Busey and a supremely twitchy Jeffrey Combs as an FBI agent who has been pushed far over the brink. If you do watch The Frighteners, be sure to check out the blooper clip of Michael J. Fox repeatedly calling the “Judge” character “Doc!”, to his chagrin. It’s perfectly adorable. —Jim Vorel


36. A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge

nightmare-on-elm-2-poster.jpg Year: 1985
Director: Jack Sholder
Stars: Mark Patton, Robert Englund, Kim Myers, Robert Rusler, Clu Gulager, Hope Lange
Rating: R
Runtime: 87 minutes

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If much of the ’80s slasher boom wrestled with sexual anxiety, A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge is one of the only mainstream horror movies that added queerness to the equation. A rushed sequel without original creator Wes Craven’s input, Freddy’s Revenge breaks the logic of the Nightmare films by having Freddy appear in the real world—killing in dreams is pretty much his whole hook!—but has become a cult classic apart from its franchise legacy based purely on screenwriter David Chaskin’s embrace of the infamous maxim “subtext is for cowards.” Featuring young actor Mark Patton (who had just played a gay character in another film, and was desperate not to be typecast) as Jesse, one of the genre’s few male “Final Girls,” Freddy’s Revenge turns the scarred dream predator into a physical manifestation of Jesse’s conflicted sexuality, and even features a scene where Freddy kills Jesse’s gym teacher in a BDSM-inspired shower scene, not long after Jesse accidentally runs into him at a gay bar. Patton, who is gay in real life, struggled with the film’s legacy, largely leaving acting as a result of the experience, but has embraced Freddy’s Revenge as a queer camp classic in recent years. Rarely has the idea of monstrous desires been made more literal than at the blade-fingered hands of Freddy Krueger’s second outing. —Steve Foxe


37. Doctor Sleep

doctor-sleep-poster.jpg Year: 2019
Director: Mike Flanagan
Stars: Ewan McGregor, Rebecca Ferguson, Kyliegh Curran, Cliff Curtis
Rating: R
Runtime: 152 minutes

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That Doctor Sleep is a sequel to The Shining, adapted from King’s own novel, is almost its undoing. Every beat or reference that hearkens back to Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece has either no narrative purpose or needlessly re-contextualizes a work of art. Do we really need an on-the-nose monologue handholding the audience through Jack Torrence’s motivations behind being an alcoholic? Did we really need to know that the ghosts in The Overlook had the power to cross into the land of the living because then-five-year-old Danny Torrence’s super telekinetic shining midichlorians were so off the roof that the evil spirits fed off of his spiritual essence, referred to as “steam” without a hint of self-aware humor? “Redrum,” the blood torrent from the elevator and various other references are only that; a supporting character’s office is designed to look exactly like the office from the beginning of the original for no discernible reason. A “famous” ghost from The Shining is not only referenced in dialogue, but later shown delivering his catchphrase —just in case you forgot.

When it lays its own path is when Doctor Sleep, well, shines. That is, at least as a schlocktacular bit of horror/adventure goofiness about the adult Danny Torrence (Ewan McGregor) and a teen (Kyleigh Curran) with even more extra supreme shining powers battling a coven of child murderers who stay immortal by ingesting children’s “steam.” As seen in The Haunting of Hill House, writer/director Mike Flanagan knows how to blend spectacle with in-depth character detail, and Rebecca Furguson has a blast imitating an old school Disney villain as the leader of the “steam” addicts. As a Shining sequel, Doctor Sleep is embarrassing. If approached as a standalone batshit crazy Stephen King epic, you can do a whole lot worse. —Oktay Ege Kozak


38. Gremlins 2: The New Batch

gremlins-2-movie-poster.jpg Year: 1990
Director: Joe Dante
Stars: Zack Galligan, Phoebe Cates, John Glover, Robert Prosky
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 107 minutes

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Joe Dante didn’t want to make a sequel to Gremlins. The first film exhausted him and was wrapped up so nicely, he didn’t see a need to carry the story forward. The studio, however, refused to give up and, out of desperation, gave him complete creative control. They sure got what they paid for, as the cult classic sequel throws absolutely everything at the viewer with zero interest in whether it will stick or not. It’s a slapstick comedy wrapped up in cartoonish violence and some sharp-edged satire about corporations and capitalism. Oh, and there’s a cameo by Hulk Hogan to boot. —Robert Ham


39. Prometheus

prometheus-poster.jpg Year: 2012
Director: Ridley Scott
Stars: Noomi Rapace, Michael Fassbender, Guy Pearce, Idris Elba, Logan Marshall-Green, Charlize Theron
Rating: R
Runtime: 124 minutes

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Years after its initial release, fans of Ridley Scott and the Alien franchise seem to have come to peace with Prometheus, at least to some extent. Suffice to say, when it was released in 2012 the film simply wasn’t the deep dive into Alien mythos that many fans were hoping for—rather, Scott was more interesting in telling a religious allegory about man’s search (and eventually A.I.’s search) for meaning in a cold, indifferent universe. Visually, the film remains impressive, and it deserves some credit for tackling weighty themes within the structure of what could easily have been written as a dumb action movie (‘ala Alien: Covenant), but it also regularly undermines itself with poorly written characters who behave in some of the most illogical ways imaginable. What you’re left with is a big, jumbled mess of interesting ideas and interesting characters, particularly Fassbender as the instantly iconic android David, but a lack of cohesion. The film feels pulled in multiple directions at once, but it probably didn’t deserve every bit of the scorn it received from many genre geeks. —Jim Vorel


40. A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child

nightmare-on-elm-5-poster.jpg Year: 1989
Director: Stephen Hopkins
Stars: Lisa Wilcox, Robert Englund, Kelly Jo Minter, Danny Hassel
Rating: R
Runtime: 90 minutes

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There were plenty of horror fans deriding the Nightmare on Elm Street series for jumping the shark after The Dream Child, but compared with Final Nightmare there’s much more that can be salvaged here. This is a Nightmare entry of peaks and troughs, high points and low. It brings back Alice, the final girl of the previous installment, once again portrayed by Lisa Wilcox, but her character feels like a shell of her assertive former self, which is a shame after a solid outing in The Dream Master. Instead, the story literally turns inward, as the plot revolves around Freddy’s attempt to feed souls into and thereby possess the spirit of Alice’s unborn child. This likewise leads to a loosening of the established “dream rules” that is somewhat kayfabe-breaking, making the implication that Freddy can, for instance, attack people during the daytime when the unborn baby is asleep. On the other hand, The Dream Child can boast some of the series’ grossest individual deaths, with the most famous highlight being the force-feeding death of Greta, who distends in unrealistic (but weirdly disturbing) makeup that recalls Eraserhead in particular. These bits save the film from the bottom of the barrel, but any headway it occasionally manages to make with well-shot nightmare sequences is undone by the intense focus on Freddy’s backstory and mother, an overwrought mythology that manages to even undermine Amanda Krueger’s previous involvement in A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors. Ultimately, Dream Child is one of the most unfocused entries in the series—occasionally pretty to look at, but bereft of effective characters and confused as hell in its internal logic. It’s ambitiously loony. —Jim Vorel


41. The Blob

the-blob-1958-poster.jpg Year: 1956
Director: Irvin Yeaworth
Stars: Steve McQueen, Aneta Corsaut, Earl Rowe, Olin Howland
Rating: NR
Runtime: 86 minutes

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Alternatingly described as either a parable on creeping Communism or simply a good excuse for some necking at the drive-in, 1958’s The Blob fits neatly regardless into the era of atomic monster creature features that began roughly with 1954’s Them!. It has elements of the “us vs. them” counterculture films to come, with its “teen” characters (Steve McQueen was 27 at the time) being the immediate suspects of civil unrest according to local law enforcement, rather than the gelatinous alien blob slithering around town. It was made for a pittance of a budget, but the special effects hold up surprisingly well even today, especially in the iconic sequence in which The Blob attacks a “Midnight Spook Show” theater full of the target demographic. Still, in the years that followed, the film was likely best remembered for spawning Burt Bacharach’s novelty hit “Beware the Blob,” until Chuck Russell’s slick 1988 remake infused it with a whole new level of gross-out gory violence. Both films capture the same justified teenage fear of authority; the choice is only a matter of how viscerally you want to watch someone’s face get dissolved. —Jim Vorel


42. Twilight Zone: The Movie

twilight-zone-movie-poster.jpg Year: 1983
Director: John Landis, Steven Spielberg, Joe Dante, George Miller
Stars: Dan Aykroyd, Albert Brooks, Scatman Crothers, John Lithgow, Vic Morrow, Kathleen Quinlan
Rating: PG
Runtime: 101 minutes

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A true poster child for the concept of a “mixed reaction,” cultural opinion of Twilight Zone: The Movie is a rare instance of a film whose assessment has remained in flux for almost 40 years at this point. Too often, discussion of the film simply returns to the tragic helicopter accident that claimed the lives of three people, including actor Vic Morrow, and the subsequent lawsuits involving director John Landis, leaving no time for assessment of how the film attempted to modernize several classic Twilight Zone episodes from the visionary Rod Serling. In truth, the film is as variable in quality as TZ so often was itself—perhaps unexpectedly, the superstar directors in the group (Spielberg and Landis) turn in weaker segments, while Joe Dante and George Miller rescue the endeavor with their renditions of “It’s a Good Life” and “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet.” The latter in particular can’t be denied, as Jonathan Lithgow turns in a hair-raising performance as the panicked passenger who can’t get anyone to believe there’s a gremlin on the wing of the plane. It’s a stylish rendition of a classic story, fully adapted to 1980s horror sensibilities. —Jim Vorel


43. The Girl With All the Gifts

girl-with-all-gifts-poster.jpg Year: 2016
Director: Colm McCarthy
Stars: Gemma Arterton, Paddy Considine, Glenn Close, Sennia Nanua
Rating: R
Runtime: 111 minutes

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M.R. Carey’s novel The Girl With All the Gifts plays coy with its zombie (or “hungries,” as they’re called here) trappings, drawing readers in for dozens of pages before revealing its flesh-eating premise. The film adaptation, released last year in the U.K. before making its U.S. debut in February, bares its teeth right away. If viewers aren’t burnt out on zombie offerings (and they shouldn’t be, with such recent standouts as 2016’s Korean hit Train to Busan proving that the genre has plenty of life left in it), they’ll find that The Girl With All the Gifts is less concerned with the initial overwhelming outbreak than with the moral lines survivors in the military and scientific community are willing to cross. Director Colm McCarthy, working from a screenplay by Carey himself, doesn’t skimp on the swarming carnage, often rendering attacks in brutal, fully lit scenes, but the most frightening tension comes from a menacing, single-minded Glenn Close as a scientist with few scruples. Young actress Sennia Nanua as Melanie, the “hungry” most in control of her impulses, gives the crowded zombie genre one of its only truly heroic performances, enshrining The Girl With All the Gifts as the bloody heir to George Romero’s misunderstood-at-the-time classic Day of the Dead. —Steve Foxe


44. Open Water

open-water-poster.jpg Year: 2003
Director: Chris Kentis
Stars: Blanchard Ryan, Daniel Travis, Saul Stein
Rating: R
Runtime: 79 minutes

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Open Water is just about the most simplistic and effective horror premise there is—you’re stranded in a place that is completely alien and inhospitable to human life, and you have no idea what to do about it. To be left behind by a scuba diving boat, as the protagonists here are, is the ultimate oceanic nightmare—not only are they now exposed to the elements, they don’t even have the faintest idea of which way they might somehow go to reach land. And that’s not even raising the spectre of the sharks, who begin circling shortly thereafter. It’s the ultimate cinematic portrayal of sheer, utter powerlessness—if the sharks decide that you’re dying today, then what are you reasonably planning on doing about it? A masked killer might be overcome. The entire ocean? Good luck with that. —Jim Vorel


45. Annabelle Comes Home

annabelle-comes-home-poster.jpg Year: 2019
Director: Gary Dauberman
Stars: Mckenna Grace, Madison Iseman, Katie Sarife, Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson
Rating: R
Runtime: 106 minutes

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After five years and seven films, the Conjuring franchise has developed a glossy house style and nearly exhausted its repertoire of scares. There are, it turns out, only so many ways to make the same setups frightening: ghosts popping out of unlit corners to scare the willies out of unsuspecting humans, ghosts appearing right in front of unsuspecting humans who have just cast a cautious glance over their shoulders, ghosts gliding about in the background of a shot, ghosts stalking past windows and through walls in 360 arcs. Each tactic gets deployed with the same deliberate care in each movie, but the craftsmanship isn’t the issue. The routine is. So props to Annabelle Comes Home, the latest chapter in the Conjuring expanded universe and the third film to center on the creepy doll of the title, for playing all of the series’ hits with gusto. Compared to its predecessors in its spin-off trilogy, to The Nun, the disastrous lead-off for a second spin-off, to The Curse of La Llorona, and to The Conjuring 2, Annabelle Comes Home is lively, energetic and even fun. “Fun” is what most of these movies aspire to be: They’re carnival rides built to entertain, uniting audiences in shared terrified delight. But that funhouse energy fluctuates in each entry. Their common flaw is inconsistency. Annabelle Comes Home remains a hoot from start to finish. —Andy Crump


46. Freddy vs. Jason

freddy-vs-jason-poster.jpg Year: 2002
Director: Ronny Yu
Stars: Monica Keena, Kelly Rowland, Jason Ritter, Chris Marquette, Lochlyn Munro, Robert Englund
Rating: R
Runtime: 98 minutes

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Freddy vs. Jason really isn’t much of a movie. The plot is a convoluted mess of contradictions to previous films in both series (Jason is afraid of water now?), and the human characters in the center of it are uniformly unmemorable. In fact, the film manages the odd feat of being considerably more Freddy-centric in terms of plot, while feeling much more like a Friday the 13th entry in terms of characters and kills. The early 2000s time period doesn’t do it any favors in the nostalgia or visual department, and it takes a while to put all of its pieces into motion.

HOWEVER. Once the promised “Freddy vs. Jason” interactions actually get going in earnest, many of the film’s other failings begin to seem inconsequential. The battle between these two slasher kingpins is awesomely, titanically stupid—and it truly is the very best kind of “stupid.” From its beginnings in the dream realm, where Freddy obviously holds the upper hand, to its eyeball-stabbing, arm-ripping conclusion in reality, the last 20 minutes or so of Freddy vs. Jason represents some of the best horror movie wish-fulfillment you’re ever going to see in a feature film. There’s nothing complex or particularly triumphant about it from an artistic standpoint; it’s more like the contents of a fanfic come to life, the slasher movie equivalent to a kaiju movie with two giant monsters trampling Tokyo. It’s impossible not to chuckle with bemusement, at the very least. It’s almost enough to make us wish we saw the Round 2 sequel promised by the cheekily winking decapitated head of Krueger in the final scene—the last time that Englund has portrayed the character to date. If he never does return, it was at least a better ending for Freddy than Final Nightmare, that’s for sure. —Jim Vorel


47. Alien Resurrection

alien-resurrection-poster.jpg Year: 1997
Director: Jean-Pierre Jeunet
Stars: Sigourney Weaver, Winona Ryder, Ron Perlman, Brad Dourif, Dan Hedaya, J. E. Freeman, Michael Wincott
Rating: R
Runtime: 109 minutes

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The strangest entry in the original “Alien Quadrilogy” is undoubtedly Alien Resurrection, the rare instance of a notable American franchise being handed to a European art film director and simply hoping for the best. Jean-Pierre Jeunet was known for wildly imaginative, artistically flamboyant films such as City of Lost Children, so it takes quite a stretch to conceive of how producers might have looked at his work and thought “Hey, this guy should take a crack at the xenomorphs.” Regardless, the entry pushes the tone of the series in a VERY different direction from the ultra-dour Alien 3, infusing it with a new focus on genealogy to go with the standard body horror. Sigourney Weaver is back of course, despite being killed off a film earlier, only this time she’s been super-powered with alien DNA. The visual style of Resurrection reads completely differently from any of the entries that came before, full of intense zooms and canted angles, and the characters are given a technocratic, almost steampunk-like makeover. The story and tone swing wildly between action, comedy and biological horror, but there’s something weirdly engrossing about the whole affair—especially a batshit insane Brad Dourif cooing at the “beautiful baby” alien-human hybrid. Resurrection can be messy, but it has no shortage of wild ideas. —Jim Vorel


48. Friday the 13th

friday-13-2009-poster.jpg Year: 2009
Director: Marcus Nispel
Stars: Jared Padalecki, Danielle Panabaker, Aaron Yoo, Amanda Righetti, Travis Van Winkle, Derek Mears
Rating: R
Runtime: 97 minutes

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The 2009 remake of Friday the 13th simultaneously delivered as loving a tribute to the F13 series as one could reasonably expect, and highlighted exactly why that sort of tribute has trouble standing on its own outside of the golden era of slasher movies in the early 1980s. The pieces are here—the blood and guts, the extremely gratuitous nudity, the idiot characters—but as with other Platinum Dunes horror remakes of the era (especially 2010’s Nightmare on Elm Street), the film has no ideas of its own to contribute. It comes off as simply a string of finger-pointing moments, begging the viewer to “remember this?”, while executing most of those moments in ways far less satisfying than the first four Friday the 13th movies it’s using as inspiration. Even the action feels muddy and poorly lit in a way that was never problematic in the original run of the series. It’s a film that sought to please fans of the series who came armed with the lowest of expectations. —Jim Vorel


49. Jaws 2

jaws 2 poster (Custom).jpg Year: 1978
Director: Jeannot Szwarc
Stars: Roy Scheider, Lorraine Gary, Murray Hamilton
Rating: PG
Runtime: 116 minutes

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Jaws 2, even more than most sequels, suffers in comparison to the original classic it follows despite being a competent film in its own right. It was a different time in film promotion—even for a blockbuster, a sequel wasn’t a forgone conclusion, and even then you weren’t likely to be working with a comparable budget. Jaws 2 didn’t hurt for funding, but it did miss the presence of Steven Spielberg, whose empathy and pathos for everyman characters can’t quite be replicated, even by the returning cast. Too many aspects of Jaws 2 simply ring hollow—would it really be THAT hard to convince local government and law enforcement that another shark was around, only a couple of years after the events of the first film? Must we really spend our time with the townspeople demonizing poor Brody for trying to bring this shark business to the forefront once again? Still, the grisly shark attack scenes of Jaws 2 (especially the iconic waterskiing bit, or the shark-destroyed helicopter) are much closer to being on par with the original, and they vastly outstrip the shoddy, budget-limited dreck in Jaws 3-D or Jaws: The Revenge. On its own, Jaws 2 is perfectly serviceable … but it’s the last entry in the series you could ever describe as such, and the last worthwhile “shark movie” released for a decade or more. —Jim Vorel


50. Troll 2

troll-2-poster.jpg Year: 1990
Director: Claudio Fragasso
Stars: Michael Stephenson, George Hardy, Margo Prey, Connie McFarland
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 94 minutes

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If a film has inspired a documentary about it detailing exactly what went wrong, you know you’re probably dealing with a special commodity. For Troll 2, that film was 2010’s Best Worst Movie, a reexamination of how an Italian schlockmeister named Claudio Fragasso visited Utah in 1989 and managed to shoot a low-budget horror flick about vegetarian goblins (there aren’t any trolls in the film) despite barely speaking English. Some of it is hard to believe, such as the idea that casting a local dentist with no acting experience in one of the major roles would work out fine. The final film barely looks real. It feels like some kind of elaborate practical joke played on the viewer, like at any moment the director will show up at your door and say “We really had you going, didn’t we?” My favorite scene may be the trip to the general store, which features a shopkeep played by an actor who was apparently on a day trip from a local mental institution. It’s mind-blowing stuff. —Jim Vorel

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