The 60 Best Horror Movies on Amazon Prime Video Right Now (2021)

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The 60 Best Horror Movies on Amazon Prime Video Right Now (2021)

After drawing up huge rankings of the best horror movies on Netflix and the best horror movies on Hulu, it’s safe to say we’ve gotten used to the challenge of diving through the refuse of a streaming service and searching for the gems. But we’ve never really experienced a library with just as much junk and treasure in it as the Amazon library. If you’ve been paying attention, then you know this is only compounded by the fact that the “browse” function on Amazon Video is completely and utterly broken.

That said, Amazon subscribers have access to a wealth of riches, many of them hiding in plain sight. Slowly but surely, they’ve built what is truly the biggest and most comprehensive horror library of all the majors—except perhaps for genre-specific services like Shudder. The trick is realizing those movies are there at all. Sure, it’s no surprise that Midsommar or The Lighthouse are now on Amazon Prime, given their relatively recent releases. But did you know Amazon Prime was loaded with classic Italian giallo movies like Deep Red, Opera and Blood and Black Lace? Or more obscure 1980s slashers than you can wave a machete at? There are all sorts of great movies here, which have made us expand the scope of this list all the way to 70.

Therefore, fall back on our list of films that are worth your time for one reason or another—just don’t expect to find them via browsing.

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


Here are the 70 best horror movies on Amazon Prime:

1. Let the Right One In

3. let the right one in (Custom).jpg Year: 2008
Director: Tomas Alfredson
Stars: Kåre Hedebrant, Lina Leandersson, Per Ragnar, Ika Nord, Peter Carlberg
Rating: R
Runtime: 114 minutes

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Vampires may have become cinema’s most overdone, watered-down horror villains, aside from zombies, but leave it to a Swedish novelist and filmmaker to reclaim frightening vampires by producing a novel and film that turned the entire genre on its head. Let the Right One In centers around the complicated friendship and quasi-romantic relationship between 12-year-old outcast Oskar and Eli, a centuries-old vampire trapped in the body of an androgynous (although ostensibly female) child who looks his same age. As Oskar slowly works his way into her life, drawing ever-closer to the role of a classical vampire’s human “familiar,” the film questions the nature of their bond and whether the two can ever possibly commune on a level of genuine love. At the same time, it’s also a chilling, very effective horror film whenever it chooses to be, especially in the absolutely spectacular final sequences, which evoke Eli’s terrifying abilities with just the right touch of obstruction to leave the worst of it in the viewer’s imagination. The film received an American remake in 2010, Let Me In, which has been somewhat unfairly derided by film fans sick of the remake game, but it’s another solid take on the same story that may even improve upon a few small aspects of the story. Ultimately, though, the Swedish original is still the superior film thanks to the strength of its two lead performers, who vault it up to become perhaps the best vampire movie ever made. —Jim Vorel


2. The Descent

the-descent-poster.jpg Year: 2005
Director: Neil Marshall
Stars: Shauna Macdonald, Natalie Mendoza, Alex Reid, Saskia Mulder, MyAnna Buring, Nora-Jane Noone
Rating: R
Runtime: 100 minutes

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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 all these years later. But ah, how The Descent transcends its one-sentence synopsis. The film’s first half is deliberately crafted to fill in the personalities of its group of women, while slowly and almost imperceptibly ratcheting up the sense of dread and foreboding. As the characters descend deeper into the cave, passageways get tighter and the audience can feel the claustrophobia and dankness creeping into their bones—and that’s before we even see any of the resident troglodytes. Neil 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


3. 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


4. Nosferatu

nosferatu poster (Custom).jpg Years: 1922
Directors: F.W. Murnau
Stars: Max Schreck, Gustav von Wangenheim, Greta Schröder, Alexander Granach, Ruth Landshoff, Wolfgang Heinz
Rating: N/A
Runtime: 94 minutes

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


5. The Wicker Man

the wicker man poster (Custom).jpg Year: 1973
Director: Robin Hardy
Stars: Christopher Lee, Edward Woodward, Britt Ekland, Ingrid Pitt, Diane Cilento
Rating: R
Runtime: 87 minutes

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The original Wicker Man, a British film released in 1976, was a uniquely new kind of horror tale, using haunting cinematography and a deeply creepy soundtrack to explore gender politics and sexuality, 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 should be regarded as among the most shocking of its era. —Danielle Ryan


6. Les Diaboliques

les diaboliques poster (Custom).jpg Year: 1955
Director: Henri-Georges Clouzot
Stars: Simone Signoret, Véra Clouzot, Paul Meurisse, Charles Vanel
Rating: N/A
Runtime: 114 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


7. The Wailing

the-wailing.jpg Year: 2016
Director: Na Hong-jin
Stars: Kwak Do-won, Hwang Jung-min, Chun Woo-hee
Rating: NR
Runtime: 156 minutes

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The U.S. title of Na Hong-jin’s new film, The Wailing, suggests tone more than it does sound. There is wailing to be heard here, yes, and plenty of it, but in two words Na coyly predicts his audience’s reaction to the movie’s grim tableaus of a county in spiritual strife. Na trades in doubt and especially despair more than in what we think of as “horror.” He isn’t out to terrify us. He’s out to corrode our souls, much in the same way that his protagonist’s faith is corroded after being subject to both divine and infernal tests over the course of the film. The Wailing unfolds in Gokseong County, an agricultural community nestled among South Korea’s southern provinces. It’s a lovely, bucolic setting that Na and his cinematographer, the incredible Hong Kyung-pyo, take fullest advantage of aesthetically and thematically. The hushed serenity blanketing The Wailing’s opening images creates an atmosphere of peace that Na is all too happy to subvert (similar to how he subverts Bible verses). The film’s first full sequence shatters the calm as Sergeant Jeon Jong-gu (Kwak Do-won, turning in a knockout performance) is called to the scene of a savage multiple murder. When Jong-gu shows up, all is bedlam; people are screaming and crying, emergency workers litter the area like ants at a gory picnic, and the killer sits in a stupor, unaware of neither the mayhem nor the vicious boils coating their skin. This is an incredibly creepy and oft-unsettling film, but Na finds the tug of disbelief far more upsetting than the sight of bodies cut apart and blood splattering the wall. What do you do when your holy authority figures fail you? What do you do when you can’t trust your perception? Na has made these ideas, though hardly new in the horror canon, his film’s full purpose, and his conclusions are devastatingly bleak. When The Wailing arrives at its final, spectacular half hour, you’ll vow never to ask these questions about your own life, ever. You may not leave the theater scared, but you will leave it scarred, which is by far a more substantive response than naked fear. —Andy Crump


8. Starry Eyes

starry eyes poster (Custom).jpg Year: 2014
Director: Kevin Kölsch
Stars: Alexandra Essoe, Amanda Fuller, Noah Segan
Rating: N/A
Runtime: 98 minutes

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


9. Hellraiser

12. hellraiser (Custom).jpg Year: 1987
Director: Clive Barker
Stars: Andrew Robinson, Clare Higgins, Ashley Laurence
Rating: R
Runtime: 93 minutes

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The head villain/eventual hero (there’s a sickening number of terrible Hellraiser sequels) behind Clive Barker’s Hellraiser franchise is the Cenobite Pinhead, sent from the pits of his own personal hell dimension to drag you down into the depths with him. Where he tortures you. For eternity. All because you opened a fancy Rubik’s Cube. Pinhead has zero remorse, looking you dead in the eye as he delivers a deadpan promise to “tear your soul apart.” Oh yeah, and the Cenobites are indestructible. Personally, it turned me off to puzzle boxes forever. As in his fiction, Barker’s obsessions with the duality of pain and pleasure are on full display in Hellraiser, an icky story of sick hate and sicker love. —Rachel Haas


10. Tucker & Dale vs. Evil

tucker and dale vs evil poster.jpg Year: 2010
Director: Eli Craig
Stars: Tyler Labine, Alan Tudyk, Katrina Bowden, Jesse Moss
Rating: R
Runtime: 89 minutes

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Let’s face it, hillbillies and their ilk have been getting the short end of the pitchfork in movies since the strains of banjo music faded in 1972’s Deliverance. And whether due to radiation (The Hills Have Eyes) or just good old determined inbreeding (Wrong Turn and so, so many films you’re better off not knowing about), the yokel-prone in film have really enjoyed slaughtering innocent families on vacation, travelers deficient in basic map usage skills, and, best of all, sexually active college students just looking for a good time. But fear not, members of Hillbillies for Inclusion, Consideration & Kindness in Screenplays (HICKS)—writer/director Eli Craig has your hairy, unloofahed back. His film, Tucker & Dale vs. Evil, answers the simple question: What if those hillbillies are just socially awkward fellows sprucing up a vacation home and the young college kids in question are just prone to repeatedly jumping to incorrect, often fatal, conclusions? Think Final Destination meets the Darwin Awards. —Michael Burgin


11. The Lighthouse

lighthouse-movie-poster.jpg Year: 2019
Director: Robert Eggers
Stars: Robert Pattinson, Willem Dafoe, Valeriia Karaman
Rating: R
Runtime: 110 minutes

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Sometimes a film is so bizarre, so elegantly shot and masterfully performed, that despite its helter-skelter pace and muddled messaging I can’t help but fall in love with it. So it was with the latest film by Robert Eggers. An exceptional, frightening duet between Robert Pattinson and Willam Dafoe, The Lighthouse sees two sailors push one another to the brink of absolute madness, threatening to take the audience with them. Fresh off the sea, Thomas Wake (Dafoe) and Ephraim Winslow (Pattinson) arrive at the isolated locale and immediately get to work cleaning, maintaining and fixing up their new home. Everything comes in twos: two cups, two plates, two bowls, two beds. The pair work on the same schedule every day, only deviating when Thomas decides something different needs Ephraim’s attention. Like newlyweds sharing meals across from one another each morning and every evening, the men begin to develop a relationship. It takes a long time for either of the men to speak. They’re both accustomed to working long days in relative silence. They may not possess the inner peace of a Zen monk, but their thought processes are singular and focused. Only the lighthouse and getting back to the mainland matters. Eggers uses the sound of the wind and the ocean to create a soundscape of harsh conditions and natural quarantine. The first words spoken invoke a well-worn prayer, not for a happy life, or a fast workday, but to stave off death. A visceral ride, The Lighthouse explores man’s relationship to the sea, specifically through the lens of backbreaking labor. Thomas and Ephraim’s relationship is like a Rorschach test. At times they are manager and worker, partners, enemies, father and son, competitors, master and pet, and victim and abuser. In many ways Eggers’ latest reminds of Last Tango in Paris, which explored a similar unhealthy relationship dynamic. Just as captivating, The Lighthouse shines. —Joelle Monique


12. Alice, Sweet Alice

alice sweet alice poster (Custom).jpg Year: 1976
Director: Alfred Sole
Stars: Linda Miller, Mildred Clinton, Paula Sheppard, Niles McMaster, Brooke Shields
Rating: R
Runtime: 108 minutes

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Alice, Sweet Alice is one of the most fascinating proto-slashers, arriving after the limited exposure of 1974’s Black Christmas but before Halloween rooted slasher conventions indelibly in the American psyche. It’s a film that wears its inspirations on its sleeve, whether it’s the Psycho poster that shows up in one scene or the many, many visual flourishes and motifs that seem to draw comparison to the films of Dario Argento and Mario Bava—particularly Argento’s Deep Red. In fact, Alice, Sweet Alice could rightly be called one of the most giallo-esque American films ever made, fusing a seeming obsession/fetishization with Catholic dogma into a murder mystery whodunit that does not skimp on the arterial spray. The story concerns a young girl who is murdered by a mysterious, masked killer during her first communion, leading to suspicion falling on the girl’s older, jealous sister, Alice. Is Alice a budding psychopath? Or is she surrounded by them on all sides? Alice, Sweet Alice features a collection of some truly loathsome characters, from the morbidly obese, cat-obsessed landlord of her building to her shrill aunt, who detests Alice’s very guts. Moody, melodramatic and genuinely chilling in some of its quiet, stalker-ish moments, Alice, Sweet Alice runs the gamut from emotionally harrowing to violently perverse. —Jim Vorel


13. Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon

behind the mask poster (Custom).jpg Year: 2006
Director: Scott Glosserman
Stars: Nathan Baesel, Angela Goethals, Kate Lang Johnson, Robert Englund, Scott Wilson, Zelda Rubinstein
Rating: R
Runtime: 92 minutes

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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, 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, such as “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. It’s one of the most creative indie horror films of the 2000s, and despite a lack of star power, 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. —Jim Vorel


14. Deep Red

deep red poster (Custom).jpg Year: 1975
Director: Dario Argento
Stars: David Hemmings, Daria Nicolodi, Macha Meril, Eros Pagni, Giuliana Calandra
Rating: R
Runtime: 126 minutes

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Dario Argento movies would be exceedingly easy to pick out of a police lineup, because when you add all of his little quirks together they form an instantly iconic style—essentially the literal definition of auteur theory. Deep Red is one of those films that simply couldn’t have been made by anyone else—Mario Bava could have tried, but it wouldn’t have the instantly iconic soundtrack by Argento collaborators Goblin, nor the drifting, eccentric camerawork that constantly makes you question whether you’re seeing the killer’s POV or not. The story is a classic giallo whodunit: Following the brutal murder of a German psychic, a music teacher who lives in her building starts putting the pieces together to solve the mystery, uncovering a tragic family history. Along the way, anyone who gets close to the answer gets a meat cleaver to the head from a mysterious assailant in black leather gloves. Except for the ones who die in much worse, more gruesome ways. Argento has a real eye for what is physically disconcerting to watch—he somehow makes scenes that are “standard” for the horror genre much more grisly and uncomfortable than one would think, simply reading a description. In Argento’s hands, a slashing knife becomes a paintbrush. —Jim Vorel


15. We Need to Talk About Kevin

we-need-to-talk-about-kevin-australian-poster.jpg Year: 2012
Director: Lynne Ramsay
Stars: Tilda Swinton, John C. Reilly, Ezra Miller
Rating: R
Runtime: 112 minutes

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We Need To Talk About Kevin concerns the experience of a mother (Tilda Swinton) struggling with the aftermath of a school massacre carried out by her son (Ezra Miller). In its narrative construction, it draws upon two key tropes: that of the “whydunnit” thriller, in which the mystery of the perpetrator’s motivations are a driving factor, and that of the family horror, in which some dark element tears a traditional household apart. Indeed, the real horror is not that a teenager chose total negation over the banality of normative family life—it’s that these appeared to be the only two choices available. Tilda Swinton is brilliant in the starring role as a mother who grapples with guilt about what her son has done and reflects on his childhood, wondering what, if anything, could possibly have been done differently when one gives birth to a “bad seed.” The heartbreaking nature of the film is perfectly encapsulated by the scene wherein Kevin as a child briefly drops his sociopathic tendencies while ill, giving Swinton’s character a brief chance to feel like a cherished mother, only to emotionally shut her out again as soon as his physical health returns, dashing her hopes that some kind of breakthrough had been made. —Donal Foreman


16. The Monster Squad

the monster squad poster (Custom).jpg Year: 1987
Director: Fred Dekker
Stars: André Gower, Robby Kiger, Duncan Regehr, Stephen Macht, Stan Shaw, Tom Noonan
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 82 minutes

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There’s really only one word for The Monster Squad: “Fun.” For lovers of Halloween, lovers of classic horror, lovers of the Universal monster movies, the film is simply a joy. The mere idea of such a club—a bunch of preteen kids hanging out in a treehouse and devoting their time to Frankenstein and the Wolf-Man—makes me want to step into a de-aging machine so I can put in my application. Sometimes described as being like “The Goonies with monsters,” that’s really not a bad way to sum it up. There’s a colorful energy in the script by Lethal Weapon’s Shane Black, and a definite adult streak that makes this film just as enjoyable today as it was in the late ‘80s. Directed by Fred Dekker, who was also responsible for the much more adult, gory/funny 1986 classic Night of the Creeps, it follows this band of child adventurers as they oppose the evil plans of Dracula and his various monster minions—The Mummy, The Creature from the Black Lagoon, etc, etc. It treads an expert line between adventure, humor and light scares. It’s the perfect Halloween party movie, especially for nostalgic ‘80s and ‘90s kids. —Jim Vorel


17. We Are Still Here

we are still here poster (Custom).jpg Year: 2015
Director: Ted Geoghegan
Stars: Barbara Crampton, Andrew Sensening, Larry Fessenden, Lisa Marie, Monte Markham
Rating: N/A
Runtime: 84 minutes

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The film is a Lucio Fulci throwback, though that word does the Italian director’s work a slight disservice. We Are Still Here doesn’t bother covering up its roots, either. Like the specters that haunt Geoghegan’s protagonists, the presence of the Italian maestro can be felt in each of We Are Still Here’s frames. But there’s homage, and then there’s lazy homage, and Geoghegan has made the former—though in fairness his influences range from Fulci to Dan Curtis and Stuart Rosenberg. Geoghegan has even called on H.P. Lovecraft to supply his fictional setting. We Are Still Here does not lack for pedigree. It’s traditional in the horror genre that running away from personal tragedy tends to beget more personal tragedy. So, when Anne (Barbara Crampton) and Paul (Andrew Sensenig) Sacchetti move from “the city” to Aylesbury, Massachusetts after the death of their college-aged son, Bobby, they shack up in a century-old farmhouse so isolated that their new neighbors don’t notice anybody’s home for a whole two weeks. While Anne is wrapped up in the fantods, Paul tries stoically to assuage his wife’s grief (as well as his own) without tipping off his incredulity over her claims that she can “feel” Bobby in the house with them. We Are Still Here’s first half feels like a slow burn in comparison to its second, where all hell is erumpent and cinematographer Karim Hussain frantically but steadily sprints from one room to the next, capturing as much peripheral carnage as possible. In a lesser film, Geoghegan’s climax would be a signal to the viewer to wake up. In We Are Still Here, it provides an unexpected burst of escalated, gory furor. But Geoghegan handles the transition smoothly, from the story of running away from tragedy We Are Still Here begins as to the bloodbath it becomes. There’s no sense of baiting or switching; the director flirts with danger confidently throughout. Plus, there’s that New England winter to add an extra layer of despair. The elements forebode and forbid in equal measure. The weather outside is frightful … and the carbonized wraiths in the basement even more so. In the end, this is one haunted house that won’t be denied. —Andy Crump


18. Society

society-movie-poster.jpg Year: 1989
Director: Brian Yuzna
Stars: Billy Warlock, Devin DeVasquez, Evan Richards, Ben Meyerson
Rating: R
Runtime: 99 minutes

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Society is perhaps what you would have ended up with in the earlier ’80s if David Cronenberg had a more robust sense of humor. Rather, this bizarre deconstruction of Reagan-era yuppiehood came from Brian Yuzna, well-known to horror fans for his partnership with Stuart Gordon, which produced the likes of Re-Animator and From Beyond…and eventually Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, believe it or not. Society is a weird film on every level, a feverish descent into what may or may not be paranoia when a popular high school guy begins questioning whether his family members (and indeed, the entire town) are involved in some sinister, sexual, exceedingly icky business. Plot takes a backseat to dark comedy and a creepily foreboding sense that we’re building to a revelatory conclusion, which absolutely does not disappoint. The effects work, suffice to say, produces some of the most batshit crazy visuals in the history of film—there are disgusting sights here that you won’t see anywhere else, outside of perhaps an early Peter Jackson movie, a la Dead Alive. But Society’s ambitions are considerably grander than that Jackson’s gross-out classic: It takes aim at its own title and the tendency of insular communities to prey upon the outside world to create social satire of the highest (and grossest) order. —Jim Vorel


19. Stake Land

8. Stake land (Custom).jpg Year: 2010
Director: Jim Mickle
Stars: Nick Damici, Connor Paolo, Michael Cerveris, Sean Nelson, Kelly McGillis, Danielle Harris
Rating: R
Runtime: 98 minutes

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Jim Mickle is the best young horror director often left out of discussions of the best young horror directors: Starting with his debut work Mulberry Street, he’s become one of the leading auteurs of low-budget horror, still striving for ambitious ideas, and Stake Land is all about ambition rather than exploitation. Lord knows how many cheapo zombie movies have been made in the last decade, but Mickle essentially makes a post-apocalypse zombie film, except with vampires. Still, Stake Land’s greatest achievement is inarguably its wonderful design and evocative landscapes, easily standing up to more obviously expensive productions. It’s a genius work of minimalism, to be able to suggest such a fleshed-out universe, where small pockets of humanity survive in barricaded cities and barter for goods with the teeth of dead vampires. Our characters and story are extremely simple—a veteran hunter (Nick Damici) and young protege (Conor Paolo) travel across the wasteland looking for safe refuge—but it’s exactly what the film needs to be: a sober-minded film that accomplishes so much with so little. —Jim Vorel


20. House on Haunted Hill

house-haunted-hill.jpg Year: 1959
Director: William Castle
Stars: Vincent Price, Carol Ohmart, Elisha Cook, Carolyn Craig, Alan Marshal, Julie Mitchum, Richard Long
Rating: N/A
Runtime: 75 minutes

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Every William Castle movie has its own campy charms, but House on Haunted Hill is the guy’s masterpiece. It’s got it all: Vincent Price at his goofiest, a big spooky house, a mystery and a profoundly non-frightening walking skeleton. The gimmick this time around was referred to by Castle as “Emergo,” and it amounted to a plastic skeleton on a pulley system being flown over the audience—not his most creative, but shameless enough that only Castle would stoop so low. To me, this is the quintessential 1950s horror film, even though it comes at the end of the decade. It’s totally tame by today’s standards but has some fun, over-the-top performances, a bit of witty dialog and a large helping of cheese. I can watch this thing over and over without ever getting tired of it. It’s like horror comfort food. The colorized version is even more fun, replacing the static black-and-white original with an unrealistic palette of brightly color-coded characters who will remind you of the cast of Clue. —Jim Vorel


21. Late Phases

late phases poster (Custom).jpg Year: 2014
Director: Adrian Garcia Bogliano
Stars: Nick Damici, Ethan Embry, Lance Guest
Rating: N/A
Runtime: 95 minutes

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Late Phases is a limited but kind of brilliant take on the werewolf movie, featuring a truly outstanding performance by screenwriter-turned-actor Nick Damici (from Stake Land) as an elderly, blind Vietnam veteran who moves to a retiree community currently being menaced by a lycanthrope. After beginning with a bang, it unfolds slowly, developing the strained relationship between the protagonist and his son, the difficulties presented by his blindness and the search for the werewolf’s identity. The characterization of the embittered protagonist is very well developed, and the film shines with lots of the “little things”—great sound design, great dialog, well-cast minor roles. It even features a pretty awesome werewolf transformation scene that, if not quite in American Werewolf in London territory, is one of the best I’ve seen in quite a while. The actual werewolf costumes, it must be noted, look just a little bit ridiculous—like a man in a wolf-bat hybrid suit, and nowhere near as good as say, Dog Soldiers—but the blood effects are top notch. It’s far above most indie horror films in terms of performances, though, and even tugs at the heartstrings a bit with some effective drama. If werewolves are your movie monster of choice, it has to vault up your must-see list. —Jim Vorel


22. Midsommar

midsommar-movie-poster.jpg Year: 2019
Director: Ari Aster
Stars: Florence Pugh, Jack Reynor, William Jackson Harper, Vilhelm Blomgren, Will Poulter
Rating: R
Runtime: 148 minutes

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Christian (Jack Reynor) cannot give Dani (Florence Pugh) the emotional ballast she needs to survive. This was probably the case even before the family tragedy that occurs in Midsommar’s literal cold open, in which flurries of snow limn the dissolution of Dani’s family. We’re dropped into her trauma, introduced to her only through her trauma and her need for support she can’t get. This is all we know about her: She is traumatized, and her boyfriend is barely decent enough to hold her, to stay with her because of a begrudging obligation to her fragile psyche. His long, deep sighs when they talk on the phone mirror the moaning, retching gasps Pugh so often returns to in panic and pain. Her performance is visceral. Midsommar is visceral. There is viscera, just, everywhere. As in his debut, Hereditary, writer-director Ari Aster casts Midsommar as a conflagration of grief—as in Hereditary, people burst into flames in Midsommar’s climactic moments—and no ounce of nuance will keep his characters from gasping, choking and hollering all the way to their bleakly inevitable ends. Moreso than in Hereditary, what one assumes will happen to our American 20-somethings does happen, prescribed both by decades of horror movie precedent and by the exigencies of Aster’s ideas about how human beings process tragedy. Aster births his worlds in pain and loss; chances are it’ll only get worse. — —Dom Sinacola


23. You’re Next

18. youre next (Custom).jpg
Year: 2011
Director: Adam Wingard
Stars: Sharni Vinson, Nicholas Tucci, Wendy Glenn, AJ Bowen, Joe Swanberg, Amy Seimetz, Rob Moran, Barbara Crampton
Rating: R
Runtime: 94 minutes

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Between A Horrible Way to Die, The Guest and You’re Next (let’s forget about the Blair Witch remake entirely), it’s easy to understand why Adam Wingard is still considered an upcoming director of interest. His films have a verve and sense of pacing that just crackles—they’re lean, mean and get to the point. You’re Next immediately sets up a premise that we’ve seen many times before, that of the “home invasion” style of horror-thriller, before subverting the genre’s expectations when our Final Girl proves to be far more adept and capable than any of the audience members realized—a moment that also transforms the film from “home invasion” into more of a pure slasher. From there, the story becomes more complex, as motivations and secret histories are revealed. The action, importantly, is viscerally shot and impactful, making for a film where each physical confrontation has real, concrete consequences. Hell, it’s even a little funny now and then. Given that The Guest is a bit more thriller than horror, You’re Next remains Wingard’s best pure horror work to date. —Jim Vorel


24. The Ring

the-ring-poster.jpg Year: 2002
Director: Gore Verbinski
Stars: Naomi Watts, Martin Henderson, Brian Cox
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 115 minutes

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In the fall of 2002, Gore Verbinski’s The Ring was hailed as a revelation in American horror, and it really is a film that is both stylish and effective—particularly its opening establishment of the “cursed tape,” and the “I saw her face” cutaway, which had theater audiences jumping out of their seats. Naomi Watts provides one of the genre’s best central performances as investigative journalist Rachel Keller, who dives into the history of the tape while working against a ticking clock for herself and her son. With memorably creepy, darkly shaded, green-and-blue-tinged visuals, The Ring built an expressively creepy, morose visual identity, which would be lifted by many lesser, PG-13 horror films through the rest of the decade—as would the aesthetic of the ghost girl Samara, who memorably emerges from the TV screen in the film’s big conclusion. In the years that have followed, The Ring experienced a degree of critical blowback, as is common when a film can be described as the progenitor of a particular sub-genre style, but Verbinski’s remake deserved the attention it received in the U.S. —Jim Vorel


25. Exorcist III

exorcist 3 poster (Custom).jpg Year: 1990
Director: William Peter Blatty
Stars: George C. Scott, Ed Flanders, Jason Miller, Scott Wilson, Nicol Williamson, Brad Dourif
Rating: R
Runtime: 110 minutes

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Exorcist III, or Legion as it’s known in its director’s cut form, focuses on grizzled, sardonic police detective Kinderman, played in the film by George C. Scott and by Lee J. Cobb in The Exorcist. Kinderman was more of a bystander to the events of the original film, but they still haunt him, 15 years after the fact. The past comes roaring back with bloody vengeance—there’s a serial killer on the loose, and the murders seem to be connected to a mysterious patient locked up in a hospital psychiatric ward. And that mysterious patient just happens to look exactly like the deceased Father Damien Karras, one of the exorcists from the first film, who met an untimely end after launching himself out a window and tumbling down a particularly steep flight of stairs. What follows is a perpetually misunderstood and underrated horror film that is less a sequel to The Exorcist and more a channeler of the same disturbing spirit, complete with a few of the best jump scares in genre history. —Chris Evangelista


26. Southbound

southbound poster (Custom).jpg Year: 2016
Directors: Radio Silence, Roxanne Benjamin, David Bruckner, Patrick Horvath
Stars: Chad Villella, Matt Bettinelli-Olpin, Fabianne Therese, Hannah Marks, Larry Fessenden
Rating: R
Runtime: 89 minutes

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Tricksters and demons, vengeful spirits and serial killers, the hope of salvation and the lingering presence of Satan: These are the things that anthology film Southbound is made of. The film has a single vision but is built on a wide variety of grim and ghoulish horror tropes, all the better to satisfy the hungers of even the most niche genre connoisseurs. Best of all, though, the wild variations from one section of the picture to the next enhances rather than dilutes the viewing experience. It helps that there are common themes that run across the film—loss, regret and guilt make up a repeated refrain—and that the sum of its parts adds up to an examination of how people unwittingly architect their own suffering. But Southbound is first and foremost a work of velocity, a joyride through Hell well worth buckling up for. —Andy Crump


27. Lake Mungo

lake-mungo-poster.jpg Year: 2008
Director: Joel Anderson
Stars: Talia Zucker, Rosie Traynor, David Pledger
Rating: R
Runtime: 89 minutes

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And speaking of found footage, here’s another entry in the genre that has had considerably more positive critical attention. Lake Mungo could scarcely be more different from something like Grave Encounters—there are no ghosts or demons chasing screaming people down the hall, and it’s chiefly a story about family, emotion and our desire to seek closure after death. You could call it a member of the “mumblegore” family, without the gore. It centers around a family that has been shattered by a daughter’s drowning, and the family’s subsequent entanglement in what may or may not be a haunting, and the mother’s desire to determine what kind of life her daughter had been living. Powerfully acted and subtly shot, it’s a tense (if grainy) family drama with hints of the supernatural drifting around the fraying edges of their sanity. If there’s such a thing as “horror drama,” this documentary-style film deserves the title. —Jim Vorel


28. Night of the Demons

night-of-the-demons-poster.jpg Year: 1988
Director: Kevin S. Tenney
Stars: Cathy Podewell, Amelia Kinkade, Linnea Quigley, Hal Havins, William Gallo, Alvin Alexis
Rating: R
Runtime: 89 minutes

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Night of the Demons is one of the most purely enjoyable entries in the late ’80s horror subgenre of “a bunch of young people go to a spooky location and all wind up dead,” which arguably reached its zenith a year earlier in Evil Dead 2. Make no mistake, this film can’t compete with the slap-sticky wit of early Sam Raimi, nor are any of its performers a Bruce Campbell quip machine in the making, but Night of the Demons makes up for it with shameless raunchiness and a generally gleeful attitude toward the demise of its characters. These guys are broad, amusing pastiches of different archetypes in 1980s youth culture, in much the same way as the teens from Return of the Living Dead, right down to the presence of Linnea Quigley. Yes, she’s naked here, although it’s at least not for the majority of the film, as in ROTLD. Instead, come for the top-notch makeup effects and the sick, sophomoric sense of humor. This one makes for perfectly appropriate Halloween-season viewing, as its “let’s get together in a haunted house for a Halloween party” premise is just begging for a cadre of demons to run amok. And so they do, with gory aplomb. —Jim Vorel


29. The House of the Devil

9. house of the devil (Custom).jpg Year: 2009
Director: Ti West
Stars: Jocelin Donahue, Tom Noonan, Mary Woronov, Greta Gerwig, A.J. Bowen, Dee Wallace
Rating: R
Runtime: 95 minutes

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Detractors complain that Ti West’s movies are “slow,” which is missing the point. A better adjective is “deliberate.” On The House of the Devil, the first film to really start giving him a reputation as a director to watch, West builds the tension gradually and carefully, as though there is nothing scarier than watching a young woman dance around an empty house while listening to the Fixx. By the time the second act ends, you’ve been holding your breath for an hour when the film explodes into its gory, violent third act, which offers a perverse sense of release. It also gives Jocelin Donahue’s heroine her finest moment, as she at least attempts what the audience is by then shouting for her to do. It’s another film where the low-budget look perfectly fits the aesthetic, mirroring the style of “old dark house” and Satanist films that West is clearly drawing on as inspiration. —Stephen M. Deusner


30. Saint Maud

saint-maud-poster.jpg Year: 2019
Director: Rose Glass
Stars: Morfydd Clark, Jennifer Ehle
Rating: R
Runtime: 84 minutes

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When we meet Morfydd Clark’s Maud, she is returning to her job as a private carer for the infirm under the guidance of the Lord, with whom she regularly engages in one-sided communication amid her lonely daily life after a traumatic incident with a former ward. She’s convinced God has a larger purpose for her, which is an obvious part of the driving force behind her taking drastic action in the name of religion. But before Maud unearths that purpose—or before real-life folks who allow religion to drive their urges to dangerous heights uncover their passion for things like pro-life advocation, anti-gay marriage lobbying or attempting to overturn an election—she needs a reason to find it in the first place. Her new ward is the fiery Amanda, a 40-something retired dancer with spunk, a distaste for religion, and terminal cancer. Something about the woman compels Maud to protect Amanda’s soul from eternal hellfire at whatever cost, giving the devout Christian the grounds (in her mind) to go as far as necessary to achieve her cause. As they say, there will be blood—that of Maud and others. —Lex Briscuso


31. Suspiria

suspiria-movie-poster.jpg Year: 2018
Director: Luca Guadagnino
Starring: Dakota Johnson, Tilda Swinton, Mia Goth, Angela Winkler, Ingrid Caven
Rating: R
Runtime: 153 minutes

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Dario Argento’s original synthesized his many experiments with the giallo form—the mid-century thrillers and violent crime stores much of Argento’s peers were churning out—into something essential. Gone were the questions of whodunit, the investigative layer of procedure litigating how such evil could make its way into this world, replaced by both a focus on the victims of this murder mystery and a sensual connection to the horrors flaying their young bodies apart. That the film takes place in Munich’s Tanz Dance Academy, though little dancing occurs, projects the film’s insinuated physicality onto the walls and floor as chimeric splashes of fairy tale color, especially (of course) red—we always remember the red—its vibrancy emphasized by Goblin’s monolithic score. Women, in Argento’s film, are vessels: for life, for gore, for art. Luca Guadagnino’s remake, and David Kajganich’s screenplay, simply tell the audience this—over and over and over. What Argento implied, Guadagnino makes literal. And so much of Guadagnino’s film is about transformation—how Germany had to reimagine itself to break the spell of its evil past; how art contorts oneself, irrevocably changes those who create it; how even the media in which the director works must adapt and mature and evolve to transcend the reluctance that a movie like Suspiria maybe should have been remade in 2018 at all. What Argento made subtext, Guadagnino reveals as text: As much as Suspiria explored the essence of giallo, Guadagnino explores the essence of Suspiria. Less fetishized, much less fantasized, the violence of 2018’s Suspiria is so much more harrowing than Argento’s, because Suspiria 1977 is its violence, and Suspiria 2018 wields its violence like an upsetting symbol, simultaneously too real and too absurd. Much of Guadagnino’s Suspiria feels beholden to nothing, indulgent and overwrought, existing only for itself. Art should never have to justify its own existence, but also: Why does this exist? What motivations conceived this film that seems to want very little—to maybe even dislike—the movie on which it’s based? And yet, it’s unforgettable, as ravishing as anything Guadagnino’s lazily captured in the Italian countryside, as disturbing as any horror film you’ve seen this year and, like the 1977 original, unlike anything you’ve ever felt helplessly drawn to before. —Dom Sinacola


32. Crawl

crawl-movie-poster.jpg Year: 2019
Director: Alexandre Aja
Stars: Kaya Scodelario, Barry Pepper
Rating: R
Runtime: 87 minutes

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Crawl, unlike Jaws, is actually just a movie about people vs. a natural predator. It is simple. It is effective. It is the most fun I’ve had in a theater since John Wick 3. Directed by Alexandre Aja (The Hills Have Eyes, High Tension, Horns) and written by Shawn and Michael Rasmussen, Crawl is a horror-thriller set in the heart of Florida. In it, Haley Keller (Kaya Scodelario) returns home from college during a category 5 hurricane, searching for her father, Dave Keller (Barry Pepper), whom she’s unable to get a hold of. Luckily for Haley, she is an aspiring collegiate swimmer so she probably won’t drown while she trudges through flooded street after flooded street. Not so luckily, she finds her dad stuck in a crawl space where the water is slowly rising. There is also their cute family dog, Sugar. And, as advertised, there are alligators—toothy and ravenous. Crawl’s heart thrums with the unique beat that is Florida itself. In the age of “Florida Man” stories that go viral on a near-daily basis, Florida is a seemingly mythic place. There, a man can rob a bank wielding two raccoons, so it just makes sense that a father and daughter could be beset by alligators in a house during a category 5 hurricane. It is just another day in our collective projection of what that humid little state can offer. Still, Crawl embraces the absurd with intense seriousness. There is very little levity to be found in the film, and emotions, blood and viscera flow forth when Crawl really kicks into gear. In the sweaty, latter months of the season, in an age in which such horror is relegated to Syfy drivel, Crawl is a brilliant ode to the magical realism of Florida and how, when made with craft and care, few movie-going experiences are as good as creature-features in the hottest month of the year. —Cole Henry


33. Grave Encounters

grave encounters poster (Custom).jpg Year: 2011
Directors: Colin Minihan and Stuart Ortiz, “The Vicious Brothers”
Stars: Sean Rogerson, Ashleigh Gryzko, Mackenzie Gray, Juan Riedinger, Merwin Mondesir, Matthew K. McBride
Rating: N/A
Runtime: 95 minutes

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It’s hard to understand why Grave Encounters doesn’t have a better reputation among horror geeks, who largely seem to be aware of it but deride the found-footage movie as either derivative or cheesy. In our own estimation, it’s one of the best found footage offerings of the last decade, and certainly one of the most legitimately frightening, as well as humorous when it wants to be. It’s structured as a pitch-perfect parody of inane TV ghost-hunting shows, in the style of Travel Channel’s Ghost Adventures, and imagines the satisfying results of what might happen when one of these crews full of charlatans is subjected to a genuinely evil location. But Grave Encounters goes beyond what is expected of it—you hear that premise and expect some frantic, handicam running around and screaming in the dark, but it delivers far more. The FX work, on a small budget, is some of the best you’re ever going to see in a found-footage film, and the nature of the haunting is significantly more mind-bending and ambitious than it first appears. We’ll continue to defend this film, although you should steer clear of the less inspired sequel. —Jim Vorel


34. Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale

rare-exports-poster.jpg Year: 2010
Director: Jalmari Helander
Stars: Onni Tommila, Jorma Tommila, Per Christian Ellefsen, Tommi Korpela, Rauno Juvonen
Rating: R
Runtime: 82 minutes

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Of all the films that have attempted to tackle Christmastime mythology through the lens of horror, none have done it with half the gonzo weirdness of Finland’s Rare Exports. Although the subject of Krampus became popular horror fodder in the back half of this decade, the Fins were definitely laying some foundations here, dredging up the figure of Joulupukki, the so-called “Christmas goat” of Scandinavian folklore, who like Krampus punishes wicked children for their sins instead of dispensing candy and gifts. We see this particular story through the eyes of rural Finnish kids and their destitute parents, their livelihoods trampled by the engine of economic progress and consumerism, in a message that reflects the cynicism of Joe Dante’s Gremlins. It seems fitting, then, that it’s a government research team that dredges up horrors from beneath the crust of the Earth, representing the greed of adult children as they do. With a magical Nordic setting that perfectly suits its fantastical vibe, Rare Exports settles in alongside chilly, Scandinanvian horror contemporaries such as Let the Right One In or Dead Snow, although it never strives for the emotion or gravity or the former. It does, however, build to a formidable conclusion, giving us perhaps the most oddly unique origin story for Santa Claus that has yet been brought to the horror genre.


35. Trollhunter

troll-hunter.jpg Year: 2010
Director: André Øvredal
Stars: Otto Jespersen, Hans Morten Hansen, Tomas Alf Larsen, Johanna Mørck, Knut Nærum, Robert Stoltenberg
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 104 minutes

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There’s no denying that at its beginning, Trollhunter seems like another Blair Witch Project knock-off. The first 20 minutes show us a young camera crew investigating some unexplained bear deaths and a suspicious man who may be poaching them. But rather than drawing out the mystery, it takes a sharp turn and tells us matter-of-factly that of course it was trolls killing the bears, and not only that, here’s one of them ready to bonk you on the head. The titular Troll Hunter extraordinaire is played by the affable comedian Otto Jespersen, who brings the entire monster premise to an entirely different level through his nonchalant attitude. In every sense, Trollhunter lives up to its ridiculous name and premise, delivering both surprising humor and extremely effective CGI on a budget. —Sean Gandert


36. Gretel & Hansel

gretel-and-hansel-poster.jpg Year: 2020
Director: Oz Perkins
Stars: Sophia Lillis, Sam Leakey, Charles Babalola, Jessica De Gouw, Alice Krige
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 87 minutes

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Director Oz Perkins’ first two features, The Blackcoat’s Daughter and I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House, are meticulously constructed examples of slow burn horror, favoring ever-building, chilling atmosphere over quick scares. He begins Gretel & Hansel with a traditional fairy tale structure, only to degenerate into an otherworldly, hopeless setting that liberally plays with space and time. Accordingly, production and costume designs borrow from multiple time periods—slightly resembling medieval Europe—while characters speak in Shakespearean prose, their body language still distinctly modern. Instead of the usual sea of white faces for such a tale, different races that seem to have equal social standing populate this world. Perkins purposefully juxtaposes Galo Olivares’s classically picturesque cinematography, imbued with the illusion of natural light, against Robin Coudert’s synth-heavy score that resembles Wendy Carlos’s work for Stanley Kubrick. The film thrives within a dream-logic vibe, especially in Olivares’ cinematography, with its heavy emphasis on symmetrical framing, stark contast and lush use of yellows and blues, evoking subliminal terror. —Oktay Ege Kozak


37. Vivarium

vivarium-poster.jpg Year: 2020
Director: Lorcan Finnegan
Stars: Jesse Eisenberg, Imogen Poots
Rating: R
Runtime: 97 minutes

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A quirky real estate story, where first-time homeowners Tom (Jesse Eisenberg) and Gemma (Imogen Poots) get a lot more than they bargained for, Vivarium is a low-key sci-fi nightmare of the mundane in the vein of early David Cronenberg. Director Lorcan Finnegan’s film also functions as a relationship allegory, where Tom and Gemma find themselves stuck in a trendy neighborhood of cookie-cutter homes where starting a family isn’t just an expectation but something foisted upon them. It isn’t as grisly as something like Shivers, but more affecting in its surreal design and hopelessness. Eisenberg and Poots own the screen as a disintegrating couple coping in distinct ways to their newfound terrarium where they are observed, manipulated, and—perhaps most disturbingly of all—objectively provided for by unseen and undefinable forces. Its 2020 release feels especially fitting as repetition and hopelessness become permanent residents of the couple’s home. Genre elements seep into the film, accelerating in hiccups and starts that are as arresting as the film’s intentionally artificial design. Startling sound dubbing, odd colorizing, and a few genuine “Oh shit” moments make Vivarium a tight, nasty fable that would fit in with the best Twilight Zone episodes. —Jacob Oller


38. Phantasm

phantasm-poster.jpg Year: 1979
Director: Don Coscarelli
Stars: Michael Baldwin, Bill Thornbury, Reggie Bannister, Kathy Lester, Angus Scrimm
Rating: R
Runtime: 89 minutes

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There are few easier fights to pick among horror geeks than attempting to debate the relative merits of Phantasm sequels, but at least enthusiasm for Don Coscarelli’s 1979 original has never been hard to find. Phantasm is as alluring as it is strange, a dreamy mix of science fiction and haunted house tropes anchored by the gaunt visage of actor Angus Scrimm, portraying the sour-faced “Tall Man” who would become the recurring antagonist of the series. It seems inscrutable on purpose, hinting at elements of its weird internal mythology that will never quite get paid off, but at the same time it also delivers the horror goods via stylish death sequences. In particular, the Tall Man’s floating, bladed orb of death has become a classic horror film prop that naturally shows up in all the sequels, but in terms of iconic moments we have to recommend the final, perfectly executed “BOY!” jump scare, which nicely presaged the ending of Wes Craven’s Nightmare on Elm Street at the same time. —Jim Vorel


39. Nightbreed


nightbreed poster (Custom).jpg Year: 1990
Director: Clive Barker
Stars: Craig Sheffer, Anne Bobby, David Cronenberg, Charlie Haid, Hugh Quarshie, Hugh Ross
Rating: R
Runtime: 99 minutes

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Nightbreed is an odd duck of a movie, stranded somewhere between legitimate horror film and dark fantasy story. Clive Barker directs, only a few years after Hellraiser, but here his ambition perhaps got the best of him. It’s pretty clear that he wanted Nightbreed to be something akin to a horror epic, a movie with a profound message about identity, acceptance and community. In execution, though, it has a hard time picking what tone it’s supposed to be emanating. Sometimes it’s darkly humorous. Sometimes it’s legitimately spooky. Other times you’re not sure whether you’re supposed to be taking the action on screen seriously or not. One thing that is spectacular throughout is the art direction, sets, costuming and makeup. Some of the character designs may come off as “silly,” but just as many of them are likely to end up in your nightmares. Nightbreed is a mixed bag, a would-be inspiring story about monsters trying to build a safe community to peacefully live their lives, but lacking the iconic nature of Barker’s most famous creations. —Jim Vorel


40. Lifeforce

lifeforce-1985-poster.jpg Year: 1985
Director: Tobe Hooper
Stars: Mathilda May, Steve Railsback, Peter Firth, Frank Finlay
Rating: R
Runtime: 101 minutes

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Even though he’s a classic horror director, Tobe Hooper of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre fame isn’t really the guy most would have expected to produce a kooky, ’80s sci-fi-infused vampire film. That is of course provided you recognize the aliens of Lifeforce as vampires. Hooper ditches the grimy aesthetic of his earlier work and cleverly plays with the old vampire genre conventions, keeping a few bat references but ditching the blood-sucking. Rather, the “space vampires” have been updated into more cerebral, aloof killers who drain people of their life energy. Oh, and by the way—the lead “space girl,” gorgeous French actress Mathilda May, spends pretty much the entire film nude, so be ready for that. What you’re left with is a uniquely gonzo, sexually charged sci-fi horror mash-up, equal parts mystical and pseudo-scientific—like a feature-length Twilight Zone episode as presented by USA Up All Night in the mid-’90s. I once saw it screened as part of a 24-hour B-movie festival, and that strikes me as exactly the way to consume Lifeforce: In a half-awake haze full of nudity and desiccated victims exploding into dust. —Jim Vorel


41. The Loved Ones

the-loved-ones-poster.jpg Year: 2009
Director: Sean Byrne
Stars: Xavier Samuel, Robin McLeavy, Victoria Thaine, Jessica McNamee, Richard Wilson, John Brumpton
Rating: R
Runtime: 84 minutes

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Whatever Lola wants, Lola gets, and in the twisted Aussie horror The Loved Ones, young Lola wants a perfect date for the perfect dance. Lola fixates on Brent, a tortured, drug-binging senior who accidentally killed his father in a car accident on the road near Lola’s house. On prom night, Brent ends up on the road near Lola’s once more, and she pulls him into a nightmarish prom of her own. The Loved Ones is gruesome, and Brent endures torture at Lola’s hands that would make most grown men give up hope. Despite being depressed and nearly suicidal before Lola kidnapped him, he finds an incredible will to live once he’s trapped. Brent is a true survivor, played with nuance by rising Australian star Xavier Samuel. The film’s twist cements Brent’s place as one of the great “final guys” of horror, and one who endured some of the nastiest punishment on this list. —Danielle Ryan


42. Bride of Re-Animator

bride of reanimator poster (Custom).jpg Year: 1990
Director: Brian Yuzna
Stars: Jeffrey Combs, Bruce Abbott, Fabiana Udenio, Kathleen Kinmont
Rating: R
Runtime: 96 minutes

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Bride of Re-Animator has a tendency to rehash a lot of material from the seminal Stuart Gordon original, but that happens to be in the nature of both Herbert West and Dr. Frankenstein before him—they’re both so arrogant that no matter how many people die in each grisly experiment, they always convince themselves that next time all the flaws can be corrected. Dr. West is back in action here, roping his old accomplice Dan into helping him by promising to bring his dead fiancee Megan back to life by reanimating her heart. Meanwhile, West’s nemesis Dr. Hill is also revived via the re-agent, with his severed head and psychic powers entirely intact. With an army of reanimated zombies at his command, it all leads to a big showdown between Herbert West, Hill and the revived “Bride.” As in the last film, the real draw here is the explosively gory practical effects and the performance of the wonderful Jeffrey Combs as West. His imperious, patronizing tone toward everyone who isn’t on his intellectual level makes the character a joy to watch—you simultaneously root for him and await his inevitable comeuppance. —Jim Vorel


43. Creepshow 2

creepshow-2-poster.jpg Year: 1987
Director: Michael Gornick
Stars: Lois Chiles, George Kennedy, Dorothy Lamour, Tam Savini
Rating: R
Runtime: 92 minutes

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Creepshow 2 is very much a 1980s horror sequel in the sense that it attempts to largely replicate what audiences enjoyed about the first film in its series without mucking around too much with the formula, and produces a good (but not quite great) effort in the process. Things are hurt a bit here by the reduction in overall stories from five to three, which puts more weight on each individual entry. “Old Chief Wood’nhead” and “The Hitch-hiker” each have their moments, the first feeling like an HBO Tales From the Crypt episode and the latter like a Twilight Zone entry, but it’s “The Raft” that is really worth the price of admission here. One of Stephen King’s most simple stories makes for superb anthology content, with a premise that just can’t be beat: A group of teens are trapped on a raft in the middle of a lake, stalked by a blob-like creature that dissolves everything it touches, with spectacularly gory results. It’s like the 1980s remake of The Blob from Chuck Russell, simply cutting out backstory and subtext to focus on pure, primal action. Will the kids survive, or will they all be reduced to a pile of bones at the bottom of the lake? —Jim Vorel


44. The Crazies

the crazies poster (Custom).jpg Year: 1973
Director: George A. Romero
Stars: Lane Carroll, Will Macmillan, Harold Wayne Jones, Lloyd Hollar, Lynn Lowry, Richard Liberty
Rating: R
Runtime: 103 minutes

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The Crazies is one of those lesser Romero works that tends to fall by the wayside because we’re always talking about his “of the Dead” films. Honestly, there are some horror fans out there who don’t even know that Romero made any non-zombie movies, although in this case you could argue that the infected of The Crazies drew both on his own Night of the Living Dead ghouls and presaged their evolution in 1978’s Dawn of the Dead. The tale of a small town gone mad in the wake of a biological weapons accident, it’s filled with great ideas and serviceable execution. The themes of man’s inhumanity to man in times of crisis are pretty rough, and there’s definitely some boundary-pushing material when it comes to sexuality as well, which make The Crazies a more cerebral watch than one might initially give it credit for. —Jim Vorel


45. Absentia

absentia poster (Custom).jpg Year: 2011
Director: Mike Flanagan
Stars: Katie Parker, Courtney Bell, Dave Levine
Rating: R
Runtime: 91 minutes

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Before he became Netflix’s go-to guy for horror, in projects such as Gerald’s Game and The Haunting of Hill House, Mike Flanagan completed his first feature, Absentia, which may very well be the best horror film you’ll ever see that raised its initial budget on Kickstarter. The film’s most notable achievement, though, is just how little it happens to be constrained by the extremely meager budget—at least until the third act gets a bit overambitious. Still, Absentia is a really impressive piece of indie filmmaking, with steady direction and fantastic performances from actresses Courtney Bell and Katie Parker, the former playing a woman who is finally going through the steps of declaring her husband dead after he went missing seven years earlier. Only now, she seems to be seeing him everywhere she looks. Part psychological thriller and part urban legend fantasy, it hinges almost entirely on the skillful, naturalistic performances of its leads and a collection of well-timed, unexpected scares that are sprung on the viewer when you’re least expecting them. Only in the big finale does its reach exceed its grasp, which makes us wish that perhaps Flanagan could remake Absentia someday, complete with the budget it needs. —Jim Vorel


46. Cooties

cooties-2014-poster.jpg Year: 2014
Directors: Jonathan Milott, Cary Murnion
Stars: Elijah Wood, Allison Pill, Rainn Wilson, Jack McBrayer
Rating: R
Runtime: 94 minutes

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Cooties, for whatever reason, didn’t get a lot of play and attention when it was released in 2014—perhaps in the five years since Zombieland, the market had just come to regard zom-coms with a degree of “been there, done that.” But it deserves a look for the remarkably strong cast alone—Elijah Wood as your lead, a substitute teacher who is backed up by The Office’s Rainn Wilson, Jack McBrayer of 30 Rock and Allison Pill of Scott Pilgrim vs. The World. The bevy of teachers run afoul of a swarm of pint-sized zombies, students who have been turned into the undead by a food-borne virus in their cafeteria chicken nuggets. The jokes, then, do tend to boil down to the unusual nature of seeing children as the aggressors and adults running for their lives, or hacking their way through a crowd of zombies who come up to their navels. One thing Cooties does right—its zombies retain a degree of their own innate personalities, which means they on some level still act like kids. Which means that we get zombie children frolicking on the playground halfway through the film, playing jump rope with someone’s intestines. It’s an uneven comedy, but one that builds to a pretty satisfying conclusion.


47. City of the Living Dead

city of the living dead poster (Custom).jpg Year: 1980
Director: Lucio Fulci
Stars: Christopher George, Catriona MacColl, Carlo de Mejo, Antonella Interlenghi, Giovanni Lombardo Radice
Rating: R
Runtime: 93 minutes

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If it’s an Italian horror film from the ’70s or ’80s, and it doesn’t involve cannibals, and it’s not a giallo, then it’s probably an arty, stylish, partially incomprehensible movie about zombies and ghosts. Such is City of the Living Dead, and such is almost everything in the filmography of Lucio Fulci. Never a director with the critical acclaim or heightened stature of a Dario Argento, Fulci was instead prolific, making his name in 1979 with the greatest of the Italian zombie films, Zombi 2. City of the Living Dead is considered the first in a so-called “Gates of Hell” trilogy, alongside two of his other best-known works, The Beyond and The House by the Cemetery. Like many of the Italian films it’s set in the U.S.A., which creates a strange, otherworldly quality given the international cast and dubbed dialog. It follows a young woman and her friends, who travel from New York to the Lovecraft-inspired town of Dunwich, where the suicide of a corrupted priest is causing the dead to rise from their graves and strike out at the living. It’s almost more a series of vignettes and unrelated scenes than a straightforward narrative, as residents of the town are killed at random by the zombies. That’s just how Fulci rolls. You don’t watch Lucio Fulci movies for plot; you watch them for atmosphere and stylish splatter. — Jim Vorel


48. House

house poster (Custom).jpg Year: 1986
Director: Steve Miner
Stars: William Katt, George Wendt, Richard Moll, Kay Lenz
Rating: R
Runtime: 93 minutes

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House is a legitimately odd film, and not an easy one to classify. I’ve read descriptions before that called it a “horror comedy,” but it’s not trying nearly hard enough to be funny to qualify on the “comedy” side of the spectrum—nor is it serious enough in most of its scares to be legitimately frightening. Instead, it’s trapped in some kind of limbo in between; memorable in spurts for its idiosyncrasies. Our protagonist is a Stephen King-like horror novelist who suffers traumatic flashbacks to both his time in Vietnam and the unexplained disappearance of his son. He moves into the old, crumbling manor of a recently deceased aunt, where he begins to experience terrifying nightmares and is attacked by a variety of creatures, which may or may not be in his head—think Jacob’s Ladder, but far goofier. George Wendt of Cheers makes an amusing appearance as the next door neighbor, but what most people remember about House (besides the iconic poster) is its unpredictability and Vietnam-inspired horrors. — Jim Vorel


49. Frankenstein’s Army

48. frankenstein army (Custom).jpg Year: 2013
Director: Richard Raaphorst
Stars: Karel Roden, Joshua Sasse, Robert Gwilym
Rating: R
Runtime: 84 minutes

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Indie found footage horror, contrary to what the success of Paranormal Activity would have you believe, is not an easy proposition—not at all. The original Paranormal Activity succeeds as a low-budget triumph because it has such modest goals, and most of the other found footage successes share that in common, but Frankenstein’s Army is very different in that regard. It’s the story of a troop of Russian soldiers in the waning days of WWII, infiltrating a German compound that turns out to be the testing grounds for a Frankenstein-descendent mad scientist. When his undead soldier creations come to life, the Russian soldiers end up fighting for their lives. Plot and performances are essentially unimportant—what ends up being extremely impressive here are the fabulously grisly monster designs, practical effects and inventiveness in staging found footage action sequences. This is an ambitious film that can be dull when there aren’t monster attacks happening, but what they achieved on a limited budget in depicting their monsters is absolutely remarkable. —Jim Vorel


50. The House That Dripped Blood

the house that dripped blood poster (Custom).jpg Year: 1971
Director: Peter Duffell
Stars: Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, Denholm Elliott, Ingrid Pitt, Nyree Dawn Porter, Jon Pertwee
Rating: PG
Runtime: 102 minutes

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If the output of British film studio Amicus Productions is usually said to lack the refinement and grandeur of Hammer’s horror films, they always seemed to make up for it with cheeky, good-natured charm. Their anthology horror films, such as Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors have a disarmingly simplistic quality to them—not the stately, stuffy gothic horror of Hammer, and more a continuation of the violent, ironic and comical horror stories seen in American E.C. Comics such as Vault of Horror or Tales From the Crypt. The House That Dripped Blood is one of those vintage anthologies, centered around a cursed house that keeps being inherited by new tenants—which is to say, victims. Its tales are silly and basic, but it’s buoyed by a strong cast of familiar British faces, from the duo of Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee (they’re in different stories, sadly) to Raiders of the Lost Ark’s Denholm Elliott and consummate Hammer buxom beauty Ingrid Pitt. It’s the perfect film for a jovial, Halloween party atmosphere—vintage spooky, but never truly disturbing. —Jim Vorel


51. The Stuff

the stuff poster (Custom).jpg Year: 1985
Director: Larry Cohen
Stars: Michael Moriarty, Andrea Marcovicci, Garrett Morris, Paul Sorvino
Rating: R
Runtime: 87 minutes

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A cult classic for sure, The Stuff was one of the best 1980s critiques of consumer culture, all wrapped up in the form of a gross-out horror movie. Profiteers find a white, gooey substance leaking up out of the Earth that proves both delicious and addictive … which they discover by simply tasting this stuff seeping up from the ground, in what is definitely a doctor-recommended action. Soon, repackaged as the secret ingredient-laden “Stuff,” it sweeps the world. The fake commercials are fantastic—this one has Abe Vigoda and actress Clara Peller, who only one year earlier began the famous “Where’s the beef?” campaign for Wendy’s. That is cross-cultural awareness. It’s also a very fun, schlocky horror flick with gross-out special effects, because as you eat more of The Stuff it gradually takes over your body until it explodes out into a self-aware being. This film may actually be more relevant today than it was in the mid-1980s as awareness of fast food content becomes more widespread. — Jim Vorel


52. Hellbound: Hellraiser 2

hellraiser 2 poster (Custom).jpg Year: 1988
Director: Tony Randel
Stars: Clare Higgins, Ashley Laurence, Kenneth Cranham
Rating: R
Runtime: 93 minutes

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Hellbound is a somewhat divisive sequel among horror fans, but we can all at least agree on one thing: It’s much, much better than any of the approximately 57 additional Hellraiser sequels that followed, most of which will make you wish the Cenobites were gouging your eyes out with their rusty hooks. It’s actually a more ambitious, somewhat less intimate film than the first Hellraiser, greatly expanding upon the mythos of the series as Kirsty must journey to the hellish dimension of the demonic Cenobites to oppose an evil doctor whose dreams of power transform him into a Cenobite himself. The lovely Ashley Laurence returns as the protagonist, along with a young, emotionally disturbed girl who is adept at solving puzzles, which almost gives it the feel of a Nightmare on Elm Street sequel such as Dream Warriors. The Cenobites themselves get a little bit watered down from their nigh omnipotence in the original film, but the settings and effects are great for the meager budget and do as good a job as anyone could reasonably do of translating the twisted vision of Clive Barker to the screen. —Jim Vorel


53. Hell Night

hell-night-poster.jpg
Year: 1981
Director: Tom DeSimone
Stars: Linda Blair, Vincent Van Patten, Peter Barton
Rating: R
Runtime: 101 minutes

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1981 was almost certainly the most prolific single year of the early 1980s slasher boom, but already by this point some of the films were getting a bit on the derivative side. Hell Night is one that stands out mostly for its oddities—a “college hazing” story that feels like the result of a producer wondering what would happen if you mixed the emergent slasher genre with older horror film styles, like Hammer gothic horror films and American “old dark house” films of the 1930s-1940s. Consequently, the cast of young college students spending the night in abandoned “Garth Manor” are dressed in frilly period clothing, which gives an odd flavor to a film about these teens being stalked by the still-living, deformed monster known as “Andrew Garth.” Designed as a star vehicle for Linda Blair (in full-on Jamie Lee Curtis mode), 8 years after The Exorcist, it’s a bit uncomfortable to watch a grown-up Regan rocking some gaudy cleavage, but her performance really isn’t as bad as contemporary audiences made out—certainly not deserving of the Razzie Award for which she was nominated, anyway. The direction and production design, meanwhile, are actually quite good, taking advantage of the unusual slasher film setting with some atmospheric lighting and moody set-ups. As for “Andrew Garth,” he’s a pretty stock slasher villain of the day, with little motivation besides “kills people who come to Garth Manor,” but at least he gets a memorable denouement. —Jim Vorel


54. 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


55. Hell House LLC

hell house llc poster (Custom).jpg Year: 2015
Director: Stephen Cognetti
Stars: Ryan Jennifer, Danny Bellini, Gore Abrams, Jared Hacker, Adam Schneider, Alice Bahlke
Rating: N/A
Runtime: 83 minutes

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This is just about as lean and minimalist a concept as you can choose for a modern found footage horror movie, but Hell House LLC is much more a practice in execution than imaginative settings. It’s the documentary-style story of a haunted house crew that picks a decidedly wrong location for their attraction, and boom—they all wind up dead. Very standard set-up for a “no one gets out alive” entry in the found footage genre, but Hell House LLC actually does have some inspiring scares and performances. It gets a whole lot out of very small set-ups and deliveries, such as the shifting positioning of props and the life-size (and appropriately horrifying) clown costumes, shooting scenes in what looks very much like “real time,” with no cuts. There’s a naturalistic air to the actors’ sense of frustration and unease as weird events start to mount, but of course it all goes quite off the deep end and into unintentional humor in the closing moments. Still, there are many islands of genuine, blood pressure-raising fear in this well-executed film. Certainly, it’s better than most found footage efforts in the post-Paranormal Activity landscape. —Jim Vorel


56. Body Bags

body-bags-poster.jpg Year: 1993
Directors: John Carpenter, Tobe Hooper, Larry Sulkis
Stars: Stacy Keach, Mark Hamill, David Warner, Sheena Easton, Debbie Harry, Twiggy, Robert Carradine
Rating: R
Runtime: 91 minutes

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Sometimes, even anthologies with less-than-stellar stories can get by on sheer charming commitment to gross-out delights, and that’s John Carpenter’s Body Bags for you. Originally conceived as a gorier, more grotesque spin on the Tales From the Crypt formula for Showtime, the series was cancelled after only a few potential episodes had been filmed. Not wanting to lose the material, Carpenter simply assembled his favorites into a feature film. Each segment isn’t particularly memorable, except for the closer, which features Mark Hamill as a baseball player who loses an eye and then gains the eye of a serial killer via a donation. You can guess where things go from there. What is memorable about Body Bags is the goofy wraparound segments, which feature Carpenter himself as a Crypt Keeper-esque mortician who gleefully hacks apart bodies and drinks formaldehyde, showing a much lighter hearted personality than you’d expect from the director of dour films like The Thing or Prince of Darkness. It’s fun to watch Body Bags today for the not-so-subtle genre references (“Another grisly murder in Haddonfield today…”) and the incredible array of character actors and cameos that were lined up, including the likes of Wes Craven as a leering perv, Stacy Keach as a guy receiving miracle hair transplants, Charles Napier as a baseball manager, Twiggy as a housewife (reuniting these two from The Blues Brothers), Roger Corman as a doctor, Tom Arnold as a mortician and Sam Raimi as a corpse. —Jim Vorel


57. Chopping Mall

chopping mall poster (Custom).jpg Year: 1986
Director: Jim Wynorski
Stars: Kelli Maroney, Tony O’Dell, John Terlesky, Suzee Slater, Barbara Crampton, Russell Todd
Rating: R
Runtime: 95 minutes

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Calling Chopping Mall the best film by director Jim Wynorski isn’t saying much—at all—but it remains a minor ’80s horror/sci-fi classic despite that. The premise is irresistible pulp, dressed in ’80s neon teen fashion—a group of kids hide out in the mall past closing time so they can party (and score) in one of the furniture stores overnight. Little do they know, however, that the mall recently unveiled a new fleet of deadly efficient security robots that are, shall we say, more than a little twitchy. The cast gives us Kelli Maroney, who also appears in the similarly teen-inflected Night of the Comet, and Roger Corman regular Dick Miller as the janitor, once again playing his signature role: “that guy who gets killed in an ’80s horror movie.” It’s a desperate fight for survival as the kids face off against the robots like the zombies of Dawn of the Dead, except with much more gallows humor. Today, genre fans are likely to fondly remember Chopping Mall for the fact that it contains one of the greatest single practical effects of the era; the graphic explosion of Suzee Slater’s head, followed by the robot’s wry line of “Thank you, have a nice day.” You’ve gotta love it. —Jim Vorel


58. April Fool’s Day

april-fools-day-1986-poster.jpg Year: 1986
Director: Fred Walton
Stars: Jay Baker, Deborah Foreman, Thomas F. Wilson, Deborah Goodrich, Ken Olandt, Amy Steel
Rating: R
Runtime: 89 minutes

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April Fool’s Day is rote, until it isn’t; predictable until it turns the tables, and very difficult to assess as a result. It begins with a setup that would be at home in just about any early ’80s slasher, lining up potential red herrings aplenty, and then proceeds in businesslike fashion from there, slowly picking off members of a group of young people who are spending spring break together at a remote island mansion. In fact, the violence of April Fool’s Day stands out for how chaste it seems throughout most of its runtime, to the point where it will likely perplex viewers … right up until they understand the reason for it. Ultimately, this is one of those films you can’t talk about without discussing its ending, and whether or not the audience chooses to accept that ending—and the massive logical gaps it immediately highlights—is going to be the determining factor in whether someone chooses to describe April Fool’s Day as “innovative” or “cheap.” We could go either way, but at the very least, it features some of the better performances you’ll find in this genre in the ’80s, including Thomas F. Wilson, one year after he played “Biff” in the first entry of the Back to the Future trilogy. —Jim Vorel


59. Better Watch Out

better-watch-out-poster.jpg Year: 2016
Director: Chris Peckover
Stars: Olivia DeJonge, Levi Miller, Ed Oxenbould
Rating: R
Runtime: 89 minutes

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Attractively directed and shot, but wonkily scripted, Chris Peckover’s Better Watch Out puts a twist on the tropes of home invasion horror while simultaneously lashing itself to the Christmas holiday as an additional framing device. Its central twist and gimmick display a fair bit of promise, which I won’t spoil here, except by saying that it’s a challenging role for young actor Levi Miller, who can’t quite match leading lady Olivia DeJonge as the resourceful babysitter-in-peril. It’s also clearly intended as a rather searing portrait of toxic masculinity, latent sociopathy and the internet era’s caricature of the so-called “nice guy” archetype, which it doesn’t exactly handle with much subtlety. At its weakest, the contrived plans of Better Watch Out’s antagonist have a tendency to beggar belief in their overwrought complexity, but when it’s able to simply let its characters bounce off each other, it proves surprisingly effective. That goes doubly for when the blood starts flowing in disturbingly realistic fashion. A tonal upheaval by design, the film is not always on point, but it’s easy to admire the effort, particularly when the gore is appropriately visceral. —Jim Vorel


60. Birdemic: Shock and Terror

birdemic-shock-and-terror.24938 (Custom).jpg Year: 2008
Director: James Nguyen
Stars: Alan Bagh, Whitney Moore
Rating: N/A
Runtime: 93 minutes

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Birdemic is an absolutely horrendous film, but it’s one that absolutely everyone who’s ever enjoyed The Room needs to put on their list. On first inspection it simply looks like a rip-off of Hitchcock’s The Birds, but in reality it’s so much worse and more fascinating than that. The parallels to The Room are extremely accurate: Like Tommy Wiseau’s famously inept film, Birdemic is the product of a single, deranged mind, that of the Vietnamese-born would-be auteur James Nguyen, whose non-native writing fills the dialog with mind-bending absurdities and a pathetically sincere attempt at an ecological message. The actors seem to be people that Nguyen scooped off the street moments before shooting began, completely wooden and unsure of where they are or how they got here. Technical gaffes abound. And when the birds finally show up, the film is graced by some of the most gut-bustingly hilarious FX of all time—clip-art birds that flutter in place, suspended in mid-air while the heroes swipe at them with coat hangers. This is all in Birdemic. You need to see Birdemic. But please, I’m warning you: Ignore Nguyen’s self-aware attempt to follow up on the film with Birdemic 2: The Resurrection. The magic, unsurprisingly, is gone. —Jim Vorel

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