The 50 Best Horror Movies on Shudder (May 2022)

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The 50 Best Horror Movies on Shudder (May 2022)

If you’re a horror geek, then surely you’re at least aware of the existence of Shudder at this point. The genre-focused service helped to prove the viability of niche streaming when it launched in 2016, boasting a robust library of horror, thriller and sci-fi features, while using its considerable marketing clout (thanks, AMC ownership) to ensure that it had far more visibility than would-be competitors. Along the way, it also explored the Netflix route of increasingly allocating budget toward original programming, bringing us series such as the Creepshow revival, and the resurrection of MonsterVision’s Joe Bob Briggs as a horror host.

Today, the Shudder library is typically one of the more eclectic that can be found on the web, with more depth and unusual picks than any of the major streamers (the likely exception being Amazon Prime). It has grown and shrunk at different periods throughout the service’s lifespan, as Shudder has faced the same difficulties with streaming rights as everyone else, but currently boasts more than 500 titles—closer to 600 once you factor in the TV side of the equation—representing an interesting amalgam of vintage slashers, historical horror classics, modern releases, foreign films and hidden gems. Certainly, Shudder is less reliant on straight-to-VOD junk than the likes of Netflix, which is a mark in its favor.

Allow us, then, to be your guide through the best Shudder has to offer.

You may also want to check out these other horror movie lists/streaming guides.

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 Best Horror Movies Streaming on Netflix
The best horror movies on Amazon Prime
The 50 best movies about serial killers
The 50 best slasher movies of all time
The 50 best ghost movies of all time
The 50 Best Movies About Serial Killers


50. Pieces

pieces poster (Custom).jpg Year: 1982
Director: Juan Piquer Simón

Pieces is the sort of silly, head-scratching early ’80s slasher where it’s difficult to decide if the director is trying to slyly parody the genre or actually believes in what he’s doing. Regardless, it’s a delightfully stupid movie, featuring a killer who murders his mother with an axe as a child after she scolds him for assembling a naughty adult jigsaw puzzle. All grown up, he stalks women on a college campus and saws off “pieces” in order to build a real-life jigsaw woman. The individual sequences are completely and utterly bonkers, the best one being when the female lead is walking down a dark alley and is suddenly attacked by a tracksuit-wearing “kung fu professor” played by “Brucesploitation” actor Bruce Le. After she incapacitates him, he apologizes, says he must have had “some bad chop suey,” and waltzes out of the movie. The whole thing takes less than a minute. That’s the kind of randomness one finds in Pieces, which also boasts one of the best film taglines of all time: “Pieces: It’s exactly what you think it is!” — Jim Vorel


49. Bad Moon

bad-moon-poster.jpg Year: 1996
Director: Eric Red

May we present what is arguably the most underrated werewolf movie of all time: Bad Moon. From the premise, which revolves around a single mom and her precocious little boy living out in the woods when their werewolf uncle comes to visit, you might for a moment think that this film will be treating its subject with kiddie gloves, but man would you be mistaken. This is made clear enough within the opening minutes, which not only includes a fairly explicit sex scene but then features a camp full of people being torn limb from limb by a werewolf before its head is blown off with a shotgun. It’s a fist-pumping, Peter Jackson-esque “FUCK, YEAH!” moment that sets the tone for what is a campy, stupid but very fun feature. In some sense, the actual main character is the family’s overgrown and defensive German shepard, who is the only one to suss out the werewolf’s identity, pitting dog vs. wolf in a battle of wits. Featuring a whole lot of bloodletting, Bad Moon is entertaining despite (or perhaps because of) its melodramatic performances, and it also happens to feature one of the best physical werewolf suits you’ll ever see. Why the filmmakers used any of the atrocious CGI you’ll see in the transformation scene is beyond me, given how spectacular the actual suit looks. Don’t sleep on Bad Moon—it’s the best werewolf movie you’ve never heard of. a—Jim Vorel


48. Sleepaway Camp

sleepaway camp poster (Custom).jpg Year: 1983
Director: Robert Hiltzik

Of all the camp-based Friday the 13th rip-offs, Sleepaway Camp is probably the best one that isn’t The Burning. Our main character is Angela, a troubled girl who absolutely everyone picks on for no good reason. Seriously—it’s one of those ’80s era movies with a main character who is an “outsider” constantly harassed by dozens of people, but without any impetus or explanation—it’s just Angela’s lot in life. Everyone who meets her immediately hates her guts and subjects her to cruel taunting. But soon, the people at the camp who were mean to Angela start getting knocked off. The movie seems calculated to come off as a straight horror film, but the death scenes are often so outlandish that it veers pleasurably into horror comedy, as well. Highlights include the lecherous camp cook, who gets a giant vat of boiling water dumped on his face, or the kid who gets a beehive dropped into the outhouse with him. If you love classic slashers, it’s a must-see, especially for the ending. I won’t spoil anything, but Sleepaway Camp can proudly lay claim to one of the most shocking, WTF endings in slasher movie history. —Jim Vorel


47. Horror Noire

horror-noire-poster.jpg Year: 2019
Director: Xavier Burgin

In the opening preamble of Shudder’s new documentary Horror Noire, professor Robin R. Means Coleman lays out a simple but effective mission statement when it comes to assessing the history of African Americans in the past century of horror cinema: “Black history is black horror.” Brutally honest, perhaps, but equally incisive. Horror Noire is a documentary about a community of often ostracized and maligned people coming to terms with their fondness for a genre that has rarely treated them well. Director Xavier Burgin has made what is for the most part a talking heads documentary, primarily structured around actors, writers and directors ruminating on the horror genre from the confines of a darkened theater. It comes to viewers in the guise of a history lesson, but simultaneously manages to provoke some palpable cognitive dissonance from its subjects and would-be teachers, who often find themselves grappling with the enjoyment they feel as audience members vs. the weight of responsibility they feel as black educators or activists—the compulsion to always be striving to combat inequality. Author Tananarive Due puts it best in the film’s opening moments: “We’ve always loved horror. It’s just that horror, unfortunately, hasn’t always loved us.” —Jim Vorel


46. Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers

halloween-4-poster.jpg Year: 1988
Director: Dwight H. Little

The return of Michael Myers to the franchise after Halloween 3: Season of the Witch’s misanthropic diversion into the anthology format was a move that initially pleased fans of the original Halloween, but the years that followed have not been kind to Halloween 4’s reputation. However, we are here to defend it: This is arguably a more entertaining film than first sequel Halloween 2, and one that gets an above-average horror movie performance out of Danielle Harris as Jamie Lloyd, who was only 9 years old at the time. Michael is at his menacing best, especially in the early dream sequence in which he emerges from beneath Jamie’s bed, and Donald Pleasence as Dr. Loomis is more histrionic and hyperbolic than ever as he insists—loudly and constantly—that Myers is a monster that must be destroyed once and for all. Halloween 4 is even blessed with one of the more legitimately shocking endings to an ’80s-era slasher film … but one that was unfortunately retconned at the beginning of Halloween 5 after producers got cold feet about committing to its consequences. In the end, that association with Halloween 5 (and don’t even get us started on Halloween 6) is the anchor around the neck of Halloween 4, but judged solely by its own merits, it deserves to be here. —Jim Vorel


45. The Advent Calendar

the-advent-calendar-poster.jpg Year: 2021
Director: Patrick Ridremont

Patrick Ridremont’s The Advent Calendar kickstarts the Christmas horror season by demonizing an otherwise innocent holiday tradition. That’s when festive frights are at their best, after all. Gingerbread men become ninja assassins, or a wooden box filled with 24 treats—one per pre-Christmas December day—summons a connected evil. Spoken in French, as influenced by German lore, The Advent Calendar releases a Silent Hill-inspired genie that’ll grant your wishes through magic chocolates with sacrifices aplenty. Ridremont succeeds in crunching bones and raising hell, all with a seasonal waft of cloves and corpses from behind a wishgiver’s crooked smile. It’s chilling, teeters between moral stances and is a hellish-jolly greeting that should please horror fans in the mood for merriness gone malevolent. —Matt Donato


44. Asylum

asylum-1972-poster.jpg Year: 1972
Director: Roy Ward Baker

By the early 1970s, Britain’s Amicus Productions had essentially turned the production of horror anthologies into a science, and Asylum might be their overall strongest effort. Certainly, it has one of the most solid, if most obvious, framing stories, set in the titular asylum, where a new doctor must observe all the patients and is given the test of guessing which one is the hospital’s former administrator, now completely insane. Based on the writings of Psycho author Robert Bloch, each story affords more of a dignified, polished feel compared with some of the other, campier Amicus anthologies. They’re appropriately creepy, running the gamut from a tale about the dismembered body of a murdered wife returning to life to seek revenge, to a bizarre little ditty about a scientist seeking to transfer his soul into a tiny, robotic doll. All in all, though, Asylum comprises a variety of strong performances and appearances from the likes of Peter Cushing and Charlotte Rampling, while possessing a more cinematic presence than the silly framing story of something like Tales from the Crypt. That, and there’s all the “Night on Bald Mountain” you can handle. —Jim Vorel


43. Gonjiam: Haunted Asylum

gonjiam-haunted-asylum-poster.jpg Year: 2018
Director: Jung Bum-shik

With the rise of social media and other technological advancements came a revitalization of found footage horror, with Gonjian: Haunted Asylum taking a unique approach for a new age. The film follows a horror YouTuber who, upon learning of the disappearance of two amateur ghost hunters after they visited an abandoned psychiatric hospital, pays the facility a visit and livestreams it. Much like some of the other films in the genre, the fake scares planted by channel owner Ha-Joon are no match for the real horror within the hospital’s walls as it consumes each member of his crew. The film does its best to address found footage gripes, by explaining professional camerawork through the characters’ backgrounds as well as utilizing an impressive arsenal of equipment ranging from drones to night vision cameras. Each hospital room becomes more familiar with each scene until it becomes etched into your brain, and as the real threat of these entities becomes clear, it is easy to pinpoint each character’s growing disgust with the voyeuristic premise as they start to wonder what is and isn’t staged. At Gonjiam: Haunted Asylum’s heart is a lesson about greed which definitely welcomes multiple eye rolls, but it is nonetheless an ambitious and effective entry into the genre that balances its self-awareness with genuine fear. —Jade Gomez


42. The Amusement Park

the-amusement-park-romero-poster.jpg Year: 1973
Director: George Romero

George Romero’s long-lost 1973 film The Amusement Park isn’t truly a narrative feature, instead being more like a disturbing PSA that was bizarrely commissioned by the Lutheran church as a way of highlighting the issues of ageism and elder abuse. Romero delivered exactly what was asked for, crafting a dreamy, surreal and disorienting tone poem about a man wandering an amusement park (a very thinly veiled metaphor for American society) as the uncaring forces around him steadily strip him of his dignity and then sanity. The completed film was apparently deemed too soul-draining for release, and it is quite effectively morose throughout, even if it lacks much in the way of modern commercial appeal. It’s not the most focused effort, but its 2021 release allows Romero to deliver one last blast of buckshot at American culture from beyond the grave. —Jim Vorel


41. Kandisha

kandisha-poster.jpg Year: 2021
Director: Julien Maury, Alexandre Bustillo

what the filmmakers achieve through their script and direction is a wickedly successful creature feature that highlights an underrepresented but widely-held fear among a considerable portion of France’s populace. The portrayal of Kandisha is incredibly layered and diverse, manifesting as mysterious, alluring and abjectly horrifying during different appearances. The viewer tandemly craves and dreads her arrival on-screen, which is an incredibly effective approach to keep the monster from losing its edge after multiple kills. The deaths are also cleverly fused with supernatural elements alongside the directors’ penchant for massive blood loss and bodily evisceration. When it comes to keeping the mounting body count compelling, Maury and Bustillo’s twisted creativity ensures each kill is brutal, both in terms of gore and toying with established emotional stakes. —Natalia Keogan


40. Knife + Heart

knife-plus-heart-movie-poster.jpg Year: 2019
Director: Yann Gonzalez

Yann Gonzalez’s gleeful genre mashup Knife Heart is a queer provocation, a delirious journey through celluloid mirrors, daring to assert that pornography is as ripe for personal catharsis as any other art form. In the wake of a breakup with her editor Loïs (Kate Moran) and the murder of one of her actors, gay porn producer Anne (Vanessa Paradis) sets to make her masterpiece, one saturated with her rage and heartbreak. She sends a clear message to her lover etched into a reel of dailies, one of her performers’ head back in ecstasy as if in Warhol’s Blow Job: “You have killed me.” As her cast and crew are killed off one by one, Anne pushes on, driven to put herself in her work, literally and figuratively, the spectre of doom for her shared community growing ever closer. Gonzalez’s film pulsates with erotic verve and a beating broken heart, as if giving yourself up to cinema is the only thing that can keep you alive. When the lights go down and the wind screams through the room, it’s as if Knife Heart, and by extension all film, is the last queer heaven left. —Kyle Turner


39. A Bay of Blood, a.k.a. Twitch of the Death Nerve

bay-of-blood-poster.jpg Year: 1971
Director: Mario Bava

A Bay of Blood, released in the U.S. as Twitch of the Death Nerve, is the most important proto-slasher to often get left out of conversations on the history of the slasher genre, and this simply will not stand. Although many Italian giallos of the &#821]7;70s have slasher elements and pre-date the likes of Black Christmas and Halloween, none of them have kills that so directly seem like something out of a Friday the 13th movie. And indeed, that series borrows heavily from A Bay of Blood, especially Friday the 13th Part 2, which recreates two of Bava’s the death sequences almost exactly—most notably the bit where two lovers get impaled on a spear in mid-copulation. It’s Bava’s goriest film without a doubt, although not his most visually striking or narratively sensible, in terms of plot—all of the killings basically revolve around obtaining land ownership. That uneven nature and lack of compelling characters holds it back slightly, but when he’s throwing the red paint around, A Bay of Blood is enjoyably lurid. —Jim Vorel


38. Dead & Buried

dead and buried poster (Custom).jpg Year: 1981
Director: Gary Sherman

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


37. Night of the Demons

night-of-the-demons-poster.jpg Year: 1988
Director: Kevin S. Tenney

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


36. Hellbender

hellbender-poster.jpg Year: 2022
Director: John Adams, Zelda Adams, Toby Poser

Over the course of their eight-year collective filmmaking practice, the Adams family have continuously honed their aesthetic and narrative interests as artists. With Hellbender, the sixth feature from the nuclear family of filmmakers, confidence and creativity converge to produce something that feels like an alchemic breakthrough. Particularly following their 2020 supernatural thriller The Deeper You Dig, it appears the Adams have acquired a penchant for horror—a perfect complement to their signature low-budget, home-grown style. Though Hellbender utilizes many recurring motifs present in the Adams family’s work—such as dysfunctional family dynamics and nods to John Adams’ former career as a punk musician—it is certainly the most (literally) fleshed-out project the family has undertaken to date. 16-year-old Izzy (Zelda Adams, the youngest daughter and fellow co-director of John Adams and Toby Poser) has been warned from a young age by her mother (Poser) that the outside world will cause her nothing but harm due to her rare autoimmune disease. As such, Izzy spends her days frustrated and friendless, with only the vast landscape surrounding her mother’s reclusive mountain home providing her with any semblance of personal enrichment. Despite being forbidden to leave the property, Zelda’s relationship with her mother is far from acrimonious—they are playfully affectionate with one another, cradling each other’s faces in their hands and venturing into the verdant forest for rainy day hikes. They even perform in a drum and bass punk rock band, appropriately named Hellbender, donning audacious face make-up and practicing tight, catchy songs for the sole benefit of themselves. Every facet of Hellbender has the intrinsically magical quality of being hand-helmed by a small faction of creatives that execute every stage necessary for the film’s production. The cinematography by Zelda and John is just as impressive as the laid-back yet quirky costume design by Poser. The end result is completely stunning in its scope, tandemly laser-focused on two individuals and their insular livelihood while exploring the vast terror of supernatural possession. By the time the film come to a gory, gloomy conclusion, the viewer walks away feeling thoroughly put through the wringer—inherited traumas, overbearing impositions and brooding bloodlust are never presented in a completely straightforward fashion, providing ample twists to accompany any revelation the film wishes to divulge. Tethered closely to the emotions and artistic sensibilities of the tight-knit family that created it, Hellbender is a can’t-miss foray into folk horror. Unabashedly creepy yet perplexingly comforting, it will inevitably remind audiences of the most eccentric aspects of our upbringings. At the same time, it will evoke deeply-concealed memories of the anguish of undergoing growing pains—a veritable hell on Earth if there ever was one.—Natalia Keogan


35. The Canal

the canal poster (Custom).jpg Year: 2014
Director: Ivan Kavanagh

This indie Irish horror film announces Ivan Kavanagh as a serious talent and remarkably skilled director—I watched it for the first time recently and it blew all my expectations away. Nominally a “ghost story” of sorts about a man who discovers a century old grisly crime that occurred in his house, it is actually much more of a psychologically intense minefield—the sort of film that Polanski would have made, if he was shooting a ghost story. Combining elements that remind one of The Shining’s superb sound design with the the red-and-blue color palette of a film by Dario Argento, it is impeccably put together and beautiful to look at. The story, unfortunately, gets just a little bit too literal and wraps things up a bit neatly in the last 15 minutes, but the movie crafts an extremely effective web of dread and genuine fear through its entire runtime. Here’s hoping that we see another horror film from Kavanagh one of these days. —Jim Vorel


34. Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer

42. henry portrait of a serial killer (Custom).jpg Year: 1986
Director: John McNaughton

Henry stars Merle himself, Michael Rooker, in a film which is essentially meant to approximate the life of serial killer Henry Lee Lucas, along with his demented sidekick Otis Toole (Tom Towles). The film was shot and set in Chicago on a budget of only $100,000, and is a depraved journey into the depths of the darkness capable of infecting the human soul. That probably sounds like hyperbole, but Henry really is an ugly film—you feel dirty just watching it, from the filth-crusted urban streets to the supremely unlikeable characters who prey on local prostitutes. It’s not an easy watch, but if gritty true crime is your thing, it’s a must-see. Some of the sequences, such as the “home video” shot by Henry and Otis as they torture an entire family, gave the film a notorious reputation, even among horror fans, as an unrelenting look into the nature of disturbingly mundane evil. —Jim Vorel


33. Scare Me

scare-me-poster.jpg Year: 2020
Director: Josh Ruben

For many, scary movies are fun. Watching scary movies is fun. Boil that down further: Telling scary stories is fun, no matter the setting, as long as you’re in proper company. Shudder’s Scare Me toasts that dynamic via a contest of wills between two horror authors trying to out-terrify each other before the second-best possible stage for telling scary stories: a crackling fireplace. (The very best is a campfire, but beggars can’t be choosers.) The authors are Fred (Josh Ruben) and Fanny (Aya Cash). Fanny is the best-selling writer behind the popular critical smash Venus, a zombie novel that, based on what little the audience hears about it, sounds like elevated horror nonsense (which is exactly the kind of thing that scored points on screens and shelves in the mid-2010s horror boom). Josh is a loser. He hasn’t written a damn thing or a thing worth a damn, and he’s secluded himself in a cabin at a Catskills resort to do Serious Work, which he doesn’t, because again, he’s a loser. Fanny’s staying in a nearby cabin, and when the power goes out across the area, she walks in on Fred and challenges him to scare her with his best shot.

The pace of Scare Me slows a tad more than ideal as Ruben takes the plot to its inevitable conclusion, but it’s still a joyful, satisfyingly eerie experience. There are reasons we enjoy the adrenaline blast horror movies give us. Scare Me, which should be essential viewing each Halloween season, understands those reasons well and celebrates them with enough laughs and gasps to leave viewers choking.—Andy Crump


32. They Look Like People

they-look-like-people-poster.jpg Year: 2015
Director: Perry Blackshear

I fully expect there to be someone reading this—one of the few people who has actually seen this film—arguing that it doesn’t belong on a “horror” list, but they would be mistaken. And it’s true, They Look Like People is genuinely far creepier than many other, more traditional horror films on this list that aim to entertain more than legitimately scare. What we have here is a very unusual, unflinching portrait of mental and emotional illnesses that spin wildly out of control. It would be really easy for the story to be more conventional—guy’s friend visits, turns out the friend is crazy—but They Look Like People messes with the audience’s expectations by giving both of the male leads (MacLeod Andrews and Evan Dumouchel) their own mental hurdles to overcome. They never react quite like we expect them to, because neither sees the world in a healthy way. It’s a film where the threat and implication of terrible violence, evoked via constantly on-edge atmosphere, becomes almost unbearable—whether or not it actually arrives. Thanks to some very, very strong performances, you always feel balanced on the edge of a knife. Deliberately paced but thankfully brisk (only 80 minutes), They Look Like People leaves much unanswered, but we still feel satisfied anyway. It’s one of the most brilliant and overlooked of modern horror films. —Jim Vorel


31. A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night

girl walks home alone poster (Custom).jpg Year: 2014
Director: Ana Lily Amirpour

Advertising itself as “the first Iranian Vampire Western,” A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night transcends just about every word in that description, and yet it has the defiant one-dimensionality of a lurid graphic novel. Its moody atmosphere is all of a piece, cutting off our connection to characters or any sense of deeper thematic or emotional terrain. The film stars Sheila Vand (Argo) as the titular girl. She lives in Bad City, a desert community littered with slowly churning oil derricks and an unsettling open pit where dead bodies are dumped. This unnamed character walks the city streets at night decked out in a chador, which makes her look like a superhero. More accurately, she’s a vampire, feasting indiscriminately on men deserving of the grisly fate. (Pimps and other baddies seem to be favored targets.) Shot in Southern California, A Girl Walks is a triumph of high-contrast lighting, the dark shadows coexisting with the flickering streetlights. (The whole movie exists in the same arresting permanent-midnight environment of Touch of Evil, where empty desert threatens to consume the few signs of civilization.) Such a heightened visual palette risks becoming monotonous, but Amirpour and cinematographer Lyle Vincent keep delighting the eye, finding endless ways to surprise us with the ghostly appearance of Vand in the background. (With her pale face, heavily-mascaraed eyes and dark cloak, she’s the most bewitching vision of death you’ve seen on a screen in a while.) Amirpour has crafted a tone poem to alienation and first love that’s incredibly sensual and eerie. It has its share of spilled blood, but Amirpour prefers the creepy-crawly to the crudity of gore. Like Jim Jarmusch, she enjoys playing around with genres from an ironic distance, letting her noir-ish tone set the terms for everything else that goes into the film. Hers is a feature debut is so enveloping that it doesn’t much matter that not a lot happens within the frame. Draped in dreamy black-and-white and scored with proto-Morricone instrumentals and evocative goth-rock, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night proudly stakes its claim as an aspiring cult classic. —Tim Grierson


30. Nightmare Cinema

nightmare-cinema-movie-poster2.jpg Year: 2019
Directors: Alejandro Brugués, Joe Dante, Ryuhei Kitamura, David Slade, Mick Garris

There’s a special kind of perversity to following up Joe Dante’s portion of this bleakly delightful horror anthology—a freakish short about a woman with a scar on her face (Zarah Mahler) whose fiance convinces her to get a “little” plastic surgery before she meets his mom—with the introduction of Mickey Rourke as the Projectionist, the character whose spooky movie theater stitches our five stories together. Dante’s “Mirari” screams bloody disfigurement into the faces of people who look like Rourke, faces warped by what can only be a sad and jarring dysmorphia condoned by Hollywood and the movie-making machine with which many of the filmmakers involved here have struggled. And Rourke’s face resembling the puffed-out visage of one of the villains in Dante’s film can’t be lost on the director: Nightmare Cinema pretty clearly comments on, celebrates and deconstructs the idea of horror movies as popcorn fodder, of exploiting so many of our deepest fears as grist for the giant, cynical mill of populist entertainment. The Projectionist says as much: He’s collecting—literally in film canisters—the mortal terror of five strangers wandering in off the street. There’s the hot-to-trot high schooler (Sarah Elizabeth Withers) trapped in an ostensible slasher scenario (Alejandro Brugués’ pitch-perfect “The Thing in the Woods”); the beleaguered mom (Elizabeth Reaser) whose reality crumbles post-break-up in David Slade’s hilarious and heartbreaking “This Way to Egress”; the piano prodigy (Faly Rakotohavana) whose harrowing brush with mortality sinks him into an ever-shifting B-grade serial killer thriller in Mick Garris’s rollicking “Dead.” As is the case with so many of these endeavors, one segment squats below the rest: Ryuhei Kitamura’s “Mashit,” which follows a priest (Maurice Benard) and likely pedophile—a fact mentioned in passing after we’ve already seen the priest fornicate with a nun (Mariela Garriga)—forced to slaughter a private school full of prepubescents possessed by a demon who supposedly punishes the lustful. Cheap and mostly incoherent, Kitamura’s Grand Guignol has nothing interesting to add to any discussion about faith or the church or institutionalized repression or even the medium of horror, instead relying on the shock of watching a priest mutilate children in a church to sustain its spectacle. It’s all very stupid—unlike the other four stories surrounding it, each a welcome bite of reassurance that some of our best genre filmmakers still have the fear in them that keeps them working. —Dom Sinacola


29. Southbound

southbound poster (Custom).jpg Year: 2016
Directors: Radio Silence, Roxanne Benjamin, David Bruckner, Patrick Horvath

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


28. Prevenge

prevenge-movie-jpg Year: 2017
Director: Alice Lowe

Maybe getting close enough to gut a person when you’re blatantly with child is a cinch—no one likely expects an expecting mother to cut their throat—but all the positive encouragement Ruth’s unborn daughter gives her helps, too. The kid spends the film spurring her mother to slaughter seemingly innocent people from in utero, an invisible voice of incipient malevolence sporting a high-pitched giggle that’ll make your skin crawl. “Pregnant lady goes on a slashing spree at the behest of her gestating child” is, in practice, more somber than it is silly, but the bleak tone suits what writer, director and star Alice Lowe wants to achieve with her filmmaking debut. Another storyteller might have designed Prevenge as a more comically slanted effort, but Lowe has sculpted it to smash taboos and social norms. Parenthood is a special experience, motherhood more so than fatherhood, but Prevenge imagines the bond between parent and child as something unnatural and even dreadful, without stepping clear over the line into poor taste. This is what pregnancy looks like when described by a woman through a genre lens, one of the best examples of its pedigree, moody and dreamlike with a blend of comic unpleasantry and homage that avoids navel-gazing. The best evidence of Lowe’s intentions is the film’s current of misanthropy. Prevenge hates human beings with a disturbing passion, even human beings who aren’t selfish, awful, creepy or worse. Ruth’s midwife (Jo Hartley) provides routine well-meaning encouragement and counsel, but through Lowe’s eyes her advice chafes more than it soothes. Another character, a kindly young fellow in a relationship with one of Ruth’s victims-to-be, is genuinely empathetic toward her in one of the movie’s gentler moments, but even he isn’t spared her insatiable wrath when his time comes. No one gets out unscathed, even the pure-hearted. They either fall to Ruth’s blade or Lowe’s merciless script. —Andy Crump


27. After Midnight

after-midnight-poster.jpg Year: 2019
Director: Jeremy Gardner, Christian Stella

Hank (Jeremy Gardner) has a problem: Abby (Brea Grant), his longtime girlfriend and the weathervane of his existence, has up and left with only a vague note to explain her sudden disappearance. All Hank has to hang onto now is his family’s old home, which he and Abby had made their home together, plus a bottomless case of peanut wine. Oh, also, there’s that damn monster that batters Hank every night after the clock strikes 12. That’s a problem, too. After Midnight could be read as anything other than a horror film, but if there’s a worse horror to live with than the horror of knowing your short-term future is going to be defined by monster attacks, well, Gardner doesn’t care. Following his usual tack, he wrote this movie, co-directed this movie and put himself in front of the cameras while they rolled: There’s more budget to speak of than his other work (like The Battery), considering the involvement of effects studio MastersFX (see: Tales From the Crypt: Demon Knight), but most of the money goes toward…well, wait for the final 10 or so minutes to find out. Everything that’s left over goes toward creating a sadsack world for Hank to live in and pity himself in, his stunted emotional growth being the bugbear holding him back from going anywhere with his life and with Abby. “Manchildren but make it scary” sounds like a terrible elevator pitch, but Gardner’s been making low-budget, high-tension, higher-atmosphere movies in his sleep for his whole career, and After Midnight is the most refined example of his vision yet. —Andy Crump


26. The Nightmare

the-nightmare.jpg Year: 2015
Director: Rodney Ascher

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


25. Stage Fright, a.k.a. Aquarius

stage-fright-1987-poster.jpg Year: 1987
Director: Michele Soavi

Stage Fright is what it looks like when Italian giallo films inform the American slasher genre, and then American slasher films return the favor by inspiring Italian imitation. Michele Soavi, perhaps better known in horror circles for 1994’s truly unique Cemetery Man, created this fusion of Argento-esque Italian horror (he was second unit director on Tenebrae and Argento’s similar film Opera) and American “escaped maniac on the loose” movies as an imaginative, gory dreamscape, and one that stands out as much for its ethereal visuals as it does for its shocking gore factor. Set overnight in a theater, where a troupe of actors is working overtime to premiere a new show about a homicidal killer, life of course ends up imitating art. The killer stalks the various nubile young actors dressed in an unusual owl costume, increasingly mottled with blood in its feathers as he impales or disembowels them. There’s a fantastical quality to Stage Fright that is its signature—a painterly quality to its beautiful set pieces that elevates it beyond the gratuitous violence. Although it takes a while to get going, once the killings begin, Stage Fright becomes a waking nightmare. —Jim Vorel


24. The Boy Behind the Door

boy-behind-the-door-poster.jpg Year: 2021
Director: David Charbonier, Justin Powell

the thing The Boy Behind the Door relies on the most is not nostalgia, though if you’re an adult, it may feel that way. The power of friendship is what keeps the heart of this film pumping fresh blood until the very end. There is something so sweet and unbreakable about a true childhood kinship, and that treasured bond is ripe between Bobby and Kevin. They are each other’s rock, and their dialogue and character impulses solidify this important piece of the puzzle that aids them throughout. Their mantra, “friends till the end,” sustains them through their trials and tribulations, and it is beyond clear that their symbiotic connection is their greatest asset. It’s easy, as a viewer, to feel deep catharsis with this element and your mind will wander back to those idyllic childhood moments with whomever was your best bud. But it seems the filmmakers also made it a point to take those feelings a step further: Their story makes you so thankful for those times, amid the uncertainty of life and the insidiousness of humanity, that the feeling will unsettle you. And, like The Boy Behind the Door, it should. —Lex Briscuso


23. Tigers Are Not Afraid

tigers-are-not-afraid-poster.jpg Year: 2019
Director: Issa López

It’s possible, even probable, that a portion of Tigers Are Not Afraid’s audience will receive the film as a parable about the current humanitarian crisis unfolding along the U.S.-Mexico border, a clarion call for compassion and decisive legislation to put an end to the suffering inflicted on innocent families fleeing mortal peril and economic repression. Such is the myth of America’s legacy. But Issa López made Tigers Are Not Afraid years ago, before the administration in power escalated the United States’ already appalling immigration policies into full-on decimation. This is not a cry for action. It’s a snapshot of Mexico’s recent history that bleeds into its present day. Tigers Are Not Afraid molds the sickening consequences of cartel violence on Mexico’s children to fit the shape of folkloric narrative. It’s a fairy tale, and a horror film, though the two tend to go hand-in-hand: Fairy tales point us to the darkness that exists on society’s periphery—or, in this case, occupies society’s center. The world of Tigers Are Not Afraid is made of crumbling walls and whispers, a land of ghosts where children are acclimated to ducking for cover under their desks when bullets interrupt class time. (Another thread to tempt viewers toward forced topical readings.) All the world is horror even before López starts ushering ghosts into the fray.

Estrella (Paola Lara) is one orphan among many in the unnamed border town López has chosen as the film’s location. When she’s given three wishes by her teacher, she immediately asks for her mother to return. Her mother does—but the conditions of her return are fuzzy, so mom resurrects as a hoarse, desiccated revenant. On the opposite end of the spectrum is Shine (Juan Ramón López), also an orphan, but one devoted to keeping his fellow orphaned boys safe on the streets as they outmaneuver cartel thugs and perhaps hope to find justice against them. Estrella and Shine share the screen as sun and moon share the sky, casting the film with light and darkness amidst graffiti-streaked buildings, the threat of death lurking in alleyways and on street corners. With Tigers Are Not Afraid, López threads the needle through tragedy and hope. This is at once a grim movie, an optimistic movie and a redemptive movie. It’s a welcome reminder that fairy tales and folklore are an essential part of our culture, too. At the most inhuman times, they lay down a path back to humanity. —Andy Crump


22. The House of the Devil

9. house of the devil (Custom).jpg Year: 2009
Director: Ti West

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


21. Society

society-movie-poster.jpg
Year: 1989
Director: Brian Yuzna

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


20. Black Sunday

17. black sunday (Custom).jpg Year: 1960
Director: Mario Bava

Technically Mario Bava’s directorial debut, and still considered by many his best film, Black Sunday is an extremely influential movie in the history of Italian horror and also managed to introduce audiences to ’60s scream queen mainstay Barbara Steele. It establishes so many different tropes, such as its opening sequences of brutal Spanish Inquisition-era torture that establishes the supernatural evil that will return over time. A beautiful gothic horror picture, it’s fascinating how closely it in some ways mirrors the work of Terence Fisher over at Britain’s Hammer Studios—Black Sunday is to Italy what Horror of Dracula was to Britain, some two years later, and with a sexy female witch/vampire instead of the gaunt Christopher Lee, one who returns 200 years later to terrorize her descendents. Bava would go on to be a major figure in both the supernatural horror and giallo film industries of Italy, right up there with contemporaries like Dario Argento and Lucio Fulci. — Jim Vorel


19. Black Christmas

black-christmas-poster.jpg Year: 1974
Director: Bob Clark

Fun fact: Nine years before he directed holiday classic A Christmas Story, Bob Clark created the first true, unassailable “slasher movie” in Black Christmas. Yes, the same person who gave TBS its annual Christmas Eve marathon fodder was also responsible for the first major cinematic application of the phrase “The calls are coming from inside the house!” Black Christmas, which was insipidly remade in 2006, predates John Carpenter’s Halloween by four years and features many of the same elements, especially visually. Like Halloween, it lingers heavily on POV shots from the killer’s eyes as he prowls through a dimly lit sorority house and spies on his future victims. As the mentally deranged killer calls the house and engages in obscene phone calls with the female residents, one can’t help but also be reminded of the scene in Carpenter’s film where Laurie (Jamie Lee Curtis) calls her friend Lynda, only to hear her strangled with the telephone cord. Black Christmas is also instrumental, and practically archetypal, in solidifying the slasher trope of the so-called “final girl.” Jessica Bradford (Olivia Hussey) is actually among the better-realized of these final girls in the history of the genre, a remarkably strong and resourceful young woman who can take care of herself in both her relationships and deadly scenarios. It’s questionable how many subsequent slashers have been able to create protagonists who are such a believable combination of capable and realistic. —Jim Vorel


18. Zombi 2

zombi 2 poster (Custom).jpg Year: 1979
Director: Lucio Fulci

In the ’70s and ’80s, it was hard to beat Italy in terms of fucked-up horror movie content, and given that market’s fondness for the “cannibal film,” is it any surprise they also came to love the zombie genre as well? Zombi 2 is the crown jewel of all the Italian zombie movies, cleverly implied as essentially a direct follow-up (thematically, not plot-wise) to Romero’s Dawn of the Dead, which had been released in Italy to great success under the title Zombi. Helmed by Italian giallo/supernatural horror maestro Lucio Fulci, Zombi 2 significantly upped the crazy factor and pushed gore to a new ceiling. The effects and makeup on this film are absolutely disgusting, and it’s filled with iconic moments that have transcended the horror genre. Scene of someone having an eye poked out? They’re always compared to the eye-poking scene in Zombi 2. Scene where a zombie fights a freaking SHARK? Well, nobody compares that, because nobody has the balls to try and one-up Zombi 2’s zombie shark-fighting scene. That’s one contribution that will stand the test of time. Zombi 2 has had countless foreign imitators since, but none of them can measure up. (Note, this is just titled Zombie on Shudder.) —Jim Vorel


17. The Evil Dead

evil-dead.jpg Year: 1982
Director: Sam Raimi

Infamously pieced together from $350,000 and an exceptional amount of goodwill, The Evil Dead, when looking back at it, seems to have created a kind of horror unto itself. Sam Raimi’s debut, of course, is notable for so much more than that: like how it was edited by Joel Coen; or how Stephen King’s rabid interest caught the attention of a major studio, giving Raimi and close bud Bruce Campbell the chance to pour everything they knew about slashers, slapstick, camp, pulp and fantasy into Evil Dead II, a kind of sequel/reboot hybrid. But the real gauge of The Evil Dead’s tenor is perhaps best exemplified by the fact that its 2013 remake was something of a sickening feast for gore-hounds. For those familiar with Evil Dead II and the even sillier Army of Darkness, the fact that the original film was more of a straightforward genre affair feels somehow off; behold cognitive dissonance in full effect. And yet, somehow this rudimentary story of five Michigan State students who unwittingly unleash ancient demons in a cabin in the woods is still surprisingly, mercilessly skin-crawling. Leave it to Sam Raimi to stretch a dollar so far the sound of it snapping has the same effect on our stomachs as a classic bump in the night. —Dom Sinacola


16. One Cut of the Dead

one-cut-of-the-dead-poster.jpg Year: 2017
Director: Shiniichiro Ueda

Director Higurashi (Takayuki Hamatsu), beleaguered protagonist of Shinichiro Ueda’s box office indie smash One Cut of the Dead, has two modes: “On” and “in dire need of an ‘off’ button.” Even at his most sedate, Higurashi hums with the unharnessed energy of a pent-up greyhound, always at the ready for a race around the track but conditioned to patiently wait until the signal is given. Once it is, he’s a sight to behold, a man unleashed, screaming like a maniac christened as dictator, vaulting around sets with such vigor and dexterity to put the world’s parkour champions to shame. Hamatsu’s is the kind of performance that can only be contained by a specific kind of film. That film is One Cut of the Dead. Ueda first introduces Higurashi as a despotic indie filmmaker howling at his weeping star, Chinatsu (Yuzuki Akiyama), then 37 minutes later reveals the man to be a docile, much too obliging videographer who chiefly works on weddings and karaoke clips. It’s a glorious, bonkers 37 minutes, too, presented as a zombie movie shoot gone wrong. Higurashi and his cast—Chinatsu, former actress (and Higurashi’s wife) Nao (Harumi Shuhama), and pain in the ass leading man Ko (Kazuaki Nagaya)—and crew have set up shop at a decrepit, isolated warehouse that also stores a coterie of shambling undead. As they’re besieged by ghouls, Higurashi, yet to find a take that he actually likes, keeps on filming through the carnage. Of course it’s all a film-within-a-film. Once One Cut of the Dead shifts gears from a zombie movie to a backstage inside baseball comedy, the initially cold atmosphere Ueda establishes warms up. The amateur terror of Higurashi’s guerilla filmmaking gives way to winning charms as the audience gets to see who he really is, what this project means to him and just how damn hard it is to make a movie in a single take. It’s chaos, but it’s controlled chaos (even if only just), and in the chaos there’s absolute joy. One Cut of the Dead ends with smiles, pride, reconciliations and the accomplished sense of having achieved the impossible. If that’s not a ringing endorsement of collaborative art’s benefits, then what is? Maybe Ueda’s film is an odd messenger for delivering such high sentiment, but it’s the messenger we have, and we should embrace it. —Andy Crump


15. Mandy

mandy-movie-poster.jpg Year: 2018
Director: Panos Cosmatos

More than an hour in, the film’s title appears, growing lichen-like, sinister and near-illegible, as all great metal album covers are. The name and title card—Mandy—immediately follows a scene in which our hero forges his own Excalibur, a glistening, deformed axe adorned with pointy and vaguely erotic edges and appurtenances, the stuff of H.R. Giger’s wettest dreams. Though Red (Nicolas Cage) could use, and pretty much does use, any weapon at hand to avenge the brutal murder of his titular love (Andrea Riseborough), he still crafts that beautiful abomination as ritual, infusing his quest for revenge with dark talismanic magic, compelled by Bakshi-esque visions of Mandy to do her bidding on the corporeal plane. He relishes the ceremony and succumbs to the rage that will push him to some intensely extreme ends. We know almost nothing about his past before he met Mandy, but we can tell he knows his way around a blunt, deadly object. So begins Red’s unhinged murder spree, phantasmagoric and gloriously violent. A giant bladed dildo, a ludicrously long chainsaw, a hilarious pile of cocaine, the aforementioned spiked LSD, the aforementioned oracular chemist, a tiger, more than one offer of sex—Red encounters each as if it’s the rubble of a waking nightmare, fighting or consuming all of it. Every shot of Mandy reeks of shocking beauty, stylized at times to within an inch of its intelligibility, but endlessly pregnant with creativity and control, euphoria and pain, clarity and honesty and the ineffable sense that director Panos Cosmatos knows exactly how and what he wants to subconsciously imprint into the viewer. Still, Mandy is a revenge movie, and a revenge movie has to satiate the audience’s bloodlust. Cosmatos bathes Red (natch) in gore, every kill hard won and subcutaneously rewarding. There is no other film this year that so effectively feeds off of the audience’s anger, then sublimates it, releasing it without allowing it to go dangerously further. We need this kind of retribution now; we’re all furious with the indifferent unfairness of a world and a life and a society, of a government, that does not care about us. That does not value our lives. Mandy is our revenge movie. Watch it big. Watch it loud. Watch yourself exorcised on screen. —Dom Sinacola


14. Near Dark

near-dark-1987-poster.jpg Year: 1987
Director: Kathryn Bigelow

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


13. The Beyond

the-beyond-poster.jpg Year: 1981
Director: Lucio Fulci

It’s hard to describe Fulci’s The Beyond in absolutes. Some would contend that it isn’t a “zombie movie.” Which isn’t to say there aren’t any zombies in it, but it’s not a Romero-style zombie movie, as Fulci pulled off in Zombi 2. The Beyond is the middle entry in Fulci’s “Gates of Hell” trilogy, and takes place in and around a crumbling old hotel that just happens to have one of those gates to hell located in its cellar. When it opens, all hell starts to break loose in the building, in a film that combines a haunted house aesthetic with demonic possession, the living dead and ghostly apparitions. As with so many of the other films in this mold, it’s not always entirely clear what’s going on … and honestly, the plot is more or less irrelevant. You’re watching it to see zombies gouge the eyes out of unsuspecting innocents or watch heads being blown off, and there’s no shortage of either of those things. Thinking back to Lucio Fulci movies after the fact, you won’t remember any of the story structure. You’ll just remember the ultra gory highlights, splattering across the screen in a way that continues to influence filmmakers to this day. Modern horror films such as We Are Still Here show heavy inspiration from Fulci, and The Beyond in particular. It’s one of the most stylish of the Italian, zombie-featuring horror flicks. —Jim Vorel


12. Hellraiser

12. hellraiser (Custom).jpg Year: 1987
Director: Clive Barker

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


11. Goodnight Mommy

goodnight-mommy-poster.jpg Year: 2014
Directors: Veronika Franz, Severin Fiala

We begin by joining twin, tow-headed nine-year-old brothers Lukas (Lukas Schwarz) and Elias (Elias Schwarz) as they explore the rural paradise of their new home, swimming in azure-pure lakes and casually spelunking through nearby caves ostensibly untouched for centuries. Though the twins seem to be perfectly content letting their Edenic nature occupy them, a near-ineffable pall of tragedy hangs over the film from the start. It’s unexplainable but slightly pungent, as if at any moment one of the boys will fall down a ravine or stumble into a hornet’s nest. Maybe it’s because they bow to seemingly no adult supervision—that is, until their mother (Susanne Wuest) returns to their ceaselessly modern home after going away for a surgery of some sort. Her face covered in bandages, her eyes red-rimmed and limned with a shadow of dread, “Mommy” greets her boys with reticence and anxiety. Gradually, of course, the boys suspect that something is up with their mommy, especially when, as a form of punishment for their suspicious behavior (as well as, we assume, behavior and transgressions we have yet to understand), she pretends that Lukas doesn’t exist. Goodnight Mommy, for all of its familiar notions, isn’t exactly a traditional horror film, more in tune with the eerie, silent moral plays of Carl Theodor Dreyer than with the Grand Guignol schlock of an Eli Roth in heat. In fact, you may be able to figure out the “twist” by the end of the first act; while the filmmakers do nothing to bury the lede, they still take great pains to juggle their high-minded concept with an eye for burrowing certain notions about the very fabric of our human race within the subcutaneous folds of our most firmly held beliefs about how life—family, love, trust—should work. The true horror of Goodnight Mommy isn’t about who she is, but what happens to her—how easily we can set fire to the bedrock of even our basest notions of what it means to be human. And there really is nothing scarier than that. —Dom Sinacola


10. A Dark Song

a-dark-song-movie-poster.jpg Year: 2017
Director: Liam Gavin

In Liam Gavin’s black magic genre oddity, Sophia (Catherine Walker), a grief-stricken mother, and the schlubby, no-nonsense occultist (Steve Oram) she hires devote themselves to a long, meticulous, painstaking ritual in order to (they hope) communicate with her dead son. Gavin lays out the ritual specifically and physically—over the course of months of isolation, Sophia undergoes tests of endurance and humiliation, never quite sure if she’s participating in an elaborate hoax or if she can take her spiritual guide seriously when he promises her he’s succeeded in the past. Paced to near perfection, A Dark Song is ostensibly a horror film but operates as a dread-laden procedural, mounting tension while translating the process of bereavement as patient, excruciating manual labor. In the end, something definitely happens, but its implications are so steeped in the blurry lines between Christianity and the occult that I still wonder what kind of alternate realms of existence Gavin is getting at. But A Dark Song thrives in that uncertainty, feeding off of monotony. Sophia may hear phantasmagorical noise coming from beneath the floorboards, but then substantial spans of time pass without anything else happening, and we begin to question, as she does, whether it was something she did wrong (maybe, when tasked with not moving from inside a small chalk circle for days at a time, she screwed up that portion of the ritual by allowing her urine to dribble outside of the boundary) or whether her grief has blinded her to an expensive con. Regardless, that “not knowing” is the scary stuff of everyday life, and by portraying Sophia’s profound emotional journey as a humdrum trial of physical mettle, Gavin reveals just how much pointless, even terrifying work it can be anymore to not only live the most ordinary of days, but to make it to the next. —Dom Sinacola


9. Ginger Snaps

ginger-snaps.jpg Year: 2000
Director: John Fawcett

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


8. Day of the Dead

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

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—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 researcher (Matthew “Frankenstein” Logan) 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,” 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 zombies’ potential. —Jim Vorel


7. Re-Animator

5. re-animator (Custom).jpg Year: 1985
Director: Stuart Gordon

Ironically, the most entertaining take on H.P. Lovecraft is the least “Lovecrafty.” Stuart Gordon established himself as cinema’s leading Lovecraft adaptor with a juicy take on the story “Herbert West, Re-Animator,” about a student who concocts a disturbingly flawed means of reviving the dead. Re-Animator more closely resembles a zombie film than Lovecraft’s signature brand of occult sci-fi, but it boasts masterful suspense scenes, great jokes and Barbara Crampton as a smart, totally hot love interest. Jeffrey Combs is brilliant, establishing himself as the Anthony Perkins of his generation as West, a hilariously insolent and reckless genius whom he played in two Re-Animator sequels. The actor even played Lovecraft in the anthology film Necronomicon. The film is a near-perfect crystallization of best aspects of ’80s horror, from its delight in perversion to its awesome practical effects. —Curt Holman


6. The Wailing

the-wailing.jpg Year: 2016
Director: Na Hong-jin

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


5. Deep Red

deep red poster (Custom).jpg Year: 1975
Director: Dario Argento

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


4. Train to Busan

train-to-busan.jpg Year: 2016
Director: Yeon Sang-ho

Love them or hate them, zombies are still a constant of the horror genre in 2016, dependable enough to set your conductor’s watch by. And although I’ve probably seen enough indie zombie films at this point to eschew them from my viewing habits for the rest of my life, there is still usually at least one great zombie movie every other year. In 2016, that was Train to Busan, a film that has since been added to our list of the 50 Best Zombie Movies of All Time. There’s no need for speculation: Train to Busan would undoubtedly have made the list. This South Korean story of a career-minded father attempting to protect his young daughter on a train full of rampaging zombies is equal parts suspenseful popcorn entertainment and genuinely affecting family drama. It concludes with several action elements that I’ve never seen before, or even considered for a zombie film, and any time you can add something truly novel to the genre of the walking dead, then you’re definitely doing something right. With a few memorable, empathetic supporting characters and some top-notch makeup FX, you’ve got one of the best zombie movies of the past half-decade. —Jim Vorel


3. The Texas Chain Saw Massacre

texas-chainsaw-massacre-poster.jpg Year: 1974
Director: Tobe Hooper

One of the most brutal mainstream horror films ever released, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, based on notorious Wisconsin serial killer Ed Gein, resembles art-house verité built on the grainy physicality of its flat Texas setting. Plus, it introduced the superlatively sinister Leatherface, the iconic chainsaw-wielding giant of a man who wears a mask made of human skin, whose freakish sadism is upstaged only by the introduction of his cannibalistic family with whom he resides in a dilapidated house in the middle of the Texas wilderness, together chowing on the meat Leatherface and his brothers harvest, while Grandpa drinks blood and fashions furniture from victims’ bones. Still, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre might not be the goriest horror film ever made, but as an imaginal excavation of the subterranean anxieties of a post-Vietnam rural American populace, it’s pretty much unparalleled. Twisted, dark and beautiful all at once, it careens through a wide variety of tones and techniques without ever losing its singular intensity. (And there are few scenes in this era of horror with more disturbing sound design than the bit where Leatherface ambushes a guy with a single dull hammer strike to the head before slamming the metal door shut behind him.) —Rachel Haas and Brent Ables


2. The Changeling

the-changeling-poster.jpg Year: 1980
Director: Peter Medak

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


1. Halloween

halloween-1978-poster.jpg Year: 1978
Director: John Carpenter

For students of John Carpenter’s filmography, it is interesting to note that Halloween is actually a significantly less ambitious film than his previous Assault on Precinct 13 on almost every measurable level. It doesn’t have the sizable cast of extras, or the extensive FX and stunt work. It’s not filled with action sequences. But what it does give us is the first full distillation of the American slasher film, and a heaping helping of atmosphere. Carpenter built off earlier proto-slashers such as Bob Clark’s Black Christmas in penning the legend of Michael Myers, an unstoppable phantom who returns to his hometown on Halloween night to stalk high school girls. (The original title was actually The Babysitter Murders, if you haven’t heard that particular bit of trivia before.) Carpenter heavily employs tools that would become synonymous with slashers, such as the killer’s POV perspective, making Myers into something of a voyeur (he’s just called “The Shape” in the credits) who lurks silently in the darkness with inhuman patience before finally making his move. It’s a lean, mean movie with some absurd characterization in its first half (particularly from the ditzy P.J. Soles, who can’t stop saying “totally”) that then morphs into a claustrophobic crescendo of tension as Jamie Lee Curtis’ Laurie Strode first comes into contact with Myers. Utterly indispensable to the whole thing is the great Donald Pleasance as Dr. Loomis, the killer’s personal hype man/Ahab, whose sole purpose in the screenplay is to communicate to the audience with frothing hyperbole just what a monster this Michael Myers really is. It can’t be overstated how important Pleasance is to making this film into the cultural touchstone that would inspire the early ’80s slasher boom to follow. —Jim Vorel