The 50 Best Horror Movies on Shudder

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The 50 Best Horror Movies on Shudder

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 varied 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 300 titles—closer to 400 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 60 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 Horror Movies Streaming on Netflix
The 50 best horror movies streaming on Shudder
The 50 Best Movies About Serial Killers


50. Pieces

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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. Chopping Mall

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Year: 1986
Director: Jim Wynorski
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


48. Hell House LLC

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Year: 2015
Director: Stephen Cognetti
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


47. Hell Night

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Year: 1981
Director: Tom DeSimone
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


46. Bad Moon

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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


45. Body Bags

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Year: 1993
Directors: John Carpenter, Tobe Hooper, Larry Sulkis
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


44. Haunt

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Year: 2019
Director: Scott Beck, Bryan Woods
The “haunted house turns out to be real” horror subgenre is not a new one, with entries as recent as 2018’s Hell Fest, but Scott Beck and Bryan Woods’ Haunt attracted a notably warmer reception from horror geeks, most of whom seemed to appreciated its relative simplicity and throwback mentality. There’s a surface-level commentary here on abusive relationships and overcoming one’s crippling emotional baggage, although those are phrases you could throw around as backstory for practically any slasher protagonist—with that said, Haunt’s characters are a bit better than most, which is a strength. It’s hard not to be reminded of Channel Zero’s second season, “No-End House,” which similarly sent its protagonists into a supposed entertainment site in order to screw with their minds, but the goal here is nowhere near so lofty or cerebral—we’re just here to watch the group get picked off one at a time, until they manage to unmask the true nature of the sickos running things in this attraction behind the scenes. As is, it’s a serviceable modern quasi-slasher. —Jim Vorel


43. Horror Noire

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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


42. Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers

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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


41. Creepshow 2

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Year: 1987
Director: Michael Gornick
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 on the bottom of the lake? —Jim Vorel


40. Knife + Heart

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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. Late Phases

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Year: 2014
Director: Adrian Garcia Bogliano
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


38. Dead & Buried

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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. Audition

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Year: 1999
Director: Takashi Miike
Audition, almost more infamous than genuinely viewed, earns its rather harrowing reputation. It’s a protracted slow burn, a mystery about a middle-aged man learning more about the young, beautiful woman—a little on the possessive side, and more than a little psychotic—who has suddenly come into his life. Compare it to say, Fatal Attraction, if Glenn Close had the chance to enact an extended torture scene. That is of course what people tend to remember about Audition today, especially the immensely unsettling portions with the needles and the piano wire. The rest of the film, though, is a deftly shot Miike thriller. You can tell from the very beginning that the characters are headed for a soul-scarring fate, but in this case it may very well be worse than you imagined. —Jim Vorel


36. The Old Dark House

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Year: 1932
Director: James Whale
Given the name, you’d be forgiven for assuming that this long-forgotten and then rediscovered James Whale classic had created the genre we colloquially refer to as “old dark house” movies, but in reality, the Frankenstein director seems to have been making a sly commentary on the familiar Hollywood tendency toward endless repetition. In reality, old dark house films replete with burglars, monsters and secret passageways had been all the rage in the American film industry through the 1920s and the end of the silent era, but as with so many other genres the arrival of sound created a talkie revival, with The Old Dark House as a new ur-template: One part parody and one part sincere thriller, expanding upon the elements of films like The Cat and the Canary while attaching major stars of the day (Boris Karloff, Charles Laughton) to a familiar story. The classic tropes are all there: A dark and stormy night; a group of strangers in a mansion; mistaken identities; disfigurement; a family secret. Elevating those elements is Whale’s considerable directorial talent, employing the same Expressionist-inspired use of darkness and shadow so often praised in the better-known Frankenstein or Bride of Frankenstein. The Old Dark House, in fact, seems like a film tailor-made for Whale’s beautifully atmospheric black-and-white visuals, all the more impressive now with modern restoration. —Jim Vorel


35. The Taking of Deborah Logan

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Year: 2014
Director: Adam Robitel
This recent spin on the extremely crowded possession genre is the real definition of a mixed bag. Its initial premise is solid, as it follows a college film crew documenting the titular senior citizen, who is battling Alzheimer’s disease. What they don’t realize is that someone or something else may have been welcomed into Deborah’s mind as her mental faculties weaken. The film gets points for stylishness on a budget, and especially for the chilling, nuanced performance by Jill Larson as Deborah, but it’s eventually unable to sustain itself in the last third, becoming increasingly divorced from logic. There are moments of great, disturbing imagery, but that’s counterbalanced by characters who act incredibly irrationally—even for a horror film. It becomes more and more difficult to find reasons for any of the story being filmed at all, which leads to an ending that some might label a cop-out. But with that said, it’s still a far cry better than most entries in either the found footage or possession subgenres, with inherent style winning out over tight scripting. —Jim Vorel


34. The Canal

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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


33. A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night

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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


32. Honeymoon

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Year: 2014
Director: Leigh Janiak
The cool thing about horror is that if you just have the vision, you can make something like Honeymoon with no more resources than an empty cabin and a few weeks of spare time. The film only has four actors, and two of them barely appear, leaving everything on the shoulders of the two young stars, Rose Leslie (Ygritte from Game of Thrones) and Harry Treadway. This is the right decision to make: If you’ve got a few solid, young actors, why not let the film just become a statement of their talents? The story is extremely simple, with a newlywed couple going on their honeymoon in a remote cabin in the woods. When Bea, the wife, wanders away one night and has some kind of disturbing event in the woods, she comes back changed, and it begins to affect both her memory and sense of identity. The next hour or so is a slow-burning but well-acted and suspenseful journey for the two as the husband’s suspicions grow and the warning flags continue to mount. By the end, emotions and gross-out scares are both running high. —Jim Vorel


31. Nightmare Cinema

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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


30. Phantasm

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Year: 1979
Director: Don Coscarelli
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


29. Southbound

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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. Tenebrae

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Year: 1982
Director: Dario Argento
If you wrote an ultra-violet horror book, and if your ultra-violent horror book inspired a workaday psycho to go on their own ultra-violent killing spree, would you be put off or would you take it as a compliment? Maybe that’s not the question Dario Argento asks in his notorious 1982 giallo film Tenebrae, but the plot does call to mind a certain old proverb about imitation and flattery: American author Peter Neal (Anthony Franciosa) heads to Italy to promote his new book, and finds that there’s a serial killer on the loose, emboldened by Neal’s bibliography and murdering Romans in his name. That’s gotta feel pretty good for Neal, though not so much for the killer’s victims. The guy isn’t exactly into efficiency; he prefers to make his prey suffer, which shouldn’t come as a surprise given Tenebrae’s source. (Argento isn’t into efficiency, either. He’ll kill people with random stockpiles of razor wire if he feels like it.) Tenebrae, more so than other Argento movies, is tough to watch; it’s an especially bloody affair, but its artistic merit demands we consider it essential cinema. The film stages arterial geysers to soak its sets in crimson equally as often as it admits Argento’s own twisted indulgences as a filmmaker. He opens the film with a narration about finding freedom in taking life, for Christ’s sake. You figure it out. It’s not that Argento condones murder or anything as nutty as that; it’s more that he’s willing to confess his hopeless fixation with depicting murder on screen. When you’re possessed of as great a gift for that kind of thing as Argento, what reasonable person can blame you? —Andy Crump


27. Prevenge

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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


26. Stage Fright, a.k.a. Aquarius

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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


25. Tigers Are Not Afraid

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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


24. The Transfiguration

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Year: 2017
Director: Michael O’Shea
Michael O’Shea’s The Transfiguration refreshingly refuses to disguise its influences and reference points, instead putting them all out there in the forefront for its audience’s edification, name-dropping a mouthful of noteworthy vampire films and sticking their very titles right smack dab in the midst of its mise en scène. They can’t be missed: Nosferatu is a big one, and so’s The Lost Boys, but none informs O’Shea’s film as much as Let the Right One In, Tomas Alfredson’s unique 2009 genre masterpiece. Like Let the Right One In, The Transfiguration casts a young’n, Milo (Eric Ruffin), as its protagonist, contrasting the horrible particulars of a vampire’s feeding habits against the surface innocence of his appearance. Unlike Let the Right One In, The Transfiguration may not be a vampire movie at all, but a movie about a lonesome kid with an unhealthy fixation on gothic legends. You may choose to view Milo as O’Shea’s modernized update of the iconic monster or a child brimming with inner evil; the film keeps its ends open, its truths veiled and only makes its sociopolitical allegories plain in its final, haunting images. —Andy Crump


23. We Are Still Here

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Year: 2015
Director: Ted Geoghegan
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


22. Society

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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


21. Hagazussa: A Heathen’s Curse

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Year: 2019
Director: Lukas Feigelfeld
Content warning for people with misgivings about cannibalism, vomit, organ splatter, maggoty mushrooms, sexual assault and infinitely worse: Hagazussa provides a minefield of triggers. It’s gross. It’s also stunning, a hypnotic recreation of its time and its place: 15th century Europe, a land cast into the dark ages long before the advent of the age of reason. In between unsettling and barefaced displays of noxious human ills and pseudo hallucinatory insanity, rests still frames so gorgeous they belong in their own art gallery tableau. Snapshots of Austria’s countryside megacosm center on Albrun (Alexsandra Cwen), a woman orphaned as a girl and still alone as an adult, who spends a majority of her time trudging through and taking respite in the forests of her homeland. But Hagazussa’s idyllic appeal belies evil lurking in its frames, stalking Albrun like a basilisk, turning the woods she inhabits to stone. Albrun is marked from birth, doomed to alienation from and othering by her fellow man: As a child, depicted in the film’s opening chapter by Celina Peter, she and her mother, Martha (Claudia Martini), are harassed in dead of night by men disguised in fearsome horn-headed costumes, as concealing as they are intimidating. They’re infernally convinced Martha’s a witch. An hour and change later, the audience is given reason to wonder if they were right. To young Albrun, their incursions qualify as nightmares worse than those chronicled in fables. In the present day narrative, the prejudice of her youth follows her. She’s harassed by snotty village boys, then spared their taunts by a seemingly benevolent woman, Swinda (Tanja Petrovsky), then manipulated into serving Swinda’s own perverse ends. If Albrun isn’t a witch, society does a bang-up job giving her incentive to reconsider the calling. Hagazussa is further distinguished through a patina derived from David Lynch and Panos Cosmatos—slow, deliberate, perpetually unsettling. The film takes its time, but it drags the viewer along the way toward a mind-shattering oblivion. Are Albrun’s visions real, or figments of her imagination? Is witchery truly afoot, or is she just losing her marbles at the business end of ignorant mob persecution? The last of these is the only question with an emphatic “yes” answer, though the idea that the real monster here is Woman is pedantic bordering on boorish. Movies like this function because the monster exists, not simply because people historically treat outsiders like stray dogs at best, vermin at worst. —Andy Crump


20. Black Christmas

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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


19. Demons

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Year: 1985
Director: Lamberto Bava
Lamberto Bava’s career as an Italian horror maestro picked up right where the blood-soaked giallo movies of his father, Mario Bava, left off. Demons, his best work, catches several different genres at an interesting crossroads. On one level, its demons remind one Sam Raimi’s deadites in Evil Dead, as does its sick sense of humor. At the same time, though, it’s just as indebted to the classic zombie film, and the demonic infestation is transmitted in much the same way. The plot involves a movie theater besieged by demons during a horror movie screening, in a structure that mimics Night of the Living Dead. Given that it’s an Italian production, one might expect some of the plodding artistic splashes of Lucio Fulci, but Demons feels like a much more Western, much more American work—frenetic, fast-paced, gory and relentlessly entertaining. It’s not a film with artistic aspirations, but it’s a rollicking good time for those who love the gauzy excesses of ’80s horror. —Jim Vorel


18. Stake Land

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Year: 2010
Director: Jim Mickle
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


17. Zombi 2

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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


16. One Cut of the Dead

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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

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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. The Beyond

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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


13. Hellraiser

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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


12. Starry Eyes

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Year: 2014
Director: Kevin Kölsch
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


11. Re-Animator

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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


10. Take Shelter

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Year: 2011
Director: Jeff Nichols
Take Shelter is the story of a man named Curtis, haunted by visions of the swiftly approaching apocalypse. In his dreams and hallucinations, a vast “storm” is en route, something totally outside of the natural order of the universe, where black, tar-like rain will fall from the sky and his entire family (wife and deaf daughter) will be wiped out. Everything he sees in his daily life seems to hint at the impending doom of The Storm—he looks at a flock of strangely behaving birds and is terrified by the holocaust they represent in his mind. And so, he seeks to protect his family in the only way he can think of, by constructing an elaborate backyard storm shelter, even as the audience learns of the history of schizophrenia and mental collapse that runs in his family. These revelations about the likely source of Curtis’s erratic behavior take the film in directions both frightening and tragic. Key to the film is Michael Shannon, who plays Curtis with some of the most simultaneously sympathetic and genuinely frightening screen intensity that has ever been seen in this genre. Shannon is an intense actor, and his focus and latent aura of anger has been used to great effect in a number of films, but in Take Shelter they make him truly mesmerizing. And somehow, through it all, Curtis’ wife Samantha (Jessica Chastain) is still there for him, trying with heartbreaking earnestness to bring him back down to Earth, even as he loses his job and depletes the family’s nest egg in the construction of his storm shelter. Eventually he erupts in a public place, scorning his neighbors for their lack of preparation, but Samantha is still there as his rock. It becomes clear that if Curtis has a chance, it will be because of the love of his family. The film builds this tension slowly and gradually over the course of a two-hour runtime, and when an actual storm does arrive, followed by Curtis gathering his family into the shelter, the viewer’s unease becomes nigh-unbearable. —Jim Vorel


9. Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon

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Year: 2006
Director: Scott Glosserman
In the years following Scream, there was no shortage of films attempting similar deconstructions of the horror genre, but few deserve to be mentioned in the same breath as the criminally underseen Behind the Mask. Taking place in a world where supernatural killers such as Jason Voorhees and Freddy Krueger actually existed, this mockumentary follows around a guy named Leslie Vernon (Nathan Baesel), who dreams of being the “next great psycho killer.” In doing so, it provides answers and insight into dozens of horror movie tropes and clichés, like: How does the killer train? How does he pick his victims? How can he seemingly be in two places at once? It’s a brilliant, twisted love letter to the genre that also develops an unexpected stylistic change right when you think you know where things are headed. And, despite a lack of star power, Behind the Mask boasts tons of cameos from horror luminaries: Robert Englund, Kane Hodder, Zelda Rubinstein and even The Walking Dead’s Scott Wilson. Every, and I mean every, horror fan needs to see Behind the Mask. It’s criminal that Glosserman has never managed to put together a proper sequel follow-up, but a fan-funded comic series raised twice its goal on IndieGoGo, so maybe it’s still possible. —Jim Vorel


8. The Wailing

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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


7. Deep Red

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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


6. Train to Busan

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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 I sadly hadn’t yet seen when I wrote 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


5. The Texas Chain Saw Massacre

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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


4. Blood and Black Lace

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Year: 1964
Director: Mario Bava
Blood and Black Lace plays like a missing link between Psycho or Peeping Tom and the classic “body count” slashers of the early 1980s, with a significantly more misanthropic attitude reveling in its on-screen violence. Perhaps the single most influential giallo film ever made, it codified some of the early tropes of a nascent film genre, innovated a few new ones of its own and did so with a sumptuous visual aesthetic that proved difficult for any of its imitators to match. In a career full of classics, it is perhaps Bava’s prettiest and most drum-tight film. The action takes place in a cavernous fashion house where high-end models are dressed, primped and prepared to don their haute couture and walk the runway, offering ample opportunity for the camera to both leer at a bevy of young women and examine the way they’re degraded by their industry, which treats them as little more than domesticated animals. When one of the company’s girls is violently murdered, it throws the entire organization into an uproar, with suspicion landing on almost every person employed in the building. What are we to make of the fact that none of the deaths can be traced to any individual? Bava ultimately uses a variety of simple (but effective) tricks to divert the audience’s suspicions until his big reveal. It’s the set-up for an old-fashioned murder mystery, but Blood and Black Lace also deviates from its forebears by being less concerned about the mystery and suspects on hand than it is with the killings themselves. This truly feels like a ground zero for the pulpy, grindhouse aesthetic that prioritizes cinematic death sequences, and the manner of the deaths, above all else. The unfortunate crew of models in the film bite the dust in all manner of ways, both inventive and notably grisly for the time, whether it’s burned to death by being pushed against a hot furnace, drowned in the bathtub or being stabbed through the face with a spiked glove. The film makes it clear: You are there to watch people die, and die in the most stylish way possible. —Jim Vorel


3. The Changeling

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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


2. Night of the Living Dead

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Year: 1968
Director: George A. Romero
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 47 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


1. Halloween

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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

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