75. Let the Right One In (2008)
The Swedish film adaptation of John Ajvide Lindqvist’s novel of the same name works because the story, about a pre-teen boy finding love for the first time in the form of a centuries-old child vampire, is so compelling. Kåre Hedebrant and Lina Leandersson are simply wonderful as the child leads, and they are supported by some gorgeous shots of a snow-covered Stockholm by cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema. Be sure to check out Matt Reeves’ 2011 remake if you haven’t already. It’s a surprisingly great adaptation of the story.
74. The Brood (1979)
Is it blasphemous to include The Brood over Videodrome? Maybe, but what David Cronenberg’s sixth feature film lacks in confusing weirdness it more than makes up for with some of the most grotesque body horror moments of the ’70s (Roger Ebert went so far as to call it “reprehensible trash”). On the surface The Brood is a film about a woman’s rage taking the form of evil dwarves that attack those who piss her off, but underneath it is a frightening metaphor for divorce and repression while also double as a critique of certain psychological methods.
73. Don’t Breathe (2016)
Some might say it’s too soon to call Fede Alvarez’s (2013’s Evil Dead reboot) Don’t Breathe one of the greatest horror films of all time, but as I stated in my 5-skull review, “Don’t Breathe is a masterclass in audience manipulation that proves Fede Alvarez isn’t a one-trick pony.” While criticisms about the paper-thin characters are valid, Don’t Breathe is more a film that spotlights the filmmaking (much like the aforementioned style-over-substance method Argento used in Suspiria) more than anything, with Alvarez and cinematographer Pedro Luque pulling off some impressive tracking shots through the Blind Man’s (an incredible Stephen Lang) house. The film may go too far for some people, especially when it comes to a certain turkey baster, but it is a relentless exercise in tension that never lets up.
72. Gojira (1954)
The original is still one of the best. Released nearly a decade after the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Gojira is a fascinating post-ware commentary, with the King of the Monsters himself representing a nuclear holocaust. Born as a result of the atomic bombs and radiation testing, Gojira rises from the waves to wreak havoc upon mankind. It was especially timely in 1954, and while current iterations of Gojira have reduced him to a simple movie monster, the film that spawned him will always serve as a potent metaphor that is still relevant today.
71. The Wicker Man (1973)
No need to worry about the bees here, as Robin Hardy’s original The Wicker Man is a solid horror film that worms its way under your skin in such a subtle way that you’ll hardly notice it until its too late. Interestingly enough, The Wicker Man doesn’t even resemble a horror film until its final moments. Outdoor scenes are filmed in broad daylight and interiors in well-lit areas, The Wicker Man just seems like a drama with elements of mystery until it’s twist ending, which pulls the rug out from under you, leaving your jaw on the floor.
70. Re-Animator (1985)
Adapted from an H.P. Lovecraft story, Stuart Gordon’s riotously entertaining Re-Animator helped pioneer (with Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead II) the age of the popcorn horror film: tongue-in-cheek horror comedies that were driven mainly by their exceptional effects work. Re-Animator is a brilliant satire with razor-sharp wit that managed to earn a sizable cult following thanks to the advent of VHS tapes and video rental stores (it was a box office bomb when it was released theatrically). Beware: it’s not for the squeamish!
69. The Howling (1981)
While not the definitive werewolf film (more on that in a bit), Joe Dante’s The Howling is a howling (sorry) good time! One of 3(!) werewolf films released in 1981, it stands out among the pack by having a knowing sense of humor, since werewolves are an inherently silly creature. Dee Wallace shines as the lead character Karen, sent to a resort called “The Colony” after witnessing a traumatic event. It’s a clever subversion of the werewolf sub-genre, filled with plenty of gore for gorehounds, and plenty of sex for uh…sexhounds?
68. The Orphanage (2007)
Including The Orphanage on this list is a bit tricky, because it’s not really a horror movie. Don’t get me wrong: J.A. Bayona’s film is about a bunch of ghost kids (one of whom wears a super creepy potato sack over his head) and it is scary, but the heartwarming climax pulls a genre switcheroo and forces you to see the entire film in a whole new light. Up until those final moments though, The Orphanage is a tense and unnerving story about a woman whose son goes missing after she returns to the orphanage she grew up in. Sergio G. Sánchez’s script has plenty of twists and turns, but it is the relationship between Laura and Simón that anchor the film. The Orphanage will give you a newfound appreciation for your loved ones and will stick with you long after it ends.
67. What Lies Beneath (2000)
It’s all about that bathtub jump scare, amiright? Robert Zemeckis’ What Lies Beneath received mixed reviews upon its initial release but, like Michelle Pfeiffer herself, it has aged gracefully. When Claire (Pfeiffer), begins experiences strange occurrences at her posh lakeside home, she beings to investigate what the ghost wants and why it is haunting her, much to the chagrin of her husband Norman (Harrison Ford), a college professor. What Lies Beneath is an eerie tale of betrayal and loss with a gangbusters performance from Pfieffer (Ford is no slouch either, but to say more about his performance would spoil the fun).
66. The House of the Devil (2009)
Ti West still hasn’t managed to overcome the greatness that is his debut feature film, a dread-inducing homage to the great Satan movies of the ’70s and ’80s. A slow burn in the best way, The House of the Devil is a showcase for West, who pours his love and admiration for the horror genre into every frame. The whole thing oozes nostalgia (the freeze frame opening credits should be your first clue as to what type of film you’re in for) and builds the film to a bonkers finale that works as the perfect payoff to everything that came before. If there’s one takeaway from The House of the Devil, it’s to always say “yes” if someone asks you if you’re the babysitter.
65. The Mist (2007)
The fact that Frank Darabont’s adaptation of Stephen King’s short story The Mist wasn’t more successful is very depressing (though audiences probably didn’t want to see such a bleak picture when it opened over Thanksgiving weekend). Centered around a group of people trapped in a grocery store when a strange mist blankets the town, The Mist acts as a study of paranoia’s effect on society, especially when religion is brought into the mix. The monsters in the mist may be scary, but they don’t hold a candle to man. Marcia Gay Harden gives a tour de force performance as the religious zealot Mrs. Carmody and Thomas Jane is equally impressive. The Mist also boasts one of the most gut-wrenching and depressing endings that it merits a watch based on that alone.
64. Bug (2006)
Speaking of bleak films, William Friedkin’s adaptation of Tracy Letts’ play Bug is one of the darkest films you’ll ever see, and Friedkin describes it as a black comedy! Like Wolf Creek, Bug is one of the rare films to earn an F CinemaScore. This was mainly due to mis-marketing. You see, Bug was marketed as a movie about killer bugs that burrow under people’s skin, but it’s actually about a weird romance that begins between a paranoid schizophrenic (Michael Shannon, who also starred in Letts’ play) and a lonely woman (Ashley Judd, playing against-type in a bravura performance….just wait till you get to her “Queen Mother Bug” monologue). It’s not an easy watch, but it’s a film unlike any other. Avoid it if you have issues with impromptu dental work though.
63. 28 Days Later (2002)
I was 14 when I saw Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later for the first time and as much as it pains me to say it, I found it extremely boring. Silly me! My teenage self was expecting a straightforward zombie movie. It took me years to see (and appreciate) the movie for what it was: a political allegory that just happens to be set during a “zombie” apocalypse. This isn’t a film about zombies. It’s about the characters, something that many films, horror or otherwise, seem to forget. Shots of a desolate London coupled are appropriately haunting, with Boyle’s directing more confident than it’s ever been. 28 Days Later is all too scary because it seems so real.
62. Under the Skin (2013)
What makes Under the Skin so impressive is that most of the scenes between the alien (Scarlet Johannson, in a haunting and understated performance) and her male prey were unscripted and filmed with hidden cameras (most of the male prey were played by non-actors as well). This isn’t to say the men were unaware of what was going on. They were briefed on everything, but director Jonathan Glazer wanted his film to have an authentic feel when the alien removed their insides, leaving nothing but their skin floating in a mysterious black abyss. It’s a uniquely chilling arthouse film.
61. Don’t Look Now (1973)
More so a study of grief than a straightforward horror film (at least until its final moments), Nicholas Roeg’s Don’t Look Now has been incredibly influential on the genre since its release. In the film, John and Laura Baxter (Donald Sutherland and Julie Christy, respectively) are in Venice attempting to get over the accidental death of their daughter while trying to fix their marriage as a serial killer stalks the Italian streets. Roeg edits the film with a unique style, sometimes intercutting scenes taking place in the past, present and future together. The muted color palette, with the frequent inclusion of red, is also a defining characteristic of the film. The film’s climax, in which John comes face to face with his mortality, stands out as one of the most shocking scenes in film history.
60. Trick ‘r Treat (2007)
Remember when we were all afraid that Trick r’ Treat would never see a release? Michael Dougherty’s (Krampus) Halloween anthology film began screening at film festivals in 2007, and continued screening for two more years before being unceremoniously dumped on DVD in October of 2009. It’s a bummer that Trick ‘r Treat never saw a theatrical release because it would have played great with crowd. Nevertheless, we at least got a release and for that we can be thankful, because Trick ‘r Treat is a loving tribute to Halloween that seamlessly interweaves four separate stories into one glorious 82-minute film. If this one hasn’t made it on to your annual October viewing list then you need to add it on there immediately.
59. The Babadook (2014)
I know, I know. The kid is really annoying, but Jennifer Kent’s The Babadook (both the film and the monster) is a deeply unsettling metaphor look at the aftermath of death and the depression it causes in a now-single mother (Essie Davis, undeniably the film’s strongest quality). Kent opts for mood and atmosphere over jump scares which may put off less patient moviegoers, especially those who were expecting a monster movie. Like it or not, you can’t deny that there is a sort of classiness to the whole affair. Besides, The Babadook is an LGBTQ icon now so we’re stuck with him forever now.
58. [REC] (2007)
Full disclosure: I prefer [REC] 2 to [REC] if only because of the way it expands upon the story introduced in [REC]. Nevertheless, the original is one of the best found footage films ever made, and it’s terrifying to boot. The film follows a reporter (Manuela Velasco) who enters an apartment complex that is put under quarantine just moments after she enters, leaving her and the rest of the tenants to their own devices while….something….hunts them. The film builds to a truly frightening finale with a shocking reveal (one thing that the American remake changed, which was its sole major misstep) that offers up a refreshing twist on the demonic possession sub-genre.
57. Saw (2004)
Saw is not everyone’s cup of tea, but many people don’t realize (or don’t remember) that James Wan’s original film actually emphasized plot over gore. The plot is simple: two men (Cary Elwes and Leigh Whannell, who also wrote the film) wake up in a dirty bathroom chained to a pipe. One of them is ordered to kill the other, and if he doesn’t then his family will die. It’s a great hook that Wan manages to get a lot of mileage out of. Yes, the film is gory, but not to the extremes that the sequels took it. You also have to admire the film for kickstarting what has become one of horror’s biggest franchises (the eighth installment will be released in just a few days). The Saw franchise has evolved a lot since 2004, but the first one has a beautiful simplicity that the sequels haven’t been able to replicate (yet).
56. Insidious (2010)
After moving on to killer ventriloquist doll’s with 2007’s goofy-but-fun Dead Silence, James Wan and Leigh Whannell moved back to extreme terror with Insidious. With that film, they flipped the haunted house sub-genre on its head by having the Lambert family do what people in haunted house movies almost never do: move. Of course, this doesn’t help matters, as it is the eldest Lambert son who is haunted, not the house, but it’s a nice little subversion of the sub-genre. Insidious is jam-packed with scares, some of them of the jump variety and others of the “Holy shit there’s a small ghost child standing in the corner of the laundry room” variety. The characters, which include the aforementioned Lambert family and the psychic Elise (Lin Shaye, arguably the best part of all the Insidious films), are also likable and (most importantly) relatable. Insidious gets a lot of flack for its unconventional and somewhat silly third act, but it is still a fun scarehouse of a movie.
55. Drag Me to Hell (2009)
Sam Raimi’s Drag Me to Hell holds a special place in my heart because it was the subject of my first piece for Bloody Disgusting. My reasoning for writing a defense of the film (not that it needs one) is because when I used to work at Blockbuster during my college years I always used to recommend the film to people looking for a fun scary movie. It always got returned with complaints that it was either stupid or not scary. Methinks people don’t really understand Sam Raimi’s directing style (or that much of the film is supposed to be funny). Drag Me to Hell is the movie equivalent of going to the county fair (and I mean that in the best way possible): it’s fun, thrilling, scary-but-not-really, and cheesy ride. Raimi gets away with a lot despite the PG-13 rating (cat-lovers beware of the unrated cut), and the final two minutes will leave you absolutely distraught. I don’t think I’ve been hit that hard by a horror ending since. Drag Me to Hell may not be quite up to the level of the Evil Dead films, but it is pure popcorn fun and certainly deserves a spot on this list.
54. The Devil’s Rejects (2005)
Who would have ever though that Rob Zombie would take his lackluster Texas Chainsaw Massacre ripoff House of 1000 Corpses and give it a sequel that not only improves upon it, but manages to give audiences the most well-rounded, three-dimensional villains put on screen in quite some time. Part Western, part torture porn, part gritty 70s road trip movie and littered with reprehensible violence, The Devil’s Rejects is most certainly not for everyone, but it is hands down Zombie’s most accomplished work as a filmmaker and one of the best films of the century so far.
53. I Walked With a Zombie (1943)
A nurse (Frances Dee) is brought to the Caribbean island of Saint Sebastian to care for the catatonic wife of a wealthy plantation owner (Tom Conway) in Jacques Tourneur’s I Walked With a Zombie, a poetic horror film that is notable for its exotic setting and score. When people say that a film is atmospheric, refer to I Walked With a Zombie to see what that means. The real horror in the film comes not from the zombie of the title, but from the humans around her who all want to control her.
52. Ringu (1998)
Hideo Nakata’s Ringu could be seen as the film that single-handedly started the J-horror craze of the early 2000s. Nakato fills the film with plenty of nightmarish imagery, creating a spooky atmosphere that permeates every frame. The film blends old-school paranoia with modern fears of technology to marvelous effect, leading to one of the most surprising finales in horror history. ***SPOILER ALERT*** I mean, did anyone expect that Sadako would just crawl out of the TV like that? Ringu earns a spot on this list for that scene alone. It’s ridiculously scary.
51. Diabolique (1955)
In Diabolique, a woman and a mistress team up and murder the man who has abused them, but unfortunately for them the body goes missing and they are subjected to a multitude of strange occurrences. Director Henri-Georges Clouzot supposedly snagged the rights to the novel upon which the film is based before Alfred Hitchcock, who badly wanted to make the film (Hitchcock would get his turn at similarly dark material five years later with Psycho), could. Both directors were attracted to the moral ambiguity present in the source material, as well as some of the darkly humorous macabre touches inherent to the plot. Clouzot did a bang-up job though, as the freaky bathtub climax had everyone talking at the time.