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The 100 Best Horror Movies Streaming on Shudder (Spring 2017)

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When I first ranked some films from the archive of horror streaming service Shudder back in 2016, I was inclined to think “This service probably beats out Netflix,” in terms of offering a wider scope of both classic and modern horror cinema. After doing that ranking, I’ve continued paying for a Shudder subscription, not only because it’s a useful service but because I’ve wanted to support the very idea of a niche genre streaming service for horror movies. However, I’ve never used Shudder quite often enough to really pay attention to all the titles that were being added throughout the last year, until returning to update my rankings.

All I can say now is: Wow. The Shudder library, which I once said “probably” beats out the likes of Netflix, now destroys Netflix in terms of both quality and quantity. With a library that I currently count at 729 horror films, a $4.99 monthly subscription to Shudder is a bit like having access to the best local independent video store you can imagine. The sheer variety is enough to make a horror geek lightheaded.

With that said, there are always some bugs. One eventually learns the little ins-and-outs of using Shudder, especially via a desktop web browser. The search function can be twitchy—you can type in part of a film title and it will fail to appear unless the whole title is filled in, for example. For this reason, it pays to check twice while searching. There are occasional errors in formatting and page loading. You may accidentally end up on pages for films that are no longer available, or not available in your country. But it comes with the territory of a service that is still being refined.

If there’s one thing I’m most impressed by in the Shudder experience, though, it’s the fact that their films actually feel like a vault, like a library that is meant to be permanent. Netflix, with its constant influx of films both in and out, necessitates you constantly look up which movies are leaving. Shudder, on the other hand, seems to almost never let its movies slip away after it adds them. After ranking 80 of them back in October, only ONE of those films is no longer available on the service in the U.S. (American Psycho) That’s a crazy percentage of retention. If this had been Netflix, 30 percent of those movies would be gone and replaced with other titles.

And so, if you’re thinking about getting a Shudder subscription, or you’re just wondering which movies on the service you should watch next, enjoy this sprawling ranking. I’ve shuffled some things around from the previous version, added some new films and reevaluated a few old ones. Enjoy, horror geeks!


100. Birdemic: Shock and Terror
Year: 2008
Director: James Nguyen
Birdemic is an absolutely horrendous film, but it’s one that absolutely everyone who’s ever enjoyed The Room needs to put on their list. On first inspection it simply looks like a rip-off of Hitchcock’s The Birds, but in reality it’s so much worse and more fascinating than that. The parallels to The Room are extremely accurate: Like Tommy Wiseau’s famously inept film, Birdemic is the product of a single, deranged mind, that of the Vietnamese-born would-be auteur James Nguyen, whose non-native writing fills the dialog with mind-bending absurdities and a pathetically sincere attempt at an ecological message. The actors seem to be people that Nguyen scooped off the street moments before shooting began, completely wooden and unsure of where they are or how they got here. Technical gaffes abound. And when the birds finally show up, the film is graced by some of the most gut-bustingly hilarious FX of all time—clip-art birds that flutter in place, suspended in mid-air while the heroes swipe at them with coat hangers. This is all in Birdemic. You need to see Birdemic. But please, I’m warning you: Ignore Nguyen’s self-aware attempt to follow up on the film with Birdemic 2: The Resurrection. The magic, unsurprisingly, is gone. — Jim Vorel


99. Death Bed: The Bed That Eats
Year: 1977
Director: George Barry
Patton Oswalt immortalized Death Bed with an uproarious four-minute piece of stand-up during his second album, forever catapulting this terrible movie into horror film infamy—which is reason enough that you should really watch it at least once. The subtitle isn’t The Bed That Eats People as Oswalt believed; instead it’s the genuinely stupider and more vague The Bed That Eats. Although I suppose it is at least accurate, given that the evil, demon-possessed bed doesn’t only eat human beings, and instead absorbs just about anything placed upon it. There are a few amusing gags, such as the scene where the Death Bed actually gets indigestion before consuming a bottle of Pepto Bismol, but the majority is still a dull, ugly ‘70s horror flick with zero budget. Watch it for the Death Bed, get your chuckles and get out. – Jim Vorel


98. Night Train to Terror
Year: 1985
Director: Jay Schlossberg-Cohen
Night Train to Terror is a really awful movie, but it’s one of the most fun-bad and head-scratchingly hilarious films you’ll find in the Shudder library. Just trying to sum it up is challenging—it’s sort of an anthology, but one that only exists because the producers decided to cobble several unfinished horror films together by use of a framing device. Oh, and WHAT a framing device! It involves some delightfully campy God and Satan caricatures sitting together in a train car, discussing the various stories the audience is viewing, and whether those participants are heaven or hell-bound. But that’s not all. As God and Satan are having Socratic debate, the train is also filled with members of the worst synth rock band outside of Miami Connection’s Dragon Sound, who endlessly perform the same 60 seconds of of soulless pop-rock over and over on a loop, while dressed as ‘80s mall pirates. Truly, it must be seen to be believed, but all in all, Night Train to Terror is one of the most delightfully chopped together, Z-grade horror movies of the mid-‘80s. Schedule it for your next bad movie night, post-haste. — Jim Vorel


97. Blood Feast
Year: 1963
Director: Herschell Gordon Lewis
Herschell Gordon Lewis is referred to as the “Godfather of Gore” primarily because of movies such as Blood Feast, which is often considered the first true “splatter film”—a horror movie specifically concerned with the gruesome destruction of the human body. Before this point, horror cinema was much more ginger with actual blood and guts, but in the hands of Lewis, the blood splashed forth in great torrents. Blood Feast’s psycho is a caterer who makes meals out of his victims, adding another taboo to the film’s bubbling pot in the form of cannibalism. By today’s standards, the ground-breaking effects are sort of on the tame side—the blood in particular is so bright and syrupy that it’s hard to take seriously—but it’s fun to watch Blood Feast in 2016 and imagine drive-in audiences vomiting up their popcorn at the sight of brains being removed and hearts being devoured. Lewis went on to perfect his splatter films in future outings like 1970’s The Wizard of Gore. — Jim Vorel


96. The Beast Must Die
Year: 1974
Director: Paul Annett
Britain’s Amicus Productions is known to most horror geeks for their classic anthology films, which blend Hammer-style British horror and humor in titles such as Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors and The House that Dripped Blood. Less well-known are the full-length features, which tended to come off as “Hammer-lite,” despite starring many of the same genre staples such as Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee. This one is a rather farcical werewolf yarn, with elements that remind one somewhat of William Castle’s House on Haunted Hill, when it comes to gimmickry. A millionaire invites a bunch of suspects to his mansion, then reveals that one of them is actually … a werewolf! The group is subjected to some hilariously silly tests, including putting a silver bullet in their mouths, to suss out the werewolf’s identity. Cushing is present in a professorial role, of the exact type that he played in seemingly every British horror film made between 1957-1975, and he’s unsurprisingly the highlight. Near the end, this goofy flick even features a 30-second “Werewolf Break,” where the audience is asked to guess the wolf’s identity. Castle would have loved its blend of silly horror and humor. — Jim Vorel


95. Blood Diner
Year: 1987
Director: Jackie Kong
Blood Diner is a real piece of work, and completely deserving of cult classic status. This is a batshit, off-the-wall, gore-heavy horror film with plenty of comedy, perfectly in synch with the direct-to-video aesthetic of 1987. It revolves around two evil brothers who resurrect their insane uncle and put his psychic brain in a jar, which commands them to kill various women and stitch together a Bride of Frankenstein-style corpse to become the vessel for an ancient, evil goddess. The women are chosen from the pool of regular customers who patronize the brothers’ vegetarian-only (oh the irony, har har har) diner. If that sounds absurd, it’s really only scratching the surface—this movie also contains a pro wrestling subplot where one of the brothers challenges and ultimately defeats despised local wrestler “Jimmy Hitler.” Colorful, gory and joyously ludicrous, Blood Diner is a near perfect selection for your next bad movie night. – Jim Vorel


94. The Hands of Orlac
Year: 1924
Director: Robert Wiene
Robert Wiene was the director of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, but the foundational film of German Expressionism wasn’t his only contribution to classic horror cinema. Four years later he made The Hands of Orlac, a more conventional horror story that blends some of the Caligari visual flourishes with a story and pacing that would have fit in well during Universal’s original horror series. The film follows a concert pianist named Orlac (Caligari’s somnambulist, Conrad Veidt) whose hands are severed in a terrible accident. When a surgeon transplants new hands, Orlac is shocked to find that they came from a vicious murderer. Soon, obsessed with thoughts of violence, Orlac is left wondering whether the murderer’s hands will spur him on to terrible deeds. Part mystery, part psychological horror, it’s a solid silent-era horror flick that illustrates how deep the Shudder library can be. — Jim Vorel


93. Day of the Animals
Year: 1977
Director: William Girdler
After Jaws became the first true summer blockbuster in 1975, “animals attack” films proliferated. 1976’s Grizzly was the first big success in the “Jaws on land” variants, and director William Girdler followed it up with Day of the Animals, which could probably be considered the logical zenith of the “nature attacks” premise—all animals vs. all humans. As in, solar radiation somehow causes every animal above 5,000 feet of elevation to go insane, attacking anything in their path. A group of hikers are menaced by all kinds of animals—mountain lions, bears, birds of prey and even pet dogs. Leslie Nielsen, five years before his career-altering comedic turn in Airplane!, appears as the primary human villain, channeling a bit of his Creepshow character from the early ’80s. It’s sort of an ugly film to watch today, but imagine if they ever decided to remake this thing with a decent budget. I want to see that movie, and all the killer koalas it would surely entail. — Jim Vorel


92. V/H/S
Year: 2012
Directors: Adam Wingard, David Bruckner, Ti West, Joe Swanberg, Glenn McQuaid, Radio Silence
Horror anthologies are often difficult to rate, because you’ll have a hard time finding one that doesn’t have some significant low points. Such is the case with the first two entries in the V/H/S series—the third is just plain bad. Some of the found footage segments work really well, and continue to point to great things in the future for directors such as David Bruckner, who followed up his “Amateur Night” segment here with what was maybe the best segment in this year’s Southbound horror anthology. Other guys, like promising indie horror director Ti West, took a step back here, as his naturalistic style makes for a glacially paced and weirdly mundane segment, “Second Honeymoon.” Still, there are some good scares in “Amateur Night” and Joe Swanberg’s “The Sick Thing That Happened to Emily When She Was Younger,” and FX geeks will no doubt want to watch the crazy CGI that directing quartet Radio Silence pulls off on a budget in “10/31/98.” Ultimately, you might say the V/H/S series would be best if all the best segments were simply cobbled into one film. — Jim Vorel


91. White Zombie
Year: 1932
Director: Victor Halperin
One doesn’t need a Shudder subscription to see White Zombie—it’s readily available in the public domain, and you’ll see it included in every cheapo horror box set for that reason. Outside of star Bela Lugosi, the acting is pretty atrocious, but it’s a film that horror genre purists need to check off their lists at some point simply due to its influence and importance to the genre as the first-ever “zombie film.” Zombies, of course, had a very different connotation in the pre-George Romero world—these are Haitian voodoo zombies, with Lugosi as the spellbinding ringleader with the hypnotic eyes. This was in an age before subtlety had arrived in horror, so the name of Lugosi’s character is literally “Murder,” and he spends most of the film mucking about in the affairs of an engaged couple, zombifying the woman in the process to become his slave. It’s only 67 minutes long, so what do you have to lose? If you end up watching Revolt of the Zombies, King of the Zombies and I Walked With a Zombie afterward, I swear off all responsibility. — Jim Vorel


90. Basket Case
Year: 1982
Director: Frank Henenlotter
Bargain bin horror really reached a new level in the 1980s as filmmaking equipment became more widely available. Made for only $33,000, Basket Case nevertheless received a fairly wide theatrical release, proving once again that horror is the genre where opportunity always knocks. Armed with little more than some crappy actors and a big wicker basket, Henenlotter crafted this schlocky tale of two brothers: A seemingly normal guy named Duane and his separated, deformed Siamese twin Belial, who he carries around with him at all times. Little more than a lumpy, fanged head with one random arm, Belial is at times stop-motion animated as he escapes from his basket and runs amok. The film eventually developed enough of a cult for Henenlotter to return and direct two sequels in the early 1990s. It combines some of the subversive humor of a Troma film with Henenlotter’s gory streak. — Jim Vorel


89. The Tingler
Year: 1959
Director: William Castle
For William Castle, going to the movies was a matter of life and death. Or at least he wanted to convince you as much: If he didn’t have you believing you had some serious stakes in what was happening onscreen, then he—the 20th century’s consummate cinematic showman—wasn’t doing his job. So begins The Tingler, Castle’s 1959 creature feature, wherein Castle appears on screen like a B-grade Alfred Hitchcock to remind the audience that what they’re about to see is hardly a lark. Fear is a natural but serious affliction, a building-up of poisonous humors within one’s nervous system, and so it must be addressed should you endure the film he’s about to show you. The only way to live through The Tingler? You’re going to have to scream. And, to prove his medical conclusions, Castle introduces us to Dr. Chapin (Vincent Price at the height of his weirdo sophisticate phase), a man who believes that every human being has a parasite living in their spine that feeds off of extreme fear—that’s the “tingling” sensation you get every time you’re panicked. The parasite will grow and decimate a person’s backbone unless it’s defeated/deflated by the only logical reaction to fear: screaming. Things of course get tinglier once Chapin captures an actual rubbery spine centipede—and, meanwhile, Castle was always ready to exploit his audience’s squirm factor, having “Percepto!” contraptions installed into each theater seat, set to buzz the butts of already agitated film-goers to scare them into thinking the insectoid creature was crawling up their back. Among Castle’s many interactive “gimmick” films in the 1950s, The Tingler might be the Castle-est, a sincerely wacky, unsettling, imaginative experience whether you’re equipped with a vibrating chair or not. And hearing Vincent Price hollering into the void of a pitch-black screen, “Scream! Scream for your lives! The Tingler is loose in the theater!”, offers enough urgency to persuade you something may be nipping at your backside after all. —Dom Sinacola


88. Riki-Oh: The Story of Ricky
Year: 1991
Director: Lam Nai-choi
Riki-Oh is a pretty unorthodox choice for Shudder to lump in among its horror fare, and you sort of have to have seen the movie to understand why you’d find it here. Ostensibly a pulpy, exploitation-style martial arts thriller, it presumably makes the list for the fact that it’s one of the most violent, gory martial arts movies ever made. Seriously—it’s like the Dead Alive of its genre, more or less. Following the titular Ricky, who is sent to a corrupt private prison because of his violent vigilantism, it essentially becomes the peons of the evil warden vs. our hero, who is so strong that his typical method of dealing with a threat is simply to punch gaping holes in people. The English dubbing is equal parts atrocious and hilarious, melding with the violence to make the film often feel like a parody of over-the-top martial arts cinema. But really, the thing that will stick with you for years afterward is the stylish, comic gore of Ricky exploding people with his bare fists. If you love comically gory movies, Riki-Oh is one of the essentials. — Jim Vorel


87. Maniac Cop
Year: 1988
Director: William Lustig
Maniac Cop is the rather unusual intersection between slasher film and “buddy cop” movie—it’s like Lethal Weapon, if the villain were Jason Voorhees and the commissioner was Shaft. Unfortunately, it’s not quite as fun as that description would make it sound, but it’s a tough premise to live up to. A young Bruce Campbell, fresh off Evil Dead 2, plays the lead, but he’s tuned down a bit from the frenetic energy of his work with Sam Raimi. The film revolves around a serial killer wearing a police officer’s uniform, eventually revealed as Robert “The Chin” Z’Dar—always a welcome, deranged face to see in this sort of movie. Opinion on whether the film is cult-worthy is often divided, but with Campbell, Z’Dar and plenty of gore, it’s an essential entry for the genre as the golden age of the slasher movie as winding down in the late ’80s. — Jim Vorel


86. C.H.U.D.
Year: 1984
Director: Douglas Cheek
It stands for “Cannibalistic Humanoid Underground Dwellers,” if you were wondering. C.H.U.D. is a product of its time, the sort of mid-’70s/early ’80s horror film that sets itself in street-level New York City when the Big Apple was renowned as the crime-ridden cesspit of the nation. Cynical as hell, it imagines a race of cannibal monsters created by toxic waste dumped into the New York sewers, where it transforms the local homeless population. In execution, it’s sort of like a Troma film that has a larger budget, maintaining a grimy and tasteless aesthetic that nevertheless has a memorable quality that is hard to define. I think the effects are a part of that—quite icky, but fleeting. I look at this scene of a C.H.U.D. being beheaded and can’t decide if it’s terrible, awesome or terribly awesome. C.H.U.D. has lived an entire second life as comedy material, with references ranging from The Simpsons to an April Fools prank from the Criterion Collection. — Jim Vorel


85. Chillerama
Year: 2011
Directors: Adam Rifkin, Tim Sullivan, Adam Green, Joe Lynch
Chillerama is another anthology, but with a framing story that is a bit more grounded and conventional—all the shorts are simply being viewed at a classic drive-in, until terror leaps off the screen in the form of a zombie outbreak in the theater in the final segment. The individual segments are much more comedy than straight horror, from the runaway killer sperm of “Wadzilla” to the decency-pushing crudeness of “The Diary of Anne Frankenstein.” It’s the sort of horror comedy trying so hard to shock and offend that it occasionally seems desperate, but a good number of the jokes do indeed land. There’s a who’s-who of B-movie actor staples as well: Ray Wise, Eric Roberts, Richard Riehle, Lin Shaye, Kane Hodder and more. A whole lot of filmmakers have tried to make films like this one in the last 15 years, but Chillerama can at least say it executes better than most. Throw it on at a party, if the people present aren’t easily offended. — Jim Vorel


84. Count Dracula
Year: 1970
Director: Jesus Franco
Ah, Jess Franco. Of all the cinematic rabbit holes of Euro-horror, Franco’s may run the deepest. This is a man who personally directed almost 200 movies between 1959-2013, which ran the gamut between horror, giallo, comedy and outright pornography. Most tend to be on the ramshackle side, like an even more shoestring version of Mario Bava, but a few such as Count Dracula do have a sumptuous, plush look to them. This is an interesting film that seems at first familiar, thanks to the presence of Dracula icon Christopher Lee in the title role, but make no mistake—this isn’t a Hammer Horror movie, despite taking place in the same time period when Lee was making Dracula movies in the U.K. Rather, this one plays like some kind of alternate dimension Dracula story, more closely based on Bram Stoker’s original novel. One suspects it was the promise of “doing the story right” that likely appealed to Lee, who occasionally resented the fact that his Dracula roles typecast him as a horror icon. Here, he launches into full-on thespian mode, presenting an aged Count ‘ala Gary Oldman in Bram Stoker’s Dracula who grows younger as he drains the lovely young ladies of London. He does a few of the classic Dracula lines; even the fabulous “children of the night” quip, which is undeniably chilling. The other unique aspect of Franco’s Count Dracula is the presence of Klaus Kinski as the mad, fly-eating Renfield—ironic, considering that 9 years later he would go on to portray the titular vampire in Werner Herzog’s Nosferatu the Vampyre. – Jim Vorel


83. A Horrible Way to Die
Year: 2010
Director: Adam Wingard
A Horrible Way to Die is the kind of uneven, rough draft of a feature film that makes you perk up and take interest in an indie filmmaker’s career—in this case, that of Adam Wingard. The first feature film to receive significant distribution by the guy who would later make The Guest and You’re Next, A Horrible Way to Die is a much simpler, more intimate story that fits neatly into the so-called “mumblegore” subgenre of low-budget, personal horror films. Casting is one of its strong suits, as Joe Swanberg and Amy Seimetz play recovering alcoholics who begin a relationship at the worst possible time—right as the female lead’s psychotic, serial killer ex-boyfriend (A.J. Bowen) escapes from police custody and begins tracking her down. The film gives an unflinching insight into the killer’s perspective, and casts him as the hero of his own story, although it also feels a bit rushed at times. It’s the sort of film that feels like it could benefit from a higher tier of budget and production to make something more visually memorable, but Wingard’s talent for composition and characters is clear despite it. It continually hints at the superior movies he’d be making in the next few years … recent Blair Witch remake excluded. — Jim Vorel


82. WNUF Halloween Special
Year: 2013
Director: Chris LaMartina
The success or failure of WNUF Halloween Special was always going to come down to how faithfully it could replicate the look and feel of a real local news broadcast from 1987, and in this respect it hits a home run. The cheap VHS video aesthetic and smarmy news anchors create just the right touch—schmaltzy, but in a way that is truly genuine rather than overtly parodic and over the top. Indeed, for the first 30 to 45 minutes of this film, it feels like a broadcast that could have truly happened. At the same time, that means this isn’t a horror comedy going for the jugular in terms of gags; the fake commercials for carpeting warehouses, tampons and children’s toys are exactly as funny as an average commercial from 1987 is to watch in 2017. Which is to say they’re going for wry smiles rather than huge punchlines, and it’s very well calculated. When the broadcast finally does fall apart into supernatural territory, it breaks the illusion somewhat to become a merely average found footage horror comedy, but it’s the normalcy preceding the bloodshedding that is oddly memorable. – Jim Vorel


81. Nightmare City, aka City of the Walking Dead
Year: 1980
Director: Umberto Lenzi
If you love ludicrous foreign horror cinema, and especially batshit crazy Italian zombie movies, then Nightmare City is like the holy grail of your subgenre. Because this movie is insane. Its zombies are irradiated and pizza-faced, with ridiculous makeup and a compulsion to drink blood like they’re vampires, because the radiation is destroying their own red blood cells. They’re unique for zombies in the sense that they retain some cognition—enough to pretend that they’re uninfected until they’re within range of people to kill. And oh, how they kill! These zombies are armed to the teeth with knives, axes, even machineguns. I repeat: This movie features machinegun-firing zombies, priestly zombies, doctor zombies and even zombies that are implied to have somehow flown and landed a large military plane on their own. Add to that a delightfully wacky English dubbing, full of awkward pauses, strange voices and philosophical ramblings, and you have the birth of a camp classic on your hands. Nightmare City stars Mexican actor Hugo Stiglitz (yes, the source of the name in Tarantino’s Inglorious Basterds) as a rogue news reporter who races across the countryside with his wife, trying to evade the ghouls as she rambles continuously about the futility of the human experience. It all builds to one of the most laugh-out-loud conclusions you’ll ever see in a zombie film, and I wouldn’t dare spoil it. Suffice to say, Nightmare City is Euro-trash zombie cinema, but it’s GREAT Euro-trash zombie cinema for your next weird movie night. — Jim Vorel


80. Kill List
Year: 2011
Director: Ben Wheatley
Kill List has received plenty of acclaim, and there are horror geeks who would have this film much higher on their lists, but it’s often as frustrating as it is effective. The story of a pair of out-of-work former soldiers who have become hitmen, it presents itself as a mystery or crime thriller as much as a true horror film, although there are certainly segments that are difficult to watch, such as the torture of a pornographer. It feels heavily inspired, especially toward the conclusion, by fellow British horror classic The Wicker Man, and aspires toward some kind of profound artistic statement, but isn’t quite coherent enough to back up its self-confidence. There are some wonderful individual performances though, particularly Neil Maskell as the protagonist and troubled hitman, Jay. I won’t ruin its various twists and turns through over-explanation, but viewers should be aware that Kill List is often more concerned with visual flourishes and general creepiness than helping the audience understand anyone’s motivations. In that way, you can think of it as an arthouse horror flick. — Jim Vorel


79. Maniac
Year: 1980
Director: William Lustig
Eight years before Maniac Cop, William Lustig apparently still really liked how the word “maniac” sounded in film titles. This fairly standard low-budget slasher was remade in 2012 with Elijah Wood in the title role, but the original bears little resemblance to the arty, first-person perspective horror film it became in the remake. The ever-greasy Joe Spinell, best known to audiences as Stallone’s loan shark in Rocky, stars as a man who kills and scalps women for no real reason. It feels like a film that aspires to be a gritty character portrait, something along the lines of Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, but is just a bit too tawdry and doesn’t characterize its lead enough. However, it’s still something of a must for the horror completionist thanks to the splatterific effects by Tom Savini, who appears in the film and gets his own head blown off in an insanely over-the-top bit of grossness. CGI gore will never be as icky as this. — Jim Vorel


78. Cannibal Holocaust
Year: 1980
Director: Ruggero Deodato
Infamous and influential in equal parts—that’s Cannibal Holocaust for you. It wasn’t the first of the Italian cannibal films, but it’s certainly the most famous, and left the longest-lasting impact on horror cinema and pop culture. In its wake, films in this mold flourished—American (or just generally white and naive) tourists or activists get lost in the jungle, captured by cannibal tribes and subjected to sadistic torture—the formula has stayed the same all the way up to Eli Roth’s recent The Green Inferno. Cannibal Holocaust, on the other hand, became more infamous for the rumors that surrounded it, namely that real-life human deaths had occurred on screen. This was blatantly untrue, although there are numerous real-life animal slayings, which make it a very difficult watch for anyone squeamish about animal violence. The brutality isn’t its only attraction, though—Cannibal Holocaust is actually a better film and more interesting story than most give it credit for, and it’s better than most of the Italian follow-ups. If it ends up being something you enjoy, the derivative Cannibal Ferrox can also be found on Shudder. — Jim Vorel


77. The House on Sorority Row
Year: 1983
Director: Mark Rosman
If you dreamt up an early ’80s slasher movie that wasn’t a franchise, it would look exactly like The House on Sorority Row. Sororities have always been prime slasher territory, thanks to the preponderance of young female victims living under the same roof—even the first-ever true slasher, Black Christmas, was set in a sorority. This one reveals tightly around a group of seven girls who accidentally murder their overbearing house mother in a prank gone wrong. As they try to cover up the crime, members of the group start showing up dead, begging the question of who or what is doing the killing. It’s pretty archetypal stuff, but a fun whodunit from smack dab in the middle of the golden era of the slasher. — Jim Vorel


76. Frankenstein’s Army
Year: 2013
Director: Richard Raaphorst
Indie found footage horror, contrary to what the success of Paranormal Activity would have you believe, is not an easy proposition—not at all. The original Paranormal Activity succeeds as a low-budget triumph because it has such modest goals, and most of the other found footage successes share that in common, but Frankenstein’s Army is very different in that regard. It’s the story of a troop of Russian soldiers in the waning days of WWII, infiltrating a German compound that turns out to be the testing grounds for a Frankenstein-descendent mad scientist. When his undead soldier creations come to life, the Russian soldiers end up fighting for their lives. Plot and performances are essentially unimportant—what ends up being extremely impressive here are the fabulously grisly monster designs, practical effects and inventiveness in staging found footage action sequences. This is an ambitious film that can be dull when there aren’t monster attacks happening, but what they achieved on a limited budget in depicting their monsters is absolutely remarkable. — Jim Vorel


75. House
Year: 1986
Director: Steve Miner
House is a legitimately odd film, and not an easy one to classify. I’ve read descriptions before that called it a “horror comedy,” but it’s not trying nearly hard enough to be funny to qualify on the “comedy” side of the spectrum—nor is it serious enough in most of its scares to be legitimately frightening. Instead, it’s trapped in some kind of limbo in between; memorable in spurts for its idiosyncrasies. Our protagonist is a Stephen King-like horror novelist who suffers traumatic flashbacks to both his time in Vietnam and the unexplained disappearance of his son. He moves into the old, crumbling manor of a recently deceased aunt, where he begins to experience terrifying nightmares and is attacked by a variety of creatures, which may or may not be in his head—think Jacob’s Ladder, but far goofier. George Wendt of Cheers makes an amusing appearance as the next door neighbor, but what most people remember House for is its unpredictability and Vietnam-inspired horrors. — Jim Vorel


74. Audition
Year: 1999
Director: Takashi Miike
One gets the feeling sometimes that Audition is one of those films that is almost more infamous/heard about rather than genuinely viewed, but in reality it earns its rather harrowing reputation. It’s a protracted slow burn that is probably significantly longer than it needs to be, a mystery about a middle-aged man learning more about the young, beautiful woman who has suddenly come into his life. Only problem is, she’s a little on the possessive side, and more than a little psychotic. 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 harrowing portions with the needles and the piano wire, but the rest of the film is a deftly shot Miike thriller. It’s one of those films where 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 still be worse than you imagined. – Jim Vorel


73. Dead Snow
Year: 2009
Director: Tommy Wirkola
You’d be surprised just how many Nazi zombie movies there truly are out there—it’s a subtype of the zombie film that was first made in the ’70s with films such as Shock Waves and has never stopped being made since, but the highest profile version from recent years was Dead Snow and its ridiculous sequel, Red vs. Dead. The first Dead Snow, though no masterwork, is the better film because it at least partially tries to hit the horror audience instead of abandoning it for full-on horror-comedy camp. A group of students camp out in a remote, snowy cabin in Norway and unwittingly revive a regiment of Nazi zombies by appropriating their Nazi gold—pretty standard stuff for the genre. The attempts at humor and characterization are so-so, but the FX and action work are top-notch for an indie feature, with great costuming for the zombies and lots of explosive bloodletting. Go in with low expectations and just enjoy the blood ’n’ guts. — Jim Vorel


72. Ichi the Killer
Year: 2001
Director: Takashi Miike
Ichi the Killer is visually striking—in the sense that it will strike your eyeballs with its ultragore visuals for 129 minutes. This is not an easy film to watch—perhaps even harder than Takashi Miike’s own Audition, which was released two years earlier to significantly more acclaim. Ichi the Killer is less of a true horror film than that earlier effort, more gritty crime story in the mold of Oldboy, but any film with this degree of shocking sexual violence and lurid—almost reprehensible—gore is on some level going to join the horror stable by default, because it’s pretty horrifying stuff to watch. Many will find it inherently distasteful, and discussion boils down to what Miike is attempting to accomplish or what kind of “statement” all of the straight-faced, non-comedic gore is supposed to evoke. Reading a description, you might actually question how people getting sliced in half by Ichi’s razor-tipped boots could come across as “straight-faced,” but it does. It’s a film for those who can stand some truly harrowing sights. — Jim Vorel


71. City of the Living Dead
Year: 1980
Director: Lucio Fulci
If it’s an Italian horror film from the ’70s or ’80s, and it doesn’t involve cannibals, and it’s not a giallo, then it’s probably an arty, stylish, partially incomprehensible movie about zombies and ghosts. Such is City of the Living Dead, and such is almost everything in the filmography of Lucio Fulci. Never a director with the critical acclaim or heightened stature of a Dario Argento, Fulci was instead prolific, making his name in 1979 with the greatest of the Italian zombie films, Zombi 2. City of the Living Dead is considered the first in a so-called “Gates of Hell” trilogy, alongside two of his other best-known works, The Beyond and The House by the Cemetery. Like many of the Italian films it’s set in the U.S.A., which creates a strange otherworldly quality given the international cast and dubbed dialog. It follows a young woman and her friends, who travel from New York to the Lovecraft-inspired town of Dunwich, where the suicide of a corrupted priest is causing the dead to rise from their graves and strike out at the living. It’s almost more a series of vignettes and unrelated scenes than a straightforward narrative, as residents of the town are killed at random by the zombies. That’s just how Fulci rolls. You don’t watch Lucio Fulci movies for plot; you watch them for atmosphere and stylish splatter. — Jim Vorel

70. Rammbock: Berlin Undead, aka Siege of the Dead
Year: 2010
Director: Marvin Kren
One of the coolest things about Rammbock is that it knows its own limitations and doesn’t attempt to stretch itself past the natural confines of its story. It’s an indie German “feature film” that is only 63 minutes long, but director Marvin Kren was right—it really doesn’t need to be a moment longer, and as a result it’s blissfully free from padding. The story revolves around Michael, something of a deluded sad-sack who was recently dumped by his girlfriend. His unannounced visit to “return her keys” just so happens to coincide with the citywide outbreak of a zombie virus, which leads to Michael and the various apartment/tenement dwellers being confronted with a wave of aggressive zombies pounding on their doors. In setting, one can’t help but compare it to a sort of zombie Rear Window, as the various residents converse and call back and forth to each other, or simply observe each other’s lives. We’re also given an unusual twist on zombie physiology—in this universe, mere infection doesn’t necessarily mean death and zombification. Rather, it’s possible to survive infection if emotions can be suppressed … but strong emotions will trigger the full transformation into a zombie. The very low budget is consistently apparent in the dull-looking visual palette and single location, but Kren gets the most out of his actors in a zombie movie that is also surprisingly gore-less. And at only 63 minutes, it never has to worry about overstaying its welcome. Rammbock is a lean, mean little zombie story that does just enough differently from the template to be memorable. — Jim Vorel


69. Trailers From Hell
Year: 2007-2017
Director: Various
Trailers From Hell is a charming web series that has since been gathered into several DVD releases, which are available on Shudder. The premise is simple but rewarding, as the creators get film directing and writing luminaries together to discuss classic film trailers. For the purposes of Shudder, the includes the likes of John Landis discussing _____, or Joe Dante waxing poetic on the joys of _____. Each entry is only 3-6 minutes long on average, making Trailers From Hell a series of bite-size excursions into film history with the most knowledgeable of tour guides. Not only can you hear what famous directors think of your favorite horror films; you can mine new entries for your to-watch list from some of their personal favorite movies. The series is both entertaining and instructive for all your future viewing. – Jim Vorel


68. Frontier(s)
Year: 2007
Director: Xavier Gens
Frontier(s) is a strange, grisly French horror film that has a certain bit of Eli Roth’s Hostel in its DNA, but especially seems inspired by The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Following the election of a far-right candidate to the French presidency (Donatien Trumplamoose?), Paris erupts in riots and a group of young thieves take advantage of the chaos to stage a robbery and escape into the countryside. Going by back roads, they eventually run afoul of a secret family of Nazi holdout sadists and are captured to be used as food, slaves or worse. Among this group is Yasmine, a fairly singular final girl in the sense that she’s actually pregnant throughout with the child of one of the group’s other members. Like Sally Hardesty in Texas Chainsaw, Yasmine truly suffers and watches her friends get picked off one by one, but unlike Sally, she refuses to simply run. Fighting her way through multiple members of the family, she delivers bloody, hyper-gory retribution throughout, clawing and throat-biting her way to freedom like she’s Rick on The Walking Dead. With an impossibly strong will to live, Yasmine is not someone you’d want to cross. – Jim Vorel


67. Sleepaway Camp
Year: 1983
Director: Robert Hiltzik
Of all the camp-based Friday the 13th rip-offs, Sleepaway Camp is probably the best one that isn’t The Burning. Our main character is Angela, a troubled girl who absolutely everyone picks on for no good reason. Seriously—it’s one of those ’80s era movies with a main character who is an “outsider” constantly harassed by dozens of people, but without any impetus or explanation—it’s just Angela’s lot in life. Everyone who meets her immediately hates her guts and subjects her to cruel taunting. But soon, the people at the camp who were mean to Angela start getting knocked off. The movie seems calculated to come off as a straight horror film, but the death scenes are often so outlandish that it veers pleasurably into horror comedy as well. Highlights include the lecherous camp cook, who gets a giant vat of boiling water dumped on his face, or the kid who gets a beehive dropped into the outhouse with him. If you love classic slashers, it’s a must-see, especially for the ending. I won’t spoil anything, but Sleepaway Camp can proudly lay claim to one of the most shocking, WTF endings in slasher movie history. — Jim Vorel


66. We Are What We Are
Year: 2010
Director: Jorge Michel Grau
This 2010 Mexican horror thriller was remade in the U.S. in 2013 by the talented Jim Mickle—and I have to admit, the American remake is the stronger of the two stories. Still, the original We Are What We Are sows the seeds of a compelling film. It follows a close-knit family of cannibals secretly maintaining their way of life in an urban setting. When the patriarch of the family drops dead, presumably from the cannibalism-related disease kuru, the family unit is thrown into disorder and the two teenage sons suddenly inherit the responsibility of obtaining fresh meat for the family’s ritualized cannibalism. What follows is a somewhat awkward, very dour and morbid series of misadventures as they try to maintain their way of life. The film is both creepy and gory, but it lacks the strength of characters and relationships that are established in the American version, which delves deeper into the psyche of each family member. You can see why Mickle took an interest in the premise, though. — Jim Vorel


65. Pieces
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


64. Fright Night
Year: 1985
Director: Tom Holland
I don’t think anyone will argue that the original Fright Night will ever stand alongside the more classic horror movies of the ’80s … but, by God, if it isn’t still a ton of fun. Certainly, for any major horror junkie, the idea of being the one person who can correctly spot a vampire must serve as some brand of wish fulfillment. In any case, that’s precisely what happens to Charley Brewster when Chris Sarandon’s enigmatic Jerry moves into the neighborhood. Recruiting help from both his friend Evil Ed (a fantastically over-the-top Stephen Geoffreys) and horror-actor-turned-late-night-TV-host Peter Vincent (Roddy McDowall at his curmudgeonly finest), Charley attempts to gather evidence that his new neighbor secretly wants to eat him. Though some of the make-up effects and dialogue are sheer ’80s cornball, the film skates by on its genial, tongue-in-cheek approach as well as Sarandon’s debonair turn as the vampire-next-door. – Mark Rozeman


63. Nightbreed
Year: 1990
Director: Clive Barker
Nightbreed is an odd duck of a movie, stranded somewhere between legitimate horror film and dark fantasy story. Clive Barker directs, only a few years after Hellraiser, but here his ambition perhaps got the best of him. It’s pretty clear that he wanted Nightbreed to be something akin to a horror epic, a movie with a profound message about identity, acceptance and community. In execution, though, it has a hard time picking what tone it’s supposed to be emanating. Sometimes it’s darkly humorous. Sometimes it’s legitimately spooky. Other times you’re not sure whether you’re supposed to be taking the action on screen seriously or not. One thing that is spectacular throughout is the art direction, sets, costuming and makeup. Some of the character designs may come off as “silly,” but just as many of them are likely to end up in your nightmares. Nightbreed is a mixed bag, a would-be inspiring story about monsters trying to build a safe community to peacefully live their lives, but lacking the iconic nature of Barker’s most famous creations. — Jim Vorel


62. Grabbers
Year: 2012
Director: Jon Wright
A surprisingly well-acted Irish/British indie sci-fi horror flick, Grabbers is unabashedly goofy but wholly professional and charming in spades. The story follows an alcoholic police officer who has to face a new threat to a sleepy seaside community when octopus-like aliens begin emerging from the sea and killing townspeople. These “Grabbers,” as they’re quickly dubbed, have only one weakness: Human blood is fatal to them if it’s over a certain percentage alcohol. Therefore, to combat the monsters and make themselves unpalatable, the police and townspeople have an obvious choice to make: Get totally hammered and grab a bunch of weapons. That may sound rather close to the summary of a direct-to-video movie by The Asylum, but Grabbers is surprisingly intelligent, witty and well-written in such a way that it easily escapes a fate in DVD bargain bin hell. — Jim Vorel


61. Tetsuo: the Iron Man
Year: 1989
Director: Shinya Tsukamato
I’m warning you right now: Tetsuo is perhaps the weirdest, wildest film on this entire list, and that’s saying a lot. This low-budget nightmare fever dream hails (naturally) from Japan, and combines aspects of Cronenbergian body horror with a somewhat cyberpunk aesthetic. When an ordinary businessman gets infected with some sort of metallic curse, his body slowly begins to morph into a monster. Before long, we’re talking razor arms and pneumatic drill penises—it’s pretty messed-up stuff. It’s hard to describe the “plot” in any more detail; at only 67 or 77 minutes long (depending on the cut), it simply breezes by and leaves you asking “What the hell did I just watch?” What can’t be denied, though, is how the imagery of Tetsuo will stick with you. Once you’ve seen its weirdness, you can’t unsee it. — Jim Vorel


60. Antiviral
Year: 2012
Director: Brandon Cronenberg
When you’re the son of David Cronenberg, you have a lot to live up to in a horror film debut, and Brandon Cronenberg does an admirable job in his cerebral and icky horror flick Antiviral. Although it can be a little slow and portentous, the setting and ideas are spectacular. The film imagines a near-future, sci-fi tinged world where obsession with celebrity lives has replaced nearly every other facet of the arts. People are so celebrity-obsessed, in fact, that a booming genetics business has developed to cater to disease hounds—people who literally want to be injected with specific strains of diseases, such as STDs, that have been harvested from various starlets. Elsewhere, people stand in line at meat markets to buy muscle tissue grown and cultivated from celebrity donors. Cronenberg may lay the social commentary on a little thick, but the results on screen are chilling. If the characters were a little bit more vivacious and interesting to follow, Antiviral could have been a modern classic, but it’s still an impressive debut for the younger Cronenberg. — Jim Vorel


59. John Dies at the End
Year: 2012
Director: Don Coscarelli
Your ability to withstand the absurdity of John Dies at the End will depend almost entirely on if you’re able to tolerate nonlinear storylines and characters who tax the lengths of the imagination. An oftimes crude and farcical combination of horror, drug culture and philosophy, it’s a film you won’t entirely grasp until you’ve seen it for yourself. Central is a drug known as “soy sauce” that causes the user to see outside the concept of linear time, existing at all times at once in a way that almost reminds one of the alien beings from Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five. Also appearing: Phantom limbs, an alien consciousness known as “Shitload,” a heroic dog and an evil, interdimensional supercomputer. No drugs necessary—the film will make you feel like you’ve already ransacked your medicine cabinet. — Jim Vorel


58. La Horde , aka The Horde
Year: 2009
Director: Benjamin Rocher, Yannick Dahan
The Horde plays a bit like someone in France saw From Dusk Till Dawn and wondered what the format of that movie might be like with zombies instead of vampires. Like the Robert Rodriguez film, we get sucked into a tense crime story first, following a group of police officers as they storm a mostly abandoned apartment high-rise to take down a gang of drug dealers who killed one of their own. And then, 20 minutes in … a bunch of zombies arrive! You almost have to admire the total lack of foreshadowing—it’s a unique take on “the world has come to an end,” because in this story, the world comes to an end while the two sides (cops and drug dealers) are in the midst of a very pitched confrontation. They have no access to information on the wider world, and can only watch as Paris apparently tears itself apart. Naturally, the cops and robbers then need to team up in order to survive, in a strange mix of sadistic humor and emotional turmoil. As for the zombies, they actually look pretty awesome, although their abilities tend to vary wildly from scene to scene. An odd quirk: The zombies actually remove their own dead from the battlefield for reasons never fully explained, a trait I’ve never seen in another zombie movie. — Jim Vorel


57. Black Sabbath
Year: 1963
Director: Mario Bava
The ’60s and ’70s were the heyday of the horror anthology overseas, and especially in Britain (with Amicus Productions) and Italy, where low-budget kingpins like Mario Bava lorded over the landscape of horror-tinged giallo pictures. Black Sabbath is a fairly typical example of those anthologies, but one that wisely limits its stories to three that it can tell a little more in-depth. They range from stories with criminal elements such as “The Telephone” to ones with more overtly supernatural or ghostly themes such as “The Drop of Water.” Bava’s grisly crime stories laid the foundation for modern slasher pictures in particular, although this anthology is still one of his better-known works—influential enough that its title was the inspiration for Ozzy Osbourne’s most famous band. — Jim Vorel


56. Grave Encounters
Year: 2011
Directors: Colin Minihan and Stuart Ortiz, “The Vicious Brothers”
I genuinely don’t understand why Grave Encounters doesn’t have a better reputation among horror geeks, who largely seem to be aware of it but deride the found footage movie as either derivative or cheesy. In my own estimation, it’s one of the best found footage offerings of the last decade, and certainly one of the most legitimately frightening, as well as humorous when it wants to be. It’s structured as a pitch-perfect parody of inane TV ghost-hunting shows, in the style of Travel Channel’s Ghost Adventures, and imagines the satisfying results of what might happen when one of these crews full of charlatans is subjected to a genuinely evil location. But Grave Encounters goes beyond what is expected of it—you hear that premise and expect some frantic, handicam running around and screaming in the dark, but it delivers far more. The FX work, on a small budget, is some of the best you’re ever going to see in a found footage film, and the nature of the haunting is significantly more mind-bending than it first appears. I’ll continue to defend this film, although you should steer clear of the less inspired sequel. – Jim Vorel


55. Exorcist III
Year: 1990
Director: William Peter Blatty
Exorcist III, or Legion as it’s known in its director’s cut form, focuses on grizzled, sardonic police detective Kinderman, played in the film by George C. Scott and by Lee J. Cobb in The Exorcist. Kinderman was more of a bystander to the events of the original film, but they still haunt him, fifteen years after the fact. The past comes roaring back with bloody vengeance—there’s a serial killer on the loose, and the murders seem to be connected to a mysterious patient locked up in a hospital psychiatric ward. And that mysterious patient just happens to look exactly like the deceased Father Damien Karras, one of the exorcists from the first film, who met an untimely end after launching himself out a window and tumbling down a particularly steep flight of stairs. What follows is a perpetually misunderstood and underrated horror film that is less a sequel to The Exorcist and more a channeler of the same disturbing spirit. – Chris Evangelista


54. The Crazies
Year: 1973
Director: George A. Romero
The Crazies is one of those lesser Romero works that tends to fall by the wayside because we’re always talking about his “of the Dead” films. Honestly, there are some horror fans out there who don’t even know that Romero made any non-zombie movies, although in this case you could argue that the infected of The Crazies drew both on his own Night of the Living Dead ghouls and presaged their evolution in 1978’s Dawn of the Dead. The tale of a small town gone mad in the wake of a biological weapons accident, it’s filled with great ideas and serviceable execution. The themes of man’s inhumanity to man in times of crisis are pretty rough, and there’s definitely some boundary-pushing material when it comes to sexuality as well, which make The Crazies a more cerebral watch than one might initially give it credit for. —Jim Vorel


53. Assault on Precinct 13
Year: 1976
Director: John Carpenter 
Assault on Precinct 13 launches into its action-packed second act with one of the more audacious, transgressive acts you’ll ever see in a film—it almost feels like a taboo you wouldn’t even see in a horror film today, and I wouldn’t dare ruin it for you. Suffice to say, that one moment of unthinkable violence is the starting gun on a gritty thriller from John Carpenter, two years before Halloween made him a much bigger name. As such, you might expect Assault on Precinct 13 to be a more conventional or safe film, but if anything, it’s significantly more complex a project than Halloween would have been. Taking inspiration from Night of the Living Dead, Carpenter weaves a criminal action tale about an officer holding down a decommissioned police station that comes under siege by dozens of gang members. The interpersonal dynamics between officer and prisoners almost reflects the suspicion and brotherhood that would later be displayed between the arctic residents of Carpenter’s The Thing, and the shootouts are just as bloody. Even on a budget, it’s one of the best action movies of the ‘70s. – Jim Vorel


52. The Revenge of Frankenstein
Year: 1958
Director: Terence Fisher
Curse of Frankenstein, the film that began Hammer Horror’s illustrious reboot of the classic Universal monsters in glorious, gaudy color, was an immediate hit in the U.K. and U.S. when it arrived in 1957, so naturally it prompted an immediate series of sequels. In what begins a trend, antihero Dr. Frankenstein (the commanding Peter Cushing) escapes justice for the events and deaths of the previous film and strikes out to create a new monster, convinced that this time everything will go swimmingly. Or more accurately, this time around his plan is to transplant brains from one body to another, as in Universal’s The Ghost of Frankenstein. Cushing is wondrous as ever, hilariously “hiding” under the identity of “Dr. Stein” and supported by Karl the hunchback, who longs to have his brain transplanted into a new body that won’t make him a social outcast. It’s all around the strongest of the Hammer Frankenstein sequels, although they’re pretty much all worth seeing except Frankenstein and the Monster From Hell. – Jim Vorel


51. Dead & Buried
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


50. I Am a Ghost
Year: 2012
Director: H.P. Mendoza
I Am a Ghost is the type of arthouse horror film that will draw praise from film critics and some degree of consternation from the average viewer. Even at only 75 minutes in length, it still feels very much like a short film concept stretched and warped to fit the constraints of “feature length,” although most of those minutes are committed to the idea of committing to an artistic aesthetic. The camera is largely immobile through long chunks of the film, with slightly rounded edges to the screen that give the entire film a sense of voyeurism; the feeling that we’re doing something wrong by peeping in on the events as they (slowly) unfold. Our main (and only on-screen) character is, as the title suggests, a ghost, a restless spirit who doesn’t know how to stop haunting the house where she died. She’s coached through this process by the voice of a psychic, but in execution it’s essentially a one-woman show. This is not a film for the impatient—it opens with 13 minutes of relative silence before the first actual dialog occurs. It’s a bold, ambitious movie that scores points for audaciousness and loses points during its placid stretches. — Jim Vorel


49. Lake Mungo
Year: 2008
Director: Joel Anderson
And speaking of found footage, here’s another entry in the genre that has had considerably more positive critical attention. Lake Mungo could scarcely be more different from something like Grave Encounters—there are no ghosts or demons chasing screaming people down the hall, and it’s chiefly a story about family, emotion and our desire to seek closure after death. You could call it a member of the “mumblegore” family, without the gore. It centers around a family that has been shattered by a daughter’s drowning, and the family’s subsequent entanglement in what may or may not be a haunting, and the mother’s desire to determine what kind of life her daughter had been living. Powerfully acted and subtly shot, it’s a tense family drama with hints of the supernatural drifting around the fraying edges of their sanity. If there’s such a thing as “horror drama,” this documentary-style film deserves the title. – Jim Vorel


48. A Tale of Two Sisters
Year: 2003
Director: Kim Jee-woon
A Tale of Two Sisters is a complex, somewhat confusingly wrought Korean horror-thriller, a twisting morass of relationships and family drama that clashes against a possible supernatural threat. One of Korea’s highest-grossing horror films of all time, it combines a Hitchcockian vein of psychological/mental torture with a classical ghost story that almost invokes classic Hollywood, i.e. The Innocents or The Uninvited. It follows a pair of sisters, as the title would suggest, as the elder is released from a mental institution and back into the messed-up family dynamic that put her there. From there, the film asks many questions: What are the true motivations of the sisters’ cruel stepmother? What has been plaguing the younger sister? Is the father complicit in murder? What really happened to the sisters’ birth mother as she wasted away from illness in their now-haunted home? It’s certainly a film that almost necessitates repeated viewings, as its twisting plot development is rather tough to grasp the first time through. At times, it almost carries the world-weariness and sense of encroaching inevitability of a Shakespearean tragedy. — Jim Vorel


47. Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer
Year: 1986
Director: John McNaughton
Henry stars Merle himself, Michael Rooker, as a character who is essentially meant to approximate serial killer Henry Lee Lucas, along with his demented sidekick Otis Toole. The film was shot and set in Chicago on a budget of only $100,000, and is an ugly, depraved journey into the depths of the darkness capable of infecting the human soul. That probably sounds like hyperbole, but Henry really is a gross, ugly film—you feel dirty just watching it, from the filth-crusted streets of Chicago to the supremely unlikeable characters who prey on local prostitutes. It’s not an easy watch, but if gritty true crime is your thing, it’s a must-see. Some of the sequences, such as the “home video” shot by Henry and Otis as they torture an entire family, gave the film a notorious reputation, even among horror fans. — Jim Vorel


46. Hellbound: Hellraiser 2
Year: 1988
Director: Tony Randel
Hellbound is a somewhat divisive sequel among horror fans, but we can all at least agree on one thing: It’s much, much better than any of the approximately 57 additional Hellraiser sequels that followed, most of which will make you wish the Cenobites were gouging your eyes out with their rusty hooks. It’s actually a more ambitious, somewhat less intimate film than the first Hellraiser, greatly expanding upon the mythos of the series as Kirsty must journey to the hellish dimension of the demonic Cenobites to oppose an evil doctor whose dreams of power transform him into a Cenobite himself. The lovely Ashley Laurence returns as the protagonist, along with a young, emotionally disturbed girl who is adept at solving puzzles, which almost gives it the feel of a Nightmare on Elm Street sequel such as Dream Warriors. The Cenobites themselves get a little bit watered down from their nigh omnipotence in the original film, but the settings and effects are great for the meager budget and do as good a job as anyone could reasonably do of translating the twisted vision of Clive Barker to the screen. — Jim Vorel


45. Hobo With a Shotgun
Year: 2011
Director: Jason Eisener
Yeah, I know that some of these movies aren’t “horror” first and foremost, but they’re all on Shudder, and if they’re on the service I’m not going to ignore them. Hobo With a Shotgun began its life as a fake trailer in front of Tarantino’s Grindhouse, and grew into a feature from there. It’s inspired by Death Wish-style revenge and vigilantism films, movies with a moral code that is comfortingly simple: An eye for an eye, and all the bad guys need to die. The titular hobo, wonderfully played by the gruff and boozed-up Rutger Hauer, is pushed into his life of vigilante violence when he witnesses the ineffectiveness of the corrupt police force, and ends up going up against local crime boss “The Drake.” The look of the film is absolutely spot-on for the grimy ‘70s aesthetic, and it goes to a few places the viewer doesn’t expect while watching its first half. One thinks you’re simply getting a Charles Bronson-type vehicle, but things take a spin for the more absurd by first incorporating gang theming in the style of The Warriors before veering almost into true sci-fi/horror territory. It retains the DNA of a fan film on some level, but it looks far slicker than any other fan film you’re likely to see anytime soon. — Jim Vorel


44. Horror Express
Year: 1972
Director: Eugenio Martin
An unusual film for its time period, Horror Express stars both Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee, and yet it’s not from Hammer as one would expect. Rather, it was a joint British/Spanish production simply aping the Hammer formula of classy actors in silly premises. This one is particularly weird: An archaeologist played by Lee discovers a “missing link” ape man buried in ice and tries to transport him in secret via train. The still-alive ape man defrosts, however, and proves to be armed with a rather unique set of powers. What follows is a bizarre film about stolen memories and brain-swapping, all taking place aboard the train. There are some really hypnotic performances, especially from relatively unknown Argentinean actor Alberto de Mendoza as a crazed priest. Telly Savalas, TV’s Kojak, even shows up out of right field playing a Russian Cossack officer. Who loves ya, baby? — Jim Vorel


43. Shadow of the Vampire
Year: 2000
Director: E. Elias Merhige
We now reach a special occasion in our vampire list. As it currently stands (and please someone correct me if I’m mistaken), Willem Dafoe remains the only actor to be awarded an Oscar nomination for playing a literal vampire. And boy, does he earn it. A love letter to fans of both horror and film history, Shadow of the Vampire recounts the shooting of F.W. Murnau’s vampire classic, Nosferatu, with an added revisionist twist—the actor who portrayed Count Orlok was an actual vampire that Murnau hired for authenticity. As the unhinged director, John Malkovich is perfectly cast, particularly in the moments where he goes off on infuriated tangents about Max’s behavior (when the vampire takes a bite of the production’s cinematographer, Murnau berates him for not eating someone more disposable like “the script girl”). The film, however, belongs to Dafoe. His “Max Schreck” is at once frightening but also wryly funny. What’s more impressive are the moments where the film incorporates scenes from the actual Nosferatu, making it hard to distinguish Dafoe’s embodiment from the real thing. – Mark Rozeman


42. Troll Hunter
Year: 2010
Director: André Øvredal
There’s no denying that at its beginning, Troll Hunter seems like another Blair Witch Project knock-off. The first 20 minutes show us a young camera crew investigating some unexplained bear deaths and a suspicious man who may be poaching them. But rather than drawing out the mystery, it takes a sharp turn and tells us matter-of-factly that of course it was trolls killing the bears, and not only that, here’s one of them ready to bonk you on the head. The titular Troll Hunter extraordinaire is played by the affable comedian Otto Jespersen, who brings the entire monster premise to an entirely different level through his nonchalant attitude. In every sense, Troll Hunter lives up to its ridiculous name and premise. —Sean Gandert


41. The Stuff
Year: 1985
Director: Larry Cohen
A cult classic for sure, The Stuff was one of the best 1980s critiques of consumer culture, all wrapped up in the form of a horror movie. Profiteers find a white, gooey substance leaking up out of the Earth that proves both delicious and addictive … which they discover by simply tasting this stuff seeping up from the ground, in what is definitely a doctor-recommended action. Soon, repackaged as the secret ingredient-laden “Stuff,” it sweeps the world. The fake commercials are fantastic—this one has Abe Vigoda and actress Clara Peller, who only one year earlier began the famous “Where’s the beef?” campaign for Wendy’s. That is cross-cultural awareness. It’s also a very fun, schlocky horror flick with gross-out special effects, because as you eat more of The Stuff it gradually takes over your body until it explodes out into a self-aware being. This film may actually be more relevant today than it was in the mid-1980s as awareness of fast food content becomes more widespread. — Jim Vorel


40. The Phantom of the Opera
Year: 1925
Director: Rupert Julian
Before Dracula and the official birth of Universal Horror, there was Phantom of the Opera. I must note, by the way: It sucks that none of the major streamers, including Netflix and Shudder, have the rights to show all of the classic Universal Monster series. I want to be able to watch Son of Frankenstein or The Wolf Man streaming on demand some day, guys! Get those licensing deals in place! Regardless, it’s nice that Shudder has at least one of these old classics, on account of it being in the public domain. This is the original version of Phantom, starring Lon Chaney Sr., the “Man of a Thousand Faces.” The pace is slow, and you know how the classic story goes, but it’s indispensable for Chaney’s self-devised makeup, which reportedly had theater patrons fainting in the aisles in 1925. The acting style is rather alien to watch today; overdramatic holdovers from the vaudeville era, but man, Chaney’s face. It’s one of the truly iconic faces of horror, right alongside Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi and Chaney’s own son, Lon Chaney Jr., who would go on to play The Wolf Man. — Jim Vorel


39. The Beyond
Year: 1981
Director: Lucio Fulci
We had Fulci’s City of the Living Dead on the list earlier, but this may be the best of his non-zombie movies. 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 demons gouge people’s eyes out 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. — Jim Vorel


38. The Howling
Year: 1981
Director: Joe Dante
1981 happens to be the best year in the history of werewolf cinema, thanks to three films: An American Werewolf in London, The Howling and Wolfen. Of those, The Howling can’t quite compete with the macabre humor and budget of John Landis’ British werewolf classic, but it still ranks among the best lycanthrope movies of all time. The Howling is grittier and darker, but it still maintains a sort of perverted, sadistic sense of humor as well. Its iconic transformation scenes are long, grisly and exceedingly painful looking, as is just about everything else in this movie, such as the werewolf’s face that has been splashed with corrosive acid—all of the practical effects are absolutely top notch. It’s rife with historic werewolf movie references for the cinephiles in the audience, including obvious allusions to The Wolf Man and Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man, while still delivering on the pulp, gore and cheap thrills demanded by the multiplex crowd. That’s the Joe Dante Special: Smart enough to appeal to the film geeks, but silly and funny enough for the layman. – Jim Vorel


37. The Hills Have Eyes
Year: 1977
Director: Wes Craven
Seven years before A Nightmare on Elm Street made Wes Craven a household name, he was crafting a grindhouse classic in The Hills Have Eyes. It shares some DNA with his hard-to-watch revenge film The Last House on the Left, but it’s a far better film overall, with a tighter story. You probably know the basics: A family on vacation blunders into a stretch of the desert where they really shouldn’t be and fall victim to a band of bestial hill people, with the weathered, unnatural face of Michael Berryman front and center. It received an X-rating on first release, which isn’t too surprising—this is a movie where cannibals steal a baby so they can eat it, after all. It’s the sort of elemental good vs. evil story that we all fear, in the back of our minds, when we venture to the edges of the map and know how vulnerable we are away from the comforts of civilization. — Jim Vorel


36. Let Sleeping Corpses Lie
Year: 1974
Director: Jorge Grau
The U.S.A. is the first nation one tends to associate with zombie cinema, likely followed by Italy, perhaps followed then by countries such as Britain or Japan. Let Sleeping Corpses Lie, then, is an interesting outlier, a Spanish zombie film (although set in England) from the ’70s that took George Romero’s ideas, played with them, and seemingly set a precedent for all of the Italian zombie movies that would follow. In this one, the living dead are brought up from the ground by a “sonic radiation” machine designed to kill insects—the results, suffice to say, are not quite as intended. It’s an interesting mix of American zombie tropes and hard-to-place foreignness. The zombies, however, look great, and the restored copy on Shudder is a wonderfully high-quality version of the film. It’s a somewhat underappreciated entry in the zombie annals that you won’t find in just anyone’s collection, but worth a look, especially if you love zombie films from the likes of Lucio Fulci. — Jim Vorel

35. Timecrimes
Year: 2007
Director: Nacho Vigalondo
I won’t try to make an argument that Timecrimes is a horror film, but this is a ranking of all the films on Shudder, so I’ll simply state it thusly: Timecrimes is a sci-fi film you’ll also want to see. The plot of Spanish film Los Cronocrímenes (a.k.a. Timecrimes) emulates classic pulp science fiction, redolent of Alfred Bester or Philip K. Dick, as a middle-aged man finds his quiet afternoon disturbed by an intruder. Soon, he begins stalking, and being stalked by, a mysterious figure whose face is disguised in pink medical gauze. There’s also a naked girl involved, and a research scientist (Vigalondo) in an adjacent office park who happens to be testing out a new time machine. The bogeyman is an homage to James Whale’s 1933 film, The Invisible Man, but his identity doesn’t stay secret for long. Watching the Chinese Box-like narrative unravel is the whole point, and Vigalondo choreographs the action with a suspenseful touch. Someday, someone is going to give Vigalondo a big-budget sci-fi film, and it’s going to be great. — Jim Vorel


34. Opera
Year: 1987
Director: Dario Argento
Giallo is not the kind of genre where directors end up receiving a lot of critical aplomb … with the occasional exception of Dario Argento. He is to the bloody, Italian precursor to slasher films as say, someone like Clive Barker is to more westernized horrors—an auteur willing to take chances, whose gaudy works are occasionally brilliant but just as often fall flat. Opera, though, is one of Argento’s most purely watchable, fun films, following a young actress who seems to have developed a rather homicidal admirer—anyone who gets in the way of her career has a funny way of ending up dead, and her constant nightmares hint at a long-buried connection to the killer. Essentially the giallo equivalent of Phantom of the Opera, its canvas is splashed by Argento’s signature color palette of bright, lurid tones and over-the-top deaths. If you love a good whodunnit and especially if you have an interest in cinematography, it’s a study in craftsmanship. — Jim Vorel


33. Pontypool
Year: 2008
Director: Bruce McDonald
A quick plot summary of Pontypool makes it sound like just a rehash of Orson Welles’ 1938 The War of the Worlds broadcast with zombies in the place of aliens, and although it’s certainly more than a little bit indebted to that work, that would be giving the film far too little credit. The movie instead draws thematic inspiration from the words of its radio broadcast and recasts the zombie disease as verbal, a product of mindless repetition and meaningless phrases in the English language. Pontypool’s clever script is superbly acted, and the film manages to take the zombie genre in a different direction without going the route of ironic deconstruction. In the end, they’re not truly “zombies,” but our insistence upon the term is part of the point the movie is trying to make. It’s a horror film where the horror is the shallowness of modern society. —Sean Gandert


32. They Look Like People
Year: 2015
Director: Perry Blackshear
I fully expect there to be someone in the comments—one of the few people who has actually seen this film—arguing that it doesn’t belong on a “horror” list, but it’s on Shudder, and that’s our only qualifier. And indeed, They Look Like People is far more genuinely creepy than many other, more traditional horror films on this list that aim to entertain more than legitimately scare. What we have here is a very unusual, unflinching portrait of mental and emotional illnesses that spin wildly out of control. It would be really easy for the story to be more conventional—guy’s friend visits, but it turns out the friend is crazy—but They Look Like People messes with the audience’s expectations for the narrative by giving both of the male leads their own mental hurdles to overcome. They never react quite like we expect them to, because neither sees the world in a healthy way. It’s a film where the threat and implication of terrible violence, evoked via constantly on-edge atmosphere, becomes almost unbearable, whether or not it actually arrives. Thanks to some very, very strong performances, you always feel balanced on the edge of a knife. Deliberately paced but thankfully brisk (only 80 minutes), it leaves much unanswered, but we still feel satisfied anyway. — Jim Vorel


31. Night of the Creeps
Year: 1985
Director: Fred Dekker
Night of the Creeps feels like a bastard child of both Return of the Living Dead (primarily) and Re-Animator tangentially, but it’s honestly a weirder film than either of them, and that’s saying something. Haphazardly blending sci-fi with horror-comedy, it’s about an invasion of parasitic alien slugs that turn their hosts into superpowered zombies. Directed by Fred Dekker, who would go on to helm the much more family-friendly Monster Squad a year later (which strangely enough, doesn’t have any zombies), it’s a risque, rather tawdry horror film set at a college, and thus often feels like some kind of zombified twist on Animal House. Like ROTLD, its inherent ’80s-ness is absolutely off the charts, but it has more of a science-y, lab-based feel thanks to the presence of aliens and a presumed plot to take over the world. In this way, it’s like the zombies were used to make the kind of ’50s-style B-movie that otherwise would have starred alien invaders. They took the monster of the decade, zombies, and substituted them into an earlier style of film, ramped up the sexualization and rock ’n’ roll, and a cult classic was born. – Jim Vorel


30. We Need to Talk About Kevin
Year: 2012
Director: Lynne Ramsay
We Need To Talk About Kevin concerns the experience of a mother struggling with the aftermath of a school massacre carried out by her son. In its narrative construction, it draws upon two key tropes: that of the “whydunnit” thriller, in which the the mystery of the perpetrator’s motivations are a driving factor, and that of the family horror, in which some dark element tears a traditional household apart. Indeed, the real horror is not that a teenager chose total negation over the banality of normative family life—it’s that these appeared to be the only two choices available. Tilda Swinton is brilliant in the starring role as a mother who grapples with guilt about what her son has done and reflects on his childhood, wondering what, if anything, could possibly have been done differently when one gives birth to a “bad seed.” —Donal Foreman


29. Night of the Living Dead
Year: 1968
Director: George A. Romero
It’s not really necessary to delve into how influential George Romero’s first zombie film has been to the genre and horror itself—it’s one of the most important horror movies ever made, and one of the most important independent films as well. The question is more accurately, “how does it hold up today?”, and the answer is “okay.” Unlike, say Dawn of the Dead (not on Shudder), Night is pretty placid most of the time. The story conventions are classic and the black-and-white cinematography still looks excellent, but some of the performances are downright irritating, particularly that of Judith O’Dea as Barbara. Duane Jones more than makes up for that as the heroic Ben, however, in a story that is very self-sufficient and provincial—just one small group of people in a house, with no real thought to the wider world. It’s a horror film that is a MUST SEE for every student of the genre, which is easy, considering that the film actually remains in the public domain. But in terms of entertainment value, Romero would perfect the genre in his next few efforts. Also recommended: The 1990 remake of this film by Tom Savini, which is unfairly derided just for being a faithful remake. — Jim Vorel


28. The Host
Year: 2006
Director: Bong Joon-ho
Before he was breaking out internationally with tight action films such as Snowpiercer, this South Korean monster movie was Bong Joon-ho’s big work and calling card. Astoundingly successful at the box office in his home country, it straddles several genre lines between sci-fi, family drama and horror, but there’s plenty of scary stuff with the monster menacing little kids in particular. Props to the designers on one of the more unique movie monsters of the last few decades—the creature in this film looks sort of like a giant tadpole with teeth and legs, which is way more awesome than it sounds. The real heart of the film is a superb performance by Song Kang-ho (also in Snowpiercer) as a seemingly slow-witted father trying to hold his family together during the disaster. That’s a pretty common role to be playing in a horror film, but the performances and family dynamic in general truly are the key factor that help elevate The Host far above most of its ilk. It’s not a coincidence that it became one of the most successful Korean films of all time. — Jim Vorel


27. Room 237
Year: 2012
Director: Rodney Ascher
This attention-grabbing documentary from Rodney Ascher on the power and mythos of Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining has gotten a lot of criticism from viewers who don’t seem to understand what the film is actually about. In short, it’s not about The Shining. It’s not about the conspiracy theories based around The Shining. It’s about the people and frame of mind that give birth to all these disparate, loony conspiracy theories. It’s about the seemingly unhinged mind that watches The Shining dozens of times, obsessing over tiny details while coming to the conclusion that the film is about native American oppression. Or the Holocaust. Or Kubrick faking the moon landings. Or minotaur-centric Greek mythology that is too confusing to explain here. Room 237 is about the depths of obsession. Ascher doesn’t even comment on that obsession—he simply allows the subjects of the documentary to dig their own individual holes while we stand outside and wonder how deep they’ll go. It’s not a perfect documentary, but it’s pretty damn creepy to simply see such obsession in a naturalist way, especially when the theories are coming from people who seem otherwise “normal.” It’s a film that makes you wonder what your friends and family are obsessing over behind closed doors. — Jim Vorel


26. Lost Soul
Year: 2014
Director: David Gregory
Two documentaries in a row? Why not? Lost Soul is like a horror version of Lost in La Mancha or Jodorowsky’s Dune, a documentary about the strange, twisted journey toward making the much-derided 1996 version of The Island of Dr. Moreau. Originally intended for directorial duty was South African experimental/indie art film director Richard Stanley, who had become a hot name on the strength of the creative vision in early psychedelic horror efforts like 1992’s Dust Devil. However, up against the massive egos of stars like Val Kilmer and the monolithic Marlon Brando, Stanley crumbles under the pressure and is forced out. What unfolds is like a diary of the most troubled, insane Hollywood shoot imaginable, with Brando rewriting entire scenes and characters as he sees fit while the replacement director, John Frankenheimer, goes to war with the cast and crew. Stanley, meanwhile, ends up secretly back on set, wearing a dog mask, appearing as an extra on the film he was supposed to direct right under the nose of those who stole it from him. It’s an incredibly cautionary tale of Hollywood politics. — Jim Vorel


25. REC
Year: 2007
Director: Jaume Balagueró and Paco Plaza
2007 was a breakthrough year for post-Blair Witch found-footage horror, including the first Paranormal Activity and Romero’s own Diary of the Dead, but it wasn’t only in the U.S. that people were effectively employing that technique. The best of all the found-footage zombie films is still probably REC, another film on this list that exhibits some playfulness in redetermining exactly what a “zombie” is or isn’t. The Spanish film follows a news crew as they sneak inside a quarantined building that is experiencing the breakout of what essentially appears to be a zombie plague. The fast-moving infected resemble those of 28 Days Later and are later revealed to be demonically possessed in a way that moves through bites, ably blending traditional zombie lore and religious mysticism. It’s a capable, professional-feeling film for its low budget, and there are some excellently choreographed scenes of zombie mayhem that feel all the more claustrophobic for being filmed in a limited, first-person viewpoint. Zombie horror seems to go hand-in-hand with the found-footage approach more naturally than some other horror genres—perhaps it’s the fact that in the digital age, we’d all be compelled to document any such outbreak on our phones or other devices? Regardless, it’s not nearly so forced as some entries in this particular horror subgenre, and gives an excellent sense of what it might be like if you were just an average person locked in a huge apartment building filled with zombies. – Jim Vorel


24. Black Sunday
Year: 1960
Director: Mario Bava
Technically Mario Bava’s directorial debut, and still considered by just about everyone his best film, Black Sunday is an extremely influential movie in the history of Italian horror and also managed to introduce audiences to ’60s scream queen mainstay Barbara Steele. It establishes so many different tropes, such as its opening sequences of brutal Spanish Inquisition-era torture that establishes the supernatural evil that will return over time. A beautiful gothic horror picture, it’s fascinating how closely it in some ways mirrors the work of Terence Fisher over at Britain’s Hammer Studios—Black Sunday is to Italy what Horror of Dracula was to Britain, some two years later, and with a sexy female witch/vampire instead of the gaunt Christopher Lee, one who returns 200 years later to terrorize her descendents. It’s one of the most notable cases of a director delivering his greatest film on the first try and never again quite reaching the same heights. — Jim Vorel


23. Black Christmas
Year: 1974
Director: Bob Clark
It’s debatable as to what film deserves the title of the first true “slasher” movie, but Bob Clark’s underappreciated 1974 classic Black Christmas deserves as much credit as any of them. Sure, the elements of this style already existed in a number of Italian giallos, but Black Christmas stylishly codified many of the tropes that would go on to be integral to the likes of Scream, decades later. The movie takes place in that holiest of slasher locales, a sorority house, as a number of female residents prepare for Christmas and begin to go missing. Could it have something to do with the obscene, disturbing phone calls the house keeps receiving? “Final Girl” Jess Bradford is an absolutely iconic character, placing at #1 in Paste’s own ranking of the 20 best final girls of all time. She’s both realistic and relatable, brave and independent. She’s more than a screaming face, but less cliched than an action hero. She’s a great character, who receives one of the more iconic lines in slasher history: “The calls are coming from inside the house!” – Jim Vorel


22. We Are Still Here
Year: 2015
Director: Ted Geoghegan
We Are Still Here never wants for scares. It might actually be the single most terrifying movie of 2015, even next to David Robert Mitchell’s acclaimed and unsettling It Follows. 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


21. The Wicker Man
Year: 1973
Director: Robin Hardy
The original Wicker Man, a British film released in 1976, was a unique new horror tale with haunting cinematography and a deeply creepy soundtrack. The film explored gender politics and sexuality in a way that only 1970s horror flicks really could, combining eroticism with violence to titillate and horrify viewers. The acting is top-notch, with Edward Woodward’s protagonist Sergeant Howie and Christopher Lee’s Lord Summerisle stealing the screen. Woodward manages to portray a virginal, overly righteous character in a way that is both sympathetic and thought-provoking. And it all builds to a conclusion that has to be regarded as among the most shocking of its era. – Danielle Ryan


20. Deep Red
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


19. Repulsion
Year: 1965
Director: Roman Polanski
Roman Polanski’s landmark psychological horror film was the start of his so-called “apartment trilogy,” which also contained Rosemary’s Baby and The Tenant, but Repulsion is the most stark and intimate of the three. We spend much of the film with a single woman, cloistered in a cracking, crumbling apartment that represents the slow erosion of her sanity. Carol is disgusted—repulsed—by modern society, sexuality and the shallowness of interpersonal relationships, relying on her sister’s presence to get by and keep her grounded. But when her sister leaves Carol alone on an extended trip to Italy, her fragile ties to reality quickly become unmoored. Modern audiences are likely to have some difficulty with Repulsion, as the minimal plot moves glacially and takes quite a long while to reach a conclusion that viewers will be aware from the beginning is headed their way. But at the same time, the dream sequences and hallucination scenes are the stuff of nightmares, a sort of evolution of the expressionist horror of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and others that deftly use both imagery and especially sound design to slowly ratchet up the intensity. It’s not a horror film for the multiplex crowd, but students of film will find something in Repulsion that sticks with them for a long time. – Jim Vorel


18. Carnival of Souls
Year: 1962
Director: Herk Harvey
Carnival of Souls is a film in the vein of Night of the Hunter—artistically ambitious, from a first-time director, but largely overlooked in its initial release until its rediscovery years later. Granted, it’s not the masterpiece of Night of the Hunter, but it’s a chilling, effective, impressive little story of ghouls, guilt and restless spirits. The story follows a woman on the run from her past who is haunted by visions of a pale-faced man, beautifully shot (and played) by director Herk Harvey. As she seemingly begins to fade in and out of existence, the nature of her reality itself is questioned. It’s vintage psychological horror on a miniscule budget, and has since been cited as an influence in the fever dream visions of directors such as David Lynch. To me, it’s always felt something like a movie-length episode of The Twilight Zone, and I mean that in the most complimentary way I can. Rod Serling would no doubt have been a fan. — Jim Vorel


17. The Fog
Year: 1980
Director: John Carpenter 
If you’re a horror fan, it’s hard not to love the basic premise of The Fog, with its billowing clouds of white vapor that bring swift death along with them. John Carpenter’s follow-up to Halloween had a somewhat larger budget to work with, and the practical effects look great as a result, although it wasn’t as successful at the box office. Regardless, The Fog is a superior film from a production standpoint, reuniting Carpenter with Jamie Lee Curtis, albeit in a less important role. It concerns a Californian coastal town that is celebrating its 100th anniversary when dark secrets from the 1800s begin to emerge. Turns out that the “city fathers” committed some pretty serious crimes against humanity, and now a crew of restless revenants has returned to dish out some much-deserved revenge. Caught up in the madness is Adrienne Barbeau, Carpenter’s wife of the time, who was making her screen debut in the role that would make her a scream queen figure for decades. There’s simply a great sense of atmosphere in The Fog, especially in the dense, otherworldly way that the creeping, glowing banks of fog move throughout town, which is only amplified by a classic John Carpenter synth soundtrack. Anyone who knows Carpenter would be able to pick out his unique style immediately. – Jim Vorel


16. The Battery
Year: 2012
Director: Jeremy Gardner
The concept of a low-budget zombie drama is one that has become fairly common in the 2010s, likely owing to the influence of The Walking Dead and games such as The Last of Us, which treated zombies more like a set-piece to allow human drama to take shape. The Battery is an extrapolation of this format, a story about two men, a former baseball pitcher/catcher duo, traveling across the country together in the wake of a zombie apocalypse. And as for plot? That’s pretty much it. It’s a self-contained film that leans entirely on the performances of two actors, showcasing the ways that two men with vastly different personalities handle the mental strain and emotional challenges of continuing on each day and finding a reason to exist. The zombies are there, but they don’t really feel like active antagonists, as it were—they’re more like a constant roadblock and painful reminder of everything these men have lost in their former lives. It’s a film that almost mirrors the struggle of just getting out of bed in the morning to tackle another day—call the zombies your neighbors, your coworkers, etc. That’s what zombies have become today: A walking representation of 21st century ennui. — Jim Vorel


15. Nosferatu and Nosferatu the Vampyre
Years: 1922 and 1979
Directors: F.W. Murnau and Werner Herzog 
Both of these Nosferatu versions are streaming on Shudder, and I combine them into one entry because they’re equally worthy of viewing in 2016, for different reasons. It’s only natural for a modern viewer to think to themselves, at least somewhat snidely, that the 1922 silent original isn’t likely to be very “scary,” but they might be mistaken. If anything, the silent nature and griminess of old film stock give it a more ethereal quality that adds to its creep factor—not to mention the fact that Max Schreck’s otherworldly performance is truly incredible. The way he moves, coupled with the disturbing makeup, make Count Orlok one of the most frightening film vampires of all time, even today. Seriously, don’t show Nosferatu to your young children. The Werner Herzog remake in 1979, on the other hand, somewhat tones down the outwardly frightening aspect, but Klaus Kinski’s nuanced portrayal makes Orlok (or Dracula, this time) a much more interesting and emotionally invested character—a tragic monster invested with pathos, more in line with Frankenstein’s monster than most of the post-Lugosi Dracula clones. They’re both great films, but in significantly different ways. — Jim Vorel


14. The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari
Year: 1920
Director: Robert Wiene
Good luck understanding the concept of German Expressionism without seeing The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari at least once. The quintessential work of an entire cinematic style, it was described by Roger Ebert as the “first true horror film,” although a modern viewing is understandably unlikely to elicit chills. Still, in the same vein as Nosferatu, its fantastical visual palette is instantly iconic and sticks in the memory forever. Buildings are canted in impossible angles and light plays strange tricks—are those shadows real, or painted directly onto the set? The story revolves around a mad hypnotist who uses a troubled sleepwalker as his personal assassin, forcing him to exterminate his enemies at night. The astonishingly creative and free-thinking designs have had an indelible influence on every fantasy landscape depicted in the near-100 years since. You simply can’t claim an appreciation for the roots of cinema without seeing the film. — Jim Vorel


13. The Innkeepers
Year: 2011
Director: Ti West
When you’re working in indie horror, a big part of success is learning how to turn your budgetary limitations into a positive—to rely less heavily on effects and setting and more on characterization and filmcraft. Ti West understands this better than most, which is part of what made his earlier House of the Devil so effective. The Inkeepers has some of the same DNA, but it’s rawer and more “real,” following the mostly unremarkable exploits of two friends as they work in a dingy old bed & breakfast and conduct nightly paranormal research in their place of business. They’re well-cast and feel like two of the most “real people” you’re likely to see in a horror film—West, feeling in moments like a horror Tarantino, enjoys lingering on them during their conversations and small-talk, which builds a sense of casual camaraderie present between long-time co-workers. Of course, things do eventually start going bump in the night, and the film ratchets up into a classically inflected ghost story. Some will accuse it of being slow, or of spending too much time dawdling with things that are unimportant, but that’s “mumblegore” for you. Ultimately, the reality imbued into the characters justifies the time it takes to give them characterization, and you still get some spooky “boo!” moments in the final third. It succeeds on the back of strong performances. — Jim Vorel


12. Tucker & Dale vs. Evil
Year: 2010
Director: Eli Craig
Let’s face it, hillbillies and their ilk have been getting the short end of the pitchfork in movies since the strains of banjo music faded in 1972’s Deliverance. And whether due to radiation (The Hills Have Eyes) or just good old determined inbreeding (Wrong Turn and so, so many films you’re better off not knowing about), the yokel-prone in film have really enjoyed slaughtering innocent families on vacation, travelers deficient in basic map usage skills, and, best of all, sexually active college students just looking for a good time. But fear not, members of Hillbillies for Inclusion, Consideration & Kindness in Screenplays (HICKS)—writer/director Eli Craig has your hairy, unloofahed back. His film, Tucker & Dale vs. Evil, answers the simple question: What if those hillbillies are just socially awkward fellows sprucing up a vacation home and the young college kids in question are just prone to repeatedly jumping to incorrect, often fatal, conclusions? Think Final Destination meets the Darwin Awards in a film that is extremely funny and big-hearted but also doesn’t skimp on the violence. —Michael Burgin


11. Zombi 2
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


10. The Devil’s Backbone
Year: 2001
Director: Guillermo Del Toro 
Before he was the worldwide acclaimed director of Pan’s Labyrinth, Guillermo Del Toro’s greatest macabre fantasy was The Devil’s Backbone, a story that shares much of the same DNA and ideology as his latter film. Like Pan, it’s set in Spain during the Spanish Civil War, but this time instead of a world of faerie magic, our child protagonist finds himself delving into the realm of ghostly remnants caught between life and death. When a young boy is orphaned and sent to an orphanage with a “deactivated” bomb ticking away in the central courtyard, he faces trials both physical and spiritual while uncovering a mystery buried deep in the heart of his new home/prison. Del Toro’s visual flair is already fully developed, and the setting is rife with chills. It feels a bit like a Hammer-era ghost story, or some Spanish-inflected version of The Innocents, except with ghosts that are far more visceral and literal. The design of the ghosts themselves are among the best of all time, beautifully illustrating tortured souls still displaying fresh marks of how they were wronged in life. It’s a sumptuous film that, despite coming out 16 years ago, looks like it was released yesterday. – Jim Vorel


9. Frailty
Year: 2001
Director: Bill Paxton
Frailty is scary in much the same way that Jeff Nichols’ Take Shelter is so unsettling—they’re both about fathers who become possessed by the idea that they have a mission in life, a secret commandment from on high that may or may not be due to the slow onset of mental illness. The late Bill Paxton wrote and starred in this passion project, giving himself one of the best roles of his career as that disintegrating father, who has come to believe that he’s living in a world surrounded by “demons” that God has ordered him to eradicate. From the point of view of his young protagonist sons, they’re trapped in a situation that is both hopeless and terrifying. On one hand, their father has become an alien, unknowable personality ordering them to assist him in committing atrocities, but on the other they’re cognizant of the fact that revealing his apparent madness to the world will likely mean losing him forever. Matthew McConaughey is supplied with an unexpectedly juicy, unheralded role as one of the grown-up brothers, who has come to terms with his nasty childhood, but Paxton really steals the show with the kind of nervous energy that makes it impossible to tell what he’ll do next. Also: Prepare yourself for one zany ending. – Jim Vorel


8. I Saw the Devil
Year: 2010
Director: Kim Jee-woon
I Saw the Devil is a South Korean masterpiece of brutality by director Kim Ji-woon, who was also behind South Korea’s biggest horror film, A Tale of Two Sisters. It’s a truly shocking film, following a man out for revenge at any cost after the murder of his wife by a psychopath. We follow as the “protagonist” of the film makes sport of hunting said psychopath, embedding a tracker in the killer that allows him to repeatedly appear, beat him unconscious and then release him again for further torture. It’s a film about the nature of revenge and obsession, and whether there’s truly any value in repaying a terrible wrong. If you’re still on the fence, know that Choi Min-sik, the star of Park Chan-Wook’s original Oldboy, stars as the serial killer being hunted and turns in another stellar performance. This is not a traditional “horror film,” but it’s among the most horrific on the list in both imagery and emotional impact. — Jim Vorel


7. Hellraiser
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 they’re 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 the film version of Hellraiser, an icky story of sick love and obsession. Barker has presented plenty of other film stories as director, writer and producer, but he never quite managed to top the visceral thrills of this one. —Rachel Haas


6. Demons
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


5. The House of the Devil
Year: 2009
Director: Ti West
Detractors complain that Ti West’s movies are “slow,” which is missing the point. A better adjective is “deliberate.” On The House of the Devil, the first film to really start giving him a reputation as a director to watch, West builds the tension gradually and carefully, as though there is nothing scarier than watching a young woman dance around an empty house while listening to the Fixx. By the time the second act ends, you’ve been holding your breath for an hour when the film explodes into its gory, violent third act, which offers a perverse sense of release. It also gives Jocelin Donahue’s heroine her finest moment, as she at least attempts what the audience is by then shouting for her to do. It’s another film where the low-budget look perfectly fits the aesthetic, mirroring the style of “old dark house” and Satanist films that West is clearly drawing on as inspiration. —Stephen M. Deusner


4. Day of the Dead
Year: 1985
Director: George A. Romero
Dawn of the Dead (not on Netflix streaming) is often cited as Romero’s best zombie movie, but there’s a certain, discerning breed of horror geek, myself included, who will tell you that Day of the Dead is really number one. Dawn is great, and elevated the genre far above Night with its dark humor and sly critique of American consumerist culture, but Day has the best characters of the entire series, along with the best effects and coolest story—watching them all today, Day of the Dead has aged very well. Our survivors this time are holed up in an underground base where the alpha male military goons are enforcing their will upon the meeker scientists in a human powder keg waiting to go off. It’s a film that reveals fascinating truths about the nature of the zombies themselves in Romero’s universe, as discovered by the hilarious “Dr. Frankenstein Logan” character—given enough time and training, certain zombies such as the iconic “Bub” even seem capable of remembering certain elements of their pre-undead lives. It’s a gory, weird, sort of mean-spirited film with over-the-top performances and great bloodletting from FX wiz Tom Savini. There’s not much more to ask for in a zombie flick. — Jim Vorel


3. Re-Animator
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—i.e. it’s a near-perfect ’80s horror movie. 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


2. Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon
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, who dreams of being the “next great psycho killer.” In doing so, it provides answers and insight into dozens of horror movie tropes and clichés, such as “How does the killer train?” How does he pick his victims? How can he seemingly be in two places at once? It’s a brilliant, twisted love letter to the genre that also develops an unexpected stylistic change right when you think you know where things are headed. It’s one of the most creative indie horror films of the 2000s, and despite a lack of star power, boasts tons of cameos from horror luminaries—Robert Englund, Kane Hodder, Zelda Rubinstein and even The Walking Dead’s Scott Wilson. Every, and I mean every horror fan needs to see Behind the Mask. — Jim Vorel


1. Let the Right One In
Year: 2008
Director: Tomas Alfredson
Vampires may have become cinema’s most overdone, watered-down horror villains, aside from zombies, but leave it to a Swedish novelist and filmmaker to reclaim frightening vampires by producing a novel and film that turned the entire genre on its head. Let the Right One In centers around the complicated friendship and quasi-romantic relationship between 12-year-old outcast Oskar and Eli, a centuries-old vampire trapped in the body of an androgynous (although ostensibly female) child who looks his same age. As Oskar slowly works his way into her life, drawing ever-closer to the role of a classical vampire’s human “familiar,” the film questions the nature of their bond and whether the two can ever possibly commune on a level of genuine love. At the same time, it’s also a chilling, very effective horror film whenever it chooses to be, especially in the absolutely spectacular final sequences, which evoke Eli’s terrifying abilities with just the right touch of obstruction to leave the worst of it in the viewer’s imagination. The film received an American remake in 2010, Let Me In, which has been somewhat unfairly derided by film fans sick of the remake game, but it’s another solid take on the same story that may even improve upon a few small aspects of the story. Ultimately, though, the Swedish original is still the superior film thanks to the strength of its two lead performers, who vault it up to become perhaps the best vampire movie ever made. — Jim Vorel


Jim Vorel is Paste’s news editor and resident horror geek. You can follow him on Twitter.

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