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The 60 Best Horror Movies on Amazon Prime (August 2018)

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

Good lord, Prime subscribers have access to a bizarre mixed bag here. There are a handful of classics, such as Jaws or Carrie, but these are pretty limited. Still, the service has expanded its overall horror library by leaps and bounds throughout 2018, to the point that we’re increasing the size of this list from 40 to 60. In that time, they’ve lost out on one of the classic slasher franchises in the form of Friday the 13th (they do, however, have Saturday the 14th as a consolation prize), but that is more than made up for by a bevy of great indie additions, including the likes of Starry Eyes, Late Phases and Absentia. Also present in surprising quality are great Italian giallo films such as Deep Red, Opera and Stage Fright.

Still, the bulk of this horror library is ultimately made up of straight-to-VOD garbage, the likes of which you just won’t want to watch. Therefore, fall back on our list of films that are worth your time for one reason or another—just don’t expect to find them via browsing, when something like Carrie only shows up when you’re 30 pages deep.


Here are the 60 best horror movies on Amazon Prime:

60. Thankskilling
Year: 2008
Director: Jordan Downey
In the pantheon of zany, holiday-themed horror movies, Thankskilling is somehow both the very worst and the very best. It’s immediately obvious that this profane, smutty horror-comedy about a killer turkey is “bad on purpose,” but at the same time it displays incompetence both intentional and unintentional. The performers, especially the leads, are bad in ways that no amount of coaching could ever help, but that turkey … his one-liners are somehow just crass enough to often be side-splitting. Made for a mere $3,500, it’s a clear case where a writer-director’s cleverness is on an entirely different level from the poor souls he was able to scrape together to make his film, and the effect is an endearingly weird mix of repulsion and charm. Enjoy it for what it is, but by all means, avoid the horrendous, shark-jumping sequel, Thankskilling 3. If you’re wondering about that title, it’s because the series skipped right over Thankskilling 2. —Jim Vorel


59. Zombeavers
Year: 2015
Director: Jordan Rubin
Look, if you don’t know before you ever hit “play” exactly what you should be expecting from Zombeavers, I’m not sure how much I can help you. It’s a film about toxic waste-spawned zombie beavers, people. It’s halfhearted as both a horror film and a comedy, with a preponderance of jokes that thud and just enough that will draw an ashamed chuckle. It feels like a throwback to the straight-to-VHS horror schlock of the ’80s and ’90s—simple, kitschy premise, plenty of gratuitous nudity, lots of attempts at humor. By the time people start turning into WERE-BEAVERS near the film’s end, you’ll have settled into a good groove of mocking its flaws and enjoying its alternating shamelessness and reverence for the genre—because at least they attempt some interesting practical effects. Good on you, Zombeavers. It’s trash, but a step above the bottom of the barrel. —Jim Vorel


58. Leprechaun 3
Year: 1995
Director: Brian Trenchard-Smith
I realize that saying “the best of the Leprechaun series” is faint praise, but at least I can affirm that Warwick Davis, the guy who played the titular Leprechaun through six films, agrees with me. “The leprechaun goes to Vegas” isn’t even close to the most outlandish premise of the series (he did go to both space and “the ’hood,” after all), but this entry is where the sophomoric humor reached its zenith. It’s colorful, fun and brisk, featuring characters fighting over a piece of gold with the power to granted ill-fated wishes in the style of “The Monkey’s Paw.” The kills are insanely, absurdly over the top, and the effects are among the best in the series. Best of all, it features the protagonist being bitten by the leprechaun and infected like a lycanthrope, which results in him slowly transforming into an angry Irishman over the course of the film. The scene where he orders half-a-dozen variations of potatoes from a casino restaurant is delightfully hackneyed. —Jim Vorel


57. The Monster
Year: 2016
Director: Bryan Bertino
Bryan Bertino’s The Monster takes place at the crossroads between a serviceable drama and a middling horror film. Each exists in its own parallel dimension, but despite the director’s clear intentions to bring those dimensions together, each is often a detriment to the other. The sparring between an irresponsible, addict mother and regressive daughter is often powerful, and might even remind an audience at some point of Greta Gerwig’s Lady Bird, but the tacked-on monster movie fails to evolve the drama at the heart of the film in a substantive way. Unlike the mesmerizing masked killers from Bertino’s own The Strangers, the beast here is packing no deeper, more intriguing motivations—but all in all, The Monster may still fascinate any Zoe Kazan fans in the house. —Jim Vorel


56. 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


55. The Little Shop of Horrors
Year: 1960
Director: Roger Corman
If you’ve only seen the Broadway musical or the 1986, Rick Moranis-fronted remake of The Little Shop of Horrors, then Roger Corman’s 1960 original might be something of a tough sell. It’s shot in grainy, low-budget black and white, of the kind that typified Corman’s horror comedies such as A Bucket of Blood in the same era, but there’s an earnest goofiness that survives through it all. Seymour Krelboyne is one of cinema’s great nebbish losers, but you can’t help but root for the guy on some level, even as he’s being manipulated to commit murders in service of a blood-drinking plant. And of course, the film is also filled with easter eggs, from the appearance of classic Corman bit player Dick Miller (of Gremlins and Terminator) to the weirdo performance turned in by a very young Jack Nicholson as a masochistic dental patient. And really—the film is a brisk 72 minutes long, so it’s not as if you’re making too much of a commitment here. —Jim Vorel


54. The Woman in Black
Year: 2012
Director: James Watkins
There’s not much to this 2012 modern Hammer Horror film—nothing unique about it, but it’s quite competently assembled. With that said, you could argue that simply producing a ghost story this traditional in 2012 offered a bit of novelty. Daniel Radcliffe, fresh off his final Harry Potter appearance, took a role playing “an adult” as Arthur Kipps, a Victorian era lawyer who travels to the country to negotiate the sale of a house that is revealed to be haunted by the spirit of the Woman in Black. This CGI specter has a particular fondness for targeting children, and the film becomes a mystery in the “placate this restless spirit and set her free” mold. It offers a few fun twists and turns, and evokes classic British haunted house movies of the past, as Radcliffe stalks through dark, cobwebbed rooms with a flaming candelabra to light his way. The ending is a bit derivative of Sam Raimi’s Drag Me to Hell, but all in all this is a better than average classical ghost story. —Jim Vorel


53. 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


52. 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, sans the usual lollipop. Who loves ya, baby? —Jim Vorel


51. The House at the End of Time
Year: 2013
Director: Alejandro Hidalgo
I earlier made the mistake of thinking this film was part of the prolific Spanish indie horror market, which has given us the likes of Nacho Vigalondo and Guillermo Del Toro, but The House at the End of Time is actually Venezuelan in origin. It’s ambitious but somewhat messy, a story about a family that undergoes a traumatic, fracturing event and its fallout over the course of 30 years. The eventual revelation of the twist pushes the story into more of a “sci-fi horror” direction, and feels somewhat inspired by the prime-era films of M. Night Shyamalan in execution. The film simply isn’t quite as profound as it would like to think it is, and the visual fidelity holds back its “cinematic” quality slightly, but it gets the most out of a strong central performance from its lead. If you get on a South American horror kick, you’ll end up watching it eventually. —Jim Vorel


50. Jaws 2
Year: 1978
Director: Jeannot Szwarc
Jaws 2, even more than most sequels, suffers in comparison to the original classic it follows despite being a competent film in its own right. It was a different time in film promotion—even for a blockbuster, a sequel wasn’t a forgone conclusion, and even then you weren’t likely to be working with a comparable budget. Jaws 2 didn’t hurt for funding, but it did miss the presence of Steven Spielberg, whose empathy and pathos for everyman characters can’t quite be replicated, even by the returning cast. Too many aspects of Jaws 2 simply ring hollow—would it really be THAT hard to convince local government and law enforcement that another shark was around, only a couple of years after the events of the first film? Must we really spend our time with the townspeople demonizing poor Brody for trying to bring this shark business to the forefront once again? Still, the grisly shark attack scenes of Jaws 2 (especially the iconic waterskiing bit, or the shark-destroyed helicopter) are much closer to being on par with the original, and they vastly outstrip the shoddy, budget-limited dreck in Jaws 3-D or Jaws: The Revenge. On its own, Jaws 2 is perfectly serviceable … but it’s the last entry in the series you could ever describe as such, and the last worthwhile “shark movie” released for a decade or more. —Jim Vorel


49. Aaah! Zombies!!
Year: 2007
Director: Matthew Kohnen
There’s no escaping that in the post-Shaun of the Dead era, indie zombie comedies piled up like so many bodies at the morgue after a zombie outbreak. Many of them are terrible, but occasionally you do get one like Aaah! Zombies! that is a pleasant surprise. The film uses a similar “told from the zombie’s point of view” structure to what you see in Colin, but with a clever, comedic twist: The zombies are conscious and unaware that they’re zombies. Rather, a group of slacker friends believe that they’ve become “super soliders” thanks to a confused military private who’s also become zombified. This is achieved through differing perspectives: When we see things from the zombies’ point of view, the film is colorized and their dialog is audible. When we see things from the perspective of human characters, the film is black-and-white, and the zombies are lumbering and uncoordinated. Our zombies, then, are something like unreliable narrators—we mostly see from their perspective, but we’re quickly made aware that their perspective is incorrect, which is the main source of humor. I’m making this film sound a bit more cerebral than it actually is, though—what one should expect from Aaah! Zombies! is simply some over-the-top slapstick humor, cartoonish zombie violence and silly character actor cameos. It gets a decent amount of mileage and laughs out of a decidedly indie budget. —Jim Vorel


48. The Blair Witch Project
Year: 1999
Directors: Eduardo Sánchez, Daniel Myrick
Where Scream reinvented a genre by pulling the shades back to reveal the inner workings of horror, The Blair Witch Project went the opposite route by crafting a new style of presentation and especially promotion. Sure, people had already been doing found footage, just look at The Last Broadcast a year earlier. But this was the first to get a wide, theatrical release, and distributor Artisan Entertainment masterfully capitalized on the lack of information available on the film to execute a mysterious online advertising campaign in the blossoming days of the Internet age. Otherwise reasonable human beings seriously went into The Blair Witch Project believing that what they were seeing might be real, and the grainy, home movie aesthetic capture an innate terror of reality and “real people” that had not been seen in the horror genre before. It was also proof positive that a well-executed micro-budget indie film could become a massive box office success. So in that sense, The Blair Witch Project reinvented two different genres at the same time. —Jim Vorel


47. Torso
Year: 1973
Director: Sergio Martino
Whereas the peak films of Dario Argento (or even Lucio Fulci and Mario Bava, at their best) are assessed with a certain critical goodwill in mind, the same is not true of what one might call the true giallos, those dime-a-dozen proto-slasher mysteries that more accurately captured the spirit of the yellow paperbacks from whence they sprung. Torso certainly feels like one of those lurid, gaudy films, although director Sergio Martino does infuse it with a certain artistic flair, especially in the depiction of the stocking-faced killer, whose blank gaze is more than a little disturbing … as is his penchant for sawing women apart. Still, Torso is as exploitative as the title no doubt sounds, with plenty of nudity and a hedonistic, Bohemian attitude periodically punctuated by strangulations. If there’s one scene in particular that stands out, it’s the poor final girl watching from a hiding place, powerless to stop the killer as he begins to brutally dismember her friends. Few scenes so well capture the voyeuristic terror of witnessing a crime unfolding. —Jim Vorel


46. 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 tale of ghouls, guilt and restless spirits. The story follows a woman (Candace Hilligoss) on the run from her past who is haunted by visions of a pale-faced man, beautifully shot (and played) by director Herk Harvey. As she seemingly begins to fade in and out of existence, the nature of her reality itself is questioned. Carnival of Souls is vintage psychological horror on a miniscule budget, and has since been cited as an influence in the fever dream visions of directors such as David Lynch. To me, it’s always felt something like a movie-length episode of The Twilight Zone, and I mean that in the most complimentary way I can. Rod Serling would no doubt have been a fan. —Jim Vorel


45. The Girl With All the Gifts
Year: 2016
Director: Colm McCarthy
M.R. Carey’s novel The Girl With All the Gifts plays coy with its zombie (or “hungries,” as they’re called here) trappings, drawing readers in for dozens of pages before revealing its flesh-eating premise. The film adaptation, released last year in the U.K. before making its U.S. debut in February, bares its teeth right away. If viewers aren’t burnt out on zombie offerings (and they shouldn’t be, with such recent standouts as 2016’s Korean hit Train to Busan proving that the genre has plenty of life left in it), they’ll find that The Girl With All the Gifts is less concerned with the initial overwhelming outbreak than with the moral lines survivors in the military and scientific community are willing to cross. Director Colm McCarthy, working from a screenplay by Carey himself, doesn’t skimp on the swarming carnage, often rendering attacks in brutal, fully lit scenes, but the most frightening tension comes from a menacing, single-minded Glenn Close as a scientist with few scruples. Young actress Sennia Nanua as Melanie, the “hungry” most in control of her impulses, gives the crowded zombie genre one of its only truly heroic performances, enshrining The Girl With All the Gifts as the bloody heir to George Romero’s misunderstood-at-the-time classic Day of the Dead. —Steve Foxe


44. Paranormal Activity
Year: 2007
Director: Oren Peli
Here’s a statement: Paranormal Activity is the most wrongly derided horror film of the last decade, especially by horror buffs. That’s what happens in the wake of massive overnight success, and immediately derivative, inferior sequels: The original gets dragged down by its progeny. The original Paranormal Activity is a masterful piece of budget filmmaking. For $15,000, Oren Peli made what is probably the most effective “for the price” horror movie ever released, surpassing The Blair Witch in terms of both tension and narrative while pulling off incredibly unnerving minimalist effects. Yes, there are some stupid, “I’m in a horror movie” choices by the characters, and yes, Micah Sloat’s “get out here so I can punch you, demon!” attitude is irritating, but it’s calculated to be that way. Sloat is a reflection of the toxic “man of the house” attitude, a guy who would rather be terrorized than accept outside help. Meanwhile, Katie Featherston’s realistic performance as a young woman slowly unraveling is a thing of beauty. But beyond performances, or effects, Paranormal Activity is a brilliant case study in slowly building tension, and in raising an audience’s blood pressure. I know: I saw this film in theaters when it was still in limited release, and I can honestly say I’ve never been in a movie theater audience that was more terrified. How could I tell? Because they were so loud in the moments of calm before each scare (the most dead giveaway of all: when a young man turns to his friends to assure them how not-nervous he is). This was just such an event—there were actually ushers standing at the entrance ramps throughout the entire film, just watching the audience watch the movie. I’ve yet to ever see that happen again. Deride all you want, but Paranormal Activity scared the hell out of us. —Jim Vorel


43. Deathgasm
Year: 2015
Director: Jason Lei Howden
New Zealand is seeing a revival as a hot-spot for indie horror comedies these days, between this film and others such as What We Do in the Shadows and its upcoming sequel, We’re Wolves, harkening back to the days of Peter Jackson. Deathgasm is a simple film, but a fun one that doesn’t aspire to much. A band of surly heavy metal-worshiping high school students stumbles upon “The Black Hymn,” a piece of medieval-era sheet music that has the power to summon demons and possibly bring about the end of the world. Naturally, they adapt it into a garage rock song, and soon enough, the neighborhood is abuzz with gore-heavy scenes of demonic possession. The humor is crude, and not quite as funny as it thinks it is, but the horror scenes are fun, and Deathgasm never drags. It’s been hailed as a new classic by metalheads, but I still think there’s an even better heavy metal horror film waiting to be made out there. Fun trivia note: Walmart refused to sell copies of the film without changing its title to “Heavy Metal Apocalypse,” so they did. —Jim Vorel


42. The Blackcoat’s Daughter
Year: 2016
Director: Osgood Perkins
Looking at his first two horror features, it becomes clear that director Osgood Perkins seems to have a distinct distaste for both plot and film convention. His films defy easy description, as anyone who watched I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House on Netflix could attest. The Blackcoat’s Daughter, meanwhile, was completed and exhibited as early as 2015 under the title February, but has been floating around in limbo ever since until A24 decided to finally give it a limited release this spring. Compared with Pretty Thing, Blackcoat’s Daughter is at least easier to grasp and marginally brisker, which makes it more effective overall. Perkins’ style is languid, atmospheric and deliberate, favoring repetition and a slowly multiplying sense of unease and impending doom. The story follows two high school-aged students who are both left relatively alone at their uptight Catholic boarding school over break when their parents fail to pick them up. As one descends into what is implied to be either madness or demonic possession, the events are interwoven with another story about a young woman journeying on the road in the direction of the boarding school. The two stories inevitably intertwine. The film’s pace sometimes leaves something to be desired, but patience is largely repaid by its final third, which contains several moments genuinely disturbing in their violence and transgressive imagery. In the end, The Blackcoat’s Daughter comes together significantly more neatly and logically than one might consider while watching its first hour, rewarding careful attention to detail throughout. —Jim Vorel


41. The Toxic Avenger
Year: 1984
Directors: Michael Herz and Lloyd Kaufman
The Toxic Avenger, or simply “Toxie” as he’s known to fans, is the mascot and long-running figurehead of B-movie studio Troma Entertainment, having to date starred in four bone-crushing films. Born when a hapless nerd (Mark Torgl) falls into a barrel of toxic waste, Toxie (Mitch Cohen) is part Batman, part Swamp Thing and part Jason Voorhees, except his ire is thankfully directed solely at the legions of scumbags who ceaselessly seem to populate and spawn in the fictional Tromaville, NJ. A word to the wise: The Toxic Avenger isn’t for consumption by those without a strong stomach, although you could say that about most any of Troma’s classics. Their films aren’t so much “bottom of the barrel” or “lowest common denominator” as they are sub-denominatorial, reveling in their own poor taste and crassness, simultaneously parodying themselves and their own violent, sexual and scatological excesses. There’re no pretensions toward art in a Toxic Avenger movie, simply wish-fulfillment: a monster movie crossed with Death Wish, as performed by high school students. To quote the trailer: “The muggers and rapists didn’t know what law and order was until the Toxic Avenger came to town!” —Jim Vorel


40. 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


39. The Uninvited
Year: 1944
Director: Lewis Allen
There are no shortage of “ghost stories” in the cinematic encyclopedia that hail from before 1944, but The Uninvited threw a significant wrench into convention by making the somewhat risque (at the time) decision of ultimately portraying its own haunting as real. Before this point, ghosts and hauntings in movies were typically revealed as the work of charlatans, Scooby Doo-style, but The Uninvited instead took these gothic trappings and welded them to an emotionally affecting family mystery/drama. The action takes place at a seaside mansion that has been home to violence in the past, and threatens to be again, as the descendents of the original victims (and perpetrators) return to have the sins of their forebears visited upon them. Classical, spooky cinematography give the film an air of refinement, similar to what you’d see in Val Lewton’s Cat People or 1961’s The Innocents. —Jim Vorel


38. Absentia
Year: 2011
Director: Mike Flanagan
Before he became Netflix’s go-to guy for horror, in projects such as Gerald’s Game and The Haunting of Hill House, Mike Flanagan completed his first feature, Absentia, which may very well be the best horror film you’ll ever see that raised its initial budget on Kickstarter. The film’s most notable achievement, though, is just how little it happens to be constrained by the extremely meager budget—at least until the third act gets a bit overambitious. Still, Absentia is a really impressive piece of indie filmmaking, with steady direction and fantastic performances from actresses Courtney Bell and Katie Parker, the former playing a woman who is finally going through the steps of declaring her husband dead after he went missing seven years earlier. Only now, she seems to be seeing him everywhere she looks. Part psychological thriller and part urban legend fantasy, it hinges almost entirely on the skillful, naturalistic performances of its leads and a collection of well-timed, unexpected scares that are sprung on the viewer when you’re least expecting them. Only in the big finale does its reach exceed its grasp, which makes us wish that perhaps Flanagan could remake Absentia someday, complete with the budget it needs. —Jim Vorel


37. 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


36. The Haunted Palace
Year: 1963
Director: Roger Corman
Director Roger Corman’s cycle of eight films inspired by (or simply profiteering from) the works of Edgar Allan Poe stand as his greatest personal directorial achievements, but among them, The Haunted Palace has a tendency to be overlooked. Perhaps that’s because it’s not based on a more familiar story like previous films in the series such as House of Usher or The Pit and the Pendulum—this one is actually a pretty direct adaptation of H.P. Lovecraft’s The Case of Charles Dexter Ward, with the more recognizable Poe named slapped on to make a few quick bucks. But despite Corman’s salesmanship, the grand quality of the film is undiminished—this is a beautiful gothic story that features sumptuous sets, eerie atmosphere and Vincent Price at the top of his game, even better here than in most of the other Poe films. A story of revenge, told over centuries and reincarnated lifetimes, it has the opulent looks of a Hammer production, complete with the expected, fiery finale. It’s a film for a weekend afternoon in October; just what you need to get into the Halloween mindset. —Jim Vorel


35. Event Horizon
Year: 1997
Director: Paul W.S. Anderson
It’s weird to think that Paul W.S. Anderson, the auteur of shitty, big-budget videogame adaptations (not to mention 2011’s The Three Musketeers) was also the director of one of the more imaginative sci-fi horror films of the ’90s, but it’s true. Event Horizon follows a rescue crew boarding a derelict experimental ship that they learn has traveled between dimensions—and suffice to say, it hasn’t been to friendly places. The evil presence on the ship then tests all the crew members with disturbing visions of the beyond, succeeding in possessing the ship’s designer, played by Sam Neill. This gives you the best, craziest aspect of the film; a Sam Neill villain who has gouged his own eyes out, melodramatically lecturing members of the crew about how he’s going to take them all back to the hell dimension. Neill is seriously way over-the-top in this one, and it’s simultaneously funny and scary and gross as hell. —Jim Vorel


34. Bride of Re-Animator
Year: 1990
Director: Brian Yuzna
Bride of Re-Animator has a tendency to rehash a lot of material from the seminal Stuart Gordon original, but that happens to be in the nature of both Herbert West and Dr. Frankenstein before him—they’re both so arrogant that no matter how many people die in each grisly experiment, they always convince themselves that next time all the flaws can be corrected. Dr. West is back in action here, roping his old accomplice Dan into helping him by promising to bring his dead fiancee Megan back to life by reanimating her heart. Meanwhile, West’s nemesis Dr. Hill is also revived via the re-agent, with his severed head and psychic powers entirely intact. With an army of reanimated zombies at his command, it all leads to a big showdown between Herbert West, Hill and the revived “Bride.” As in the last film, the real draw here is the explosively gory practical effects and the performance of the wonderful Jeffrey Combs as West. His imperious, patronizing tone toward everyone who isn’t on his intellectual level makes the character a joy to watch—you simultaneously root for him and await his inevitable comeuppance. —Jim Vorel


33. The Company of Wolves
Year: 1984
Director: Neil Jordan
The Company of Wolves is among the most bewitching and oddest of werewolf movies, uneven but memorably bonkers all at once. Evoking fairy tale and Brothers Grimm sensibilities, it mostly takes place within a dream—or a dream within a dream—and visually reflects this with a sheen of creepy, gauzy otherworldliness. The fantasy world that exists within draws upon fantasy cliches of magical, haunted forests, while also infusing itself with the gothic grandeur and stateliness of Hammer horror productions. It feels at times like a high production value stage play, with somewhat unusual, campy performances but little plot to speak of … until the moments that it explodes with gory, violent intensity. To watch only the various transformations and “wolfy” moments, you might think the film was an excessive ’80s American gore film, but whenever we move away from what might be deemed “horror scenes,” the focus is instead on lush sets, beautiful backdrops, vivid colors and a positively “painterly” mindset. It may not quite serve up the coherent story and tight plotting that a modern audience would expect, but the images of The Company of Wolves will likely stick with you for a long time. —Jim Vorel


32. 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


31. The Loved Ones
Year: 2009
Director: Sean Byrne
Whatever Lola wants, Lola gets, and in the twisted Aussie horror The Loved Ones, young Lola wants a perfect date for the perfect dance. Lola fixates on Brent, a tortured, drug-binging senior who accidentally killed his father in a car accident on the road near Lola’s house. On prom night, Brent ends up on the road near Lola’s once more, and she pulls him into a nightmarish prom of her own. The Loved Ones is gruesome, and Brent endures torture at Lola’s hands that would make most grown men give up hope. Despite being depressed and nearly suicidal before Lola kidnapped him, he finds an incredible will to live once he’s trapped. Brent is a true survivor, played with nuance by rising Australian star Xavier Samuel. The film’s twist cements Brent’s place as one of the great “final guys” of horror, and one who endured some of the nastiest punishment on this list. —Danielle Ryan

30. The ’Burbs
Year: 1989
Director: Joe Dante
Yes, it is true that the star of Joe Dante began to dim somewhat in the horror scene after classics like Gremlins and The Howling, but The ’Burbs remains a film that is somewhat overlooked today. A darkly comic story with a touch of the macabre, it initially looks like a pretty conventional comedy until Tom Hanks starts suspecting their new neighbors of having killed and eaten the old man who lives at the end of the street. The cast is great, featuring Carrie Fisher, Bruce Dern, Corey Feldman and the diminutive (but hilarious) Henry Gibson in addition to Hanks. The star is at his spastic best, haranguing his neighbors about the disappearance and generally seeming extremely stressed—you can’t help but miss this comedic version of Tom Hanks, rather than the dour, dramatic actor he’s become. The cheeky cinematography only adds to the zany feel, as in the scene where Hanks and his neighbor realize the bone they’ve been tossing to the dog may well be from the deceased old man and engage in a protracted comedy scream while the camera zooms in and out. Gallows humor abounds, in what might be Joe Dante’s funniest overall movie. —Jim Vorel


29. Green Room
Year: 2016
Director: Jeremy Saulnier
What’s perhaps most refreshing in Green Room is writer-director Jeremy Saulnier’s lack of interest in the kind of moralizing that made his last film, Blue Ruin, ultimately seem conventional. Instead, Saulnier simply presents us this nutty scenario without feeling the need to lard it up with anything as cumbersome as topical commentary or moral ambiguity. He proceeds to wring as much tension and suspense from its pulpy retro plot as possible, adding a few entertaining grace notes along the way, which can best be seen in its performances. In the ensemble-based Green Room, Saulnier revels in the contrasts of personalities and styles: band bassist Pat’s (Anton Yelchin) Bill Paxton-like desperation, for instance, set alongside the weary, near-drugged-out deadpan of Amber (Imogen Poots), a friend of the woman whose murder sets off the film’s violent chain of events; or the imperial calm of Darcy (Patrick Stewart), the ruthless leader of the band of white supremacists who attempt to kill Pat, Amber and the rest. It’d be a stretch to call these characters three-dimensional, but nevertheless, under Saulnier’s writing and direction, they all manage to stand out just enough as individuals for us to become emotionally involved in their fates. Meanwhile, Saulnier supports these characters and plot turns with filmmaking that is remarkable for its economy and patience. D.P. Sean Porter gets a lot of mileage out of the cramped quarters and grimy lighting of the bar, lending its wide (2.35:1) frames an appropriately nightmarish feel amidst many suspenseful set pieces. In those ways, the lean, mean Green Room stands as one of the best B-movie genre exercises in many years. —Kenji Fujishima


28. 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


27. We Are What We Are
Year: 2013
Director: Jim Mickle
Jim Mickle is the best young horror director to consistently get left out of discussions of “best young horror directors.” His remake of this 2010 Mexican film of the same name is a brooding, tense blend of thriller and horror, the story of a seemingly normal (if stuffy) rural family that harbors a dark secret of religious observances based around yearly acts of cannibalism. When a family member dies and the long-held tradition is threatened, allegiances come into question, familial ties crumble and the younger generation faces an extremely difficult decision in potentially breaking away from the customs that have bound the family together for many generations. It’s part crime story, part grisly, gutsy horror, and features Michael Parks in a role that is about 100 times better than what he was sentenced to do in Kevin Smith’s Tusk. In particular, the conclusion and final 20-30 minutes of We Are What We Are is shocking in both its brutality and emotional impact, an intimate case study of family dysfunction driven by the changing times and the impracticality of archaic traditions that sustain us. Look too closely, and you’ll end up questioning your own familial routine. —Jim Vorel


26. American Psycho
Year: 2000
Director: Mary Harron
There’s something wrong with Patrick Bateman (Christian Bale)—really wrong. Although he writhes within a Christopher Nolan-esque what-is-a-dream conundrum, Bateman is just all-around evil, blatantly expressing just how insane he is, unfortunately to uncaring or uncomprehending ears, because the world he lives in is just as wrong, if not moreso. Plus the drug-addled banker has a tendency to get creative with his kill weapons. (Nail gun, anyone?) Like anybody needed another reason to hate rich, white-collar Manhattanites: Mar Harron’s adaptation of Bret Easton Ellis’ is a scintillating portrait of corporate soullessness and disdainful affluence. —Darren Orf


25. Southbound
Year: 2016
Directors: Radio Silence, Roxanne Benjamin, David Bruckner, Patrick Horvath
Tricksters and demons, vengeful spirits and serial killers, the hope of salvation and the lingering presence of Satan: These are the things that anthology film Southbound is made of. The film has a single vision but is built on a wide variety of grim and ghoulish horror tropes, all the better to satisfy the hungers of even the most niche genre connoisseurs. Best of all, though, the wild variations from one section of the picture to the next enhances rather than dilutes the viewing experience. It helps that there are common themes that run across the film—loss, regret and guilt make up a repeated refrain—and that the sum of its parts adds up to an examination of how people unwittingly architect their own suffering. But Southbound is first and foremost a work of velocity, a joyride through Hell well worth buckling up for. —Andy Crump


24. Opera
Year: 1987
Director: Dario Argento
Giallo is not the kind of genre in which 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 films, following a young actress (Cristina Marsillach) 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, Opera’s canvas is splashed with 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, Opera is a primer in horror craftsmanship. —Jim Vorel


23. The Monster Squad
Year: 1987
Director: Fred Dekker
There’s really only one word for The Monster Squad: “Fun.” For lovers of Halloween, lovers of classic horror, lovers of the Universal monster movies, the film is simply a joy. The mere idea of such a club—a bunch of preteen kids hanging out in a treehouse and devoting their time to Frankenstein and the Wolf-Man—makes me want to step into a de-aging machine so I can put in my application. Sometimes described as being like “The Goonies with monsters,” that’s really not a bad way to sum it up. There’s a colorful energy in the script by Lethal Weapon’s Shane Black, and a definite adult streak that makes this film just as enjoyable today as it was in the late ‘80s. Directed by Fred Dekker, who was also responsible for the much more adult, gory/funny 1986 classic Night of the Creeps, it follows this band of child adventurers as they oppose the evil plans of Dracula and his various monster minions—The Mummy, The Creature from the Black Lagoon, etc, etc. It treads an expert line between adventure, humor and light scares. It’s the perfect Halloween party movie, especially for nostalgic ‘80s and ‘90s kids. —Jim Vorel


22. Chopping Mall
Year: 1986
Director: Jim Wynorski
Calling Chopping Mall the best film by director Jim Wynorski isn’t saying much—at all—but it remains a minor ’80s horror/sci-fi classic despite that. The premise is irresistible pulp, dressed in ’80s neon teen fashion—a group of kids hide out in the mall past closing time so they can party (and score) in one of the furniture stores overnight. Little do they know, however, that the mall recently unveiled a new fleet of deadly efficient security robots that are, shall we say, more than a little twitchy. The cast gives us Kelli Maroney, who also appears in the similarly teen-inflected Night of the Comet, and Roger Corman regular Dick Miller as the janitor, once again playing his signature role: “that guy who gets killed in an ’80s horror movie.” It’s a desperate fight for survival as the kids face off against the robots like the zombies of Dawn of the Dead, except with much more gallows humor. Today, genre fans are likely to fondly remember Chopping Mall for the fact that it contains one of the greatest single practical effects of the era; the graphic explosion of Suzee Slater’s head, followed by the robot’s wry line of “Thank you, have a nice day.” You’ve gotta love it. —Jim Vorel


21. Late Phases
Year: 2014
Director: Adrian Garcia Bogliano
Late Phases is a limited but kind of brilliant take on the werewolf movie, featuring a truly outstanding performance by screenwriter-turned-actor Nick Damici (from Stake Land) as an elderly, blind Vietnam veteran who moves to a retiree community currently being menaced by a lycanthrope. After beginning with a bang, it unfolds slowly, developing the strained relationship between the protagonist and his son, the difficulties presented by his blindness and the search for the werewolf’s identity. The characterization of the embittered protagonist is very well developed, and the film shines with lots of the “little things”—great sound design, great dialog, well-cast minor roles. It even features a pretty awesome werewolf transformation scene that, if not quite in American Werewolf in London territory, is one of the best I’ve seen in quite a while. The actual werewolf costumes, it must be noted, look just a little bit ridiculous—like a man in a wolf-bat hybrid suit, and nowhere near as good as say, Dog Soldiers—but the blood effects are top notch. It’s far above most indie horror films in terms of performances, though, and even tugs at the heartstrings a bit with some effective drama. If werewolves are your movie monster of choice, it has to vault up your must-see list. —Jim Vorel


20. Stage Fright, a.k.a. Aquarius
Year: 1987
Director: Michele Soavi
Stage Fright is what it looks like when Italian giallo films inform the American slasher genre, and then American slasher films return the favor by inspiring Italian imitation. Michele Soavi, perhaps better known in horror circles for 1994’s truly unique Cemetery Man, created this fusion of Argento-esque Italian horror (he was second unit director on Tenebrae and Argento’s similar film Opera) and American “escaped maniac on the loose” movies as an imaginative, gory dreamscape, and one that stands out as much for its ethereal visuals as it does for its shocking gore factor. Set overnight in a theater, where a troupe of actors is working overtime to premiere a new show about a homicidal killer, life of course ends up imitating art. The killer stalks the various nubile young actors dressed in an unusual owl costume, increasingly mottled with blood in its feathers as he impales or disembowels them. There’s a fantastical quality to Stage Fright that is its signature—a painterly quality to its beautiful set pieces that elevates it beyond the gratuitous violence. Although it takes a while to get going, once the killings begin, Stage Fright becomes a waking nightmare. —Jim Vorel


19. House on Haunted Hill
Year: 1959
Director: William Castle
Every William Castle movie has its own campy charms, but House on Haunted Hill is the guy’s masterpiece. It’s got it all: Vincent Price at his goofiest, a big spooky house, a mystery and a profoundly non-frightening walking skeleton. The gimmick this time around was referred to by Castle as “Emergo,” and it amounted to a plastic skeleton on a pulley system being flown over the audience—not his most creative, but shameless enough that only Castle would stoop so low. To me, this is the quintessential 1950s horror film, even though it comes at the end of the decade. It’s totally tame by today’s standards but has some fun, over-the-top performances, a bit of witty dialog and a large helping of cheese. I can watch this thing over and over without ever getting tired of it. It’s like horror comfort food. The colorized version is even more fun, replacing the static black-and-white original with an unrealistic palette of color-coded characters you will remind you of the cast of Clue. —Jim Vorel


18. Society
Year: 1989
Director: Brian Yuzna
Society is perhaps what you would have ended up with in the earlier ’80s if David Cronenberg had a more robust sense of humor. Rather, this bizarre deconstruction of Reagan-era yuppiehood came from Brian Yuzna, well-known to horror fans for his partnership with Stuart Gordon, which produced the likes of Re-Animator and From Beyond…and eventually Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, believe it or not. Society is a weird film on every level, a feverish descent into what may or may not be paranoia when a popular high school guy begins questioning whether his family members (and indeed, the entire town) are involved in some sinister, sexual, exceedingly icky business. Plot takes a backseat to dark comedy and a creepily foreboding sense that we’re building to a revelatory conclusion, which absolutely does not disappoint. The effects work, suffice to say, produces some of the most batshit crazy visuals in the history of film—there are disgusting sights here that you won’t see anywhere else, outside of perhaps an early Peter Jackson movie, a la Dead Alive. But Society’s ambitions are considerably grander than that Jackson’s gross-out classic: It takes aim at its own title and the tendency of insular communities to prey upon the outside world to create social satire of the highest (and grossest) order. —Jim Vorel


17. The Last Man on Earth
Year: 1964
Directors: Ubaldo Ragona, Sidney Salkow
Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend has proven notoriously difficult to adapt while keeping any of its ideas intact, but compared to the later Omega Man or 2007 version of I Am Legend with Will Smith, this is probably the best overall take on the story. Some have called it Vincent Price’s best film, featuring wonderfully gothic settings in Rome where the last human man on Earth wages a nightly war against the “infected,” who have taken on the characteristics of classical vampires. It doesn’t fully commit to the inversion of protagonist/antagonist of the source material, but it makes the use of Price’s magnetic screen presence and ability to monologue. No one ever watches a Vincent Price movie and thinks “I wish there was less Vincent Price in this,” and The Last Man on Earth delivers a showcase for the actor at the height of his powers. Night of the Living Dead director George Romero has stated that without The Last Man on Earth, the modern zombie would never have been conceived. —Jim Vorel


16. 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


15. 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


14. Jacob’s Ladder
Year: 1990
Director: Adrian Lyne
Moderately regarded upon release, but now hailed as a modern horror classic, Jacob’s Ladder occupies a special place in the “psychological horror” pantheon. The story of a Vietnam veteran who continues to experience horrific and surrealist visions after his return from the war, it is in some respects an adaptation of Ambrose Bierce’s famous short story “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge,” although the true nature of that link only becomes clear after the credits roll. Tim Robbins is appropriately haunted as our protagonist, a man whose reality is melting around him like a Salvador Dali painting. Is he simply carrying some terrible PTSD after his war experience? Or were he and the men of his former platoon the victims of an elaborate conspiracy that thoroughly destroyed each of their lives? Jacob’s Ladder is a film with a seriously nihilistic streak, and seemingly little regard for man’s capacity for empathy—it’s a chilling, mind-warping descent into the subconscious of a person who has been through more than he could handle. —Jim Vorel


13. 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


12. It Comes at Night
Year: 2017
Director: Trey Edward Shults
It Comes at Night is ostensibly a horror movie, moreso than Shults’s debut, Krisha, but even Krisha was more of a horror movie than most measured family dramas typically are. Perhaps knowing this, Shults calls It Comes at Night an atypical horror movie, but—it’s already obvious after only two of these—Shults makes horror movies to the extent that everything in them is laced with dread, and every situation suffocated with inevitability. For his sophomore film, adorned with a much larger budget than Krisha and cast with some real indie star power compared to his previous cast (of family members doing him a solid), Shults imagines a near future as could be expected from a somber flick like this. A “sickness” has ravaged the world and survival is all that matters for those still left. In order to keep their shit together enough to keep living, the small group of people in Shults’s film have to accept the same things the audience does: That important characters will die, tragedy will happen and the horror of life is about the pointlessness of resisting the tide of either. So it makes sense that It Comes at Night is such an open wound of a watch, pained with regret and loss and the mundane ache of simply existing: It’s trauma as tone poem, bittersweet down to its bones, a triumph of empathetic, soul-shaking movie-making. —Dom Sinacola


11. The Canal
Year: 2014
Director: Ivan Kavanagh
This indie Irish horror film announces Ivan Kavanagh as a serious talent and remarkably skilled director—I watched it for the first time recently and it blew all my expectations away. Nominally a “ghost story” of sorts about a man who discovers a century old grisly crime that occurred in his house, it is actually much more of a psychologically intense minefield—the sort of film that Polanski would have made, if he was shooting a ghost story. Combining elements that remind one of The Shining’s superb sound design with the the red-and-blue color palette of a film by Dario Argento, it is impeccably put together and beautiful to look at. The story, unfortunately, gets just a little bit too literal and wraps things up a bit neatly in the last 15 minutes, but the movie crafts an extremely effective web of dread and genuine fear through its entire runtime. Here’s hoping that we see another horror film from Kavanagh very soon. —Jim Vorel


10. 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


9. Alice, Sweet Alice
Year: 1976
Director: Alfred Sole
Alice, Sweet Alice is one of the most fascinating of proto-slashers, arriving after the limited exposure of 1974’s Black Christmas but before Halloween rooted slasher conventions indelibly in the American psyche. It’s a film that wears its inspirations on its sleeve, whether it’s the Psycho poster that shows up in one scene or the many, many visual flourishes and motifs that seem to draw comparison to the films of Dario Argento and Mario Bava—particularly Argento’s Deep Red. In fact, Alice, Sweet Alice could rightly be called one of the most giallo-esque American films ever made, fusing a seeming obsession/fetishization with Catholic dogma into a murder mystery whodunit that does not skimp on the arterial spray. The story concerns a young girl who is murdered by a mysterious, masked killer during her first communion, leading to suspicion falling on the girl’s older, jealous sister, Alice. Is Alice a budding psychopath? Or is she surrounded by them on all sides? Alice, Sweet Alice features a collection of some truly loathsome characters, from the morbidly obese, cat-obsessed landlord of her building to her shrill aunt, who detests Alice’s very guts. Moody, melodramatic and genuinely chilling in some of its quiet, stalker-ish moments, Alice, Sweet Alice runs the gamut from emotionally harrowing to violently perverse. —Jim Vorel


8. Starry Eyes
Year: 2014
Director: Kevin Kölsch
Starry Eyes might be the most difficult film on this entire list to watch. Not necessarily because it will frighten you, although it will. But this is a harrowing film experience. It’s an ordeal, in the same way the protagonist’s journey is an ordeal and a transformation. At the beginning, you think you have a pretty decent idea of the surface-level points it’s trying to make, “Hollywood against Hollywood” bitterness and cynicism about fame and the film industry’s pettiness. But it’s so much more destructive and subversive than that. Our protagonist, Sarah, is a tragic figure, and this is a “horror tragedy,” if such a thing exists, made worse by the fact that she brings it all onto herself, fueled by deep-seated inadequacy and a crushing lack of self-identity. Her ambition turns her into a monster because she has nothing else. Her life is so devoid of meaning that doing the unthinkable has no downside. It’s a horrific self-destruction that leads into a orgy of truly grotesque violence, but there’s no joy or titillation in any of the ways it’s depicted. No one is going to describe Starry Eyes as “fun” or light viewing, and no one is going to laugh at the deaths. You don’t show this thing at a party—you dwell on it in the depth of night while self-identifying with its horrors. Its themes of abandonment of the self make it one of the most disturbing and well-crafted horrors I’ve seen in quite a while. —Jim Vorel


7. Les Diaboliques
Year: 1955
Director: Henri-Georges Clouzot
Watching Henri-Georges Clouzot’s Les Diaboliques through the lens of the modern horror film, especially the slasher flick—replete with un-killable villain (check); ever-looming jump scares (check); and a “final girl” of sorts (check?)—one would not have to squint too hard to see a new genre coming into being. You could even make a case for Clouzot’s canonization in horror, but to take the film on only those terms would miss just how masterfully the iconic French director could wield tension. Nothing about Les Diaboliques dips into the scummy waters of cheap thrills: The tightly wound tale of two women, a fragile wife (Véra Clouzot) and severe mistress (Simone Signoret) to the same abusive man (Paul Meurisse), who conspire to kill him in order to both reel in the money rightfully owed the wife, and to rid the world of another asshole, Diaboliques may not end with a surprise outcome for those of us long inured to every modern thriller’s perfunctory twist, but it’s still a heart-squeezing two hours, a murder mystery executed flawlessly. That Clouzot preceded this film with The Wages of Fear and Le Corbeau seems as surprising as the film’s outcome: By the time he’d gotten to Les Diaboliques, the director’s grasp over pulpy crime stories and hard-nosed drama had become pretty much his brand. That the film ends with a warning to audiences to not give away the ending for others—perhaps Clouzot also helped invent the spoiler alert?—seems to make it clear that even the director knew he had something devilishly special on his hands. —Dom Sinacola


6. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre
Year: 1974
Director: Tobe Hooper
One of the most brutal mainstream horror films ever released, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, based on notorious Wisconsin serial killer Ed Gein, resembles art-house verité built on the grainy physicality of its flat Texas setting. Plus, it introduced the superlatively sinister Leatherface, the iconic chainsaw-wielding giant of a man who wears a mask made of human skin, whose freakish sadism is upstaged only by the introduction of his cannibalistic family with whom he resides in a dilapidated house in the middle of the Texas wilderness, together chowing on the meat Leatherface and his brothers harvest, while Grandpa drinks blood and fashions furniture from victims’ bones. Still, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre might not be the goriest horror film ever made, but as an imaginal excavation of the subterranean anxieties of a post-Vietnam rural American populace, it’s pretty much unparalleled. Twisted, dark and beautiful all at once, it careens through a wide variety of tones and techniques without ever losing its singular intensity. (And there are few scenes in this era of horror with more disturbing sound design than the bit where Leatherface ambushes a guy with a single dull hammer strike to the head before slamming the metal door shut behind him.) —Rachel Hass and Brent Ables


5. Night of the Living Dead – Digitally Remastered
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


4. Nosferatu
Years: 1922
Directors: F.W. Murnau
It’s only natural for a modern viewer to think to themselves, at least somewhat snidely, that the 1922 silent original version of Nosferatu 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, alien 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, unless you want them to be awoken by nightmares on a regular basis. There wasn’t a scarier cinematic vampire than Orlok for many, many decades. —Jim Vorel


3. The Witch
Year: 2016
Director: Robert Eggers
From its first moments, The Witch strands us in a hostile land. We watch (because that’s all we can do, helplessly) as puritan patriarch William (Ralph Ineson) argues stubbornly with a small council, thereby causing his family’s banishment from their “New England” community. We watch, and writer-director Robert Eggers holds our gaze while a score of strings and assorted prickly detritus. The wagon lurches ever-on into the wilderness, piling the frontier of this New World upon the literal frontier of an unexplored forest. It’s 1620, and William claims, “We will conquer this wilderness.” Eggers’ “New England Folk Tale” is a horror film swollen with the allure of the unknown. To say that it’s reminiscent of the Salem Witch Trials, which take place 70 years after the events in the film, would be an understatement—the inevitable consequences of such historic mania looms heavily over The Witch. All of this Eggers frames with a subconscious knack for creating tension within each shot, rarely relying on jump scares or gore, instead mounting suspense through one masterful edit after another. The effect, then, is that of a building fever dream in which primeval forces—lust, defiance, hunger, greed—simmer at the edges of experience, avoided but never quite conquered. —Dom Sinacola


2. Carrie
Year: 1976
Director: Brian de Palma
The tropes and individually famous scenes of Carrie are so well known and ingrained into the pop cultural consciousness that you’d be forgiven for thinking you didn’t really need to see the original film to understand what makes it significant. But Carrie is much more than a precariously balanced bucket of pig’s blood: a film that vacillates between darkly humorous and legitimately disturbing, mean-spirited and cruel, with a tone set immediately by what happens to poor Carrie White (Sissy Spacek) in the school’s locker room. Rarely has abject terror and helplessness been so perfectly captured as it is here, Spacek desperately, pathetically clinging to her classmates in terror of her first menstruation, only to be derided and pelted with tampons as she lays in a screaming heap. There’s simply no coming back from the kinds of humiliations she suffers, and none of her peers care to find out that Carrie’s home life is even more abusive. Spacek was rightly rewarded with an Oscar nomination for her performance in this, the first film adaptation of a Stephen King work, as was Piper Laurie as her mother—this is back in the ’70s when not one but two actresses from a horror film could actually receive Academy Award nominations (my how things have changed). Carrie is a brisk film which thrives on those two strong, central performances, building to the gloriously cathartic orgy of revenge we all know is coming. Still, there’s joy in watching the irritating P.J. Soles get bumped off yet again. —Jim Vorel


1. Jaws
Year: 1975
Director: Steven Spielberg 
Is Jaws a horror film? For those who worry that it’s “not safe to go back in the water,” then most certainly it is. But regardless of how you’d classify it, there’s no denying that Jaws is anything but brilliant, one of Spielberg’s great populist triumphs, alongside the likes of Jurassic Park and E.T. but leaner and less polished-looking than either, which works in its favor. Much has been made over the years of how Jaws benefits from the technical issues that plagued its making—the story originally called for more scenes featuring the mechanical shark “Bruce,” but the constantly malfunctioning animatronic forced the director to cut back—maximizing the impact of what we do see. The first time that Roy Scheider glimpses the literal “jaws” of the beast while absentmindedly throwing chum into the water is one of the great, scream-inducing moments in cinema history, and it’s a shock that has literally never been matched in any other shark movie since. Likewise with the death of Quint (Robert Shaw), whose mad scramble to avoid those gnashing teeth is the kind of thing that created its very own sub-genre of children’s nightmares. Ultimately, Jaws is a great film via its memorable characters, but it’s a scary film care of its novelty and perfect execution. —Jim Vorel


Jim Vorel is a Paste staff writer and resident horror geek. You can follow him on Twitter for much more film writing.

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