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The 80 Best Horror Movies on Amazon Prime (October 2019)

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After drawing up huge rankings of the best horror movies on Netflix and the best horror movies on Hulu, it’s safe to say we’ve gotten used to the challenge of diving through the refuse of a streaming service and searching for the gems. But we’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.

That said, Amazon subscribers also have access to a wealth of riches, many hiding in plain sight. Slowly but surely, they’ve built what is truly the biggest and most comprehensive horror library of all the major services—there’s really no question now that they’ve surpassed Netflix, Hulu and all other streamers (except for genre-specific services like Shudder). The trick is realizing those movies are there at all. Sure, it’s no surprise that Hereditary or A Quiet Place are now on the service, given their still recent releases. But did you know Amazon Prime was loaded with classic Italian giallo movies like Deep Red, Opera and Blood and Black Lace? Or werewolf classics like Dog Soldiers and Ginger Snaps? Or more 1980s slashers than you can wave a machete at? There are all sorts of great movies here, which have made us expand the scope of this list all the way to 80.

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 80 best horror movies on Amazon Prime right now:

80. 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


79. 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. Trust me, it’s not as clever as it sounds. —Jim Vorel


78. 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 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, Lugosi their 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


77. The Midnight Meat Train
Year: 2008
Director: Ryuhei Kitamura
Considering that Star is Born Oscar nomination, Bradley Cooper probably looks back on the likes of The Midnight Meat Train in the same way that Jennifer Anniston views her young self in Leprechaun, although if we’re being honest, Cooper has considerably less to be embarrassed about. This is a competent adaptation of the classic short story from author Clive Barker’s Books of Blood, concerning an investigative photographer who stumbles onto a series of serial killings that seem to occur in New York City’s subway system. Soon he’s tailing the killer, an effectively blank and stone-faced Vinnie Jones, through atmospheric subway set-pieces as he tries to figure out why this guy is hanging late-night subway passengers from meathooks. Featuring strong performances that bolster a simple premise, The Midnight Meat Train takes a last-minute left turn into inanity, but that’s on Barker more than director Kitamura. You might find the conclusion a little absurd, but it’s a ride worth taking, especially as part of a Bradley Cooper retrospective. —Jim Vorel


76. The Town That Dreaded Sundown
Year: 1976
Director: Charles B. Pierce
The original version of The Town That Dreaded Sundown feels like a strange outlier among other proto-slashers, thanks to its insistence on marketing itself as a dramatization of a true story. This it does with surprising fealty in many ways: Its depiction of a string of murders in 1946 Texas is actually pretty accurate to the historical record, but that accuracy sometimes comes at the cost of a complete narrative. As in reality, the killer is never caught, and the film never deigns to speculate as toward his identity or true motivations—it’s the rare slasher film that is largely depicted from the perspective of the police trying to catch the killer, rather than the killer’s motley crew of victims, an embryonic version of David Fincher’s Zodiac. As a result, there’s an exploitative edge to The Town That Dreaded Sundown, and it’s unsurprising that the film offended family members of the people who had been killed, especially with its claim that the killer “still lurks the streets of Texarkana.” Still, perhaps they were right. In the end, this film is a gritty, sober, almost depressive slice of rural bloodthirstiness that raises more questions than it answers. (We should note that there is one extremely goofy kill, involving a trombone, that seems much more slasher-esque than the others.) —Jim Vorel


75. Hatchet
Year: 2006
Director: Adam Green
Hatchet was the beneficiary of a lot of horror geek goodwill when it first arrived in 2006, the first in what became a more commonplace movement to faithfully recreate 1980s-style slasher films for the post-millennium audience. In truth, there wasn’t all that much that was special about this movie, outside of some good makeup and a memorable design for its killer, Victor Crowley, ably brought to life by former Jason Voorhees portrayer Kane Hodder. The story, certainly is simple as slasher premises come: A bunch of idiots venture out into the swamp and get picked off one by one by the hulking, deformed Crowley. Notable today mostly just for a few good kills (the skull-ripping one is still both excellent and gross), Hatchet didn’t quite retain its buzz, but it’s a serviceable modern slasher. —Jim Vorel


74. 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 it’s got an earnest goofiness that survives through it all. Seymour Krelboyne (Jonathan Hayes) is one of cinema’s great nebbishes, but you can’t help but root for the guy on some level, even as he’s 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


73. 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 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


72. Final Exam
Year: 1981
Director: Jimmy Huston
During the height of the early slasher boom, some horror films attempted to carve out unique niches for themselves and expand the boundaries of the genre. Others were merely content to copy-cat the conventions of other films and let the bodies fall where they may. Final Exam falls mostly into the latter camp—the filmmakers were literally instructed to produce Halloween, except on a college campus, and this is the result. Still, there are a few little idiosyncrasies that make it more memorable than some of the other Halloween or Friday the 13th clones. Most notable is the killer himself, who is presented as a completely unknown, rampaging force to whom motive (or even identity!) is never ascribed. The anonymous, seemingly unmotivated nature of the threat makes it easier to sympathize with the college kids, rather than simply rooting for their voyeuristic deaths, as becomes common the longer the slasher genre is around. It’s a minor entry in the “death stalks campus” genre that also includes such films as Happy Death Day, The House on Sorority Row and Graduation Day. —Jim Vorel


71. Children of the Corn
Year: 1984
Director: Fritz Kiersch
It’s not often that the adults should be the ones afraid to watch a horror movie with kids, but it would be hard not to look at kids differently after 1984’s Children of the Corn, one of the higher-profile entries in horror’s “kids kill all the adults” subgenre. The film focuses on a cult in a fictional Gatlin, Nebraska, led by child preacher Isaac, who is convinced by an entity called He Who Walks Behind the Rows that all adults over 18 should get the axe. We see Burt and Vicky (played by Peter Horton and Linda Hamilton) struggle to escape the small town after driving through and hitting a young, dying boy with their car. There’s plenty of slasher scares and creepy visuals, but like any good horror movie, it’s a commentary on society, man, and like Lord of the Flies before it, this Stephen King-based story looks toward our kids to point out the oddities of our culture (including an obsession with religion). —Tyler Kane


70. 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—an all-out war of 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 if you’ve always wanted to see a shirtless Leslie Nielsen fight a bear, it’s really your only option. Regardless, of all the films on this list, it’s the one I’d most like to see remade with a big budget. I want to see that movie, and all the killer koalas it would surely entail. —Jim Vorel


69. Mulberry Street
Year: 2006
Director: Jim Mickle
Zombies are natural bedfellows with low-budget horror and have been ever since NOTLD. It’s simply not that expensive to apply zombie makeup and have an actor chew on some fake guts. Likewise with the found footage genre—ever since Paranormal Activity and Romero’s own Diary of the Dead in 2007, there have been dozens if not hundreds of cheap, found-footage zombie films. Mulberry Street, on the other hand, doesn’t lean on the found footage crutch, but it does look exceedingly low-budget. Still, this first feature film of capable horror director Jim Mickle (Stake Land, We Are What We Are) feels confident and far deeper than it has to be. Depicting what is essentially a street-level zombie epidemic in downtown Manhattan, it’s like a zombie film as made by an impoverished Robert Altman, weaving together the stories of various apartment dwellers as their lives come crashing down. There have been plenty of urban zombie movies, but this one captures the feeling of powerlessness that an “average person” would truly feel during such an event, completely cut off from any kind of information on what is happening, not to mention why it’s happening. Of every film on this list, Mulberry Street might well capture the most “realistic” zombie panic, the sort of event that must have happened prior to the beginning of the events in The Walking Dead. The only downside is that it looks like a film made for $60,000, but in the vein of Evil Dead 2, it would be cool to see Mickle remake it one day with a real budget. —Jim Vorel


68. Madman
Year: 1982
Director: Joe Giannone
Madman is one of those perfectly serviceable early ’80s slashers that simply suffers in comparison to memories of the superior films it’s ripping off—namely Friday the 13th and The Burning. In actuality, this camp-set story was essentially going to be an adaptation of the same source material as The Burning, that of the New York “Cropsey” urban legend, before the (much better) film by Tony Maylam beat them to the punch. And lo, we got Madman instead, wherein Cropsey is replaced by the revenant of “Madman Marz,” a murderer who survived hanging and still stalks the woods located conveniently next to the camp for gifted children. This film is exactly what you expect it to be, full of red herrings and drawn-out stalk-and-slash killings. You could throw this on any night of the week and it would immediately feel comfortably familiar to any golden era slasher fan. It doesn’t aspire to be anything more than that, but it serviceably does its duty. —Jim Vorel


67. 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


66. Don’t Go in the House
Year: 1979
Director: Joseph Ellison
Many entries on the famous British “video nasties” list of banned or otherwise restricted films are questionable, but Don’t Go in the House is one of those movies to actually earn the title in some respects—it truly is a nasty, mean-spirited movie with a seriously nihilistic streak. Equal parts Psycho, Carrie and Halloween, its central character/antagonist is a man who suffered long-running and traumatic abuse at the hands of his Norma Bates-esque mother, and lashes out at the world with fire as his preferred weapon to purify the world of evil. Some of its kills are particularly grisly, including graphic depictions of young women being burnt alive, and one imagines it was these sequences that partially inspired the fake trailer for Don’t, which ran in between segments of Rodriguez/Tarantino’s Grindhouse. Today, Don’t Go in the House stands as a minor grindhouse classic that appeals to the viewer with a somewhat misanthropic streak. —Jim Vorel


65. 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


64. 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


63. 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


62. High Tension
Year: 2003
Director: Alexandre Aja
High Tension is a film that set the French press ablaze when it arrived in 2003, heralded by some as a depraved lapse in artistic morality while praised by others as the beginning of a new era of extreme horror—one that would eventually come to be referred to as New French Extremity. Lost in the mix, thanks to all the blood and guts, was an appreciation for the things this stalk-and-slash thriller does well, and the nigh-inexcusable nature of its famously frustrating ending. Suffice to say, Haute Tension is wildly uneven from the get-go. Its sequences of the protagonist hiding from the killer, including one in an abandoned highway rest stop, are extremely well executed and brimming with suspense, but it can be difficult to appreciate them once arriving at an absurd denouement that seriously strains the mind’s ability to turn mental backflips in rationalizing it. The film demonstrated the artistic flair that would go on to make the films of Alexandre Aja into notable visual feasts, but your ultimate assessment of it will very much be decided by your opinion on the conclusion. Don’t say we didn’t warn you. —Jim Vorel


61. The Slumber Party Massacre
Year: 1982
Director: Amy Holden Jones
The Slumber Party Massacre is a classic early ’80s cheesefest that holds the distinction of being one of the few slasher movies from the golden age of the genre that was actually directed and written by women—Amy Holden Jones and Rita Mae Brown, respectfully. In fact, Brown originally wrote the film as an early parody of the genre, playing off the tropes established by Halloween and Friday the 13th, but the movie was ultimately filmed as a legitimate horror vehicle instead, leaving it in a unique tonal middle ground that retains a fair amount of black comedy. As a result, it’s a trope-laden film that sees the denizens of the titular slumber party stalked by an escaped maniac (always a popular option, when you don’t want to write a killer’s backstory) armed with a power drill, à la 1979’s The Driller Killer. Ironically, despite being intended as parody, the film ended up establishing a number of “slumber party” horror movie tropes itself, the residuals of which echoed through the slasher genre for a decade to come. It’s also unusual in the sense that it has more than one character who could properly be labeled as a “final girl,” allowing for some tandem offense against the killer. —Jim Vorel


60. Hell House LLC
Year: 2015
Director: Stephen Cognetti
This is just about as lean and minimalist a concept as you can choose for a modern found footage horror movie, but Hell House LLC is much more a practice in execution than imaginative settings. It’s the documentary-style story of a haunted house crew that picks a decidedly wrong location for their attraction, and boom—they all wind up dead. Very standard set-up for a “no one gets out alive” entry in the found footage genre, but Hell House LLC actually does have some inspiring scares and performances. It gets a whole lot out of very small set-ups and deliveries, such as the shifting positioning of props and the life-size (and appropriately horrifying) clown costumes, shooting scenes in what looks very much like “real time,” with no cuts. There’s a naturalistic air to the actors’ sense of frustration and unease as weird events start to mount, but of course it all goes quite off the deep end and into unintentional humor in the closing moments. Still, there are many islands of genuine, blood pressure-raising fear in this well-executed film. Certainly, it’s better than most found footage efforts in the post-Paranormal Activity landscape. —Jim Vorel


59. The Gate
Year: 1987
Director: Tibor Takacs
Ah, the 1980s—when horror movie premises were a sentence long, and that’s the way we liked it. In the case of The Gate, that sentence would be something like “A boy and his friend find a hole in the backyard that is actually a gate to hell.” And that’s really all there is to The Gate, a charming exercise in Poltergeist-esque haunted house tropes and Goonies-like child protagonists. It’s one of those films where simply describing the plot on paper makes it sound fairly intense (the family dog gets killed, among other things), but the whole thing is presented with an aloof sense of sarcastic detachment, like a lost work from Joe Dante. Suffice to say, we are not meant to take anything in The Gate seriously, and are free to simply enjoy some of the timeless effects work, which includes some very impressive stop-motion animation miniatures. There have been rumors of a modern remake of The Gate, and in an era that is still venerating 1980s pop culture, this is hardly surprising. Its strength is in the simplicity of its premise, which anyone can grasp, and in the way it lovingly embraces the vibe of its era. —Jim Vorel


58. 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


57. 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


56. 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


55. 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


54. Poltergeist II: The Other Side
Year: 1986
Director: Brian Gibson
From the start, Poltergeist II has a couple of things working in its favor, and a few balancing detractions working against it. The entire cast of the original return, along with the first film’s screenwriters, but lost are the dynamic direction of Tobe Hooper and the overseeing eye of Steven Spielberg, which strips it of a bit of its verve. Still, you can’t fault this sequel for being boring—if anything, Poltergeist II is even weirder and more zany than the original, which wasn’t exactly shy about being off the wall. The infusion of native American mysticism into the sequel is a bit of an odd touch, to the point that you can almost empathize with Craig T. Nelson’s constant doubting and bemoaning of his lot in life, but it’s the faces of this film that really leave a lasting impression. In particular, character actor Julian Beck is haunting as the film’s antagonist, the Rev. Henry Kane, his taut skin and ghoulish features being only amplified by the fact that Beck was tragically wasting away from cancer in real life during filming. The evidence of his passing, like that of child star Heather O’Rourke during Poltergeist III, continue to cast a shadow of unease over the series to this day. Overall, The Other Side isn’t quite as spooky as the original Poltergeist, but the presence of Beck in particular makes up for a lot. —Jim Vorel


53. Child’s Play
Year: 1988
Director: Tom Holland
Child’s Play is one of those late ’80s gimmick slashers where it’s all too easy to feel as if you’ve already seen the film, without actually having sat down to watch it. Killer doll, very cheesy, plenty of one-liners, right? Well yes, and no. The original (and pretty obviously best) entry in the Child’s Play series is the most serious-minded (at least slightly) and grounded of the movies, and it goes out of its way to humanize its iconic killer Chucky—or the spirit within him, that of serial killer Charles Lee Ray—more than one might expect. If you’ve never seen a film in the series, ask yourself this: Did you know that the plot of Child’s Play is technically all about voodoo? Because it is. In the end, though, its greatness and inherent watchability boils down to the charms of the wonderful Brad Dourif, who found in Chucky the vessel he needed to become a genre legend forevermore. Like Robert Englund did with Freddy Krueger, Chucky becomes the most beloved aspect of the series because Dourif’s voiceover just oozes charisma and character—he’s more alive than any of the flesh-and-blood characters in this series could ever be. It’s just one of those sublime moments of perfect casting—it’s easy to imagine that no one would remember the Child’s Play series today if that one aspect had been different. —Jim Vorel


52. The House That Dripped Blood
Year: 1971
Director: Peter Duffell
If the output of British film studio Amicus Productions is usually said to lack the refinement and grandeur of Hammer’s horror films, they always seemed to make up for it with cheeky, good-natured charm. Their anthology horror films, such as Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors have a disarmingly simplistic quality to them—not the stately, stuffy gothic horror of Hammer, and more a continuation of the violent, ironic and comical horror stories seen in American E.C. Comics such as Vault of Horror or Tales From the Crypt. The House That Dripped Blood is one of those vintage anthologies, centered around a cursed house that keeps being inherited by new tenants—which is to say, victims. Its tales are silly and basic, but it’s buoyed by a strong cast of familiar British faces, from the duo of Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee (they’re in different stories, sadly) to Raiders of the Lost Ark’s Denholm Elliott and consummate Hammer buxom beauty Ingrid Pitt. It’s the perfect film for a jovial, Halloween party atmosphere—vintage spooky, but never truly disturbing. —Jim Vorel


51. 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

50. 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


49. 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


48. Creepshow 2
Year: 1987
Director: Michael Gornick
Creepshow 2 is very much a 1980s horror sequel in the sense that it attempts to largely replicate what audiences enjoyed about the first film in its series without mucking around too much with the formula, and produces a good (but not quite great) effort in the process. Things are hurt a bit here by the reduction in overall stories from five to three, which puts more weight on each individual entry. “Old Chief Wood’nhead” and “The Hitch-hiker” each have their moments, the first feeling like an HBO Tales From the Crypt episode and the latter like a Twilight Zone entry, but it’s “The Raft” that is really worth the price of admission here. One of Stephen King’s most simple stories makes for superb anthology content, with a premise that just can’t be beat: A group of teens are trapped on a raft in the middle of a lake, stalked by a blob-like creature that dissolves everything it touches, with spectacularly gory results. It’s like the 1980s remake of The Blob from Chuck Russell, simply cutting out backstory and subtext to focus on pure, primal action. Will the kids survive, or will they all be reduced to a pile of bones on the bottom of the lake? —Jim Vorel


47. 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


46. 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


45. Killer Klowns From Outer Space
Year: 1988
Director: The Chiodo Brothers
Stephen, Charles and Edward Chiodo are a trio of siblings who have spent most of their careers working in practical movie effects, on everything from Critters to Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure, but to horror fans they’ll always be known as those guys responsible for Killer Klowns From Outer Space. The titular monsters are actually aliens—it appears to be a series of incredible coincidences that everything about them is related to clowns. As in, their spaceship is a giant circus tent. Or the fact that they turn people into cotton candy before eating them. Or the fact that they’re all wearing floppy shoes and red ball noses. Coincidences, beautiful coincidences. The movie is a darkly comic story that never legitimately attempts to frighten—it’s saccharine faux-horror fun as silly and colorful as the clowns themselves. Today, it’s mostly worth seeing for the impressive makeup and FX work that the Chiodos managed to pull off on a small budget. Particularly memorable is the “shadow puppets” sequence, wherein one of the clowns uses what can only be described as Clown Magic to create a shadow T-Rex that first entertains, then devours, a crowd of onlookers. —Jim Vorel


44. 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


43. A Quiet Place
Year: 2018
Director: John Krasinski 
A Quiet Place’s narrative hook is a killer—ingenious, ruthless—and it holds you in its sway for the entirety of this 95-minute thriller. That hook is so clever that, although this is a horror movie, I sometimes laughed as much as I tensed up, just because I admired the sheer pleasure of its execution. The film is set not too far in the future, out somewhere in rural America. Krasinski plays Lee Abbott, a married father of two. (It used to be three.) A Quiet Place introduces its conceit with confidence, letting us piece together the terrible events that have occurred. At some point not too long ago, a vicious pack of aliens invaded Earth. The creatures are savagely violent but sightless, attacking their prey through their superior hearing. And so Lee and his family—including wife Evelyn (Emily Blunt) and children Regan (Millicent Simmonds) and Marcus (Noah Jupe)—have learned that, to stay alive, they must be completely silent. Speaking largely through sign language, which the family knew already because Regan is deaf, Lee and his clan have adapted to their bleak, terrifying new circumstance, always vigilant to ensure these menacing critters don’t carve them up into little pieces. As you might expect, A Quiet Place finds plenty of opportunities for the Abbotts to make sound—usually accidentally—and then gives the audience a series of shocks as the family tries to outsmart the aliens. As with a lot of post-apocalyptic dramas, Krasinski’s third film as a director derives plenty of jolts from the laying out of its unsettling reality. The introduction of needing to be silent, the discovery of what the aliens look like, and the presentation of the ecosystem that has developed since their arrival is all fascinating, but the risk with such films is that, eventually, we’ll grow accustomed to the conceit and get restless. Krasinski and his writers sidestep the problem not just by keeping A Quiet Place short but by concocting enough variations on "Seriously, don’t make a noise" that we stay sucked into the storytelling. Nothing in his previous work could prepare viewers for the precision of A Quiet Place’s horror. —Tim Grierson


42. Black Christmas
Year: 1974
Director: Bob Clark
Fun fact—nine years before he directed holiday classic A Christmas Story, Bob Clark created the first true, unassailable “slasher movie” in Black Christmas. Yes, the same person who gave TBS its annual Christmas Eve marathon fodder was also responsible for the first major cinematic application of the phrase “The calls are coming from inside the house!” Black Christmas, which was insipidly remade in 2006, predates John Carpenter’s Halloween by four years and features many of the same elements, especially visually. Like Halloween, it lingers heavily on POV shots from the killer’s eyes as he prowls through a dimly lit sorority house and spies on his future victims. As the mentally deranged killer calls the house and engages in obscene phone calls with the female residents, one can’t help but also be reminded of the scene in Carpenter’s film where Laurie (Jamie Lee Curtis) calls her friend Lynda, only to hear her strangled with the telephone cord. Black Christmas is also instrumental, and practically archetypal, in solidifying the slasher trope of the so-called “final girl.” Jessica Bradford (Olivia Hussey) is actually among the better-realized of these final girls in the history of the genre, a remarkably strong and resourceful young woman who can take care of herself in both her relationships and deadly scenarios. It’s questionable how many subsequent slashers have been able to create protagonists who are such a believable combination of capable and realistic. —Jim Vorel


41. My Bloody Valentine
Year: 1981
Director: George Mihalka
Practically every holiday of note got their own quasi-slasher film in the wake of Friday the 13th, but it’s the Valentine’s Day entry that stole our hearts. This film is the archetype for just about every early ’80s slasher from top to bottom: “Anniversary of the day it all happened” setting, wronged antagonist returning decades later, masked killer, horny teens, and red herrings aplenty. It was infamous at the time for its gore, but audiences never knew the half of it in 1981—if you watch this film today, it’s imperative that you obtain the 2009 uncut version (not the 2009 remake), which adds back in a ton of footage from the gory death scenes, especially the bit in the showers when one particularly unfortunate girl gets her head impaled by a spout, which then gets turned on. Suffice to say, it’s not pretty. Beyond the gore, there’s something inherently likable about My Bloody Valentine’s particular brand of familiarity—it feels like the cinematic equivalent of a letter in the mail from an old friend. This is basically slasher comfort food—the good kind. —Jim Vorel


40. 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


39. 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


38. 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


37. 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


36. 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


35. Suspiria
Year: 2018
Director: Luca Guadagnino
Dario Argento’s original synthesized his many experiments with the giallo form—the mid-century thrillers and violent crime stores much of Argento’s peers were churning out—into something essential. Gone were the questions of whodunit, the investigative layer of procedure litigating how such evil could make its way into this world, replaced by both a focus on the victims of this murder mystery and a sensual connection to the horrors flaying their young bodies apart. That the film takes place in Munich’s Tanz Dance Academy, though little dancing occurs, projects the film’s insinuated physicality onto the walls and floor as chimeric splashes of fairy tale color, especially (of course) red—we always remember the red—its vibrancy emphasized by Goblin’s monolithic score. Women, in Argento’s film, are vessels: for life, for gore, for art. Luca Guadagnino’s remake, and David Kajganich’s screenplay, simply tell the audience this—over and over and over. What Argento implied, Guadagnino makes literal. And so much of Guadagnino’s film is about transformation—how Germany had to reimagine itself to break the spell of its evil past; how art contorts oneself, irrevocably changes those who create it; how even the media in which the director works must adapt and mature and evolve to transcend the reluctance that a movie like Suspiria maybe should have been remade in 2018 at all. What Argento made subtext, Guadagnino reveals as text: As much as Suspiria explored the essence of giallo, Guadagnino explores the essence of Suspiria. Less fetishized, much less fantasized, the violence of 2018’s Suspiria is so much more harrowing than Argento’s, because Suspiria 1977 is its violence, and Suspiria 2018 wields its violence like an upsetting symbol, simultaneously too real and too absurd. Much of Guadagnino’s Suspiria feels beholden to nothing, indulgent and overwrought, existing only for itself. Art should never have to justify its own existence, but also: Why does this exist? What motivations conceived this film that seems to want very little—to maybe even dislike—the movie on which it’s based? And yet, it’s unforgettable, as ravishing as anything Guadagnino’s lazily captured in the Italian countryside, as disturbing as any horror film you’ve seen this year and, like the 1977 original, unlike anything you’ve ever felt helplessly drawn to before. —Dom Sinacola


34. 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 the archaic traditions that sustain us. Look too closely, and you’ll end up questioning your own familial routine. —Jim Vorel


33. Triangle
Year: 2009
Director: Christopher Smith
Time-loop films are hard. In a sub-genre of comedy and horror utterly defined by comparisons (mostly to Groundhog Day), it’s a tall task to justify any new time-loop movie’s need to exist. At the very least, a modern film with the time-looping mechanism at its core requires some kind of hook, some kernel of uniqueness; a way to approach the scenario from a perspective or angle we haven’t seen a dozen times before. This is where 2009’s underrated Triangle shines—it not only manages to present a serious, time-looping horror film with a unique setting that never descends into self-parody or comedy, but it does it with a character whose motives for participating in “the loop” have never really been explored before. If you’re going to draw a comparison this time, the best is almost certainly Nacho Vigalondo’s indie sci-fi classic Timecrimes from 2007, but Triangle is much more informed by American slasher sensibilities, and it’s more purely entertaining to boot. Melissa George shines as a viewpoint character whose archetype we think we know from the start, but Triangle will mess with your certainties in short order. —Jim Vorel


32. 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


31. Bad Moon
Year: 1996
Director: Eric Red
May we present what is arguably the most underrated werewolf movie of all time: Bad Moon. From the premise, which revolves around a single mom and her precocious little boy living out in the woods when their werewolf uncle comes to visit, you might for a moment think that this film will be treating its subject with kiddie gloves, but man would you be mistaken. This is made clear enough within the opening minutes, which not only includes a fairly explicit sex scene but then features a camp full of people being torn limb from limb by a werewolf before its head is blown off with a shotgun. It’s a fist-pumping, Peter Jackson-esque “FUCK, YEAH!” moment that sets the tone for what is a campy, stupid but very fun feature. In some sense, the actual main character is the family’s overgrown and defensive German shepard, who is the only one to suss out the werewolf’s identity, pitting dog vs. wolf in a battle of wits. Featuring a whole lot of bloodletting, Bad Moon is entertaining despite (or perhaps because of) its melodramatic performances, and it also happens to feature one of the best physical werewolf suits you’ll ever see. Why the filmmakers used any of the atrocious CGI you’ll see in the transformation scene is beyond me, given how spectacular the actual suit looks. Don’t sleep on Bad Moon—it’s the best werewolf movie you’ve never heard of. —Jim Vorel


30. Memories of Murder
Year: 2003
Director: Bong Joon-Ho
Based on the case of South Korea’s first serial killer, this is Bong Joon-Ho’s take on the cop drama. The tension arises from the clash in styles between an instinctive detective from the countryside (Song Kang-Ho), and his more professional urban counterpart (Kim Sang-Kyung) dispatched to speed the investigation, which steadily derails amid blown opportunities and wrongful arrests. One uses his fists, the other forensics, and both serve as cultural archetypes whose actions play out against the backdrop of the mid-1980s military dictatorship. Strange as it sounds, Murder is also not without laughs, which are both coarse and piercing. Like David Fincher’s Zodiac, which arrived a few years later, Memories of Murder never stops taking advantage of the audience’s unspoken assumption that it will eventually be presented with a neat, gift-wrapped conclusion. —Steve Dollar


29. 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


28. 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


27. 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


26. 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


25. 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


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


23. 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


22. Dog Soldiers
Year: 2002
Director: Neil Marshall
If someone ever asks me to venture an opinion on the best-looking practical effects/full-body werewolf suits used in a feature-length horror film, the choice of Dog Soldiers will be an easy one to make. This isn’t exactly a character-driven tale, a la American Werewolf in London, but instead an action-packed wolf yarn that pits a squad of soldiers against a rampaging family of lycanthropes in the Scottish Highlands. It borrows the basic structure of Night of the Living Dead to do so, having our group of protagonists holed up in a rickety farmhouse that is under siege by a large group of werewolves. As members of the squad are slowly picked off in increasingly grisly ways, the only question is: Who, if anyone, will survive? Dog Soldiers is a stylish (although sometimes a bit dark and hard to see) entry in the genre, with great pieces of action and, as previously mentioned, some really spectacular werewolf designs. I love the odd proportions they give the monsters—humanoid bodies with long, somewhat thin limbs which give the werewolves an imposing height, but heads that are straight-up wolves rather than a mixture of wolf and man. They look utterly alien, and it’s great. —Jim Vorel


21. 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


20. Stake Land
Year: 2010
Director: Jim Mickle
From his debut work Mulberry Street, Jim Mickle has been one of indie horror’s leading auteurs of low-budget films that still strive for ambitious ideas, and Stake Land is all about ambition rather than exploitation. Lord knows how many cheapo zombie movies have been made in the last decade, but Mickle throws a first wrench into convention by changing up the monster, essentially making a post-apocalypse zombie film, except with vampires. But Stake Land’s greatest achievement is inarguably its wonderful design and evocative landscapes—I’ve never seen a low-budget “post-apocalypse” film that can stand up to more expensive productions the way this one can. It’s a genius work of minimalism, to be able to suggest such a fleshed-out universe, where small pockets of humanity survive in barricaded cities and barter for goods with the teeth of dead vampires. Our characters and story are extremely simple—a veteran hunter and young protege traveling across the wasteland looking for safe refuge—but it’s exactly what the film needs to be. It’s a realistic, sober-minded film that looks great, boasts solid performances and accomplishes so much with so little. —Jim Vorel


19. 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


18. 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


17. Goodnight Mommy
Year: 2014
Directors: Veronika Franz, Severin Fiala
We begin by joining twin, tow-headed nine-year-old brothers Lukas (Lukas Schwarz) and Elias (Elias Schwarz) as they explore the rural paradise of their new home, swimming in azure-pure lakes and casually spelunking through nearby caves ostensibly untouched for centuries. Though the twins seem to be perfectly content letting their Edenic nature occupy them, a near-ineffable pall of tragedy hangs over the film from the start. It’s unexplainable but slightly pungent, as if at any moment one of the boys will fall down a ravine or stumble into a hornet’s nest. Maybe it’s because they bow to seemingly no adult supervision—that is, until their mother (Susanne Wuest) returns to their ceaselessly modern home after going away for a surgery of some sort. Her face covered in bandages, her eyes red-rimmed and limned with a shadow of dread, “Mommy” greets her boys with reticence and anxiety. Gradually, of course, the boys suspect that something is up with their mommy, especially when, as a form of punishment for their suspicious behavior (as well as, we assume, behavior and transgressions we have yet to understand), she pretends that Lukas doesn’t exist. Goodnight Mommy, for all of its familiar notions, isn’t exactly a traditional horror film, more in tune with the eerie, silent moral plays of Carl Theodor Dreyer than with the Grand Guignol schlock of an Eli Roth in heat. In fact, you may be able to figure out the “twist” by the end of the first act; while the filmmakers do nothing to bury the lede, they still take great pains to juggle their high-minded concept with an eye for burrowing certain notions about the very fabric of our human race within the subcutaneous folds of our most firmly held beliefs about how life—family, love, trust—should work. The true horror of Goodnight Mommy isn’t about who she is, but what happens to her—how easily we can set fire to the bedrock of even our basest notions of what it means to be human. And there really is nothing scarier than that. —Dom Sinacola


16. Ginger Snaps
Year: 2000
Director: John Fawcett
Ginger Snaps is a high school werewolf story, but before you go making any Twilight comparisons, let me state for the record: Where Twilight is maudlin, Ginger Snaps is vicious. A pair of death-obsessed, outsider sisters, Ginger and Brigitte, are faced with issues of maturation and sexual awakening when Ginger (Katharine Isabelle) is bitten by a werewolf. As she begins to become bolder and more animalistic in her desires, the second, meeker sister (Emily Perkins) searches for a way to reverse the damages before Ginger carves a path of destruction through their community. Reflecting the influence of Cronenberg-style body horror and especially John Landis’s American Werewolf in London, Ginger Snaps is a surprisingly effective horror movie and mix of drama/black comedy that brought the werewolf mythos into suburbia in the same sort of way Fright Night managed to do so with vampires. It also made a genre star of Isabelle, who has since appeared in several sequels and above-average horror flicks such as American Mary. Even if the condition of lycanthropism is an obvious parallel to the struggles of adolescence and puberty, Ginger Snaps is the one film that has taken that rich vein of source material and imbued it with the same kind of punk spirit as Heathers. —Jim Vorel


15. 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


14. 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


13. 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


12. Nosferatu: Phantom der Nacht
Year: 1979
Director: Werner Herzog 
Werner Herzog recreates the cornerstone of vampire cinema (and German expressionist filmmaking, for that matter) through an ever-mounting nightmare of unsettling, disjointed vignettes. Which isn’t anything new for the German director, but his methods and sensibility do lend themselves naturally to the language of phantasmagoria, as he tells a well-known story via one subconscious-upending image after another. As in any Herzog film, the story is never intended to hold together flawlessly—only barely logically—but to imprint indelibly upon the insides of the viewers’ eyelids the stark silhouette of evil borne absurdly from the primeval fear in all of us. That Klaus Kinski also plays Count Dracula means that madness bristles at the edge of every manicured line of chiaroscuro: Nosferatu revels in the beauty of horror. In fact, Roger Ebert said, “Here is a film that does honor to the seriousness of vampires. No, I don’t believe in them. But if they were real, here is how they must look.” —Dom Sinacola


11. Alice, Sweet Alice
Year: 1976
Director: Alfred Sole
Alice, Sweet Alice is one of the most fascinating 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


10. 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


9. 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 the Cenobites are indestructible. Personally, it turned me off to puzzle boxes forever. As in his fiction, Barker’s obsessions with the duality of pain and pleasure are on full display in Hellraiser, an icky story of sick hate and sicker love. —Rachel Haas


8. Hereditary
Year: 2018
Director: Ari Aster
Ari Aster’s debut film begins in miniature. Later we learn of the trade Annie (Toni Collette), the film’s family’s matriarch, plies—meticulously designing doll-house-sized vignettes of the many domestic traumas she’s experienced, and still does, throughout her life, not for children but for art gallery spaces—though in the moment, in the beginning of Hereditary, the effect simply alludes to Aster’s ancestral preoccupations. From a tree house, pulling back through Annie’s workshop window, cinematographer Pawel Pogorzelski’s camera pans to a tiny recreation of the house we’re currently within, then pushes into the simulacrum of high school student Peter Graham’s (Alex Wolff) bedroom, which transforms into the room itself, perspectives already ruined so early in the film. Father Steve (Gabriel Byrne) enters to give his late-snoozing son the black suit needed to attend his late grandmother’s memorial. Aster’s intent, as is the case throughout Hereditary, is both blunt and oblique: worlds exist within worlds, shadows within that which casts them, or vice versa, reality represented like the rings of a tree or the spirals of DNA holding untold secrets within the cores of whoever we are. Colin Stetson’s brain-churning score rattles the frame’s edges; menace looms—and menace soon unfolds, tragedies upon tragedies. The Graham family unravels over the course of Hereditary, which derives its power from testing the binds that force families together, teasing their strength as each family member must confront, kicking and screaming (or in Collette’s case: making the noise of one’s soul fleeing through every orifice), just how superficial those binds can be. In the absence of a reason for all of this happening, there is inevitability; in the absence of resolution there is only acceptance. —Dom Sinacola


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


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
What can you say about a film that not only serves as an essential architect of a young medium’s development but also remains terrifying more than 90 years after the fact? Indeed, F.W. Murnau’s Nosferatu didn’t just help birth the cinematic horror movie, it revolutionized the ways one could tell a story through film. And to think this version only exists because Bram Stoker’s widow refused to grant permission for the studio’s planned adaptation of Dracula, thus forcing Murnau to reconceive Dracula as the more monstrous Count Orlok. Delivering one of the most memorable turns in cinema history, actor Max Schreck, with his grotesque makeup job and reptilian body movements, thoroughly embodies one of the most nightmarish images ever to grace the screen. There’s nothing romantic, sensual or charming about his Orlok; rather, the character connotes simple, unadulterated horror. Moreover, when film was still considered little more than a gimmick, it was productions like Nosferatu that would help elevate the rough new medium to the status of a genuine art form. So long as people continue to document history, the image of Schreck’s Orlok rising from his coffin will undoubtedly be among the first definitive images in the story of film. Watching Murnau’s masterpiece today, one can still be frightened by its set pieces, awed by its technical wizardry and become emotionally invested in a cast of long-deceased actors flailing about in fright. Nosferatu, in many ways, represents the beauty of cinema in its purest form. —Mark Rozeman


3. The Return of the Living Dead
Year: 1985
Director: Dan O’Bannon
John Russo is a huge unknown in terms of important figures in zombie cinema, at least among those who aren’t big horror geeks. Russo is the man who created the original story for Night of the Living Dead alongside George Romero, and thus is essentially one half of the driving force for the most famous zombie film of all time. After the two parted ways post-NOTLD, their settlement dictated that Russo would retain the rights to any future films with the phrase “living dead” in the title. Thus, Romero’s “of the dead” monikers in future films. Russo, meanwhile, wrote his sequel as a novel, which was then finally adapted as a film 17 years after the original NOTLD with extensive rewrites by director Dan O’Bannon. The result is one of the all-time zombie classics, a film that is equal parts gory and hilarious while making a concerted effort to capture the youth movement, art aesthetic and, especially, music of the mid-’80s. It’s influential in so many different ways: the comedic tone; the youth focus; the scapegoating of an American military experiment gone wrong as the genesis of the zombies. The zombies too have been completely redesigned with all-new capabilities—they’re intelligent, they can speak, they can move fast and, for the first time ever, they’re specifically targeting human brains. That last point was so influential and so ubiquitous in the genre after 1985 that it’s incorrectly been assumed by many people for decades that the Romero zombies are brain-eaters. For these reasons, ROTLD is undoubtedly one of the most significant zombie films ever. And by the way—with ROTLD, Day of the Dead, Demons and Re-Animator all being released in 1985, is it safe to say this was the greatest year in the history of zombie cinema? —Jim Vorel


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: It’s a film that vacillates between darkly humorous and legitimately disturbing, mean-spirited and cruel, that terrifying mix of tones 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, Carrie 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. —Jim Vorel


1. Rosemary’s Baby
Year: 1968
Director: Roman Polanski
The banality of evil isn’t a concept new to the horror genre, but in Roman Polanski’s troubled hands, that banality is an unadulterated expression of institutionalized horror, one so ingrained in our society it becomes practically organic. With Rosemary’s Baby, the body of young Rosemary (Mia Farrow) is the institution through which Satan’s malice gestates, a body over which everyone but Rosemary herself seems to have any control. At the mercy of her overbearing neighbors (played by a pitch-perfect Ruth Gordon and Sidney Blackmer), her Ur-Dudebro husband, Guy (John Cassavetes), and the doctor (Ralph Bellamy) recommended by her high society cadre of new friends, Rosemary is treated as if she’s the last person who knows what’s best for her and her fetus—a position she accepts as a matter of fact. She’s only a woman, a homemaker at that, so such is her lot. The worse she feels and the more fraught her pregnancy becomes—as well as the recurring flashes of a ghastly dream she can’t quite shake in which a ManBearPig mounts her, its glowing yellow eyes the talismans of her trauma—the clearer Rosemary begins to suspect she’s an unwilling pawn in something cosmically insidious. She is, is the absurd truth: She is the mother of Satan’s offspring, the victim of a coven’s will to worship their Dark Lord much more fruitfully. More than the director’s audacious Hollywood debut, not to mention the omen of what New Hollywood would be willing to do to tear down tradition, Rosemary’s Baby is a landmark horror film because of how ordinary, how easy, it is for everyone else in Rosemary’s life to crush a woman’s spirit and take her life. The baby has “his father’s eyes” it’s said; what of the mother’s does he have? —Dom Sinacola

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