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The 50 Best Horror Movies Ever

Is this the definitive ranking of the 50 best ever? In 2017, as a team, we offered this list as being just that.
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By  · Published on October 27th, 2017

40. The Legend of Hell House (1973, UK)

When it comes to horror movies, ones about haunted houses are even more ubiquitous than those featuring vampires or zombies. It’s due as much to the simplicity of plot as to the inexpensiveness of the effects (turns out showing “nothing” is a pretty cheap effect), but while most are content with straightforward tales of hauntings and restless spirits, this film — and its source material, Richard Matheson‘s equally excellent Hell House — goes the extra mile with its narrative. Our “ghost” is given a fantastically cruel story, our mix of visitors to the house is eclectic (and brought to beautiful life by the likes of Roddy McDowall and Pamela Franklin), and the supernatural world is met with a scientific approach to the natural one. The subject of ghosts is approached in a reasonable, rational way, and it serves to both fascinate and lower our guard as viewers — things are less frightening when we think we understand them. It’s here, though, where the film and director John Hough (Twins of Evil) unleash their greatest trick yet by terrifying and educating us anew. Ghosts, the film argues, are every bit as real as science, but that doesn’t make them any less frightening. – Rob Hunter

39. Audition (1999, Japan)

Director Takashi Miike released his 100th feature film this year, and in the time it took you to read this sentence he’s probably completed another two. He’s made several great ones along the way, but while surprisingly few of them can be categorized as horror this one alone secures his place on our list. It’s a masterful lesson in patience and pacing as the film’s first half gives no hint of the bizarre turns and painful events to come, and if you haven’t seen it yet then please stop reading and rectify that immediately. It introduces themes of loneliness with its main character, a man essentially auditioning women in his pursuit of a new wife, and in one of the women who respond. There’s a pathos to both as most of us can empathize with their emotional isolation, and that connection to their pain only heightens the far more visceral suffering that follows. It’s creepy, unsettling, and disturbing, and it’s all the more unforgettable for it. – Rob Hunter

38. Evil Dead II (1987, USA)

Ask me any random day and I’m not sure I’d have the same answer for which of Sam Raimi’s deadite trilogy should be at the top. The original Evil Dead is a world of pure, low-budget, cabin-in-the-woods horror. That pencil in the ankle? The way they torque that pencil once it’s in there. I wince every time. Army of Darkness is a full-on period piece of comedy horror filled with legendary quips, glorious stop-motion, and gonzo demon fighting. Evil Dead II is the best of both worlds. It’s Bruce Campbell coming into his own. The laughing scene in Evil Dead II may be my favorite in the trilogy. Brought beyond his capacity to cope, we witness his descent into madness. If it ain’t fun, it’s funny. And if it isn’t funny, it’s hilarious. There’s genuine dread. That scene wouldn’t work without Campbell shining or Raimi operating on all cylinders. Campbell makes Ash feel so very human, even as he chops off his own deadite infected hand. Evil Dead II makes me afraid of my basement, but also leaves me giggling as I descend the stairs. Perfection. – William Dass

37. The Wicker Man (1973, UK)

Despite being bastardized by Nicolas Cage’s 2006 version of the film, 1973’s The Wicker Man still holds up as one of the most bizarre explorations of isolation and cults. With Cinefantastique describing it as ‘the Citizen Kane of horror movies,’ the film offers more than jump scares and gory images, instead diving into the mind of Edward Woodward’s Sargent Howie. To continue with the Citizen Kane comparison, in The Wicker Man it’s not our protagonist who’s the Welles-like figure, but Christopher Lee’s haunting Lord Summerisle. Playing the role after his series of Hammer horrors as Count Dracula, Lee’s quietly menacing presence adds the initial dark tone to the film. As Sargent Howie spirals deeper into the world of Summerisle, he is faced with temptations of sex, lust, desire, and – in a particular blow to his devout Christian ways – paganism. – Sinead McCausland

36. The Innocents (1961, UK)

There’s something deeply unsettling about having young children singing. It goes double when that starts before the opening credits even begin. Combining that singing with the striking imagery of Deborah Kerr praying in the darkness and you’ve got the chills right away. The Innocents sees Kerr accept a job as a governess. She is to care for two children because their uncle has no feelings for his niece and nephew. That doesn’t sound like too difficult of a task except these children aren’t normal. Their previous governess died suddenly one year ago under strange circumstances. The children are in turn possessed by the former governess and her lover, who were in an abusive relationship. The Innocents is an eerie B&W horror film from director Jack Clayton, which lives on due to its creepy performances and memorable atmosphere. – Max Covill

35. Under the Skin (2013, UK)

The internet likes to argue about everything, and when it comes to genre movies, one of the favorite topics for the cantankerous is the idea of what is and isn’t a horror film. For me, it comes down to movies that intend to scare, unsettle, or disturb (whether through ideas or images), and to that end, Jonathan Glazer‘s Under the Skin is one hell of a horror film. Ostensibly the story of an alien being that comes to earth to suck the very essence from male human victims, it eschews the campy T&A of something like Species to instead explore sexuality, identity, and loneliness while still racking up a body count and delivering memorable visuals, an eerie atmosphere (credit in part here to Mica Levi‘s haunting score), and scenes of real terror. One comes at the end, but an earlier one set on a cold, windy beach still haunts me years after my first viewing. – Rob Hunter

34. The Orphanage (2007, Spain)

There are some first viewings you never forget, and this is certainly the case with JA Bayona’s The Orphanage. There’s a reason it features on every single “Best Plot Twist” list. Laura returns to her childhood home, a remote, gothic beachfront orphanage, to reopen it as a home for children with learning difficulties, along with her son Simón, who suffers from HIV. But things begin to fall apart when Simón’s proclivity for imaginary friends goes from cute to “fuck that, ” and the house starts giving off some serious “haunted by the restless souls of orphans” vibes. Steeped in a deeply horrible and potent sense of loss, The Orphanage will leave you cursing whatever cinematic genius realized how terrifying kids could be. – Meg Shields

33. 28 Days Later (2002, UK)

How fast does a zombie move? With 28 Days Later, the shuffling zombies of yesteryear made way for the new standard of zombie horror—the sprinter. But while some horror movies take a little while to build up the terror, Danny Boyle‘s modern zombie trendsetter is unsettling from the get-go. With its unforgettable opening of Jim (Cillian Murphy) waking up in an abandoned hospital and then wandering around an equally empty London, with iconic landmarks such as Big Ben and the London Eye looming in the background, 28 Days Later has you thoroughly creeped before the Olympic speed zombies even show up on screen. – Ciara Wardlow

32. The Devil’s Backbone (2001, Spain)

“What is a ghost? A tragedy condemned to repeat itself time and again.” Guillermo Del Toro has little interest in the poltergeist out to gobble and ghoul. As he has proven film after film, the director sides with those that go bump in the night. Set amidst the real-life horror of the Spanish Civil War, a group of children is made aware of the terrible threat that lurks amongst them thanks to the spiritual guidance of a phantasm. The Devil’s Backbone is a somber mood piece that picks at the melancholy of childhood and terrorizes only through the treachery of man. Cinematographer Guillermo Navaro captures the amber in which these kids are trapped; the yellow walls of the orphanage stretching into a hopeless prison around a seemingly endless desert. This is not a horror interested in screeching violin strings or jump scares (although a few of those are present), Del Toro is there to crush your heart over your nerves. – Brad Gullickson

31. The Witch (2015, USA)

Robert Eggers’ directorial debut is both an aesthetically audacious exercise in composition and an inky black New England nightmare, a multilevel miracle of first-time filmmaking. The film’s rigorous design work–a holy trinity of near-perfect sound, sets, and costumes–makes it a pleasure to behold, even as the creeping “folktale” about a banished Puritan family and the witch that may haunt them becomes increasingly difficult to watch with eyes wide open. Twisted religious and superstitious imagery–a goat’s glinting eye, a choking forbidden fruit, a grim, candlelit last supper-create real jolts of fear, but it’s the threat of teenage Thomasin’s (Anna Taylor-Joy) emerging womanhood, and her sinful craving for agency, that scares her devout family more than anything. The film’s unnerving conclusion is an unexpected, shivery delight, elevating The Witch beyond easy categorization and catapulting it into a spot in horror history. – Valerie Ettenhofer

On the next page, Cronenberg, Argento, Romero, and Craven begin to populate the list >>

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