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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

30. Pulse (2001, Japan)

As mentioned in the introduction, horror movies don’t need to be scary (or even try to be scary) to qualify as horror. That said, it’s always appreciated when a film tries and succeeds in that regard anyway. Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s beginning of the millennium thriller achieves this in spades and manages to frighten and unsettle without the need for lazy jump scares or loud noises. Scenes build, images appear, and your eyes widen as your arm hairs stand on end. You’ve never seen shadows used so well and so terrifyingly. Well, this feat would be enough to merit its greatness, Kurosawa elevates his film further with a prescient observation on humanity’s addiction to our precious social media and electronic devices. It’s still a ghost story, but while individual spirits appear it’s every bit an apocalyptic recognition of a dying species. – Rob Hunter

29. The Fly (1986, USA)

On paper, the premise of The Fly is simple: an eccentric scientist’s experiment goes wrong, and he slowly turns into a fly-hybrid creature. A gory remake of an old classic. In practice, the film offers a special effects tour-de-force and a deeply unsettling and effective tragedy about what it’s like to watch a loved one slip into disease. Like much of David Cronenberg’s fare, The Fly is an entertaining, but not necessarily enjoyable watch (it’s the fingernail scene that does me in). But for a film that relies so much on its effects, this is not gore qua gore, but rather a natural and recognizable expression of all the pathos and horror bound up in corporeal decrepitude. Also, learn from my mistakes: don’t eat while watching. – Meg Shields

28. The Descent (2005, UK)

The Descent is the story of a group of adventuring gal pals who go spelunking to help a grieving one of their number relax. Because when I hear “tight enclosed spaces that have restricted entrances and exits” I think “excellent place find your zen.” The fact that the cave is crawling with flesh-eating humanoids is incidental to the fact that caves are a waking nightmare in their own right. The vast majority of the butt-clenching, horrifying nonsense in this movie has jack-all to do with monsters. They certainly don’t help though. The Descent gets big ups for being one of cinema’s only all-female spoken screenplays and for ravaging my imagination with the phrase: “uncharted cave system.” – Meg Shields

27. Re-Animator (1985, USA)

This movie is so perfectly madcap bonkers it’s impossible not to feel the impish joy in this imagining of H.P. Lovecraft’s story. The honest truth is the film is gross, but it is bursting with playfulness. You couldn’t have more fun watching a dead cat get re-re-animated. There’s a scene where a re-animated decapitated doctor places his head between the legs of the very naked, very captive Megan (Barbara Crampton). This production owned its lasciviousness. A genuine horror comedy is hard to get right, especially one that is so perverse. Jeffrey Combs, as mad scientist Herbert Gordon, and Crampton’s chemistry with Stuart Gordon’s script and direction is unmistakable. Re-Animator succeeds on that connection. Despite its grossness, it is fun to watch. And, it’s probably why they teamed up again to make From Beyond. They make fire. What else to say? Cat’s dead, details later. – William Dass

26. Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978, USA)

Jack Finney‘s novel, The Body Snatchers, has been brought to the big screen no fewer than four times, but while all but 2007’s The Invasion have their merits it’s Philip Kaufman‘s late 70s version that delivers a perfect blend of sci-fi thrills, horrifying chills, and a still-harrowing sense of fear and paranoia. Creepily effective special effects work compliment Kaufman’s direction, the less and less bustling San Francisco locale, and stellar performances by the likes of Donald Sutherland, Jeff Goldblum, Veronica Cartwright, and Brooke Adams. The story is already enough to frighten as friends and neighbors are essentially xeroxed and discarded like trash with hollow replicas taking their place, and themes of conformity and group-think double down on the terror leading to one of the genre’s great endings. Who do you turn to when you can only trust yourself? Certainly not a member of the Sutherland clan. – Rob Hunter

25. Frankenstein (1931, USA)

The monster, the film, the legend. With all due respect to Mary Shelley, the Frankenstein tale as we know it starts here. The James Whale helmed classic codified the monster—the neck bolts, the stilted walk—and the narrative—the hunchbacked assistant, the abnormal brain, “it’s alive!”. To a modern viewer, Frankenstein might seem cheesy or somewhat overrated, but that’s largely because the film has spent the past 86 years being constantly homaged, spoofed, and variously referenced in popular culture. Love it or hate it, it’s a founding father of the horror film genre, and calling yourself a bona fide horror buff without seeing it is something like calling yourself a theater expert without having read any Shakespeare plays. – Ciara Wardlow

24. [Rec] (2007, Spain)

A documentary team gets more then they bargained for when they accidentally end up on the wrong side of a quarantine and find themselves trapped alongside the building’s residents as the infection continues to spread. Found footage has become somewhat of a dirty word and [REC] is frequently, rightfully, cited as the exception. [REC] never cheats its format, never is anything but a subjective, claustrophobic viewpoint of calamity. By the time the final act rolls around you’ve been wound up tighter than a screw. And the payoff is excellent, earned, and might just scare your pants off. The first time I watched [REC] was in a bright sunny living room and it still had me squirming. – Meg Shields

23. The Night of the Hunter (1955, USA)

Comedy and horror employ many of the same tricks for very different ends. Both art forms create tension until the viewer cannot take it anymore, then the tension is relieved either through a punch line or a scare. When Steve Martin was starting out as a stand-up comic, he theorized that if he built up enough comedic pressure in the audience but never relieved it with a punch line, the audience would have to decide for themselves when to laugh. This is essentially the same theory Charles Laughton applied in his horror film The Night of the Hunter. The 1955 cult classic is a truly horrifying movie, but it doesn’t have a lot of what comes to mind when you think of a horror flick. It doesn’t have blood and guts, but it will leave you nauseous. It doesn’t have exploitative jump scares, but you will get that sudden shooting sensation up your spine.

Like Martin’s stand-up comedy, tension is built up throughout the movie, but Laughton never tells the audience where to jump, scream, or look away. The effect is an unrelenting sense of dread throughout the entire film. The most noticeable commonality between this film and other great horror movies is the creation of a disturbing villain with iconic calling cards. Jason has his hockey mask and machete, Freddy has his fedora and knife glove, and The Night of the Hunter’s monster, Harry Powell (Robert Mitchum), has his switchblade and “LOVE” and “HATE” tattoos on his knuckles. An additional reason this film is one of the best horror movies ever made is because it has the ability to tap into the familiar feeling of helplessness in ways few other films do. The lyrical style of storytelling allows for the audience to check their “ugh why is that character not running away from the monster faster” comments at the door. Watching this film is like watching your own personal nightmare in which you cannot escape an unrelenting disturbing presence no matter how much you think you should be able to. It’s the nightmare where nothing really happens, and that’s what’s so unsettling about it—everything is feeling and nothing is revealed. – Cooper Peltz

22. Suspiria (1977, Italy)

Audiences are familiar with traditional masters of horror such as Hitchcock, Carpenter, and Craven. They might not be as familiar with Dario Argento. Best known for his work in the subgenre known as giallo, Argento made countless Italian horror features. Perhaps none are as well-known as Suspiria. As the first part of a trilogy Argento calls “The Three Mothers”, Suspiria follows the plight of American ballet student Suzy Bannion (Jessica Harper). She believes that she is going to be receiving world-class instruction at a dance studio but soon finds something not quite right with the Tanz Dance Academy. Suspiria is known primarily for its production design and cinematography that emphasizes striking colors and set design straight out of Alice in Wonderland. Also helping is the terrific score by Italian prog rock band Goblin and the performance from Harper. Suspiria is unlike many horror movies and is truly a fantasy induced nightmare. – Max Covill

21. A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984, USA)

I was born in the early 80s, but I didn’t catch this classic until recently. When I went to check it out, I assumed it would be much the same fair as many other classic 80s horror movies. I was expecting “Welcome to Prime Time” Freddy. I know, silly me. Freddy is terrifying, and this film is very much pure nightmare fuel. The shot of the angled ceiling over Nancy’s bed as Freddy flexes against the membrane to our reality immediately became one of my all time favorite cinema moments. Nancy is tough, resourceful, clever and rightfully terrified. Freddy is the nightmare man. Thirty three years on and those effects still kill; from the blood explosion, to the nightmare arms, to the bath tub, to that ceiling shot, to all the kills. This film anchors the most consistently high quality horror franchise. What else to say? Wes Craven was the best. – William Dass

On the next page, George Romero and a Swedish vampire kick off the top 20 >>

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