So let’s have some fun. Below is my list of my personal favorite horror films. A few notes: masterpieces like Psycho, Alien, and Jaws won’t be mentioned below. More on why here.
Also, these films are listed in order of how… horrific they are. For example, the number three film on this list is my favorite movie of the bunch, but the number one choice is my favorite horror film of the bunch. Enjoy!
By far the most entertaining film on this list (and, admittedly, the least scary) is Wes Craven’s slice of pulp fiction bravado, Scream. It’s a ballsy move, really: create a horror film which not-so-subtly makes fun of the genre’s many clichés and inaccuracies. And considering Craven has no qualms about making fun of himself here, I find it continually impossible to not enjoy the hell out of this flick.
The first scene rewrote the rules, and Craven, writer Kevin Williamson, and the fantastic company of young actors involved, spent the subsequent 100 minutes having the best possible time creating something fresh.
9. Nosferatu the Vampyre (1979)
I’m a weird dude, I know. Call me crazy, but I actually prefer Werner Herzog’s take on Bram Stoker’s Dracula to F.W. Murnau’s. Don’t get me wrong, Murnau’s film is a masterpiece, but as far as sheer dread goes, I simply think Herzog and his mad ass crazy genius collaborator, Klaus Kinski, created something more effective.
And, to be honest, if you’ve seen both films, you know they really are very different. There’s the obvious notion of color vs. black and white and talkie vs. silent, but deeper than that, Kinski’s Dracula is a tender, more sexualized being than Max Schreck’s, which makes the revulsion that much more disturbing once it fully takes hold.
Also, this has nothing to do with horror, but Wagner’s “Das Rheingold (Prelude)” is a reoccurring theme here, and it is fucking gorgeous. A fantastic juxtaposition to the understated terror (and so very different from Terrence Malick’s usage of it in The New World).
8. Carrie (1976)
I’m not sure who to blame here. And by blame, I mean thank. The wonderment of Carrie, you see, is so difficult to pin point precisely. Do we credit Stephen King’s chilling source novel? Brian De Palma’s fearless, confident direction? Sissy Spacek’s Oscar-nominated incarnation of innocence-turned-scorned? Piper Laurie’s Oscar-nominated incarnation of one of the craziest bitches that’s ever lived? I’m not sure who gets the credit for Carrie. What I do know is that it works, and works so very well in all the best ways.
And, when you consider that Carrie is a sort-of anti horror film (it builds on its terror as opposed to killing, building, killing, repeat, etc.) I’d say it’s one hell of an accomplishment, no matter if I can’t decide who deserves the praise.
7. Rosemary’s Baby (1968)
From Mia Farrow’s impossibly creepy lullaby, to John Cassavetes’ spineless husband, to Roman Polanski’s faultless direction, to Ruth Gordon’s superb portrayal of the next door neighbor who truly is too good to be true, Rosemary’s Baby is the type of horror film that carries with it serious weight, and has no problem backing it up.
The kind of film that not only lives up to expectations, but exceeds them gloriously. As Rosemary, Mia Farrow delivers one of the finest female lead performances in horror history. Her on screen transformation from a sprightly newlywed to a helpless, deformed being is utterly mortifying. The ending only solidifies the film’s unique terror.
6. The Descent (2005)
I knew what The Descent was about when I first saw it in theaters, and I knew that it wasn’t going to be my type of movie. A handful of women go spelunking and find themselves face to face with murderous, unidentifiable beasts. How generic, I thought. Well, after the film’s shocking opening sequence, you can bet your ass I was eating my words.
So, quite literally, from scene one, The Descent boldly asserts itself as something different. It’s shocking, grotesque, terrifying, but, most importantly, smart. So many horror films rely on the same blueprint to tell their stories. Why? Because it sells. To put it another way: The Descent is the most contemporary film on this list. There’s a reason for that.
(Note: the version of this film that I saw in theaters contains a different ending than the version released on DVD. Both are good, but the DVD one is oh so much better.)
5. The Blair Witch Project (1999)
Much like the first Paranormal Activity, I hear people mention constantly that they weren’t scared by The Blair Witch Project. Please don’t mistake this as an I’m right and you’re wrong assertion. What scares you scares you, and I’m certainly not one to convince you otherwise. All’s I’m saying is that, if you watched The Blair Witch Project in your home, with the lights on, during the day, with the pause button close, then, yes, the illusion is dampened. But goddamn, if you saw this movie in a dark, crowded theater, then you know. You just… know.
4. The Shining (1980)
All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.
That, um… about covers it.
3. The Exorcist (1973)
Movies like The Exorcist didn’t get made in 1973. Movies as honest and raw and unflinching, I mean. Teenage girls didn’t tell priests that their “mother sucks cocks in hell,” turn their heads 360 degrees, stab themselves in their vaginas with a crucifix and, well, you get it. Director William Friedkin has said on more than one occasion that if he was going to do The Exorcist, then he had to do it all the way. The result is about as uniquely terrifying a film as I’ve come by. It is also, like all of the movies on this list, intelligent in the best, most timely way.
Actually, I misspoke. Movies like The Exorcist didn’t get made in 1973… and, well, hell, movies like The Exorcist don’t even get made today.
2. Halloween (1978)
The best straightforward slasher film of all time is John Carpenter’s Halloween. It’s simple, effective and mortifying from frame one. It flirts with getting bogged down by too many pointless plot details, but manages to skirt absurdity and remain freakier than all shit from start to finish.
I don’t aim to sound like a sadistic son of a bitch, but I will never grow tired of watching Michael Myers hunt down poor Laurie Strode on that dreadful Halloween night. From the open streets to the cramped closet, there’s nothing about Halloween that doesn’t hit.
1. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)
Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is the scariest horror film I’ve ever seen. I was young when I first saw it, but by that time, I had managed to hear plenty about it. Point being, horror films have never had much of an effect on me. It is very difficult for me to actually be scared by a horror film, let alone one I think I know something about. I thought I knew what The Texas Chainsaw Massacre was going to be, but upon seeing Marilyn Burns’ ecstatic/terrified/possessed face in the back of that speeding truck bed, I realized I didn’t know shit.
This is one of the few horror films that, to this day, I still find myself at complete unease from the moment I hit play. I think this is partly because it is so goddamn raw. Grainy and fearless, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre doesn’t give a shit about making things look good, it only aims to unsettle you. Which it does. And always will.
Now remember, grandpa, hit her hard.
I mean really, when the hell else have you seen something like that?
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