Monday, October 29, 2018


31. THE BIRDS (1963)

Previous Rank: 28

Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Cast: Rod Taylor, Tippe Hedren, Suzanne Pleshette, Jessica Tandy
Scare Meter: 6/10
Scare Tactics: a flock of killer birds, atmosphere
*Listed in 101 Horror Movies You Must See Before You Die (Schneider, ed. 2009)
*Listed in Horror! 333 Films to Scare You to Death (Marriott and Newman 2010)

Perhaps not the scariest of the "ecological horrors," of which Jaws likely takes the cake, but Hitchcock's distinct direction flair and Tippi Hedren's presence make this film my favorite. All the shots of the malevolent birds as they swoop down and attack whole towns, or as they rest in victory over fallen humanity, are absolute winners. It's especially terrifying and powerful because it's never explained why the birds began to attack in the first place. Any sort of explanation would have probably diffused the strength of the biological horror.


Previous Rank: 24

Director: Drew Goddard
Cast: Kristen Connolly, Chris Hemsworth, Anna Hutchison
Scare Meter: 8/10
Scare Tactics: a whole LOT of monsters

IMDb Plot Summary: "Five friends go for a break at a remote cabin in the woods, where they get more than they bargained for. Together, they must discover the truth behind the cabin in the woods."

What horror film fan won't be won over by a movie that 1) plays with conventions of the "slasher" subgenre (the "final girl" myth) and 2) features a battalion of cinema's iconic horrors? And then there's the big (huge!) Lovecraftian element to top it all off. It's a true gift to horror fans.

29. JU-ON: THE GRUDGE (2002)

Previous Rank: 23

Director: Takashi Shimizu
Cast: Megumi Okina, Misaki Ito, Misa Uehara
Scare Meter: 10/10
Scare Tactics: those damn ghosts, the atmosphere, sound, music
*Listed in 101 Horror Movies You Must See Before You Die (Schneider, ed. 2009)
*Listed in Horror! 333 Films to Scare You to Death (Marriott and Newman 2010)

IMDb Plot Summary: "A mysterious and vengeful spirit marks and pursues anybody who dares enter the house in which it resides."

If this were a list of the scariest films ever, this film would easily make the Top 5. The film is as unforgiving and indelible as the spirits that latch on to whoever happens to even just step into that miasma of a house. In that way, it violates some of the rules for survival in a horror film (that being: there IS a way to survive), which can be annoying (as it extremely was in the 2013 film Oculus). But here you can accept that it's not just a cheap tactic by the filmmakers but an actual inescapable truth in spirit-filled Tokyo: Kayako and Toshio will find a way to get you anywhere. Absolutely horrifying, as horror films should be.


Previous Rank: 21

Director: Kim Jee-Woon
Cast: Kap-su Kim, Jung-ah Yum, Su-jeong Lim
Scare Meter: 8/10
Scare Tactics: atmosphere, imagery
*Listed in 101 Horror Movies You Must See Before You Die (Schneider, ed. 2009)
*Listed in Horror! 333 Films to Scare You to Death (Marriott and Newman 2010)

IMDb Plot Summary: "A family is haunted by the tragedies of deaths within the family."

A complex, layered horror film that relies on subtlety more than outright scares, though it also has enough of the latter. One of the most intelligent and most elegantly crafted films of the genre. Your effort to get through the sometimes plodding pace of the film will be extremely rewarded. Plus the acting by the whole cast is topnotch.

27. MAY (2002)

Previous Rank: 20

Director: Lucky McKee
Cast: Angela Bettis, Jeremy Sisto, Anna Faris
Scare Meter: 7/10
Scare Tactics: visuals, music, obsession

IMDb Plot Summary: "Psychological horror about a lonely young woman traumatized by a difficult childhood, and her increasingly desperate attempts to connect with the people around her."

Before I watched this movie, I was not as big a fan of horror cinema as I am now. For some reason, it made me love the horror genre even if it isn't really scary. Lucky McKee and the amazing Angela Bettis together made a sympathetic character who was nevertheless...freaky. It might not be very scary, but it's definitely creepy. The tagline says it all: "If you can't find a friend...make one." Shudder.

26. GET OUT (2017)

Previously unranked

Director: Jordan Peele
Cast: Daniel Kaluuya, Allison Williams, Catherine Keener, Bradley Whitford, Caleb Landry Jones, Marcus Henderson, Betty Gabriel, Lakeith Stanfield
Scare Meter: 8/10
Scare Tactics: "the sunken place," the zombiefied black people, the overall strangeness, the score

IMDb Plot Summary: "A young African-American visits his white girlfriend's parents for the weekend, where his simmering uneasiness about their reception of him eventually reaches a boiling point."

Such a well made, polished, and intelligent horror film! And very, very strange. I can't blame Jordan Peele for almost abandoning this dream project, because it seems too strange to become the mainstream hit that it eventually became. It's the first ever horror film to win the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay, though it's clear that that happened more because of the strength of its socio-political message than its horrific elements. Still, Get Out has given the genre the respect and attention that it has always deserved. It's not easy to scare an entire audience from deep inside while at the same time making them rethink racial stereotypes and prejudices. This film did both, and in such an awesome way. Mention must be made of the one element of the film that failed to get Oscar attention: that creepy, spare, gets-under-your-skin score.


Previously unranked

Director: Sang-ho Yeon
Cast: Yoo Gong, Yu-mi Jung, Dong-seok Ma
Scare Meter: 8/10
Scare Tactics: zombies everywhere, especially in the train

IMDb Plot Summary: "While a zombie virus breaks out in South Korea, passengers struggle to survive on the train from Seoul to Busan."

Romero zombie films will always be the standard by which zombie films are set, and for good reason. Even Shaun of the Dead, one of the absolute best zombie movies that is not Romero-directed gets great zombie subgenre cred by having been endorsed by Romero as canon in his universe.

This is why it was quite a shock to see such an amazing zombie film coming out of South Korea. It isn't Romero zombies that we see here, but they're utilized so well to drive what ultimately proves to be a pulse-pounding modern horror masterpiece that is also very, very emotional and heartrending, like many intense Korean dramas tend to be. So really, it's quality Korean family drama that happens to have some of the best cinematic zombies that you've seen in a long, long time. Brilliant.

24. THE SIXTH SENSE (1999)

Previous Rank: 19

Director: M. Night Shyamalan
Cast: Bruce Willis, Haley Joel Osment, Toni Collette
Scare Meter: 8/10
Scare Tactics: lots of ghosts
*Listed in 101 Horror Movies You Must See Before You Die (Schneider, ed. 2009)
*Listed in Horror! 333 Films to Scare You to Death (Marriott and Newman 2010)

IMDb Plot Summary: "A boy who communicates with spirits that don't know they're dead seeks the help of a disheartened child psychologist."

This film is worth much more than the infamous twist. Expertly made, with amazing performances throughout (especially the mother-and-child pair of Collette and Osment), it's a legitimate spine-tingler that deserves its Oscar Best Picture nomination (perhaps even a win) and so much more. Probably the ultimate straight-up ghost movie.

23. DAWN OF THE DEAD (1978)

Previous Rank: 18

Director: George A. Romero
Cast: David Emge, Ken Foree, Scott H. Reiniger, Gaylen Ross
Scare Meter: 9/10
Scare Tactics: lots of zombies, with some nifty surprises
*Listed in 101 Horror Movies You Must See Before You Die (Schneider, ed. 2009)
*Listed in Horror! 333 Films to Scare You to Death (Marriott and Newman 2010)

IMDb Plot Summary: "Following an ever-growing epidemic of zombies that have risen from the dead, two Philadelphia SWAT team members, a traffic reporter, and his television-executive girlfriend seek refuge in a secluded shopping mall."

As good as the remake is, nothing beats the original in terms of sheer grit, rawness, intensity, and novelty. Never has a mall, a prime symbol for capitalism, been used to such a horrifying extent. Even as you're thinking about the zombification of the masses by consumer culture, you're being pummeled by some of the goriest, nastiest undead in the Romero universe. And this time, compared to Night of the Living Dead, the swelling hordes are in full color. Also, this film boasts one of the best taglines ever in horror cinema: "When there is no more room in hell, the dead will walk the earth." Phenomenal.

22. LET ME IN (2010)

Previous Rank: 15

Director: Matt Reeves
Cast: Kodi Smit-McPhee, Chloe Grace Moretz, Richard Jenkins
Scare Meter: 7/10
Scare Tactics: atmosphere, visuals

IMDb Plot Summary: "A bullied young boy befriends a young female vampire who lives in secrecy with her guardian."

Stephen King called it "...the best American horror film in the last 20 years" when it came out, and he may have been right. It doesn't matter that it's a remake; even the author of the source material praised it to high heavens and said that it is special on its own merits. It's an excellent, tense, beautiful film, and like the original, a strong, fresh take on the vampire mythos.

21. IT FOLLOWS (2014)

Previously unranked

Director: David Robert Mitchell
Cast: Maika Monroe, Keir Gilchrist, Olivia Luccardi
Scare Meter: 8/10
Scare Tactics: that supernatural whatever it is and its relentlessness
*Listed in 101 Horror Movies You Must See Before You Die (Schneider, ed. 2016)

IMDb Plot Summary: "A young woman is followed by an unknown supernatural force after a sexual encounter."

I must admit: I had to watch this film a second time before realizing how masterfully made it is, especially with how it racks up the tension as the force inexorably moves toward its targets. But as early as that first viewing, I could immediately describe the film as intensely creepy. The word creepy was made for a movie like this, which crawls under your skin and makes you feel almost unclean for having watched it. The direction by David Robert Mitchell and the fine score by Rich Vreeland play a huge part in heightening that tension and terror. And really, what makes this one of the most intelligent and riveting horror films of the last 10 years is that you just don't know what's hunting you, except that it will get to you eventually, and you're going by rules that you're not even sure actually apply.

20. [Rec] (2007)

Previous Rank: 13

Directors: Jaume Balaguero, Paco Plaza
Cast: Manuela Velasco, Ferran Terraza, Jorge-Yamam Serrano
Scare Meter: 9/10
Scare Tactics: fast rabid zombies, lost footage, atmosphere, claustrophobia, sound

IMDb Plot Summary: "A television reporter and cameraman follow emergency workers into a dark apartment building and are quickly locked inside with something terrifying."

A true assault on the visual and aural senses. This fantastic zombie movie is not as appreciated as it should be. The monsters here are downright scary, and added to that is the claustrophobic tightness of the space in which the characters have to move, dodging rabid maniacs out for blood. The "lost footage" style works really well, especially in the closing sequence. The sequel isn't as strong, but it does offer a very intriguing and rather unique take on the zombie mythos (incidentally, one of the most dangerous origins for a zombie infestation). The Hollywood version, Quarantine, is also quite good.


Previous Rank: 12

Director: Tomas Alfredson
Cast: Kare Hedebrant, Lina Leandersson, Per Ragnar
Scare Meter: 7/10
Scare Tactics: atmosphere, visuals
*Listed in Horror! 333 Films to Scare You to Death (Marriott and Newman 2010)

IMDb Plot Summary: "Oskar, an overlooked and bullied boy, finds love and revenge through Eli, a beautiful but peculiar girl who turns out to be a vampire."

Until now, I still cannot say if this is a better film than the remake. Like Ajvide Lindqvist (author of the Swedish source material) said, both are excellent. But of course, sentiment has to go the way of the original. Hauntingly gorgeous. Subtle, but really gets under the skin. That scene about testing the "myth" on vampires having to be invited in is phenomenal. So is everything else about the movie. This film came out at the right time, when the vampire was being diluted into some kind of bright (ahem), fey creature instead of the dark, inscrutable, almost alien life-form that it has been in more serious texts.

18. THE LOVE WITCH (2016)

Previously unranked

Director: Anna Biller
Cast: Samantha Robinson, Jeffrey Vincent Parise, Laura Waddell
Scare Meter: 6/10
Scare Tactics: psychedelia, witchcraft

IMDb Plot Summary: "A modern-day witch uses spells and magic to get men to fall in love with her."

I was blown away by this film. It is smart and witty, visually stunning, surreal, and mesmerizing. The garish use of color is almost reminiscent of Suspiria. The anachronistic medieval music is almost haunting. Proof that the Oscars are so myopic and so safe and boring with their choices is that The Love Witch was never a serious contender for cinematography, costume design, makeup design, production design, original score, original song ("Love is a Magickal Thing"), and even original screenplay when it so richly deserved at least a nomination in all of those categories (and yes, it was officially eligible). The film is hardly scary, but as far as true creativity and artistry go, this is a genuine modern masterpiece in the horror genre. Can't wait for what director Anna Biller gives us next.

17. THE OTHERS (2001)

Previous Rank: 11

Director: Alejandro Amenabar
Cast: Nicole Kidman, Christopher Eccleston, Fionnula Flanagan
Scare Meter: 8/10
Scare Tactics: atmosphere, visuals, sound
*Listed in 101 Horror Movies You Must See Before You Die (Schneider, ed. 2009)
*Listed in Horror! 333 Films to Scare You to Death (Marriott and Newman 2010)

IMDb Plot Summary: "A woman who lives in a darkened old house with her two photosensitive children becomes convinced that her family home is haunted."

Talk about atmosphere! In The Others, the setting is as much a character as the human players. The country home and its woods in Jersey are shrouded in mist, literally and figuratively. It's all very haunting and unsettling. Nicole Kidman is luminous; this is easily one of her best performances. Twist or no twist, the film is one of the all-time best ghost/haunted house movies.

16. HALLOWEEN (1978)

Previous Rank: 17

Director: John Carpenter
Cast: Donald Pleasence, Jamie Lee Curtis, Tony Moran
Scare Meter: 8/10
Scare Tactics: 
*Listed in 101 Horror Movies You Must See Before You Die (Schneider, ed. 2009)
*Listed in Horror! 333 Films to Scare You to Death (Marriott and Newman 2010)

IMDb Plot Summary: "A psychotic murderer institutionalized since childhood for the murder of his sister, escapes and stalks a bookish teenage girl and her friends while his doctor chases him through the streets."

The ultimate slasher film. Michael Myers is an unstoppable, relentless force of pure evil: no ifs and buts about him. Awesome musical theme, too. This is where Jamie Lee Curtis's "scream queen" career was born. Well, you'd be screaming, too if you were chased around by an essentially invulnerable murderer in a weird mask. John Carpenter crafted a powerful, tense, hair-raising work of art in the horror genre.

15. INSIDIOUS (2010)

Previous Rank: 14

Director: James Wan
Cast: Patrick Wilson, Rose Byrne, Ty Simpkins
Scare Meter: 9/10
Scare Tactics: visuals, music, spirits

IMDb Plot Summary: "A family looks to prevent evil spirits from trapping their comatose child in a realm called The Further."

Talk about a perfectly titled movie! The best horror films stay with you for quite some time afterward. You hesitate to look at mirrors or out windows or through doorways because what you've seen in the movie is haunting your mind. They are, in a word, insidious. That's what Insidious the film did to me, and it's been a long long time since a movie has done that. It's this film that made me realize that great legitimately scary movies can still be made in this day and age. James Wan would prove me right again several times.

14. SHAUN OF THE DEAD (2004)

Previous Rank: 10

Director: Edgar Wright
Cast: Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Kate Ashfield
Scare Meter: 7/10
Scare Tactics: Romero zombies and gore amidst the comedy

IMDb Plot Summary: "A man decides to turn his moribund life around by winning back his ex-girlfriend, reconciling his relationship with his mother, and dealing with an entire community that has returned from the dead to eat the living."

Isn't this a comedy? Of course it is! But take a long good look at the zombies. They are, simply put, terrifying. Romero has given his thumbs up and essentially made this part of his canon, for good reason. Amidst all the laughter, of which there's a lot, is a commitment to showing the nastiest undead on film. What this film is is the perfect combination of comedy and horror. There's no better comedy-horror hybrid film out there.

13. THE OMEN (1976)

Previous Rank: 9

Director: Richard Donner
Cast: Gregory Peck, Lee Remick, Harvey Stephens
Scare Meter: 8/10
Scare Tactics: music (that Ave Satani song!), tragedies
*Listed in 101 Horror Movies You Must See Before You Die (Schneider, ed. 2009)
*Listed in Horror! 333 Films to Scare You to Death (Marriott and Newman 2010)

IMDb Plot Summary: "An American ambassador learns to his horror that his son is actually the literal Antichrist."

This film has taken quite a bit of flack over the years for its crazy set-pieces and for not aging well. Whatever. For me, it has aged quite well, and the sequences all still work. Portraying the Antichrist in a film, especially when he's a child, can be messy, but with such a fine cast and truly diabolical score (an Oscar winner), how can it go wrong? A lot of the scenes are genuinely unsettling. And of course, one cannot mention the horror of The Omen without mentioning the theme song: Ave Satani. Glorious. That the Academy boldly nominated it for an Oscar for Best Original Song never fails to thrill me.

12. THE BABADOOK (2014)

Previously unranked

Director: Jennifer Kent
Cast: Essie Davis, Noah Wiseman
Scare Meter: 9/10
Scare Tactics: the creature, the book, the craziness

IMDb Plot Summary: "A widowed mother, plagued by the violent death of her husband, battles with her son's fear of a monster lurking in the house, but soon discovers a sinister presence all around her."

In many ways, this was one of the films that reinvigorated the horror industry in the last 5 years. With It Follows coming out in the same year, 2014 was amazing for the genre. The Babadook is no holds barred monster horror, but also disturbing, unsettling psychological horror and coming of age story. Essie Davis turns in easily one of the all time best performances in the field and adds to the catalogue of unhinged mothers in horror. Dark, brooding, claustrophobic, and masterful, this true gem lingers long after the viewing.

11. THE EVIL DEAD (1981)

Previous Rank: 8

Director: Sam Raimi
Cast: Bruce Campbell, Ellen Sandweiss, Richard DeManincor
Scare Meter: 9/10
Scare Tactics: gore, demonic possessions, animated forests...evil everywhere
*Listed in 101 Horror Movies You Must See Before You Die (Schneider, ed. 2009)
*Listed in Horror! 333 Films to Scare You to Death (Marriott and Newman 2010)

IMDb Plot Summary: "Five friends travel to a cabin in the woods, where they unknowingly release flesh-possessing demons."

The legend of Ash and his chainsaw is born here, when Raimi's series was still serious in trying to scare movie fans. And it works. Lustful forest vines, deformed possessed bodies with demonic voices, the's a practically non-stop attack from all directions. The remake is sick fun, but it comes nowhere close to the sheer intensity of this original. Still one of the most visceral horror films, and the best among those following the horror-in-an-abandoned-cabin-in-the-woods trope.

#s 32-100

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