For What it’s Worth: The 25 Greatest Horror Films of all-Time:
25. Demons (1985) – Director Lamberto Bava’s masterful homage to Romero. The practical gore effects are top-notch, the suspense unrelenting; no surprise considering the producer was none other than the Italian master of horror, Dario Argento.
24. The Hitcher (1985) – Eric Red scripted Robert Harmon’s iconic road-killer flick, which is bestowed by the squinty-eyed, square-jawed performance of Rutger Hauer as the title exterminator and a still baby-faced C. Thomas Howell as his combination victim/muse. The theme has been regurgitated countless times since, even remade, without nearly the same effect.
23. The Sentinel (1977) – Freaky, frightening, faaaar out. In other words, seventies horror at its finest. Great cast (Raines, Meredith, Carradine, Sarandon, Walken, Balsam, Walach, Ferrer) and some of the creepiest scenes this side of the Exorcist. What’s not to like?
22. Frankenstein (1994) – DeNiro’s surprisingly sympathetic performance as the creature is this remake’s strength, as well as director Branagh’s lack of shyness to pour on the gore. Of the dozens of films based on Shelly’s novel, this is arguably the most faithful.
21. Re-Animator (1985) – Stuart Gordon’s over-the-top take on mad scientists (the great…I mean GREAT Jeffrey Combs as Doctor Herbert West) and the resurrected dead is, ultimately, an oft-time hilarious black comedy that has nonetheless earned its spot within the cult-horror-flick community.
20. Pet Sematary (1989) – Stephen King once wrote he’d prefer this particular tale never be transferred to the big screen due to its ultra-dark theme, which the master of horror himself deemed as borderline taboo. Luckily, he relented (no doubt enduring quite the paycheck) and the end result was one of the better King adaptations. Though the cast and director were relative unknowns at the time (sans the legendary Fred Gwynne), what resulted was a skin-crawling creep-show that successfully upheld the novel’s wonderfully grisly vibe.
19. Deliverance (1972) – Besides launching the careers of Burt Reynolds and Jon Voight, it is solely responsible for the ‘redneck revenge’ sub-genre of thrillers that have besieged the industry since. I still say Ned Beatty is the bravest thespian in the history of film actors. If you need a clue as to why, you obviously haven’t seen the movie. Though debatable (many say labeling it ‘horror’ is a stretch), I have no qualms whatsoever in adding it to this list.
18. Salem’s Lot (1979 TV mini-series) – Based on what I consider the best vampire novel this side of Stoker, it’s arguably the finest mini-series made from King’s work. James Mason is masterful as the mysterious Mister Straker, the King bloodsucker’s human sentinel, and David Soul (obviously cast due to the popularity at the time of ‘Starsky & Hutch’) surprisingly holds his own as horror-author turned vampire-hunter Ben Mears. Directed by genre great Tobe ‘Texas Chainsaw Massacre’ Hooper. Avoid at all costs the tepid, scare-free nineties remake.
17. The Omen (1976) – Easily the best of the demon-apocalypse sub-genre that permeated the seventies and early eighties, it is boosted greatly (and thus provided instant credibility) by the iconic presence of Gregory Peck. Actually the first of a fine trilogy that I highly recommend be viewed in succession.
16. Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978) – One of the first quality, big-budget remakes, it manages to up the creep factor of Don Siegel’s classic original. The cast (Southerland, Adams, Nimoy, Goldblum, Hindle) is top notch; the direction flawless and the script pleasantly cloaked in dread. The ending alone is worth the price of admission.
15. The Fly (original (1958) and remake (1986) – It’s a tough argument on which I prefer; the Vincent Price original with its admittedly modest scares, zero blood ‘n guts but deliriously campy, off-the-charts atmosphere of science gone haywire, or Cronenberg’s gory, gut-wrenching remake. Either way, there is no losing. I’d advise a double-feature viewing with a cold brew or two, a bowl of semi-melted caramel-corn, and a chili-cheese dog or three, all amid a swirling swarm of the title insect (definitely optional..).
14. Creepshow (1982) – I’ve always been a sucker for horror anthologies, from TV’s Tales from the Crypt and Darkside to Sterling’s Night Gallery and their many big-screen kin (including the recent V/H/S). Sad to say, none of the more recent theatrical efforts have surpassed this particular entry, now approaching thirty-two years since its initial release. Perhaps it was simply the great fortune of catching both Romero (director) and King (writer) in their prime. Perhaps it was the acquisition of such a stellar cast (Holbrock, Barbeau, Weaver, Marshall, Nielsen, Harris) of genre regulars. Perhaps it was the near-perfect mix of black comedy and spine-tingling terror. Regardless, it still stands as the best of an admittedly weak pack of sub-genre films, and one that sadly, major studios no longer see as a viable investment.
13. Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) – Though its endless sequels relied more on groan-inducing punch-lines than actual scares, the first in the series was truly an original, conjured from the mind of Wes Craven, fresh off his Hills Have Eyes films. Barely twenty-one and serving in the military at the time, I fondly recall leaving the theater thinking ‘damn, that was new.’ The fellow airmen (gosh, where are you Pam Morton and Linda Fries?) who had accompanied me that particular night echoed the same sentiments while confessing that the mere thought of Freddy Kruger’s fire-scarred mug would be all the deterrent they’d need to keep from nodding off. A true ground-breaking slice of horror cinema that is perhaps Craven’s finest moment as both writer and director.
12. Audition (1999) – It takes a lot for a horror film to shake me. I mean to the point of being tempted to actually turn away from the screen. Takashi Miike, the Japanese master of many a genre, accomplished this at several intervals during this bleak opus that, much like the infamous ‘car crash’ scenario, is utterly hypnotizing in portraying the psychotic mind and the conscious-free carnage it so casually dishes out in the name of retribution. I’ve definitely watched my share of Asian horror. This particular entry, without a doubt, sits at the top of a very highly regarded list.
11. The Shining (1980) - Kubrick’s take on King’s claustrophobic ghost tale probably has as many detractors as it does fans, the author himself included in the former, spearheading a rather flaccid TV-remake some two decades later (skip it). True enough, Nicholson is oft-times so over the top (I personally cherish his endless scene-chewing) one loses sight of the big picture, and Duvall’s constant winching and flinching makes for a rather pathetic foil, at least until the final half hour, but if for no other reason than a stifling, unrelenting sense of dread permeating almost every scene inside the funhouse-like interior of the Overlook Hotel, it’s an all-time keeper. The kid (Danny Lloyd: “…redrum…redrum…redrum…”) was perfectly cast and the mere presence of the legendary Scatman Crothers is always a plus.
10. Psycho/Psycho II (1960/1983) – Hitchcock’s original obviously broke virgin ground with the infamous shower scene, and it deserves all the accolades bestowed upon it through the years. That said, Richard Franklin’s often maligned sequel is a top notch thriller that, considerable baggage aside from failed expectations (undeserved), does a standup job of continuing to effectively delve into the fascinating case study of one Norman Bates, henpecked loony-at-large. Anthony Perkins’ rendition of a middle-aged Bates is damned near flawless, literally turning his character’s nervous twitches, awkward glances and obtuse stammering into an art form of human insecurities and barely restrained madness, and is helped in great part by a fine supporting cast (Loggia, Miles, Tilly, Franz), In retrospect, parts III and IV aren’t too shabby either.
9 – The Evil Dead (1981) - There’s a reason Sam Raimi’s ultra-low budget shocker still stands the test of time; originality and (especially for its time) its maverick director’s use of unique camera angles and spastic, shaky-cam techniques. The blood, gore, creature effects and yes, even the black humor immersed throughout, combine for just the right maniacal stew. Bruce Campbell, starring as Ash, the ultimate in manic cool, was soon to be ordained a cult star; a label he has worn proudly since.
8 - Silence of The Lambs (1991) – As mainstream as dark, psychological horror gets, and as technically well-made as any modern-day thriller in film history, at the end of the day it’s a masterful creep-show littered with great performances across the board (Hopkins and Foster certainly earned their respective Oscar hardware) and an ending unmatched in terms of white-knuckle, nail-biting suspense. Its follow-up, 2001’s gory, unabashedly over-the-top ‘Hannibal ’is not the train wreck some would suggest.
7 - Jaws (1975) – I recently watched this again for the first time in at least a decade, and was pleasantly surprised to find it as entertaining as my initial viewing, that being as a young teen at my hometown’s local Drive-In. As far as that recent viewing, which served as my initial foray into the horror genre, I seem to recall steadfastly refusing to even dip my big toe into a bowl of standing water for weeks. Some thirty-eight years later, young master Spielberg’s first great film hasn’t at all lost its considerable bite, so to speak. By all things unholy, skip the rancid sequels that followed.
6 - Halloween (1978) – low budget (a reported $300,000) and released with little fanfare at the time, Carpenter set the template for the modern slasher flick that has since seen a thousand-plus imitators, from even the best of which pale. Relatively bloodless, it nonetheless delivers unmatched old-school chills. Of the numerous sequels, I favor parts II (highly underrated) and III (Season of The Witch), the stand-alone flick starring Tom Akins that had no connection to Michael Myers. The 2007 Rob Zombie remake is a boorish rehash with exactly zero scares.
5 - Night of the Living Dead (1968) – “They’re coming to get you, Barbara.” Practically PG-rated by today’s standards, Romero’s trend-setting black and white cult classic will always hold a special place among horror fans. Needless to say, without it the incredibly popular zombie sub-genre of film simply would have never gained life, so to speak.
4 - The Exorcist (1973) – Some would say this ground-breaking tale of demonic possession has lost some of its shock value through the decades, perhaps in light of the literally hundreds of similarly-plotted films produced since. I, for one, fervently disagree. In viewing the director’s expanded cut upon its release a few years back, I’d forgotten the assorted psychological gut-punches dolled out by William Blatty’s tense script and delivered to perfection by director William Friedkin. As little Regan, Linda Blair reached her crescendo as an actress at the tender age of twelve.
3 - Alien (1979) - One of perhaps a dozen films I’ve viewed at least a dozen times or more that still manages to birth fresh chills. There is a smothering sense of fear almost immediately upon the sight of the Nostromo sailing quietly through dead space, not to mention an undeniable fascination in watching what will become through later sequels such an iconic character as Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley essentially playing a supporting role. Rating the sequels: James Cameron’s ‘Aliens’ (1986) sequel is, of course, a classic all its own, albeit more of the action/thriller variety. Subsequent entries, most notably director David Fincher’s troubled ‘Alien 3’ (1992) pale quite miserably.
2 - The Thing (1982) – Perpetually ranked as a favorite among Sci-Fi fans, I’ll admit to being heavily biased, as I have consistently (for over thirty years now) spoken of John Carpenter’s masterpiece of utter desolation and alien-paranoia as being my favorite film of all time. Superb cast, the best practical effects of its time (that still stand up quite well, thanks), and a director that was obviously hitting his creative stride (directly between ‘Escape From New York’ and ‘Starman’). Side-note: The 2011 prequel of the same title isn’t nearly as bad as most critics would have you believe.
1 - Dawn of the Dead (1979) – Simply put, no motion picture has ever shaken me to the core, before or since, to the degree of Romero’s ultra-bleak, apocalyptic vision of a world-wide zombie infestation. True, I was barely eighteen at the time and had yet to be exposed to such relentless, edge-of-the-seat tension and shocking, in-your-face gore (‘Jaws’ would have been my sole measuring stick). I literally left the theater in fear of my own shadow. What better test of a horror flicks impact? Side-note: Zack Snyder’s entertaining 2004 remake deserves mention here for not only managing to not insult the memory of original, but if anything, actually adding to its mythos.
Cabin in the Woods (barely missed the cut), Near Dark, The Boys from Brazil, Fright Night (1985), The Dead Zone, Shaun of the Dead, The Ring, Society, Bride of Re-Animator, An American Werewolf in London, Land of The Dead, Day of the Dead, Halloween III: Season of the Witch, Zombie, Terror Train, Wolfen, Friday the 13th (original), Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn, Session 9, Cujo, The Hills Have Eyes (2006), 28 Days Later, 28 Weeks Later, In the Mouth of Madness, The Brood, Scanners, Hellraiser, The Descent, The Mist, Hannibal, Body Snatchers, The Thing (2011), The Crazies (original), The Witches of Eastwick, Dawn of The Dead (2004),The Blob (1988), Sweeny Todd, 30 Days of Night, The Wolfman (original and 2011 remake), Thinner, Firestarter, Saw, Dead Silence, The Conjuring, The Fog, Squirm, Prince of Darkness, Christine, Dracula (1992), Slither, Night of the Creeps, My Bloody Valentine, Wolf, Poltergeist, Secret Garden, The Stepfather, Pans Labyrinth, Blood Creek, Burnt Offerings, Trilogy of Terror, Drag me to Hell, Henry: Portrait of a serial killer, Frailty.