Top 100 Horror Movies of All Time
Hello, horror fans! Grab your popcorn and join me as I count down the Top 100 Horror Movies of All Time. For the sake of this list, I have not included kaiju/giant monster adventure-thrillers such as Gojira (1954) and King Kong (1933) or musicals with horror elements such as The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975) or Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007) as such films would be fitting for other genre lists. However, films that operate as both horror and thriller do count, so there is a little bit of genre mixing since not every horror film always just lands into the one genre only. Also, I’m not just judging films on scariness, but rather a mix of factors like scares, influence, and craftsmanship.
Honorable Mentions that nearly cracked the 100 (alphabetical):
The Beyond (1981), The Brood (1979), Candyman (1992), Child’s Play (1988), The Conjuring (2013), Dawn of the Dead (2004), Grindhouse (2007), High Tension (2003), The Hills Have Eyes (1977), Hostel (2005), The Howling (1981), Insidious (2010), Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978), It Follows (2014), Martyrs (2008), The Masque of the Red Death (1964), The Mummy (1932), Trick ‘r Treat (2007), Tucker and Dale vs Evil (2010), 28 Weeks Later (2007), Vampyr (1932), What We Do in the Shadows (2014), You’re Next (2011)
“Come, dear. It’ll be easier for you than it was for Jason.”
Director: Sean S. Cunningham
Cast: Betsy Palmer, Adrienne King, Kevin Bacon
IMDB Plot: A group of camp counselors is stalked and murdered by an unknown assailant while trying to reopen a summer camp which, years before, was the site of a child’s drowning.
Originally made as a way to just quickly cash in on the success of recent slasher film Halloween (1978), Friday the 13th went beyond just that and has since grown into one of the largest horror franchises of all time. The plot rides on pure slasher formula, with teens (including a young Bacon before he was a star) getting killed off one by one by a murderer in an isolated location. But it’s how the film uses the formula that makes it work above other films, with its edge-of-your-seat moments and brutal kills sticking in the mind. Fun fact: the iconic machete-wielder Jason is not the killer in the original film, as he didn’t take on that role till the second entry – and didn’t even gain his famous hockey mask till the third film. I’ll leave you to watch the original – if you somehow haven’t already — to find out who the killer is.
“Sooner or later, they will find you.”
Director: Alejandro Amenábar
Cast: Nicole Kidman, Christopher Eccleston, Fionnula Flanagan
IMDB Plot: A woman who lives in a darkened old house with her two photosensitive children becomes convinced that her family home is haunted.
Featuring one of the most unforgettable endings in all of haunted house movies, The Others found a sweet spot of success in the early 2000s as an old-fashioned ghost story before the rise of torture porn and found footage films began to take over the decade. Kidman is fantastic in the lead, even more so once the layers of the story start peeling back towards the end. It’s an eerie, dreamy film of high quality.
“Who’s going to believe a talking head? Get a job in a sideshow.”
Director: Stuart Gordon
Cast: Jeffrey Combs, Bruce Abbott, Barbara Crampton
IMDB Plot: A dedicated student at a medical college and his girlfriend become involved in bizarre experiments centering around the re-animation of dead tissue when an odd new student arrives on campus.
Loosely based on an H.P. Lovecraft novella, Re-Animator has “cult following” written all over it. The film begins by having scientists reanimating things like dead cats but eventually ends up with a decapitated talking head as a villain! It is filled with ideas like this, as well as deadpan science humor and creative makeup effects and props. Combs is also dynamite as the crazed scientist at the center of the film.
“I want one.”
Director: Alexandre Bustillo, Julien Maury
Cast: Alysson Paradis, Béatrice Dalle
IMDB Plot: Four months after the death of her husband, a woman on the brink of motherhood is tormented in her home by a strange woman who wants her unborn baby.
First off, women expecting newborns should never watch Inside. For the rest of you, you’ll still probably hide behind your hands in a few scenes; especially ones involving a pair of scissors. I considered a number of the mid-2000s extremist efforts – such as High Tension (2003), Hostel (2005), and Martyrs (2008) – for this list. And while maybe less ambitious, Inside beat out those other films because it has the thrills and moments of suspense to really match its gore levels. It’s an 82-minute adrenaline-pumping nightmare – and is graced with superior Fincher-esque lighting at that.
“I like the dark. It’s friendly.”
Director: Jacques Tourneur
Cast: Simone Simon, Kent Smith, Jane Randolph
IMDB Plot: An American man marries a Serbian immigrant who fears that she will turn into the cat person of her homeland’s fables if they are intimate together.
Simon is luminous in the intriguing Cat People, the first film produced by RKO horror icon Val Lewton — and a film that saved the studio from financial collapse at the time. While it’s not particularly chilly or frightening these days, Tourneur’s film still benefits from its dialogue and strong relationship-building among its characters. This leads to an exciting climax, rich in emotion.
“It’s in the trees! It’s coming!”
Director: Jacques Tourneur
Cast: Dana Andrews, Peggy Cummins
IMDB Plot: American professor John Holden arrives in London for a parapsychology conference, only to find himself investigating the mysterious actions of Devil-worshiper Julian Karswell.
Years after making Cat People, Tourneur turned in another great horror effort with Night of the Demon. There was a lot of drama surrounding the film in that Tourneur and writer Charles Bennett never wanted to fully show a creature, yet producer Hal E. Chester insisted and put one into the beginning and end of the film. I think the former two had it right as the monster looks pretty silly these days. However, the rest of Tourneur’s film is filled with crackling storytelling. Just make sure you watch the full 95-minute version and not the trimmed 83-minute cut retitled Curse of the Demon.
“Bang, you’re dead!”
Director: George A. Romero
Cast: Lori Cardille, Joseph Pilato, Terry Alexander, Sherman Howard
IMDB Plot: A small group of military officers and scientists dwell in an underground bunker as the world above is overrun by zombies.
The third in Romero’s Dead series is a bit talky for the first 45 minutes. In that time it does set up quite a few disparate personalities (with Alexander and Howard standing out as helicopter pilot John and smart zombie Bub, respectively), but it’s really in the final stretch where the film takes off. The climax is a blood-pumping knockout, blessed with incredible makeup work from master Tom Savini (with assistance from a young Greg Nicotero, who now works on The Walking Dead). While not quite as good as Romero’s earlier zombie efforts (we’ll get to those further in the list), Day of the Dead is still an excellent entry in the sub-genre.
“Satan is ever ready to seduce us with sensual delights.”
Director: Ken Russell
Cast: Vanessa Redgrave, Oliver Reed, Dudley Sutton, Michael Gothard
IMDB Plot: In 17th-century France, Father Urbain Grandier seeks to protect the city of Loudun from the corrupt establishment of Cardinal Richelieu. Hysteria occurs within the city when he is accused of witchcraft by a sexually repressed nun.
A fascinating and uncomfortable historical story — based on real events – takes place in The Devils, with the film focusing on the religious, political, and “witchcraft” aspects of the 17th Century. Russell’s movie features brilliant acting from everyone, though Reed and Gothard stand out the most. One particularly intense scene involving nuns getting sexually expressive will never be erased from my memory.
“We accept you, one of us! Gooble Gobble!”
Director: Tod Browning
Cast: Harry Earles, Leila Hyams, Olga Baclanova
IMDB Plot: A circus’ beautiful trapeze artist agrees to marry the leader of side-show performers, but his deformed friends discover she is only marrying him for his inheritance.
A truly one-of-a-kind film, Freaks works better as a drama these days but still strikes up some eye-opening horror images. After hitting gold with Dracula the previous year, Browning went on to make this unique film and it nearly ended his career. Though dismissed and misunderstood at the time, Browning’s film is actually terrific in how it paints the “circus freak” characters as likable and the “normal people” as ugly on the inside – making us question who the title really refers to.
“You wouldn’t mind marrying me, would you Henry?”
Director: David Lynch
Cast: Jack Nance, Charlotte Stewart, Allen Joseph
IMDB Plot: Henry Spencer tries to survive his industrial environment, his angry girlfriend, and the unbearable screams of his newly born mutant child.
Perhaps the ultimate in surreal filmmaking, Lynch’s directorial debut Eraserhead (which he spent five years making) still ranks among his better films – assuming you go along with its weirdness. While Lynch explored some horror elements in later dramas and thrillers, such as the masterful Blue Velvet (1986) and the overrated Mulholland Drive (2001), it’s in Eraserhead where he went into full-on body horror territory like no other. Some of the images of the mutant child are truly hypnotic, like much of the film itself. Just don’t expect any form of regular storytelling going on here.