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)
“Death was… eternal loneliness.”
Director: Kiyoshi Kurosawa
Cast: Kumiko Aso, Haruhiko Katô
IMDB Plot: Two groups of people discover evidence that suggests spirits may be trying to invade the human world through the Internet.
The first thirty minutes or so of Pulse sink into your nerves with their slow-building tension and dark settings. What follows after that isn’t as effective, though the film remains creepy and adds a sense of poignancy in its final act; Aso also delivers a terrific performance throughout. There have been multiple films now in the horror genre that have used modern computers and the Internet as a way to present commentary on society. Kurosawa’s film was one of the first to do so, though, and is still one of the best in regards to the way it delivers its message.
“We have to tape everything, Pablo.”
Directors: Jaume Balagueró, Paco Plaza
Cast: Manuela Velasco, Ferran Terraza, Pablo Rosso
IMDB Plot: A television reporter and cameraman follow emergency workers into a dark apartment building and are quickly locked inside with something terrifying.
[REC] is a brisk and electrifying 75 minutes of horror. Valasco is completely believable as her character tries to survive against the monstrous beings inside of a quarantined apartment building; the American remake was even called Quarantine (2008). Paranormal Activity (2007) may have re-popularized the found footage sub-genre in the 2000s, but [REC] was the best film in the sub-genre that decade — with a healthy dose of jolts and a surprising theological subtext.
“You’re a lucky guy, Jake. You must have friends in high places.”
Director: Adrian Lyne
Cast: Tim Robbins, Elizabeth Peña, Danny Aiello
IMDB Plot: Mourning his dead child, a haunted Vietnam War veteran attempts to discover his past while suffering from a severe case of dissociation. To do so, he must decipher reality and life from his own dreams, delusion, and perception of death.
Jacob’s Ladder is a sad, haunting film, exploring the drug experimentations of the Vietnam War in a unique way. The lead character struggles to decipher his reality, which is seemingly made up of a mix of dreams and paranoid thoughts. The result – anchored by Robbins’ excellent performance – is a film full of chills and emotion.
“It said it wants to hurt you.”
Director: James Wan
Cast: Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, Madison Wolfe
IMDB Plot: Lorraine and Ed Warren travel to north London to help a single mother raising four children alone in a house plagued by a malicious spirit.
At this point in his career, modern horror maestro Wan has made a number of films about haunted houses and cursed items. The Conjuring 2 beats out Insidious (2010) and The Conjuring (2013) for me because Wan was able to smooth out the edges in his craft, finding a highly entertaining mix of heart and scares – and a central couple to root for in the Warrens. The film also features gorgeous cinematography — full of eye-opening tracking shots — by Don Burgess,
“I don’t want to live in a world without love or grief or beauty, I’d rather die.”
Director: Don Siegel
Cast: Kevin McCarthy, Dana Wynter, Larry Gates
IMDB Plot: A small-town doctor learns that the population of his community is being replaced by emotionless alien duplicates.
Invasion of the Body Snatchers is an interesting time capsule of a film in capturing the paranoia of late-50s America in regards to Communism and McCarthyism. Its allegorical elements wrapped in sci-fi horror have left a lasting effect, influencing many later filmmakers. To this day it’s still pretty creepy to see the alien sameness depicted in the society in the film.
“Darling, the only ghoul in the house is you!”
Director: William Castle
Cast: Vincent Price, Carol Ohmart, Elisha Cook Jr., Carolyn Craig
IMDB Plot: A millionaire offers ten thousand dollars to five people who agree to be locked in a large, spooky, rented house overnight with him and his wife.
Looking for a horror classic you can throw on during Halloween that is brief, suspenseful, and entertaining even for most non-horror fans? House on Haunted Hill would be an excellent choice. Castle’s film has its campy moments, but that’s also part of its charm. Price and Ohmart are also fittingly menacing as the millionaire couple at the film’s center, and a few surprising twists keep things exciting in the third act. Fun fact: this is the movie that used the “Emergo” gimmick involving plastic skeletons floating above audiences in movie theaters.
“It is the hour when the most people die, and the most are born.”
Director: Ingmar Bergman
Cast: Max von Sydow, Liv Ullmann, Gertrud Fridh
IMDB Plot: While vacationing on a remote Scandanavian island with his younger pregnant wife, an artist has a emotional breakdown while confronting his repressed desires.
Bergman made a number of masterpieces in the drama genre, but his only real exploration into horror came with Hour of the Wolf. While the film is no masterpiece, it is a mesmerizing examination of sexual and romantic repression. The first half of the film is too talky, but it is elevated by an atmospheric and layered second half. There’s also one particular shot in Wolf involving a hand gently gliding across a body that is stunningly beautiful.
“You cannot live in isolation from the human race, you know.”
Director: Herk Harvey
Cast: Candace Hilligoss, Frances Feist, Sidney Berger
IMDB Plot: After a traumatic accident, a woman becomes drawn to a mysterious abandoned carnival.
Despite a bit of a messy structure, vague ideas, and awkward intimate moments, Harvey’s Carnival of Souls is an alluringly strange indie horror pic. The movie has a crisp black-and-white look and features plenty of atmosphere – especially in its use of an abandoned amusement park, camera spins, and an organ music score. The ghouls in Souls are memorable in look and seem to have influenced later iterations of ghost and zombie designs in movies.
“It has a philosophy. And that is what makes it dangerous.”
Director: David Cronenberg
Cast: James Woods, Debbie Harry, Sonja Smits
IMDB Plot: A sleazy cable-TV programmer begins to see his life and the future of media spin out of control in a very unusual fashion when he acquires a new kind of programming for his station.
Cronenberg’s body horror satire of media, Videodrome, is an offbeat but intriguing little piece of horror. It explores technology in a surrealist way, focusing on Wood’s character facing mind-control and hallucinations. This one is for people who enjoy their horror to be highly bizarre — with scenes involving such things as a man inserting a video tape into another man’s stomach. It also features an amazingly graphic moment of a body breaking apart, expertly designed with makeup effects.
“I’m too old to go to Neverland, darling.”
Director: J.A. Bayona
Cast: Belén Rueda, Fernando Cayo, Roger Príncep
IMDB Plot: A woman brings her family back to her childhood home, which used to be an orphanage for handicapped children. Before long, her son starts to communicate with an invisible new friend.
Why use a haunted house for your movie when you could use a giant haunted orphanage? Bayona announced himself as a major directorial talent to watch when he arrived on the scene with The Orphanage. Heartfelt and spooky all at once, Bayona’s film is an old-fashioned haunted location film given a new-age sheen. It builds more on emotion than scares, leading to a satisfyingly different type of finale for these kinds of movies.