With Halloween upon us, it’s time to take a gory gander at some of the horror movies worth seeing. This list explores a variety of scary movies, from zombie flicks to vampire films (and remakes of those vampire films). And there will be controversy, oh yes. Check out the first part of this list here.
As with my Top 20 Comic Book Movies list, I’ve only included movies I’ve reviewed on this site. Feel free to disagree and stab me in the face all you like, but these are the top 20 horror movies you’re ever going to see:
10. American Psycho
Is this a horror film? Is it a satirical psychological thriller? Is it both? Based on the novel by Bret Easton Ellis and directed by Canadian filmmaker Mary Harron, there are few films that have captured the terror of the Alpha Male in such horrifying fashion. Featuring a knockout performance by Christian Bale as the iconic Patrick Bateman, American Psycho is to Wall Street go-getters what The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is to Middle America.
This Spanish film by Juan Antonio Bayona knows that true terror comes from within, from the ideas about what’s out there and from our insecurities and tragedies. Featuring the lovely Belén Rueda and a kid in sack mask that means more than any bland horror character ever could, The Orphanage is one of the best scary movies around. It is sensitive and razor-sharp, cutting to the core of its central issues with uncommon precision and beauty.
Tomas Alfredson’s vision of vampirism is more terrifying and real than any other film of the genre. Period. And the American remake, usually grounds for disaster, is equal to the task. The Matt Reeves version certainly does borrow somewhat from the Swedish original, but it still maintains a chilling texture and provides for the same sense of loneliness and despair as Let the Right One In. Plus, these two films earn mega-points for putting the vampire curse back where it belongs.
Starring Catherine Deneuve as Carole, Roman Polanski’s first English language film is also his most terrifying. Carole becomes stranger and stranger as the picture progresses, with her mind carrying out violent projections and effectively “repulsing” her with sexual energy. It influenced directors like Darren Aronofsky and “descends into madness and gnaws away at the rotten rabbit in the fridge.”
Werner Herzog’s Nosferatu the Vampyre is a remake of F.W. Murnau’s Nosferatu, a Symphony of Horror to be one of the finest films in German history (I agree). Murnau’s film, a 1922 silent classic, is given a lush sense of pity and regret for its character. It treats the vampire mythology seriously, like Let the Right One In/Let Me In, and features the always entertaining Klaus Kinski as Count Dracula. What could be better?
This adaptation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula may not have been authorized, but it is the best adaptation of the vampire tale ever put to celluloid. The 1922 Murnau work is also one of the best silent films ever made, featuring the delightfully devious Max Schreck as Count Orlock and the lovely Greta Schröder as Orlock’s target of affection. From the German expressionist aura to the landscapes and architecture, Nosferatu, a Symphony of Horror is one of cinema’s all-time greatest mood pieces. It’s also scary, so there’s that.
Ridley Scott’s vision of horror in space is still alarming by today’s standards. It features tension, something undone entirely by its overrated sequel, and is terribly claustrophobic in ways few pictures are. With awe-inspiring set design, including the maze of wires and tunnels inside the Nostromo, and the distinct but subtle Jerry Goldsmith score, Alien sets the bar really, really high for science fiction horror. Scott would never surpass it.
George A. Romero’s Dawn of the Dead is the ultimate zombie movie. It “suggests a truly worrisome world, one of disorder and despair, and introduces genuine characters that afford slender slivers of hope.” With zombies that arrive at the shopping centre because “they remember,” Romero manages a scathing critique of consumerism while scaring the pants off the viewer.
2. The Shining
Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation of Stephen King’s tale may not have had the author’s thumbs-up, but it’s one of the best horror movies of all time nevertheless. From Jack Nicholson’s iconic performance to the meandering, colourful hallways of the Overlook to Kubrick’s insistence on putting us in the zone without a lifejacket, The Shining is terrifying because it lingers on and on before finally reaching its inevitable breaking point.
One of the most visceral assaults on the senses ever put to film, Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre has never been surpassed and is quite simply the best horror movie I’ve ever seen. “So hard to shake are the screams, the buzzing, the drone-like score, and the general disquiet of Hooper’s masterpiece that it’s hard to imagine any other horror films coming close to the same achievement.”