The 100 best horror films

The best horror films as voted for by more than 100 experts, including Simon Pegg and Roger Corman.

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90

Daughters of Darkness (1970)

Dir Harry Kümel (Delphine Seyrig, Danielle Ouimet, John Karlen, Andrea Rau)

Belgian filmmaker Kümel’s polymorphously perverse vampire movie may be a triumph of slinky, shimmering style over thematic substance, but what style. Amidst the out-of-season splendour of a 1930s seaside hotel, unhappily married newly-weds Stefan (Karlen) and Valerie (Ouimet) fall under the seductive spell of Countess Elisabeth Bathory (Seyrig) and her sullen, sultry companion Ilone (Rau). The Countess’s sequinned sartorial elegance recalls Marlene Dietrich, and the hotel concierge is convinced that she was a guest at the hotel forty years before. There are no fangs, garlic flowers or other vampire movie paraphernalia, only tales of sadistic cruelty and a highly eroticised thirst for blood. Deliciously, deliriously decadent.—Nigel Floyd

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89

The Black Cat (1934)

Dir Edward G. Ulmer (Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi)

This first onscreen pairing of the two towering legends of Universal horror remains one of the strangest films in that company’s canon. Lasting just over an hour and bearing zero similarity to the Poe story on which it was supposedly based, The Black Cat somehow manages to incorporate Nazi atrocities, ancient vendettas, black masses, drug abuse, a whiff of necrophilia and one of the all-time great cinematic chess games. It doesn’t make a vast amount of sense, but it doesn’t really matter: an obvious precursor to the Argento school of nightmare horror, Ulmer’s film is more about sensation and inference than straightforward storytelling. The result is haunting, beautiful and unforgettably odd.—Tom Huddleston

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88

The Mist (2007)

Dir Frank Darabont (Thomas Jane, Marcia Gay Harden, Toby Jones)

Having tackled Stephen King twice already – in The Shawshank Redemption and its inferior follow-up The Green Mile – Darabont made his first out-and-out horror movie with this bleak, pointed adaptation of King’s novella about a mysterious fog which swamps a small town, forcing the inhabitants to take shelter in the local supermarket. On one level this is pure throwback, an old-school tentacles-and-all monster movie which really comes alive in its glittering monochrome DVD version. But it’s also a ferociously modern drama, picking apart the political and social threads which just about held America together under the Bush administration. Religious dogma, political division and – finally and devastatingly – military intervention all go under Darabont’s shakeycam microscope, resulting in perhaps the most intelligent, compelling and heartbreaking horror movie of the century so far.—Tom Huddleston

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87

Martin (1978)

Dir George A. Romero (John Amplas, Lincoln Maazel)

Horror movies which encourage audiences to sympathise with the monster are nothing new, but that paradox has rarely been more intelligently explored than in Romero’s gritty anti-horror masterpiece, Martin. Amplas plays the title character, a lonely, wayward Pennsylvania teenager whose elderly, religious-maniac cousin is convinced that the boy is, in fact, Nosferatu. Much of the film’s power stems from its unfashionable ideas about teenage wish fulfilment and how young people respond to images of horror – Martin desperately wants to believe that he’s more than just another messed-up kid, his inner life depicted in a series of grandiose, hauntingly beautiful monochrome tableaux. As he did in his Living Dead movies, Romero keeps the horror grounded in nasty, messy reality: this is also a film about American poverty, and its unexpected consequences.—Tom Huddleston

86

Let's Scare Jessica to Death (1971)

Dir John D. Hancock (Zohra Lampert, Barton Heyman, Kevin Connor)

In this low-budget American horror with a title to die for, Jessica (Lampert), is released from a mental institution and decamps to a small town with her husband (Heyman) and his hippie friend (Connor) and, yes you’ve guessed it, some really freaky stuff starts to happen. The local inhabitants are all a bit dead behind the eyes and in one very creepy scene Jessica, whose hallucinations increasingly dominate the film, goes swimming in the lake and encounters a pale woman in a Victorian dress trying to drag her under. It’s all pretty trippy and of its time, and the screechy, psyched-out score is especially effective.—Dave Calhoun

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85

Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (1986)

Dir John McNaughton (Michael Rooker, Tom Towles, Tracy Arnold)

Its chilly, detached tone reminiscent of Richard Brooks’s 1967 adaptation of Truman Capote’s documentary novel In Cold Blood, this ferociously intelligent film records the murderous exploits of blithe psychopath Henry (Rooker) and his old prison pal Otis (Towles) with an unblinking eye. To begin with, the violence is relatively oblique: Henry’s past murders are presented as a series of grotesque tableaux, accompanied by the distressing sounds of the victims’ death struggles. Later, the murders become virtually unwatchable, a fact that is used against the audience in the infamous ‘home invasion’ scene, which is revealed in retrospect to be a video recording that Henry and Otis are viewing. The BBFC’s James Ferman did not buy McNaughton’s line about audience complicity, so he re-edited this scene, destroying its effect.—Nigel Floyd

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84

Black Sunday (1960)

Dir Mario Bava (Barbara Steele, John Richardson)

For students of horror, 1960 is remembered as the year of Peeping Tom and Psycho. But Bava’s monochrome masterpiece Black Sunday fully deserves to be set alongside them: while Hitchcock and Powell were revolutionizing the genre by bringing the terror closer to home, Bava was doing almost the opposite, creating a boldly imaginative and dreamlike world inspired by the Universal classics, while at the same time using groundbreaking special effects to ensure that the horrors depicted on screen were more graphically disturbing than ever before. Black Sunday is a film crammed with surreal and still shocking imagery: while it’s most famous for the opening scene in which a spiked mask is hammered onto the face of dark witch Barbara Steele, there are many more wonderfully nasty sights to behold, from an empty eye socket crawling with maggots to a walking corpse who looks suspiciously like Sonny Bono.—Tom Huddleston

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83

The Abominable Dr. Phibes (1971)

Dir Robert Fuest (Vincent Price, Joseph Cotten, Hugh Griffith)

This deliriously potty Gothic shocker takes vengeance-seeking to new heights. Blaming a team of doctors for his wife’s death, the eponymous doc (Vincent Price) embarks on a murderous spree using the Bible’s ten plagues of Egypt as inspiration. The first victim we see is eaten by bats, the second has his head squished by a mechanical frog mask, the third (Terry Thomas) is drained of blood and so on and so forth. The opening sequence is a tour de force as we watch the doc manically bashing away on his church organ before winding up a mechanical band for an elaborate dance he performs with his assistant Vulnavia. The film’s a weird mix of theatre and comedy with deeply sinister undertones and, even by today’s standards, some pretty grisly death sequences. I’m amazed at how well it stands up.—Derek Adams

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82

Re-Animator (1985)

Dir Stuart Gordon (Jeffrey Combs, Bruce Abbott)

A kind of madcap blend of the original HP Lovecraft short story with National Lampoon’s Animal House, Re-Animator is horror as cartoon, combining gore and guffaws in a giddy parade of grotesque imagery. Jeffrey "the thinking man’s Bruce Campbell" Combs plays disturbed anti-hero Herbert West (even the way he says his name is funny), the science graduate who stumbles across a glowing green resurrection serum and opts to try it out on the overbearing Dean and his nubile, leggy daughter. Re-Animator is a prime example of the home video horror boom in action: it’s weird, wild, unpredictable and frequently very silly, the kind of imaginative but slickly constructed offbeat horror film which seems to have gone entirely out of fashion.—Tom Huddleston

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81

Day of the Dead (1985)

Dir George A Romero (Lori Cardille, Terry Alexander)

There are many who view Romero’s conclusion to his original Living Dead trilogy as something of a comedown, neither as groundbreaking as Night or as satirical and entertaining as Dawn. And it’s true, Romero’s initial ambitions for the project – a wholesale attack on Reaganite inequality, with the zombies as a new disenfranchised underclass – were stymied by budgetary concerns, though many of those ideas found their way into the belated follow-up, Land of the Dead. But Day of the Dead is still an astonishing movie, an unrelenting attack on the senses fuelled by an unprecedented sense of despair and rampant nihilism. By this point, it’s hard to tell who we’re really rooting for, the hateful, bickering soldier heroes or their shuffling, bloodthirsty zombie captives, personified by the "thinking zombie", the oddly lovable Bub.—Tom Huddleston

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