The 100 best horror films: the list
The best horror films, as voted for by more than 100 experts including Simon Pegg and Roger Corman
By Derek Adams, Dave Calhoun, Cath Clarke, Sarah Cohen, Nigel Floyd and Tom Huddleston, with the generous support of everyone at FrightFest and Cine-Excess. Explore the individual top tens of every contributor.
Dir James Whale (Colin Clive, Boris Karloff, Mae Clarke)
Gods and monsters.
The door opens and the monster lumbers in, taking his first unsteady baby steps. He’s alive! But as he turns to the face the camera, there’s a ghoulish deadness behind his eyes. How we picture Frankenstein’s monster is defined by make-up legend Jack Pierce’s handiwork: those neck-bolts, the flat head, the sunken eyes. In 1932 the audience was expecting Bela Lugosi as the Monster, but he’d been dropped by the studio (and Lugosi himself had disapproved of the way the script turned Mary Shelley’s philosophising creation into a non-speaking part). Boris Karloff, then a relative unknown, was cast by on-the-rise director James Whale, who also brought to ‘Frankenstein’ his trademark dry wit. Not that his film lacks scares, and a scene in which a farmer carries the limp body of his daughter through a village celebrating Frankenstein’s wedding is still deeply shocking. CC
Dir Jacques Tourneur (Simone Simon, Kent Smith)
Watch out boy, she’ll chew you up.
The idea of horror as an act of political or cultural subversion may have gained traction in the ’70s, but it’s been there all along: what is Shelley’s ‘Frankenstein’ if not a satire on class? The message in Jacques Tourneur’s eerily beautiful ‘Cat People’ may be more subtle, but it’s equally persuasive: this is a study of the innate power of female sexuality, and how suppressing that power can force it to burst forth in unexpected and dangerous ways. Simone Simon plays Irena, A Serbian immigrant whose repressive childhood – involving, the film implies, sexual abuse – causes her to transform into a deadly panther in moments of arousal. The film’s power lies in the way Tourneur subtly explores these themes without ever crossing the line of taste, or losing sight of the emotional tragedy at the story’s core. TH
Dir Tomas Alfredson (Kåre Hedebrant, Lina Leandersson)
Biy meets vampire.
An instant classic? If its position in the top 100 is anything to go by, then yes. Tomas Alfredson’s creepy horror, whose snowy setting suits its sadness, is a coming of age story about falling in love for the first time. Twelve year-old Oskar (Hedebrant) falls for the girl next door Eli (Leandersson). He tells her she smells funny and lends her his Rubik’s cube (this is 1981). But the sweet he offers makes her violently sick. And her eyes bleed if she goes into his flat uninvited. Eli is a vampire: ‘I’ve been this age for a very long time.’ Director Alfredson didn’t want polished performances, so cast non-professional actors. Eli is spookily ageless, most memorably in a scene stroking the face of her devoted middle-aged minder/body-snatcher like he’s her wayward son. CC
Dir David Cronenberg (James Woods, Sonja Smits, Debbie Harry)
Long live the new flesh.
Cronenberg’s most prescient film explores, through the eyes and media-altered mind of sleazy cable television programmer Max Renn (James Woods), the dangerous world imagined by the censors – one in which exposure to extreme images destroys the viewer’s ability to distinguish between plastic reality and perverse fantasy. As the late-night Videodrome channel’s violent imagery distorts Max’s perception, we are forced to share his subjective point of view. So we can’t be sure if his sado-masochistic relationship with Nicki Brand (Blondie singer Harry) is any more real than the vagina-like orifice that has opened up in his stomach. And when Max slots a video tape into this corporeal opening, flesh and technology meld into one. ‘You have to learn to live with a strange new reality,’ insists self-styled media evangelist Brian O’Blivion. And how. NF
Dir (James Whale (Boris Karloff, Colin Clive, Elsa Lanchester, Ernest Thesiger)
Is ‘Bride of Frankenstein’ the best film inspired by Mary Frankenstein’s nineteenth-century bone-chiller? Time Out’s panel of experts voted it so. Director Whale tried to duck out of making a follow-up to his 1931 hit ‘Frankenstein’, but the studio turned the screws and Whale caved, declaring that if he must make another film, it would be a real ‘hoot’. But while ‘Bride’ is full of camp, sly humour, Karloff’s return as the lumbering monster is also incredibly moving. Dr Frankenstein has given up playing God and tinkering with cadavers, but his dastardly mentor Praetorious blackmails him into creating a mate (Lanchester) for the monster. Legendary make-up ace Jack Pierce’s look for the Bride – barbed wire scars, diva make-up, frizzed out hair streaked with lightening bolts – and Lanchester’s jolting movements, eerily innocent, make this an American gothic to remember. CC
Dir Peter Medak (George C. Scott, Trish Van Devere, Melvyn Douglas)
Did it just get cold in here...?
Old fashioned in the best sense of the phrase, Medak’s oft-neglected supernatural thriller uses pure cinematic technique to scare the hell out of us. The magisterial Scott plays a well known composer who, following the death of his wife and son in a road accident, takes up a teaching job in Seattle and moves into an eerie, haunted Victorian house. Even the most hackneyed scenes, such as a séance in which a scribbling medium attempts to contact the unquiet spirit of the murdered boy, are staged with consummate skill and emotional conviction. Guillermo del Toro maintains that the best ghost stories all have an undertow of melancholy. That’s certainly true here.
Dir Alfred Hitchcock (Tippi Hedren, Rod Taylor)
Our feathered friends.
Along with ‘Psycho’, this loose spin on a Daphne du Maurier novella marked Hitchcock’s main foray into horror territory. ‘The Birds’ sees pernicious flocks of birds follow a metropolitan, San Franciscan blonde (Tippi Hedren) to a sleepy coastal town, and it’s these winged creatures that terrify as Hedren fights to resist being pecked to death. Hitchcock often scares by suggestion as crows appear on telegraph wires and the noise of them becomes increasingly intense – but he also shows full-on, unsettling aerial attacks, and the special effects for these scenes still endure. Psychologically, ‘The Birds’ is perhaps not Hitchcock’s most fully realised film, but it’s certainly one of his most open as we are left to wonder why, exactly, Hedren’s fledgling romance with Rod Taylor and his claustrophobic relationship with his mum (Jessica Tandy) inspire such avian terror. Just imagine those birds in 3D. DC
Dir David Cronenberg (Jeff Goldblum, Geena Davis)
Friends don't let friends teleport.
David Cronenberg’s delirious reimagining of that old story of a scientist whose experiments with teleportation lead to a nasty genetic mixup, ‘The Fly’ isn’t just one of the very finest horror movies, it’s also one of cinema’s great tragic romances. Charming, tentative and beautifully written, the initial relationship between leads Jeff Goldblum and Geena Davis harks back to the screwball romances of old, which only makes Goldblum’s ensuing physical and mental degradation all the more horrifying to behold. In Cronenberg’s hands, this genetic disease becomes a forceful metaphor for everything bad you can imagine, from cancer, Aids and ageing to lost love and inexplicable heartbreak. Beautiful, sickening, exhilarating, savage, inspiring and inspired, ‘The Fly’ is humanist cinema at its most non-human, and a master filmmaker’s finest hour. TH
Dir FW Murnau (Max Schreck, Greta Schröder)
Birth of a nation.
The film that made it all happen, Murnau’s loose, unofficial adaptation of Stoker’s ‘Dracula’ may not have been the first horror movie (that honour probably goes to George Meliés’s ‘Le Manoir du Diable’) but it’s certainly the most influential. So many keynotes of the genre emerge fully formed here: the use of light and shadow, threat and tension, beauty and ugliness, a man in grotesque make-up threatening an innocent girl. And what’s remarkable is that it remains a deeply unsettling piece of work: Schreck’s contorted performance, not to mention that hideous, batlike make-up, may be the film’s most iconic image, but the plague-of-rats scene is deeply unnerving too – we can only imagine how it must have seemed to audiences emerging from the First World War. TH
Dir Tod Browning (Olga Baclanova, Harry Earles)
Pretty on the inside.
A horror film? Try a tender, humane tale of love and betrayal. Director Tod Browning had himself run away from school to join the circus. And in ‘Freaks’ he assembled a cast of ‘sideshow freaks’ (they’re also fine actors) to tell the story of beautiful trapeze artist Cleo (Baclanova) who marries midget Hans (Earles) for his money and poisons him. Browning sketches life on the road with tremendous affection and humour: take the man who marries one Siamese twin but can’t stand her sister (‘I’m not having my wife lying in bed half the day with your hangover!’). What makes ‘Freaks’ a horror film is its disturbing, macabre ending, as the ‘freaks’ chase Cleo and her strong-man lover through the forest – though of course the real horror here is the cruelty of the so-called ‘normals’. ‘Freaks’ was banned in the UK for 30 years until the mid ‘60s. CC
Newton once said "If I have seen far it is because I stand on shoulders of giants", and whilst I agree with the rating of Carpenter's "The Thing", to applaud it without a nod and a wink to the original movie and the author of the story (John Campbell Jr.) is, at least, careless.
I've never thought The Exorcist scary because it requires a religious belief I don't have. I do, however, accept crazed, evil people and zombies.
do you have to use the tired old myth about the cast of 'Alien' not knowing what was going to happen to John Hurt? How do you think they filmed it? - With Hurt in a body cast with fx crew there to perform the effect. Oh and the scene used in the film was a retake so the cast had seen it all before anyway... You don't have to know any of this for common sense to tell you that the alien didn't just burst out of his chest without some serious preparation. Lazy, poorly-researched journalism really hacks me off...
the Conjuring is best of all for me. http://www.flipkart.com/the-conjuring/p/itmdn3dnwdxyxadq?affid=sandeepsem
i dont understand all the genre nuts losing their minds over certain "non-horror" films on the list. horror is horror. if you want to fine-tooth comb the genre and only accept "strict" definition films aka ghost stories, monsters, gore, etc, then you're missing out on a whole range of disturbing material that elicit the same emotional responses. kudos to time out for listing films like come and see and jacob's ladder, that are just as horrifying (probably more so, even) than most horror films.
this is a great list - very comprehensive, both in terms of eras and sub-genres. i personally would have liked to have seen capenter's prince of darkness and burial ground: nights of terror. though, the former definitely gets a mixed reaction from the masses as far as john carpenter films go. and the latter, totally niche and terrible in a lot of respects. but i still see it as the ultimate atmospheric zombie flick.
dont look now almost breaking the top 10? awesome.
Session 9, very underrated but creepy as hell, made in a real haunted asylum called Danvers (unfortunately not standing anymore)
Although I respect this list and all of its original choices, I believe the following three films must be included:
(1) The Eclipse (2009)
(2) Sinister (2012)
(3) The Conjuring (2013)
Personally I believe people saying all old horror movies are bad and likewise those claiming all new horror movies are bad are wrong. I did like many older titles on this list including The Thing, Alien, Jaws etc and I am delighted it has at least one new good horror movie The Descent(2005).
Since An American Werewolf movies was mentioned in this list I have 3 werewolf movies that I like much better. The Howling(1981) the original the rest of Howling movies are more or less B budget movies. Ginger Snaps(2000) was great and I also like the Action/Horror movie Dog Soldiers(2002). The classic Action/Horror movie for me is Aliens(1986).
One of the best horror lists I have ever seen. Tired of seeing movies considered "horror" and scary when they don't belong. There is a strong difference between disturbing and scary ( if disturbing was accounted for then you would see Saw on this list probably,The Girl Next Door, and Wicker Man , which I love, would be higher). I do have to agree with a previous post. Insidious should have a spot. Even more so for Conjuring. Otherwise the list was perfect.
Halloween in my opinion is the granddaddy of them all, a true masterpiece. I appreciate slow burn horror films as much as the next person but sometimes I want a horror movie to punch me in the gut from the opening frame and not let up. Martyrs is that type of movie.
Oops, just reviewed the list again REC is included, my bad still The Stepfather should have been included even if at 100 also the series of Eye films by the Pang Brothers were not too shabby, especially the first.
Good list, I found alot of new films here, but the last 5 were actually in a good order of how scary, finishing on the exorcist which is in my opinion the most scariest film ever created. So 5 stars from me. :)
Rosemary's Baby. One of the worst horror films of all-time. Boring as it gets. No suspense or scares whatsoever. The Exorcist yes, great film. The Shining as well. Overall a good list.
no insidious? no sinister or paranormal activity? they may not be for everyone but one cannot deny the impact they have had on the modern horror genre, look at the conjuring, fantastic movie. where is the changeling from 1981? or 1982, not sure of the year, and how does dont look now, a drama with a slightly shocking ending make it into this list when the prince of darkness doesnt? that film made me feel dirty all over with its literally unrelenting feel of oppression, forcing you deeper into your seat with each passing moment, forcing you to wonder if anyone will actually make it out alive, some poor decisions on what made this list, especially as ive always found movies like the ring(both countries versions) literally knock-me-to-sleep boring and the original grudge i found awful too, although i like the american remakes, which is unusual
You really had to put the last 10 as single items? I found they took just as long to load as the 10 per page ones. I had to stop at 6. The loading is unbearable and there seems to be many script errors on this site. I'd rather deal with those sites that make you click the link 5-10 times than this. At least they load fast.
Scream isn't scary enough to be in the top 100 scary horror movies. The movie was based off of suspense and drama based on the massacres and not enough fear by the audience.
considering this film is based on a true story, i think its pretty frightening , those of you who think its not frightening . i suggest you work your tiny little brains into action and think ,,,,, this scenario actually took place !!
I agree with AshS. What a lame, p'whipped list of crap. The title is Horror movies, and few of these elicit any feelings of ill ease, much less horror. Listing the Exorcist as No. 1? Are you kidding or just a limp-wristed theater critic?
Trash list, don't put movies if you think they are not actually scary movies. So many explanations like that are in so many of the movies you put. Useless.
First thing where is scream?? it may not be a top 10 contender but come on to not make the top 100 Is silly. Also hellraiser 3 has got to be in any top 100 list. I also think Woman in black and the strangers deserve a place in this list. Overall not that impressed with this list I mean A nightmare on Elm Street number 30 ish pffft
To the reviewer of "The Tenant" Did you even saw the movie or just searched in the web like a kid today would have in this wikipedia generation? Adjani played the character of Simone Choule??? You must have seen some other Tenant other than the one i saw... Really guys, and you are paid to do this job. Its scary the ignorance of a Time Out employee... If you don't know about something don't write about it, or just give it to someone who does.
not really impressed with this list, silence of the lambs 59??? come on, its not even a horror movie, its a psychological thriller.
Anybody who puts The Exorcist higher on their list than The Shining doesn't deserve to review horror movies. Kubrick is God. Remember that. Kubrick is God.
I didn't actually watch the film.. But I think its sounds like it could be quite a good film. Merry Christmas everyone ! Rechal
Rec should been higher. Ending in rec 5mins is more intense than watching 1hour shitty oldies in top10.
Where the flip is ZOMBIE FLESH EATERS. nearly every horror critic would have this in the top 5 horror let alone the top 100?? sixth sense??? thats not horror. thats kids stuff. also evil dead one is so much better than number 2. 2 is lost between comedy and being serious, plus is mega over produced and doesnt have the orignal atomosphere, not even close. But thats me, but then i do rate hellraiser a lot higher than 80. top ten at the very very least, so i think i know a lot more than this list. you cant be serious. WHERES HELLRAISER 3??????:?
I really don't see how 'The Exorcist' ALWAYS makes the top choice?! I didn't find it scary whatsoever, more like funny, and that's coming from someone who always hides behind a pillow watching horrors. There are sooo many other movies that should really replace that film in the top rank.
Same old, same old. I sometimes think the voters are not even trying. Check imdb, pick up some mainstream titles, randomize it as you wish and voila, you got another brand new list. It's just boring, guys.
@Gghj H try #31
Except that's not a myth, it's true. The shot of Veronica Cartwright falling over is a real. They knew that SOMETHING was going to happen, just not WHAT or WHEN. Stop calling it a myth when it isn't.
@mjer90 There is a difference between horror and horrible
@Matt Yeah this is my intake on this list. First of all I am NOT young. However I do eat
and everyone believes I am like 10 year younger when they meet me. I also tested online dating and if I put myself 10 years younger they believe me. In addition I do like NEW horror movies. I am happy that The Descent made it to top 100 it really deserves its place. I do like many of the old movies in this list like Alien, The Thing, Jaws the first of these were all good. That said this list represent taste of old people voting what are the best movies. Many youngsters say horror fans 20-25 years old would laugh at this list at least some titles. Personally I think those people who laugh saying all old horror movies are bad and likewise those who say all new horror movies are bad are very wrong or they are stuck in their own subjective timeline what is best.
I am not saying all new horror movies are good. That said 2000+ era has brought great horror movies. 3 Werewolf movies that I like more then then An American Werewolf in London. The Howling(1981 the original the first of them rest are low budget B movies) and YES I do like Ginger Snaps(2000) and Dog Soldiers(2002). Ok Dog Soldiers(2002) is more like Action/Horror, but Aliens(1986) the second Alien movie was also a great Action Horror movie.
@jed Gee, Jed. You call this list "the worst... list on the internet." So, tell us (we're all listening): where is *your* own top 100 list? Not the one you like the best, but one you personally put together. Point us to it, on the internet, and we'll go see. We won't be any more critical of it than we can help. Honest.