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The 100 best horror films - the scariest movies ranked by experts

Get a fright with our list of the best horror movies like ‘The Exorcist’ and ‘Get Out’, as chosen by Time Out writers and horror experts

the 100 best horror films and movies
By Tom Huddleston, Cath Clarke, Dave Calhoun, Nigel Floyd, Alim Kheraj and Phil de Semlyen |

Choosing the best horror films of all time is a monstrous task, especially considering the genre’s renaissance in recent years with films like ‘Get Out’ and ‘Hereditary’. Finally, after years of scoffing and snobbery, horror is getting its moment of critical adulation.

However, to pick the most frightening movies of all time we decided to approach those who have never shirked away from a scare. Canvassing the likes of the emperor of horror himself, Stephen King, auteur Guillermo del Toro, nerd king Simon Pegg and even the golf-loving dark lord of heavy rock, Alice Cooper, we compiled their favourite horror flicks into a definitive list.

Like our picks for the best comedy films or romance movies, the below selection is incredibly varied, pulling in genre-busting sci-fi icons like ‘Alien’ and murderous movies such as ‘The Silence of the Lambs’. There are, of course, some classics, too (what is horror without ‘Invasion of the Body Snatchers?) and newcomers like ‘A Quiet Place’, which already has a sequel in the works.

So, to find out where demonic Damien from ‘The Omen’ or rotten Regan from ‘The Exorcist’ landed, we present the 100 best horror films.

Recommended: London and UK cinema listings, film reviews and exclusive interviews.

Film, Horror

The Babadook (2014)

Director: Jennifer Kent

Cast: Essie Davis, Noah Wiseman

The mummy’s curse
The territory where scary movies overlap with social realism remains largely unexplored by filmmakers. Horror has traditionally been a genre bent on entertainment – however twisted – and so reminders of real-world tragedy tend to stifle the fun. So props to first-time filmmaker Jennifer Kent for never shying away from her central character’s predicament: yes, our heroine Amelia is being stalked by something supernatural, but we’re never sure if it’s made the life of this grieving single mother appreciably worse. And as women continue to be shut out of filmmaking roles, how satisfying that ‘The Babadook’ was one of the best-reviewed horror movies of the decade so far. TH

Buy, rent or watch 'The Babadook' 

The 100 best horror films, horror movies, The Mist
Film, Horror

The Mist (2007)

Director: Frank Darabont

Cast: Thomas Jane, Marcia Gay Harden, Toby Jones

Situation normal: all fogged up
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. TH

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The 100 best horror films, horror movies, Martin

Martin (1976)

Director: George A Romero

Cast: John Amplas, Lincoln Maazel

Cloak and dagger
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. TH

The 100 best horror films, horror movies, God Told Me To
Film, Horror

God Told Me To (1976)

Director: Larry Cohen

Cast: Tony Lo Bianco, Deborah Raffin

Jesus loves you… a little too much
The horror game can be tough. Larry Cohen is without question one of the most inventive, idiosyncratic American writer-directors of the 1970s, his outstanding oeuvre spanning low-budget social commentary, low-rent blaxploitation and a handful of the most politically engaged horror films ever made. Yet here we are, 35 years later, and he manages to scrape one film into our Top 100. ‘God Told Me To’ is without question one of darkest, sharpest, oddest films on this list, a tale of serial murder, religious mania and alien abduction shot on some of mid-’70s New York’s least salubrious streets. Cohen deserves to be mentioned alongside Carpenter and Craven in the horror canon – and this might be his masterpiece, though ‘It’s Alive’, ‘Q: The Winged Serpent’ and ‘The Stuff’ all run it close. TH

Buy, rent or watch 'God Told Me To'

It Follows
Film, Horror

It Follows

Director: David Robert Mitchell 

Cast: Maika Monroe, Keir Gilchrist

Virgin on the ridiculous
There’s nothing wrong with a messy horror movie – flying limbs, cardboard monsters, terrible acting. But there’s something uniquely pleasurable – and unsettling – about a scary movie where every shot, every line, every beat of music feels painstakingly composed to scare the bejesus out of you. ‘It Follows’ is a prime example: for every second of this sparse, precise story of supernatural stalkers in suburbia, you know that writer-director David Robert Mitchell has both hands firmly on the wheel. You’re just never sure where he’s driving you. TH

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The 100 best horror films, horror movies, Society
Film, Horror

Society (1989)

Director: Brian Yuzna

Cast: Billy Warlock, Devin DeVasquez

How the other half live
There’s no country in the world where ‘Society’ means more than here in the UK, and no era in living memory when it has been more painfully relevant – it even opens with a rewrite of the ‘Eton Boating Song’. This is a story of how the aristocratic rich don’t just suck the poor dry economically, spiritually and politically, but physically too. The tone may be slick – there are times when it feels like ‘The OC’ with added goop – but the intention is deadly serious, and first-timer Yuzna’s slow reveal of information is wonderfully sly and subversive. Then there’s that epic finale, still one of the most shocking in cinema, a kind of ‘La Grand Bouffe’ for SFX nerds with added fart gags and death-by-fisting. The make-up technician was called Screaming Mad George. Says it all, really. TH

Buy, rent or watch 'Society'

The 100 best horror films, horror movies, Scream
Film, Horror

Scream (1996)

Director: Wes Craven

Cast: Neve Campbell, Courteney Cox 

Nudge nudge, wink wink
Wes Craven’s iconic, ironic slice-’em-up didn’t invent nudge-wink meta-horror – the director had dipped his own toe two years previously with the glorious ‘New Nightmare’ – but it certainly made this oh-so-’90s sub-genre massively popular. From the opening sequence in which a masked nerd terrorises Drew Barrymore with a slasher-flick pop quiz before splattering her guts all over the lawn, this was a new, fun, shallow-but-sharp breed of scary movie in which the sharing of movie lore between characters and audience somehow conspired to make everything feel more convincing – if never exactly ‘real’. TH

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The 100 best horror films, horror movies, re-animator
Film, Horror

Re-Animator (1985)

Director: Stuart Gordon

Cast: Jeffrey Combs, Bruce Abbott

I am the resurrection
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. TH

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The 100 best horror films, horror movies, Henry: Portrait of a serial killer

Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (1986)

Director: John McNaughton

Cast: Henry Rooker, Tom Towles, Tracy Arnold

Is it live, or is it Memorex?
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. NF

Buy, rent or watch 'Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer'

The 100 best horror films, horror movies, braindead 
Film, Comedy

Braindead (1992)

Director: Peter Jackson

Cast: Timothy Balme, Diana Peñalver, Elizabeth Moody

Abbott and Costello meet The Evil Dead
Before he got bogged down in endless Hobbitry, Peter Jackson was one of the world’s most ferociously inventive independent exploitation filmmakers, a worthy successor to the George Romero and Sam Raimi school of DIY gore. His first movie, ‘Bad Taste’, was filmed over four years of weekends with a band of enthusiastic mates, but by the time of ‘Braindead’ Jackson had a budget – of sorts – and a professional crew.

The result is one of the most relentlessly, gleefully nasty movies ever released, incorporating mutant monkeys, zombie flesh-eaters, death by lawnmower, kung-fu priests and jokes about ‘The Archers’. It also contains the queasiest dinner scene since ‘La Grande Bouffe’, involving spurting blood, dissolving flesh, human ears and bowls of claggy rice pudding. TH

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The 100 best horror films, horror movies, dead ringers
Film, Horror

Dead Ringers (1988)

Director: David Cronenberg

Cast: Jeremy Irons, Genevieve Bujold

The same, but different
More than any other Cronenberg film, ‘Dead Ringers’ tests the limits of what constitutes a horror movie. Yes it has blood, ‘tools for operating on mutant women’ and a general tone of deep disquiet, but it’s first and foremost a study of domestic psychosis under unique circumstances. It’s also an unparalleled acting showcase: using computer-controlled camera technology, Jeremy Irons was able to portray both lead characters, twin gynaecologists Elliot and Beverly Mantle. What’s remarkable is how clearly he delineates between them: Elliot the steely, ‘masculine’ shark; Beverly the passive ‘feminine’ carer. As in ‘The Fly’ (see No 23), Cronenberg’s interest in the tenuous connections between body and mind is combined with an unexpectedly sensitive portrayal of romantic attachment, making the brothers’ inevitable psychological collapse all the more effectively disturbing. TH

Buy, rent or watch 'Dead Ringers'

The 100 best horror films, horror movies, day of the dead 
Film, Horror

Day of the Dead (1985)

Director: George A Romero

Cast: Lori Cardille, Terry Alexander

All you need is Bub
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. TH

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The 100 best horror films, horror movies, the unknown
Film, Drama

The Unknown (1927)

Dirctor: Tod Browning

Cast: Lon Chaney, Joan Crawford

A farewell to arms
Five years before ‘Freaks’, Tod Browning directed another twisted tale of circus folk falling in and out of love, and doing hideous things to one another. Here, it’s the outwardly freakish who are inwardly twisted too (it could even be argued that ‘Freaks’ works as an apology for ‘The Unknown’), as a strangler with two thumbs poses as an armless knife-thrower to seduce a beautiful girl who has a morbid fear of men’s hands. That synopsis should offer some insight into the kind of boiling Freudian gumbo Browning serves up. This is a giddy, subversive, wonderfully watchable silent shocker. TH

Buy, rent or watch 'The Unknown'

The 100 best horror films, horror movies, session 9
Film, Horror

Session 9 (2001)

Director: Brad Anderson 

Cast: Peter Mullan, David Caruso

It’s a madhouse!
This microbudget American indie was such a flop that it didn’t even get a cinema release in the UK. Which meant that those who heeded word of mouth and picked it up on DVD felt like they were making a genuine discovery: it’s a film so bleak, eerie and unsettling that it could never be embraced by a mainstream audience. Peter Mullan is superbly cast as Gordon, the boss of an asbestos removal company tasked with clearing out an abandoned mental hospital. One of the first movies to be shot on HD digital video, the film has an unearthly, real-but-not-real sheen that adds immeasurably to its heart-stopping atmosphere of impending doom. TH

The 100 best horror films, horror movies, salo
Film, Drama

Saló, or the 120 Days of Sodom (1975)

Director: Pier Paolo Pasolini

Cast: Paolo Bonacelli, Giorgio Cataldi

Don’t look now
Pasolini’s final film doesn’t belong to the horror genre in any traditional sense at all – but it’s hard to imagine any film on this list surpassing this 1944-set vision of despair for its sheer provocative transgression and devastatingly bleak and pessimistic view of humanity. Drawing on the writings of the Marquis de Sade and influenced by Dante’s ‘Inferno’, Pasolini imagined four fascist libertines taking a group of young men and women prisoner in a stately home in Italy and subjecting them to an unimaginable cycle of terror. Rape, torture, murder, the forced eating of shit – it’s all here. The film provoked outrage in many quarters, but, viewed now, any claims that it is pornographic seem ridiculous. It’s a complete absence of pleasure that Pasolini provokes in this disturbing portrait of a society gone to the dogs. DC

The 100 best horror films, horror movies, phantasm
Film, Science fiction

Phantasm (1979)

Director: Don Coscarelli

Cast: Michael Baldwin, Reggie Bannister, Angus Scrimm

In space, no one can eat ice cream
By the early ’80s, the home video boom had fuelled a tidal wave of American horror. But with proper financial backing and almost total creative freedom, these films were a world away from the cheapo grit of the grindhouse: directors like Stuart Gordon, Frank Henenlotter and Don Coscarelli had the funding to realise visions which would have been impossible a few years before, resulting in some of the most idiosyncratic movies in the horror canon. ‘Phantasm’ is the film that kickstarted it all, combining inventive DIY horror with a berserk plot involving homicidal space midgets, heroic ice-cream men, flying spheres which drill into the brain and of course the terrifying ‘Tall Man’. Over the course of three wild sequels, Coscarelli expanded his bizarre universe in a variety of imaginative and deliriously entertaining ways – but the original set the standard. TH

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The 100 best horror films, horror movies, the orphanage

The Orphanage (2007)

Director: JA Bayona

Cast: Belén Rueda, Fernando Cayo, Roger Príncep

Hide and Shriek
What could be more scary than a haunted house? A haunted orphanage, that’s what. ‘The Orphanage’ is classic creepy ghost story, full of creaking floorboards and things that go bump in the night – the kind that will give you the collywobbles. Guillermo Del Toro protégé JA Bayona has an intuitive sense of what’s scary. Laura (Belén Rueda) has bought the orphanage she spent part of her childhood living in, with her husband and seven-year-old son Simón (Roger Príncep). They haven’t told Simón that he’s adopted or that he is seriously ill. But one day, reading Peter Pan, Simón says matter-of-factly that he will never grow old. Has he been listening at doors? No, one of his imaginary friends told him, he says (imaginary friends or the spirits of the orphanage’s past residents?) And when Simón goes missing the ghost story begins. CC

Buy, rent or watch 'The Orphanage'

Film, Horror

Dracula (1958)

Director: Terence Fisher

Cast: Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, Michael Gough

Charm offensive
A horror fan’s sanctuary during the tame Vincent Prince era of the late ’50s and ‘60s, Hammer Film Productions injected the tired genre with garish bloody colour, shocking violence and the remarkably committed acting duo of Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing. If 1957’s ‘The Curse of Frankenstein’ pried open the coffin, this one – a massively influential global success – plunged the stake home. It’s impressive enough that Lee managed to step out of the shadow of the immortal Bela Lugosi, crafting a Count who was virile, sexy and vicious. But the real impact of Dracula is best felt in retrospect: Has there been another Bram Stoker adaptation that’s been this captivating? Several directors have tried; none have survived the night. JR

Buy, rent or watch 'Dracula'

 The 100 best horror films, horror movies, black sabbath
Film, Horror

Black Sabbath (1963)

Director: Mario Bava

Cast: Boris Karloff, Mark Damon, Michèle Mercier

Tale of the unexpected
Although anthology horror films are fiendishly difficult to pull off, in its original Italian version (as opposed to the reshuffled, re-scored travesty released in the US), Bava’s bold, expressionistic use of colour and lighting imposes a stylistic consistency on this disparate trio of tales. Boris Karloff’s sonorous intro and epilogue also help. ‘The Telephone’ seethes with twisted eroticism, as a Parisian prostitute (Mercier) is terrified by threatening phone calls from her vengeful ex-pimp. Russian vampire lore informs ‘The Wurdalak’, which starts with the discovery of a stabbed and headless corpse, then progresses to ghoulish, atmospheric scenes of blood-sucking. A nurse who steals a valuable ring from a dead body is haunted by guilt in ‘The Drop of Water’. The visual debt owed by Argento’s ‘Suspiria’ and ‘Inferno’ is abundantly clear. NF

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The 100 best horror films, horror movies, invasion of the body snatchers 1978
Film, Science fiction

Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)

Director: Philip Kaufman

Cast: Donald Sutherland, Brooke Adams, Leonard Nimoy

The pods next door
It’s time to get beyond the tired political allegories always trotted out for this classic – is it red-baiting or stealth anti-McCarthyism? – and recast it as the bold proto-indie it actually was. In a year dominated by monolithic Hollywood entertainments like ‘The Ten Commandments’ and ‘Around the World in 80 Days’ (much admired, cold to the touch), Don Siegel’s low-budget thriller was a cry of real emotion. And emotion is exactly what’s at stake in the plot itself: A small California town finds itself overrun by pod people who get the surfaces right – the skin, the hair, the walk – but not the insides. That anxiety resonates with anyone stifled by conformity, not just Ike-era suburbanites but the makers of movies and art. Years ahead of its time, it’s a hint of the free-spirited decade to come. JR

Buy, rent or watch 'Invasion of the Body Snatchers'

The 100 best horror films, horror movies, wolf creek
Film, Horror

Wolf Creek (2005)

Director: Greg Mclean

Cast: Nathan Phillips, Cassandra Magrath, John Jarratt

Chuck another limb on the barbie
This terrifying slice of Aussie torture porn taps into fears of being stranded in the wilderness and then proves all those fears right in the most grim fashion imaginable. Taking his cue from ‘The Texas Chainsaw Massacre’, first-time filmmaker Greg Mclean gives us three tourists – one Aussie and two Brits – who set out to visit a remote meteor crater. Then – brace yourselves – their watches all stop and their car breaks down, leaving them to be rescued by a gruff local who tows them and their car to an abandoned old mine.

The film takes a sharp turn for the macabre in its later stages, pulling no punches and making especially creepy use of a digital video camera carried by one of the tourists. You’ll need a cold shower after this one. DC

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A Quiet Place
Film, Horror

A Quiet Place (2018)

Director: John Krasinski,

Cast: Emily Blunt, John Krasinski, Millicent Simmonds, Noah Jupe

Silence is golden
Michael Bay doesn’t appear on too many ‘greatest films’ lists, so it’s only fair to give the Don of Destruction some credit for helping spawn this creature-feature classic as producer. ‘A Quiet Place’ follows a family’s attempts to survive in a post-apocalyptic world patrolled by an alien species that hunt by sound, like some kind of satanic land dolphin. In many ways, it’s the antithesis of a Michael Bay movie: instead of noise, there’s silence; instead of berserk action, there’s stillness. It just makes the experience all the more terrifying. First-time director John Krasinski shows an almost Hitchcockian command of tension as the slightest creak or spillage can bring slathering hell-beasts raining down from the surrounding countryside. Emily Blunt steals the show in front of the camera: the childbirth scene, in particular, will never leave you. PdS

Buy, rent or watch ‘A Quiet Place’

Ginger Snaps (2000)
Film, Horror

Ginger Snaps (2000)

Cast: Emily Perkins, Katharine Isabelle

Wolfing around
The best teenage werewolf movie, period. Womens’ bodies have always been a prime source of fascination for horror cinema, from the animal sexuality of ‘Cat People’ to let’s-not-go-there modern shockers like ‘Teeth’. But the best of the bunch has to be this crafty Canadian werewolf movie, in which a teenage girl’s first period is swiftly followed by a wild dog attack – and a series of terrifying but strangely thrilling physical transformations. The film is also notable for its smart, ‘Buffy’-ish observations on teenage life, before the conflation of high school trauma and supernatural horror became a cliché. A word of warning, though: the unnecessary sequels are best avoided. TH

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The 100 best horror films, horror movies, the fog
Film, Horror

The Fog (1979)

Director: John Carpenter

Cast: Adrienne Barbeau, Jamie Lee Curtis, Janet Leigh

Play misty for me
If ‘Halloween’ was an urban legend come to life, its follow-up was John Carpenter’s stab at an old-fashioned campfire tale. It even begins, ‘Princess Bride’-style, with three kids bundled up by a roaring blaze as John Houseman’s salty sea-dog recounts the eerie tale of how, a century ago, a mysterious mist rolled into the town of Antonio Bay, sparking an act of shipwrecking criminality that will someday come back to haunt the townsfolk…

A critical flop on first release, ‘The Fog’ isn’t as bold or brutal as its predecessor – but it wasn’t meant to be. This is a film of lurking shadows and creeping gloom, unfashionably cosy in its dedication to the Victorian tradition of ghostly goings-on. It’s a film to be watched alone, lights out, with a mug of steaming cocoa. TH

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Get Out
Film, Horror

Get Out (2017)

Director: Jordan Peele

Cast: Daniel Kaluuya, Allison Williams, Bradley Whitford, Catherine Keener

More than just the ‘sunken place’
Horror films are at their best when the fear stems from the human condition itself. It’s what makes Jordan Peele’s ‘Get Out’ one of the most essential cinematic outings in recent memory. Starring British actor Daniel Kaluuya (yep, the guy out of ‘Skins’) as Chris, a photographer accompanying his white girlfriend (Williams) for a weekend with her parents that turns sour, the film’s terror comes from the mirror it holds up to society’s continuing threat of racism. Utilising the horror trope of isolated suburbs, Peele subverts expectations, distinctly carving out a new niche in the genre that’s equal parts horror, comedy and social commentary. The sinister ‘sunken place’ has resonated so much that it’s now part of cultural lexicon. What’s so unsettling about Peele’s film, however, is just how zeitgeisty it is. AK

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Film, Horror

Hellraiser (1987)

Director: Clive Barker

Cast: Andrew Robinson, Clare Higgins, Sean Chapman, Doug Bradley

Skinless wonder
From the disturbed imagination of gifted British fabulist Clive Barker comes a Faustian pact with a difference, involving a mysterious puzzle-box, a painful rebirth and the diet of human flesh needed to put the skin back on the flayed muscle of jaded sensualist Frank’s resurrected body. By solving the puzzle, Frank enters the world of exquisite cruelty presided over by Pinhead (Bradley) and his fellow Cenobites – glamorous sadists with a penchant for ripped flesh and transcendent pain. Despite Barker’s determination to ‘embrace the monstrous’, the fetishistic appeal of the Cenobites goes hand in hand with an atmosphere of clammy, mind-warping dread. The unsettling moral ambiguities of Frank’s relationship with his ex-lover Julia (now his brother’s wife) resonate far more than the conventional sub-plot involving his teenage niece Kirsty. NF

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The 100 best horror films, horror movies, black sunday
Film, Horror

Black Sunday (aka The Mask of Satan, Revenge of the Vampire) (1960)

Director: Mario Bava

Cast: Barbara Steele, John Richardson

Untempered Steele
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. TH

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The 100 best horror films, horror movies, black christmas
Film, Thrillers

Black Christmas (1974)

Director: Bob Clark

Cast: Olivia Hussey, Keir Dullea, Margot Kidder

Sorority sisters in pre-slasher slay ride shocker
A low-budget Canadian precursor of the ‘seasonal slasher’ cycle that was kicked into gear by the success of ‘Halloween’ four years later, Clark’s imaginatively nasty film traps a group of college students in a snow-dusted sorority house, where they are terrorised by an obscene phone caller before being bumped off one by one. Anticipating many now familiar conventions, Clark cranks up the level of threat through his pioneering use of prowling shots from the psycho killer's point of view, reinforced here by a discordant sound design. A sparky, pre-’Superman’ Margot Kidder gives as good as she gets, but it’s hard to tell which, if any, of the girls will survive this Yuletide slay ride. Clark also pulls off a wicked plot twist near the end, a flourish that’s simple yet devastatingly effective. NF

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Film, Science fiction


Director: James Cameron

Cast: Sigourney Weaver, Michael Biehn 

God save the queen
James Cameron’s ferocious sequel to Ridley Scott’s genre-defining original has been called many things: a war epic, an action movie, but rarely a horror film. True, ‘Aliens’ has a bigger armoury than, say, ‘The Exorcist’, but this is still a film about creatures lurking in the dark. The Marines’ first survey of the abandoned living quarters on LV-426 is pure haunted-basement creepiness, and the facehugger attack rivals ‘The Thing’ for slimy invention. David Fincher would get back to horror basics with ‘Alien 3’, but the series would never regain this level of intensity. TH

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The 100 best horror films, horror movies, The Old Dark House
Film, Horror

The Old Dark House (1932)

Director: James Whale

Cast: Boris Karloff, Ernest Thesiger, Charles Laughton

Perfect weather for ducks
Believed lost for over 30 years, they found ‘The Old Dark House’ in the Universal Studios vaults in 1968. Thank goodness! What a tragedy it would have been to lose this deliciously ghoulish comedy of manners. The film was adapted from JB Priestley’s novel ‘Benighted’, and sees a young couple, a chorus girl, a war veteran and a gruff self-made industrialist take shelter in a tumbledown Welsh mansion during a rainstorm. Its inmates, the Femm family, are quite frankly bonkers. Head of the household is Horace (a juicily camp turn by Thesiger: ‘It’s only gin. I like gin,’), who’s constantly bickering with his batty, deaf sister. Upstairs, their 101- year-old dad is bedridden and Saul their pyromaniac brother is locked in the attic, while Morgan the mad butler (Karloff) is getting fighting-drunk in the kitchen. Full of acid wit and howlingly funny, ‘The Old Dark House’ is one of the most giddily glorious films you’re ever likely to see. CC

The 100 best horror films, horror movies, kill baby kill curse of the dead
Film, Horror

Kill, Baby... Kill! (aka Operazione Paura, Curse of the Dead)

Director: Mario Bava

Cast: Giacomo Rossi-Stuart, Erika Blanc

The little death
Bava’s ghoulish small-town ghost story may feel a little tame following the explicit eeriness of his groundbreaking ‘Black Sunday’, but ‘Kill, Baby… Kill!’ is still a radical and unsettling work. When a coroner is called to a small town to inspect the corpse of a maid, he finds a silver coin inserted into her heart. The village is suffering under an ancient curse – and those who speak out about it meet bloody and untimely ends. Embracing the opportunity to shoot in full colour, Bava creates a lurid, entrancing dream-world which clearly informed the work of Argento and Fulci, and indeed any director interested in exploring otherworldly ideas: one scene, where the hero seems to pursue a vision of himself, is an almost shot-for-shot antecedent of David Lynch’s disturbing final episode of ‘Twin Peaks’. TH

Cabinet of Dr Caligari

The Cabinet of Dr Caligari (1920)

Director: Robert Wiene

Cast: Werner Krauss, Conrad Veidt

Trapped in the closet 
There was no way director Robert Wiene could’ve known how disturbingly prescient his masterpiece of art-horror would turn out to be. A tale of hypnotism, hysteria and multiple murder set in a twisted, folksy German landscape filtered through the disturbed imagination of a madman, its fractured landscapes reflect the shattered psyche of a nation in defeat, but they also prefigure the greater horrors to come. And almost a century later, at least one sequence here remains genuinely frightening: the midnight attack on a helpless young woman by a shambling, somnambulant strangler. The ending, too, still shocks: the whole world is a madhouse, Wiene is saying, so who’s really sane? TH

The 100 best horror films, horror movies, 28 days later
Film, Horror

28 Days Later… (2002)

Director: Danny Boyle

Cast: Cillian Murphy, Naomie Harris and Christopher Eccleston

Hate crime
If every generation gets the zombies its deserves, what would ours be like? Full of rage was the answer Danny Boyle came up with in ‘28 Days Later...’, in which a group of animal liberation militants free lab chimps infected with a fatal virus. The disease quickly spreads through the British population, turning people into berserk zombies. One month later, in a London hospital, bicycle courier Jim (Cillian Murphy) wakes up from a coma, to find London cloaked in an unearthly silence. There are scenes here that will send a shiver down your spine, such as the swarm of rats running in terror from an approaching undead horde. But the real horror begins when Jim and his band of survivors reach the ‘safety’ of a group of soldiers barricaded in a stately mansion up north. CC

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The 100 best horror films, horror movies, night of the demon
Film, Horror

Night of the Demon (1957)

Director: Jacques Tourneur

Cast: Dana Andrews, Peggy Cummins, Niall MacGinnis

Devil in disguise 
Jacques Tourneur never intended to show the audience the demon that terrorises his ‘Night of the Demon’. But producer Hal E Chester insisted the flaming beast make two personal appearances to bookend this tale of an American psychologist, Dr Holden (Andrews), a world-renowned paranormal sceptic. He’s in London to debunk a devil cult, whose apparently avuncular leader, Dr. Julian Karswell (MacGinnis), he takes for a harmless fake (he should really be paying more attention to Karswell’s devilish goatee). Tourneur was right about the monster – it’s B-movie silly. But the French-born director knew his business and elsewhere gives an object lesson in frightening the audience out their seats with the mere placing of a hand on a banister. Scriptwriter Charles Bennett was likewise enraged by the demon: "If [Chester, the producer] walked up my driveway right now, I'd shoot him dead.’ CC

The 100 best horror films, horror movies, Switchblade Romance
Film, Horror

Switchblade Romance (2003)

Director: Alexandre Aja

Cast: Cécile De France, Maïwenn Le Bosco, Philippe Nahon

Vive le difference!
The retro stylings of this Gallic shocker testify to a prodigious knowledge of old school slasher and giallo films, matched by a knowing, modern cinematic sensibility that gives an extra twist to the remorseless terrorising of De France and Le Besco’s holidaying students. One senses that things won’t end well when we first see Gaspar Noé’s favourite actor, Nahon, fellating himself with a woman’s severed head. The imaginatively gruesome killings and chase scenes come thick and fast and the nerve-jangling sound design exacerbates the tension, making it virtually unbearable. Then, with one staggeringly ill-judged and gob-smackingly offensive plot twist, the entire film falls apart. Aja’s tendency towards unreconstructed, old-school chauvinism surfaced again in his remakes of ‘The Hills Have Eyes’ and ‘Piranha’, though in a more humorous vein. NF

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Film, Horror

Pulse (Kairo) (2001)

Director: Alexandre Aja

Cast: Cécile De France, Maïwenn Le Bosco, Philippe Nahon

Vive le difference!
The retro stylings of this Gallic shocker testify to a prodigious knowledge of old school slasher and giallo films, matched by a knowing, modern cinematic sensibility that gives an extra twist to the remorseless terrorising of De France and Le Besco’s holidaying students. One senses that things won’t end well when we first see Gaspar Noé’s favourite actor, Nahon, fellating himself with a woman’s severed head. The imaginatively gruesome killings and chase scenes come thick and fast and the nerve-jangling sound design exacerbates the tension, making it virtually unbearable. Then, with one staggeringly ill-judged and gob-smackingly offensive plot twist, the entire film falls apart. Aja’s tendency towards unreconstructed, old-school chauvinism surfaced again in his remakes of ‘The Hills Have Eyes’ and ‘Piranha’, though in a more humorous vein. NF

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The 100 best horror films, horror movies, the beyond
Film, Horror

The Beyond (1981)

Director: Lucio Fulci

Cast: Katherine MacColl, David Warbeck

All I have to do is dream
Outside the arthouse, horror is the only cinematic genre where pure surrealism is not only acceptable but expected – and there are few more graphic examples than Fulci’s bonkers bayou bloodbath ‘The Beyond’. There’s a plot of sorts, but it’s fairly standard: a young woman inherits a hotel which happens to have been built over a gateway to hell. But this is merely a loose framework within which Fulci goes all out to upset and horrify his audience: faces melt inexplicably, tarantulas rip out human tongues, zombies rise from the grave, eyes are repeatedly torn out. The result is more accurately nightmarish than almost any other film on this list, a true descent into the depths of meaningless, unpredictable, terrifyingly beautiful horror, with a scorpion-sharp sting in the tail. TH

The 100 best horror films, horror movies, lake mungo
Film, Horror

Lake Mungo (2008)

Director: Joel Anderson 

Cast: Rosie Traynor, David Pledger 

Non-schlock mock doc shock! 
A surprise entry on our list, this appallingly titled micro-budget Australian offering made waves at the SXSW film festival in 2006, then promptly vanished off the radar. But somebody was clearly paying attention, because it’s crashed into our top 100. Told in mock-doc style, the film recounts the eerie, possibly supernatural events that occurred in the remote Aussie town of Ararat following a tragic drowning at the local reservoir. There’s nothing groundbreaking here, but the photography is beautiful, the performances strong and the moments of unease are brilliantly handled and genuinely spooky. Listen hard, and you might just be able to hear ‘Paranormal Activity’ director Oren Peli frantically scribbling notes. TH

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The 100 best horror films, horror movies, night of the hunter
Film, Drama

The Night of the Hunter (1955)

Director: Charles Laughton

Cast: Robert Mitchum, Shelley Winters, Lillian Gish

Sleep, little ones, sleep
Charles Laughton’s only work as a director may be terrifying, but is it really a horror film? That uncertainty is doubtless the reason for its low placing in this list, because there’s no question about the film’s quality: this is a near-perfect example of pure cinema. There are strong ties to the genre: Robert Mitchum plays Harry Powell, a murderous preacher whose pursuit of hidden booty leads him to hunt down a pair of hapless orphaned children through a mystical Southern dreamscape. But more than half a century after it was made, ‘The Night of the Hunter’ continues to shrug off attempts at easy categorisation: if it’s a horror movie, then it’s also an adventure story, a crime thriller, a coming-of-age drama and a fairy tale. One thing remains certain, however: it’s a masterpiece. TH

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les diaboliques.jpg
Film, Horror

Les Diaboliques (1955)

Director: Henri-Georges Clouzot

Cast: Véra Clouzot, Simone Signoret

Schools out forever 
There’s much fun to be had with French filmmaker Clouzot’s boarding school-set puzzler from 1955, a suspenseful comic tease with added frights. First, there are the grotesque characters, each horrific enough in their own way, from the boo-hiss headmaster (Paul Meurisse) to his nervy wife (Vera Clouzot) and bullish mistress (Signoret). Clouzot has been tagged the ‘French Hitchcock’, and it’s a fair enough comparison: like his British counterpart, he allows for ample playfulness amid the scares. Apart from being compelling right to the final frame, the main reason why ‘Les Diaboliques’ deserves a place in this list is the way that Clouzot continually upends us with the ambiguous aftermath of the headmaster’s murder – as well as how he pulls off an unforeseeable scare late in the day. DC

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The 100 best horror films, horror movies, rec [rec]
Film, Horror

[Rec] (2007)

Directors: Jaume Balagueró and Paco Plaza

Cast: Manuela Velasco, Ferrán Terraza, David Vert

Whatever you witness... never stop recording 
Few great horror movies spill so little blood, but end up with so much blood on their hands. If ‘The Blair Witch Project’ was the real watershed moment for the found-footage genre, Jaume Balagueró and Paco Plaza’s 2007 shaky-cam zombie nightmare is the film that brought the mode into the digital age and showed a generation of lesser directors that first-person stories about people running for their lives in the dark are a great way to scare up success. Following one hellish night in the life of a Barcelona TV reporter as she and her cameraman accompany some firemen on a call to a suspiciously quiet apartment building, ‘[REC]’ didn’t just open the doors to a franchise, it jumpstarted a movement. The jolts on offer are up there with the best of them, and lesser filmmakers are still trying to mimic the chilling last shot. DE

The 100 best horror films, horror movies, vampyr
Film, Horror

Vampyr (1932)

Director: Carl Theodor Dreyer

Cast: Julian West, Jan Hieronimko, Sybille Schmitz

The first bite is the deepest 
In 1932, the New York Times’s film critic was not impressed. ‘Vampyr’, he declared, was ‘one of the worst films’ he’d ever seen, but added grudgingly that director Carl Dreyer could always be relied upon to be ‘different’. And ‘Vampyr’ is different, a film like no other. Dreyer spun his cinematic nightmare from two stories from a Sheridan Le Fanu collection. It stars Nicolas de Gunzburg (a Russian aristocrat who bankrolled the film, appearing under the alias Julian West) as an occult-obsessed young man who visits a French village haunted by a vampire. The lord of the manor dies and his young daughter is gravely ill, bite wounds to her neck. His intention, said Dreyer, was ‘to create a daydream on the screen and to show that the horrific is not to be found around us, but in our own unconscious mind.’ And ‘Vampyr’ is often compared to a waking dream, full of strange hallucinatory images that strike dread in audiences even today. CC

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The 100 best horror films, horror movies, Kwaidan
Film, Horror

Kwaidan (1964)

Director: Masaki Kobayashi

Cast: Tatsuya Nakadai, Rentarô Mikuni, Michiyo Aratama

Pack up your troubles 
Based on traditional Japanese folk tales and filmed in ravishing wide-screen on hand-painted sets, these four stories – of raven-haired women, beautiful female spectres, blind singing monks and ghostly samurai warriors – created a template for much of the indigenous supernatural cinema that would follow. The eternally youthful wife in The Black Hair, in particular, prefigures the many raven-haired women with shadowed ivory faces found in modern J-horror movies such as ‘Ringu’. Kobayashi’s stylised use of colour is more symbolic than naturalistic, and coupled with the avant garde electronic score by Toru Takemitsu, which also incorporates sampled natural sounds, it generates both a haunting atmosphere and some subtle supernatural chills. NF

The 100 best horror films, horror movies, The Vanishing

The Vanishing (1988)

Director: George Sluizer

Cast: Bernard-Pierre Donnadieu, Gene Bervoets

Where did our love go?
No mainstream genre has such a propensity for downbeat or uncertain endings as horror – and the final scene of ‘The Vanishing’ might just top them all. Obviously we’re not going to reveal it here – that’d just be mean – but suffice it to say, you won’t see this one coming. The rest of the film is powerful stuff – Bervoets plays a young man whose girlfriend is snatched at French truck stop by serial murderer Donnadieu, an otherwise ordinary family man. Unwilling to let the love of his life slip away, the young man finally tracks down his nemesis… and is offered a terrifying choice. Frosty, bleak and grippingly direct, Sluizer’s remarkable feature is only let down by the fact that he remade it – horribly – in Hollywood five years later. TH

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The 100 best horror films, horror movies, the sixth sense
Film, Horror

The Sixth Sense (1999)

Director: M Night Shyamalan

Cast: Bruce Willis, Haley Joel Osment, Toni Colette

It’s been endlessly parodied and director M Night Shyalaman’s career has gone seriously off the boil since. But ‘The Sixth Sense’ brought ghostly chills (this is far from the gory end of horror) to an approving mass audience. Even now it feels wrong to reveal the twist on which the film is built, so we won’t. Suffice to say that the film’s power derives from ultimately being an acute and acutely strange study of grief and its fallout. Child star Haley Joel Osment (what happened to him?) plays a young boy who can see and talk to the dead (‘I see dead people’ now up there with ‘I’ll have what she’s having’ in the movie-quote pantheon), while Bruce Willis plays the psychologist who attempts to diagnose his condition. It’s so effective because Shyalaman manages not to reveal the truth until very late on and, crucially, make it feel credible when he does. DC

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The 100 best horror films, horror movies, repulsion
Film, Horror

Repulsion (1965)

Director: Roman Polanski

Cast: Catherine Deneuve

The girl can’t help it
Polanski once said in an interview that ‘Repulsion’ is one of the films he made as ‘matters of convenience’. In this case he was on his uppers – flat broke in London – and was offered the chance to make a horror film. Which doesn’t tell the half of it. Has there been a more dread-filled study of mental collapse? Catherine Deneuve plays a repressed young Belgian woman, Carole, who lives in London with her sister and works as a manicurist. ‘Give me Revlon’s fire and ice,’ says one of her dowager customers. Fire and ice: it could be a description of Deneuve’s on screen presence, her secretive and chilliness. All around Carole, London is upbeat, going places. The youth are about to quake. In her flat cracks appear in the walls and Carole drifts off into fugues and finally psychosis. The noise of everyday life is deafening, Polanski piercing the subconscious to poke at what lies beneath. CC

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The 100 best horror films, horror movies, eraserhead
Film, Fantasy

Eraserhead (1977)

Director: David Lynch

Cast: Jack Nance, Charlotte Stewart

Father knows best
Most of David Lynch’s films were nominated at least once for this list, but only ‘Eraserhead’ actually made it (though ‘Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me’ came very close). Inspired by the birth of his own child Jennifer, Lynch creates a mood of near-unbearable, panicky fear, depicting the sprog in question as more a fleshy hot water bottle than an actual human baby. Shot over five years on a budget scraped together from university funding, art grants and odd jobs (Lynch even had a paper round at one point), ‘Eraserhead’ fits squarely within the tradition of American avant garde cinema, but like many of its fellows (the films of Kenneth Anger, for example) it flirts with horror imagery and has a tone of creeping dread which more than justifies its position in this list. TH

The 100 best horror films, horror movies, deep red

Deep Red (1975)

Director: Dario Argento

Cast: David Hemmings, Daria Nicolodi

Spaghetti slasher
Argento fans have a tendency to divide into two camps: those who prefer his relatively straightforward, plot-driven early giallo thrillers and those who revel in the surrealistic beauty of his post-‘Suspiria’ dream-movies. ‘Deep Red’ is the film which unites the two camps, combining propulsive narrative intrigue with a series of kill scenes more elaborate and expressionistic than anything the director had yet attempted. Thanks in large part to two likeable lead performances – Hemmings and Nicolodi have a real rapport as the amateur sleuths on the trail of a serial murderer – it’s also Argento’s most breezily enjoyable film, chucking in a fistful of witty, satirical attacks on Italian masculinity and some of the finest prog-fusion freakouts ever committed to tape. TH

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The 100 best horror films, horror movies, the devils

The Devils (1971)

Director: Ken Russell

Cast: Oliver Reed, Vanessa Redgrave

Sister act
In lesser hands, the wild theatrics and camp stylings of Ken Russell’s story of religious persecution and demonic possession in seventeenth-century France would turn ‘The Devils’ into no more than a fleshy, hysterical romp. But what’s brilliant about ‘The Devils’ is that Russell achieves a real, serious sense of fear and claustrophobia alongside the ample lunacy. Partly that’s down to Reed's reserved performance – compared, at least, to the madness around him – which means that when his character, Father Grandier, is finally tortured we feel the full horror of corrupt government and wayward religious fervour directed towards him. That said, ‘The Devils’ is also hugely fun, from Derek Jarman’s immense, overwhelming set design to Vanessa Redgrave’s vulnerable, possessed performance as Sister Jeanne. In March 2012, the BFI finally released ‘The Devils’ on DVD as part of an impressive two-disc package: a fitting tribute to Russell, who died in November 2011. DC

The 100 best horror films, horror movies, the descent
Film, Horror

The Descent (2005)

Director: Neil Marshall

Cast: Shauna Macdonald, MyAnna Buring, Natalie Mendoza

Subterranean nightmare blues
What might have been a routine ‘chicks with picks’ movie is lent extra emotional depth by the complex group dynamics of six young women who plunge into an Appalachian cave system and discover they are not alone. As well as the cold, the dark and the claustrophobia, they find ancient, blind and ferocious predators with a highly evolved sense of smell. As the women fight to survive, they must also cope with their own half-buried secrets: betrayals surface, tensions explode and loyalties disintegrate. Still grieving for her husband and daughter, Sarah (Macdonald) is driven to the edge of madness by this blend of terror and suspicion. A smarter, nastier big sister to the blokey ‘Dog Soldiers’. NF

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The 100 best horror films, horror movies, peeping tom
Film, Thrillers

Peeping Tom (1960)

Director: Michael Powell

Cast: Karlheinz Böhm, Moira Shearer, Anna Massey

The eye of the beholder
Made the same year as ‘Psycho’ – another film about a deranged single man – this was the film that brought Powell’s career to a premature halt, so upsetting did his contemporaries find the story of a young photographer and filmmaker who disguises a murder weapon as a camera in order to trap and kill women. In retrospect, Mark Lewis (Böhm) remains a disturbing figure and his screen murders have an intimate cruelty to them – Shearer’s demise in an empty film studio is especially horrible. But surely it was the most modern elements of the film – the suggestion that the camera itself is so invasive and predatory as to ‘kill’ and the idea that Lewis is playing out a childhood trauma – that alienated viewers in the early 1960s and caused Powell’s critics to grumble instead about its portrayal of semi-naked prostitutes? This is a great horror film about the horror of cinema itself. DC

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The 100 best horror films, horror movies, Ringu
Film, Horror

Ring (Ringu) (1998)

Director: Hideo Nakata

Cast: Nanako Matsushima, Miki Nakatani

Who’s that girl?
It is possibly the scariest scene in cinema history: (spoiler alert!) a man watches a video in which a ghostly figure in white, long black hair pulled witchily over her face, crawls like nothing human out of a well and then just keeps coming, out of his TV and into the real world... The ‘Ring’ is a masterpiece of fear and atmospheric terror. A journalist (Nanako Matsushima) is investigating a rumour that’s spreading like wildfire among teenagers about a spooky VHS. Everyone who has watched the video, so the story goes, dies seven days later. The drip, drip, drip of dread of Hideo Nakata’s film will turn your stomach to ice – it’s not for nothing that ‘Ring’ is highest grossing horror in Japanese film history. CC

Invasion of the Body Snatchers
Film, Fantasy

Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1958)

Director: Don Siegel

Cast: Kevin McCarthy, Dana Wynter

Vote for the green party 
It’s gratifying to see both ‘Body Snatchers’ movies on this list: Don Siegel’s 1956 original may be punchier and more bracing, but Philip ‘The Right Stuff’ Kaufman’s ’70s remake is funnier and more self-aware. While the original movie was (depending on who you believe) an examination of either McCarthyist conformity or encroaching communism, the remake takes things into weirder, more oblique territory, lampooning the fallout from the ’60s ideal with its lentils-and-beansprouts nature freaks and its bandwagon-jumping psychotherapy converts. Plus it’s an absolutely terrific horror movie: the scene where Sutherland smashes up a gestating pod-person with a rake is gruesome as hell, but it’s that famously devastating closing shot that really chills the blood. TH

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Film, Horror

Dead of Night (1945)

Directors: Alberto Cavalcanti, Charles Crichton, Basil Dearden, Robert Hamer

Cast: Michael Redgrave, Googie Withers, Ralph Michael

Don’t be a dummy 
It’s Redgrave as a ventriloquist possessed by his own dummy that most people rightly remember about this Ealing Studios anthology of horror yarns, woven together as a series of tales told by guests at a tea party at a remote cottage. The tales themselves vary in quality, but the talent involved – the cream of Ealing – remains impressive. As well as the ventriloquist’s episode, the other strong segment is directed by Robert Hamer (‘It Always Rains on Sunday’) and features a mirror that reflects another time and place. For this story, a husband (Michael) is possessed, dragged into the mirror and inspired to try and kill his wife (Withers). Horror disappeared from cinemas during the war, so this marked a return to screens for the genre. DC

The 100 best horror films, horror movies, the others

The Others (2001)

Director: Alejandro Amenábar

Cast: Nicole Kidman, Christopher Eccleston

Jersey devil 
Nicole Kidman plays the mother of two young children who have a photo-sensitive disorder that forces them to stay indoors in this distinctly grown-up ghost story set on the island of Jersey in 1945. With hints of 1951’s ‘The Innocents’ (itself based on Henry James’s ‘The Turn of the Screw’), Spanish writer-director Alejandro Amenabar upsets the equilibrium of this family’s prim, proper lives by introducing a trio of new servants to the house (Eric Sykes plays a gardener) with whom arrive a series of low-key but upending supernatural goings-on. The scares here are incremental and subtle, driven not by outright terror but by doors that close themselves or pianos that play on their own. This is mature psychological horror, built on intelligence and an alluring, solid foundation of old-fashioned craft. DC

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The 100 best horror films, horror movies, silence of the lambs
Film, Thrillers

The Silence of the Lambs (1990)

Director: Jonathan Demme

Cast: Jodie Foster, Anthony Hopkins

Cordon bleugh

Cordon bleugh 
‘Don't tell him anything personal. You don't want Hannibal Lecter inside your head.’ That’s the warning FBI trainee Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster) is given before meeting serial killer Dr Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins) in a maximum-security facility. But of course Clarice can’t resist Hannibal the Cannibal – and neither can we. No, you wouldn’t want him as your psychiatrist. But like Sherlock Holmes’s evil shadow, Dr Lecter makes everyone else look so dull. Based on Thomas Harris’s 1988 novel, ‘The Silence of the Lambs’ is part thriller and part horror – stomach-knotting tensely with a cruel streak of black humour. It’s hard to imagine another actor taking Hopkins’s place, but it’s fascinating to note that director Jonathan Demme also considered Daniel Day-Lewis for the role of Dr Lecter. CC

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The 100 best horror films, horror movies, the tenant
Film, Thrillers

The Tenant (1976)

Director: Roman Polanski

Cast: Roman Polanski, Isabelle Adjani

Roman á clef
What is it about Polanski and confined spaces? With ‘Repulsion’, ‘Rosemary’s Baby’ and finally this Paris-set film, the Polish director proved himself a master of turning the humble flat into frightening domestic terrain. Here, Polanski himself plays a man who moves into an empty apartment, previously occupied by a woman (Adjani) who attempted suicide, and finds himself at the centre of a paranoid storm in which his neighbours are increasingly accusing and vicious towards him – causing his mental state to worsen as it becomes less and less clear exactly what’s real and what’s not. ‘The Tenant’ may be set in the present, but it’s hard not to impose the horror of Polanski’s own childhood experiences in the Warsaw ghetto on to this story of the walls closing in on one man’s world. DC

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The 100 best horror films, horror movies, hour of the wolf

Hour of the Wolf (1967)

Director: Ingmar Bergman

Cast: Max von Sydow, Liv Ullmann

It’s all in the mind
It’s hard to watch Swedish actor von Sydow as a tortured artist in Bergman’s portrait of a man in deep crisis without thinking of the same actor’s self-mocking act as a troubled painter in Woody Allen’s ‘Hannah and her Sisters’ (1986). This is deadly serious though: the real and imagined sit side by side and haunt each other as von Sydow’s demons take over the imagery and mood of the film as his wife (Ullman) recalls this terrible period in her life. Conceived alongside ‘Persona’, Bergman offers the full horror of an artist’s breakdown and crumbling of his marriage (and perhaps his wife’s mind too) – all of which is presented, at times, as a full-on Gothic nightmare, with characters walking on ceilings, men appearing in hallucinations as birds and a gruesome flashback in which Von Sydow’s character remembers attacking a young boy with a rock. Haunting – and even more so when you discover it emerged from Bergman’s own demons and nervous breakdown in the mid-1960s. DC

The 100 best horror films, horror movies, the devil's backbone
Film, Horror

The Devil's Backbone (2001)

Director: Guillermo del Toro

Cast: Marisa Paredes, Eduardo Noriega

Ghosts of the civil dead
From its breathtaking opening shot from inside the bomb bay of a cruising warplane, you know you’re in the hands of a master with ‘The Devil’s Backbone’. Del Toro’s return to his native language following the disappointment of 1997’s heavily recut Hollywood horrorshow ‘Mimic’ proved conclusively that, working without interference, this Mexican up-and-comer was capable of remarkable cinema – a fact that has been reconfirmed time and again since. It’s odd but pleasing that ‘The Devil’s Backbone’ beat out its loose follow-up ‘Pan’s Labyrinth’ on this list: it’s an odder, less showy but more complete work, depicting the trials endured by a group of boys living in a haunted orphanage during the Spanish Civil War. Cold, creepy and compelling, this is a small film from a massive talent. TH 

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The 100 best horror films, horror movies, possession
Film, Fantasy

Possession (1981)

Director: Andrzej Zulawski

Cast: Isabelle Adjani, Sam Neill, Heinz Bennent

Down in the tube station at midnight
‘Unrelenting’ is a word often applied to horror movies, but it’s rarely appropriate: even the most extreme movies need the occasional moment of downtime to allow the audience to catch their breath. Not ‘Possession’. Zulawski’s film starts relatively quietly – an expat couple living in Berlin find their marriage falling apart – and builds through a series of arguments, betrayals, unexplained occurrences, bizarre satirical interruptions and scenes of extreme horror until the intensity is almost unbearable. The lead performances are remarkable – Isabelle Adjani’s explosive freakout in the metro station remains one of cinema’s most devastating kicks in the face – and the script is both politically bold and emotionally draining. The effect is quite simply unique, a window into a singular form of creative insanity: it’s not the characters who are possessed, but the film itself. TH

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The 100 best horror films, horror movies, jacob's ladder
Film, Horror

Jacob's Ladder (1990)

Director: Adrian Lyne

Cast: Tim Robbins, Elizabeth Pena, Danny Aiello

One pill makes you larger…
A surprise entry on this list, Lyne’s psychedelic post-’Nam comedown thriller seems to have fallen from favour in recent years, but has evidently managed to stick in the minds of horror experts. In a decisive and unexpected break from his then-popular goofy-dweeb persona, Robbins plays Jacob, a worn-out war veteran whose mind begins to fragment once the conflict is over. Is he going crazy, or are there darker forces at work? Beautifully designed by ‘Fatal Attraction’ helmer Lyne, ‘Jacob’s Ladder’ feels like an offbeat slice of post-hippy experimentation retooled for the MTV generation: what it lacks in depth and subtlety, it more than makes up for in shock tactics and woozy unpredictability, all anchored in Robbins’s wide-eyed and pitiable central turn. TH

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The 100 best horror films, horror movies, cannibal holocaust
Film, Horror

Cannibal Holocaust (1979)

Director: Ruggero Deodato

Cast: Francesca Ciardi, Perry Pirkanen

You found it here first
One of the few ‘Video Nasties’ that lives down to its provocative title and lurid cover art. Yet for all its crude excesses – a foetus is ripped from its mother’s womb, a tortoise is skinned alive, genitals are sliced off – ‘Cannibal Holocaust’ does achieve an undeniable visceral intensity. This is largely due to Deodato’s pioneering use of the faux-documentary technique now adopted by every ‘found footage’ horror film, from ‘Blair Witch’ onwards. After witnessing the barbaric practices of an Amazonian tribe, sensation-seeking American documentary filmmakers develop a taste for rape and murder. For all its graphic depictions of cruelty and torture, the most appalling thing about this cannibalistic carnage is the laughable way that it purports to condemn the exploitative violence that it so obviously delights in depicting. NF

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The 100 best horror films, horror movies, Les Yeux sans visage, eyes without a face
Film, Horror

Eyes Without a Face (1959)

Director: Georges Franju

Cast: Edith Scob, Pierre Brasseur, Alida Valli, Juliette Mayniel

Flaying alive 
Pedro Almodóvar’s ‘The Skin I Live In’ was inspired in part by Franju’s clinical, monochrome movie about an obsessive professor of plastic surgery. With the help of his lover/assistant, Louise (Valli), Professeur Génessier (Brasseur) abducts and peels the faces off young women. He then grafts the victims’ flayed visage on his daughter Christiane’s badly scarred face, which in the meantime is hidden and protected by a featureless plastic mask. Effectively imprisoned by her father, who feels responsible for the car accident in which she was disfigured, the infantilised Christiane is like a caged baby bird waiting to find its wings. There were reports of audience members fainting during the facial surgery scenes, but for Franju this was a tale of anguish rather than a horror movie per se. NF

The 100 best horror films, horror movies, Frankenstein
Film, Horror

Frankenstein (1931)

Director: James Whale

Cast: 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 

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The 100 best horror films, horror movies, the wicker man
Film, Thrillers

The Wicker Man (1973)

Director: Robin Hardy

Cast: Edward Woodward, Christopher Lee, Britt Ekland

The ultimate sacrifice 
Robin Hardy’s folk horror looks so harmless – all that rumpy-pumpy and frolicking in the bushes on a remote Scottish island. Throw in Hammer grandee Christopher Lee and some campy tunes, and the whole thing could have ended up as a kind of ‘Carry On up the Maypole’. But something nightmarish lurks beneath the surface, as a dour Presbyterian policeman (Woodward) arrives to investigate a 12-year-old girl’s disappearance. He is not impressed by the pagan bacchanalia, though is rather smitten with lusty landlord's daughter Willow (Ekland). The magnificent Lee (who was paid nothing to act in the film) is laird of the manor and master of ceremonies. Released as a B-movie and neglected for years, ‘The Wicker Man’, vintage British horror, is now a gold-seal cult classic. CC

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The 100 best horror films, horror movies, carnival of souls
Film, Horror

Carnival of Souls (1962)

Director: Herk Harvey

Cast: Candace Hilligoss, Frances Feist, Sidney Berger

Haunted dancehall
Herk Harvey’s ‘Carnival of Souls’ may not be the scariest movie ever made, but it’s certainly one of the eeriest. An insidiously cheap creepshow that feels like it’s being projected directly from your nightmares (Harvey used an Arriflex camera – typically used for newsreels – as a cost-cutting measure, adding an unsettling edge of realism), the film tells the barebones story of a woman who loses a drag race by driving off a bridge and into the river below. She survives the accident, but comes to with no memory of what transpired. And that’s when things get weird. Casting himself as the face of inexplicable evil and slowly dismantling any semblance of logic, Harvey creates a purgatorial dead-end where every turn just leads deeper into the darkness. In the process, he paved the way for ‘Eraserhead’ and other experimental, micro-budget terrors. DE

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The 100 best horror films, horror movies, bride of frankenstein
Film, Horror

Bride of Frankenstein (1935)

Director: James Whale

Cast: Boris Karloff, Colin Clive, Elsa Lanchester, Ernest Thesiger

She’s alive!
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

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El legado del diablo
Foto: Cortesía Diamond Films
Film, Horror

Hereditary (2018)

Director: Ari Aster

Cast: Toni Collette, Gabriel Byrne

Where’s your head at?
Like ‘The Babadook’, it’s the disruption of domesticity and family trauma that haunts ‘Hereditary’, the debut film from writer-director Ari Aster. Toni Collette plays Annie, an artist who constructs uncannily realistic dioramas: miniature rooms that embody the film’s theme of a larger, malevolent entity playing with human toys. Her family is on the brink, with teenager stoner son Peter (Alex Wolff) and creepy daughter Charlie (played expertly by Milly Shapiro) becoming increasingly more disturbed as the film progresses. After a catastrophic and stomach-churning accident, the film takes another turn, forcing the viewer to take a leap of faith as a mother’s grief merges with the supernatural. Thankfully, Aster manages it with his gift of exquisite camera placement and generous patience; he’s not merely a summoner of Kubrickian chill but also brings empathy. AK
The 100 best horror films, horror movies, cat people
Film, Horror

Cat People (1942)

Director: Jacques Tourneur

Cast: 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

Film, Fantasy

Videodrome (1982)

Director: David Cronenberg

Cast: 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

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Film, Horror

The Changeling (1979)

Director: Peter Medak

Cast: 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. NF

The 100 best horror films, horror movies, the birds
Film, Horror

The Birds (1963)

Director: Alfred Hitchcock

Cast: 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

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The 100 best horror films, horror movies, The evil dead
Film, Horror

The Evil Dead (1981)

Director: Sam Raimi

Cast: Bruce Campbell, Ellen Sandweiss

You can make it on your own
Low-budget DIY horror was already a force by 1981 – the ‘Texas Chain Saw Massacre’ folks had shown that you could make millions with an old camera, some enthusiastic friends and a few garden tools – but the movie which took the movement to new heights was Raimi’s astonishing debut. Adapting their own short ‘Within the Woods’, childhood friends Raimi, producer Robert Tapert and star Campbell secured funding from local businesses and traipsed off to the forest to make one of the most ferocious, original and unrelenting horror movies of all time. Sure, it looks a little rough around the edges now (and that still censored tree-rape scene is just unnecessarily vicious), but ‘The Evil Dead’ remains an inspiration for first-time filmmakers, a testament to the power of plasticine, glue and gumption. TH

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The Blair Witch Project
Film, Horror

The Blair Witch Project (1999)

Directors: Daniel Myrick, Eduardo Sánchez

Cast: Heather Donahue, Michael C Williams, Joshua Leonard

A year later their footage was found... 
Although the alleged anthropological footage of ‘Cannibal Holocaust’ (1980) pre-dated Myrick and Sánchez's terrifying faux documentary by nearly two decades, this film made them the founding fathers of modern ‘found footage’ horror. Shot for $50,000 in just eight days, it purports to show an edited version of the grainy, hand-held videotape shot by missing film students Heather, Josh and Michael, while investigating the Blair Witch legend in and around Burkittsville, Maryland. There are interviews with locals, footage of the trio getting hopelessly lost in the woods, and increasingly hysterical arguments. At night, inside their flimsy tent, they are assailed by creepy scuffling and eerie screams. Crucially, since neither director was a horror nerd, they cut a highly original path through the dark woods of our imagination. NF

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The 100 best horror films, horror movies, poltergeist
Film, Horror

Poltergeist (1982)

Director: Tobe Hooper

Cast: JoBeth Williams, Heather O’Rourke, Craig T Nelson

See you on the otherside
Do funfair haunted houses still exist, or are they obsolete in this era of torture porn and human centipedes? Either way, they’re the perfect comparison for ‘Poltergeist’, a film which draws you in, gooses you gleefully for two hours then spits you out the other side, quivering but happy. There’s nothing too nasty in this effects-packed ghost story – the odd face-rip, the occasional pop-up corpse – but the effect is more bracing and enjoyable than a hundred ‘Hostel’s.

The big question still surrounding the film, of course, is who really made the movie – credited director Tobe Hooper, or Steven Spielberg, the producer whose hands-on approach led some observers to cry foul. There’s no doubt that ‘Poltergeist’ looks and feels like a Spielberg movie, all suburban angst and shimmering God-light – but it has a wholly Hooper-ish ferocity at points as well. Let’s call it a happy collaboration. TH

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The 100 best horror films, horror movies, the omen
Film, Horror

The Omen (1976)

Director: Richard Donner

Cast: Gregory Peck, Lee Remick

One hell of a parents’ evening 
Children can be little devils, but Damien Thorn really is the Antichrist – and all hell breaks loose when The Devil’s Spawn turns five. There’s not a splash of green vomit or a single spinning head in director Richard Donner’s suspenseful, Bible-thumping horror classic. Ravens and rottweilers are unaccountably drawn to angel-faced Damien, and anyone who starts asking questions – an innocent nanny, a crusading priest, a sceptical journalist – is knocked off in spectacular fashion. Like ‘The Exorcist’ before it, the film’s production was plagued with problems – fires, accidents, and illness – leading to the legend of the ‘Omen curse’. In the context of the satanic cinema craze of the late ’60s and ’70s, ‘The Omen’ is not quite up there with ‘The Exorcist’ or ‘Rosemary’s Baby’. But it still chills to the bone. CC

The 100 best horror films, horror movies, freaks
Film, Horror

Freaks (1932)

Director: Tod Browning

Cast: 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

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The 100 best horror films, horror movies, nosferatu
Film, Horror

Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror (1922)

Director: FW Murnau

Cast: 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

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The 100 best horror films, horror movies, the haunting
Film, Horror

The Haunting (1963)

Director: Robert Wise

Cast: Julie Harris, Claire Bloom, Richard Johnson

Things that go bump in the night
With some horror movies, it’s all about context – watch ‘The Haunting’ on a well-lit afternoon and it’ll seem creaky, old-fashioned, even a bit silly. But watch it late at night, alone, and this might be the greatest ghost story of them all, in which the things going bump in the night aren’t out there in the dark, but right inside the room – or inside your mind. The use of wide angles is gorgeously unsettling – director Robert Wise is clearly a student of Orson Welles, whose off-kilter influence is all over the film. Wise would return to terrify us again four years later with ‘The Sound of Music’ – a jack of all trades, indeed. TH

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The 100 best horror films, horror movies, audition

Audition (1999)

Director: Takashi Miike

Cast: Ryo Ishibashi, Eihi Shiina, Jun Kunimura

Trust the pain
Who’s the real villain in Takashi Miike’s ice-cold thriller: the middle-aged widower who sets up a fake movie audition to lure unsuspecting single women and ends up opting for the most pliable, geisha-like applicant? Or the aforementioned young lady, whose meek and mild exterior hides a dark secret? Okay, okay, it’s her – Asami remains one of cinema’s most memorably twisted psychopaths. But Miike’s masterpiece never lets the hero off the hook either, transforming ‘Audition’ from a simple cautionary tale into a full-on autopsy of Japanese masculinity. TH

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The 100 best horror films, horror movies, nightmare on elm street
Film, Horror

A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)

Director: Wes Craven

Cast: Heather Langenkamp, Robert Englund, John Saxon

Freddy’s coming for you
It’s arguably the single greatest set-up for a modern horror movie: a monster that invades your dreams, slashing away at your very psyche with his razor-fingered gloves. And while the franchise may have descended swiftly into self-parody – they marketed Freddy Krueger dolls to pre-teens, if you recall – the original remains one of the most daring, inventive and downright terrifying shockers of the last century. Wes Craven’s control over his material is absolute, and even a handful of low-rent, low-budget effects can’t undermine the mounting air of existential, avant-garde dread.

It’s also, lest we forget, the movie that made a studio: New Line Cinema were barely a glint in the indie scene’s eye when they forked out $1.8 million for Wes Craven to realise his delirious vision. Seven ‘Nightmare’ sequels and little more than a decade later, they funded the entire ‘Lord of the Rings’ trilogy. Cheers, Freddy. TH

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The 100 best horror films, horror movies, let the right one in

Let the Right One In (2008)

Director: Tomas Alfredson

Cast: Kåre Hedebrant, Lina Leandersson

Boy 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

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The 100 best horror films, horror movies, the fly
Film, Horror

The Fly (1986)

Director: David Cronenberg

Cast: 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

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The 100 best horror films, horror movies, evil dead ii
Film, Horror

Evil Dead II (1987)

Director: Sam Raimi

Cast: Bruce Campbell, Sarah Berry

Hail to the king, baby
In which Bruce Campbell reveals himself to be the Fangoria generation’s answer to Buster Keaton. ‘The Evil Dead’ had humour but it was still, at heart, a video nasty: that tree-rape scene tended to kill the chuckles. But in ‘Evil Dead 2’, the fact that Raimi and Campbell had begun their career alternating between horror shorts and Three Stooges knockoffs paid massive dividends: this is without doubt the most successful blend of horror and comedy, and a classic in either field. The breakthrough moment comes midway, as Campbell’s own hand is possessed by an evil spirit, leading to some of the most jawdropping slapstick imaginable (and a peerless Hemingway gag). But Raimi never forgets to keep the blood flowing: limbs fly, eyeballs explode, and you don’t even want to know what goes on in that woodshed. TH

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Le loup-garou de Londres
Film, Comedy

An American Werewolf in London (1981)

Director: John Landis

Cast: David Naughton, Jenny Agutter, Griffin Dunne

My, what big teeth you have
This outsider’s perspective on Britishness (we’re all either beer-swilling Yorkshire slobs or stiff-collared London snobs) might be offensive if it wasn’t so infuriatingly funny, clever, scary and brilliant. One of a very short list of films to combine horror with comedy and to hit both nails square on the head, John Landis’s film is dry, sly and endlessly quotable (‘a naked American man stole my balloons!’). As an added bonus, the special effects still look remarkable, even in the age of CGI: there’s something about the look of real latex skin stretching over metal-frame bones that no amount of processing power can possibly replicate. TH

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Carrie (1976).jpg
Film, Horror

Carrie (1982)

Director: Brian De Palma

Cast: Sissy Spacek, Piper Laurie, Amy Irving

Don’t get mad, get even
She wasn’t the favourite to play ‘creepy Carrie’, but it’s impossible to imagine anyone other than Sissy Spacek (looking like she’s stepped into the ‘70s from another time altogether) in the role. Stephen King got the idea for the novel, his first, in the girls’ locker room of a college where he was working as a caretaker. Teenage girls can be pure evil and it’s in a locker room that we meet Carrie, who’s just had her first period and is being told to ‘plug it up!’ by the mean girls. Carrie’s secret is that she has telekinetic powers, which are about to wreak an apocalypse at the school prom. As for the pig’s blood scene, it doesn’t matter how many times you watch it, you’re willing that bucket not to drop. Spacek gamely offered to be covered in real pig’s blood, but in the end was drenched with a mix of syrup and food colouring. CC

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Halloween movie screenings in London - the innocents
Film, Horror

The Innocents (1981)

Director: Jack Clayton

Cast: Deborah Kerr, Michael Redgrave, Pamela Franklin

Suffer the little children
Kids are creepy enough in real life, with their pliable morals and tiny little hands. Still, the movies always manage to take it a step further. Arguably the most irksome spooky-child movie in existence, ‘The Innocents’ was adapted by no less a light than Truman Capote from Henry James’s novella ‘The Turn of the Screw’, about a governess hired to educate two aristocratic brats who might be hiding a dark, supernatural secret. Consciously attempting to place his film apart from the operatic antics of Hammer, director Jack Clayton created a masterwork of restraint, from Deborah Kerr’s lip-biting lead performance to the film’s groundbreaking but subtly employed electronic score. TH

The 100 best horror films, horror movies, Don't Look Now
Film, Drama

Don't Look Now (1973)

Director: Nicolas Roeg

Cast: Donald Sutherland, Julie Christie

Nothing is what it seems
Voted the best British film of all time in a 2010 Time Out poll of experts, Nicolas Roeg’s adaptation of Daphne Du Maurier’s short story isn't just a masterpiece of terror, it’s also a work of bottomless empathy and slender, spectral beauty. This being a list of horror movies, we’ll skip over the film’s infamous marital sex scene – still, in this writer's opinion, the most convincing ever filmed – and go straight to the spooky bits: the shots of Venice in winter, all boarded up and lonesome; the two psychic sisters, imparting their impenetrable orphic knowledge; and most of all that hammer-blow of an ending, in which a child-sized crimson Mackintosh coat hides the worst of all possible fears. TH

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night of the living dead.jpeg
Film, Horror

Night of the Living Dead (1968)

Director: George A Romero

Cast: Duane Jones, Judith O’Dea, Marilyn Eastman

The beginning of the end
The film that changed it all, that took horror out of the realm of creaky castles and mad science and into the harsh light of the modern day. Director George Romero insists that much of what made his debut so groundbreaking – the in-your-face documentary camerawork, the unadorned interiors and unpolished performances – were just the necessary result of zero-budget filmmaking. But that’s not the case for the film’s progressive race and gender politics, or its slam-bang editing, or its show-stopping violence: as the dead girl rises up to feed on her helpless mother, it’s still possible to feel the world shift a little on its axis. TH

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Film, Fantasy

Suspiria (1976)

Director: Dario Argento

Cast: Jessica Harper, Stefania Casini, Flavio Bucci

An elegantly choreographed dance of death
‘Fear is a 370-degree centigrade body temperature. With “Suspiria” I wanted 400 degrees.’ Italian horror legend Dario Argento’s grasp of human body chemistry may be flawed, but his intentions are unmistakable: this was his attempt to make the scariest movie he could imagine, and hang all other considerations. Out the window go plot, character development and common sense; in the creaky-hinged front door come high style, visual splendour and an almost childlike anti-logic. The result might be the most beautiful horror movie ever made – and one that’ll haunt your dreams for weeks afterward. TH

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The 100 best horror films, horror movies, jaws

Jaws (1975)

Director: Steven Spielberg

Cast: Roy Scheider, Robert Shaw, Richard Dreyfuss

Live every week like it’s shark week
It starts like any other let’s-get-it-on teen movie, at a late night beach party. Boy meets girl. They slink off to skinny dip. She runs ahead, throwing off her clothes, splashing into the water... only to be pulled under screaming. Welcome to the tourist island of Amity. ‘Jaws’ broke box office records, but the production had been such a disaster the crew renamed it ‘Flaws’. The shark looked fake, the effects were terrible. Spielberg made a virtue out of necessity in the edit, switching the focus to the actors’ reactions: most chillingly after the shark strikes on a crowded beach. Parents have scooped up their children, all but one mother, a look of blind terror on her face. For some cinema lovers, the biggest horror story of all is that with his game-changing big hit, Spielberg inadvertently invented the popcorn blockbuster. CC

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Time Out says