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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

Horror films are thriving. In the last five years, the genre has entered a new golden age. Jordan Peele’s social horror ‘Get Out’ nabbed the writer-director an Oscar, while ‘Hereditary’ not only introduced a new generation to the inimitable Toni Collette, it acquainted us with the brilliant new genre master that is Ari Aster. Finally, after years of scoffing and snobbery, horror is getting its moment in the sun. Okay, the shadows. 

This year is no different. Aster released his second film, the disturbed ‘Midsommar’, and Peele shared ‘Us’, a home invasion horror starring Lupita Nyong’o. Pennywise, the dancing clown, returned in the long but gripping ‘It Chapter Two’, a worthy follow-up to the highest-grossing horror movie of all time. There was also ‘Pet Cemetery’ and ‘Doctor Sleep’, the sequel to ‘The Shining’. You couldn’t swing a Cujo without hitting a Stephen King adaptation. 

With such a deluge of horror movies, figuring out where these latest films rank in the pantheon of terrifying treasures can be trickier than finding a ghost. 

But like our picks for the best comedy films or romance movies, the below selection is varied, pulling in genre-busting sci-fi icons like ‘Alien’ and murderous movies such as ‘The Silence of the Lambs’. There are the classics, too (what is horror without ‘Invasion of the Body Snatchers?) and recent additions like ‘A Quiet Place’, which just wrapped its sequel.

To find out what 2019 releases made the cut and where demonic Damien from ‘The Omen’ or rotten Regan from ‘The Exorcist’ landed, we present the 100 best horror films.

Written by: Tom Huddleston, Cath Clarke, Dave Calhoun, Nigel Floyd, Alim Kheraj and Phil de Semlyen

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

The Babadook
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

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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

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It Follows
Film, Horror

It Follows (2014)

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

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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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Film, Horror

It (2017)

Director: Andy Muschietti  

Cast: Jaeden Lieberher, Bill Skarsgård, Sophia Lillis

Situation: A group of youngsters are terrorised by a demonic clown. 

For some, Tim Curry will always embody Pennywise the dancing clown, a manifestation of fear itself. But in this 2017 adaptation of Stephen King’s epic novel, replanted in the 1980s instead of the ’50s, it’s Bill Skarsgård who scares you witless. As Pennywise, Skarsgård’s eyes roam in two different directions, making the character look truly monstrous and deranged. When he interacts with the children, he drools, as if starved, ravenous to consume them and their fear. Great performances from the young cast also prevent any ‘child acting’ awkwardness, while the themes of friendship and the loss of innocence are reminiscent of ‘Stand By Me’ (another King adaptation) and ‘ET’. It might be sentimental at times, but when it scares – and it really does scare – it’s a chilling reminder that, no matter your age, clowns are terrifying. AK

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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

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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

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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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Cadılar Bayramı
Film, Horror

Halloween (2018)

Director: David Gordon

Cast: Jamie Lee Curtis, Judy Greer, Andi Matichak

Situation: A sequel that retcons all other sequels

Before this one, there had been a total of nine ‘Halloween’ sequels (one of which was a soft reboot). Putting it politely, they varied in quality. This sequel, however, retcons the previous entries, instead focusing on the implications that being chased by a knife-wielding psychopath wearing a white mask can have. Jamie Lee Curtis returns as Laurie Strode, a woman suffering from severe PTSD. Michael Myers and his stab-happy ways feel particularly chilling, with director David Gordon opting to build tension over cheap thrills. There are already two sequels planned, so it might not be immune from the frightful follow-up. 

Buy, rent or watch ‘Halloween’ (2018)

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

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Photo: Courtesy of A24 / Gabor Kotschy
Film, Horror

Midsommar (2019)

Director: Ari Aster

Cast: Florence Pugh, Jack Reynor, Will Poulter

Situation: Cult classic

The summer release of this brilliant ‘Wicker Man’-ish horror from fast-rising US filmmaker Ari Aster was accompanied by the sound of a thousand Scandinavian holiday plans being torn up. But the damage it did to the Swedish tourist board – floral festivals have never looked so terrifying – was more than offset by its magisterial creeps and a stellar turn from Florence Pugh as a grieving woman drawn slowly into a sunlit fugue state. You’ll never look at a stuffed bear the same way again. 

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

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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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