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the 100 best horror films and movies

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

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


Due to the events of 2020, there weren’t that many notable horror movies released. Thankfully, 2021 looks set to deliver for horror fans as we play catch up. Along with the long-awaited sequel to John Krasinski's A Quiet Place, paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren return for The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It. There’s also the sequel to the 2018 soft-reboot of Halloween to look forward to, M Night Shyamalan’s rapid-aging thriller Old, and Neflix’s ambitious Fear Street Trilogy, which will no doubt be loads of frightful fun.

Of course, 2020 wasn’t a total dud either: Elisabeth Moss was brilliant in The Invisible Man, horror streaming service Shudder had a lot of fun with the very real terror of weekly Zoom calls for its exclusive Host, and Saint Maud, the exceptional debut film from UK writer-director Rose Glass, was original and unsettling.

In fact, a couple of films released in 2020 were so good that they made their way on to our extensive, expert-assisted list of the greatest and scariest films ever. As with our picks of the best comedy movies or best thrillers, the below list is a proper smorgasbord of horror movies, including genre-busting science fiction like Alien or murderous serial killer thrillers such as The Silence of the Lambs. The list is also full of the classics, too, as well as some recent releases that left us terrified. To find out which new movie 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.

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

The Babadook
The Babadook
Photo: Courtesy of IFC Films

707. The Babadook (2014)

Film Horror

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 Invisible Man
The Invisible Man
Photograph: Universal Pictures

708. The Invisible Man (2020)

Film Horror

Director: Leigh Whannell

Cast: Elisabeth Moss, Oliver Jackson-Cohen

What we do in the shadows
Leigh Whannell’s canny retooling of HG Wells’s sci-fi novel offers a tart statement on toxic men and their gaslighting ways. Elisabeth Moss plays Cecilia, an architect traumatised by her abusive tech entrepreneur husband Griffin (Oliver Jackson-Cohen). Soon, Griffin is reported dead by suicide. But is he? And why have things started going bump in the night? Whannell is respectful to the classic Universal monster movie with which it shares its name (look out for a cameo from those trademark bandages), but this is no reverential retread. It has ideas of its own, specifically around the way an abusive relationship can turn life into a prison. Moss, needless to say, makes a killer scream-queen. PdS

Buy, rent or watch ‘The Invisible Man’


709. The Mist (2007)

Film Horror

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

Buy, rent or watch 'The Mist'

710. God Told Me To (1976)

Film Horror

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'


711. It Follows (2014)

Film Horror

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

Buy, rent or watch 'It Follows'

Saint Maud
Saint Maud
Photograph: Studiocanal

712. Saint Maud (2020)


Director: Rose Glass

Cast: Morfydd Clark, Jennifer Ehle

Nurse me back to health
This brilliantly unsettling debut from Rose Glass sweeps in on a humdrum English coastal town with a fierce cargo of religious mania, psychological power games and the odd moment of nightmarish ickiness. Morfydd Clark is astonishing as the deeply religious Maud, a live-in nurse whose first private assignment takes her to the house of Jennifer Ehle’s terminally ill and terminally spiky ex-dancer. The ensuing dance between troubled ascetic and ciggy-smoking sensualist has shades of the psychological frictions of ‘Persona’, a major influence on ‘Saint Maud’, and goes downhill fast from there. Ehle is great and in a just world Clark would be winning awards for her remarkable piece of physical acting. The result is the best British horror since ‘Under the Skin’. PdS

Buy, rent or watch ‘Saint Maud’. 

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

713. Scream (1996)

Film Horror

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

Buy, rent or watch 'Scream'

714. Re-Animator (1985)

Film Horror

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

Buy, rent or watch 'Re-Animator'


715. It (2017)

Film Horror

Director: Andy Muschietti  

Cast: Jaeden Lieberher, Bill Skarsgård, Sophia Lillis

Clowning around
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

Buy, rent or watch ‘It’

716. Braindead (1992)

Film Comedy

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

Buy, rent or watch 'Braindead'


717. Dead Ringers (1988)

Film Horror

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'

718. Day of the Dead (1985)

Film Horror

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

Buy, rent or watch 'Day of the Dead'


719. 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'

720. 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


721. 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

722. Phantasm (1979)

Film Science fiction

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

Buy, rent or watch 'Phantasm'

Cadılar Bayramı
Cadılar Bayramı
Photograph: Universal Pictures

723. Halloween (2018)

Film Horror

Director: David Gordon

Cast: Jamie Lee Curtis, Judy Greer, Andi Matichak

Sequel? What sequel
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)

724. Dracula (1958)

Film Horror

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'


725. 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

Buy, rent or watch 'Black Sabbath'

726. Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)

Film Science fiction

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'

Photograph: A24

727. Midsommar (2019)

Film Horror

Director: Ari Aster

Cast: Florence Pugh, Jack Reynor, Will Poulter

A 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
A Quiet Place
Photograph: Jonny Cournoyer

728. A Quiet Place (2018)

Film Horror

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 hunts 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. Actor-turned-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, meanwhile, steals the show in front of the camera: the childbirth scene, in particular, will never leave you. Blunt and co will reprise their roles for the sequel, which also adds Cillian Murphy and Djimon Hounsou to the cast, and which is due in 2021. PdS

Buy, rent or watch ‘A Quiet Place’


729. Ginger Snaps (2000)

Film Horror

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

Buy, rent or watch 'Ginger Snaps'

730. The Fog (1979)

Film Horror

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

Buy, rent or watch 'The Fog'

Get Out
Get Out
Photo: Courtesy of Universal Pictures

731. Get Out (2017)

Film Horror

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

Buy, rent or watch ‘Get Out’

732. Hellraiser (1987)

Film Horror

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

Buy, rent or watch 'Hellraiser'


733. 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

Buy, rent or watch 'Black Sunday'

734. 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

Buy, rent or watch 'Black Christmas'


735. Aliens

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

Buy, rent or watch 'Aliens'

736. The Old Dark House (1932)

Film Horror

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


737. 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

738. 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


739. 28 Days Later… (2002)

Film Horror

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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740. 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


741. Switchblade Romance (2003)

Film Horror

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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742. Pulse (Kairo) (2001)


Director: Kiyoshi Kurosawa
Cast: Kumiko Aso, Haruhiko Katô, Koyuki

Ghosts in the machine
Kurosawa’s cautionary philosophical tale uses the familiar tropes of dystopian sci-fi and supernatural horror to explore an internet-fixated world where online communication has eroded social cohesion, replacing personal relationships and human communication with alienated loneliness. Soul-sucking spectres appear online and spread like a virus. Seduced by cryptic messages asking, ‘Do you want to meet a ghost?’, obsessive internet users abandon friends, family and colleagues. Withdrawing from the world, they become lethargic, depressed and ultimately suicidal. Tokyo slides towards a state of spiritual decay and social entropy. Wes Craven had a writing credit on ad director Jim Sonzero’s 2006 remake, which retained the original’s morbid atmosphere and apocalyptic ending but precious little else. The original Japanese title, Kairo, means ‘circuit’. NF


743. The Beyond (1981)

Film Horror

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

744. 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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745. The Night of the Hunter (1955)

Film Drama

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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746. Les Diaboliques (1955)

Film Horror

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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747. [Rec] (2007)

Film Horror

Directors: Jaume Balagueró and Paco Plaza

Cast: Manuela Velasco, Ferrán Terraza, David Vert

Whatever you witness... never stop recording 
Out of all the found-footage films that followed The Blair Witch Project, this Spanish shakycam zombie horror is probably the scariest. Set over one demonic night, it tells the story of a Barcelona news crew who, after accompanying firefighters on a call out to a suspiciously quiet apartment building, find themselves being chased and attacked by flesh-eating humans who have been infected with what appears to be some kind of virus. There is, however, more going on than meets the eye, as anyone who has watched the film’s terrifying final moments will know. Indeed, [Rec] proved such a success that it spawned three sequels and a US remake. This first entry into the franchise, though, is the best. Lesser filmmakers are still trying to mimic that chilling last shot.

748. 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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749. Kwaidan (1964)

Film Horror

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

750. 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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751. The Sixth Sense (1999)

Film Horror

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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752. Repulsion (1965)

Film Horror

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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753. Eraserhead (1977)

Film Fantasy

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

754. 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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755. 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
The 100 best horror films, horror movies, the descent
Photo: Courtesy of Lions Gate Films

756. The Descent (2005)

Film Horror

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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757. Peeping Tom (1960)

Film Thrillers

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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758. 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


759. Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1958)

Film Fantasy

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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760. Dead of Night (1945)

Film Horror

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


761. 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
The 100 best horror films, horror movies, silence of the lambs
Photograph: MGM

762. The Silence of the Lambs (1990)

Film Thrillers

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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763. The Tenant (1976)

Film Thrillers

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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764. 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


765. The Devil's Backbone (2001)

Film Horror

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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766. Possession (1981)

Film Fantasy

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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767. Jacob's Ladder (1990)

Film Horror

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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768. Cannibal Holocaust (1979)

Film Horror

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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769. 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

770. Frankenstein (1931)

Film Horror

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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771. The Wicker Man (1973)

Film Thrillers

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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772. Carnival of Souls (1962)

Film Horror

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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773. Bride of Frankenstein (1935)

Film Horror

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
El legado del diablo
Foto: Cortesía Diamond Films

774. Hereditary (2018)

Film Horror
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

775. Cat People (1942)

Film Horror

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

776. Videodrome (1982)

Film Fantasy

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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777. The Changeling (1979)

Film Horror

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

778. The Birds (1963)

Film Horror

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
The 100 best horror films, horror movies, The evil dead
Photograph: New Line Cinema

779. The Evil Dead (1981)

Film Horror

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
The Blair Witch Project
Photograph: Artisan Entertainment

780. The Blair Witch Project (1999)

Film Horror

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
The 100 best horror films, horror movies, poltergeist
Photograph: MGM

781. Poltergeist (1982)

Film Horror

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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782. The Omen (1976)

Film Horror

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
The 100 best horror films, horror movies, freaks
Photo: Courtesy of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM)

783. Freaks (1932)

Film Horror

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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784. Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror (1922)

Film Horror

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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785. The Haunting (1963)

Film Horror

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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