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100 best horror films - composite

The 100 best horror films

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


Time Out proudly presents the 100 best horror films, as chosen by those who write in, direct, star in and celebrate the genre.

RECOMMENDED: More Halloween in LA

Horror cinema is a monster. Mistreated, misunderstood and subjected to vicious critical attacks, somehow it keeps lumbering forward, leaving a trail of destruction in its wake. For some, horror films are little better than pornography, focused purely on evoking a reaction - be it terror, disquiet or disgust - with little thought for 'higher' aspirations. For others, they're just a bit of fun: a chance to shriek and snigger at someone's second-hand nightmare.

But look again, and the story of horror is also the story of innovation and non-conformity in cinema, a place where dangerous ideas can be expressed, radical techniques can be explored, and filmmakers outside the mainstream can still make a big cultural splash. If cinema itself has an unconscious, a dark little corner from which new ideas emerge, blinking and malformed, it must be horror. The question is - which are the best horror films?

We polled well over 100 horror enthusiasts - with big names like Roger Corman, Guillermo del Toro, Simon Pegg, Clive Barkerand Alice Cooper, and horror legends like Coffin Joe, Kim Newman and Tom Six - and came up with a definitive top 100 list.

The result may surprise you: while the top ten may be stuffed with big hitters, the full list is wonderfully unpredictable and packed with oddball leftfield choices. But what about your opinion?

As always, we're keen to know what we got wrong and what we got right, so leave your opinionated rants ('Where the hell was I Bought a Vampire Motorcycle?!') in the comments below. Meanwhile, enjoy the list and prepare to be frightened. Very, very frightened.


<em>Come and See</em> (1985)

Come and See (1985)

Dir Elim Klimov (Aleksei Kravchenko, Olga Mironova, Liubomiras Lauciavicius)

Inspired in part by I Come from the Burning Village, a collection of interviews with survivors of the Nazi atrocities committed against the peasant farmers of Belarus in the early 1940s, Klimov’s savage masterpiece influenced Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan, and Malick’s The Thin Red Line, though neither deserves to be mentioned in the same sentence. Separated from the partisan soldiers he joined after leaving behind his mother and two sisters, 12-year-old Florya (Kravchenko), together with pretty teenage peasant girl Glasya (Miranova), wanders aimlessly and struggles merely to survive. Deafened by an explosion, Florya bears silent, wide-eyed witness to the genocidal near-annihilation of the civilian population. Cinematographer Alexei Rodionov’s fluid Steadicam draws us into the black heart of the horror, which is also painted on Florya’s increasingly haggard face. J G Ballard called it "one of the greatest war films ever made".—Nigel Floyd

 Watch Come and See now at Amazon Instant Video

<em>Dead Alive</em> (1992)

Dead Alive (1992)

Dir Peter Jackson (Timothy Balme, Diana Peñalver, Elizabeth Moody)

At the time, Jackson’s satirical splatterfest was by far the goriest movie ever made (at least in the English language), yet the tone is gruesomely funny rather than violent or cruel. The innocent love affair between 25-year-old virgin Lionel (Timothy Balme) and the lovely Paquita (Diana Peñalver) is interrupted when his domineering mother is bitten by a Sumatran Rat-Monkey and transforms – through several putrescent stages – into a hideous zombie with a craving for human flesh. Most of the laugh-out-loud humour derives from the hilarious incongruity between the sedate suburban setting, with its polite ladies who lunch, and the blood-drenched spectacle of the loving couple fending off a slavering horde of flesh-eaters with household and garden implements – most iconically and most effectively, that great Kiwi invention, the fly-mo.—Nigel Floyd

 Watch Dead Alive now at Amazon Instant Video

<em>Flesh for Frankenstein</em> (1973)

Flesh for Frankenstein (1973)

Dir Paul Morrissey (Joe Dallesandro, Udo Kier)

Andy Warhol was a producer on this camp, incredibly gory and oh-so-loose spin on Mary Shelley’s creation. Kier plays a Serbian version of Baron Frankenstein, the creator of a new Adam and Eve who are dead set on procreating furiously in order to produce a whole new human race. The Factory’s favourite boy, Dallesandro, steps up to satisfy the baron’s over-sexed sister and increase the film’s flesh quotient. It’s one of those films the midnight-movie slot was made for. It was initially released in 3D after being cut to secure even an ‘R’ rating in the US, and the 3D effects mainly consist of people’s innards swimming in pools of blood. Memorable line: "You can’t say that you know life until you’ve fucked death in the gall bladder."—Dave Calhoun

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<em>I Walked with a Zombie</em> (1943)

I Walked with a Zombie (1943)

Dir Jacques Tourneur (Francis Dee, Tom Conway, Christine Gordon, James Ellison)

Set on a West Indian island, Tourneur’s follow-up to Cat People (1942) (see No. 29) offers a febrile mix of Caribbean superstition, family secrets and women in white nightgowns sleepwalking in moonlight. Brought from Canada to care for a plantation manager’s invalid wife, impressionable young nurse Betsy (Dee) is baffled by her patient’s vague demeanour and nocturnal wanderings. Although aware that a secret is being kept from her, Betsy determines to snap the woman out of her catatonia, if necessary by secretly taking her to a voodoo ceremony. To the incessant, rhythmic sound of drums, Tourneur stages a series of elegant, fluid set pieces charged with sickly fear and moral ambivalence.—Nigel Floyd

 Watch I Walked with a Zombie now on iTunes
 Watch I Walked with a Zombie now at Amazon Instant Video

<em>Cronos</em> (1993)

Cronos (1993)

Dir Guillermo del Toro (Federico Luppi, Margarita Isabel, Ron Perlman)

Del Toro’s first feature is steeped in the lifeblood of Gothic lore, yet utterly modern in its horror sensibility. When an ageing Mexican junk shop owner, Jesus Gris (Luppi), stoops to lick a drop of blood from the pure white marble floor of a toilet – a scene at once elegant, shocking and pitiable – we know we are in the hands of a true original. Gris is rejuvenated by an ancient mechanical device which, in return for regular transfusions of his blood, promises eternal life. More time, therefore, to spend with his beloved granddaughter, Mercedes (Isabel). But terminally ill industrialist Angel De la Guardia (Perlman) also covets the vampiric device. Even more impressive than Del Toro’s fertile imagination and consummate technique is the film’s heartfelt compassion.—Nigel Floyd

 Watch Cronos now on iTunes
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<em>Invasion of the Body Snatchers</em> (1978)

Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)

Dir Philip Kaufman (Donald Sutherland, Brooke Adams, Leonard Nimoy)

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.—Tom Huddleston

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<em>God Told Me To</em> (1976)

God Told Me To (1976)

Dir Larry Cohen (Tony Lo Bianco, Deborah Raffin)

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.—Tom Huddleston

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<em>Threads</em> (1984)

Threads (1984)

Dir Mick Jackson (Karen Meagher, Reece Dinsdale, David Brierly)

Originally aired on British TV during the mid ‘80s, Mick Jackson’s docudrama is a sobering, scary and highly realistic hypothetical account of what might happen following a breakdown of society perpetrated, in this instance, by a nuclear strike on Sheffield. The sense of impending doom is palpable as the city’s citizens watch TV news reports about the collapse in relations between Russia and the West. Panic buying becomes looting as humanity begins to adopt a dog-eat-dog mentality. Then the obliteration begins – and it’s pretty ghastly. Small wonder Threads is in this list; while not strictly part of the horror genre, it provokes a raft of similar emotions – only here you’re aware that this can really happen. Powerful, thought-provoking stuff.—Derek Adams

<em>Inferno</em> (1980)

Inferno (1980)

Dir Dario Argento (Leigh McCloskey, Irene Miracle, Alida Valli, Daria Nicolodi)

Horror cinema at its most baroque: a simple libretto is embroidered with elaborate, flowing camera movements, abstract blocks of colour, unsettling sound effects and soundtrack composer Keith Emerson’s thunderous rock variations on Verdi. Drawing, like Suspiria before it, on Thomas de Quincey’s mythology of The Three Mothers, it explores the long-distance relationship between Rose (Miracle) and her brother Mark (McClosky), who inhabit apartment houses in New York and Rome. These buildings were built to house The Mother of Darkness and The Mother of Tears. Miracle’s early dip into the muffled world of a flooded sub-basement immediately immerses us in the dreamlike narrative, one that replicates the free associative fluidity of the unconscious. Argento’s best work is far behind him, but this alone justifies his cult reputation.—Nigel Floyd

 Watch Inferno now on iTunes
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<em>The Fog</em> (1980)

The Fog (1980)

Dir John Carpenter (Adrienne Barbeau, Jamie Lee Curtis, Janet Leigh)

A couple of years after scaring the bejesus out of us with Halloween, John Carpenter collaborated with regular screenwriting partner Debra Hill for this classic chiller about a mysterious bank of glowing fog that sweeps over a Californian seaside town, unleashing a torrent of frights perpetrated by the zombified ghosts of some rather miffed, vengeful mariners who perished just off the coast some 100 years earlier. No horror film worth its salt would be fulfilling its duty without a suitably scary location and here, of course, it’s the big white solitary lighthouse where Carpenter’s former wife Barbeau (playing a radio DJ) is so thoroughly terrorised. You really must check out the original trailer for this film; the voice-over is classically bad.—Derek Adams

 Watch The Fog now at Amazon Instant Video


<em>Daughters of Darkness</em> (1970)

Daughters of Darkness (1970)

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

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

 Watch Daughters of Darkness now on iTunes
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<em>The Black Cat</em> (1934)

The Black Cat (1934)

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

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

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<em>The Mist</em> (2007)

The Mist (2007)

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

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

 Watch The Mist now on iTunes
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<em>Martin</em> (1978)

Martin (1978)

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

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

<em>Let's Scare Jessica to Death</em> (1971)

Let's Scare Jessica to Death (1971)

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

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

 Watch Let's Scare Jessica to Death now on iTunes
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<em>Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer</em> (1986)

Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (1986)

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

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

 Watch Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer now on iTunes
 Watch Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer now at Amazon Instant Video

<em>Black Sunday</em> (1960)

Black Sunday (1960)

Dir Mario Bava (Barbara Steele, John Richardson)

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

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<em>The Abominable Dr. Phibes</em> (1971)

The Abominable Dr. Phibes (1971)

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

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

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<em>Re-Animator</em> (1985)

Re-Animator (1985)

Dir Stuart Gordon (Jeffrey Combs, Bruce Abbott)

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

 Watch Re-Animator now on iTunes
 Watch Re-Animator now at Amazon Instant Video

<em>Day of the Dead</em> (1985)

Day of the Dead (1985)

Dir George A Romero (Lori Cardille, Terry Alexander)

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

 Watch Day of the Dead now on iTunes
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<em>Hellraiser</em> (1987)

Hellraiser (1987)

Dir Clive Barker (Andrew Robinson, Clare Higgins, Sean Chapman, Doug Bradley)

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.—Nigel Floyd

 Watch Hellraiser now on iTunes
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<em>Dead Ringers</em> (1988)

Dead Ringers (1988)

Dir David Cronenberg (Jeremy Irons, Genevieve Bujold)

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.—Tom Huddleston

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<em>Society</em> (1992)

Society (1992)

Dir Brian Yuzna (Billy Warlock, Devin DeVasquez)

There’s no country in the world where Society means more than 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.—Tom Huddleston

<em>Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom</em> (1975)

Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom (1975)

Dir Pier Paolo Pasolini (Paolo Bonacelli, Giorgio Cataldi)

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.—Dave Calhoun

 Buy Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom now on Amazon

<em>The Orphanage</em> (2007)

The Orphanage (2007)

Dir J.A. Bayona (Belén Rueda, Fernando Cayo, Roger Príncep)

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

 Watch The Orphanage now on iTunes
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<em>Phantasm</em> (1979)

Phantasm (1979)

Dir Don Coscarelli (Michael Baldwin, Reggie Bannister, Angus Scrimm)

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.—Tom Huddleston

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<em>Horror of Dracula</em> (1958)

Horror of Dracula (1958)

Dir Terence Fisher (Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, Michael Gough)

The British horror boom which ran from the late ’50s until the early ’70s received short shrift on this list – which is disappointing for great films like Curse of Frankenstein, Theatre of Blood and Death Line, but perhaps inevitable given the fact that so many films of the period have aged so poorly. But it’s no surprise to see a solid placing for the film which started it all, Hammer’s (for the time) groundbreakingly savage and saucy take on Stoker’s classic novel, and one of the key works in the modernisation of horror. All those frilly frocks, heaving cleavages and creaky sets don’t look especially modern now, but this was the film which clarified forever the link between vampires and eroticism, as embodied by Lee’s stately, stalking presence as the ultimate gentleman sex fiend.—Tom Huddleston

 Watch Horror of Dracula now on iTunes
 Watch Horror of Dracula now at Amazon Instant Video

<em>Black Sabbath</em> (1963)

Black Sabbath (1963)

Dir Mario Bava (Boris Karloff, Mark Damon, Michèle Mercier)

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.—Nigel Floyd

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<em>28 Days Later...</em> (2002)

28 Days Later... (2002)

Dir Danny Boyle (Cillian Murphy, Naomie Harris and Christopher Eccleston)

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.—Cath Clarke

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<em>Pulse (Kairo)</em> (2001)

Pulse (Kairo) (2001)

Dir Kiyoshi Kurosawa (Kumiko Aso, Haruhiko Katô, Koyuki)

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".—Nigel Floyd

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<em>Jacob's Ladder</em> (1990)

Jacob's Ladder (1990)

Dir Adrian Lyne (Tim Robbins, Elizabeth Pena, Danny Aiello)

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.—Tom Huddleston

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<em>Eraserhead</em> (1977)

Eraserhead (1977)

Dir David Lynch (Jack Nance, Charlotte Stewart)

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.—Tom Huddleston

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<em>Wolf Creek</em> (2005)

Wolf Creek (2005)

Dir Greg Mclean (Nathan Phillips, Cassandra Magrath, John Jarratt)

Loosely based on real events, this backpacking serial killer chiller is precisely the kind of film to put you off ever visiting the Australian outback. Set near the huge real-life meteorite crater from which the film gets its name, Wolf Creek verges on the outright disgusting as it tracks the unfortunate fate of two British travellers and their Aussie mate after they chance upon the seemingly helpful Mick Taylor (John Jarratt). When their car mysteriously refuses to start, jolly Croc Dundee-type Mick offers to tow them back to his ramshackle abode where he regales them with tall stories… before spiking their drinks. And then it all goes off on a bender of such epically nasty proportions you find yourself watching through parted fingers. It’s that kinda film.—Derek Adams

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<em>Angel Heart</em> (1987)

Angel Heart (1987)

Dir Alan Parker (Mickey Rourke, Lisa Bonet, Robert De Niro)

A film which treads the tightrope between horror, thriller and glossy MTV-friendly melodrama, Parker’s sizzling saucepan of spicy Southern Gothic gumbo heavily seasoned with Biblical mumbo-jumbo remains a hugely entertaining watch. It’s hardly subtle – did anyone over the age of 12 not guess the true identity of De Niro’s soul-eating dandy Louis Cyphre? – but it doesn’t really have to be: this is a movie filled with memorable images and strange sensations, from Rourke’s seductively shambolic private dick Harry Angel (geddit?) through a whole mess of cannibalistic voodoo rituals, Cajun clichés and dubious racial stereotypes to Lisa Bonet’s unforgettably gruesome fate. Laissez le mal temps roulez!—Tom Huddleston

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<em>The Vanishing</em> (1988)

The Vanishing (1988)

Dir George Sluizer (Bernard-Pierre Donnadieu, Gene Bervoets)

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.—Tom Huddleston

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<em>The Devil's Backbone</em> (2001)

The Devil's Backbone (2001)

Dir Guillermo del Toro (Marisa Paredes, Eduardo Noriega)

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.—Tom Huddleston

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<em>Black Christmas</em> (1974)

Black Christmas (1974)

Dir Bob Clark (Olivia Hussey, Keir Dullea, Margot Kidder)

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.—Nigel Floyd

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<em>The Sixth Sense</em> (1999)

The Sixth Sense (1999)

Dir M. Night Shyamalan (Bruce Willis, Haley Joel Osment, Toni Colette)

The film that put the unpronounceable M. Night Shyamalan on the map, The Sixth Sense was a classic word-of-mouth movie. Sure, Bruce Willis’ star power was always going to pull in the punters but once people started chatting about that twist, everyone wanted to go see it, if only to satisfy their curiosity. For me, a tormented, emotionless child will always be way creepier than any adult with a chainsaw, and here it’s little Cole Sear (touchingly played by Haley Joel Osment), a kid who says he can see dead people. The Sixth Sense is a pretty rare form of horror in that its ambience is as melancholic as it is eerie. Quite how Shyamalan has managed to screw up every film he’s made since is one of life’s great unanswerable conundrums.—Derek Adams

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<em>Repulsion</em> (1965)

Repulsion (1965)

Dir Roman Polanski (Catherine Deneuve)

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.—Cath Clarke

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<em>Ring (Ringu)</em> (1998)
Photograph: Arrow Films

Ring (Ringu) (1998)

Dir Hideo Nakata (Nanako Matsushima, Miki Nakatani)

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.—Cath Clarke

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<em>The Night of the Hunter</em> (1955)

The Night of the Hunter (1955)

Dir Charles Laughton (Robert Mitchum, Shelley Winters, Lillian Gish)

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.—Tom Huddleston

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<em>The Silence of the Lambs</em> (1990)

The Silence of the Lambs (1990)

Dir Jonathan Demme (Jodie Foster, Anthony Hopkins)

You know your film has made an impact when even animated kids films start making comical references to it. We’re talking, of course, about Anthony Hopkins’s infamous "Chianti" line – a scene so memorably repulsive and yet played with such overegged, psychotic glee that it’s become a bit of a running joke. Based on Thomas Harris’s second novel, Jonathan Demme’s Oscar-conquering monster feasts on our primal fears by presenting us with a gothic smorgasbord of blood and offal and some clever sleights of hand. Hopkins’s portrayal of prolific man-muncher Hannibal Lecter is barnstorming but rather thickly sliced (it’s not quite up there with Brian Cox’s earlier Lecter representation in Michael Mann’s Manhunter), and yet Silence… fully justifies its Oscar haul: it’s expertly written, superbly performed and scary, tense and stomach-churning by turns.—Derek Adams

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<em>Poltergeist</em> (1982)

Poltergeist (1982)

Dir Tobe Hooper (JoBeth Williams, Heather O’Rourke, Craig T Nelson)

Although Steven Spielberg is credited as the co-writer and producer of this 1982 frightfest, there’s plenty of evidence to suggest he wasn’t just sitting behind a desk. His directorial influence is evident everywhere, from the cosy suburban milieu to the Close Encounters-like shafts of ghostly light that permeate so many scenes. Spielberg claimed that the named director, Texas Chain Saw maverick Tobe Hooper wasn’t "a take-charge sort of guy" – though he has always stuaunchly defended Hooper’s creative contribution. Whatever the reality, the film is memorably scary, at times feeling almost like a checklist of horror iconography: spooky kids, creepy clowns, skeletons, ghosts, gore, Indian burial grounds... Shot in pre-CG times, one can only wonder how much invisible string they used for all the flying furniture.—Derek Adams

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<em>The Old Dark House</em> (1932)

The Old Dark House (1932)

Dir James Whale (Boris Karloff, Ernest Thesiger, Charles Laughton)

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.—Cath Clarke

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<em>Kill, Baby, Kill!</em> (1966)

Kill, Baby, Kill! (1966)

Dir Mario Bava (Giacomo Rossi-Stuart, Erika Blanc)

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.—Tom Huddleston

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<em>The Wicker Man</em> (1973)

The Wicker Man (1973)

Dir Robin Hardy (Edward Woodward, Christopher Lee, Britt Ekland)

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.—Cath Clarke

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<em>[REC]</em> (2007)

[REC] (2007)

Dir Jaume Balagueró and Paco Plaza (Manuela Velasco, Ferrán Terraza, David Vert)

Its title derived from the record button on a video camera, [REC] is still the best of the "found footage", shaky-cam films inspired by The Blair Witch Project. For a late-night reality TV show, perky presenter Ángela (Manuela Velasco) and her cameraman Pablo follow a firefighting crew on a routine call to a Barcelona apartment block. Inside, they are attacked by a shrieking old woman wearing a blood-stained nightdress. Suddenly, the building is locked down by megaphone-wielding cops squawking something about a public health threat. Trapped inside with the panicking neighbours, Ángela maintains a running commentary as all hell breaks loose. A so-so sequel will soon be joined by Plaza’s comedy-horror [REC] Génesis and Balagueró’s bleaker [REC] Apocalypse.—Nigel Floyd

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<em>The Others</em> (2001)

The Others (2001)

Dir Alejandro Amenábar (Nicole Kidman, Christopher Eccleston)

Nothing makes the follicles stand on end like a creepy psychological chiller. Especially when it involves spooky kids humming nursery rhymes. Alejandro Amenábar’s ghost story is steeped in hair-raising menace, even though nothing violent ever occurs. The tension is palpable as we watch Nicole Kidman’s mother of two photosensitive children slowly go doolally when things start going bump in the night. The scene of her daughter dressed in white lace, playing with a wooden mobile while singing a childish tune is still one of the most spine-chilling of all time.—Derek Adams

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<em>Curse of the Demon</em> (1957)

Curse of the Demon (1957)

Dir Jacques Tourneur (Dana Andrews, Peggy Cummins, Niall MacGinnis)

Jacques Tourneur never intended to show the audience the demon that terrorises his Curse 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."—Cath Clarke

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<em>High Tension</em> (2003)

High Tension (2003)

Dir Alexandre Aja (Cécile De France, Maïwenn Le Bosco, Philippe Nahon)

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.—Nigel Floyd

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<em>Vampyr</em> (1932)

Vampyr (1932)

Dir Carl Theodor Dreyer (Julian West, Jan Hieronimko, Sybille Schmitz)

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.—Cath Clarke

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<em>The Beyond</em> (1981)

The Beyond (1981)

Dir Lucio Fulci (Katherine MacColl, David Warbeck)

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.—Tom Huddleston

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<em>Kwaidan</em> (1964)

Kwaidan (1964)

Dir Masaki Kobayashi (Tatsuya Nakadai, Rentarô Mikuni, Michiyo Aratama)

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.—Nigel Floyd

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<em>Diabolique</em> (1955)

Diabolique (1955)

Dir Henri-Georges Clouzot (Véra Clouzot, Simone Signoret)

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 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.—Dave Calhoun

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<em>The Devils</em> (1971)

The Devils (1971)

Dir Ken Russell (Oliver Reed, Vanessa Redgrave)

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.—Dave Calhoun

<em>Deep Red</em> (1975)

Deep Red (1975)

Dir Dario Argento (David Hemmings, Daria Nicolodi)

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.—Tom Huddleston

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<em>Hour of the Wolf</em> (1967)

Hour of the Wolf (1967)

Dir Ingmar Bergman (Max von Sydow, Liv Ullmann)

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.—Dave Calhoun

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<em>The Tenant</em> (1976)

The Tenant (1976)

Dir Roman Polanski (Roman Polanski, Isabelle Adjani)

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.—Dave Calhoun

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<em>Peeping Tom</em> (1960)

Peeping Tom (1960)

Dir Michael Powell (Karlheinz Böhm, Moira Shearer, Anna Massey)

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.—Dave Calhoun

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<em>The Evil Dead</em> (1981)

The Evil Dead (1981)

Dir Sam Raimi (Bruce Campbell, Ellen Sandweiss)

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.—Tom Huddleston

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<em>Carnival of Souls</em> (1962)

Carnival of Souls (1962)

Dir Herk Harvey (Candace Hilligoss, Frances Feist, Sidney Berger)

It’s impossible to experience the monochrome weirdness of David Lynch’s first feature, Eraserhead, or the ghoulish zombie nightmare that is George Romero’s The Night of the Living Dead without recalling the eerie atmospherics, off-kilter images and disorientating dream sequences found in this influential cult movie. Emerging from a river sodden and somnambulant, Mary Henry (Hilligoss), is the sole survivor of a drag race crash, but her mental disorientation and a mysterious white-faced man later draw her to an abandoned carnival pavilion in Salt Lake City. Mary’s sense of dislocation is exacerbated by episodes in which she seems to become invisible and inaudible to those around her. Shot in three weeks for a paltry $33,000, it features a creepy organ score.—Nigel Floyd

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<em>The Descent</em> (2005)

The Descent (2005)

Dir Neil Marshall (Shauna Macdonald, MyAnna Buring, Natalie Mendoza)

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.—Nigel Floyd

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<em>Possession</em> (1981)

Possession (1981)

Dir Andrzej Zulawski (Isabelle Adjani, Sam Neill, Heinz Bennent)

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.—Tom Huddleston

<em>Invasion of the Body Snatchers</em> (1956)

Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)

Dir Don Siegel (Kevin McCarthy, Dana Wynter)

Is it a crafty satire of all-American consumerist conformity or a conservative parable about the creeping evils of Commie infiltration? It’s the open-endedness of Siegel’s masterful adaptation of Jack Finney’s bone-chilling novel about shape-shifting pod people which makes it so durable – it really is all things to all people. But none of this would mean a thing if it wasn’t also a massively entertaining and propulsive watch: sure, the whole stiff-collar, white-picket-fence ’50s thing looks a little creaky nowadays, particularly when the pipe-smoking boffins get involved, but that only adds to the otherworldliness of Siegel’s vision. Then, of course, there’s that dynamite ending, one of the bleakest in horror, and bold as hell for the time.—Tom Huddleston

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<em>The Blair Witch Project</em> (1999)

The Blair Witch Project (1999)

Dir Daniel Myrick, Eduardo Sánchez (Heather Donahue, Michael C. Williams, Joshua Leonard)

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.—Nigel Floyd

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<em>Dead of Night</em> (1945)

Dead of Night (1945)

Dirs Alberto Cavalcanti, Charles Crichton, Basil Dearden, Robert Hamer (Michael Redgrave, Googie Withers, Ralph Michael)

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.—Dave Calhoun

<em>Eyes Without a Face</em> (1959)

Eyes Without a Face (1959)

Dir Georges Franju (Edith Scob, Pierre Brasseur, Alida Valli, Juliette Mayniel)

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.—Nigel Floyd

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<em>A Nightmare on Elm Street</em> (1984)

A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)

Dir Wes Craven (Heather Langenkamp, Robert Englund, John Saxon)

In 1996, Wes Craven’s Scream – a knowing, post modern riff on the teen slasher movie – revived the jaded cycle for a new, cine-literate generation of horror fans. Twelve years earlier, Craven had done the same, his dream-invading Freddy Krueger revitalising the tired ‘kids to the slaughter cycle’ that was kick-started by Friday the 13th. With his ragged, stripy sweater, battered hat and finger-knives, Old Pizza Face sliced his way into the Elm Street teens’ dreams, visiting the sins of the fathers upon a new generation, and becoming an instant horror icon. Ignore the dumb ending imposed by crass New Line executives, but look out for the scene where Nancy (Langenkamp) warns her boyfriend Glen (Johnny Depp), "Whatever you do, don’t fall asleep."—Nigel Floyd

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<em>Cannibal Holocaust</em> (1979)

Cannibal Holocaust (1979)

Dir Ruggero Deodato (Francesca Ciardi, Perry Pirkanen)

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.—Nigel Floyd

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<em>Martyrs</em> (2008)

Martyrs (2008)

Dir Pascal Laugier (Mylene Jampanoi, Morjana Alaoiu)

No Saw. No Hostel. One of the biggest surprises thrown up by the Time Out horror poll is that none of the torture-porn horrors of the past decade crept into the list… except Martyrs. Pascal Laugier’s unrelenting, nastily effective film does, perhaps, show the Americans how to properly do torture (try watching metal screws being pulled out of a young woman’s skull). It opens with a terrifying scene: a girl of about 11, her hair hacked short, running out of an abandoned abattoir, soaked in dried blood. Cut to fifteen years later, and the girl is out for revenge against her torturers – who, it turns out, are members of a martyrdom cult. If that has you reaching for a bucket, wait for the American remake; it’s being produced by makers of Twilight and is likely to be a tad less nihilistic.—Cath Clarke

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<em>Frankenstein</em> (1931)

Frankenstein (1931)

Dir James Whale (Colin Clive, Boris Karloff, Mae Clarke)

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.—Cath Clarke

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<em>Cat People</em> (1942)

Cat People (1942)

Dir Jacques Tourneur (Simone Simon, Kent Smith)

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.—Tom Huddleston

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<em>Let the Right One In</em> (2008)

Let the Right One In (2008)

Dir Tomas Alfredson (Kåre Hedebrant, Lina Leandersson)

An instant classic? If its position in the top 100 is anything to go by, then yes. Tomas Alfredson’s creepy horror, whose snowy setting suits its sadness, is a coming of age story about falling in love for the first time. Twelve year-old Oskar (Hedebrant) falls for the girl next door Eli (Leandersson). He tells her she smells funny and lends her his Rubik’s cube (this is 1981). But the sweet he offers makes her violently sick. And her eyes bleed if she goes into his flat uninvited. Eli is a vampire: "I’ve been this age for a very long time." Director Alfredson didn’t want polished performances, so cast non-professional actors. Eli is spookily ageless, most memorably in a scene stroking the face of her devoted middle-aged minder/body-snatcher like he’s her wayward son.—Cath Clarke

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<em>Videodrome</em> (1982)

Videodrome (1982)

Dir David Cronenberg (James Woods, Sonja Smits, Debbie Harry)

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.—Nigel Floyd

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<em>The Bride of Frankenstein</em> (1935)

The Bride of Frankenstein (1935)

Dir James Whale (Boris Karloff, Colin Clive, Elsa Lanchester, Ernest Thesiger)

Is Bride of Frankenstein the best film inspired by Mary Frankenstein’s nineteenth-century bone-chiller? Time Out’s panel of experts voted it so. Director Whale tried to duck out of making a follow-up to his 1931 hit Frankenstein, but the studio turned the screws and Whale caved, declaring that if he must make another film, it would be a real "hoot". But while Bride is full of camp, sly humour, Karloff’s return as the lumbering monster is also incredibly moving. Dr Frankenstein has given up playing God and tinkering with cadavers, but his dastardly mentor Praetorious blackmails him into creating a mate (Lanchester) for the monster. Legendary make-up ace Jack Pierce’s look for the Bride – barbed wire scars, diva make-up, frizzed out hair streaked with lightening bolts – and Lanchester’s jolting movements, eerily innocent, make this an American gothic to remember.—Cath Clarke

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<em>The Changeling</em> (1980)

The Changeling (1980)

Dir Peter Medak (George C. Scott, Trish Van Devere, Melvyn Douglas)

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.—Nigel Floyd

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<em>The Birds</em> (1963)

The Birds (1963)

Dir Alfred Hitchcock (Tippi Hedren, Rod Taylor)

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.—Dave Calhoun

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<em>The Fly</em> (1986)

The Fly (1986)

Dir David Cronenberg (Jeff Goldblum, Geena Davis)

David Cronenberg’s delirious reimagining of that old story of a scientist whose experiments with teleportation lead to a nasty genetic mixup, The Fly isn’t just one of the very finest horror movies, it’s also one of cinema’s great tragic romances. Charming, tentative and beautifully written, the initial relationship between leads Jeff Goldblum and Geena Davis harks back to the screwball romances of old, which only makes Goldblum’s ensuing physical and mental degradation all the more horrifying to behold. In Cronenberg’s hands, this genetic disease becomes a forceful metaphor for everything bad you can imagine, from cancer, Aids and ageing to lost love and inexplicable heartbreak. Beautiful, sickening, exhilarating, savage, inspiring and inspired, The Fly is humanist cinema at its most non-human, and a master filmmaker’s finest hour.—Tom Huddleston

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<em>Nosferatu, eine Symphonie des Grauens</em> (1922)

Nosferatu, eine Symphonie des Grauens (1922)

Dir F.W. Murnau (Max Schreck, Greta Schröder)

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.—Tom Huddleston

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<em>Freaks</em> (1932)

Freaks (1932)

Dir Tod Browning (Olga Baclanova, Harry Earles)

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.—Cath Clarke

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<em>The Omen</em> (1976)

The Omen (1976)

Dir Richard Donner (Gregory Peck, Lee Remick)

Films about Satan and his minions remain popular for a number of reasons, but a key one must be the fact that, when depicting the infinite power of the Devil, filmmakers can get away with just about anything. The Omen is chock full of creepy business: the weird nanny and her rottweiler sidekick, the zoo animals behaving erratically, the young lad on his tricycle bumping his mother over the banister, the church lightning rod spearing the priest where he stands, and of course cinema’s most iconic beheading scene, shown from multiple angles in juicily slow motion. Like many classics of the genre, Donner’s first feature wasn’t especially well received by critics at the time, but it’s remained a mainstay on late-night TV and "best of horror" lists.—Derek Adams

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<em>Evil Dead 2</em> (1987)

Evil Dead 2 (1987)

Dir Sam Raimi (Bruce Campbell, Sarah Berry)

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

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<em>Audition</em> (1999)

Audition (1999)

Dir Takashi Miike (Ryo Ishibashi, Eihi Shiina, Jun Kunimura)

The best Japanese horror film of the modern era, Eli Roth, Rob Zombie and John Landis have all confessed to being freaked out by Audition. Encouraged by his teenage son and best friend, a film producer stages a fake casting session, interviewing beautiful young woman for the imaginary role of his new wife. Smitten with the modest, mysterious Asami (Eihi Shiina), he later discovers that she is a disturbed victim of childhood abuse, with some serious trust issues. The textured relationships are subtly convincing, as the film builds inexorably towards its unbearably painful climax, which involves skilfully deployed acupuncture needles ("Kiri, kiri, kiri, kiri") and a limb-sawing wire. An astonishing achievement, particularly as it succeeds in preserving a degree of empathy for its beautiful but sadistic femme fatale.—Nigel Floyd

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<em>The Haunting</em> (1963)

The Haunting (1963)

Dir Robert Wise (Julie Harris, Claire Bloom, Richard Johnson)

The Haunting is the quintessential haunted house movie: Martin Scorsese even rated it his number one scariest film. Anthropologist Dr Markway (Richard Johnson) is investigating paranormal activity at a tombstone of a gothic pile in New England. The house was born bad, so the story goes – the wife of its first owner dropped dead moments before setting foot in it. The doctor has brought along two young psychic women, boho free-spirit Theo (who has one of the choicest wardrobes ever, designed by Mary Quant) and repressed Nell, who is the main attraction as far as the ghosts are concerned. Director Robert Wise executes a masterpiece of the power of suggestion. We never see a ghost, but the face of the devil Wise’s camera makes out in the ornate carving of a wooden door is more scary than anything make-up or effect could rustle up.—Cath Clarke

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<em>An American Werewolf in London</em> (1981)

An American Werewolf in London (1981)

Dir John Landis (David Naughton, Jenny Agutter, Griffin Dunne)

What’s always been most striking about John Landis’s lycanthropic thriller is the brilliant way it veers from comedy to gruesome terror and back again, in the blink of an eye. Figure in the services of make-up supremo Rick Baker, some of the most inventive shocks imaginable (those zombie Nazis!) and a dynamite selection of moon-related FM radio classics (not to mention Jenny Agutter’s face), and there’s no wonder it placed so high on this list. Horror parody was always going to be a doozy for Landis, given that he’d previously made such classic funnies as The Kentucky Fried Movie, Animal House and The Blues Brothers – but there’s no doubt that American Werewolf is his crowning achievement.—Derek Adams

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<em>Carrie</em> (1976)

Carrie (1976)

Dir Brian De Palma (Sissy Spacek, Piper Laurie, Amy Irving)

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

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<em>The Innocents</em> (1961)

The Innocents (1961)

Dir Jack Clayton (Deborah Kerr, Michael Redgrave, Pamela Franklin)

It has been pipped to the honour of best British horror (only just, mind) by Don’t Look Now. But The Innocents has still got friends in high places. Martin Scorsese called it "beautifully crafted and acted, immaculately shot…and very scary." The story is adapted from Henry James’s 1898 novella The Turn of the Screw. Deborah Kerr plays governess Miss Giddens, employed to look after the orphaned niece and nephew of a wealthy man (Michael Redgrave). The children behave like little angels. But why has Miles been expelled from boarding school for being a bad influence? Miss Giddens becomes convinces that the children are possessed by the spirits of dead lovers, the former governess, Miss Jessel (Clytie Jessop), and ex valet Quint (Peter Wyngarde). Are they? Or are these the fantasies of a never-been-kissed governess? Films rarely pull off the ambiguous ending anything like as satisfyingly. Little wonder Truffaut called it "the best English film" after Hitchcock left for America.—Cath Clarke

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<em>Night of the Living Dead</em> (1968)

Night of the Living Dead (1968)

Dir George A Romero (Duane Jones, Judith O’Dea, Marilyn Eastman)

Modern horror cinema started here. Romero’s low-budget nightmare movie blazed a trail for all those to follow, including Wes Craven (The Last House on the Left), David Cronenberg (Shivers), Tobe Hooper (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre) and Sam Raimi (The Evil Dead). With its radically subversive approach to generic conventions, uncompromisingly nihilistic social vision and Vietnam War-inspired political anger, this groundbreaking zombie movie broke the rules and trampled on taboos. Holed up in an isolated farmhouse, Barbara and a small group of fellow survivors are besieged by an ever-swelling tide of shambling undead flesheaters, whose dietary habits are portrayed in gory, visceral detail. Romero later expanded his apocalyptic world view with Dawn, Day and Land of the Dead; but these sequels never matched the gut-wrenching, nerve-shredding intensity of this game-changing début.—Nigel Floyd

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<em>Don't Look Now</em> (1973)

Don't Look Now (1973)

Dir Nicolas Roeg (Donald Sutherland, Julie Christie)

It’s the flirtation with the supernatural and, of course, that startling ending (when the mysterious little figure in the red coat finally – outrageously – shows its true face) that have propelled Nicolas Roeg’s ghostly, beautifully photographed and tenderly acted adaptation of Daphne du Maurier’s short story to a place so high on this list. But however much Roeg leans on signs and suggestions of occult behaviour, the real horror of his film is the deeply felt horror of grief and how it warps our perceptions of the world. It’s there from the very beginning when Donald Sutherland discovers his young daughter drowned in a lake in his garden, and it’s there as Sutherland and his wife (Julie Christie) travel to Venice and try to keep even a loose grip on life and their relationship. Disturbing and brilliant.—Dave Calhoun

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<em>Jaws</em> (1975)

Jaws (1975)

Dir Steven Spielberg (Roy Scheider, Robert Shaw, Richard Dreyfuss)

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

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<em>Dawn of the Dead</em> (1979)

Dawn of the Dead (1979)

Dir George A Romero (Ken Foree, Gaylen Ross, David Emge)

Now that’s he’s become a one-man zombie factory (with steeply diminishing returns), it’s hard to remember that George Romero was, at first, dubious about the idea of making a sequel to his 1969 game-changer Night of the Living Dead. But with his most personal project (and, perhaps, his masterpiece), Martin (see No. 87), failing miserably at the box office, Romero decided to bite the bullet – and reinvigorated his career in the process. Though Night changed the face of horror, this is the film he’ll be remembered for: the wildest, most deliriously exciting zombie flick of them all, and the movie which pretty much defines the concept of socially aware, politically astute horror cinema. Its influence has been felt in every zombie film since (and even on TV in The Walking Dead), and it remains a near-flawless piece of fist-pumping ultraviolence.—Tom Huddleston

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<em>Suspiria</em> (1977)

Suspiria (1977)

Dir Dario Argento (Jessica Harper, Stefania Casini, Flavio Bucci)

Its violent set-pieces staged with baroque extremity and heightened further by Goblin’s clamorous prog rock score, Suspiria influenced directors from John Carpenter through to Darren Aronofsky, whose Black Swan explicitly references Argento’s first fully fledged horror film. American dance student Harper’s arrival at a German ballet school coincides with a shocking double murder. Amid a hothouse atmosphere of adolescent hysteria, hints of occultism give way to the revelation that the school’s tutors are part of an ancient witch’s coven. By using colour filters and forced lighting, the Mario Bava-influenced Argento pushed the artificiality of the old fashioned Technicolor stock to extremes, creating a cinema of pure visual and aural sensation.—Nigel Floyd

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<em>Halloween</em> (1978)

Halloween (1978)

Dir John Carpenter (Donald Pleasence, Jamie Lee Curtis)

John Carpenter doesn’t put a foot wrong in this seminal hack ’n’ slasher. From the opening scene of young psycho-in-the-making Michael Myers greeting his parents with bloodied knife in hand to his inevitable return to wreak more havoc a decade later, Halloween ticks every box. The opening sequence is a masterclass in how to unsettle nerves. Utilising the then new Steadycam system, Carpenter was able to give us a perspective from the killer’s point of view. To say it ups the creepiness to new heights is an understatement – it’s watch-from-behind-the-sofa terrifying. But Carpenter didn’t stop there: making full use of his musical talents, he also wrote the main theme, an Exorcist-style piano ditty that sets the teeth on edge. For me, this is unquestionably the most visceral, terrifying and tense film in this poll.—Derek Adams

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<em>Rosemary's Baby</em> (1968)

Rosemary's Baby (1968)

Dir Roman Polanski (Mia Farrow, John Cassavetes, Ruth Gordon)

It’s hard enough moving into a flat and trying to start a family without having to wrestle with the enveloping suspicion that your new neighbours might be satanists dead-set on parenting a demon child via you. This is the intelligent, subtle face of horror, as Polanski limits the specifics to a minimum and keeps us guessing as to how much is going on merely in the mind of Mia Farrow’s character as she comes to believe she’s been impregnated by a creepy bunch of well-to-do Manhattanites with a connection to the occult. There are some more explicit key scenes – a potential nighttime rape and a chilling climax – that serve to get right under our skin without making the whole premise seem ridiculous. Farrow and Cassavetes’s performances as a couple disintegrating serve Polanski well in his attempt to make the potential alienation of everyday family life feel horrific, and the faux-naive score, evoking lullabies, makes the whole affair feel doubly creepy in the most heady way possible.—Dave Calhoun

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<em>The Thing</em> (1982)

The Thing (1982)

Dir John Carpenter (Kurt Russell, Wilford Brimley)

Time travel has many enticing possibilities, but one of the most enjoyable would be to travel back to 1982 and tell John Carpenter that his new movie would someday score sixth place in a list of the 100 best horror movies – even beating his own iconic Halloween. Like many future horror classics, The Thing was hated on first release, dismissed as an Alien clone more interested in pushing the boundaries of SFX than in character or tension. It was a disastrous flop, and threatened Carpenter’s once unassailable reputation as the king of the new horror. It’s hard to imagine now: with the benefit of hindsight (and, more importantly, repeat viewings), The Thing has emerged as one of our most potent modern terrors, combining the icy-cold chill of suspicion and uncertainty with those magnificently imaginative, pre-CG effects blowouts.—Tom Huddleston

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<em>Alien</em> (1979)

Alien (1979)

Dir Ridley Scott (Sigourney Weaver, John Hurt, Ian Holm)

"Nothing happens for 45 minutes," a studio boss sniped to Ridley Scott about Alien, failing monumentally to get that its opening is menacing as hell. Aboard the commercial spaceship Nostromo, the crew answers a distress signal from a nearby planet. That it’s so natural – they drink coffee, bitch about overtime – only adds to the suspense. Of course, we’re all waiting for the ‘chestburster’, who makes his entrance at around the one-hour mark. Scott filmed the scene in one take, not telling his cast exactly what to expect as John Hurt thrashed about on the table, convulsing in spasms, about to give birth to HR Giger’s infant alien creation. Alien had been pitched to the studio as "Jaws in Space". Later writer Dan O’Bannon openly admitted, "I didn’t steal Alien from anybody. I stole it from everybody!". Horror films have been paying Alien the same compliment ever since.—Cath Clarke

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<em>Psycho</em> (1960)

Psycho (1960)

Dir Alfred Hitchcock (Anthony Perkins, Janet Leigh)

Alfred Hitchcock was a restless innovator, and Psycho gnawed at the edges of taste and decency by being way ahead of its time: the combination of the film’s independent, criminal and sexually forthright young blonde (Leigh), its slasher scenes and its lone male perpetrator (Perkins), crazed and motivated by a disturbing family background, gave the film a modernity that sets it apart from most of Hitchcock’s films both before and after. Psycho deserves a place so high on this list for its influence alone: its legendary shower scene still shocks, but at the time such brutal bloodletting, albeit suggested via the trickery of Hitchcock’s camera and editing and the power of Bernard Herrmann’s score, was groundbreaking and immediately copied. Psycho kickstarted a shift in the appetite of mainstream audiences for experiencing the extreme and inspired other filmmakers to exploit gore with less high-minded motivations ever since.—Dave Calhoun

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<em>The Texas Chainsaw Massacre</em> (1974)

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)

Dir Tobe Hooper (Gunnar Hansen, Marilyn Burns)

There are horror films which bend the boundaries of the genre, which deal with the psychological, the suggested or the subtly thematic – and then there are the sheer, in-your-face, terrifying horrors which threaten to drain your body of sweat and lock your jaw shut forever. This is one of the latter. There have been sequels and remakes and plenty of pretenders looking to steal the film’s terrifying demonisation of those strange folk who live in the woods with a link to the local abattoir, but this is where it began. Its methods are basic: innocent kids (a guy in a wheelchair! A blonde girl!), a creepy house in the forest, nighttime chases through the trees, the sound of the chainsaw, the killer’s mask… This is high-energy peril, right up until the frenzied final scene on the road as dawn arrives. Simple and sick.—Dave Calhoun

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<em>The Shining</em> (1980)

The Shining (1980)

Dir Stanley Kubrick (Jack Nicholson, Shelley Duvall)

The scariest moments in The Shining are so iconic they’ve become in-jokes: Jack Nicholson leering psychotically from posters on the walls of student bedrooms everywhere... "Here’s Johnny". Even so, Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece of execution and claustrophobia still retains the power to frighten audiences out of their wits. Nicholson is Jack Torrance, a writer working as a caretaker at the isolated Overlook Hotel in the Colorado mountains over winter. Stephen King, on whose novel the film was based, was famously unimpressed. The problem, he said, was that ghost-sceptic Kubrick was ‘a man who thinks too much and feels too little’. He resented Kubrick for stripping out the supernatural elements of his story. Torrance is not tortured by ghosts but by inadequacy and alcoholism. And for many, it’s as a study of insanity and failure that makes The Shining so chilling.—Cath Clarke

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<em>The Exorcist</em> (1973)

The Exorcist (1973)

Dir William Friedkin (Ellen Burstyn, Linda Blair, Jason Miller, Max von Sydow)

By the ’70s, horror had divided into two camps: on one hand, there were the ‘real life’ terrors of Psycho and Night of the Living Dead, films that brought horror into the realm of the everyday, making it all the more shocking. On the other, there were the more outrageous dream-horrors popular in Europe, the work of Hammer Studios in the UK and Mario Bava and Dario Argento in Italy, films that prized artistry, oddity and explicit gore over narrative logic. The first film to attempt to bring the two together was Rosemary’s Baby, but Polanski’s heart clearly belonged to the surreal. The first to achieve that blend with absolute certainty was The Exorcist – which perhaps explains its position as the unassailable winner of this poll.

In cutting from the clanging bazaars of Iraq to the quiet streets of Georgetown, in blending dizzying dream sequences with starkly believable human drama, Friedkin created a horror movie like no other – both brutal and beautiful, artful and exploitative, exploring wacked-out religious concepts with the clinical precision of an agnostic scientist. And make no mistake: The Exorcist is most definitely a horror film: though it may be filled with rigorously examined ideas and wonderfully observed character moments, its primary concern is with shocking, scaring and, yes, horrifying its audience out of their wits – does mainstream cinema contain a more upsetting image than the crucifix scene? That it still succeeds, almost four decades later, is testament to Friedkin’s remarkable vision.—Tom Huddleston

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