From an early age, I’ve always been fascinated and a little bit curious about things that frightened me. My favourite show growing up was Scooby-Doo, and I think a big part of that was the mystery (as obvious as it was) and the scarier edge it had over most kids programming. Even some of the first movies I remember watching when I got older that got me into film genuinely terrified me. I was terrified of swimming after the first time I watched Jaws, and even to this day, the thought of a killer shark is always on the back of my mind. Yet, I was so drawn to it, even seeking out more films like it. I never knew how much of a horror fan I was. In fact, I used to hate horror films other than the occasional creature feature, like other shark movies and such. It wasn’t until a few years ago that I started to dive into the vast zeitgeist of horror that I developed a love for these types of films. I have always been someone who wanted to know as much as I possibly could about the world of movies and films. I finally concluded that I had been completely ignoring an entire genre, one where I had heard and read about how influential it was and how pivotal in the landscape of cinema it had become. So begrudgingly I started my film appreciation journey down the road of horror and I haven’t looked back since.
The horror genre has quickly become one of my favourites and one that I admire the most. Most films of the genre have nothing but a shoestring budget to work from and yet, some of the greatest filmmakers find innovative and new creative ways to tell their stories through it. Some of my favourite filmmakers are either horror directors or have roots from that genre, whether you’re talking about David Fincher, Steven Spielberg, Stanley Kubrick, Ridley Scott, Sam Rami, and John Carpenter among many others have all worked on a horror film at least once in their careers. I want to share with you 10 of my favourite films of the genre. These are ten movies that I think have much more to say than just scares, although they have the best scares as well. You can always tell a bad horror flick from a good one. I find bad horror films to be painful because they were presented with a great opportunity that was never taken. Sometimes finding a good horror movie is like finding a diamond in the rough. But finding those diamonds is half the fun. Truly finding a horror flick that transcends the genre will always be for me, one of my favourite movie-going experiences.
Disclaimer: This is just my opinion. These are my picks and my favourites. Also, some of the films lower on the list I would consider better movies in general, but in the context of a horror movies, they are placed accordingly. I have included the posters with each film, as I think these are some of the greatest movie posters of all time.
9. The Descent
The Descent is straight-up terrifying before we even get to the creepy monsters halfway through the movie. For those who don’t know, The Descent is about a group of women who all go spelunking in an unexplored cave. While down in the caves the girls climb through tight and narrow openings and wander aimlessly through the dark exploring the cave. That part alone would make a normal person squeamish. Watching them squeeze through tight spots going deeper into the cave with no daylight or exit in sight sends shivers down my spine. And then they add creepy demon looking monsters on top of that to create one of the scariest claustrophobic horror films ever. The women of the film are badass. The main couple of girls are awesome horror characters. They are not just fodder for us to watch get murdered, they have personalities and are skilled, athletic, resourceful women who fight back against these creatures. They don’t just wait for their eventual doom, they fight for their lives. That’s what makes The Descent great, the characters and their dynamic anchor this film. Most horror films I find myself rooting for the bad guy to win, here you want these women to survive and see them succeed.
8. Rosemary’s Baby
The first time I watched Rosemary’s Baby it had this nasty habit of reaching down into my soul, clenching it as hard as it could, and not letting go until the film was over. And even then I could not stop thinking about what I had just watched. Rosemary’s Baby is a different kind of horror film than most. A film about paranoia, the loss of control over your decisions, and the devil. Rosemary’s Baby paved the way for other character-based drama’s that just happen to be dealing with horrific themes. Most recently Hereditary reminded me very much of this film. Director Roman Polanski puts you right into the shoes of Rosemary Woodhouse as she becomes increasingly paranoid of her neighbours and her husband, thinking they are plotting to take her unborn child as a sacrifice. As the brilliant screenplay starts to unravel and Rosemary becomes more aware of the strange things going on around her, the audience is left in a state of tension and dread that is never fully resolved even when we learn of the twisted and demented ending. Rosemary’s Baby deals with complex themes that are still relevant today, despite the film being made in 1968. Themes of rape and women’s rights all come to play in this masterful depiction of a woman denied the basic human rights to make decisions for herself. Rosemary’s Baby won’t scare you in the traditional horror way, but it will haunt every fiber in your being.
For me, Scream is the quintessential teen slasher film, even more so than Halloween. What I love about this movie is the self-aware/meta vibe and attitude Scream has. Wes Craven, a master when it comes to horror filmmaking, in 1995 created his masterpiece with Scream. By this point in time, everyone had seen all The Nightmare on Elm Street (another Wes Craven creation), Friday the 13th, and the Halloween movies by now and were tired of the same tropes and cliches over and over again. So Craven decided to make a film that makes fun of and calls out all of the tropes and cliches, well making a film that is all of those things. It’s an incredibly innovative way to revitalize a dying breed of horror film. After this film, every horror flick wanted to be Scream. All the horror movies needed to be meta and comical with edgy, cool lead characters. Scream changed the game in a big way. Scream understood the rules of the game and just had fun with them. One of my favourite lines of all time comes from this movie, Jamie Kennedy yelling “Everyone’s a suspect!” in the video store. Scream is fun, thrilling, and so playfully smart in its execution that I can’t help but love it.
6. Evil Dead 2
Sam Raimi has stated many times in interviews that his only job is to entertain and entertain us he did with Evil Dead 2. Raimi here sets up another fun and spooky cabin in the woods film. In Evil Dead 2, Sam Raimi and the brilliant Bruce Campbell double down the comedic aspects of the first, while never compromising the scares. This is the best horror-comedy out there. Bruce Campbell’s incredible physical comedy is spot on and matches perfectly with the campy tone set by Raimi. Evil Dead 2 is a blast from start to finish. Ash Williams is one of my favourite characters of all time. He’s a complete moron, yet one of the coolest characters ever put to screen. I can not think of enough words to describe how awesome Bruce Campbell. His on-screen presence is instantly captivating. He is so charming and effortlessly funny. The guy straight-up rules. Sam Raimi is an inspiration because of these films. Here’s a guy who had always wanted to make a film and just went out and did it. He gathered his friends and shot the best movie they could, The Evil Dead, which went on to spawn a trilogy of movies, a gritty remake, and a T.V. show while influencing many filmmakers to come, like the Coen Brothers. Sam Raimi knew exactly what he wanted to create and nailed it perfectly. This is a bloody, gory groovy movie that I just can’t get enough of. It’s ridiculous and over the top but in all the right ways.
5. The Fly
Seth Brundle: You have to leave now, and never come back here. Have you ever heard of insect politics? Neither have I. Insects… Don’t have politics. They’re very…brutal. No compassion, no compromise. We can’t trust the insect. I’d like to become the first… insect politician. Y’ see, I’d like to, but… I’m afraid, uh…
Ronnie: I don’t know what you’re trying to say
Seth Brundle: I’m saying… I’m saying I’m an insect who dreamt he was a man and loved it. But now the dream is over… and the insect is awake.
Ronnie: No, no Seth…
Seth Brundle: I’m saying… I’ll hurt you if you stay
What hits me so hard about The Fly is here is a man trying to do something good for the world and develop a scientific leap in teleportation. A man full of life and ambition, to have it all taken away with a simple human mistake. This is a tragic tale of Seth Brundle slowly losing everything that makes us human and becomes the monster. I included this quote at the top here because I think it’s so powerful to the story. The descent for this character is heartbreaking, and I think that moment is the turning point in the character. Jeff Goldblum is a charmingly nerdy character. I love how real and personal his character feels. Geena Davis as well, they both feel like people I could possibly know. They don’t feel like movie characters despite all the crazy things that happen to them. Jeff Goldblum plays both parts of Brundlefly so well, it’s hard to tell where one ends and the other begins. Even in the line I quoted up top, you can sense both parts of Seth and the monster lurking inside trying to find its way out. It’s a great moment of realization for the character, he knows he won’t be able to control himself for much longer. Jeff Goldblum is simply amazing in this role, maybe his best work ever. I would be doing this movie a major disservice if I didn’t mention the incredible and disgusting practical effects. The Fly has some of the greatest make-up work ever. It’s gross and hard to watch. When Seth’s ear falls or he starts losing his teeth, it looks like he’s losing those things. It’s horrifying watching this man lose everything in such a disgusting way. This tale of a scientist affected by his failed experiment has been told many times before this movie and after it, but The Fly does it the best. It’s tragic and horrifying. A true character drama while being a great horror film.
Jaws is an interesting film to categorize. Is it a horror? I think so. Never has a movie made me so terrified of doing something so mundane. Jaws understood that sometimes showing everything wasn’t as effective as letting our imagination fill in the blanks. What I mean by that is Spielberg rarely shows us the shark, most of the violence is off-screen or in the background. We never get a good full look of gore, blood or the shark until the end of the movie. The greatest horror tool used in this movie is the tension and anticipation built between masterful direction and the iconic score by John Williams. But in my opinion what makes this not only one of the greatest horror films, but one of the greatest films ever made is the amazing characters. The best scene in the movie is when the three main leads get drunk and share stories about their scars. These characters ground the movie, killer sharks are cool and all, but I’m more concerned with Sheriff Brody and if he’ll be accepted by the town and be allowed to do the right thing. Or the haunting story of the U.S.S Indianapolis told by Quint. My favourite moments of Jaws are the ones on the boat with the three men doing their best to hunt down this shark. It goes from thrilling adventure and joyous relief to instant terror and dread within seconds. I’m telling you this one of the greatest directed films of all time. The amount of energy needed to bring this film to life is equal to the amount of heart needed to not just write off Jaws as another B-rate movie, and Spielberg delivers on both. This movie has no right to be this good, and yet it has become a go-to example for how to build tension and develop strong characters. Jaws, in my opinion, is a perfect movie. Jaws has characters that you care for and grow to love while being one of the scariest films ever made. I still have a hard time going swimming to this day.
“In space, no one can hear you scream” may be the greatest tagline to any movie. If you were to ask me if I was more of an Alien kind of guy or Aliens, I tend to lean more towards Alien. Don’t get me wrong, Aliens is an A+ movie, helmed by one of the greatest ever, James Cameron. I think for me, I love the amazing atmosphere and tension built by Ridley Scott. First off the production design and interiors of the ship and the planet the crew lands on are top-notch. Considering this movie came out in 1979, this is some of the best looking sci-fi sets of all time. I find Alien to be incredibly smart and way ahead of its time with its portrayal of the lead character, Ripley. The first half of this movie is focused on the crew, there is no real hero of the story until later on. But all throughout the first half, Ripley is the only one making the right decisions and following protocol. Everyone else is constantly making mistakes, making irrational and emotional choices that jeopardize the entire crew, which leads to the horrible massacre. Ripley from the start, even though we don’t know if she’s the hero and lead of the film yet, is proving to the audience she is the smartest character on screen. From the first frame of the film, the slow burn pace of the film continually increases the looming threat of this creature that has found its way onto the ship and it is terrifying. I remember watching this movie for the first time when I was way too young and I was mortified. From the initial first jump scare of the face-hugger jumping out of the egg to the horrific chest-burster scene, Alien is pure terror. The alien design, with all of it’s slim and the extra set of teeth has inspired countless other creature designs for years in other films, and for good reason. The xenomorph is the thing of nightmares. Ridley Scott perfectly sets the creature in the dark and in shadows. He will set up a scene where the alien perfectly hides in the set and instead of revealing it with a loud jolt of music, Scott lets the camera linger on the shot for us to discover it for ourselves. It is way more effective and frightening than a jump scare at that moment would be. Alien is a masterclass example of Sci-Fi Horror and will continue to have an impact on the genre for years to come.
2. The Thing
I love John Carpenter. I think he is so smart and creative and such a trailblazer for horror films and The Thing is his crowning jewel. The Thing is an isolated thriller set in Antarctica in a remote research station as a strange entity starts to infiltrate the crew. This “alien” can take whatever form needed to take out whatever target it has its sights on. So that means this entity can take the form of other crew members, setting us up for one of the most intense and thrilling mysterious in horror. The escalating threat of this creature builds beautifully to a heart-pounding climax that never is fully resolved. Kurt Russell in this movie is the definition of cool. His epic beard, his amazing flowing hair, the no-nonsense attitude, and the flamethrower make for one rad character. When I watch this movie, I genuinely feel cold. The Thing has a great way of sucking you into the film. You feel the cold, snowy winds and harsh weather, along with the complete isolation and utter helplessness the characters feel. I can’t watch this movie without sitting on the edge of my seat the entire time. The Thing has some of the most disgusting practical effects ever, and I love it. The worm-like appendages flinging out of the morphing dog make me want to vomit and the chest opening up with teeth sends shivers down my spine. This is one of the most intriguing horror films out there. It will hold your attention and keep you glued to your seat as you try to figure out who is the thing.
Stanley Kubrick’s vast and varied career has spanned over a multitude of genres. From period pieces, war epics, erotic thrillers, and grand space adventures, Kubrick has mastered everything he has touched. Arguably Kubrick has never mastered a genre as well as he did with the horror genre with The Shining. This a methodical slow-burn psychological mind-f***. Not a single frame is wasted, oozing with so many possible hints and metaphors. So many questions are posed and left completely open-ended. Jack Nicholson is equal parts hilarious and unsettling. Watching him completely lose it is endlessly entertaining. Due to a harsh environment set by Kubrick, Shelley Duvall gives a devastating performance. She looks like she is in constant despair and it works perfectly for the film. I learn something new every time I watch this film. I pick up on a new detail or a subtle nuance. I have many different theories about the film that are constantly changing and that’s the fun of it. The Shining is a genuinely scary movie. The first time I saw the Grady twins shocked me, the scene when Lloyd first appeared confused me and put me straight into the headspace of Jack Torrence. The cabin fever weighs down on the audience, I feel we all go a little mad watching this movie. The score gives me chills every time. The Shining is a classic, one that will conjure debate for years to come. If you have not seen this movie, what are you doing? Go watch it right now.