I asked the world to send me a list of 31 films that scared the pee out of them. Many more people than I would have thought possible heard, and answered, the call. 183 films were nominated and voted on. The resulting list is not perfect, but it is a fascinating picture of what our little community considers canonical horror cinema. In the coming days I hope to post a runners-up list. And the Top 5 Horror Comedies is yet to come!
Incidentally, I chose not to vote. Hardly any of the films on my nominating list made it and I didn't feel that I had seen enough of the nominees to vote fairly.
And now, the 31 Flicks That Give You the Willies...
31. Bride of Frankenstein (1935; James Whale) 285 pts.
That iconic haircut and a goofier, more lovable monster (and script), garnered this sequel fifty more points than the original Frankenstein.
30. Aliens (1986; James Cameron) 286 pts.
I've never really thought of this as a horror film. It always played more like an action movie; the 'guys on a mission' thing. Adding to that effect, for me, is the classic problem of the horror sequel. If I already know what the monster is, what exactly it is creeping around in the dark, how can I be afraid of it? Great flick, though.
29. Poltergeist (1982; Tobe Hooper) 288 pts.
Poor Tobe Hooper. Even with Poltergeist, everyone will always say he's a one trick pony.
28. Seven (1995; David Fincher) 289 pts.
I've always secretly believed that everyone was so freaked out by this movie because they knew, deep down, there was something about their own personality that would compel Kevin Spacey to kill them in some creative and hideous way.
27. Night of the Hunter (1957; Charles Laughton) 290 pts.
One of the most beautiful movies ever shot in black and white, a plot that puts kids in danger (a perennial thriller trope that almost never fails to bloom into something creepy), and a pair of iconic knuckle tattoos. Need I say more?
26. Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956; Don Siegel) 292 pts.
Imagine if your best friend, all of the police and the other townspeople, even your own best girl turned into... Commies! Man would that suck.
25. Carnival of Souls (1962; Herk Harvey) 302 pts.
Bob Turnbull writes of this gem, "Proof positive that limitations in budget don't have to limit your imagination." (Read the rest of Bob's thoughts on the films on his own list here. Final Girl's take on the film, and a bunch of gorgeous screen shots, can be found here.)
24. Carrie (1976; Brian de Palma) 310 pts.
R.A. Naing at Direct Cinema writes of De Palma's breakthrough success, "A stunningly orchestrated, stylistically audacious study of female adolescence, teenage insecurity, and religious hysteria, this is without a doubt one of the best horror films ever made. Simply transcendent." All that, plus pig's blood and young Travolta!
23. The Ring (2002; Gore Verbinski) 317 pts.
For a while it looked like Hideo Nakata's original Ringu was going to be in the top 31 as well, but it came about 15 points short of making it.
22. (TIE) Eraserhead (1977; David Lynch) 327 pts.
The Fly (1986; David Cronenberg) 327 pts.
Two creepy movies directed by two creepy Davids. I like to imagine the two of them on a picnic together, both fascinated with the ants crawling all over the lunch they have spread out between them.
21. The Brood (1979; David Cronenberg) 347 pts.
Cronenberg strikes again with another tale of the body in revolt against itself and the natural world.
20. Rosemary’s Baby (1968; Roman Polanski) 364 pts.
R.A. Naing at Direct Cinema writes of this film, "Everything you've heard is true. Polanski's film is one of the few perfect horror films ever made." Me? I can't watch this movie without flapping my arms around and yelling at the screen in frustration as Mia Farrow makes one ridiculous decision after the other.
19. 28 Days Later (2002; Danny Boyle) 381 pts.
A lot of people blame this movie for pushing zombies back to the forefront of pop culture. I don't... care. (Here's what Final Girl has to say about the film, and here's me on Danny Boyle's career.)
18. (TIE) The Wicker Man (1973; Robin Hardy) 391 pts.
Eyes Without a Face (aka Les Yuex sans visage) (1960; Georges Franju) 391 pts.
The former is an imperfect movie with some lasting images and mild creepiness. The latter is a singular work featuring a villain pushed to horrific acts by totally understandable causes and a protagonist whose unseen countenance is covered by the creepiest mask ever NOT worn by a serial killer.
17. (TIE) Nosferatu (1922; F.W. Murnau) 413 pts.
The Descent (2005; Neil Marshall) 413 pts.
That's right, Murnau's insanely creepy vision of the vampire--the most animalistic and downright scary bloodsucker ever put on film--received exactly the same amount of votes as that movie about the spelunking girls from a few years ago.
16. The Evil Dead (1981; Sam Raimi) 421 pts.
Stacie Ponder wrote of this film, "Sometimes, it's just so simple: five friends, a creepy cabin in the woods, an eeeeeevil book bound in human flesh and inked in human blood. Writer/director Sam Raimi took that simple premise and a $3 budget and managed to create a horror classic- one of the most twisted and dangerous films of my youth." Read the rest of her piece on why the first is the best of Raimi's trilogy here.)
15. The Blair Witch Project (1999; Daniel Myrick & Eduardo Sanchez) 450 pts.
If there is such a thing as a one-hit wonder in the film world, this was it. People only remember the marketing campaign, but this film--one I don't particularly like--still sports a killer ending that is worth the wait.
14. The Haunting (1963; Robert Wise) 464 pts.
A great, old-fashioned idea for a ghost story executed in a great, old-fashioned manner.
13. Don’t Look Now (1973; Nicolas Roeg) 469 pts.
The shocking moment near the end of this film still divides viewers. Is it a brilliant scare-you-out-of-your seat left turn, or does it ruin the slow burn and emotional intensity of what comes before it?
12. Suspiria (1977; Dario Argento) 482 pts.
Witchcraft and other such spookery have never been my thing. Nonetheless, Argento's composition and use of color are just as beautiful here as in the slasher films I love him for best. Plus, there's that scene where they're really mean to the blind guy, and that's pretty creepy.
11. The Birds (1963; Alfred Hitchcock) 483 pts.
Not to step on any toes here, but... this one I just don't get. They're frickin' birds, man! What's the big deal?
10. Jaws (1976; Steven Spielberg) 526 pts.
Everybody who nominated the original blockbuster felt compelled to mention that it was originally just a scary movie with a shark you barely see. Though I mock these Spielberg apologists, they have a point: success and time tend to cloud genre associations, as if a popular movie is an island unto itself, completely separate from its generic lineage.
9. Dawn of the Dead (1978; George Romero) 645 pts.
The message inherent in this film is still so relevant that it was remade 25 years later and didn't have to be updated in the slightest.
8. The Thing (1982; John Carpenter) 661 pts.
Nobody who ever sees this film will forget that dog, and to me, that is what horror films are all about: indelible imagery that sticks with you and burns into you, recurring at the strangest moments.
7. Alien (1979; Ridley Scott) 675 pts.
Space + claustrophobia + icky crawly spitting grossy things=no one hearing you screaming.
6. The Exorcist (1973; William Friedkin) 723 pts.
As a child I had no conception of what this movie was about, but the image on the box alone was enough to make me tense up as I walked by it on the rack. I imagined 'the Exorcist' was the villain, and I wondered what he wanted to do to me with whatever was inside that bag he was carrying.
5. Psycho (1960; Alfred Hitchcock) 747 pts.
The "mother" of them all. Get it? Because, you know, it's like the movie that got all that blood flowing through American cinema and there's a character called Mother in it. So it's sort of like a play on words. Ha, ha...
4. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974; Tobe Hooper) 784 pts.
To me, nothing in this film is as scary as the shot of the chicken in that little tiny birdcage. Plus, it's a known fact that everything is scarier when it's shot on that 1970's yellowish sepia film stock.
3. Halloween (1978; John Carpenter) 824 pts.
There had been slasher films before, but none nailed the mindless evil psycho villain character quite like this one. And the score is so simple and brilliant that just two or three seconds worth of it gets the goosebumps going.
2. Night of the Living Dead (1968; George Romero) 862 pts.
A brilliant ending necessitated by financial woes; a social message implied by the mere fact of casting a black protagonist. Oh yeah, and the movie that gave us the modern American conception of the zombie, of which there have been infinite variations. Now let us all lurch and hunger, together, as one.
1. The Shining (1980; Stanley Kubrick) 997 pts.
For once, justice is served. I have long said that The Shining is the greatest horror film in existence and it won't soon be surpassed, for beauty, for chills, or for an ability to provoke thought. (My own personal relationship with Kubrick's last great film is detailed here. A brilliant analysis from Exploding Kinetoscope can be found here.)
Thanks everyone who participated, and especially to those of you who are spreading the word, and to those who were quoted in this post.