The Conjuring 2 will hit theaters this week and I cannot be less excited for the second coming, we thought we’d take the opportunity to round up what we consider to be the 10 best horror movies of all-time.
If you like your horror mixed with a dash of chivalry and even a hint of sweetness, then you can’t do better than this Swedish vampire tale from Tomas Alfredson. The film follows a shy little boy who strikes up a genuine friendship with a century-old vampire that looks like a little girl. While she attempts to survive given her bloodthirsty nature, she also develops a protective instinct over her new friend that proves to be genuinely moving.
F.W. Murnau’s unauthorized adaptation of Bram Stoker’s “Dracula” is famous for the ghoulish visage of Max Schreck as a rat-like vampire named Count Orlok. Because of the slightly washed-out nature of the picture (the master copies were ordered destroyed after a court case by Stoker’s widow) and jittery silent movie rhythms, Nosferatu has an off-quality that makes it feel like a terrifying artifact, like something we’re not supposed to see.
Deborah Kerr stars in this eerie adaptation of Henry James’ “The Turn of the Screw,” playing a governess sent to a large estate to watch over two children for whom she is both protective over and secretly scared of. A series of ghostly visions makes her believe that the children may be harboring a secret. Freddie Francis’s photography is simultaneously gorgeous and scary, with the supernatural apparitions almost always shown in a far-off or distorted way that gives them heightened power over the viewer.
The Japanese have always given ghost stories a great deal of significance within their culture, and Masaki Kobayashi’s anthology film presents four unrelated tales that each bring a different dimension to such tales. Whether it’s a female ghost who saves a man’s life, a man who sees faces in his tea, or a blind musician who attempts to protect himself from a spirit by covering his body with writing, the film’s studio-bound look (all scenes, even outdoor scenes, are shot on sets) gives it a surreality that only ups the fear factor.
George A. Romero’s quintessential zombie movie literally wrote the book on the rules of modern-day zombies. Romero transformed the zombie from lumbering Haitian slaves bound to a master into lumbering ghouls rising from the grave to devour the flesh of the living. Not only did he revolutionize the monster, he also elevated the material by having the protagonist Ben be played by a powerful African American actor (Duane Jones), thus making the movie something of an allegory to the Civil Rights struggle of the time.
As much an anatomy of grief as it is a charged supernatural thriller, Don’t Look Now follows two parents (Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie) who are told by a clairvoyant that their recently-deceased daughter is trying to warn them of great danger. The Venice setting and director Nicolas Roeg’s kaleidoscopic editing leave the viewer consistently uneasy until the final, shocking moment that will stick with you forever.
There’s not much to say about Stanley Kubrick’s haunted hotel horror epic that hasn’t already been said. Whether you love it for the iconic scenes of terror (the hedge maze, “All work and no play…”, “Here’s Johnny!”) or the many conspiracies and hidden symbology embedded within it (see the documentary Room 237), the one thing you can depend on this movie for is to reveal new meaning – and new scares – with each viewing.
John Landis wrote the screenplay for this movie at age 19, and years later – at the peak of his powers as a director – delivered perhaps the first horror comedy that was just as frightening as it was funny. The story of a Yankee college student who is bitten by a werewolf on a moor and slowly turns into one himself treads its way towards its inevitable tragic conclusion with lots of humor (“A naked American man stole my balloons!”) and visceral scenes of horror like the Nazi nightmare sequence.
Although it was dismissed by critics and ignored at the box office at the time of its release, John Carpenter’s remake of the Howard Hawks classic stands today as one of – if not THE – most admired make-up effects movies ever conceived. While Rob Bottin’s ever-evolving creature make-up still stands the test of time, it’s Carpenter’s minimalist storytelling that masterfully escalates the claustrophobic paranoia to almost unbearable levels. This is how you do a truly scary movie.
Bruce Joel Rubin’s screenplay for this film spent ten years floating around Hollywood as one of its “best unproduced scripts” until director Adrian Lyne (Fatal Attraction) took it and ran with it. Lyne crafted an alternately disturbing and haunting metaphysical journey for Vietnam vet character Jacob Singer (Tim Robbins), whose nightmarish visions begin to blur the line between what’s real and what’s in his head, both for himself and the audience.