The Best Horror Movies of All Time

January 25, 2011 by  
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The Best Horror Movies of All Time

The Best Horror Movies of All Time


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Home Page > Arts & Entertainment > Movies > The Best Horror Movies of All Time

The Best Horror Movies of All Time

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Posted: Oct 29, 2010 |Comments: 0
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25. An American Werewolf in London (1981)

Directed by John Landis
Marred by unnecessary/crappy sequel? Yes.

Little English boy: “A naked American man stole my balloons.”

In many ways, horror is the toughest genre to pin down in terms of quality. Maybe you grew up in the ‘30s and seeing the mummy limp after someone for the first time (seriously, who would that guy catch??) scared the bejeezus out of you; or you crawled under your seat when you saw The Birds in the ‘60s, an era that revitalized horror thanks to a fresh batch of concepts from Alfred Hitchcock and… well, Alfred Hitchcock (although to be honest, I always thought he was a tad overrated. Birds… really? That’s what’s keeping people up at night?); or you were a teenager getting off on the gore and gratuitous boobage of ‘70s/’80s slasher flicks. Maybe you’re a Japanese horror buff and get chills from pasty, bug-eyed possessed children or the freaky new ways they think up to kill people. Or maybe you appreciate the new era of horror movies – ones that actually integrate plotlines and character development.

In other words, it’s all a big ol’ judgment call – one person’s horror classic is another’s schlock.

Speaking of schlock, we land on our first entry: American Werewolf in London. I think John Landis takes a similar view on horror as I do: that horror movies don’t really scare people… they may chill, they may repulse, they may make you wonder why you’re laughing at something so sick… but they don’t scare.

So in Werewolf, he lays the black humor on thick… Orc-ish storm troopers machine gunning a young family watching the Muppets, the main character’s deceased best friend appearing throughout the film in continually decomposing form, etc. And then every time you get lulled into thinking how purely goofy the movie is, someone gets mauled. Sweet.

The effects are particularly bad (they were then and are that much more dated now) and the acting is terrible… but I’d start a horror marathon with this just to cleanse my palate.

24. The Devil’s Rejects (2003)

Directed by Rob Zombie
Marred by unnecessary/crappy remake? This is technically a sequel.

Otis B. Driftwood: Boy, the next word that comes out of your mouth better be some brilliant fuckin’ Mark Twain shit. ‘Cause it’s definitely getting chiseled on your tombstone.

There has always been a kinship between horror and heavy metal. The dark themes, black clothes, over-the-top excesses. An it doesn’t take a genius to infer that someone who renames himself Rob Zombie is obsessed with the genre. And boy is he ever one fucked up poobah.

The trend in horror movies over the last 10 years has been ever-escalating acts of indifferent depravity, starting with the brutal Japanese torture porn popularized in the Saw movies. What sets Devil’s Rejects apart is the point-of-view. Most torture films are told from the victims point of view. Zombie makes the psychos the center of the film, anti-heroes with personality and back-stories that you are meant to root for and sympathize with.

Zombie introduced these characters in House of 1000 Corpses, but that movie was silly over-the-top horror in the vein of the Evil Dead movies, so it was easier to just laugh at and dismiss. This is altogether more disturbing for its seriousness. Zombie shoots it with a handheld, so the touch of reality really amps up the torture scenes. That he would cast his wife as one of the main characters shows just how messed up Zombie really is. Sheri Moon Zombie got so shaken during one part of the production that she had to take 2 days off to recover. Now that’s metal. And that is horror baby.

23. Suspiria (1977)

Directed by Dario Argento
Marred by unnecessary/crappy remake? Not yet.*

Dr. Frank Mandel: Bad luck isn’t brought by broken mirrors, but by broken minds.

Sure, you can watch Suspiria on a nice sunny day with some friends and completely pick the film apart for all of its faults – the absolutely atrocious acting and stilted dialogue, especially. But go sit on your couch by yourself at midnight and throw it on… then tell me it doesn’t keep you awake the rest of the night (and you’re damn sure not going anywhere near your bathroom window).

That’s the whole point, and the brilliance of Italian horror legend Dario Argento: it’s supposed to feel choppy and fake. His goal is to create a surreal nightmare, filled with vivid visuals and a downright intrusive soundtrack. Unlike far too many films where the payoff (i.e., kill) is the focal point, Argento is about creating a sense of menace and suspense – letting scenes linger and linger until you can’t stand it any more – and it doesn’t lift until the movie is over (and then some). Molto bene.

*[Editor’s note: inexplicably, Argento is said to be planning his own remake. Details are spotty. Inexplicabllier, Natalie Portman is rumored to be cast. Natalie Portman? What’s next… Shia LaBeouf in the sequel to Wall Street??? Oops…]

22. The Descent (2005)

Directed by Neil Marshall
Marred by unnecessary/crappy sequel? Yes.*

Beth: I’m an English teacher, not fucking Tomb Raider.

Over the course of the past 5-10 years, a new crop of film makers started dabbling in horror movies, looking to pay homage to (and improve upon) the films they grew up with. Along the way, they realized that having a decent plot and characters you actually care about really do matter. I can watch a thousand bitchy co-eds get cut to ribbons by Jason and not feel an ounce of emotion about it… so long as they have their tops off, it’s all good. But put together a group of strong-minded, capable women with complex lives and families and personalities… well, suddenly their survival means something more.

The Descent centers around six girlfriends who meet in a remote part of the Appalachians for their annual spelunking trip (it’s more of a rock climbing trip, but I just like using the word spelunking). The beauty of the movie is that for about the first 40 minutes it’s nothing but the women and the drama that ensues as they go about their spelunking. Then, of course, the CHUDs come. And you know when there are CHUDs involved, I’m in, baby.

As much fun as it is to (sorta) root for the bad guy, if you’re not pulling for the protagonist… not hoping that good will somehow prevail… well, then most of the time it’s just not going to be as compelling. And Neil Marshall does a great job setting the table for these characters, so that by the time they meet the creatures, you almost want to grab a pickaxe and help them out.

[Editor’s note: if this movie had been called The Spelunkers or, even better, Spelunked!, it would’ve been no lower than #5.]

*[Editor’s note #2: In checking out clips for the movie, I found out that The Descent 2 will be opening this year. The trailer looks particularly crappy, so you may want to be one-and-done for this franchise.]

21. Session 9 (2001)

Directed by Brad Anderson
Marred by unnecessary/crappy sequel? No.

Doctor: And where do you live, Simon?
Mary Hobbes: I live in the weak and the wounded… Doc.

There are two main types of horror movie. There is the slasher-film gore-fest. And there is the atmospheric creepy supernatural thriller. What makes Session 9 such a great horror movie is that it straddles both genres. It’s a nice balancing act by super-talented young director Brad Anderson (The Machinist, Transsiberian).

It starts out in creepy mode, as a bunch of asbestos-removal workers begin a job in a long-abandoned psychiatric hospital, and this under-utilized horror-movie setting is really the main character. It’s particularly well-done, because the movie achieves this effect without it feeling like the place is haunted, and so it avoids the trappings of the straightforward ghost story. Most of the story is very much a series of psychological terrors that grip the crew. But toward the end, the movie turns on a dime into a violent and gory slasher film. It sounds odd, but it’s actually pretty freaking awesome.

20. Devil’s Backbone (2001)

Directed by Guillermo del Toro
Marred by unnecessary/crappy sequel? No.

Casares: What is a ghost? A tragedy condemned to repeat itself time and again? An instant of pain, perhaps. Something dead which still seems to be alive. An emotion suspended in time. Like a blurred photograph. Like an insect trapped in amber.

Guillermo del Toro is making movies that transcend their genre bounds. Hellboy, Pan’s Labyrinth, and this lesser-known Spanish spookathon. They all work as fantasy, comic book, and horror movies respectively, but they also bring a lot more to the table. More daring, more imagination, and grander themes.

Sure, this has a freaky looking dead child bent on killing. And yeah, there are lots of dark tunnels, floating dead bodies, and even a magically undetonated bomb seemingly supsended by magic. It is a horror movie after all. But it’s also about the disintegration of morality during war, specifically the Spanish Civil War, which was also the setting for del Toro’s critically lauded Pan’s Labyrinth. Fascist sympathizers, war profiteers, misguided ‘rebels’. Ultimately, the ghosts are just their victims, and these freaky kids want their revenge.

19. The Shining (1980)

Directed by Stanley Kubrick
Marred by unnecessary/crappy sequel? No.

Grady daughter: Come play with us, Danny, forever and ever and ever

When you think of classic images from horror movie history, it’s amazing how many come from The Shining. Check out just a few of the iconic visuals.

For ever, and ever, and ever…

 

 

All of these come from the mind of freakish visual genius Stanley Kubrick, who took the Steven King novel about alcoholism and twisted it into a meat grinder of classic horror movie elements. And without a doubt, the best looking horror movie ever made.

18. Pet Sematary (1989)

Directed by Mary Lambert
Marred by unnecessary/crappy sequel? Yes.

[Talking on the phone]
Gage: First I play with Judd, then Mommy came, and I play with Mommy. We play Daddy! We had a awfully good time! Now, I want to play with YOU!
Louis: What did you do?
Gage: Hee hee…
Louis: What did you do?!?

That Stephen King is a pretty twisted mother fucker. People refer to him as the King of Horror (and given the fact that four of his adapted works are on this list, that’s hard to argue). What sets him apart is not so much his ability to out n’ out scare you, but seriously creep you out.

There are moments in Pet Sematary where I have echoic chills… they just sort of live in my spine and start up all over again when I start thinking about this movie.

Some of the creepiest scenes of any movie ever: the ones with the sister with spinal meningitis and then conversation that the dad has with his reanimated (and now homicidal) son. Throw in the fact that the criminally underused Fred Gwynne is in this and it’s gold, Jerry, gold!

17. Scream (1996)

Directed by Wes Craven
Marred by unnecessary/crappy sequels? Yes.

Stu: I wanna see breasts. I wanna see Jamie Lee’s breasts. When do we see Jamie Lee’s breasts?
Randy: Breasts? Not until “Trading Places” in 1983. Jamie Lee was always a virgin in horror movies. She didn’t show her tits ’til she went legits.

It’s funny… in a way, Scream feels so played out now. It’s been spoofed and copied ad nauseum… but in 1996, it revitalized the entire horror movie industry, making it popular, interesting and profitable again.

And because of that renewed popularity, we got more talented auteurs looking to take on new angles in the horror genre… and got actual (i.e., popular and/or talented) actors getting aboard projects.

But that’s not it… it’s a damn fine movie, too. The opening scene, which itself is a “reboot” (to steal a current/popular/annoying term) of the single scariest scenes in movie history (the opening of the original “When a Stranger Calls.” That movie would be on this list too if, y’know, the entire rest of the film didn’t suck balls) is a classic. And the rest of the movie follows suit – able to pay homage to the genre while winking at its tired formula at the same time.

16. The Fly (1986)

Directed by David Cronenberg
Marred by unnecessar/crappy remake/sequels? This is a remake of the 1956 classic original

Ronnie: I don’t know what you’re trying to say.
Seth Brundle: I’m saying… I’m saying I – 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.

Jeff Goldblum was the quintessential nerd in the 80s. And this type of movie is classic nerd tragedy. Like stories of the Wolfman or Vampire, this is about a weakling infused with the power of the animal. This is intoxicating for a while, as they use their powers for retribution against those who have wronged them in the past. But then the metamorphosis continues, and they degrade into something subhuman. At least in the wolfman and vampire stories, those creatures retain some vital aspect of their humanity. Brundle-fly is a grotesquerie at the end, a product of his desires for power, and a cautionary tale about it’s ugly side.

15. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)

Directed by Tobe Hooper
Marred by unnecessar/crappy remake/sequels? Yes… both.

Drunk: [laughs] Things happen here about, they don’t tell about. I see things. You see, they say that it’s just an old man talking. You laugh at an old man, it’s them that laughs and knows better.

If Psycho was the grandfather of slasher films, then Massacre was it’s deranged uncle.

The plot: Five friends are hunted down and terrorized by a chainsaw-wielding killer and his family of grave-robbing cannibals.

Yup, that about sums it up.

Hooper’s influence would reign supreme for decades to come and endures today… from the endless serial killer/slasher movies that would follow to the gritty, docu-horror style (like the truly crappy Blair Witch Project) to “torture porn” movies like Hostel and Saw to the films of Rob Zombie, among other things.

Plus, it’s the all-time favorite movie of Chainsaw and Dave in the movie Summer School. And they seemed like pretty cool guys.

14. The Ring

Directed by Gore Verbinski
Marred by unnecessary/crappy sequel? Yes.

Dr. Scott: You don’t want to hurt anyone.
Samara Morgan: But I do, and I’m sorry. It won’t stop.

Admittedly, I have not seen Ringu, the Japanese original upon which this movie is based. Otherwise, I have a feeling that might be here (or higher)… because those Japanese are some seriously disturbed people (and they looked wicked creepy as dead people. That’s not being racist… that’s a fact).

But the American version does a good job. First of all, they cast a real actress (Naomi Watts) in the lead, giving the movie some much needed weight. Second, Verbinski uses a lot of quick cuts and choppy/grainy-yet-realistic visuals to give the whole thing a surreal, nightmarish quality (see: Suspiria). And finally, there’s a kid in it… and call me a sucker, but whenever you have a kid at the heart of your horror movie (e.g., The Shining, Pet Sematary, The Exorcist, The Mist, Poltergeist, etc.), I get plenty of heebies to go with my jeebies.

13. Thinner (1999)

Directed by
Marred by unnecessary/crappy sequel? No

Old Gypsy: Thinner….

Another entry based on a story from the prolific pen of Stephen King, and his most underrated story at that. Robert John Burke plays a morbidly obese attorney who represents mob boss Joe Mantegna (who else?). After accidentally hitting and killing an old Gypsy woman with his car, and then getting off scot-free, the gypsies” husband brushes Burke’s cheek and whispers “thinner”. Of course, he has been cursed, and starts to shed blubber like a harpooned whale. At first, he’s thrilled. His wife, having an affair, is attracted to him again. But the weight continues to drop off until he starts to look like Christian Bale in The Machinist. He enlists Mantegna to kill gypsies until they agree to take the curse off. But anyone who knows anything about Gypsies knows that he has to transfer the curse to someone else. Of course, everything at the end goes horribly wrong, with a very Kingsian twist.

12. The Mist (2007)

Directed by Frank Darabont
Marred by unnecessary/crappy sequel? No

Amanda Dunfrey: You don’t have much faith in humanity, do you?
Dan Miller: None, whatsoever.
Amanda Dunfrey: I can’t accept that. People are basically good; decent. My god, David, we’re a civilized society.
David Drayton: Sure, as long as the machines are working and you can dial 911. But you take those things away, you throw people in the dark, you scare the shit out of them – no more rules.

Steven King’s personal videographer Frank Darabont delivers yet another stellar SK adaptation. It’s kind of bizarre that a talented director would base his entire career on a single author’s stories. But that’s exactly what Frank Darabont has done. Darabont has directed 4 movies in the last 15 years, 3 of which have been Steven King adaptations. As unusual an arrangement as this is, it has borne some tasty fruit. The Shawshank Redemption, The Green Mile, and this little gem.

The thin plot, a door to another dimension is accidentally opened releasing heinous beasties on simple Maine townsfolk, is the side attraction. The meat of the story is in the interaction between the trapped townspeople, many of whom turn to religious hysteria in light of the seemingly imminent apocalypse.

Marcia Gay Harden is spellbinding as the religious extremist whose nutbar prophecies are finally getting their due. The rational contingent is led a local artist, who is trying to navigate his son and the obligatory hot chick through a bunch of hyterical converts looking to cast the first stone. I won’t give anything away, but the end is perfect and packs a nice wallop. A must-see for horror movie aficionados

11. Frailty (2000)

Directed by Bill Paxton
Marred by unnecessary/crappy sequel? No

Dad: Are you afraid?
[Fenton nods]
Dad: Of who?
Young Fenton: You
Dad: Only demons should fear me and you’re not a demon – are you?

Frailty kind of snuck up on me. I watched it one day on a lark, not expecting much. Things start out kind of slowly, 2 boys living with their widowed dad, who has had a lot of trouble coping with the death of his wife. Then one day, the father, played by Bill Paxton, wakes the boys up from sleep to tell them an angel has given him a list of local demons that he has to ‘destroy’. And the angel also gave him special tools to do the job, leather gloves and a rusty axe. Of course the demons turn out to be random people from the community. The older son, Fenton, sees how crazy his dad has become, and refuses to participate. The younger son, Adam, however blindly follows Paxton’s lead and says he too can see the victim’s sins when he touches them, just like pop. Paxton puts Fenton through various all-day hard-labor exercises until he agrees to partake in the murders. The abuse is pretty awful and brutal. Fenton tries to run away to no avail.

In the film, this story is told by an older Fenton, played by Matthew McConaghey (who even in a horror film manages to get his shirt off), to a local FBI officer, after he discovers Adam has become a serial killer. He has come to turn his brother in. At the end, there are some gruesome twists. Some might not like the way the movie goes in the end, as it kind of turns the entire movie until then on its ear, but I thought it was pretty awesome. This is gothic horror at its finest.

10. 28 Days Later (2002)

Directed by Danny Boyle
Marred by unnecessary/crappy sequel? No [yes, there was a sequel, but it was pretty good.]

Jim: What do you mean there’s no government? There’s always a government, they’re in a bunker or a plane somewhere!

Finally we get to some zombie movies!! I mean, technically, these are live people who are “infected with rage” (which I think came from monkeys… it’s always the goddamn monkeys. Seriously, I think if we killed every monkey on the planet, there would be no more disease. Hmmm… but then they might learn of our plot and overthrow us. It wouldn’t be right away, mind you… they’d bide their time… wait until the wake of some major world war… then in 100 years, you’d have Planet of the Apes. Just goes to show you; we’re our own worst enemy. You maniacs! You’re gonna blow it all up! Damn you! God damn you all to hell!]

But I digress.

28 Days Later is a great movie – great director, quality actors, a fast pace and zombies. It’s not meant to scare… more to blend thriller, drama and classic horror movie into one little indie package. The best part about it is the rewatchability factor. While I couldn’t do Texas Chainsaw or Suspiria over and over, I could easily watch this until the DVD wore thin. Good stuff.

9. Halloween (1978)

Directed by John Carpenter
Marred by unnecessary/crappy sequels? Several, along with, aside for The Phantom Menace, is probably the worst sequel of all time – Halloween 3 –

Dr. Sam Loomis: I met him, fifteen years ago. ‘ I was told there was nothing left’ No reason, no conscience, no understanding; even the most rudimentary sense of life or death, good or evil, right or wrong’ I met this six-year-old child, with this blank, pale, emotionless face and, the blackest eyes’ the *devil’s* eyes’ I spent eight years trying to reach him, and then another seven trying to keep him locked up because I realized what was living behind that boy’s eyes was purely and simply’ *evil*

Halloween’s premise, a faceless psycho wreaks havoc on the sexually active local teen population, has been copied, riffed on and parodied so many times since it’s release that it barely holds up when watching it today. We’ve seen all of this a thousand times, in a thousand different movies. But it’s easy to forget that none of those films, from Friday the 13th to Scream to The Strangers, would exist today without Halloween. John Carpenter, for better or worse, invented the modern slasher genre. Think about all of the elements that we take for granted that Carpenter introduced.

Survival-conscious teens were forever robbed of guilt-free sex. Chaste do-gooders like Jamie Lee Curtis are the only ones who stand a chance.
Carpenter’s limited budget forced him to create inventive and cheeky slayings, upping the creative ante with each death. This homicidal parlor game has now been going on for 30 years.
Carpenter also avoided explicit violence, and focused instead on deriving his scares from gasps and jolts from the killer suddenly appearing, a technique so overused at this point it’s hard to remember it was once original.
Putting the audience in the killer’s shoes – think heavy breathing and cropped shots from behind Michael Myers’ mask.

This doesn’t mean that any later slasher films were as good as Halloween. None of them were. It’s the execution (groan) that matters. That ghoulish music, the archetypal mask, the perfect Jamie Lee screams. No one has ever done it better.

8. Alien (1979)

Directed by Ridley Scott
Marred by unnecessary/crappy sequels? Yes [quality sequel, but a seriously bad #3 and #4]

Ash: I can’t lie to you about your chances, but… you have my sympathies.

Alien might not seem like a horror movie to some. But that’s exactly what this is… a horror movie set in space. Even the movie’s tag line touted it as such: “In space, no can hear you scream.”

Alien takes it’s cue from old school sci-fi/horror mash-up movies like The Blob – except instead of landing on earth, it’s humans who land on the alien’s planet, become victims of their own curiosity, and then spend the rest of their time running from a nearly indestructible force (The Blob didn’t like cold, the Alien doesn’t dig fire… or being blasted into space… but that’s about it).

The only thing that would’ve made this movie better is if they had gone with Scott’s original idea for the ending – the alien bites off Ripley’s head in the escape shuttle, sits in her chair, and then starts speaking with her voice in a message to Earth. Damn. How cool would that have been? Maybe for once, we really do need a remake.

7. Ôdishon (aka Audition) (1999)

Directed by Takashi Miike
Marred by unnecessary/crappy sequel? No.

Asami Yamazaki: Words create lies. Pain can be trusted.

Whereas Japanese horror films like Ringu and The Grudge are supernatural and otherworldly in nature, Audition mines something far darker and more sinister: a woman.

I know… I’ll give you a moment to collect yourself.

The plot: A movie producer holds auditions for a fake movie so his lonely friend can meet women. The man becomes enamored with an innocent girl named Asami. Asami is not as innocent as she seems and… well… let’s just say that the rest of the movie plays out in some of the most unsettling imagery I’ve ever seen.

Parts of it are “real” and parts of it seem to be manifestations of the human psyche – guilt, anger, love, sexual attraction, etc.

The movie opens very slowly letting us get to know the characters… but then hits us with lefts and rights that we don’t (and can’t possibly) see coming.

I don’t want to give away much of anything… because I urge you to go see it and make up your own minds (really, I’m not even listing a clip for it. If you’re truly interested, I want you to go in surpised. Just be forewarned that it is NOT for everyone).

A truly amazing and disturbing movie.

6. Let the Right One In (2008)

Directed by
Marred by unnecessary/crappy sequel? Neutered American remake in the works.

Eli: I’m not a girl Oskar.

We all know that the mega-successful Hollywood vampire franchise Twilight is in every way an embarrassment to the horror genre in general. It’s pretty sad, especially considering that within that basic story lies something far darker, if they just had the stones to explore it. That story is Let the Right One In.

They have a lot in common. Both films are about disillusioned young people who meet vampires and fall instantly in love with them. The vampire in Twilight, played by tween sex icon and Robert Smith wannabe Robert Pattinson, denies Kristin Stewart’s advances because his having sex with her might destroy her and her purity. Excuse me for one second while I vomit. This is just a teenage girls’ bullshit (and dangerous) fantasy of having to chase the perfect man. In Let the Right One In, our vampire ‘girl’ uses the boy’s affections to her own ends, encouraging more and more violence from him, eventually convincing him to lead a life of mass-murder so he can satisfy her bloodlust. This is about real power dynamics in relationships, and how couplings in real life are complicated by messy things like exploitation and selfishness. These darker themes are what vampire movies are really about. Not the agony of pre-marital chastity.

Anyone vaguely interested in, you know, actual horror needs to check this movie out immediately. An English remake is in the works. Please see the original before we get the inevitable Zac Efron, Vanessa Hudgens trashy romance-novel Hollywood butchering.

5. Dawn of the Dead (2004)

Directed by Zack Snyder
Marred by unnecessary/crappy sequel? It is the sequel. And a glorious one.

Televangelist: Hell is overflowing, and Satan is sending his dead to us. Why? Because, you have sex out of wedlock, you kill unborn children, you have man on man relations, same sex marriage. How do you think your God will judge you? Well friends, now we know. When there is no more room in hell, the dead will walk the earth.

Okay, here’s where I piss off every horror purist in the world by not only saying the remake was better but by omitting the original from the list entirely. I do understand the ’78 version’s place in history, and the fact that it was light years ahead of other horror movies at that time. The effects were amazing, for starters. But I can never get past the one fundamental difference: the zombies don’t run!

Maybe there are so many of them that I’d never be able to bob and weave my way through the crowd to safety… fine. But I’d have a fighting chance. On top of that, I’d have my wits about me… yes, I’d be scared of having my brains eaten, but I’d have time to think. Like 28 Days Later, Dawn of the Dead marks an important shift in the genre – emphasizing chaos over dread. Zombies are now coming at you full throttle – making the margin of error and time to react incredibly shorter. A far more thrilling ride, in my opinion.

[Editor’s note: and you can stop all the arguments about how the original was a metaphor for how we as a society sleepwalk through life and are slaves to routine and commercialism and all sorts of bullshit like that. I don’t care. Just as I don’t need Batman to lecture me on the values of personal privacy even in the wake of threatened security, I don’t need the undead to get on the soapbox about…well, anything, really. They’re undead.]

But even more than just the thrill of the chase, Dawn utilizes so many of the components we’ve detailed in this list already – humor, campiness and some winks at the tired genre formula—and blends them with solid directing and decent thespians. Amazing how that can make a difference. Add the legendary Richard Cheese’s “Down with the Sickness” lounge cover and this is pure, unadulterated sweetness.

4. Poltergeist (1982)

Directed by Tobe Hooper (although rumors are that Steven Spielberg actually shepharded the project)
Marred by unnecessary/crappy sequels? Yes

Carol Anne: They’re heeeeeeeere

Craig T Nelson and JoBeth Williams play a couple of grown-up ex-hippies leading a normal life with their 3 all-American kids, complete with a new house that has a pool and a white-picket fence. Suburban bliss awaits, right? Wrong. They start to notice odd happenings throughout the house. Chairs move and then stack themselves. Unseen forces pull slide objects across the floor. At first, as any good e-ching loving-ex-hippie would, they are charmed by these quirks. That changes quickly after their youngest daughter starts having whispery conversations with the static on TV.

The TV people shortly thereafter kidnap young Carol Anne. They fight over who gets the right to chase and paw at her. Obviously, lots of horror movies use children in peril to get us worked up, but is there anything creepier than a bunch of dead guys obsessed with sucking the ‘life force’ out of an 8 year old girl? And the main activity is in the little girl’s closet. Creepy. The pedophilia isn’t so much subtext as just plain text.

The family hires some paranormal experts to assist in retrieving young Carol Anne, including the great Zelda Rubinstein as a charlatan exorcist. After succeeding is getting Carol Anne back, Zelda declares the house ‘clean’, and in classic horror movie fashion, the family decides to go on as normal and stay in the house, leading to one final battle with the ghoulish molesters.

Poltergeist throws the kitchen sink at you. Demented clowns, old burial grounds, seeing a ‘light’, and even evil being sucked into a giant vortex at the end. But it all scares the bejeesus out of you.

Poltergeist’s legend has been greatly enhanced by its alleged curse, deriving mainly from the deaths of Heather O’Rourke, who played Carol Anne and Dominique Dunne, who played older sister Dana within a few years of the filming. Knowing O’Rourke never progressed past that fragile little girl we see here makes Poltergeist even more creepy today than it was in 1982.

3. Rosemary’s Baby (1968)

Directed by Roman Polanski
Marred by unnecessary/crappy sequels? No one would dare, would they?

Rosemary Woodhouse: Oh, God Oh, God
Laura-Louise McBirney: Oh, shut up with your “Oh, Gods” or we’ll kill you, milk or no milk!

A morbid twist on the classic ‘make a deal with the devil’ story. Rather than asking if you would trade your soul for fame and fortune, it asks if you would make that trade instead for the soul of your wife and unborn son. It’s a wicked send-up of American ambition.

Ruth Gordon and Sydney Blackmar are brilliant as the demented Satanists, the Castavets. And waifish good-girl Mia Farrow is perfectly cast as the mother of what she increasingly realizes in not her husband’s child, or that of any man. The scene with Farrow’s rape, sold out for an a-list acting job by her ladder-climbing husband, is possibly the best horror scene in movie history. Absolutely bone-chilling.

Also, this movie gets infinitely more frightening and relevant when you actually have kids. Remember the paranoia and terror of pregnancy? Being absolutely positive the child is the direct spawn of Satan, put on Earth to torment you (or at least ensure you never sleep again), but being forced by instinct to care for the little demon anyway? My hair stands on end just thinking about it.

2. The Thing (1982)

Directed by John Carpenter
Marred by unnecessary/crappy sequels? No, but homage has been paid many times – check out the excellent X-Files episode Ice

MacReady: How you doin’, old boy?
Dr. Blair: I don’t know who to trust
MacReady: Trust’s a tough thing to come by these days. Tell you what – Why don’t you just trust in the Lord?

The Thing was released to little fanfare in June 1982. This was just 2 weeks after E.T., which devoured it at the box office with it’s vision of aliens as cross-dressing retards. Spielberg even went so far as to replace the guns in the original version of E.T. with walkie-talkies! What are we teaching our children?! When the shit goes down (and it will go down), our wussified Spielberged citizenry will be doling out Reeses Pieces while the shapeshifting mass-murdering Things disembowel us with our own fucking teeth.

Anyway, if Spielberg comes to mind when you think candy-ass, when you think bad-ass, it’s all Kurt Russell. Snake Plissken, Jack Burton, and RJ MacReady, our Antarctican helicopter pilot ‘hero’. Somewhere in the middle of the wasteland continent, the always damnable Norwegians have unleashed The Thing from its icy slumber, and that bitch is pissed. After not-so-neatly dispatching the Scandinavians, The Thing sets its shapeshifted eyes on the Americans.

Of course, it wouldn’t be much of a horror movie if that was all there was to it. The humans figure out what they’re up against. They know there is a ‘traitor’ in their midst. Paranoia sets in, each of the characters slowly turning against one another, the beast feeding on the havoc. At the end, after most everyone is dead, Russell doesn’t get to phone home. He sits back and blows the entire base to smithereens, knowing a certain slow freezing death awaits him. Eat that shit E.T.

1. The Exorcist (1973)

Directed by William Friedkin
Marred by unnecessary/crappy sequels? Prequels, sequels… whatever. Nothing can mar perfection.

Demon: I’m not Regan.
Fr. Karras: Well, then let’s introduce ourselves. I’m Damien Karras.
Demon: And I’m the Devil. Now kindly undo these straps.
Fr. Karras: If you’re the Devil, why not make the straps disappear?
Demon: That’s much too vulgar a display of power, Karras.

Drama has The Godfather. Sports has Rocky. Television has The Sopranos. Porn has Deep Throat. And horror has The Exorcist. There will be no debates on this, people.

Exorcist here.

All other horror movies…

…here.

You feel me?

I’ve seen The Exorcist somewhere north of 50-60 times, and I can honestly say that the movie still sends chills right through me. While there are supernatural parts to it, what is so frightening is how the possession taps into the darkest recesses of Regan’s mind and turns her into something else.

It’s no wonder why Linda Blair was never able to have a real career in Hollywood – how could you not associate her with that puke-spewing, crotch-stabbing kid from The Exorcist (or, for that matter, be a little creeped out simply when she walked into the room)?

More than that, though… take away the head spinning, spider walking, unorthodox uses of a crucifix, et al and what you’re left with is a fascinating psychological showdown between Father Merrin, Father Karras and the devil himself. It’s the most fucked up game of chess ever shown on film.

I consider it to not only be the scariest movie ever – but perhaps the only true scary movie ever. And with credentials like that, it is an easy choice as the best horror movie of all time.

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Mike Sergott is the co-creator and staff deconstructor for Appetite for Deconstruction (www,deconstructors.com), a pop culture web site.

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