My 16 Favorite Horror Films

I’ll admit I have a love/hate relationship with horror films. For the longest time I was completely disinterested in the genre as a whole. This dismissive attitude probably derived from halfheartedly watching shitty, cookie-cutter movies with friends.  It was only until I really dove into the films that define the genre that I gained a solid appreciation for horror as a whole. Now, I’m no expert, but I know what I like and I know what’s scary. Here are my favorite horror films:

-It Follows-

Director: David Robert Mitchell

Writer: David Robert Mitchell

Release: March 13, 2014

Metacritic Rating:  83

It Follows works because it’s scary on a very basic level: The anxiety of an impending threat. No matter where you go it’ll always be following; slowly, but surely. That’s what makes this movie so great. The story also delves into intimacy, sex, and inevitable consequences, and does it remarkably well. Add in some fantastic cinematography, a stylish score, and some creepy imagery and you have the recipe for a great horror film.

-The Shining-

Director: Stanley Kubrick

Writer: Stanley Kubrick, Diane Johnson

Release: May 23, 1980

Metacritic Rating: 61

Stanley Kubrick is one of the most important filmmakers in history, and many would list him among the greatest.  The thing that I admire most about him was his versatility in his craft. He tackled a wide variety of genres and each film was so unique and masterfully made that they are mostly all considered classics. Now, The Shining isn’t my favorite of his works (which is probably reserved for Dr. Strangelove), but it’s always been one of my favorite horror films. Just as the Overlook Hotel seemingly pushes Jack Torrance to insanity, Kubrick seems to subtly guide the audience there as well. Nothing seems safe or trustworthy in this film. Nicholson and Duvall give inspired and wholly committed performances, partially due to Kubrick’s near aggressive direction, but it elevates the story into an unnatural air.

-The Strangers-

Director: Bryan Bertino

Writer: Bryan Bertino

Release: May 30, 2008

Metacritic Rating: 47

While, as a whole, this may not be a fantastic film, I’ve always found The Strangers to be quite creepy. The film does a solid job of building dread throughout and is reminiscent of films from the 70’s. Rather than rely on gore and jump scares, this film builds tension with each passing moment and the audience begins to feel as unsafe as the protagonists. The use of sound in this film is excellent as well, with an unnerving soundtrack and cutting silent moments with the loud bangs and slams of the killers taunting. Again, the film definitely has its flaws, but it’s worth a look if you’re a fan of horror.

-Jaws-

Director: Steven Spielberg

Writer: Peter Benchley, Carl Gottlieb

Release: June 20, 1975

Metacritic Rating: 86

I first saw Jaws when I was seven-years-old. I sat in my room alone and watched with my eyes glued to the screen, and the next morning we went to the beach. The film stuck with me for the rest of my life. Not only is it an incredible movie, but it made me fear large bodies of water for many years after first seeing it. Seriously, pretty much everything in Jaws is fantastic. The performances are excellent, especially Robert Shaw’s as the surly Quint. Spielberg’s direction creates a sense of tension throughout that is only heightened by John Williams iconic score. I know I’m stretching a bit calling it a horror when it’s more thriller than anything, but Jaws is truly more intense than most horror films out there.

-Evil Dead II: Dead By Dawn-

Director: Sam Raimi

Writer: Sam Raimi, Scott Spiegel

Release: March 13, 1987

Metacritic Rating: 69

I saw Army of Darkness before I ever saw its two predecessors,  The Evil Dead  and Evil Dead II: Dead By Dawn. I loved the film and thought it was supremely entertaining and original. A few years later I watched  The Evil Dead and loved that even more. It was much darker and much more gruesome than Army of Darkness. It was also much scarier. Now, that’s not to say The Evil Dead was terrifying, rather that Army of Darkness was pretty slapstick with a few cheesy, yet fun, scares. Evil Dead II was the perfect combination of the two. It had the scares, gore, and tense atmosphere of the first film, and the slapstick, and levity of the third.  These films definitely aren’t for everyone (although I’ll maintain: if you’re not a fan of them then I’m not a fan of you.), but they’re definite cult classics and excellent cinema. Because of this trilogy, I’ve become a huge fan of Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell, and I quite often get the urge to watch Ash duke it out with some Deadites.

-Cabin in the Woods-

Director: Drew Goddard

Writer: Drew Goddard, Joss Whedon

Release: April 13, 2012

Metacritic Rating: 72

I first watched Cabin In the Woods with a couple of friends in theaters on its opening weekend. I walked out raving and ranting about how clever and original the film was, and I’m sure my friends were fed up with me by the end of the car ride home. In their defense, they’re not quite as passionate about film as I tend to be. But in my defense, I really do enjoy this film. As I stated earlier, I have a love/hate relationship with horror movies, which tends to lean towards hate more than love. Cabin In the Woods was a smart and innovative look at the same old horror cliches. It took all the standard tropes and turned them onto their heads. All while being entertaining in its own right. Whedon and Goddard do an excellent job of blending scares with laughs in a script that is serious, but doesn’t take itself too seriously. I’d say for any fan of horror, or either of the writer’s previous works, it’s a must-see.

-28 Days Later-

Director: Danny Boyle

Writer: Alex Garland

Release: November 1, 2002

Metacritic Rating: 73

For my money, this is the best zombie film ever made.  Danny Boyle is a fantastic filmmaker and it shows in every single frame of this picture. Instead of slow, incompetent zombies, the infected are horrifying fast.  It’s inventive, fresh, and entirely unnerving watching the screen blast towards the protagonists from the infected’s perspective. The film is not only a horror, but an insight on politics and humanity as a whole. It’s grim, and scary, and it’s a genuine work of art.

-REC-

Director: Jaume Balaguero, Paco Plaza

Writer: Jaume Balaguero, Paco Plaza, Luis A. Berdejo

Release: November 23, 2007

Metacritic Rating: N/A

I saw 2008’s Quarantine at a party with some friends before I ever saw REC. I remember knowing it was an American remake of a Spanish film, and I also remember thinking it was relatively bad. A few months later I randomly decided to check out the film it was based on, and I realize that Quarantine did everything that REC did, but just much worse. I’ve never really been sold on the “found footage” genre of horror. I think The Blair Witch Project was a fascinating concept that turned out to be an okay film, and Paranormal Activity was just fine. But REC was scary.  The film’s story is smart, the scares aren’t cheap, and the ending is a horror classic.

-The Descent-

Director: Neil Marshall

Writer: Neil Marshall

Release: July 8, 2006

Metacritic Rating: 71

A large reason I find this movie so unsettling is the fact that these women should not be crawling in through such narrow tunnels.  Honestly, I’m getting uncomfortable just thinking about it. The creatures that begin hunting the women are undoubtedly creepy, but the isolation and utter helplessness of being trapped in a cave might be the scariest part of this movie. The film is brutal and unforgiving with both its characters and the audience alike, and it leaves you feeling uneasy long after the credits roll.

-The Exorcist-

Director: William Friedkin

Writer: William Peter Blatty

Release: December 26, 1973

Metacritic Rating: 82

Nominated for ten academy awards, The Exorcist is one of the more influential horror films ever made. Upon its release it was considered horrifying and even called  a “…raw and painful experience.” by Roger Ebert. Some theaters even provided “Exorcist barf bags”. Now, by today’s standards it may not be quite as outrageous, but the film’s concept still is powerfully frightening.  A little girl is possessed by a demon and horrible things begin to happen. This idea has been rehashed about a million times since The Exorcist, but not once has it been as effective as the original.

-Alien-

Director: Ridley Scott

Writer: Dan O’Bannon

Release: May 25, 1979

Metacritic Rating: 83

Possibly my favorite horror film of all time. Ridley Scott creates a world where nothing is expected and everything is unsettling. The designs by H.R. Giger are so creepy and unique that they’ve become landmarks in cinematic history, and for good reason too. When the facehugger latches onto Kane’s head, and the movie takes a complete 180, you know this film will be unlike anything you’ve ever seen. As the crew gets picked off one by one the viewer feels more and more isolated.  Apparently, the film was pitched as “Jaws in space” and I don’t think there’s a more apt description.

-The Host-

Director: Bong Joon-ho

Writer: Bong-Joon-ho, Baek Chul-hyun

Release: July 27, 2006

Metacritic Rating: 85

This film isn’t technically a horror. It’s a odd blend of horror, drama, thriller, and comedy mashed together to created something unusually great. Watching it, I expected an above-average monster movie, but was treated to a family drama with strong performances and sharp direction. Yes, there’s a monster terrorizing Korea, and yes there are many horror themes on display. But this film is much more than I could’ve expected. The characters are so endearing that eventually I didn’t even notice the subtitles, and could effortlessly follow the story.  Seriously, go watch this film.

-Nosferatu-

Director: F.W. Murnau

Writer: Henrik Galeen

Release: March 4, 1922

Metacritic Rating: N/A

I know it seems a bit pretentious saying a film from nearly 100-years-ago is one of my favorite horror films, but it’s entirely true. The film, made in 1921, was an unauthorized adaption of Bram Stoker’s iconic novel Dracula with deviations to character names and some of the plot. Instead of Count Dracula we get Count Orlok, who is actually the vampire “Nosferatu”. Honestly, this film is one of the most visually effective that I can of. The use of shadows and lighting is incredible, especially for the time. In addition to that, Max Schreck’s Nosferatu looks surprisingly eerie even by today’s standards. Considered an influence on every horror film to follow it, Nosferatu is a must-see for any fan of scary movies.

-Psycho-

Director: Alfred Hitchcock

Writer: Joseph Stefano

Release: September 8, 1960

Metacritic Rating: N/A

Of course I had to include something from “The Master of Suspense”. Personally, I’d have to go with North By Northwest as Hitchcock’s best film, but Psycho was, without a doubut,  a complete game-changer for cinema.  The shower scene will probably go down as one of the most recognizable shots in film history. Killing off Janet Leigh, the film’s biggest star, that early in the film was Hitchcock essentially telling the audience to “strap in”.  Anthony Perkins’ performance was perfect; he was subtly creepy, yet somehow naive simultaneously.  Hitchcock famously said, ” There is no terror in the bang, only in the anticipation of it.”, which I think perfectly encapsulates his films. A great horror film scares with the unknown, and Psycho provides plenty of that.

-The Babadook-

Director: Jennifer Kent

Writer: Jennifer Kent

Release: May 22, 2014

Metacritic Rating: 86

I’ll be honest, I was very hesitant to watch this movie initially. It just didn’t look very compelling based on the trailers and I wasn’t interested in another run-of-the-mill horror film. Then the reviews started coming in and everything I saw was overwhelmingly positive. It eventually became just too much to avoid and I caved. Thank goodness I did too. The Babadook is an absolutely fantastic film. It manages to tackle massive concepts like grief, mourning, and, ultimately, love in such effortless ways. Nothing in this movie feels forced, and that’s rare in modern horror. The performances are wonderful and the pacing is perfect. Every plot point is executed so well that there’s not much to critique honestly. For a fan of cinema, this is a must watch.

-The Thing-

Director: John Carpenter

Writer: Bill Lancaster

Release: June 25, 1982

Metacritic Rating: N/A

Like many horror films, The Thing was received relatively poorly upon release. However, what was originally considered excessive and masturbatory is now considered a masterpiece of horror. It’s gory, and bleak, and aggressively frightening. This film took the concept from the 1950’s original and surpassed it in nearly every facet. The imagery is something from a nightmare and the designs are inventive and honestly scary. The 80’s may have been the defining decade in body-horror films. Cronenberg’s remake of The Fly is fantastic and the transformation scene in American Werewolf in London is iconic, but The Thing has to be my favorite.  Plus the soundtrack was composed by the masterful Ennio Morricone.

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