Top Ten Best Horror Films of All Time

Posted: October 30, 2015 by Daniel Simpson (PG Cooper) in Lists

Written by Daniel “PG Cooper” Simpson

Concluding my series of horror list is the ultimate one; my favourite horror films of all time. I did a list of my favourite horror films a few years ago, but that list sucked. It’s time to set the record straight.

10. Frankenstein (James Whale, 1931)frankenstein-poster-classic-movies-19761154-1035-1596

I’m a big fan of the Universal Monster films directed by James Whale. The Invisible Man and Bride of Frankenstein are both fantastic, but Whale’s first monster film, Frankenstein, is certainly his best. The film is steeped in atmosphere, with great horror set-pieces, and features two iconic performances. Boris Karloff’s monster is one of the most famous film characters of all-time, and Colin Clive’s Dr. Frankenstein steals a number of scenes. Perhaps most importantly though, despite the numerous changes made to Mary Shelley’s novel, Whale does an excellent job capturing the themes and humanity of the story.

“Crazy, am I? We’ll see whether I’m crazy or not.”

9. The Exorcist (William Friedkin, 1973)exorcist

The Exorcist is one of the most praised horror films of all time, from both genre fans and more casual moviegoers. But why is that? Well, for one thing, William Friedkin’s craft is truly exceptional. The film takes its time to develop its characters and their stories, while also building a tense atmosphere. The film is also full of memorable scenes and some of the best set-pieces in all of horror cinema. However I think the reason the film resonates so deeply with so many is because at the heart of the film is a very simple idea; a parent unable to help her sick child. It’s a very basic fear that most anyone can relate to (parent or child) regardless of whether or not one actually believes in the devil.

“Keep away. The sow is mine.”

8. Dawn of the Dead (George A. Romero, 1978)dawn_of_the_dead78

I could have just as easily gone with Romero’s original zombie classic Night of the Living Dead. It’s certainly the more important film and it’s probably scarier too, but Dawn wins out with its satirical material. Many point to the metaphor of consumers as zombies, which is certainly there, but what I find even scarier is how the film depicts humans coming to accept a horrifying world. There is a moment in the film where the characters are actually fairly content, in spite of the awful conditions around them. That might sound hopeful, but Romero presents it more as humanity’s ability to passively accept a subpar world. Beyond that though, this is just a really entertaining film with great characters and pacing.

“When there is no more room in Hell, the dead will walk the Earth.”

7. Nosferatu/Nosferatu: Phantom der Nacht (F.W. Murnau, 1922; Werner Herzog, 1979)nosferatu

I knew I wanted both versions of Nosferatu on my list, but had diffcultly placing one above the other. Given how perfect the function as companion pieces, I decided they could share a spot (which also give me space for an extra film in the list). Murnau’s original film is one of the great forefathers of horror cinema. The German expressionist visuals and the make-up effects used to create Count Orlock are truly haunting and add a great degree of atmosphere to the film. Watching Nosferatu is a truly mesmerizing experience, akin to a fable or nightmare. Herzog’s version of the story is just as strong in its own right. It lacks the original boldness of Murnau, but Herzog injects a great deal of humanity and psychological complexity to the proceedings, while also bringing his own sophisticated visuals to the screen. It’s a fantastic film which, though I only watched it for the first time this month, I have no reservations about placing on this list.

“The death ship has a new captain.”

“Death is not the worst. There are more horrible things than death.”

6. Jaws (Steven Spielberg, 1975)jaws

Jaws is the kind of film that it almost seems pointless to write anything about. Almost everyone loves it and the film is widely acknowledged as one of the greatest of all-time. Steven Spielberg is a man known for crafting amazing set-pieces, from the opening scene of Raiders of the Lost Ark, to the Omaha Beach scene in Saving Private Ryan. The film that started this precedent is Jaws, which still features some of the best scenes of the director’s career. The opening, the shark attack with Hooper in the cage, and the climax are all riveting. Probably the best scene though is the beach attack. Spielberg does an excellent job establishing the setting and building the tension before all hell breaks loose. Spielberg also nails the little details which help make this feel real. All of the character interaction is great. These all seem like genuine people and I find myself interested in them as people beyond their involvement in the plot. Robert Shaw’s performance as Quint in particular is incredible. Bottom line, the film is a classic for a reason.

“You know the thing about a shark, he’s got…lifeless eyes, black eyes, like a dolls eyes. When he comes at ya, doesn’t seem to be livin’. Until he bites ya and those black eyes roll over white.”

5. Psycho (Alfred Hitchcock, 1960)Cartellastampa.indd

Hitchcock has a reputation as a horror director, but that’s not entirely accurate. The man certainly made suspenseful films, but they almost always leaned closer to the thrillers or even adventure films than straight up horror. When the man did make horror though, he wasn’t fucking around. Psycho is the man’s most famous film and undoubtedly one of his best. The film sees Hitchcock at the height of his powers, with a masterful control and visual storytelling. Some of the shots here are staggering and the decision to shoot on a lower budget with a TV crew helps give the film an appropriately raw feel. The fact that the set-pieces are amazing goes without saying, but even little scenes are great. Though opening with Marion and Sam in bed together, though simple, is very engaging and ripe with clever detail. And though the film’s plot is highly known now, its unconventional structure is highly admirable. And then you have Anthony Perkins’ Norman Bates, who is quite simply one of the best of all horror characters.

“We all go a little mad sometimes.”

4. The Silence of the Lambs (Jonathan Demme, 1991)silence_of_the_lambs_ver2

Regarding the case of whether not this counts as horror, I think James Rolfe’s recent argument for it is perfect. “It’s about a psychopath who stitches together human skin and a cannibalistic doctor who acts like a snake”. Sounds like horror to me and it’s one of my all-time favourite films. The characters are a big part of why. Hannibal Lecter is one of cinema’s greatest villains and Anthony Hopkins’ performance is unforgettable. Equally strong is Jodie Foster as Clarice Starling, who is a commanding presence and a complex character. The whole cast here is strong. Scott Glenn, Ted Levine, Anthony Heald; they all give memorable turns, but this is undoubtedly Foster and Hopkins’ film. The scenes between the two of them are incredible and the film’s highlight, in large part thanks to the excellent script. Jonathan Demme does a great job visualizing the story, which looks harsh and brutal but always grounded in reality. This is a film which I saw early in my development as a film buff and its left one hell of a psychological impact on me.

“Brave Clarice. You let me know when the lambs stop screaming, won’t you?”

3. The Shining (Stanley Kubrick, 1980)The-Shining_poster_goldposter_com_6

One of the reasons Stanley Kubrick is my favourite filmmaker is his ability to achieve greatness in any genre. This is basically the greatest haunted house movie of all-time, but it doesn’t really feel like one. The ghosts (if they even exist) never take conventional forms and the Overlook Hotel doesn’t look like a haunted house. It isn’t dilapidated or steeped in darkness, but in good condition and often illuminated. What makes it scary is the vastness and emptiness of the hotel. The film is also a great study of how people locked in secluded isolation for too long react to their scenario, albeit in a heightened setting. Jack Nicholson’s turn is iconic, but I think Shelley Duvall is great too and is sadly overlooked. She does a good job providing a warm presence slowly broken down by all that’s heaped upon her. The film is also masterfully shot and has a very ominous score. Kubrick loads the film with a ton of mystery and ambiguity. The film is definitely open to interpretation and I do have my own, but this isn’t a film which needs to be analyzed in order to be enjoyed. Simply as a work of exhilarating horror filmmaking, complete with amazing scenes and technical prowess, The Shining excels.

“I think a lot of things happened right here in this particular hotel over the years and not all of ‘em was good.”

2. Alien (Ridley Scott, 1979)alien

Alien has a very simple premise; the crew of a spaceship stumble across a beacon on an unknown planet and upon investigating uncover a deadly alien who begins killing them all one by one. The film does have some twists, and the sexual undertones certainly add to the themes, but it’s actually the simplicity that makes Alien so effective. The film is a brilliant exploration of the fear of the unknown. What lies in the dark beyond what we know, and what can it do to us? On that note, the script does an excellent job slowly revealing what the creature is. Though a huge part of pop culture now, audiences in 1979 had no idea what the alien even was, much less what it was capable of. On a more basic level, the crew’s isolation and claustrophobia translate really well. They really do feel trapped, and watching them try and survive is one hell of a thrill. The film also benefits greatly from Ridley Scott’s attention to detail. The production design is immaculate (the spaceship feels real and lived in) and is complimented by the amazing cinematography and special effects. And on top of all that, the film has an excellent cast. These characters may not be the deepest, but actors like Sigourney Weaver, Yaphet Kotto, and Harry Dean Stanton make them really endearing. Alien is a perfect film.

“You still don’t understand what you’re dealing with, do you? Perfect organism. Its structural perfection is matched only by its hostility.”

1. The Fly (David Cronenberg, 1986)fly

This was not an easy list to pick a number one. For the longest time my favourite horror movie was a toss-up between The Shining and Alien, with Scott’s film holding the edge. But earlier this year I rewatched The Fly and the more I sit with it, the more I realize it’s my choice for the greatest horror film of all-time. It’s a very well-crafted film, full of great scenes, amazing special effects, and a genuinely horrifying and disgusting monster at the center of the film. On a deeper level, this film is really about one of the most universal fears of all; dying. The Fly is all about struggling to accept mortality. Seth Brundle needs to face his own death, as does his lover, Veronica. Genre film or not, The Fly is one of the most powerful explorations of death I’ve ever seen. The fact that the film is able to dwell on disease and aging in this analysis adds to the power of the exploration. But perhaps the film’s greatest accomplishment is the emotional attachment it creates despite the heavy special effects employed. This is in large part thanks to the fantastic performances from Jeff Goldblum and Geena Davis. I really care about these people and to see their stories go down such a dark path has a tangible effect. David Cronenberg, often known as for his dark provocations, embeds the film with a great sense of humanity.  It’s this humanity which allows the film to resonate on such a deep level.

“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.”

And with that, I wish you all a great Halloween. Thanks for reading my list(s). Hope you enjoyed reading and please, let me know what you think in the comments.

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