The Black Glove’s 1st Annual Halloween Top 50: Best Horror Films of All Time
Whew…now that is a mouthful, isn’t it?
Some of you will inevitably ask what the heck makes us qualified to list something as grandiose as ‘best horror films of all time’. Well, it does take a certain amount of arrogance and cojones to even think of tackling such a job. But we do have this on our side: we have watched, collectively, probably more horror films than most people can even name. I mean, seriously, folks, I’ve personally spent countless hours watching any and every thing I can get my greedy little horror geek hands on. And I know my partners in crime have as well. And when you watch that much horror, using a critical eye, you tend to see patterns and spikes on the radar.
So how did we come up with this list?
It wasn’t easy.
Our criteria for titles were such things as:
Was it socially relevant, then or now? Did it help shape genre films that followed? Was it a high water mark for the genre in terms of originality and/or special effects? And finally…was it truly skin crawling, goose flesh making, scary as hell?
Now, let me say this before we get to the list—we had to leave off a lot (and I mean a lot!) of titles that most people are going to scream bloody murder about. But, remember, we had only 50 slots, not 1000, which our staff could easily have filled between us. We were forced to leave off such horror classics as ‘The Raven’ and ‘The Red Masque of Death’, to name a couple. These are two films I feel truly did set new high standards in horror filmmaking, but, unfortunately, other titles did so much more potently and with greater impact on the genre as a whole. And we didn’t include such awesome modern horror classics as Spain’s ‘Let Sleeping Corpses Lie’, the first film to answer what comes after ‘The Night of the Living Dead’ or ‘Kaiwdan’, Japan’s greatest ghost anthology.
So let the angry emails fly, folks.
We can take it, and we’d love to hear your opinion on the matter.
Also, I want to add that the following list is in alpha order only, not in best of by number delineation.
So with no further ado…The Black Glove’s 1st Annual Halloween Top 50 List
1- 28 Days Later (2002)
If there's one movie that can be credited with reviving an ailing zombie sub-genre, it's this film. Director Danny Boyle wasn't dealing with the undead, but he was using its subtexts. And these things RUN!
2- A Nightmare On Elm Street (1984)
Wes Craven doesn't always knock 'em out of the park, but with this film he pretty much reinvented the slasher sub-genre. Freddy Krueger has become a modern day response to the dulled down slasher flicks.
3- Alien (1979)
Ridley Scott took the classic haunted house story and sent it into space. Alien is everything a perfect horror movie should be: gross, creepy, scary and disturbing. There's a disconcerting sense of industrialism gone mad. Gritty and dark.
4- Amityville Horror, The (1979)
True or false? Who cares? This is a great demon haunted house flick, using lowkey effects that send shivers down yoru spine. This is the one that creeped out millions of Americans.
5- Bay of Blood (1971)
There are many great Mario Bava movies out there, but this one became the template for the later slasher sub-genre. Watch this and Friday the 13th side by side and you'll understand what I mean. It's sudden, disturbing violence juxtaposed with Bava's always brilliant cinematography.
6- Blair Witch Project, The (1999)
Yeah, yeah, everyone likes to complain about the shaky camera, but this film uses true fear of the unknown to generate a sense of dread and terror. This is the natural extension of today's overly popular, over used reality TV. The producers were geniuses at promotion, creating a whole background mythos months before the movie scared the crap out of everyone.
7- Bride of Frankenstein (1935)
One of the first film's to use horror and comedy in the same narrative. This Universal classic was directed by the great James Whale, creator of several other classic horror movies of this period. The Bride went on to become one of horror's greatest archetypes and a precursor to the feminist movement to come.
8- Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, The (1920)
Ah, nothing says mindfuck like a well done German expressionist horror film. There are so many classic shots and camera tricks in this one that even today's filmmakers are still 'borrowing' them.
9- Candyman (1992)
Never has angst and terror been so well stitched together. Tony Todd is Candyman; his forlorn ghostly slasher leaves you haunted. Bernard Rose has never made anything as beautiful as this again.
10- Cat People, The (1942)
Producer Val Lewton made movies on a shoestring budget that looked like a million bucks and managed to scare the hell out of you with hints and shadows. The Cat People creates sympathy for a woman who can never know true love and must kill what she loves most.
11- City of the Living Dead (1980)
Known also as The Gates of Hell, director Lucio Fulci never saw a zombie he didn't like. With bare logical narrative, he relies on gore and histrionics to snag the viewer and drag him into hell.
12- Creature From the Black Lagoon (1954)
One of the greatest monster movies ever made, Universal defied critics who said their best days were behind them. The Creature went on to become a modern horror archetype. It's science vs. myth and a hottie in a white bathing suit. Some of the best underwater photography ever shot in black and white.
13- Curse of the Demon (1957)
Released in some countries as Night of the Demon, this is another post expressionist classic by Jacques Torneier (closely associated with Val Lewton's gang of greats). Science and logic vs. the supernatural, with the supernatural kicking some major ass. With its slowly mounting sense of dread and doubt in the real world's stability, this would have been the perfect horror film had not the producers decided to show us the monster in the first five minutes of the movie. Still very effective though.
14- Dawn of the Dead (1978)
Critics have built whole careers on dissecting George Romero's zombie films. But beyond the texts and subtexts discussions, this movie is gory and doom ridden from start to finish. A whole sub-genre of modern zombie films owe their very existence to Romero and this classic movie.
15- Day of the Dead (1985)
Another Romero classic zombie, this was intended to wrap up his planned trilogy. Unfortunately he hasn't stopped with this one. One had to wonder how he could make good on the promises of a sequel to Dawn, but he managed to amp up the gore and the sense of doom.
16- Dead Alive (1992)
Also known as Brain Dead in some countries, this was made by the man responsible for The Lord of the Rings trilogy and the recent overly huge King Kong remake. This is Peter Jackson at his most audacious and goriest. NO fear here. Just some of the grossest over the top of gore you've ever witnessed on screen.
17- Deep Red (1975)
Master giallo director, Dario Argento mixes mystery and gore into a disturbing brew of blood and paranoia. His characters are cosmopolitan laymen, who find themselves being dragged into the deadly. Deep Red was one of the forerunners of the modern giallo movement.
18- Descent, The (2005)
What director Neil Marshall does with the simple story of four women trapped underground with something unseen and deadly is extraordinary in a genre where we think we've seen it all. He plays on common fears of the dark, the unknown, and claustrophobia.
19- Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1931)
Although this isn’t the first rendition of Robert Louis Stevenson's classic tale of the duality of man. Good and evil are given Oscar winning faces by the great actor Fredric March. This may be the best of all the different versions out there.
20- Dracula (1931)
The granddaddy of gothic horror. This Tod Browning classic was the first of the great Universal horror films that lead the horror revolution in American cinema. Bela Lugosi is perfect as the charming Count who must drink blood to survive. Some call it clunky, but remember the time period in which was made.
21- Eraserhead (1977)
There are only a handful of movies that utterly defy all logical explanation. David Lynch makes movies that not even his actors understand. This black and white masterpiece is like a waking nightmare. Watch it and if you can tell me what the hell it's about, email me. Seriously.
22- Evil Dead, The (1981)
Sam Raimi’s ultra-gore classic was a surprise return to the grindhouse aesthetic: a sparse story, lots of scares and gore, with a surprisingly creepy atmosphere. With unusual camera work and one of the best B actors ever to come out of horror, Bruce Campbell, Raimi proved himself a one man army. It’s one of those films that fans envy those who are watching it for the first time.
23- Exorcist, The (1973)
William Friedkin found a cultural nerve and smashed the hell out of it. This movie sent more people back to church than the pope. Audience members screamed, puked, and even fainted during showings, making this one of the most memorable horror movies of the 70s. And it still manages to chill today.
24- Frankenstein (1931)
Along with Dracula, this is one of Universal’s best success stories. Casting the great Boris Karloff as The Monster proved to be one of the high points in all of horror history. Jack Pierce’s unforgettable makeup work helped create one of the most enduring horror icons in the genre. Perhaps a bit clunky by today’s standards, it still succeeds in creating sympathy for a manmade monstrosity that only wants to be human.
25- Friday the 13th (1980)
Sean Cunningham’s delightfully simple plot revolves around gory teen slayings in a nearly deserted summer camp. If you haven’t seen this movie, I ask what cave you’ve been in for the last nearly 30 years. This is the one that helped create a whole sub-genre of slasher films for the 80s.
26- Halloween (1978)
Along with this film. This is the best of the best when it comes to deceptively simple horror films. John Carpenter sent horror cinema into a whole new world with Halloween and Michael Meyers was soon a modern horror icon in his own right. Is there a slasher that came after this that didn’t imitate it?
27- Haunting, The (1963)
Robert Wise wasn’t exactly known for horror films, so how the hell did he manage to make the best haunted house story of all time? It was quite simple when he had Shirley Jackson’s novel as source material. Again, this is one of those films that set the standards in the genre. There have very few haunted house films made that do what this one does with a minimal of effects and a great deal of suggestion and atmosphere.
28- Haute Tension (2003)
Alexandre Aja brought French cinema back to the US in a very graphic manner. This is not for the faint of heart, and skirts the fringes of ‘torture porn’ in some ways, but still manages to make you care more for the characters than other films of its ilk. With superb cinematography and smart camera work, this is a must for horror fans all around the world.
29- Hellraiser (1987)
Writer/director/producer/artist and all around horror god, Clive Barker brought the S and M sub culture to the big screen in a major and frightening way with this, his debut, film. And in doing so he created one of modern horror’s most enduring icons: PinHead, played by Doug Bradley. This is creepy, gory and just plain weird, but it’s not to be missed.
30- Howling, The (1981)
Just when everyone thought werewolves had played themselves out with Michael Landon in his letterman jacket, director Joe Dante brought the hirsute ones back to the big screen. It’s filled with a sense of isolation and doom, but manages to still give a laugh or two in the process. Great writing, great acting and great werewolf makeup effects by Rob Bottin.
31- Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)
The original paranoia horror film. Don Seigel tells it as if it were a documentary, but it soon spirals into a living hell of distrust and terror. Some critics liken it to the McCarthy era’s Red Scare, but even without that historical-political touch point, this film manages to scare the be-jesus out of fans, young and old.
32- Invisible Man, The (1933)
With its state of the art (for its time) special effects to make stage actor Claude Rains disappear, director James Whale (he has two other films on our list already) brought H.G. Wells classic story of mad science and violence to the big screen. This is filled with Whale’s trademark camera touches and sly and subversive humor.
33- Jacob’s Ladder (1990)
One of the few modern horror movies to make the list, but once you’ve seen it you’ll immediately know why. Jacob’s Ladder is a serious mindfuck. Is it real? Or is it all a nightmare in one man’s head? Director Adriene Lyne leaves it up to you to decide. Set in a realistic contemporary world, he soon throws the impossible and terrifying into this ordinary world, until it cannot hold the weight of the horror.
34- Jaws (1975)
The original animal on the loose movie that started a glut of late 70s and early 80s animal related horror flicks. Steven Spielberg knows how to terrify with a minimum amount of blood, giving us instead lots of atmosphere and foreboding that pays off big by the end of the movie. This is filled with topnotch stars and big budget money.
35- Martyrs (2008)
And the French do it again with one of the best and most harrowing film experiences of the last twenty years of horror cinema. It is not for the faint of heart, folks. Watch it at your own risk.
36- Night of the Creeps (1986)
Ah, the 80s. Director Fred Dekker knew exactly how to make a cult classic, didn’t he? This has everything a great 80s horror flick should have: blood, guts, nudity, ax-wielding skeletons, gross space worms, and zombies…lots and lots of frat boy zombies. Detective…thrill me.
37- Night of the Living Dead (1968)
This is the first George Romero movie to set the world on fire. And it definitely did that. With its unintentional (or so he says) use of the first black hero in a US horror film and its denouncement of the then current American culture of political, sexual and racial violence, Night of the Living Dead became the benchmark for all other socially aware horror films that followed in its footsteps. Its bleak and doom ridden atmosphere and sense of isolation during the siege hours still works today.
38- Nosferatu (1922)
The first vampire movie of the silent age of horror. Directed by one of the best German directors of all time, F.W. Marnau, and starring the creepiest performance of all time by Max Schreck, this is quite simply great. Trick camerawork, realistic makeup effects, and shadow and light cinematography that is still being used by today’s directors. See it.
39- Omen, The (1976)
What is it about the 70s and devil movies? The Omen was one of the movies that made the 70s the best horror genre since the 30s. Director Richard Donner gave us Hell. Well, at least the child of the devil. And, boy, did America freak out over little scary kid Damien. It’s the simple story of a devil child being reared by rich white people in an affluent world. There are devil dogs, devil nannies, and one unforgettable beheading via sheet glass.
40- Phantasm (1979)
If there’s another 70s movie that plays with logic and narrative quite as strangely as director Don Coscarelli's Phantasm I don't know what it might be. The Tall Man has become a true cult icon of horror, with his sinister leer and trademark "BOOOOYYY!!!" and little Star Wars Jawa lookalikes running around spurting yellow blood. Truly, this is like a nightmare on the screen. This cemented Coscarelli as a one of kind director/writer/producer.
41- Phantom of the Opera (1925)
This may be the most famous of Lon Chaney's works. And with good reason. His facial effects (he used wires to hold his cheeks and nose into painfully inhuman positions) set the bar for all other horror films to follow. Its popularity at the time helped generate interest in other film monsters from Universal and made Dracula, Frankenstein and others possible.
42- Poltergeist (1982)
Okay, okay, so some people are pretty sure director Tobe Hooper was given a backseat by producer/director Steven Spielberg, and that this is the work of Mr. ET himself. Mixing a sense of wonder with terror of the first degree, this film makes you a believer. The special effects were the best of its time and it definitely has some frightening moments. As far as haunted houses are concerned, there is no other movie like it...whoever directed it.
43- Psycho (1960)
The one that created the psycho slasher genre. Director Alfred Hitchcock was already the king of the thriller when he brought Norman Bates to the big screen, a misunderstood and sympathetic killer. The stark black and white cinematography lends itself to the most unnerving horror film of the 60s. If you see only one slasher film in your life, this should be it.
44- Return of the Living Dead (1985)
1985 was the year of the zombie and this film by director Dan O’ Bannon (who had a hand in scaring the crap out of us with such films as Alien) makes the top of the list for fun and frights. The rock and roll vibe is pure 80s cheese, a sort of punk rock horror movie, but it keeps a vision not unlike Romero's mythos of the undead. Good reason for that, since John Russo helped create the original Night of the Living Dead.
45- Rosemary's Baby (1968)
Ira Levin's sly and sinister story of devilish paranoia made the perfect film to cap off the decline of the love generation. Witches and devil worshippers have never been so cosmopolitan and urbane. Director Roman Polanski made a timeless, effective as hell, horror film.
46- Shining, The (1980)
When uber-talented and reclusive director Stanley Kubrick decided to take on Stephen King's bestselling story of a haunted hotel and the family it tries to devour, most people were openly skeptical (including the author). But time has told the tale: this is a bona-fide classic of the scariest order. I defy you to watch it with all the lights off...alone. Go ahead. I dare you.
47- Suspiria (1977)
Probably Argento's most famous horror film bears little resemblance to his usual giallos set in reality. This is a heavily veiled take on Snow White and the Seven Dwarves set in a German dance school where witches rule the darkness. It was the first of his Mothers Trilogy, followed by Inferno and finally Mother of Tears. This is still his best nightmare on celluloid.
48- Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The (1974)
Director Tobe Hooper's debut small budget horror film is probably the movie most associated with the grindhouse aesthetic of the 70s. Small wonder this stunning docu-feeling film caught American audiences by storm. It is unrelenting (and almost bloodless, despite claims to the contrary) and violent. Leatherface, like Freddy Kruger, Michael Myers, and Jason Vorhees, became a modern age horror icon, representing the innate core of violence that makes our society tick.
49- Wolfman, The (1941)
Universal had reached a slump in terms of creating iconic monsters, and then they had writer Curt Siodmak invent one. Most of the old world legends purported to be based on legend and fact were, in fact, only Hollywood inventions. Universal made them common parlance in dealing with the hairy beasts. Lon Chaney Jr. is the most sympathetic of all the silver screen monsters, and makes you feel anguish for his slow devolvement into bestiality. With a big budget remake on the way, we’ll see if Hollywood can remember why this movie works so well. Hint, hint, Hollywood…it wasn’t CGI.
50- Zombie (1979)
Hand's down the most gruesome zombie movie of the 70s. But it goes beyond the effects; there's a definite sense of decay that pervades the film, from the messy island locations to the dimly lighted hospital scenes. Director Lucio Fulci took a ripoff and turned in a classic of horror splatter filmmaking. The final seconds of Zombie are unforgettable, almost as visceral as the infamous eye gouging scene. Remember: Fulci Lives!
--Nickolas Cook and Steven Duarte