Halloween season is here, everything outside is dying and soon we’ll all be trapped indoors with our claustrophobia, so there’s no better time than now to embrace the terror and the decay by celebrating the greatest horror movies of all time.
Some scare you with creepy tension, others disturb you with blood, some simply horrify you with over-the-top gore, but whether they’re horror movies disguised as thrillers, straight up slasher flicks or just plain creepy, the one thing the following have in common is that they are the 50 best horror movies of all time.
50. 'The Lost Boys'
Yeah, it’s 80s as hell, but that’s part of the fun of it. Besides, are you really gonna deny Kiefer Sutherland as a vampire? Look, any movie that casts Bill from Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure as a killer vampire is doing the Lord’s work.
49. 'Army of Darkness'
It’s not as straight up scary as the rest of the Evil Dead franchise, but who cares when it’s this much fun? Skeleton armies, tiny Bruce Campbells trying to murder the real thing… how can you not love this? It’s a genre twisting hell-ride, and in the end, it stands as something all its own.
48. 'From Dusk Till Dawn'
George Clooney and Quentin Tarantino find themselves besieged by wild vampires in a Mexican strip club. Oh, and one of the strippers is played by Salma Hayek. Yeah, that’ll work.
47. 'Dead Alive'
People forget that before all the hobbits and wizards and orc bullshit, Peter Jackson was just a crazy dude from New Zealand making weird, cool movies like this. It’s completely messed up – a monkey bites a dude’s mom, she turns into a zombie and goes on an absurdly gory bender – but it’s also ridiculously fun, thanks to the energy and wit Jackson brings to the movie. This is a dude in his wheelhouse having a shitload of fun, and it shows.
46. 'House of Wax'
Vincent Price creeps everyone out as only he can, and somehow manages to make wax evil. Now that’s a horror master. This is one of the classics of the genre, and proves that creepy can be just as horrorific (totally a word) as any crazy slasher flick.
An evil spirit terrorizes a family and brings horror to suburbia. It’s worth it alone just to see Coach Hayden Fox get terrorized by a ghost. Luther and Dauber can’t help you now, bro.
44. 'Fright Night'
The horror genre is filled with shitty remakes, and so unless I say otherwise, just assume that I’m always talking about the original, okay? And that especially goes for Fright Night, which hit that sweet spot between horror and humor that a lot of films aim for, but never quite achieve. This is how you make a fun horror movie.
43. 'Theatre of Blood'
It’s completely ridiculous, campy as hell, and also really, really fun. That’s because it’s Vincent Price going Full Vincent Price on everyone. It’s funny, it’s bloody, and while it might not have the gravitas of some of the truly scary movies on this list, who really cares? Vincent Price is the godfather of horror and this is why.
42. 'The Blair Witch Project'
Is it a bit overrated? Yes. But you can’t deny that it’s also eerie as hell, and when it came out, it was a legitimate sensation. You can argue all you want about gimmicks and marketing ploys, but the simple fact is that it worked, and that’s all that really counts.
Some call it torture porn, and, well, they’re right, but there’s a reason why Saw launched a franchise (a completely ridiculous franchise that just gets worse and worse, but that’s totally in keeping with other horror classics, you know?) and that’s because it captured something in the public’s imagination that had never been really captured before on that scale. Maybe that says something horrible about us, or maybe it’s a bit more complicated than that, but you absolutely can’t deny that Saw did it and did it ultra-effectively.
40. 'Eyes Without A Face'
A plastic surgeon tries to restore the face of his mangled daughter by kidnapping young women, and, well, you can guess the rest. If you’re expecting a dumb, loud slasher movie, this ain’t it. It’s creepy, atmospheric, kind of artsy and oh so very French.
It’s just creepy as fuck. That’s all there is to it, and Pinhead might be the most underrated horror movie bad guy of them all.
Roman Polanski might be a degenerate, but he understands how to create creepy tension on-screen, which he does here with this story of a young woman who spirals into the depths of schizophrenia. Along the way, Polanski ratchets up the tension and makes you feel like you’re trapped in the horror of her madness alongside her. This is true horror artistry. Just don’t let him go hot-tubbing with your daughters. That’s horror of a different sort.
37. 'The Invisible Man'
It’s weird, kind of goofy and definitely corny, but it’s also a horror classic. And that’s because it’s, well, because it’s weird, kind of goofy and definitely corny. But in all the best ways. It’s hard to describe what that means outside of the horror genre, but it’s that formula that has accounted for some of the best horror movies ever. And while The Invisible Man isn’t exactly scary by today’s standards, you have to remember that in 1933 people barely knew anything outside the confines of the family farm, so something like this must have blown them away – and scared the shit out of them.
36. 'Dead of Night'
Horror anthologies are kind of a unique beast, and this is one of the best – if not the very best – if only because it basically served as the model for the whole genre. But more than just being a simple pioneer, Dead of Night’s stories hold up over the years because they embrace a sort of creepy ambience that never really goes out of style. Evil ventriloquist dummies, haunted mirrors… this is like a 1940’s British version of one of The Simpson’s Treehouse of Horror episodes, and how can you hate on that?
35. '28 Days Later'
This turned the whole zombie genre on its head, introducing a sort of immediacy to the horror that just couldn’t be found in your typical story of slowly shuffling ghouls. These zombies will get after that shit. Okay, okay, fine, technically they’re “people of infection.” Don’t want to be politically incorrect here.
34. 'The Wolf Man'
Lon Chaney. Werewolves. This is classic horror, one of those movies that basically created the genre and set the stage for everything that was to come. But as a stand-alone movie, it still works, as it taps into that all-important trait for every timeless horror movie – atmosphere. Add in some heavyweight acting and special effects which were totally boss for the age, and it’s still a lot of fun.
33. 'The Innocents'
I actually watched this in a college film class, and how many horror movies can you say that about? But that sums up The Innocents, which is so good because beneath the stuffy, classy exterior there lies a creepy as hell story, complete with possessed children and haunted governesses. It’s based on a Henry James novel, for god’s sake, which definitely makes it one of the most unique – and interesting – horror movies of them all.
It’s weird, funny and gory as hell, all at the same time. It’s basically a super fucked-up version of Frankenstein, which makes sense since it was inspired by a story by H.P. Lovecraft. Yeah, that H. P. Lovecraft. Anytime you bring the dude who created Cthulhu into the mix, you know good things are happening.
31. 'The Haunting'
This is the big boss of haunted house movies, and that’s because beneath all the clichés, is, say it with me, a shitload of creepy atmosphere. The house itself is a character of supreme menace, the movie has a surprising amount of psychological insight, and really, killer atmosphere + something to say = classic horror.
30. 'An American Werewolf in London'
John Landis brings the perfect mix of horror and comedy, and special effects wizard Rick Baker makes the whole thing come alive. Add it all up, and you have a movie that is just a ton of fun, and really, sometimes all you want is a movie that will make you jump out of your seat and then walk away with a smile on your face.
29. 'Invasion of the Body Snatchers'
I almost went with the remake just this once, if only because the 1978 version had Leonard Nimoy in it, but in the end I had to stick with the original. Sorry, Spock. Anyway, anytime you can so deftly combine horror with a scathing critique of McCarthyism and 50s era political paranoia, you are doing good things. Some actually consider this more a psychological thriller than a pure horror movie, but the atmosphere of paranoia and dread, not to mention all that body snatchin’, sure sounds like a horror movie to me.
This is one of Dario Agrento’s best as the Italian horror master goes nuts with a bloody nightmare that will thoroughly creep you out. There are murders aplenty, witches, madness and dark forces everywhere, and if you want to check out Italian horror, this is as good a place as any to start. Dario didn’t fuck around.
Forget the American remake, successful as it was, because the OG Japanese version of The Ring is where it’s at. It’s creepy, atmospheric, and a sense of intense dread sort of hangs over everything. It’s a masterwork of tension and I’m also convinced this is the real reason we started to phase out VHS in the late 90s/early 00s. You can’t be too careful.
In many ways, the ultra-meta Scream was almost an anti-horror movie in that it almost completely murdered the genre. But in doing so, it refreshed it, and beneath all the jokes and wink-wink nods to the excesses and clichés of 80s horror flicks, it’s a true horror movie that itself became the foundation for a whole new era of excesses and clichés. I mean, Ghostface is a horror icon for a reason and it’s the same reason Scream is the defining horror movie for a generation.
There’s a fine line between thriller and horror, and while this one probably falls more on the thriller side of that line, I’d say that being tortured by a crazy Kathy Bates is pretty goddamn terrifying, so I’ll allow it. Sometimes, the darkest parts of the human experience can be scarier than even the most fiendish of ghouls.
24. 'The Birds'
Only Alfred Hitchcock could make a flock of birds into a horror villain on par with the gnarliest of monsters. And that’s exactly what he does here. Watch this and the next day you’ll find yourself side-eying pigeons.
This is the OG Dracula. There’s no Keanu Reeves trying to painfully act with an English accent here or emoish warriors trying to protect their land. This is Bela Lugosi, yo, and when you think of Dracula, this is what pops into your head. Clichés exist for a reason, and that’s because the original is usually so badass. It might not be the best vampire movie of them all, but it’s still the best Dracula movie.
22. 'Deep Red'
It’s close between Suspiria and Deep Red, but in the end, this is probably Dario Argento’s masterpiece. It’s gory and brutal and the cinematography will probably make you want to throw up, but it all just adds to the atmosphere, like being on a rollercoaster of horror.
The prom scene, man. All you have to do is say the name and you see that prom image in your head, don’t you? But beyond that, it’s also an exploration of the psychological horrors of high school, and really, what is more terrifying than being a high school geek?
20. 'Bride of Frankenstein'
This is the definition of a critical darling, as the more you look at it, the more you see. It’s basically director James Whale pouring his soul into a horror movie, and the effect is oddly unsettling, surprisingly rich and all that other critical jazz. You probably know it as the one with the ridiculous hair on Lady Frank, but rarely does a so-called “monster movie” have so much to say, and even more impressively, say it so deftly.
19. 'Let the Right One In'
This Swedish vampire flick might be a little bit of a surprise, but if you haven’t seen it, you really should. A young boy strikes up a friendship with a weird girl, only to find that – surprise! – she’s a vampire and the body count is stacking up. It’s atmospheric and haunting and everything a good horror movie should be. It’s dark and kind of twisted, but also oddly moving and poetic. It transcends genre, and really that’s about the highest compliment you can pay any movie.
It’s one of the classics, and that’s because it’s more than just a simple monster movie. It has something to say. Look, you can dismiss an old movie like this all you want, but there are few cultural touchstones as powerful or as universal as this. I mean, everyone, from your crazy old grandma to the neighbor lady who smells like cat pee to your lawyer dad, has a mental image of Frankenstein. And this movie is it.
17. 'Rosemary’s Baby'
Again, say what you will about Roman Polanski, but when it comes to this kind of thing the dude just gets it. Satanism, evil babies… this is the sort of thing that is the stuff of nightmares for your average American. I mean, most horror monsters are scary, yes, but at least you can run from them. What do you do when the monster is growing inside you?
Everyone laughs at it now, but back in the day, this movie caused people to faint in the theaters, ladies got all hysterical and one chick even claimed that it caused her to have a miscarriage. I’d say it’s earned its place.
15. 'Silence of the Lambs'
Again, it’s probably technically more of a thriller, but a dude eats people. That works for me. After all, there’s nothing more terrifying than the idea of someone blasting that far past social boundaries. You want to hide under the bed because you just watched some supernatural monster stalk a bunch of teenagers? That’s cool, but this kind of shit could – and does – exist in real life. What’s scarier than that?
14. 'The Thing'
This is one of the few remakes on this list, but really, when you talk about The Thing, people don’t think of the 1951 original, they think of this version. That’s because it was directed by John Carpenter and starred Kurt Russell, which is a world champion tag team every time they get together, and this might be their best movie together of them all. It’s a masterwork of tension and grim suspense, and did I mention that it’s John Carpenter and Kurt Russell? I did? Okay, good.
13. 'Nosferatu, A Symphony of Horror'
Yes, it’s a silent movie, but it might also be the creepiest movie ever. That’s thanks in large part to star Max Shrek, who was so fucking creepy as the titular vampire that people actually openly wondered if he was a vampire in real life. Now that’s how you do a vampire movie.
12. 'The Evil Dead'
Sam Raimi made this movie for $350,000, and I’m pretty sure every cent of that went towards financing ways to kill off the cast as gruesomely as possible. This is not a horror movie for the whole family, and that might be the best compliment I can give it. It’s that rare horror movie that actually feels evil.
11. 'A Nightmare on Elm Street'
It’s Freddy Krueger. What more do you need me to say? Before all the ridiculous sequels, before the character became just a hammy caricature of itself, there was this, a genuinely creepy and fucked up story and character that scared the shit out of people. Besides, are you really gonna bag on any movie that involves Freddy K whipping up on Johnny Depp’s ass?
This is really the movie that kicked off an entire glorious decade of slasher flicks and supernatural bad guys. Never has a William Shatner mask been put to such terrifying use. Well, except for that one Trekkie convention, but that’s another story for another time.
9. 'Evil Dead 2'
It’s that incredibly rare horror sequel that manages to one-up the original. Barely, but still. It’s more over the top, which means that the jokes are bigger – and even darker – but so is the violence and the gore. It’s a movie that absolutely revels in being a horror movie, and that sort of fun is infectious. It’s as black as black humor and violence can get, but Sam Raimi finds the perfect balance between that and sheer fun, and you get the sense that if he had the money, this is the movie he would have made the first time around.
8. 'Dawn of the Dead'
Many consider this the best zombie movie of them all, and they have a point. After all, it perfectly balances all the zombie fun and horror that you would expect with a brilliant satire on modern Middle Class society. This is the model for every zombie movie – and yes, TV show – to follow.
7. 'The Texas Chainsaw Massacre'
It basically invented the slasher film – you can see Leatherface in every over-the-top horror bad guy to come – and just about every horror movie made in the last 40 years owes something to this movie. It’s gruesome, unpleasant and uncompromising, almost like watching a snuff film. That’s fucked up, but hey, this is horror, not Disney.
6. 'The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari'
Another silent movie, but that just meant that everyone involved had to work extra hard to create that oh so special atmosphere that is so important to the genre. Its imagery is so vivid, the film so artistic, that it transcends the horror movie genre and is actually considered an example of the German Expressionist art movement of the era. But make no mistake, it’s a horror movie at heart, and you could even make the case that it invented the genre. That’s, uh, that’s a pretty big deal.
You don’t need me to tell you why this is here, and really, that about says it all, doesn’t it?
The sequels are really more sci-fi action flicks than true horror movies, but the original was a straight-up horror classic. That’s because instead of worrying about actions and loud noises, it focused on the tension, the claustrophobia, and yes, the horror. It very much belongs not only alongside the other movies on this list, but ahead of most of them.
3. 'Night of the Living Dead'
I gave this the edge over Dawn of the Dead because it basically invented the zombie movie. At least as we now know it anyway. It may not be as immediately terrifying – or gross – as its descendants, but it’s more powerful on a visceral level, tearing and slashing through taboos while it picks apart society. George Romero was a dude with something to say. He just chose to do it through zombies, probably because he’s awesome.
2. 'The Shining'
Nicholson goes full Nicholson, Kubrick goes full Kubrick, and really, what else is there to say? A masterwork of haunting isolation and terror.
1. 'The Exorcist'
Come on, a young girl gets possessed, vomits all over everyone and says the vilest, nastiest shit you can imagine to a priest. You simply can’t go any further than that and still have an impact on a wide audience. The Exorcist absolutely horrified people when it came out, and really, it hasn’t lost much of its punch. It doesn’t matter how jaded you are, when a little girl starts talking about sucking cocks in hell and calling people worthless motherfuckers (these are actual quotes, I’m not embellishing here, and there are even worse ones I can’t repeat here because I’m a goddamn gentleman) it’s gonna have an effect. Now imagine how people dealt with that shit in 1973. Not many horror movies get nominated for 10 Oscars, and none have left as big a cultural impact as this, and that’s why it’s number one.
Previously: Ranking The 50 Most Badass Movies Of All Time