Many moons ago I made a list of my favorite horror books. Well, today I present you with my favorite horror movies. So read along my little gravediggers and undertakers, for movies that each deserve a monumental mausoleum in the cemetery of scary cinema.
As with most Top 10 lists, this is purely opinion-based. So if you disagree, you’re wrong, but that’s ok.
When putting this list together my intention was specifically not to create a 'best of' for different genres of horror. There’s certainly a pattern one could view with my top picks, but I didn’t want to overload it with possession movies, slasher flicks, or anything like that. I must say I surprised myself with this list as movies that immediately came to mind as ‘sure things’ were slowly eliminated for movies I may not have necessarily thought I’d rank so high. Read on for Dr. AzarRising’s top 10 favorite horror movies of all time. (cue ominous lightning and thunder)
10. The Last Man on Earth (1964) - No list of horror movies is complete without The Merchant of Menace himself, Vincent Price. I decided to begin with the first of his movies I ever saw, The Last Man on Earth. I can objectively say that this isn’t his best performance or his most popular movie, but this is the one from which my love of Price initially bloomed, and continued through to his more well-known films like House of Wax and House of Usher, all the way through to his final movie appearance as The Inventor in Edward Scissorhands. Last Man is an adaptation of the novel I am Legend about the… you guessed it... last man on Earth. Vincent Price played Robert Morgan and was attempting to find a cure that turned most of humanity into zombie-like vampires. While the movie strayed from the source material, the changes made sense, and I’m mostly okay with them. I actually like this adaptation of the book over Charleston Heston and Will Smith’s which each differed from the book greatly, and with no real reason.
9. Cabin in the Woods (2012) - When a movie is produced and co-written by Joss Whedon, the mastermind behind Marvel’s Avengers, you know you’re in store for a good time, and Cabin in the Woods is easily the most fun horror experience in recent memory. Whedon and collaborator Drew Goddard, who directed this movie, as well as shared in the writing duties, turn the old trope of "isolated in a forest" (or a cabin in the woods), into something fresh, scary, funny, and most importantly, fun. You’ve got your typical group of five friends that each fill a specific archetype; the whore, the jock, the fool, the scholar, and of course the virgin. We learn that they are meant to be sacrifices to keep ancient evil gods at bay, and that every year different countries around the world attempt to make similar sacrifices. To ensure they are properly taken care of, there’s a mysterious organization that facilitates this and guides events towards their hopeful outcome. The friends inadvertently choose their method of death from a plethora of ‘cursed’ items in the basement. Because of this setup, there’s a possibility of revisiting this world and watching a different attempt at killing the five friends, and I for one am always interested in watching five friends being brutally murdered.
8. Pan's Labyrinth (2006) - I didn't realize how influenced my tastes were by foreign horror movies, but this visual masterpiece should be on everyone's list. The creature designs and makeup are everything you'd expect from Guillermo del Toro, but what may surprise some is the heart and tragedy in the story. You're left wondering which parts are real and which are fantasy. Or was all of it real? This modern fairy tale with more than a little horror is a must-watch for anyone who can deal with subtitles, or I presume, understand Spanish.
7. The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920) - To save from repeating myself, I direct you to my Macabre Movie Mausoleum review of this movie here. To summarize, this silent, black & white, film is all about bending perceptions. It uses several techniques to accomplish this, but the most proficient, and jarring, is the distinct lack of any right angles in the set designs. The mute killer helps, too.
6. Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954) - Once again, no list of horror movies would be complete without a Universal Studios creature feature. A visual spectacle, especially for its time, The Creature from the Black Lagoon holds up the best of all the original Universal creature features. The underwater cinematography, the creature design, practical effects, and acting all combine to tell an amazing story that was truly innovative for its time. The sequels even have their own charm that hold up quite well to the test of time.
5. The Exorcist (1973) - One of the largest sub-genres of horror is demonic possession, and no conversation about possession horror movies is complete without talking about The Exorcist. William Friedkin crafted a classic that pushed all cinematic boundaries at the time, even to this day. Aside from having the most inventive use of split-pea soup of all time, this movie had one of the most graphic scenes involving possession, so much so that it's become iconic and parodied more times than one could count. Every moment of this movie from opening to closing credits, the script to the score, the acting to the directing, everything hits the mark perfectly. No horror movie education is complete without a class dedicated to this movie.
4. Evil Dead Trilogy (1981, 1987, and 1992) - Listen up you primitive screw heads! What Sam Raimi, Bruce Campbell, and Robert Tapert crafted with the original Evil Dead birthed the horror-comedy genre, spawned two sequels, and a currently running TV series. The movies are all synonymous with one another, and it'd be a crime to single any one of them out from the others, so all three are going in as one. Between these three movies you'll find everything you need in your horror, and comedy, movies; a laughing deer head, a medieval romance, tree rape, severed hands, the necronomicon, drunk friends, swearing skeletons, a bodiless evil presence, and the most quotable one liners in all of cinema history. Now, hail to the king baby.
3. The Shining (1980) - Let's get this out of the way up front, this is not a faithful adaptation, nor is this Stephen King's book come to life, but that shouldn’t take away from this movie being one of the greatest of all time, horror or otherwise. “The Shining” is visually one of the most striking stories ever put to film. Stanley Kubrick's vision of the Overlook Hotel and the horrific events that unfolded within are what the genre was created for. Horror movies aren't meant to create fears, but to exploit the fears already within each of us, and what happens in the rooms of the hotel, or inside Jack Torrance's mind, evoke some of our most primal fears and exploit them in ways prior movies hadn't done.
2. Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992) - Ok, Keanu Reeves cannot do a British accent, Winona Ryder still hadn't honed her craft to the level like she had for Netflix's Stranger Things (seriously go watch it as soon as you're done reading this), and once again the movie strays from the source material, but somehow none of that hurts it. Quite simply, Bram Stoker's Dracula is a beautiful movie, from the set designs, costumes, actors, music, and themes, they are all stunningly beautiful. The always incredible Gary Oldman gave what could arguably be his best performance, leading an all-star cast including the aforementioned Keanu and Winona, as well as Anthony Hopkins, Cary Elwes, Monica Bellucci, and Billy Campbell. This is the story we all know, but when it comes to vampires, nothing does it better.
1. A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) - One, two, Freddy's coming for you, and you're going to love every minute of it. Nightmare isn't the first 'slasher' flick and may not technically be the best the genre has to offer (Friday the 13th maybe?) but this featured the first and best slasher to make fun of you as he killed you. What this movie had were some of the best death scenes (Johnny Depp anyone?), a unique killer with a striking visual accented by his glove blades, and his abilities. He's not just a guy with a knife or chainsaw, he's a supernatural force of evil that haunts our dreams, turning them into nightmares. He's able to attack us when we're at our most vulnerable, when we think we're safe, only to only to kill us in some of the goriest, inventive ways ever. Full disclosure, this is the first horror movie I ever saw and it had deeply affected and influenced me, vaulting it to the top of this list (ironically located at the bottom). However, that doesn't mean that this isn't one of the best horror movies ever filmed. It's been 32 years since this movie was released, if you haven't seen it, fix that now.
Rapid Fire Honorable Mentions:
11. Brotherhood of the Wolf (2001): Who knew the French would be able to pull off one of the best werewolf movies?
12. The Mist (2007): That ending!
13. The Thing (1982): An example of great story being elevated even further by amazing practical effects.
14. Zombieland (2009): I'm typically not a fan of zombie movies, but this comedy gem ranks as one of the best.
15. The People Under the Stairs (1991): Wes Craven once again shows off his genius in this underrated flick.
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