The 50 Best Horror Movies on HBO Max Right Now

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The 50 Best Horror Movies on HBO Max Right Now

The first thing one notices, looking at the horror genre as it exists on HBO Max, is that there’s an unusual level of genuine curation involved here. The overall scope of the service might not be quite as broad as something like Netflix, but you’re likely to have heard of far more of these films. That’s because unlike the horror selections of Netflix, Hulu or (especially) Amazon Prime, the bulk of the selections here aren’t made up of modern, straight-to-VOD, zero-budget productions with vague, one-word titles like Desolation or Satanic. Rather, almost everything here received a wide release at some point.

That makes for an interesting horror library indeed, one that balances total schlock from Roger Corman with acclaimed works by the likes of Guillermo Del Toro and Stanley Kubrick. There are foundational early horror films, such as Haxan or Vampyr, along with classics of world cinema like Japan’s Kwaidan, Onibaba and House. There are also some franchise staples like Scream, and even some of the Hammer horror classics like The Curse of Frankenstein have returned.

Regardless, of all the major streamers, HBO Max likely has the horror library most focused on what you’d call older “classics,” rather than newer releases—fine with us, considering that segment tends to be less well represented.

Here, then, are 50 best horror movies streaming on HBO Now. You may also want to consult the following horror-centric lists:

The 100 best horror films of all time.
The 100 best vampire movies of all time.
The 50 best zombie movies of all time.
The 50 best movies about serial killers
The 50 best slasher movies of all time
The 50 best ghost movies of all time
The best horror movies streaming on Netflix
The best horror movies streaming on Hulu
The best horror movies streaming on Shudder
The best horror movies on Amazon Prime


1. The Shining

the shining poster (Custom).jpg Year: 1980
Director: Stanley Kubrick
Stars: Jack Nicholson, Shelley Duvall, Danny Lloyd, Scatman Crothers
Rating: R
Runtime: 142 minutes

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As an aural-visual experience, The Shining is likely the single most distinctive horror film ever made. Its droning soundtrack, innovative Steadicam shots and singular images, like that of the two little Grady girls standing in the hallway, beckoning to Danny, are instantly recognizable even to people who have never explored horror cinema. Its most famous sequences, such as Danny scrawling “redrum” on the wall or Jack chopping down the bathroom door to get to Wendy, are so deeply embedded in pop culture at this point that references to them will be easily understood until the end of recorded history. At the same time, though, The Shining also still rewards scholarly analysis of its elements that are less known to the casual cinemagoer, such as Kubrick’s unique use of dissolves layered on top of one another to create composite images, or the seemingly purposeful continuity errors that pop up in a handful of scenes. These small details have for decades fueled mysteries and conspiracy theories about the director’s true intent, as was captured beautifully in The Shining documentary Room 237 by Rodney Ascher. Watching that film, one begins to understand how a movie such as The Shining can draw forth deep, primordial responses from its audience, such as the all-consuming need to understand. It is telling that, unlike some of the other great horror films on this list, The Shining saw few attempts at what you’d call direct imitation in the years that followed. It was too much the product of an auteur mind to be so easily unwrapped and reverse engineered; nor was its initial reaction entirely positive, contrary to what you might now assume. It was and remains an exceptional film of great beauty, coldness, precision, calculation and yes, fright.—Jim Vorel


2. 28 Days Later

28-days-later-poster.jpg Year: 2002
Director: Danny Boyle
Stars: Cillian Murphy, Naomie Harris, Christopher Eccleston, Megan Burns, Brendan Gleeson
Rating: R
Runtime: 113 minutes

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The classical zombie film was effectively dead by the time 28 Days Later came along in 2002 and completely reanimated the concept. (And yes, we all know that the “infected” in this film aren’t technically zombies, so please don’t feel that you have to remind us.) The definition of “zombies” is fluid, and always expanding. Here, they’re living rather than dead, poor souls infected by the “rage virus” that makes them run amok, tearing through whatever living thing they see. It’s a modernization of the same fears that powered Romero’s ghouls—unthinking assailants who will stop at nothing and are now more dangerous than ever because they move at a full-on sprint. It’s hard to overstate how big a quantum leap that mobility was for the zombie genre—the early scenes of 28 Days Later where Jim (Cillian Murphy) tries to navigate a deserted London in hospital scrubs, chased by fast-moving zombies, did for this genre what Scream did for the slasher revival, sans the humor. Indeed, 28 days Later is a dead-serious horror film, marking a return to seeing these types of creatures as a legitimate, frightening threat. It’s indicative of another trend of the 2000s, which was to reimagine the classic rules of zombie cinema to fit the needs of the film. The Zack Snyder Dawn of the Dead remake replicated a lot of this film’s DNA when it was released two years later, although it marries the concept with the more traditional Romero ghoul. Together, those two movies gave birth to the concept of the 21st-century serious zombie film. —Jim Vorel


3. King Kong

king-kong-1933-poster.jpg Year: 1933
Directors: Merian C. Cooper, Ernest B. Schoedsack
Stars: Fay Wray, Robert Armstrong, Bruce Cabot
Rating: NR
Runtime: 100 minutes

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There had been monster movies or “creature features” before Kong, but it became the key reference point for that entire film demographic from the time of its release until the genre underwent an atomic-age reimagining with the likes of The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms in 1953 and Them! in 1954. Likewise, it set the bar on its special effects at such a high level that in many instances, shots and sequences from King Kong weren’t suitably duplicated for decades to come. Much of the credit belongs to pioneering stop-motion animator Willis O’Brien, who was inventing new techniques on the set of Kong on a daily basis, laying a foundation for an entire field of visual effects that are still being refined by studios such as Laika today. Those techniques were likewise carried on and further refined by O’Brien’s arguably more famous protege, Ray Harryhausen, who used them to great effect in the second golden age of the monster movie, from the 1950s through the 1970s.

Kong, though, stands as an unparalleled achievement for its time—far grander and more ambitious in scope than most anything you can compare it to back then. On one hand it’s a rollicking adventure film, with a classic “journey into the unknown” plot that is still being recycled for modern monster installments like Kong: Skull Island. At the same time, though, it was likewise an interesting experiment in genre-blending—an FX-driven adventure-drama film with horror elements and no clear-cut, traditional “antagonist.” Carl Denham might fit the bill, but he’s better described as a naive dreamer with stars in his eyes, oblivious to the ethical quandary of shanghaiing a huge beast to display in the middle of New York City. Kong, meanwhile, is a misunderstood creature, operating on the sense of self preservation he learned in a home where he’s only ever known a daily fight for survival against a neverending stream of monsters. The film’s empathy for Kong, and its condemnation of the hubris that led to his ascent of the Empire State Building, are what helped make the story such an emotionally affecting classic. —Jim Vorel


4. Kwaidan

kwaidan-movie-poster.jpg Year: 1964
Director: Masaki Kobayashi
Stars: Rentaro Mikuni, Tatsuya Nakadai, Katsua Nakamura, Osamu Takizawa, Noboru Nakaya
Rating: NR
Runtime: 184 minutes

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Ghost stories don’t get much more gorgeous than the four in Masaki Kobayashi’s sprawling Kwaidan. Between two acerbically political and widely lauded samurai epics, Hara-kiri (1962) and Samurai Rebellion (1967), Kobayashi led what was then Japan’s most expensive cinematic production ever, an anthology film with its parts loosely connected by Lafcadio Hearn’s collection of Japanese folk tales and Kobayashi’s intuitive penchant for surreal, sweepingly lush sets. In “The Black Hair,” a selfish, impoverished ronin (Rentaro Mikuni) abandons his wife to marry into wealth, only to realize he made a dire mistake, plunging him into a gothic nightmare of decay and regret. “The Woman of the Snow” follows a craftsman (the always welcome Tatsuya Nakadai) doomed to have everything he loves stolen from him by a patient bureaucratic specter. The movie-unto-itself, “Hoichi the Earless,” pits the titular blind monk musician (Katsua Nakamura) against a family of ghosts, forcing the bard to recite—in hushed, heartbreaking passages on the biwa—the story of their wartime demise. Rapt with indelible images (most well known, perhaps, is Hoichi’s skin completely covered in the script of The Heart Sutra to ward off the ghosts’ influence), “Hoichi the Earless” is both deeply unnerving and quietly tragic, wrung with the sadness of Kobayashi’s admission that only forces beyond our control hold the keys to our fates. The fourth, and by far the weirdest, entry, “In a Cup of Tea,” is a tale within a tale, purposely unfinished because the writer (Osamu Takizawa) who’s writing about a samurai (Noboru Nakaya) who keeps seeing an unfamiliar man (Kei Sato) in his cup of tea is in turn attacked by the malicious spirits he’s conjuring. From these disparate fairy tales, plenty of fodder for campfires, Kobayashi creates a mythos for his country’s haunted past: We are nothing if not the pawns of all those to come before. —Dom Sinacola


5. The Return of the Living Dead

return of the living dead poster (Custom).jpg Year: 1985
Director: Dan O’Bannon
Stars: Clu Gulager, James Karen, Thom Matthews, Don Calfa
Rating: R
Runtime: 91 minutes

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John Russo is a huge unknown in terms of important figures in zombie cinema, at least among those who aren’t big horror geeks. Russo is the man who created the original story for Night of the Living Dead alongside George Romero, and thus is essentially one half of the driving force for the most famous zombie film of all time. After the two parted ways post-NOTLD, their settlement dictated that Russo would retain the rights to any future films with the phrase “living dead” in the title. Thus, Romero’s “of the dead” monikers in future films. Russo, meanwhile, wrote his sequel as a novel, which was then finally adapted as a film 17 years after the original NOTLD with extensive rewrites by director Dan O’Bannon. The result is one of the all-time zombie classics, a film that is equal parts gory and hilarious while making a concerted effort to capture the youth movement, art aesthetic and, especially, music of the mid-’80s. It’s influential in so many different ways: the comedic tone; the youth focus; the scapegoating of an American military experiment gone wrong as the genesis of the zombies. The zombies too have been completely redesigned with all-new capabilities—they’re intelligent, they can speak, they can move fast and, for the first time ever, they’re specifically targeting human brains. That last point was so influential and so ubiquitous in the genre after 1985 that it’s incorrectly been assumed by many people for decades that the Romero zombies are brain-eaters. For these reasons, ROTLD is undoubtedly one of the most significant zombie films ever. And by the way—with ROTLD, Day of the Dead, Demons and Re-Animator all being released in 1985, is it safe to say this was the greatest year in the history of zombie cinema? —Jim Vorel


6. Poltergeist

poltergeist-1982-poster.jpg Year: 1982
Director: Tobe Hooper
Stars: Craig T. Nelson, JoBeth Williams, Dominique Dunne, Heather O’Rourke, Zelda Rubinstein
Rating: PG
Runtime: 114 minutes

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They’re heeeeeeeeeere… Steven Spielberg’s first big success in the producer’s chair (and notionally directed by Tobe Hooper) was released concurrently with ET: The Extraterrestrial and could arguably be seen as the dark side of a dyad about alienation in suburbia. Nonetheless, it retains the Spielberg Feel Good Stamp even as a horror film. The Freelings are a “typical” unassuming middle class family living in a peaceful suburb that becomes not-so-peaceful as the house is caught in the grip of supernatural disturbances. The pet canary dies. There are bizarre weather events. Youngest-kid Carol Ann (Heather O’Rourke) stands entranced in front of the TV in one of the most iconic moments in horror film history, lit by a mysterious beam of green light while the room begins to shake. As Carol Ann is repeatedly drawn to the television, where she begins to talk to “the TV people,” and eventually gets sucked into a dimensional vortex in the closet, father Steve (Craig T. Nelson) consults parapsychologist Dr. Lesh (Beatrice Straight). Lesh finds she’s in over her head and calls for an exorcist. The anatomization of the “happy family” is lavishly paced, making the ensuing horror all the more vivid. Not the deepest movie ever made, certainly, but an enduring classic of the genre, a highly detailed take on the “unassuming regular-Joe family savaged by invisible menace” trope, and still pretty damn creepy. —Amy Glynn


7. Godzilla

godzilla-criterion-movie-poster.jpg Year: 1954
Director: Ishiro Honda
Stars: Sachio Sakai, Takashi Shimura, Momoko Kochi, Akira Takarada
Rating: NR
Runtime: 95 minutes

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Early in Godzilla, before the monster is even glimpsed off the shore of the island of Odo, a local fisherman tells visiting reporter Hagiwara (Sachio Sakai) about the play they’re watching, describing it as the last remaining vestige of the ancient “exorcism” his people once practiced. Hagiwara watches the actors “sacrifice” a young girl to the calamitous sea creature to satiate its hunger and cajole it into leaving some fish for the people to enjoy—at least until the next sacrifice. Ishiro Hondo’s smash hit monster movie—the first of its kind in Japan, the most expensive movie ever made in the country at the time, not even a decade after the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki—is, after 20-something sequels over three times as many years, a surprisingly elegiac exorcism of its own, a reminder of one nation’s continuing trauma during a time when the rest of the world jonesed to forget.

As J Hoberman describes in his essay for the film’s Criterion release, much of Honda’s disaster imagery is “coded in naturalism,” a verite-like glimpse of the harrowing destruction wrought by the beast but indistinguishable from the aftermath of the Americans’ attacks in 1945, especially when the U.S. and Russia, among other powers, were testing H-bombs in the Pacific in the early 1950s, bathing the Japanese in even more radiation than that in which they’d already been saturated. And yet, Godzilla is a sci-fi flick, replete with a “mad” scientist in an eye patch and a human in a rubber dinosaur suit flipping over model bridges. That Honda handles such goofiness with an unrelentingly poetic hand, purging his nation’s psychological grief in broadly intimate volleys, is nothing short of astounding. Shots of Godzilla trudging through thick smoke, spotlights highlighting his gaping maw as the Japanese military’s weapons do nothing but shock the dark with beautiful chiaroscuro, have been rarely matched in films of its ilk (and in the director’s own legion of sequels); Honda saw gods and monsters and, with the world entering a new age of technological doom, found no difference between the two. —Dom Sinacola


8. Night of the Living Dead

24. night of the living dead (Custom).jpg Year: 1968
Director: George A. Romero
Stars: Judith O’Dea, Duane Jones, Marilyn Eastman, Karl Hardman, Judith Ridley, Keith Wayne
Rating: N/A
Runtime: 96 minutes

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What more can be said of Night of the Living Dead? It’s pretty obviously the most important zombie film ever made, and hugely influential as an independent film as well. George Romero’s cheap but momentous movie was a quantum leap forward in what the word “zombie” meant in pop culture, despite the fact that the word “zombie” is never actually uttered in it. More importantly, it established all of the genre rules: Zombies are reanimated corpses. Zombies are compelled to eat the flesh of the living. Zombies are unthinking, tireless and impervious to injury. The only way to kill a zombie is to destroy the brain. Those rules essentially categorize every single zombie movie from here on out—either the film features “Romero-style zombies,” or it tweaks with the formula and is ultimately noted for how it differs from the Romero standard. It’s essentially the horror equivalent of what Tolkien did for the idea of high fantasy “races.” After The Lord of the Rings, it became nearly impossible to write contrarian concepts of what elves, dwarves or orcs might be like. Romero’s impact on zombies is of that exact same caliber. There hasn’t been a zombie movie made in the last 50-plus years that hasn’t been influenced by it in some way, and you can barely hold a conversation on anything zombie-related if you haven’t seen it—so go out and watch it, if you haven’t. The film still holds up well, especially in its moody cinematography and stark, black-and-white images of zombie arms reaching through the windows of a rural farmhouse. Oh, and by the way—NOTLD is public domain, so don’t get tricked into buying it on a shoddy DVD. —Jim Vorel


9. A Nightmare on Elm Street

nightmare-on-elm-poster.jpg Year: 1984
Director: Wes Craven
Stars: Heather Langenkamp, Robert Englund, Johnny Depp, John Saxon, Ronee Blakely, Amanda Wyss, Nick Corri
Rating: R
Runtime: 91 minutes

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Of the big three slasher franchises—Halloween, Friday the 13th and this—it’s A Nightmare on Elm Street that arguably presented us with the most complete and perfectly polished of original installments. No doubt this is a factor of being the last to come along, as Wes Craven had a chance to watch and be influenced by the brooding Carpenter and the far more shameless and tawdry Cunningham in several F13 sequels. What emerged from that stew of influences was a killer who shared the indestructibility of Myers or Voorhees, but with a twist of Craven’s own demented sense of humor. That’s not to say Freddy Krueger (Robert Englund) is a comedian—at least not here in the first Nightmare, where he’s presented as a serious threat and a genuinely frightening one at that, rather than the self-parodying pastiche he would become in sequels such as Final Nightmare—but his gleeful approach toward murder and subsequent gallows humor make for a very different breed of supernatural killer, and one that proved extremely influential on post-Nightmare slashers. The film’s simple premise of tapping into the horrors of dreaming and questionable reality was like a gift from the gods presented directly to the artists and set designers, given carte blanche to indulge their fantasies and create memorable set pieces like nothing else ever seen in the horror genre to that point. It’s a phantasmagoria of morbid humor and bad dreams. —Jim Vorel


10. Evil Dead 2

evil-dead-2-poster.jpg Year: 1987
Director: Sam Raimi
Stars: Bruce Campbell, Sarah Berry, Dan Hicks, Kassie Wesley, Richard Domeier
Rating: R
Runtime: 84 minutes

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On the surface, Evil Dead 2 is essentially a remake of the first 1981 Evil Dead: Sam Raimi going back to an idea he clearly enjoyed with a bigger budget and more experience to “get it right” by upping the ante of the original. But Raimi also offers up some tweaks that fundamentally alter the nature and tone of the first film, changing the recipe from “horror with occasional moments of black comedy” to a more even mix of both that still doesn’t skimp on scares or guts. Bruce Campbell as Ash goes from being almost a passive “final girl” character in the first film to a much more capable, wisecracking hero right from the get-go, and significantly more of the film features him in a tour-de-force solo performance, which helps make Evil Dead 2 one of the most tightly paced horror films ever. It wastes no time, going straight into its comic violence within the first 10 minutes and never letting up. It’s a film indicative of the changing attitude toward zombies—at this point in the late ’80s it’s becoming rare that zombies are ever treated as simply “scary.” More and more frequently, they’re instead incorporated into madcap comedies and action films à la Evil Dead, and this is a trend that continued through the ’90s. —Jim Vorel


11. Scream

14. scream (Custom).jpg Year: 1996
Director: Wes Craven
Stars: Neve Campbell, Courteney Cox, David Arquette, Matthew Lillard, Rose McGowan, Drew Barrymore
Rating: R
Runtime: 111 minutes

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Before Scary Movie or A Haunted House were even ill-conceived ideas, Wes Craven was crafting some of the best horror satire out there. And although part of Scream’s charm was its sly, fair jabs at the genre, that didn’t keep the director from dreaming up some of the most brutal knife-on-human scenes in the ’90s—a decade where many thought the slasher genre had faded away, never to be seen again. With the birth of the “Ghost Face” killer, Craven took audiences on a journey through horror-flick fandom, making all-too-common tricks of the trade a staple for survival: sex equals death, don’t drink or do drugs, never say “I’ll be right back.” With a crossover cast of Neve Campbell, Courteney Cox, David Arquette, Matthew Lillard, Rose McGowan and Drew Barrymore (okay, for like 10 minutes), Scream arrived with a smart, funny take on a tired genre. It wasn’t the first film of its kind, but it was the first one to be seen by a huge audience, which went a long way in raising the “genre IQ” of the average horror fan. —Tyler Kane


12. Eraserhead

eraserhead-poster.jpg Year: 1977
Director: David Lynch
Stars: Jack Nance, Charlotte Stewart, Allan Joseph
Rating: R
Runtime: 90 minutes

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It can be a painful experience to watch a film and have no idea what it’s about—to have the film’s meaning nagging at the core of you, always out of reach. Yet, that’s exactly the molten, subterranean fuel that pushes David Lynch’s visions forward, and with his debut, the perplexing and terrifying Eraserhead, the director offers no consolation for the encroaching feeling that with him we’ll never find any sort of logical mooring to keep our psyches safe. A simple tale about a funny-haired worker (Jack Nance) trundling nervously through a phantasmagoric industrial landscape, in the process fathering a mutant turtle-looking baby who he’s left to raise after his new wife abandons her “family,” Eraserhead is an astounding act of burying independently-minded cinematic experimentation in the popular consciousness. You may not know much about Eraserhead, but you probably know what it is. And whether or not it’s a meditation on the horrors of fatherhood, or a glimpse of the weird devolution of physical intimacy in a dying ecosystem, or a groundbreaking work of DIY sound design, or whatever—Eraserhead is a black hole of influence. It’s gross, it’s soul-stirring, it’s a visceral nightmare, and to this day, it’s unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. Which may or may not be a compliment. I can’t be sure. —Dom Sinacola


13. Les Diaboliques

les diaboliques poster (Custom).jpg Year: 1955
Director: Henri-Georges Clouzot
Stars: Véra Clouzot, Paul Meurisse, Simone Signoret
Rating: NR
Runtime: 107 minutes

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Watching Henri-Georges Clouzot’s Les Diaboliques through the lens of the modern horror film, especially the slasher flick—replete with un-killable villain (check); ever-looming jump scares (check); and a “final girl” of sorts (check?)—one would not have to squint too hard to see a new genre coming into being. You could even make a case for Clouzot’s canonization in horror, but to take the film on only those terms would miss just how masterfully the iconic French director could wield tension. Nothing about Les Diaboliques dips into the scummy waters of cheap thrills: The tightly wound tale of two women, a fragile wife (Véra Clouzot) and severe mistress (Simone Signoret) to the same abusive man (Paul Meurisse), who conspire to kill him in order to both reel in the money rightfully owed the wife, and to rid the world of another asshole, Diaboliques may not end with a surprise outcome for those of us long inured to every modern thriller’s perfunctory twist, but it’s still a heart-squeezing two hours, a murder mystery executed flawlessly. That Clouzot preceded this film with The Wages of Fear and Le Corbeau seems as surprising as the film’s outcome: By the time he’d gotten to Les Diaboliques, the director’s grasp over pulpy crime stories and hard-nosed drama had become pretty much his brand. That the film ends with a warning to audiences to not give away the ending for others—perhaps Clouzot also helped invent the spoiler alert?—seems to make it clear that even the director knew he had something devilishly special on his hands. —Dom Sinacola


14. Onibaba

onibaba-poster.jpg Year: 1964
Director: Kineto Shindo
Stars: Nobuko Otowa, Jitsuko Yoshimura, Kei Sat?, Taiji Tonoyama
Rating: NR
Runtime: 102 minutes

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Kaneto Shindo’s Onibaba will make you sweat and give you chills all at once, with its power found in Shindo’s blend of atmosphere and eroticism. It’s a sexy film, and a dangerous film, and in its very last moments a terrifying, unnerving film where morality comes full circle to punish its protagonists for their foibles and their sins. There’s a classicism to Onibaba’s drama, a sense of cosmic comeuppance: Characters do wrong and have their wrongs visited upon them by the powers that be. (In this case, Shindo.) But what makes the film so damn scary isn’t the fear of retribution passed down from on high, it’s the human element, the common thread sewn in a number of modern horror movies where the true monster is always us. Did demons, or demonic idols, foment the civil war that serves as Onibaba’s backdrop? Are spirits culpable for the ruthless survivalism of the film’s two main characters? Nope and nope. Put a checkmark next to “mankind” in reply to both questions, and then wish that demons and spirits were real, because that’d be preferable to acknowledging reality. Back a human into a corner, and they’ll throw you into a ditch, leave you for dead and steal your shit, and what’s more unsettling than “better you than me” as a guiding principle for living? —Andy Crump


15. Trick ‘r Treat

trick-r-treat-poster.jpg Year: 2008
Director: Michael Dougherty
Starring: Dylan Baker, Rochelle Aytes, Anna Paquin, Brian Cox
Rating: R
Runtime: 82 minutes

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Where other horror films simply attempt to absorb a little bit of the holiday’s spookiness into themselves via osmosis, Trick ‘r Treat is a true veneration of all the things we horror geeks love about the holiday. It’s a pure distillation of the feeling so many of us possessed as children—the indescribable excitement of venturing out into the night when it felt like the world had become full of macabre mystery. For 82 minutes, you feel like a kid again. And to think, the world almost never had a chance to see the film at all. Due perhaps to its unorthodox, quasi-anthology structure and lack of big stars, a completed Trick ‘r Treat screened only at festivals for several years after its initial “release.” It was only after Anna Paquin became a bigger star via True Blood that the masses got a chance to see Trick ‘r Treat thanks to its first home video release in 2009, which effectively began the rise of this movie’s cult. A decade later, its status as a classic of the season has just about been established, with appearances at Universal Studios’ Halloween Horror Nights and regular airings on cable TV networks. It was just too charming a film to remain hidden forever. And that is probably the word for Trick ‘r Treat: It is truly charming, rather than outright “scary” most of the time, although there are a few moments that may make one jump, especially in its last 20 minutes. But from start to finish, it charms in its tale of the residents of a small Midwestern town, most of whom seem to take the traditions of Halloween fairly seriously. And it’s a good thing, too, with Sam—the adorable (but vicious), sack-headed avatar of the holiday stalking the streets, keeping an eye on the neighborhood. Disrespect the traditions of Halloween, and little Sam is liable to pay you a visit you won’t forget. Assuming you survive, of course.—Jim Vorel


16. The Curse of Frankenstein

curse-of-frankenstein-poster.jpg Year: 1957
Director: Terence Fisher
Stars: Peter Cushing, Hazel Court, Robert Urquhart, Christopher Lee
Rating: NR
Runtime: 83 minutes

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The film that birthed the stylistic idea of “Hammer Horror” and brought back the greatest of the Universal Monsters to the mainstream: It’s Curse of Frankenstein. And it’s difficult to do justice to how important a moment this was for the future course of horror history, the effective launching point of a second Golden Age of serious monster movies. In the ’40s and ’50s, classical horror had been in decline, co-opted by comedies such as Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein or the burgeoning science fiction genre. It was Curse of Frankenstein and Hammer’s subsequent Dracula and Mummy follow-ups that convinced audiences the old monsters could once again be treated as the stuff of nightmares, and they did so by infusing the old black-and-white specters with opulence, cleavage and pulses of Technicolor blood that brought shock and titillation back to the genre. Unlike the Universal series, the Hammer Frankenstein films make no qualms about the identity of the true villain—it’s the Doctor himself, played with petulant verve by the great Peter Cushing. He morphs into something of an antihero throughout the sequels, but this imperious Frankenstein, who thinks he simply knows better than the foolish, close-minded villagers impeding his work, is the obvious spiritual forebear to Jeffrey Combs’ Herbert West in Re-Animator. Christopher Lee’s monster, on the other hand, is an afflicted creature without the soul or humanity of Karloff’s iconic creation. We fear him, and pity him, but this is Cushing’s time to shine and revel in his own crapulence. —Jim Vorel


17. Eyes Without a Face

eyes-without-a-face-movie-poster.jpg Year: 1959
Director: Georges Franju
Stars: Édith Scob, Pierre Brasseur, Francois Guerin
Rating: NR
Runtime: 91 minutes

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I remember seeing my first Édith Scob performance back in 2012, when Leos Carax’s Holy Motors made its way to U.S. shores, in which she donned a seafoam mask, every bit as blank and lacking in expression as Michael Myers’, in the film’s ending. I thought to myself, “Gee, that’d play like gangbusters in a horror movie.” What an idiot I was: Scob had already appeared in that movie, Georges Franju’s Eyes Without a Face, an icy, poetic and yet lovingly made film about a woman and her mad scientist dad, who just wants to kidnap young ladies that share her facial features in hopes of grafting their skin onto her own disfigured mug. (That’s father of the year material right there.) Of course, nothing goes smoothly in the film’s narrative, and the whole thing ends in tears—plus a frenzy of canine bloodlust. Director Franju plays Eyes Without a Face in just the right register, balancing the unnerving, the perverse and the intimate, as the most enduring pulpy horror tales tend to do. If Franju gets to claim most of the credit for that, at least save a portion for Scob, whose eyes are the single best special effect in the film’s repertoire. Hers is a performance that stems right from the soul. —Andy Crump


18. A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors

dream-warriors-poster.jpg Year: 1987
Director: Chuck Russell
Stars: Robert Englund, Heather Langenkamp, Patricia Arquette, Priscilla Pointer, Craig Wasson, Lawrence Fishburne
Rating: R
Runtime: 96 minutes

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Dream Warriors is almost invariably hailed as the best of the Nightmare on Elm Street sequels, and this is one case where the horror fans aren’t wrong—although The Dream Master and New Nightmare are both solid, as well. After the oddball diversion (and famous gay subtext) of the first sequel, Freddy’s Revenge, Dream Warriors benefits greatly from a returning Heather Langenkamp as top tier final girl Nancy Thompson, now grown up and attempting to help a new generation of kids fight back against the pure evil that is Freddy Krueger. It’s a film that benefits from a perfect supporting cast of dreamers, all battling their own personal demons, but of course it’s Robert Englund who steals the show as Freddy. Building upon his persona from the first two Nightmare installments, this film is the zenith of “funny Freddy” as an archetype, expertly balancing the character’s menace with deadly one-liners that are instantly iconic. Every death scene in Dream Warriors is memorable, while the dream sequences are more unbound than ever. If the original A Nightmare on Elm Street is the series at its most frightening, then Dream Warriors is perhaps the series at its most purely entertaining—the mold that lesser sequels were always trying to duplicate in the years that followed, with diminishing returns. —Jim Vorel


19. The Empty Man

the-empty-man-poster.jpg Year: 2020
Director: David Prior
Stars: James Badge Dale, Owen Teague, Stephen Root, Marin Ireland
Genre: Horror/Thriller
Rating: R
Runtime: 137 minutes

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From the start, everything about The Empty Man is misleading. Its title sounds like the absolutely terrible Bloody Mary-esque The Bye Bye Man or the botched adaptation of Slender Man, where spooky too-long shadow dudes creep up on some doltish teens. Those bad high school urban legend films (that this trailer is cut oh-so-specifically to evoke) don’t usually stray from the 90-minute mark. Even Candyman, maybe the best and most ambitious example of this type of film, is barely 100 minutes. The Empty Man’s 137-minute runtime clearly has more to do than kill off a couple of kids for failing to be superstitious enough. Rather than falling into that traditional type of stock schlock, The Empty Man follows a troubled ex-cop investigating the root causes of an incident that could’ve been the entire plot of one of those movies. “We knew we weren’t making that movie and nobody wanted to make that movie,” writer/director/editor David Prior told Thrillist. “But it turns out, the people who inherited the movie wanted that kind of movie.” It makes sense that the ever-expanding, ever-spiraling photos-and-folders paranoid conspiracy of The Empty Man can feel a bit like getting sucked into the kind of heady, hyper-specific hell that festers in the underbellies of Zodiac, Se7en or Mindhunter. That ‘70s thriller structure, dedicated to the paper trail, merges in The Empty Man with a downright otherworldly horror (used here in the literal sense, as opposed to terror) aesthetic that’s sheer scope makes a mockery of the movie’s shoe-leather detective work. But even The Empty Man’s start is a delightful little horror film all its own, a mythological amuse-bouche set on snowy Bhutan peaks where set design and some solidly naturalistic acting sell the scares. Great! Solid. Sold. And then the movie keeps going, as if to literally push past your expectations. Its narrative evolves into something increasingly strange and engaging. It’s like A Cure for Wellness, another cult favorite, in its dedication to piling on an investigator’s hallucinogenic obsession and repulsion as he finds himself suddenly so deep that climbing back out—or, perhaps, out for the first time—proves impossible. Prior’s grasp of tone and savvy subversion of different modern monster tropes, alongside a staggering and committed James Badge Dale performance, position the film as one that understands and appreciates studio horror movies, but has much bigger things on its mind. In short, it rules.—Jacob Oller


20. The Conjuring

conjuring.jpg Year: 2013
Director: James Wan
Stars: Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, Ron Livingston, Lili Taylor
Rating: R
Runtime: 112 minutes

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Let it be known: James Wan is, in any fair estimation, an above average director of horror films at the very least. The progenitor of big money series such as Saw and Insidious has a knack for crafting populist horror that still carries a streak of his own artistic identity, a Spielbergian gift for what speaks to the multiplex audience without entirely sacrificing characterization. Several of his films sit just outside the top 100, if this list were ever to be expanded, but The Conjuring can’t be denied as the Wan representative because it is far and away the scariest of all his feature films. Reminding me of the experience of first seeing Paranormal Activity in a crowded multiplex, The Conjuring has a way of subverting when and where you expect the scares to arrive. Its haunted house/possession story is nothing you haven’t seen before, but few films in this oeuvre in recent years have had half the stylishness that Wan imparts on an old, creaking farmstead in Rhode Island. The film toys with audience’s expectations by throwing big scares at you without standard Hollywood Jump Scare build-ups, simultaneously evoking classic golden age ghost stories such as Robert Wise’s The Haunting. Its intensity, effects work and unrelenting nature set it several tiers above the PG-13 horror against which it was primarily competing. It’s interesting to note that The Conjuring actually did receive an “R” rating despite a lack of overt “violence,” gore or sexuality. It was simply too frightening to deny, and that is worthy of respect. —Jim Vorel


21. Ugetsu

Ugetsu285x400.jpg Year: 1953
Director: Kenji Mizoguchi
Stars: Mitsuko Mito, Masayuki Mori, Eitaro Ozawa, Kinuyo Tanaka
Rating: NR
Runtime: 98 minutes

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During an incredibly prolific point at the end of his career, Kenji Mizoguchi released Ugetsu between The Life of Oharu (1952) and Sansho the Bailiff (1954), only three years before his death. Like in those two films, Mizoguchi set Ugetsu in feudal Japan, using the country’s civil war as a milieu through which he could explore the ways in which ordinary people are kept from seeing to their basest needs, ground instead to dirt by forces far beyond their control. So it goes with two couples: Genjuro (Masayuki Mori), a potter hoping to profit from wartime, and his wife Miyagi (Kinuyo Tanaka); Tobei (Eitaro Ozawa) and Ohama (Mitsuko Mito), who rightly indicts her husband’s dreams of being a well-decorated samurai as foolish, especially considering that Tobei shows no signs of physical mettle, let alone a brain with any sense of militaristic prowess. Ignoring both their wives’ grave concerns and the ecliptic tide of war, the two men set out to make one last big bid for fame and fortune, setting out only to find a country haunted, literally sometimes, by casualties. Ugetsu is a lushly elemental film, epitomized by Mizoguchi’s long takes and aloof mise-en-scene, highlighted the callousness of what he was trying to capture. Seamlessly shifting between ethereal setpieces—the iconic rendezvous between boats, set amidst a hellish waterscape of mist and portent is perhaps the crux around which the film unwinds—and grittier clusterfucks of mass pain in progress, Mizoguchi conjures up a sense of inevitability: No matter how much these characters learn about love or family or themselves, they are doomed. Misery unfolds supernaturally and pointlessly in Ugetsu—so much so that by the time anyone’s noticed that tragedy’s struck, it’s already well-burrowed into the bones of those at its mercy. —Dom Sinacola


22. Horror of Dracula

horror-of-dracula-poster.jpg Year: 1958
Director: Terence Fisher
Stars: Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, Michael Gouch, Melissa Stribling
Rating: NR
Runtime: 82 minutes

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Horror of Dracula is either the second or third most iconic “classic vampire” film ever made, trailing only the 1931 Bela Lugosi Dracula and possibly the original Nosferatu. But really, if you were going to put together the ultimate, time-spanning Dracula film, you’d choose this version of the vampire, as played by the regal, intimidating Christopher Lee at the height of his powers. Horror of Dracula is simply a gorgeous movie, with lush, gothic settings—crypts, foggy graveyards and stately manors—photographed with the Golden Age charm of Technicolor. It has the best version of Van Helsing ever put to film (the aquiline, gaunt-looking Peter Cushing), some of the best sets and an omnipresent feeling of refinement and grandeur. Dracula, as played by Lee, is a creature of dualities—preferring to use very few words and simply influence through his magnetic presence, but also just moments away from leaping into action with ferocious animality. Along with Curse of Frankenstein, Horror of Dracula is the film most responsible for the late ’50s to early ’70s revival of classic gothic horror via Hammer Film Productions in the UK, which would produce dozens of takes on Frankenstein, The Mummy, and no fewer than eight Dracula sequels. The first, however, is unquestionably the best—so effective that it typecast Christopher Lee as a horror icon for decades, exactly as Dracula did to Bela Lugosi. —Jim Vorel


23. The Evil Dead

evil-dead.jpg Year: 1983
Director: Sam Raimi
Stars: Bruce Campbell, Ellen Sandweiss, Richard DeManincor, Betsy Baker, Theresa Tilly
Rating: NC-17
Runtime: 85 minutes

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Infamously pieced together from $350,000 and an exceptional amount of goodwill, The Evil Dead, when looking back at it, seems to have created a kind of horror unto itself. Sam Raimi’s debut, of course, is notable for so much more than that: like how it was edited by Joel Coen; or how Stephen King’s rabid interest caught the attention of a major studio, giving Raimi and close bud Bruce Campbell the chance to pour everything they knew about slashers, slapstick, camp, pulp and fantasy into Evil Dead II, a kind of sequel/reboot hybrid. But the real gauge of The Evil Dead’s tenor is perhaps best exemplified by the fact that its 2013 remake was something of a sickening feast for gore-hounds. For those familiar with Evil Dead II and the even sillier Army of Darkness, the fact that the original film was more of a straightforward genre affair feels somehow off; behold cognitive dissonance in full effect. And yet, somehow this rudimentary story of five Michigan State students who unwittingly unleash ancient demons in a cabin in the woods is still surprisingly, mercilessly skin-crawling. Leave it to Sam Raimi to stretch a dollar so far the sound of it snapping has the same effect on our stomachs as a classic bump in the night. —Dom Sinacola


24. Wes Craven’s New Nightmare

11. new nightmare (Custom).jpg Year: 1994
Director: Wes Craven
Stars: Robert Englund, Heather Langenkamp, Wes Craven, John Saxon, Miko Hughes
Rating: R
Runtime: 112 minutes

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By 1994, 10 years had passed since the original A Nightmare on Elm Street, and Wes Craven had watched a cavalcade of directors run wild with Freddy Krueger in both good (Dream Warriors) and terrible (Final Nightmare) sequels. When he decided to return to the series, the horror visionary therefore came up with a very “proto-Scream” idea—he set the film in the “real world,” casting himself, Robert Englund and the original film’s “final girl,” Heather Langenkamp, as themselves—movie industry people making yet another Freddy sequel. Except this time, the malevolent spirit of Freddy—or perhaps the idea of Freddy, starts jumping out into the real world. It’s a concept that perfectly encapsulates the idea of memetics and how it’s applied today on the Internet in particular. The actual horror scenes can’t quite match up to the best stuff in parts 1 and 3, but it’s never hurting for imagination. What New Nightmare does do really well is rein in the cartoonishness that the series had drifted into in order to make Freddy more clever (and frightening) once again. By approaching it from a new angle, Craven was able to reclaim some of Nightmare’s tarnished dignity. —Jim Vorel


25. Häxan

haxan-criterion-cover.jpg Year: 1922
Director: Benjamin Christensen
Stars: Clara Pontoppidan, Maren Pedersen, Oscar Stribolt
Rating: NR
Runtime: 107 minutes

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A truly unique silent film, Häxan is presented as both a historical documentary and a warning against hysteria, but to a modern audience it plays with a confounding blend of genuine horror and humor, both intentional and not. Director Christensen based his depictions of witch trials on the real-life horrors codified in the Malleus Maleficarum, the 15th century “hammer of witches” used by clergy and inquisitors to persecute women and people with mental illness. The dreamlike—make that nightmarish—dramatization of these torture sequences were almost unthinkably extreme for the time, leading to the film’s banning in the U.S. But put simply: There’s iconography in Häxan that grabs hold of you. Puffy-cheeked devils with long tongues lolling lazily out of their mouths. Naked men and women crawling and cavorting in circles of demons, lining up to literally kiss demonic asses. Scenes of torture straight out of Albrecht Dürer woodcuts or Divine Comedy illustrations. The grainy silence of black and white only makes Häxan more otherworldly to watch today—it feels like some kind of bleak Satanic relic that humankind was never supposed to witness. This is one silent film you won’t want on with children in the room.

Häxan is also an oddball testament to one of the enduring qualities of human nature, which is our tendency to be snarky assholes in our appraisal of previous generations. Christensen’s film often points a finger at the “superstitious” and “religious fanatic” persons of 1922 with a modern sense of cynicism and superiority in its implication that society had long since grown past such things. Obviously, almost 100 years later, we know this is not the case: We’re still deeply informed by the dusty trappings of religion and supernatural superstition, just as Christensen’s contemporaries were. Watching Häxan, then, becomes a different kind of warning: to not think too highly of our own sophistication, or make the assumption that we have in some way evolved from what we once were. People, as it turns out, have always been this way, and may always be. —Jim Vorel


26. Scream 2

22. scream 2 (Custom).jpg Year: 1997
Director: Wes Craven
Stars: Neve Campbell, Courteney Cox, Sarah Michelle Gellar, David Arquette, Jamie Kennedy, Liev Schreiber
Rating: R
Runtime: 120 minutes

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It was going to be hard to follow up the original Scream for plenty of reasons: Aside from it being one of the more innovative, self-aware horror films in years, Wes Craven killed off all of its bad guys in the final scenes of the movie. Here’s where Scream 2—a respectable follow-up and one that sets the stage for all of the film’s lesser sequels—comes into play. It follows a new string of “ghost face” murders, this time centering around the creation of Stab, a film based upon the Woodsboro murders. As always, the film is painfully critical of the horror movie genre while still scaring the pants off audiences in voice-morphed, quizzical phone calls and Ghost Face pop-ups. It remains the only Scream sequel to approach the original in terms of overall quality, thanks to its ability to turn over new leaves in examining the conventions of film sequels. —Tyler Kane


27. Vampyr

vampyr-poster.jpg Year: 1932
Director: Carl Theodor Dreyer
Stars: Julian West, Maurice Schultz, Rena Mandel, Jan Hieronimko, Sybille Schmitz, Henriette Gerard
Rating: NR
Runtime: 73 minutes

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While wandering the countryside, a naïve young man with a propensity for the occult stumbles upon a castle where he learns that the owner’s teenage daughter is slowly descending into vampirism. Upon seeing the village doctor trying to poison the girl, the boy intervenes and complications, naturally, ensue. Notable as being one of the few early vampire movies not even passingly based on Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Vampyr nonetheless brought very little joy to its creator, legendary Danish director Carl Theodor Dreyer (he of The Passion of Joan of Arc). Forced to shoot the production in three different languages (French, German and English), Dreyer’s first sound film experience was a proverbial trial by fire. To add salt to the infuriating production, the film was released only after some fairly heavy censoring. The reception was no less brutal, with critics delivering scathing reviews. As the years have passed by and an appreciation for Dreyer has grown, however, so has an appreciation for the film, with many modern critics citing its subversive take on sexuality to be years ahead of its time. Shot with the delicacy and elegance of a dream, Dreyer quickly plunges the viewer into an expressionistic hellscape of shadows and dread. Though it may be a bit slow for some audiences, even with a sparse 73-minute runtime, Vampyr is a intense mood piece that picked up where Nosferatu left off. —Mark Rozeman


28. Hausu

hausu-poster.jpg Year: 1977
Director: Nobuhiko Obayashi
Stars: Kimiko Ikegami, Miki Jinbo, Ai Matubara, Kumiko Oba, Mieko Sato, Eriko Tanaka
Rating: NR
Runtime: 88 minutes

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Oh, how to describe Hausu? Anyone who has seen this crazed Japanese mishmash of horror, comedy and fantasy knows this is no easy task—it’s simultaneously as simple as saying “It’s about some girls who go to a haunted house,” and much more complicated. Hausu has often been described as being “like Jaws, but with a house,” but the comparison isn’t exactly accurate—where Spielberg’s film is classic adventure, Obayashi’s is like a bad acid trip, sporting trippy, day-glo color schemes and mind-bending visuals. Animated cats, disembodied flying heads and stop-motion monsters are all par for the course as Hausu goes for the jugular, seemingly trying to overwhelm the viewer with an all-out assault on the senses. As a piece of modern camp spectacle it’s top tier, but it would be a shame to overlook the genuinely imaginative visual effects and how they would seem to presage the likes of Evil Dead 2 in the years to come. If there’s another film where a woman is eaten by a living, evil piano, I haven’t yet seen it. —Jim Vorel


29. Scanners

scanners.jpg Year: 1981
Director: David Cronenberg
Stars: Michael Ironside, Jennifer O’Neill, Stephen Lack, Patrick McGoohan, Lawrence Dane
Rating: R
Runtime: 103 minutes

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Everything to love about David Cronenberg rests squishy and bulging in Scanners—but this is before The Fly, before VIdeodrome, before Dead Ringers, and long before Naked Lunch—and so everything we love about Cronenberg is in Scanners, squishy and bulging and also with the slight gleam of nascent dew. To be sure, the body horror is egregious, and its tension visceral, but the bonus of Scanners is that, still so early in his career, Cronenberg had an obviously dubious time trying to figure out what kind of films he wanted to make. Sci-fi thriller, old-timey cyberpunk, grody procedural—Cronenberg litters his typical themes of transformation and transmutation throughout a story that, at practically any moment, feels like it could turn completely on its head. A head which would then, in a firework of brains and bone, explode—nothing if a gratuitous sign of genius things to come.—Dom Sinacola


30. Carnival of Souls

carnival of souls poster (Custom).jpg Year: 1962
Director: Herk Harvey
Stars: Candace Hilligoss, Herk Harvey
Rating: PG
Runtime: 80 minutes

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Carnival of Souls is a film in the vein of Night of the Hunter: artistically ambitious, from a first-time director, but largely overlooked in its initial release until its rediscovery years later. Granted, it’s not the masterpiece of Night of the Hunter, but it’s a chilling, effective, impressive tale of ghouls, guilt and restless spirits. The story follows a woman (Candace Hilligoss) on the run from her past who is haunted by visions of a pale-faced man, beautifully shot (and played) by director Herk Harvey. As she seemingly begins to fade in and out of existence, the nature of her reality itself is questioned. Carnival of Souls is vintage psychological horror on a miniscule budget, and has since been cited as an influence in the fever dream visions of directors such as David Lynch. To me, it’s always felt something like a movie-length episode of The Twilight Zone, and I mean that in the most complimentary way I can. Rod Serling would no doubt have been a fan. —Jim Vorel


31. Gremlins

gremlins.jpg Year: 1984
Director: Joe Dante
Stars: Zach Galligan, Phoebe Cates, Hoyt Axton, Polly Holliday, Frances Lee McCain, Dick Miller
Rating: PG
Runtime: 106 minutes

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In the same vein as Die Hard, Joe Dante’s Gremlins is a yearly Christmastime argument waiting to happen: Both are annually tossed onto “best Christmas movie” lists, but when it comes to the latter, at least, those debates often overlook the dark comedy of an expertly crafted ‘80s horror film from Dante at the height of his powers. Taking the lessons he learned as a ‘70s Roger Corman protege, Dante borrows character actors like Dick Miller to create a cynical, biting rebuke of maudlin sentimentality and children’s entertainment. The film’s surprising counterpoint between comedy and graphic violence was a source of consternation that led directly to it being in the early class of genre films that led to the PG-13 rating, but its more important impact was shaping the aesthetic of nearly every horror comedy to come. —Jim Vorel


32. Doctor Sleep

doctor-sleep-poster.jpg Year: 2019
Director: Mike Flanagan
Stars: Ewan McGregor, Rebecca Ferguson, Kyliegh Curran, Carl Lumbly, Bruce Greenwood, Emily Alyn Lind, Cliff Curtis
Rating: R
Runtime: 152 minutes

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That Doctor Sleep is a sequel to The Shining, adapted from King’s own novel, is almost its undoing. Every beat or reference that harkens back to Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece has either no narrative purpose or needlessly re-contextualizes a work of art. Do we really need an on-the-nose monologue handholding the audience through Jack Torrence’s motivations behind being an alcoholic? Did we really need to know that the ghosts in The Overlook had the power to cross into the land of the living because then-five-year-old Danny Torrence’s super telekinetic shining midichlorians were so off the roof that the evil spirits fed off of his spiritual essence, referred to as “steam” without a hint of self-aware humor? “Redrum,” the blood torrent from the elevator and various other references are only that; a supporting character’s office is designed to look exactly like the office from the beginning of the original for no discernible reason. A “famous” ghost from The Shining is not only referenced in dialogue, but later shown delivering his catchphrase —just in case you forgot.

When it lays its own path is when Doctor Sleep, well, shines. That is, at least as a schlocktacular bit of horror/adventure goofiness about the adult Danny Torrence (Ewan McGregor) and a teen (Kyleigh Curran) with even more extra supreme shining powers battling a coven of child murderers who stay immortal by ingesting children’s “steam.” As seen in The Haunting of Hill House, writer/director Mike Flanagan knows how to blend spectacle with in-depth character detail, and Rebecca Furguson has a blast imitating an old school Disney villain as the leader of the “steam” addicts. As a Shining sequel, Doctor Sleep is embarrassing. If approached as a standalone batshit crazy Stephen King epic, you can do a whole lot worse. —Oktay Ege Kozak


33. The Craft

the craft poster (Custom).jpg Year: 1996
Director: Andrew Fleming
Stars: Fairuza Balk, Robin Tunney, Neve Campbell, Rachel True
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 101 minutes

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The Craft is one of those touchstones of ‘90s, teen-friendly horror (see: I Know What You Did Last Summer) that has blossomed into the ranks of “cult films” in recent years, whether or not it really deserves the nostalgia. You can at least admire its deft evolution of John Hughes-era high school movie tropes, presenting an almost Mean Girls clique of girls with the added fun of witchcraft, although the inspiration might be more accurately attributed to the likes of Heathers. This film came along during that brief, odd period of the ‘90s when “starring Fairuza Balk” was not an altogether weird thing to see on a movie poster, and it’s a better, quirkier film for it. We all know where the story is going, once these gals start dabbling in witchcraft for the causes of popularity and petty revenge—nobody gets away with being this bitchy in fiction. It’s hammy, and melodramatic, and protagonist Robin Tunney is easily the least interesting of her own clique, and yet The Craft is still oddly watchable today. It’s a well-preserved time capsule of a very specific moment in the twilight of the MTV Generation. —Jim Vorel


34. Cronos

cronos-movie-poster.jpg Year: 1993
Director: Guillermo del Toro
Stars: Federico Luppi, Ron Perlman, Claudio Brook, Margarita Isabel, Tamara Shanath
Rating: R
Runtime: 92 minutes

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Even working with a small budget in his first feature film, the vitality of Guillermo Del Toro’s imagination was immediately on full display in Cronos, his Mexican vampire horror drama. Reflecting themes and visual elements that the director has continued to refine in The Devil’s Backbone, Pan’s Labyrinth and Crimson Peak, Cronos is a simply told but visually striking story about an antique shop owner who is slowly and unwittingly transformed into a vampire-like creature after a 450-year-old mechanical device clamps onto his arm and refuses to let go. At first he enjoys the new vitality of the transformation, before other parties come hunting for the device, turning the movie into almost a vampire crime story, as it were. Regardless, Cronos features a very sympathetic vampire at its core, an old man who is simply thrilled by what at first appears to be a new lease on life but eventually requires deadly sacrifices. It’s certainly not Del Toro’s most spellbinding feature, but it was an excellent debut. —Jim Vorel


35. Deerskin

24-deerskin-poster-itunes.jpg Release Date: March 20, 2020
Director: Quentin Dupieux
Starring: Jean Dujardin, Adèle Haenel
Rating: R
Runtime: 77 minutes

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Christianity counts the following among the signs of the Apocalypse: Death saddling up a pale horse, stars plummeting from the sky, kings hiding under rocks, and seven angels making a racket on their trumpets. “Quentin Dupieux making an accessible film” doesn’t show up in the Book of Revelations, but lo, death abounds all the world over, an asteroid 1.5 miles wide recently hurtled by Earth, and Dupieux’s latest bizarro ode to cinema, Deerskin, is screening virtually while the angelic host’s brass remains silent. John of Patmos got it all wrong.

Out of context, “accessible Dupieux” is oxymoronic, like “jumbo shrimp,” “bittersweet,” and “compassionate conservative,” but Deerskin, though every bit as strange as is to be expected from the Parisian DJ-cum-electronic musician-cum-filmmaker, makes sense without undercutting the qualities that define Dupieux’s body of work. It’s entirely unlike every other movie presently enjoying a last-minute VOD release, being a well-made, proudly weird, genre-agnostic commentary on themes ranging from middle age male vanity to navel-gazing, self-obsessed independent cinema. Unlike Dupieux’s prior work, à la Rubber, Wrong and Reality, Deerskin’s determination to explain itself as little as possible is complemented by its internal logic. The delight the film takes in the script’s eccentricities is inviting rather than alienating.—Andy Crump


36. Little Shop of Horrors

little-shop-horrors-poster.jpg Year: 1986
Director: Frank Oz
Stars: Rick Moranis, Ellen Green, Vincent Gardenia, Steve Martin, James Belushi, John Candy, Christopher Guest, Bill Murray
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 94 minutes

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Rick Moranis shines as nerdy, milquetoast florist Seymour Krelborn, whose Venus Flytrap-esque plant Audrey II requires human blood to survive. The audience sees Krelborn juggle success with his own plant’s insatiable appetite, and we get some big laughs along the way with help from Steve Martin, Bill Murray and The Four Tops’ Levi Stubbs as Audrey II, complete with an array of bombastic musical numbers. Although the idea of a killer plant and some questionable language might raise a few eyebrows, the film’s light-hearted attitude and fantastic musical moments make Little Shop of Horrors a great selection for horror-seeking young people. Compared with the 1960 original from Roger Corman, it’s a far more slick and humor-laden presentation of the same story. —Tyler Kane


37. Dracula Has Risen From the Grave

dracula-has-risen-poster.jpg Year: 1968
Director: Freddie Francis
Stars: Christopher Lee
Rating: G
Runtime: 92 minutes

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The fourth entry in Hammer’s Dracula series begins to illustrate the studio moving in a more modern direction, before the much bigger jumping off point of Taste the Blood of Dracula. It’s a fresh take on the story, rather than another rehashing of the Van Helsing/vampire hunter dynamic, centered around the romance of a young couple, including Hammer Horror bombshell Veronica Carlson. The young protagonist Paul (there always seems to be someone named Paul in these movies) makes a very unusual vampire killer for one reason in particular—he’s an atheist! Therefore unable to use the powers of faith and holy symbols (the cross, holy water, etc.) as weapons, he’s at a severe disadvantage as a bloodshot-eyed Christopher Lee targets his bride-to-be. Another thing that stands apart in Dracula Has Risen From the Grave is Hammer’s apparent intent to create a “sexier,” more adult-charged atmosphere for the film and the series. More care seems to have been put into sexualizing the characters, which amps up the gothic romance in an appealingly cheesy way—just look at the poster, for god’s sake. Ravishing! This is the last of the “classical”-feeling Dracula movies in the Hammer series—after this, they get progressively weirder. —Jim Vorel


38. From Dusk Till Dawn

from dusk till dawn poster (Custom).jpg Year: 1996
Director: Robert Rodriguez
Stars: George Clooney, Quentin Tarantino, Juliette Lewis, Harvey Keitel, Cheech Marin, Fred Williamson, Salma Hayek
Rating: R
Runtime: 108 minutes

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I can’t help but wonder, watching From Dusk Till Dawn, what the film might have looked like if Robert Rodriguez wrote it as well, rather than Quentin Tarantino. Would the Mexican vampire element have been introduced before the halfway mark? Probably. But there’s Tarantino for you, not content to tell one story—instead, he delivers what almost becomes two entirely separate movies starring the same characters. In the first half we get a crime dramedy about a pair of sociopathic brothers on the lam, taking hostages down the Mexico. When they finally get there, the switch flips and it turns into a gory vampire western. Both halves are entertaining in their own way, although genre purists who went in expecting a vampire film were probably perplexed by the lead-in to the payoff. That payoff is satisfyingly pulpy, though, and there’s a certain pleasure in going back to see the earlier era of George Clooney, when he thought the idea of fighting Mexican vampires seemed like a good career move. —Jim Vorel


39. Blade 2

blade 2 poster (Custom).jpg Year: 2002
Director: Guillermo Del Toro
Starring: Wesley Snipes, Kris Kristofferson, Ron Perlman, Leonor Varela, Norman Reedus, Luke Goss
Rating: R
Runtime: 117 minutes

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Leave it to gothic horror extraordinaire Guillermo del Toro to take our unstoppable vampire hunter and crank the style past 11 as he plays up the comic book craziness to the tilt. Arguably even more enjoyable than its predecessor, Blade II sees a fragile alliance between Blade (Wesley Snipes) and the Bloodpack—basically, the Dirty Dozen of vampires—as they face off against Reapers (super-vampires who enjoy them some tasty vampire blood). Not only are there great new characters in the ’pack, but as this is a del Toro joint, there’s 100% more Ron Perlman. Fang-tastic. —Scott Wold


40. It

it-2017-poster.jpg Year: 2017
Director: Andy Muschietti
Stars: Jaeden Martell, Bill Skarsgård, Jeremy Ray Taylor, Sophia Lillis, Finn Wolfhard, Wyatt Oleff, Chosen Jacobs, Jack Dylan Grazer
Rating: R
Runtime: 135 minutes

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Whereas the relative disappoint of 2019’s It: Chapter 2 was somewhat expected, given that most readers and horror geeks have always been far more fond of the front half of Stephen King’s novel than the second part of the story starring the Loser’s Club as adults, the sheer, exhilarating success of the first half of Andy Muschietti’s retelling of the story still took the world by surprise. This was the big-budget, beautifully cast and genuinely disturbing take on It that some had thought impossible, driven by a fantastically alien performance by Bill Skarsgård as Pennywise, a “dancing clown” that is hiding a much more unknowable, exotic form of evil than the jokester played by the equally great Tim Curry in the 1990 TV adaptation. Perhaps it’s the strength of King’s elemental story, but everything in this first It film just works, from the camaraderie of the Loser’s Club to their satisfyingly visceral final confrontation with Pennywise—and the film looks great throughout. Sadly, it wouldn’t be able to maintain that momentum in the more staid second half of the story, but it does little to diminish the effectively spooky vibe cast by the 2017 film. Perhaps it’s best to simply treat it as a stand-alone story. —Jim Vorel


41. The Brood

the-brood-poster.jpg Year: 1979
Director: David Cronenberg
Stars: Oliver Reed, Samantha Eggar, Art Hindle
Rating: R
Runtime: 92 minutes

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Even by the standards of David Cronenberg, The Brood is a particularly nasty piece of work. This is a meanspirited and misanthropic yarn that blends body horror and science fiction into a new-aged parable of revenge and repressed rage, erupting forth whether we want it to or not. The titular “brood” are a deformed band of what look like dwarf-like children, created not by mad science but new-age psychobabble—a woman turns her latent anger, fear and mental illness into a physical product, which becomes a series of small, psychically linked killer dwarves who are sent out to destroy those who caused her grief. Totally absurd? Oh, 100% accurate, but also just as deeply off putting as you’d expect the work of Cronenberg to be in so many cases. It’s a messed-up metaphor on the destructive power of pent-up bitterness, inspired by Cronenberg’s own rancorous divorce. —Jim Vorel


42. 28 Weeks Later

28 weeks later poster (Custom).jpg Year: 2007
Director: Juan Carlos Fresnadillo
Stars: Robert Carlyle, Rose Byrne, Jeremy Renner, Harold Perrineau, Catherine McCormack, Imogen Poots, Mackintosh Muggleton, Idris Elba
Rating: R
Runtime: 99 minutes

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28 Weeks Later is an often interesting, often scary, often powerful and often frustrating film for zombie/horror genre geeks. As a sequel to 2002’s supremely influential 28 Days Later, it’s a partial success. It does a wonderful job of transplanting that film’s nihilistic, hopeless streak of terror and what one person is willing to do to survive—especially in the masterful opening scene, where Robert Carlyle’s character abandons his wife while fleeing from zombies in a soul-crushing chase across the fields of England as tears of guilt stream down his face. On the other hand, the film’s true main characters, his children, aren’t nearly as interesting—nor is the collection of military suits who have locked down England in the post-Rage virus cleanup. The film also violates one of the unwritten rules of zombie cinema, which is, “There shouldn’t be a ‘main zombie.’” In this case, when Robert Carlyle’s Don becomes infected and escapes, it hurts the story’s ability to be legitimately suspenseful, as we know the kids aren’t in any real danger during any of their encounters with the infected, because zombie Don is still unaccounted for. If the audience knows that the script will require this one infected person to be present for a conclusion, then it robs all the other infected of being perceived as legitimate threats. Still, despite all that, 28 Weeks Later is well-shot and full of shocking, gritty action sequences. It’s not without its flaws, but certain scenes such as the opener are so powerful that we’re willing to forgive a lot. —Jim Vorel


43. The Mummy

the-mummy-1959-poster.jpg Year: 1959
Director: Terence Fisher
Stars: Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Yvonne Furneaux
Rating: NR
Runtime: 88 minutes

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Following The Curse of Frankenstein in 1957 and Horror of Dracula in 1958, it only made sense for Hammer to stick with its hottest hand in the form of director Terence Fisher for yet another Universal Monsters revival in the form of The Mummy in 1959. As with the Universal version of The Mummy, it’s a series that is less vividly remembered today, lacking the iconic stature of Dracula or Frankenstein, but like the two Hammer films that preceded it, The Mummy stands out for its top-tier production design, visuals and sense of grandeur. The Eastmancolor photography of the day is perhaps at its zenith in The Mummy, giving the sequences of ancient Egyptian torture and embalming a certain dramatic flair that would never be present in dour, modern remakes like the “Dark Universe” Mummy reboot of 2017. The starring duo of Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee likewise returns here—Cushing as a cursed archaeologist, and Lee as the titular Mummy, who is in full-on “shamble and strangle” mode, as in later Universal Mummy sequels. His face is almost completely obscured here, forcing Lee to act almost entirely with his eyes and posture, but he arguably pulls it off even more successfully than he did with Frankenstein’s monster two years earlier. The plot, meanwhile, is an amalgam of Universal’s sequels, acting like a greatest hits reel of The Mummy’s Hand, The Mummy’s Tomb and The Mummy’s Ghost. For those without the patience for those slow-moving, late-era Universal efforts, Hammer’s reboot is like getting to consume them all at once. —Jim Vorel


44. Gremlins 2: The New Batch

gremlins-2-movie-poster.jpg Year: 1990
Director: Joe Dante
Stars: Zack Galligan, Phoebe Cates, John Glover, Robert Prosky
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 107 minutes

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Joe Dante didn’t want to make a sequel to Gremlins. The first film exhausted him and was wrapped up so nicely, he didn’t see a need to carry the story forward. The studio, however, refused to give up and, out of desperation, gave him complete creative control. They sure got what they paid for, as the cult classic sequel throws absolutely everything at the viewer with zero interest in whether it will stick or not. It’s a slapstick comedy wrapped up in cartoonish violence and some sharp-edged satire about corporations and capitalism. Oh, and there’s a cameo by Hulk Hogan to boot. —Robert Ham


45. Freaky

freaky-poster.jpg Year: 2020
Director: Christopher Landon
Stars: Kathryn Newton, Vince Vaughn, Alan Ruck
Genre: Horror/Comedy
Rating: R
Runtime: 102 minutes

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On its face, the prospect of resurrecting two franchise IPs which have been endlessly re-made decade after decade teeters on the banal and unimaginative. Yet director Christopher Landon’s Freaky effortlessly weaves together the conventions of Freaky Friday and Friday the 13th, eschewing the confines of “remake,” instead creating a unique genre hybrid that’s slick and endlessly entertaining—all the while maintaining a clever self-awareness which enlivens the film’s jump-scares and punchlines without descending into the horror-comedy pitfall of self-referential metaness. What follows is a binary-bending comic exercise in sexual fluidity and gender expression which juxtaposes Vince Vaughn’s hefty stature with Kathryn Newton’s petite frame in order to prod at the horror genre’s previously held notion of who is perceived as weak, both in attitude and appearance. Vaughn and Newton give stellar performances, channeling the other’s mannerisms while poking fun at their own corporeal limitations and their immediate (dis)comfort within their new vessels. It’s heartening to see that the horror genre—still undeniably male-dominated—persists in its commitment to pushing boundaries. Whether those boundaries demarcate what we are able to stomach in terms of violence or what we are able to unpack within our own internal concepts of gender and sexuality, Freaky joins these tenets in order to craft a horror story rife with unexpected, imaginative kills all while subverting societal expectations of who we should really be afraid of—and why.—Natalia Keogan


46. The Blob

the-blob-1958-poster.jpg Year: 1956
Director: Irvin Yeaworth
Stars: Steve McQueen, Aneta Corsaut, Earl Rowe, Olin Howland
Rating: NR
Runtime: 86 minutes

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Alternatingly described as either a parable on creeping Communism or simply a good excuse for some necking at the drive-in, 1958’s The Blob fits neatly regardless into the era of atomic monster creature features that began roughly with 1954’s Them!. It has elements of the “us vs. them” counterculture films to come, with its “teen” characters (Steve McQueen was 27 at the time) being the immediate suspects of civil unrest according to local law enforcement, rather than the gelatinous alien blob slithering around town. It was made for a pittance of a budget, but the special effects hold up surprisingly well even today, especially in the iconic sequence in which The Blob attacks a “Midnight Spook Show” theater full of the target demographic. Still, in the years that followed, the film was likely best remembered for spawning Burt Bacharach’s novelty hit “Beware the Blob,” until Chuck Russell’s slick 1988 remake infused it with a whole new level of gross-out gory violence. Both films capture the same justified teenage fear of authority; the choice is only a matter of how viscerally you want to watch someone’s face get dissolved. —Jim Vorel


47. The Devil’s Advocate

devils-advocate-poster.jpg Year: 1997
Director: Taylor Hackford
Stars: Keanu Reeves, Al Pacino, Charlize Theron
Rating: R
Runtime: 144 minutes

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If you’re looking for the sly and subtle trickster who operates in shadows and whispers inspirations for evil shenanigans into his human playthings’ ear, look elsewhere. Boosted heavily by Al Pacino’s well-documented late ’90s no-fucks given period, this incarnation of the Devil has a BIG and booming personality, a transparent thirst for ultimate power and the libido of a rabbit on Viagra. When he’s not busy chewing all forms of scenery delivering long-winded and bug-eyed monologues about how God’s somehow both a spineless pussy and an abusive tyrant, Pacino’s devil, a.k.a. New York City mega-lawyer John Milton, is busy trying to corrupt an aw-shucks southern lawyer with the personality of a blank canvas—and the performance from Keanu Reeves to match that personality—into spawning the Anti-Christ and bring about the end of times. All he has to do to reach this goal is to convince Reeves’ lawyer to make it with his half-sister (Connie Nielsen) and get her pregnant. And you thought your family was messed up. —Oktay Ege Kozak


48. Freddy vs. Jason

freddy-vs-jason-poster.jpg Year: 2002
Director: Ronny Yu
Stars: Monica Keena, Kelly Rowland, Jason Ritter, Chris Marquette, Lochlyn Munro, Robert Englund
Rating: R
Runtime: 98 minutes

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Freddy vs. Jason really isn’t much of a movie. The plot is a convoluted mess of contradictions to previous films in both series (Jason is afraid of water now?), and the human characters in the center of it are uniformly unmemorable. In fact, the film manages the odd feat of being considerably more Freddy-centric in terms of plot, while feeling much more like a Friday the 13th entry in terms of characters and kills. The early 2000s time period doesn’t do it any favors in the nostalgia or visual department, and it takes a while to put all of its pieces into motion.

HOWEVER. Once the promised “Freddy vs. Jason” interactions actually get going in earnest, many of the film’s other failings begin to seem inconsequential. The battle between these two slasher kingpins is awesomely, titanically stupid—and it truly is the very best kind of “stupid.” From its beginnings in the dream realm, where Freddy obviously holds the upper hand, to its eyeball-stabbing, arm-ripping conclusion in reality, the last 20 minutes or so of Freddy vs. Jason represents some of the best horror movie wish-fulfillment you’re ever going to see in a feature film. There’s nothing complex or particularly triumphant about it from an artistic standpoint; it’s more like the contents of a fanfic come to life, the slasher movie equivalent to a kaiju movie with two giant monsters trampling Tokyo. It’s impossible not to chuckle with bemusement, at the very least. It’s almost enough to make us wish we saw the Round 2 sequel promised by the cheekily winking decapitated head of Krueger in the final scene—the last time that Englund has portrayed the character to date. If he never does return, it was at least a better ending for Freddy than Final Nightmare, that’s for sure. —Jim Vorel


49. Jason X

jason-x-poster.jpg Year: 2001
Director: Jim Isaac
Stars: Lexa Doig, Lisa Ryder, Chuck Campbell, Melyssa Ade, Peter Mensah, Kane Hodder
Rating: R
Runtime: 92 minutes

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The 1990s were a prime decade of taking tired franchises and inserting them into outer space, but the turn of the new millennium didn’t stop anyone from applying the same formula to Friday the 13th. The result, Jason X, is visually cheap and unappealing most of the time, but its “cobbled together from the sets of other movies” visuals give it a certain cheesy charm. More hilarious is seeing all the stock horny teen tropes of the 1980s preserved almost entirely intact here, transplanted onto a spaceship in the year 2452 where the crew of professional space pilots are for some reason all 19 years old and scantily clad throughout. Rarely has any genre done the “in space!” gag while also changing so little about the core formula. That means some gnarly kills of course, with the “liquid nitrogen to the face” being the most instantly iconic. Jason X has its fans, especially those who try to find deeper meaning in its occasionally self-parodic nature (the holodeck scene, especially), but it was still deeply dated at the time of release and is mostly fun now to watch for its unintentional humor value. —Jim Vorel


50. Friday the 13th

friday-13-2009-poster.jpg Year: 2009
Director: Marcus Nispel
Stars: Jared Padalecki, Danielle Panabaker, Aaron Yoo, Amanda Righetti, Travis Van Winkle, Derek Mears
Rating: R
Runtime: 97 minutes

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The 2009 remake of Friday the 13th simultaneously delivered as loving a tribute to the F13 series as one could reasonably expect, and highlighted exactly why that sort of tribute has trouble standing on its own outside of the golden era of slasher movies in the early 1980s. The pieces are here—the blood and guts, the extremely gratuitous nudity, the idiot characters—but as with other Platinum Dunes horror remakes of the era (especially 2010’s Nightmare on Elm Street), the film has no ideas of its own to contribute. It comes off as simply a string of finger-pointing moments, begging the viewer to “remember this?”, while executing most of those moments in ways far less satisfying than the first four Friday the 13th movies it’s using as inspiration. Even the action feels muddy and poorly lit in a way that was never problematic in the original run of the series. It’s a film that sought to please fans of the series who came armed with the lowest of expectations. —Jim Vorel