The 50 Best Horror Movies on Amazon Prime Video Right Now (2021)

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The 50 Best Horror Movies on Amazon Prime Video Right Now (2021)

After drawing up huge rankings of the best horror movies on Netflix and the best horror movies on Hulu, it’s safe to say we’ve gotten used to the challenge of diving through the refuse of a streaming service and searching for the gems. But we’ve never really experienced a library with just as much junk and treasure in it as the Amazon library. If you’ve been paying attention, then you know this is only compounded by the fact that the “browse” function on Amazon Video is completely and utterly broken.

That said, Amazon subscribers have access to a wealth of riches, many of them hiding in plain sight. Slowly but surely, they’ve built what is truly the biggest and most comprehensive horror library of all the majors—except perhaps for genre-specific services like Shudder. The trick is realizing those movies are there at all. Sure, it’s no surprise that Midsommar or The Lighthouse are now on Amazon Prime, but the service is also packed with more obscure 1980s slashers than you can wave a machete at.

Therefore, fall back on our list of films that are worth your time for one reason or another—just don’t expect to find them via browsing.

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


Here are the 50 best horror movies on Amazon Prime:

1. Jaws

jaws-poster.jpg Year: 1975
Director: Steven Spielberg
Stars: Roy Scheider, Robert Shaw, Richard Dreyfuss
Rating: PG
Runtime: 123 minutes

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Is Jaws a horror film? For those who worry that it’s “not safe to go back in the water,” then most certainly it is. But regardless of how you’d classify it, there’s no denying that Jaws is anything but brilliant, one of Spielberg’s great populist triumphs, alongside the likes of Jurassic Park and E.T., but leaner and less polished than either,. Much has been made over the years of how Jaws as a film really benefits from the technical issues that plagued its making; the story originally called for more scenes featuring the mechanical shark “Bruce,” but the constantly malfunctioning animatronic forced the director to cut back, which ended up maximizing each appearance’s impact. The first time that Brody (Roy Scheider) sees the literal “jaws” of the beast while absentmindedly throwing chum into the water is one of the great, scream-inducing moments in cinema history, and it’s a shock that has rarely been matched in any other shark movie since. Likewise with the death of Quint (Robert Shaw), whose mad scramble to avoid those gnashing teeth is the kind of thing that created its very own sub-genre of children’s nightmares. Ultimately, Jaws is a great film via memorable characters, but a scary film care of novelty and perfect execution. —Jim Vorel


2. The Descent

Year: 2005
Director: Neil Marshall
Stars: Shauna Macdonald, Natalie Mendoza, Alex Reid, Saskia Mulder, MyAnna Buring, Nora-Jane Noone
Rating: R

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True camaraderie or complex relationships between female characters isn’t so much “rare” in horror cinema as it is functionally nonexistent, which is one of the things that still makes The Descent, nominally about a bunch of women fighting monsters in a cfave, stand out so sharply all these years later. But ah, how The Descent transcends its one-sentence synopsis. The film’s first half is deliberately crafted to fill in the personalities of its group of women, while slowly and almost imperceptibly ratcheting up the sense of dread and foreboding. As the characters descend deeper into the cave, passageways get tighter and the audience can feel the claustrophobia and dankness creeping into their bones—and that’s before we even see any of the resident troglodytes. Neil Marshall’s screenplay makes masterful use of dubious morality, infusing its protagonists, particularly the duo of Sarah (Shauna Macdonald) and Juno (Natalie Mendoza), with numerous shades of gray. Not content to simply paint one of the two as flawed and the other as resourceful and ultimately vindicated, he uses a series of misunderstandings to illustrate human failing on a much more profound and universal level. Ultimately, The Descent is as moving a character study as it is terrifying subterranean creature feature, with one hell of an ending to boot. —Jim Vorel


3. 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


4. The Wicker Man

the wicker man poster (Custom).jpg Year: 1973
Director: Robin Hardy
Stars: Christopher Lee, Edward Woodward, Britt Ekland, Ingrid Pitt, Diane Cilento
Rating: R
Runtime: 87 minutes

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The original Wicker Man, a British film released in 1976, was a uniquely new kind of horror tale, using haunting cinematography and a deeply creepy soundtrack to explore gender politics and sexuality, combining eroticism with violence to titillate and horrify viewers. The acting is top-notch, with Edward Woodward’s protagonist Sergeant Howie and Christopher Lee’s Lord Summerisle stealing the screen. Woodward manages to portray a virginal, overly righteous character in a way that is both sympathetic and thought-provoking, and it all builds to a conclusion that should be regarded as among the most shocking of its era. —Danielle Ryan


5. The Wailing

the-wailing.jpg Year: 2016
Director: Na Hong-jin
Stars: Kwak Do-won, Hwang Jung-min, Chun Woo-hee
Rating: NR
Runtime: 156 minutes

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The U.S. title of Na Hong-jin’s new film, The Wailing, suggests tone more than it does sound. There is wailing to be heard here, yes, and plenty of it, but in two words Na coyly predicts his audience’s reaction to the movie’s grim tableaus of a county in spiritual strife. Na trades in doubt and especially despair more than in what we think of as “horror.” He isn’t out to terrify us. He’s out to corrode our souls, much in the same way that his protagonist’s faith is corroded after being subject to both divine and infernal tests over the course of the film. The Wailing unfolds in Gokseong County, an agricultural community nestled among South Korea’s southern provinces. It’s a lovely, bucolic setting that Na and his cinematographer, the incredible Hong Kyung-pyo, take fullest advantage of aesthetically and thematically. The hushed serenity blanketing The Wailing’s opening images creates an atmosphere of peace that Na is all too happy to subvert (similar to how he subverts Bible verses). The film’s first full sequence shatters the calm as Sergeant Jeon Jong-gu (Kwak Do-won, turning in a knockout performance) is called to the scene of a savage multiple murder. When Jong-gu shows up, all is bedlam; people are screaming and crying, emergency workers litter the area like ants at a gory picnic, and the killer sits in a stupor, unaware of neither the mayhem nor the vicious boils coating their skin. This is an incredibly creepy and oft-unsettling film, but Na finds the tug of disbelief far more upsetting than the sight of bodies cut apart and blood splattering the wall. What do you do when your holy authority figures fail you? What do you do when you can’t trust your perception? Na has made these ideas, though hardly new in the horror canon, his film’s full purpose, and his conclusions are devastatingly bleak. When The Wailing arrives at its final, spectacular half hour, you’ll vow never to ask these questions about your own life, ever. You may not leave the theater scared, but you will leave it scarred, which is by far a more substantive response than naked fear. —Andy Crump


6. The Omen

14-starz-the-omen-poster.jpg Year: 1976
Director: Richard Donner
Stars: Gregory Peck, Lee Remick, David Warner, Harvey Spencer Stephens, Billie Whitelaw, Patrick Troughton, Martin Benson, Leo McKern
Rating: R
Runtime: 111 minutes

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In the canon of “creepy kid” movies, the original 1976 incarnation of The Omen stands alone, untainted by the horrendous 2006 remake. It has a palpable sense of malice to it, largely because of the juxtaposition of restraint and moments of extremity. Damien (Harvey Spencer Stephens) isn’t this little devil boy running around stabbing people, he’s full of guile, deceit and, scariest of all, patience. He knows that he’s playing the long game—it will be years and years before he achieves his purpose on the Earth, which gives him the uncomfortable attitude of an adult (and a pure evil one) in a child’s body. The film is brooding, sullen, broken up by staccato moments of shocking violence. In particular are the infamous scene wherein a sheet of glass leads to a decapitation, or the fate of Damien’s nurse in the film’s opening. The Omen can genuinely can get under your skin, especially if you’re a parent. —Jim Vorel


7. Peeping Tom

peeping-tom-1960-poster.jpg Year: 1960
Director: Michael Powell
Starring: Carl Boehm, Moira Shearer, Anna Massey, Maxine Audley
Rating: NA
Runtime: 101 minutes

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In one respect, Michael Powell’s Peeping Tom is a meticulous, human, thoughtful movie about the mechanics and emotional impulses that drive the filmmaking process. In another, it’s a slasher flick about a looney tune serial killer-cum-documentarian who murders people with his camera’s tripod. (The tripod has a knife on it.) Basically, Peeping Tom is precisely as silly or as serious as you care to read it, though as absurd as the premise sounds on the page, the film is anything but on the screen. In fact, it was considered quite controversial for a time, and depending on who you ask it may still be. Understanding why doesn’t take a whole lot of heavy lifting; movies about women in peril have a way of striking their audience’s nerves, and Peeping Tom takes that idea to an extreme, giving its slate of victims-to-be little room to breathe as Mark Lewis (Carl Boehm) closes in on them, capturing their exponentially increasing fear from second to second as they face dawning comprehension of their impending deaths. It’s a tough film to sit through, as any film about a sociopath with a habit of brutally slaying women would be, but it’s also thorough, insightful, impeccably made and brilliantly considered. Whether you’re a horror aficionado or not, if you call yourself cinephile, it’s required viewing. —Andy Crump


8. Hellraiser

12. hellraiser (Custom).jpg Year: 1987
Director: Clive Barker
Stars: Andrew Robinson, Clare Higgins, Ashley Laurence
Rating: R
Runtime: 93 minutes

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The head villain/eventual hero (there’s a sickening number of terrible Hellraiser sequels) behind Clive Barker’s Hellraiser franchise is the Cenobite Pinhead, sent from the pits of his own personal hell dimension to drag you down into the depths with him. Where he tortures you. For eternity. All because you opened a fancy Rubik’s Cube. Pinhead has zero remorse, looking you dead in the eye as he delivers a deadpan promise to “tear your soul apart.” Oh yeah, and the Cenobites are indestructible. Personally, it turned me off to puzzle boxes forever. As in his fiction, Barker’s obsessions with the duality of pain and pleasure are on full display in Hellraiser, an icky story of sick hate and sicker love. —Rachel Haas


9. The Lighthouse

lighthouse-movie-poster.jpg Year: 2019
Director: Robert Eggers
Stars: Robert Pattinson, Willem Dafoe, Valeriia Karaman
Rating: R
Runtime: 110 minutes

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Sometimes a film is so bizarre, so elegantly shot and masterfully performed, that despite its helter-skelter pace and muddled messaging I can’t help but fall in love with it. So it was with the latest film by Robert Eggers. An exceptional, frightening duet between Robert Pattinson and Willam Dafoe, The Lighthouse sees two sailors push one another to the brink of absolute madness, threatening to take the audience with them. Fresh off the sea, Thomas Wake (Dafoe) and Ephraim Winslow (Pattinson) arrive at the isolated locale and immediately get to work cleaning, maintaining and fixing up their new home. Everything comes in twos: two cups, two plates, two bowls, two beds. The pair work on the same schedule every day, only deviating when Thomas decides something different needs Ephraim’s attention. Like newlyweds sharing meals across from one another each morning and every evening, the men begin to develop a relationship. It takes a long time for either of the men to speak. They’re both accustomed to working long days in relative silence. They may not possess the inner peace of a Zen monk, but their thought processes are singular and focused. Only the lighthouse and getting back to the mainland matters. Eggers uses the sound of the wind and the ocean to create a soundscape of harsh conditions and natural quarantine. The first words spoken invoke a well-worn prayer, not for a happy life, or a fast workday, but to stave off death. A visceral ride, The Lighthouse explores man’s relationship to the sea, specifically through the lens of backbreaking labor. Thomas and Ephraim’s relationship is like a Rorschach test. At times they are manager and worker, partners, enemies, father and son, competitors, master and pet, and victim and abuser. In many ways Eggers’ latest reminds of Last Tango in Paris, which explored a similar unhealthy relationship dynamic. Just as captivating, The Lighthouse shines. —Joelle Monique


10. We Need to Talk About Kevin

we-need-to-talk-about-kevin-australian-poster.jpg Year: 2012
Director: Lynne Ramsay
Stars: Tilda Swinton, John C. Reilly, Ezra Miller
Rating: R
Runtime: 112 minutes

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We Need To Talk About Kevin concerns the experience of a mother (Tilda Swinton) struggling with the aftermath of a school massacre carried out by her son (Ezra Miller). In its narrative construction, it draws upon two key tropes: that of the “whydunnit” thriller, in which the mystery of the perpetrator’s motivations are a driving factor, and that of the family horror, in which some dark element tears a traditional household apart. Indeed, the real horror is not that a teenager chose total negation over the banality of normative family life—it’s that these appeared to be the only two choices available. Tilda Swinton is brilliant in the starring role as a mother who grapples with guilt about what her son has done and reflects on his childhood, wondering what, if anything, could possibly have been done differently when one gives birth to a “bad seed.” The heartbreaking nature of the film is perfectly encapsulated by the scene wherein Kevin as a child briefly drops his sociopathic tendencies while ill, giving Swinton’s character a brief chance to feel like a cherished mother, only to emotionally shut her out again as soon as his physical health returns, dashing her hopes that some kind of breakthrough had been made. —Donal Foreman


11. Invasion of the Body Snatchers

body-snatchers-1978-movie-poster.jpg Year: 1978
Director: Philip Kaufman
Stars: Donald Sutherland, Brooke Adams, Leonard Nimoy, Jeff Goldblum, Veronica Cartwright
Rating: PG
Runtime: 115 minutes

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There’s no real need for the film’s credit-limned intro—a nature-documentary-like sequence in which the alien spores soon to take over all of Earth float through the cosmos and down to our stupid third berg from the Sun—because from the moment we meet health inspector Matthew Bennell (Donald Sutherland) and the colleague with whom he’s hopelessly smitten, Elizabeth Driscoll (Brooke Adams), the world through which they wander seems suspiciously off. Although Philip Kaufman’s remake of Don Siegel’s 1956 Invasion of the Body Snatchers begins as a romantic comedy of sorts, pinging dry-witted lines between flirty San Franciscan urbanites as Danny Zeitlin’s score strangely lilts louder and louder overhead, Kaufman laces each frame with malice. Oddly acting extras populate the backgrounds of tracking shots and garbage trucks filled with weird dust fluff (which we eventually learn spreads the spores) exist at the fringes of the screen. The audience, of course, puts the pieces together long before the characters do—characters who include Jeff Goldblum at his beanpole-iest and Leonard Nimoy at his least Spock-iest—but that’s the point: As our protagonists slowly discover that the world they know is no longer anything they understand, so does such simmering anxiety fill and then usurp the film. Kaufman piles on more and more revolting, unnerving imagery until he offers up a final shot so bleak that he might as well be punctuating his film, and his vision of modern life, with a final, inevitable plunge into the mouth of Hell. —Dom Sinacola


12. The Monster Squad

the monster squad poster (Custom).jpg Year: 1987
Director: Fred Dekker
Stars: André Gower, Robby Kiger, Duncan Regehr, Stephen Macht, Stan Shaw, Tom Noonan
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 82 minutes

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There’s really only one word for The Monster Squad: “Fun.” For lovers of Halloween, lovers of classic horror, lovers of the Universal monster movies, the film is simply a joy. The mere idea of such a club—a bunch of preteen kids hanging out in a treehouse and devoting their time to Frankenstein and the Wolf-Man—makes me want to step into a de-aging machine so I can put in my application. Sometimes described as being like “The Goonies with monsters,” that’s really not a bad way to sum it up. There’s a colorful energy in the script by Lethal Weapon’s Shane Black, and a definite adult streak that makes this film just as enjoyable today as it was in the late ‘80s. Directed by Fred Dekker, who was also responsible for the much more adult, gory/funny 1986 classic Night of the Creeps, it follows this band of child adventurers as they oppose the evil plans of Dracula and his various monster minions—The Mummy, The Creature from the Black Lagoon, etc, etc. It treads an expert line between adventure, humor and light scares. It’s the perfect Halloween party movie, especially for nostalgic ‘80s and ‘90s kids. —Jim Vorel


13. We Are Still Here

we are still here poster (Custom).jpg Year: 2015
Director: Ted Geoghegan
Stars: Barbara Crampton, Andrew Sensening, Larry Fessenden, Lisa Marie, Monte Markham
Rating: N/A
Runtime: 84 minutes

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The film is a Lucio Fulci throwback, though that word does the Italian director’s work a slight disservice. We Are Still Here doesn’t bother covering up its roots, either. Like the specters that haunt Geoghegan’s protagonists, the presence of the Italian maestro can be felt in each of We Are Still Here’s frames. But there’s homage, and then there’s lazy homage, and Geoghegan has made the former—though in fairness his influences range from Fulci to Dan Curtis and Stuart Rosenberg. Geoghegan has even called on H.P. Lovecraft to supply his fictional setting. We Are Still Here does not lack for pedigree. It’s traditional in the horror genre that running away from personal tragedy tends to beget more personal tragedy. So, when Anne (Barbara Crampton) and Paul (Andrew Sensenig) Sacchetti move from “the city” to Aylesbury, Massachusetts after the death of their college-aged son, Bobby, they shack up in a century-old farmhouse so isolated that their new neighbors don’t notice anybody’s home for a whole two weeks. While Anne is wrapped up in the fantods, Paul tries stoically to assuage his wife’s grief (as well as his own) without tipping off his incredulity over her claims that she can “feel” Bobby in the house with them. We Are Still Here’s first half feels like a slow burn in comparison to its second, where all hell is erumpent and cinematographer Karim Hussain frantically but steadily sprints from one room to the next, capturing as much peripheral carnage as possible. In a lesser film, Geoghegan’s climax would be a signal to the viewer to wake up. In We Are Still Here, it provides an unexpected burst of escalated, gory furor. But Geoghegan handles the transition smoothly, from the story of running away from tragedy We Are Still Here begins as to the bloodbath it becomes. There’s no sense of baiting or switching; the director flirts with danger confidently throughout. Plus, there’s that New England winter to add an extra layer of despair. The elements forebode and forbid in equal measure. The weather outside is frightful … and the carbonized wraiths in the basement even more so. In the end, this is one haunted house that won’t be denied. —Andy Crump


14. Society

society-movie-poster.jpg Year: 1989
Director: Brian Yuzna
Stars: Billy Warlock, Devin DeVasquez, Evan Richards, Ben Meyerson
Rating: R
Runtime: 99 minutes

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Society is perhaps what you would have ended up with in the earlier ’80s if David Cronenberg had a more robust sense of humor. Rather, this bizarre deconstruction of Reagan-era yuppiehood came from Brian Yuzna, well-known to horror fans for his partnership with Stuart Gordon, which produced the likes of Re-Animator and From Beyond…and eventually Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, believe it or not. Society is a weird film on every level, a feverish descent into what may or may not be paranoia when a popular high school guy begins questioning whether his family members (and indeed, the entire town) are involved in some sinister, sexual, exceedingly icky business. Plot takes a backseat to dark comedy and a creepily foreboding sense that we’re building to a revelatory conclusion, which absolutely does not disappoint. The effects work, suffice to say, produces some of the most batshit crazy visuals in the history of film—there are disgusting sights here that you won’t see anywhere else, outside of perhaps an early Peter Jackson movie, a la Dead Alive. But Society’s ambitions are considerably grander than that Jackson’s gross-out classic: It takes aim at its own title and the tendency of insular communities to prey upon the outside world to create social satire of the highest (and grossest) order. —Jim Vorel


15. House on Haunted Hill

house-haunted-hill.jpg Year: 1959
Director: William Castle
Stars: Vincent Price, Carol Ohmart, Elisha Cook, Carolyn Craig, Alan Marshal, Julie Mitchum, Richard Long
Rating: N/A
Runtime: 75 minutes

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Every William Castle movie has its own campy charms, but House on Haunted Hill is the guy’s masterpiece. It’s got it all: Vincent Price at his goofiest, a big spooky house, a mystery and a profoundly non-frightening walking skeleton. The gimmick this time around was referred to by Castle as “Emergo,” and it amounted to a plastic skeleton on a pulley system being flown over the audience—not his most creative, but shameless enough that only Castle would stoop so low. To me, this is the quintessential 1950s horror film, even though it comes at the end of the decade. It’s totally tame by today’s standards but has some fun, over-the-top performances, a bit of witty dialog and a large helping of cheese. I can watch this thing over and over without ever getting tired of it. It’s like horror comfort food. The colorized version is even more fun, replacing the static black-and-white original with an unrealistic palette of brightly color-coded characters who will remind you of the cast of Clue. —Jim Vorel


16. Midsommar

midsommar-movie-poster.jpg Year: 2019
Director: Ari Aster
Stars: Florence Pugh, Jack Reynor, William Jackson Harper, Vilhelm Blomgren, Will Poulter
Rating: R
Runtime: 148 minutes

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Christian (Jack Reynor) cannot give Dani (Florence Pugh) the emotional ballast she needs to survive. This was probably the case even before the family tragedy that occurs in Midsommar’s literal cold open, in which flurries of snow limn the dissolution of Dani’s family. We’re dropped into her trauma, introduced to her only through her trauma and her need for support she can’t get. This is all we know about her: She is traumatized, and her boyfriend is barely decent enough to hold her, to stay with her because of a begrudging obligation to her fragile psyche. His long, deep sighs when they talk on the phone mirror the moaning, retching gasps Pugh so often returns to in panic and pain. Her performance is visceral. Midsommar is visceral. There is viscera, just, everywhere. As in his debut, Hereditary, writer-director Ari Aster casts Midsommar as a conflagration of grief—as in Hereditary, people burst into flames in Midsommar’s climactic moments—and no ounce of nuance will keep his characters from gasping, choking and hollering all the way to their bleakly inevitable ends. Moreso than in Hereditary, what one assumes will happen to our American 20-somethings does happen, prescribed both by decades of horror movie precedent and by the exigencies of Aster’s ideas about how human beings process tragedy. Aster births his worlds in pain and loss; chances are it’ll only get worse. — —Dom Sinacola


17. Exorcist III

exorcist 3 poster (Custom).jpg Year: 1990
Director: William Peter Blatty
Stars: George C. Scott, Ed Flanders, Jason Miller, Scott Wilson, Nicol Williamson, Brad Dourif
Rating: R
Runtime: 110 minutes

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Exorcist III, or Legion as it’s known in its director’s cut form, focuses on grizzled, sardonic police detective Kinderman, played in the film by George C. Scott and by Lee J. Cobb in The Exorcist. Kinderman was more of a bystander to the events of the original film, but they still haunt him, 15 years after the fact. The past comes roaring back with bloody vengeance—there’s a serial killer on the loose, and the murders seem to be connected to a mysterious patient locked up in a hospital psychiatric ward. And that mysterious patient just happens to look exactly like the deceased Father Damien Karras, one of the exorcists from the first film, who met an untimely end after launching himself out a window and tumbling down a particularly steep flight of stairs. What follows is a perpetually misunderstood and underrated horror film that is less a sequel to The Exorcist and more a channeler of the same disturbing spirit, complete with a few of the best jump scares in genre history. —Chris Evangelista


18. The Fog

the-fog-1980-poster.jpg Year: 1980
Director: John Carpenter
Stars: Adrienne Barbeau, Jamie Lee Curtis, Tom Atkins, John Houseman, Janet Leigh, Hal Holbrook
Rating: R
Runtime: 90 minutes

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If you’re a horror fan, it’s hard not to love the basic premise of The Fog, with its billowing clouds of white vapor that bring swift death along with them. John Carpenter’s follow-up to Halloween had a somewhat larger budget to work with, and the practical effects look great as a result, although it wasn’t as successful at the box office. Regardless, The Fog is a superior film from a production standpoint, reuniting Carpenter with Jamie Lee Curtis, albeit in a less important role. It concerns a Californian coastal town that is celebrating its 100th anniversary when dark secrets from the 1800s begin to emerge. Turns out that the “city fathers” committed some pretty serious crimes against humanity, and now a crew of restless revenants has returned to dish out some much-deserved revenge. Caught up in the madness is Adrienne Barbeau, Carpenter’s wife of the time, debuting on screen in the role that would make her a scream queen figure for decades. There’s simply a great sense of atmosphere in The Fog, especially in the dense, otherworldly way that the glowing banks of fog move throughout town, amplified by a signature John Carpenter synth soundtrack. Anyone who knows Carpenter would be able to pick out his unique style immediately. —Jim Vorel


19. Daniel Isn’t Real

daniel-isnt-real-movie-poster.jpg Year: 2019
Director: Adam Egypt Mortimer
Stars: Miles Robbins, Patrick Schwarzenegger, Sasha Lane, Mary Stuart Masterson, Hannah Marks, Chukwudi Iwuji, Peter McRobbie
Rating: NR
Runtime: 100 minutes

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Everyone has their demons: Maybe they grew up neglected, or trapped between warring parents—or maybe they saw things they shouldn’t have before they had the tools to process them. Some of these people manage to grow up well-adjusted in spite of their trauma. Others grow up keeping those demons close to their heart. Mercifully, none of this is literal, but what if, Adam Egypt Mortimer’s Daniel Isn’t Real asks, those demons look like the dashingly handsome spawn of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Maria Shriver? Mortimer weaponizes Patrick Schwarzenegger’s pedigree and good looks, turning him into both the best imaginary friend a loner like Luke (Miles Robbins, also the son of Hollywood royalty: Tim Robbins and Susan Sarandon) could ever hope to have, and the perfect catalyst for Luke’s transformation into an oily pickup artist at best and a true-to-form monster at worst. The subtext is on the surface—it’s a film about toxic masculinity—but Mortimer and his cast (which includes Sasha Lane, who takes the thankless role of “damsel trapped between hero and villain” and turns it into a performance of substance) shatter that surface, digging deep, then deeper, and then deeper still into the guts of that grossly overused pop psych phrase. What they find is thought-provoking insight into modern masculine identity. What they create with those insights is terrifying, a tactile smorgasbord of frights that wears its influences on its sleeve. (Would you guess that Mortimer loves Ridley Scott and Takashi Miike?) Those influences metastasize into one of 2019’s most memorable and original horror films. —Andy Crump


20. Lake Mungo

lake-mungo-poster.jpg Year: 2008
Director: Joel Anderson
Stars: Talia Zucker, Rosie Traynor, David Pledger
Rating: R
Runtime: 89 minutes

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And speaking of found footage, here’s another entry in the genre that has had considerably more positive critical attention. Lake Mungo could scarcely be more different from something like Grave Encounters—there are no ghosts or demons chasing screaming people down the hall, and it’s chiefly a story about family, emotion and our desire to seek closure after death. You could call it a member of the “mumblegore” family, without the gore. It centers around a family that has been shattered by a daughter’s drowning, and the family’s subsequent entanglement in what may or may not be a haunting, and the mother’s desire to determine what kind of life her daughter had been living. Powerfully acted and subtly shot, it’s a tense (if grainy) family drama with hints of the supernatural drifting around the fraying edges of their sanity. If there’s such a thing as “horror drama,” this documentary-style film deserves the title. —Jim Vorel


21. Night of the Demons

night-of-the-demons-poster.jpg Year: 1988
Director: Kevin S. Tenney
Stars: Cathy Podewell, Amelia Kinkade, Linnea Quigley, Hal Havins, William Gallo, Alvin Alexis
Rating: R
Runtime: 89 minutes

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Night of the Demons is one of the most purely enjoyable entries in the late ’80s horror subgenre of “a bunch of young people go to a spooky location and all wind up dead,” which arguably reached its zenith a year earlier in Evil Dead 2. Make no mistake, this film can’t compete with the slap-sticky wit of early Sam Raimi, nor are any of its performers a Bruce Campbell quip machine in the making, but Night of the Demons makes up for it with shameless raunchiness and a generally gleeful attitude toward the demise of its characters. These guys are broad, amusing pastiches of different archetypes in 1980s youth culture, in much the same way as the teens from Return of the Living Dead, right down to the presence of Linnea Quigley. Yes, she’s naked here, although it’s at least not for the majority of the film, as in ROTLD. Instead, come for the top-notch makeup effects and the sick, sophomoric sense of humor. This one makes for perfectly appropriate Halloween-season viewing, as its “let’s get together in a haunted house for a Halloween party” premise is just begging for a cadre of demons to run amok. And so they do, with gory aplomb. —Jim Vorel


22. Dead & Buried

dead and buried poster (Custom).jpg Year: 1981
Director: Gary Sherman
Stars: James Farentino, Melody Anderson, Jack Albertson, Dennis Redfield, Nancy Locke, Robert Englund
Rating: R
Runtime: 82 minutes

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Dead & Buried is a thoroughly unusual horror film that revolves around the reanimated dead, but in a way all its own. In a small New England coastal town, a rash of murders breaks out among those visiting the town. Unknown to the town sheriff, those bodies never quite make it to their graves … but people who look just like the murdered visitors are walking the streets as permanent residents. The zombies here are different in their autonomy and ability to act on their own and pass for human, although they do answer to a certain leader … but who is it? The film is part murder mystery, part cult story and part zombie flick, and it features some absolutely gross creature work and gore from the legendary Stan Winston. It’s just a movie with a feel all its own, and one notable for some unusual casting choices. That includes a pre-Nightmare on Elm Street Robert Englund as one of the possibly zombified town locals, and, in a major role, Jack Albertson (Grandpa Joe from Willy Wonka) as the eccentric, jazz-loving town coroner/mortician, who steals every scene he’s in. More people should see this weird little film. — Jim Vorel


23. 30 Days of Night

30 days of night poster (Custom).jpg Year: 2007
Director: David Slade
Starring: Josh Hartnett, Melissa George, Danny Huston, Ben Foster, Mark Boone Junior
Rating: R
Runtime: 114 minutes

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With sparkly, emo vampires being all the rage amongst tweens and slash/fic enthusiasts at the time, the big screen adaptation of Steve Niles and Ben Templesmith’s comic book miniseries, 30 Days of Night, could easily be seen as something of a balm for true horror fans. There are no tragic or misunderstood monsters as far as the guyliner’d eye can see; the vampires here—led by Danny Huston’s vicious Marlow—are savage, pitiless, bloodsucking ghouls. Despite the unfortunate blank space in the center of the film where town sheriff Josh Harnett’s command of the screen should be, the movie faithfully captures the source material’s terror of a small Alaskan town falling prey to ravenous creatures, and dawn is an entire, excruciating month away. Rarely does a horror setting seem quite so hopeless as it does here. —Scott Wold


24. Suspiria

suspiria-movie-poster.jpg Year: 2018
Director: Luca Guadagnino
Starring: Dakota Johnson, Tilda Swinton, Mia Goth, Angela Winkler, Ingrid Caven
Rating: R
Runtime: 153 minutes

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Dario Argento’s original synthesized his many experiments with the giallo form—the mid-century thrillers and violent crime stores much of Argento’s peers were churning out—into something essential. Gone were the questions of whodunit, the investigative layer of procedure litigating how such evil could make its way into this world, replaced by both a focus on the victims of this murder mystery and a sensual connection to the horrors flaying their young bodies apart. That the film takes place in Munich’s Tanz Dance Academy, though little dancing occurs, projects the film’s insinuated physicality onto the walls and floor as chimeric splashes of fairy tale color, especially (of course) red—we always remember the red—its vibrancy emphasized by Goblin’s monolithic score. Women, in Argento’s film, are vessels: for life, for gore, for art. Luca Guadagnino’s remake, and David Kajganich’s screenplay, simply tell the audience this—over and over and over. What Argento implied, Guadagnino makes literal. And so much of Guadagnino’s film is about transformation—how Germany had to reimagine itself to break the spell of its evil past; how art contorts oneself, irrevocably changes those who create it; how even the media in which the director works must adapt and mature and evolve to transcend the reluctance that a movie like Suspiria maybe should have been remade in 2018 at all. What Argento made subtext, Guadagnino reveals as text: As much as Suspiria explored the essence of giallo, Guadagnino explores the essence of Suspiria. Less fetishized, much less fantasized, the violence of 2018’s Suspiria is so much more harrowing than Argento’s, because Suspiria 1977 is its violence, and Suspiria 2018 wields its violence like an upsetting symbol, simultaneously too real and too absurd. Much of Guadagnino’s Suspiria feels beholden to nothing, indulgent and overwrought, existing only for itself. Art should never have to justify its own existence, but also: Why does this exist? What motivations conceived this film that seems to want very little—to maybe even dislike—the movie on which it’s based? And yet, it’s unforgettable, as ravishing as anything Guadagnino’s lazily captured in the Italian countryside, as disturbing as any horror film you’ve seen this year and, like the 1977 original, unlike anything you’ve ever felt helplessly drawn to before. —Dom Sinacola


25. Climax

climax-movie-poster.jpg Year: 2019
Director: Gaspar Noé
Starring: Sofia Boutella, Kiddy Smile, Roman Guillermic, Souhelia Yacoub, Claude Gajan Maull, Giselle Palmer
Rating: R
Runtime: 96 minutes

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Gaspar Noé has been so openly confrontational and provocative for so long that it’s easy to forget just how powerful a filmmaker he can be. He is deliberately repulsive, sometimes to the detriment of his own films; I don’t care how structurally inventive Irreversible is, I am never, ever sitting through that goddamned movie again. But there is an undeniable hypnotic fervor to his movies, from the sordid (but also sort of lovely) kink of Love to the elliptical madness of Enter the Void. The immediate thrill of Climax, Noé’s newest and unquestionably best film, is how, for the first time, you see him letting go a little bit, releasing some of his notorious control, letting his films and (most important) his characters breathe a little bit—to be themselves. It opens with home-camera footage—the film takes place in 1996, for reasons that I’d probably understand a lot better if I were French—of a series of dancers, readying for a troupe tour of the United States, answering questions about their hopes and dreams, their desires, their fears, their basic motivations. It’s a slick, kind of cheap, but still incredibly effective way for Noé to give us just enough information about these dancers that we feel for them when they go through whatever Noé is about to put them through. (And you know he’s going to put them through something.) But it’s what comes next that’s most exciting: during rehearsal, a glorious dance routine featuring the entire crew, both meticulously choreographed and thrillingly improvised, expressing themselves the best way they know how. Noé’s camera swirls around in one long take, and the effect is breathtaking: It is as alive and electric as anything Noé’s ever done. Now you’re really invested in this crew…which, as Noé’s counting on, was your first mistake. It turns out, someone has spiked the sangria for the post-rehearsal part with LSD, and, apparently, a lot of it. Even if he puts all these people through the ringer—and oh, does he!—there is inspiration here: For the first time, it feels like the pain he’s putting everybody through is something he feels, too. It’s a most encouraging switch for Noé, and bodes well for him moving forward. It’s turned him into less of a Lars Von Trier geek show. Not to say that the ending doesn’t pack a wallop regardless. Noé, for all his newfound pseudo-humanism, isn’t going to send you home wanting for misery. But there is…well, not hope, exactly, but call it catharsis. He’s as uncompromising, and as resolutely himself, as ever. It’s just that there might be a little more shading and warmth inside Noé than maybe even he himself realized. Don’t misinterpret, though: This is Gaspar Noé Warmth, not normal human being warmth. Rest assured, his world remains no place for children. —Will Leitch


26. Grave Encounters

grave encounters poster (Custom).jpg Year: 2011
Directors: Colin Minihan and Stuart Ortiz, “The Vicious Brothers”
Stars: Sean Rogerson, Ashleigh Gryzko, Mackenzie Gray, Juan Riedinger, Merwin Mondesir, Matthew K. McBride
Rating: N/A
Runtime: 95 minutes

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It’s hard to understand why Grave Encounters doesn’t have a better reputation among horror geeks, who largely seem to be aware of it but deride the found-footage movie as either derivative or cheesy. In our own estimation, it’s one of the best found footage offerings of the last decade, and certainly one of the most legitimately frightening, as well as humorous when it wants to be. It’s structured as a pitch-perfect parody of inane TV ghost-hunting shows, in the style of Travel Channel’s Ghost Adventures, and imagines the satisfying results of what might happen when one of these crews full of charlatans is subjected to a genuinely evil location. But Grave Encounters goes beyond what is expected of it—you hear that premise and expect some frantic, handicam running around and screaming in the dark, but it delivers far more. The FX work, on a small budget, is some of the best you’re ever going to see in a found-footage film, and the nature of the haunting is significantly more mind-bending and ambitious than it first appears. We’ll continue to defend this film, although you should steer clear of the less inspired sequel. —Jim Vorel


27. Vivarium

vivarium-poster.jpg Year: 2020
Director: Lorcan Finnegan
Stars: Jesse Eisenberg, Imogen Poots
Rating: R
Runtime: 97 minutes

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A quirky real estate story, where first-time homeowners Tom (Jesse Eisenberg) and Gemma (Imogen Poots) get a lot more than they bargained for, Vivarium is a low-key sci-fi nightmare of the mundane in the vein of early David Cronenberg. Director Lorcan Finnegan’s film also functions as a relationship allegory, where Tom and Gemma find themselves stuck in a trendy neighborhood of cookie-cutter homes where starting a family isn’t just an expectation but something foisted upon them. It isn’t as grisly as something like Shivers, but more affecting in its surreal design and hopelessness. Eisenberg and Poots own the screen as a disintegrating couple coping in distinct ways to their newfound terrarium where they are observed, manipulated, and—perhaps most disturbingly of all—objectively provided for by unseen and undefinable forces. Its 2020 release feels especially fitting as repetition and hopelessness become permanent residents of the couple’s home. Genre elements seep into the film, accelerating in hiccups and starts that are as arresting as the film’s intentionally artificial design. Startling sound dubbing, odd colorizing, and a few genuine “Oh shit” moments make Vivarium a tight, nasty fable that would fit in with the best Twilight Zone episodes. —Jacob Oller


28. The Taking of Deborah Logan

Deborah-logan-poster.png Year: 2014
Director: Adam Robitel
Stars: Jill Larson, Anne Ramsay, Michelle Ang, Ryan Cutrona
Rating: R
Runtime: 90 minutes

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This recent spin on the extremely crowded possession genre is the real definition of a mixed bag. Its initial premise is solid, as it follows a college film crew documenting the titular senior citizen, who is battling Alzheimer’s disease. What they don’t realize is that someone or something else may have been welcomed into Deborah’s mind as her mental faculties weaken. The film gets points for stylishness on a budget, and especially for the chilling, nuanced performance by Jill Larson as Deborah, but it’s eventually unable to sustain itself in the last third, becoming increasingly divorced from logic. There are moments of great, disturbing imagery, but that’s counterbalanced by characters who act incredibly irrationally—even for a horror film. It becomes more and more difficult to find reasons for any of the story being filmed at all, which leads to an ending that some might label a cop-out. But with that said, it’s still a far cry better than most entries in either the found footage or possession subgenres, with inherent style winning out over tight scripting. —Jim Vorel


29. Phantasm

phantasm-poster.jpg Year: 1979
Director: Don Coscarelli
Stars: Michael Baldwin, Bill Thornbury, Reggie Bannister, Kathy Lester, Angus Scrimm
Rating: R
Runtime: 89 minutes

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There are few easier fights to pick among horror geeks than attempting to debate the relative merits of Phantasm sequels, but at least enthusiasm for Don Coscarelli’s 1979 original has never been hard to find. Phantasm is as alluring as it is strange, a dreamy mix of science fiction and haunted house tropes anchored by the gaunt visage of actor Angus Scrimm, portraying the sour-faced “Tall Man” who would become the recurring antagonist of the series. It seems inscrutable on purpose, hinting at elements of its weird internal mythology that will never quite get paid off, but at the same time it also delivers the horror goods via stylish death sequences. In particular, the Tall Man’s floating, bladed orb of death has become a classic horror film prop that naturally shows up in all the sequels, but in terms of iconic moments we have to recommend the final, perfectly executed “BOY!” jump scare, which nicely presaged the ending of Wes Craven’s Nightmare on Elm Street at the same time. —Jim Vorel


30. Nightbreed


nightbreed poster (Custom).jpg Year: 1990
Director: Clive Barker
Stars: Craig Sheffer, Anne Bobby, David Cronenberg, Charlie Haid, Hugh Quarshie, Hugh Ross
Rating: R
Runtime: 99 minutes

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Nightbreed is an odd duck of a movie, stranded somewhere between legitimate horror film and dark fantasy story. Clive Barker directs, only a few years after Hellraiser, but here his ambition perhaps got the best of him. It’s pretty clear that he wanted Nightbreed to be something akin to a horror epic, a movie with a profound message about identity, acceptance and community. In execution, though, it has a hard time picking what tone it’s supposed to be emanating. Sometimes it’s darkly humorous. Sometimes it’s legitimately spooky. Other times you’re not sure whether you’re supposed to be taking the action on screen seriously or not. One thing that is spectacular throughout is the art direction, sets, costuming and makeup. Some of the character designs may come off as “silly,” but just as many of them are likely to end up in your nightmares. Nightbreed is a mixed bag, a would-be inspiring story about monsters trying to build a safe community to peacefully live their lives, but lacking the iconic nature of Barker’s most famous creations. —Jim Vorel


31. The Loved Ones

the-loved-ones-poster.jpg Year: 2009
Director: Sean Byrne
Stars: Xavier Samuel, Robin McLeavy, Victoria Thaine, Jessica McNamee, Richard Wilson, John Brumpton
Rating: R
Runtime: 84 minutes

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Whatever Lola wants, Lola gets, and in the twisted Aussie horror The Loved Ones, young Lola wants a perfect date for the perfect dance. Lola fixates on Brent, a tortured, drug-binging senior who accidentally killed his father in a car accident on the road near Lola’s house. On prom night, Brent ends up on the road near Lola’s once more, and she pulls him into a nightmarish prom of her own. The Loved Ones is gruesome, and Brent endures torture at Lola’s hands that would make most grown men give up hope. Despite being depressed and nearly suicidal before Lola kidnapped him, he finds an incredible will to live once he’s trapped. Brent is a true survivor, played with nuance by rising Australian star Xavier Samuel. The film’s twist cements Brent’s place as one of the great “final guys” of horror, and one who endured some of the nastiest punishment on this list. —Danielle Ryan


32. Teeth

teeth poster (Custom).jpg Year: 2007
Director: Mitchell Lichtenstein
Starring: Jess Weixler, John Hensley, Josh Pais, Hale Appleman, Ashley Springer, Lenny Von Dohlen
Rating: R
Runtime: 88 minutes

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You’ll find Teeth lodged in a crevasse somewhere between black comedy and horror film. A uniquely disturbing flick with a premise likely to gauge your reaction to it before you’ve ever actually seen it, it’s, to put it bluntly, about a young, abstinent girl whose first sexual experiences reveal a rare, deadly (and fictional) condition known as “vagina dentata”: teeth where teeth really should not be. You could try playing that kind of story completely seriously, and it would probably be truly horrifying, but Teeth instead is presented almost like a teenage sex comedy gone horribly wrong, with beats that almost remind one of, say, American Pie, except for all of the severed sex organs. It’s often wickedly funny, though, centered around a great performance by Jess Weixler as the protagonist. It’s like Sixteen Candles if Molly Ringwald had spent the entire movie leaving a trail of maimed boys in her wake. —Jim Vorel


33. Creepshow 2

creepshow-2-poster.jpg Year: 1987
Director: Michael Gornick
Stars: Lois Chiles, George Kennedy, Dorothy Lamour, Tam Savini
Rating: R
Runtime: 92 minutes

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Creepshow 2 is very much a 1980s horror sequel in the sense that it attempts to largely replicate what audiences enjoyed about the first film in its series without mucking around too much with the formula, and produces a good (but not quite great) effort in the process. Things are hurt a bit here by the reduction in overall stories from five to three, which puts more weight on each individual entry. “Old Chief Wood’nhead” and “The Hitch-hiker” each have their moments, the first feeling like an HBO Tales From the Crypt episode and the latter like a Twilight Zone entry, but it’s “The Raft” that is really worth the price of admission here. One of Stephen King’s most simple stories makes for superb anthology content, with a premise that just can’t be beat: A group of teens are trapped on a raft in the middle of a lake, stalked by a blob-like creature that dissolves everything it touches, with spectacularly gory results. It’s like the 1980s remake of The Blob from Chuck Russell, simply cutting out backstory and subtext to focus on pure, primal action. Will the kids survive, or will they all be reduced to a pile of bones at the bottom of the lake? —Jim Vorel


34. I Know What You Did Last Summer

i-know-what-you-did-poster.jpg Year: 1997
Director: Jim Gillespie
Stars: Jennifer Love Hewitt, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Ryan Phillippe, Freddie Prinze Jr., Johnny Galecki, Bridgette Wilson
Rating: R
Runtime: 101 minutes

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It’s sort of ironic that writer Kevin Williamson followed up Scream (no, Wes Craven didn’t actually write the screenplay for Scream), the film that revitalized the tired slasher genre in 1996 by examining its tropes and cliches, by writing a true-to-form, classical, ’80s-style slasher, but that’s exactly what he did. Whereas Scream sets out to reinvent—or more accurately, wink at—the wheel, I Know What You Did Last Summer had no such grand ambitions in mind. This is instead a movie made to capitalize on the former, although it does so with style. In truth, it seems heavily inspired by slashers in the mold of Prom Night in particular, wherein the guilty parties in an old crime are hunted down one by one. As for the cast, it’s just about the most ’90s assemblage in horror history, from Sarah Michelle Gellar and Jennifer Love Hewitt to Ryan Phillippe and Freddie Prinze Jr., each more perfectly coiffed than the last. Even the famous chase scene of Prom Night gets revisited, but even more than was true in the ’80s, the true purpose of the film is to show off its nubile young cast of budding stars. It’s fun as a time capsule—perhaps more fun now than it was in 1997, truth be told—but it will always find itself in Scream’s shadow. —Jim Vorel


35. Monsters

monsters poster (Custom).jpg
Year: 2010
Director: Gareth Edwards
Starring: Scoot McNairy, Whitney Able
Rating: R
Runtime: 94 minutes

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Monsters is a well-made little film that gave the world its first look at director Gareth Edwards, who parlayed his micro-budget success (budget under $500,000) into a chance to direct blockbusters Godzilla and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story—an incredible leap forward in prominence in the film community. Monsters, on the other hand, is almost like a sci-fi relationship drama, a film about a journalist tasked with escorting a tourist across a dangerous, quarantined zone of Central America that has become home to alien lifeforms. Edwards skillfully makes the most of on-location shooting and very limited FX to evoke a sense of how the aliens are changing the planet, and of how their arrival changed everything for mankind. Ultimately, though, you’re watching this film for the performances and subtle interplay between its characters rather than any kind of spectacle. Go in looking for a scary movie or action romp, and you’ll be disappointed. You need to take it for what it is: A realistic story about what it might be like for two average people with complicated emotional baggage being thrust into a challenging scenario. Whatever you do, just don’t see the 2014 sequel in name only, Monsters: Dark Continent. —Jim Vorel


36. The Lair of the White Worm

lair-of-the-white-worm-poster.jpg Year: 1988
Director: Ken Russell
Stars: Amanda Donohoe, Hugh Grant, Catherine Oxenberg, Peter Capaldi, Sammi Davis, Stratford Johns
Rating: R
Runtime: 93 minutes

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Ken Russell may have grown less critically lauded with age, but no one will ever argue that he grew any less strange. Case in point: The Lair of the White Worm. Based on the novel of the same name by Bram Stoker (one infinitely less celebrated than Dracula), the film stars future Doctor Who thespian Peter Capaldi as a Scottish archaeologist who inadvertently releases a vampiric snake monster that begins tormenting those responsible for slaying it in a past life . Also featuring Amanda Donohoe and Hugh Grant in one of his earliest film roles, White Worm serves as a nice slice of latter-day Russell mania. Nestled somewhere between a Oscar Wilde comedy-of-manners and a monster movie on acid, it’s a film that defies characterization. —Mark Rozeman


37. House

house poster (Custom).jpg Year: 1986
Director: Steve Miner
Stars: William Katt, George Wendt, Richard Moll, Kay Lenz
Rating: R
Runtime: 93 minutes

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House is a legitimately odd film, and not an easy one to classify. I’ve read descriptions before that called it a “horror comedy,” but it’s not trying nearly hard enough to be funny to qualify on the “comedy” side of the spectrum—nor is it serious enough in most of its scares to be legitimately frightening. Instead, it’s trapped in some kind of limbo in between; memorable in spurts for its idiosyncrasies. Our protagonist is a Stephen King-like horror novelist who suffers traumatic flashbacks to both his time in Vietnam and the unexplained disappearance of his son. He moves into the old, crumbling manor of a recently deceased aunt, where he begins to experience terrifying nightmares and is attacked by a variety of creatures, which may or may not be in his head—think Jacob’s Ladder, but far goofier. George Wendt of Cheers makes an amusing appearance as the next door neighbor, but what most people remember about House (besides the iconic poster) is its unpredictability and Vietnam-inspired horrors. — Jim Vorel


38. Hellbound: Hellraiser 2

hellraiser 2 poster (Custom).jpg Year: 1988
Director: Tony Randel
Stars: Clare Higgins, Ashley Laurence, Kenneth Cranham
Rating: R
Runtime: 93 minutes

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Hellbound is a somewhat divisive sequel among horror fans, but we can all at least agree on one thing: It’s much, much better than any of the approximately 57 additional Hellraiser sequels that followed, most of which will make you wish the Cenobites were gouging your eyes out with their rusty hooks. It’s actually a more ambitious, somewhat less intimate film than the first Hellraiser, greatly expanding upon the mythos of the series as Kirsty must journey to the hellish dimension of the demonic Cenobites to oppose an evil doctor whose dreams of power transform him into a Cenobite himself. The lovely Ashley Laurence returns as the protagonist, along with a young, emotionally disturbed girl who is adept at solving puzzles, which almost gives it the feel of a Nightmare on Elm Street sequel such as Dream Warriors. The Cenobites themselves get a little bit watered down from their nigh omnipotence in the original film, but the settings and effects are great for the meager budget and do as good a job as anyone could reasonably do of translating the twisted vision of Clive Barker to the screen. —Jim Vorel


39. Hell House LLC

hell house llc poster (Custom).jpg Year: 2015
Director: Stephen Cognetti
Stars: Ryan Jennifer, Danny Bellini, Gore Abrams, Jared Hacker, Adam Schneider, Alice Bahlke
Rating: N/A
Runtime: 83 minutes

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This is just about as lean and minimalist a concept as you can choose for a modern found footage horror movie, but Hell House LLC is much more a practice in execution than imaginative settings. It’s the documentary-style story of a haunted house crew that picks a decidedly wrong location for their attraction, and boom—they all wind up dead. Very standard set-up for a “no one gets out alive” entry in the found footage genre, but Hell House LLC actually does have some inspiring scares and performances. It gets a whole lot out of very small set-ups and deliveries, such as the shifting positioning of props and the life-size (and appropriately horrifying) clown costumes, shooting scenes in what looks very much like “real time,” with no cuts. There’s a naturalistic air to the actors’ sense of frustration and unease as weird events start to mount, but of course it all goes quite off the deep end and into unintentional humor in the closing moments. Still, there are many islands of genuine, blood pressure-raising fear in this well-executed film. Certainly, it’s better than most found footage efforts in the post-Paranormal Activity landscape. —Jim Vorel


40. The Dead Zone

the dead zone poster (Custom).jpg Year: 1983
Director: David Cronenberg
Stars: Christopher Walken, Brooke Adams, Tom Skerritt, Herbert Lom, Anthony Zerbe, Colleen Dewhurst, Martin Sheen
Rating: R
Runtime: 103 minutes

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As expected from a King adaptation, we’re once again dealing with a protagonist who has telekinetic powers that he doesn’t want, and it depends on the course of the story and the choices that the character makes to find out if that gift becomes a curse, or if the curse becomes a gift. For the first half of The Dead Zone, David Cronenberg’s tightly wound and twist-filled thriller, the first outcome seems to be the case, as Johnny Smith (Christopher Walken) uses his newfound powers of touching people and being able to see into their secrets and pasts to help those in need. Then the latter outcome presents itself, as Johnny is forced to dispose of a presidential candidate (Martin Sheen) who will certainly bring about nuclear holocaust. Sound familiar? Also, minor spoiler, does anyone really think Trump won’t use a baby as a human shield to save his own life? Perhaps The Dead Zone itself has powers of premonition. This is one of Cronenberg’s most accessible films, with a fairly straightforward mystery-horror structure, but this doesn’t stop him from building a mood full of dread and confusion, right from the terrifically enigmatic opening titles. Walken had the ability to come across as a likable everyman, a conduit for the audience, before his oft-imitated mannerisms turned him into a caricature. He displays that side of his work really efficiently here. —Oktay Ege Kozak


41. Body Bags

body-bags-poster.jpg Year: 1993
Directors: John Carpenter, Tobe Hooper, Larry Sulkis
Stars: Stacy Keach, Mark Hamill, David Warner, Sheena Easton, Debbie Harry, Twiggy, Robert Carradine
Rating: R
Runtime: 91 minutes

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Sometimes, even anthologies with less-than-stellar stories can get by on sheer charming commitment to gross-out delights, and that’s John Carpenter’s Body Bags for you. Originally conceived as a gorier, more grotesque spin on the Tales From the Crypt formula for Showtime, the series was cancelled after only a few potential episodes had been filmed. Not wanting to lose the material, Carpenter simply assembled his favorites into a feature film. Each segment isn’t particularly memorable, except for the closer, which features Mark Hamill as a baseball player who loses an eye and then gains the eye of a serial killer via a donation. You can guess where things go from there. What is memorable about Body Bags is the goofy wraparound segments, which feature Carpenter himself as a Crypt Keeper-esque mortician who gleefully hacks apart bodies and drinks formaldehyde, showing a much lighter hearted personality than you’d expect from the director of dour films like The Thing or Prince of Darkness. It’s fun to watch Body Bags today for the not-so-subtle genre references (“Another grisly murder in Haddonfield today…”) and the incredible array of character actors and cameos that were lined up, including the likes of Wes Craven as a leering perv, Stacy Keach as a guy receiving miracle hair transplants, Charles Napier as a baseball manager, Twiggy as a housewife (reuniting these two from The Blues Brothers), Roger Corman as a doctor, Tom Arnold as a mortician and Sam Raimi as a corpse. —Jim Vorel


42. Trilogy of Terror

trilogy-of-terror-poster.jpg Year: 1975
Director: Dan Curtis
Starring: Karen Black, Robert Burton, John Karlen, George Gaynes
Rating: R
Runtime: 72 minutes

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Many horror anthologies, especially older ones, are known to modern audiences specifically for a single entry, and this is especially the case in Trilogy of Terror, which first aired on ABC in March of 1975. Although all three segments star actress Karen Black and are based on the stories of Richard Matheson, it’s “Amelia” that captivated audiences: a quirky tale about a young woman who lives alone in a high-rise apartment, where she is menaced by an African “Zuni fetish doll” that magically comes to life wielding a spear and ludicrously large knife. It’s a silly, slavering, racially questionable antagonist, but its design is also surprisingly unnerving—although it’s hard to take the story seriously with Black’s over-the-top performance. The other two parts of this particular anthology are competent but less zany, mostly relying on Black’s sex appeal. “Amelia” remains the highlight, in a cheesily ’70s sort of way. —Jim Vorel


43. Chopping Mall

chopping mall poster (Custom).jpg Year: 1986
Director: Jim Wynorski
Stars: Kelli Maroney, Tony O’Dell, John Terlesky, Suzee Slater, Barbara Crampton, Russell Todd
Rating: R
Runtime: 95 minutes

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Calling Chopping Mall the best film by director Jim Wynorski isn’t saying much—at all—but it remains a minor ’80s horror/sci-fi classic despite that. The premise is irresistible pulp, dressed in ’80s neon teen fashion—a group of kids hide out in the mall past closing time so they can party (and score) in one of the furniture stores overnight. Little do they know, however, that the mall recently unveiled a new fleet of deadly efficient security robots that are, shall we say, more than a little twitchy. The cast gives us Kelli Maroney, who also appears in the similarly teen-inflected Night of the Comet, and Roger Corman regular Dick Miller as the janitor, once again playing his signature role: “that guy who gets killed in an ’80s horror movie.” It’s a desperate fight for survival as the kids face off against the robots like the zombies of Dawn of the Dead, except with much more gallows humor. Today, genre fans are likely to fondly remember Chopping Mall for the fact that it contains one of the greatest single practical effects of the era; the graphic explosion of Suzee Slater’s head, followed by the robot’s wry line of “Thank you, have a nice day.” You’ve gotta love it. —Jim Vorel


44. April Fool’s Day

april-fools-day-1986-poster.jpg Year: 1986
Director: Fred Walton
Stars: Jay Baker, Deborah Foreman, Thomas F. Wilson, Deborah Goodrich, Ken Olandt, Amy Steel
Rating: R
Runtime: 89 minutes

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April Fool’s Day is rote, until it isn’t; predictable until it turns the tables, and very difficult to assess as a result. It begins with a setup that would be at home in just about any early ’80s slasher, lining up potential red herrings aplenty, and then proceeds in businesslike fashion from there, slowly picking off members of a group of young people who are spending spring break together at a remote island mansion. In fact, the violence of April Fool’s Day stands out for how chaste it seems throughout most of its runtime, to the point where it will likely perplex viewers … right up until they understand the reason for it. Ultimately, this is one of those films you can’t talk about without discussing its ending, and whether or not the audience chooses to accept that ending—and the massive logical gaps it immediately highlights—is going to be the determining factor in whether someone chooses to describe April Fool’s Day as “innovative” or “cheap.” We could go either way, but at the very least, it features some of the better performances you’ll find in this genre in the ’80s, including Thomas F. Wilson, one year after he played “Biff” in the first entry of the Back to the Future trilogy. —Jim Vorel


45. Children of the Corn

48. children of the corn (Custom).jpg Year: 1984
Director: Fritz Kiersch
Stars: Peter Horton, Linda Hamilton
Rating: R
Runtime: 92 minutes

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It’s not often that the adults should be the ones afraid to watch a horror movie with kids, but it would be hard not to look at kids differently after 1984’s Children of the Corn, one of the higher-profile entries in horror’s “kids kill all the adults” subgenre. The film focuses on a cult in a fictional Gatlin, Nebraska, led by child preacher Isaac, who is convinced by an entity called He Who Walks Behind the Rows that all adults over 18 should get the axe. We see Burt and Vicky (played by Peter Horton and Linda Hamilton) struggle to escape the small town after driving through and hitting a young, dying boy with their car. There’s plenty of slasher scares and creepy visuals, but like any good horror movie, it’s a commentary on society, man, and like Lord of the Flies before it, this Stephen King-based story looks toward our kids to point out the oddities of our culture (including an obsession with religion). —Tyler Kane


46. C.H.U.D.

chud poster (Custom).jpg Year: 1984
Director: Douglas Cheek
Stars: John Heard, Daniel Stern, Christopher Curry
Rating: R
Runtime: 88 minutes

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It stands for “Cannibalistic Humanoid Underground Dwellers,” if you were wondering. C.H.U.D. is a product of its time, the sort of mid-’70s/early ’80s horror film that sets itself in street-level New York City when the Big Apple was renowned as the crime-ridden cesspit of the nation. Cynical as hell, it imagines a race of cannibal monsters created by toxic waste dumped into the New York sewers, where it transforms the local homeless population. In execution, it’s sort of like a Troma film that has a larger budget, maintaining a grimy and tasteless aesthetic that nevertheless has a memorable quality that is hard to define. I think the effects are a part of that—quite icky, but fleeting. I look at this scene of a C.H.U.D. being beheaded and can’t decide if it’s terrible, awesome or terribly awesome. C.H.U.D. has lived an entire second life as comedy material, with references ranging from The Simpsons to an April Fools prank from the Criterion Collection. — Jim Vorel


47. Head Count

head-count-movie-poster.jpg Year: 2019
Director: Elle Callahan
Stars: Isaac Jay, Jay Lee, Ashleigh Morghan
Rating: NR
Runtime: 90 minutes

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Imagine the hopeless paranoia of John Carpenter’s The Thing mashed together with the languid atmosphere of David Robert Mitchell’s It Follows, in which isolated youth are hunted down by a relentless force capable of hiding in plain sight by mimicking their appearances. That’s Elle Callahan’s Head Count, a film with a dreamlike tone slowly overridden by an inexplicable nightmare. When a gaggle of 20-somethings get together at Joshua Tree for a mini vacation, they do what characters so frequently do in horror movies: Read a spooky story that accidentally summons a monster. In this case the monster is the Hisji, a shape-shifting entity that breaks prey psychologically before the killing begins. Accordingly, Callahan relishes the mental component of Head Count’s basic conceit, allowing the cast to slowly give in to suspicion and distrust while capitalizing on their collective uncertainty. At every turn, Callahan creates opportunities to scare the crap out of her audience, often in broad daylight or a well-illuminated room, where the viewer leasts expect to be terrified. The film violates safety and sanctuary on the strength of Callahan’s shrewd filmmaking. There’s room for improvement—the monster ultimately has too much origin for its own good—but Head Count is self-assured in its craftsmanship and announces Callahan as a director with promise and perspective. —Andy Crump


48. Jaws 2

jaws 2 poster (Custom).jpg Year: 1978
Director: Jeannot Szwarc
Stars: Roy Scheider, Lorraine Gary, Murray Hamilton
Rating: PG
Runtime: 116 minutes

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Jaws 2, even more than most sequels, suffers in comparison to the original classic it follows despite being a competent film in its own right. It was a different time in film promotion—even for a blockbuster, a sequel wasn’t a forgone conclusion, and even then you weren’t likely to be working with a comparable budget. Jaws 2 didn’t hurt for funding, but it did miss the presence of Steven Spielberg, whose empathy and pathos for everyman characters can’t quite be replicated, even by the returning cast. Too many aspects of Jaws 2 simply ring hollow—would it really be THAT hard to convince local government and law enforcement that another shark was around, only a couple of years after the events of the first film? Must we really spend our time with the townspeople demonizing poor Brody for trying to bring this shark business to the forefront once again? Still, the grisly shark attack scenes of Jaws 2 (especially the iconic waterskiing bit, or the shark-destroyed helicopter) are much closer to being on par with the original, and they vastly outstrip the shoddy, budget-limited dreck in Jaws 3-D or Jaws: The Revenge. On its own, Jaws 2 is perfectly serviceable … but it’s the last entry in the series you could ever describe as such, and the last worthwhile “shark movie” released for a decade or more. —Jim Vorel


49. Last Shift

last shift poster.jpg Year: 2014
Director: Anthony DiBlasi
Stars: Juliana Harkavy, Joshua Mikel, J. LaRose, Mary Lankford, Natalie Victoria, Sarah Sculco
Rating: R
Runtime: 87 minutes

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Last Shift doesn’t really aspire to much, other than to cheaply hit all the notes the director believes it’s supposed to hit. Essentially a one-woman, one-location show, it follows a rookie police officer on her first day on the job, working the overnight shift in an old police station that is about to be shuttered. Unfortunately for her, the various atrocities and bits of violence committed at the location over the years have made this station somewhere between “paranormal hotspot” and “portal to hell dimension.” We’re given some minor exposition about a cult who met a grisly end around the premises, but the majority of the film is simply a procession of well-worn tropes, as our heroine wanders the office, makes terrible choices and observes spooky phenomena. One can at least say that Last Shift looks quite nice for its budget, and there are a handful of effective jump scares sprinkled throughout, but it has a definite air of “bargain bin” about it. —Jim Vorel


50. Mulberry Street

mulberry-street-poster.jpg Year: 2006
Director: Jim Mickle
Starring: Nick Damici, Kim Blair, Ron Brice, Bo Corre, Tim House, Larry Fleischman
Rating: R
Runtime: 85 minutes

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Zombies are natural bedfellows with low-budget horror and have been ever since NOTLD. It’s simply not that expensive to apply zombie makeup and have an actor chew on some fake guts. Likewise with the found footage genre—ever since Paranormal Activity and Romero’s own Diary of the Dead in 2007, there have been dozens if not hundreds of cheap, found-footage zombie films. Mulberry Street, on the other hand, doesn’t lean on the found footage crutch, but it does look exceedingly low-budget. Still, this first feature film of capable young horror director Jim Mickle (Stake Land, We Are What We Are) feels confident and far deeper than it has to be. Depicting what is essentially a street-level zombie epidemic in downtown Manhattan, it’s like a zombie film as made by an impoverished Robert Altman, weaving together the stories of various apartment dwellers as their lives come crashing down. There have been plenty of urban zombie movies, but this one captures the feeling of powerlessness that an “average person” would truly feel during such an event, completely cut off from any kind of information on what is happening, not to mention why it’s happening. Of every film on this list, Mulberry Street might well capture the most “realistic” zombie panic, the sort of event that must have happened prior to the beginning of the events in The Walking Dead. The only downside is that it looks like a film made for $60,000, but in the vein of Evil Dead 2, it would be cool to see Mickle remake it one day with a real budget. —Jim Vorel