What draws us to horror movies? Is it the allure that stems from their unique ability to tap into primal, universal fears and curiosities? Is it because they offer us controlled environments to confront and process our own anxieties? Or is it because we’re simply adrenaline junkies who enjoy the rush produced by horror?
Whatever the reason, horror movies have established themselves as a central part of cinema and pop culture. So in honor of Halloween, we're ranking the top 10 greatest horror classics of all time.
Some honorable mentions include “Texas Chainsaw Massacre,” “It,” “Misery” and, of course, “Scary Movie.”
10. "The Thing" (1982)
If only one word could be used to describe “The Thing,” it’d be paranoia. Set in Antarctica, this chilling sci-fi film follows a group of researchers who encounter a shape-shifting extraterrestrial entity capable of mimicking any living being. Terror ensues as the group struggles to identify who is human and who is the alien, which they quickly learn seeks to kill them all. “The Thing” relies on relentless tension, practical effects and a sense of claustrophobia, which amplifies the fear of isolation and distrust. The film also explores the frailty of human relationships under extreme stress, making it a timeless and terrifying exploration of fear, identity and survival.
9. "A Nightmare on Elm Street" (1984)
Starring one of horror history’s most iconic villains, it is no surprise that “A Nightmare on Elm Street” has stood the test of time. The story revolves around a group of teenagers who are haunted in their dreams by murdered man turned vengeful spirit Freddy Kruger. After a tragic loss, the remaining members soon realize even their dreams aren’t safe and that the lines between dreams and reality are less defined then they hoped. This leaves the characters and the audience alike feeling vulnerable and entirely powerless. In the end, the blend of supernatural horror, Freddy's iconic razor-blade glove and the eerie, dreamlike atmosphere creates a chilling and unsettling experience that lingers long after the movie ends.
8. "The Exorcist" (1973)
Often acclaimed as the greatest horror film of all time, “The Exorcist” is well-deserving of a spot on this list. While it hasn't aged quite as well as other classics, that does not diminish this film's immense influence on the horror genre. The film centers on the possession of 12-year old Regan (Linda Blair) by a malevolent demon. Desperate to save her daughter, Regan’s mom Chris (Ellen Burstyn) seeks the help of two priests to exorcize the demon and free her daughter. "The Exorcist" is made exceptionally terrifying by its groundbreaking use of practical effects and makeup. The film also delves into themes of faith, doubt and the battle between good and evil and is elevated from mere horror to a masterpiece of the genre by its realistic, gritty portrayal of the supernatural and the psychological impact of the story on its characters..
7. "The Omen" (1976)
Without question the scariest of the films on this list, “The Omen” (1976) follows diplomat Robert Thorn (Gregory Peck) and his wife Katherine (Lee Remick), who unknowingly adopt Damien(Harvey Stephens), a seemingly normal child. As supernatural and ominous events unfold, they begin to discover the horrifying truth: Damien is no mere child. The film's success in evoking fear lies in its eerie atmosphere, Jerry Goldsmith's haunting score and a series of shocking, gruesome deaths. Mysterious figures, moral dilemmas and practical effects add to the tension, and Damien makes for the most terrifying child you will ever encounter. Moreover, as far as religious horrors go, this is the most chilling of them all. The Omen is absolutely a must-watch.
6. "Halloween" (1978)
Earlier, I referred to Freddie Kruegger as one of the most iconic horror villains of all time. Well, Michael Myers is THE most iconic and what better way to start off the top 10 than with his film debut, John Carpenter’s “Halloween.” The story follows murderer and escaped mental patient Michael Myers(Tony Moran and Nick Castle) who returns to his hometown and starts to terrorize teenager Laurie Strode(Jamie Lee Curtis). The film's genius lies in its masterful use of suspense, emphasizing tension over gore. Carpenter's iconic score and cinematography also contribute to a pervasive sense of dread. The audience is thrust into terror, with Myers lurking in the shadows. “Halloween” helped establish the slasher genre, and it is no surprise so many spin offs have been made - though none quite reach originals heights
5. "Psycho" (1960)
Alfred Hitchcock is already considered one of cinema’s most accomplished and celebrated auteurs but when you look at his works in the horror genre, including “Psycho,” “The Birds” and “Frenzy,” he may also be deserving of the designation of the G.O.A.T. of horror. “Psycho” centers on Marion Crane (Janet Leigh), who stops at the Bates Motel, managed by the enigmatic Norman Bates(Anthony Perkins), while transporting stolen money to pay off her boyfriend’s debts. Her arrival is followed shortly after by a shocking murder scene, and a sinister mystery soon unfolds. What makes "Psycho'' exceptional is Hitchcock's masterful suspense-building and the film's subversion of traditional narrative expectations. And of course, Anthony Perkins' performance as Norman Bates is absolutely iconic.
4. "The Silence of the Lambs" (1991)
It is no surprise that the 1992 Oscars were a clean sweep for “The Silence of the Lambs,” which took home Best Picture – making it the first horror to do so – Best Actor (Anthony Hopkins), Best Actress (Jodie Foster) and Best Director (Jonathan Demme). The film is centered around FBI trainee Clarice Starling(Jodie Foster), who seeks the help of brilliant but criminally deranged psychiatrist Dr. Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins) to catch a serial killer known as Buffalo Bill (Ted Levine). As she delves into the twisted mind of Hannibal Lecter, a thrilling psychological game of cat and mouse unfolds. Jodie Foster and Anthony Hopkins give impeccable performances to create emotionally complex and unforgettable characters. The incredible screenplay, slow-burning tension and haunting exploration of evil also come together to form what many consider the greatest serial killer film of all time.
3. "Candyman" (1992)
Likely the most underappreciated film on this list, “Candyman” truly has it all. Set in the projects of Chicago, the film follows a graduate student, Helen (Virginia Madsen), as she delves into the mythology of the Candyman (Tony Todd), a vengeful spirit who’s summoned whenever someone says his name five times in front of a mirror. As Helen investigates, she becomes entangled in a terrifying web of supernatural horror and urban folklore. “Candyman” hooks you right in from the start with enticing characters, incredible writing and genuine scares. But beyond that, the film’s excellence lies in its thought-provoking exploration of racial and societal themes. Namely, "Candyman" effectively combines social commentary with chilling horror, offering a unique and powerful cinematic experience that resonates long after the credits roll.
2. "The Shining" (1980)
“Here’s Johnny!” When Jack Nicholson and Stanley Kubrick come together to make a film, perfection is where the bar is set. Still, “The Shining” may have somehow surpassed expectations. Based on the titular Stephen King novel, “The Shining” tells the story of Jack Torrance(Jack Nicholson), a writer who takes a job as the winter caretaker at the isolated Overlook Hotel. As he and his family become snowbound, supernatural forces drive Jack to madness, putting his wife Wendy(Shelley Duvall) and son Danny(Danny Lloyd) in peril. The film's brilliance lies in its unsettling atmosphere and spectacular visuals as well as Kubrick's meticulous direction. Nicholson strings together what is arguably his greatest performance, fully integrating himself into the role of a man who has completely descended into madness. The film explores themes of isolation, the disintegration of the family and the malevolent forces lurking within. It is no surprise that "The Shining" remains a genre-defining classic.
1. "Rosemary’s Baby" (1968)
Holding the throne since 1968, the greatest horror movie of all time remains Roman Polanski’s “Rosemary’s Baby.” The film follows the story of Rosemary Woodhouse (Mia Farrow), a pregnant woman who becomes increasingly suspicious of her husband and neighbors who she believes are involved in a sinister conspiracy surrounding her unborn child. The audience is constantly on edge during this movie due to Polanski’s subtly crafted eerie atmosphere; the protagonist's increasing paranoia and feelings of isolation remain at the forefront, helping create a psychological masterpiece. In the end, we become emotionally invested in the wellbeing of Rosemary and her baby despite the situation’s hopelessness.
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