Disclaimer: There are many, many horror films that I haven’t seen. Namely: The Exorcist, Rosemary’s Baby, The Amityville Horror, The Evil Dead, The Crazies, The Omen, Cujo, The Changeling, Hellraiser, Carrie, Pet Sematary, Ringu, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974), Dawn of the Dead (1978), Night of the Living Dead, Rec, and The Blair Witch Project. Additionally, there are many, many “horror” films whose place in the genre is murky i.e. it’s more apt to describe them as action flicks, dramas, or psychological thrillers: Jaws, Deliverance, Aliens, Predator, The Silence of the Lambs, Seven, Signs, and Zodiac, among others.
Honorable Mentions: The Birds, Halloween (1978), The Brood, Sleepy Hollow (1999), 28 Days Later, Dawn of the Dead (2004), Saw, The Hills Have Eyes (2006), The Mist
10. A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)
The birth of a movie icon. Out of all of Hollywood’s famous monsters, Freddy Kruger is perhaps the most entertaining to ever grace the silver screen, if not the scariest. Wes Craven’s unique brand of horror, camp, and comedy made for uneasy viewing of the best kind, and this is where it all started, with Robert Englund forever cementing himself in cinematic history and little ole’ Johnny Depp introducing himself to the world in a geyser of blood.
9. The Cabin in the Woods (2012)
No joke, if this were a list of the best horror comedies of all time, this would be at the very top of the list. Alas, we’re talking scare factor here. The Cabin in the Woods may not necessarily raise the hair on the back of your neck, but it’ll make you giggle in equal measure. Starring Bradley Whitford, Richard Jenkins, and a pre-Thor Chris Hemsworth, this brilliant satire is stolen by hilarious unknown Fran Kranz, playing a “fool” who’s the only one not fooled by the shenanigans surrounding him and his friends.
8. The Descent (2006)
From the better-than-expected performances of its no-name cast to the legitimate scares on display, The Descent is one of the more underrated movies of the past decade. Director Neil Marshall uses wickedly claustrophobic cinematography to place the viewer in the thick of his characters’ plight: being lost in a cave, and the loss of humanity that such a traumatic event can spawn. The disturbingly creepy predators (who may or may not have been humans once) hunting them through this underground terrain are just cherries on top.
7. The Ring (2002)
To this day 2002’s The Ring remains one of the greatest movie-going experiences of my life. It’s rare, even more so today, for an entire theater of people to be so enraptured by a horror flick, but there we were…all of us screaming our heads off at a film that, honestly, doesn’t completely hold up years later as far as scares are concerned. But it doesn’t matter. Horror films are a snapshot in time. Their greatness is intrinsically linked to when they’re released. And the first time I saw this ghost story was a doozy.
6. Alien (1979)
Ridley Scott’s original is textbook scifi-horror. Lead performances from Sigourney Weaver and Tom Skerritt anchor this classic with humanity, even as something inhuman slowly saps it from the crew of the Sulaco, literally and figuratively. The movie launched an entire brand for many reasons, not the least of which is the unique design of the title character by one H.R. Giger. Even if it’s ultimately surpassed by James Cameron’s sequel, Alien is nevertheless a premium example of what happens when horror is married with top-tier talent.
To Be Continued in Part 2