500 Days Of Film Reviews 31 Of The Scariest Horror Films
On the cinematic calendar, October is the official month of terror. This is the month when many horror fans challenge themselves to watch a scary movie every day for 31 days straight. As a result, at this time of year I take time to consider the state of the genre and pick my 31 favourite horror films.
2017 has certainly been a good year for horror. We have seen a number of intelligent and atmospheric scary movies - from Get Out to Train To Busan, Raw to It Comes At Night. Meanwhile, the film industry has been energised (and also divided) by Darren Aronofsky's mother! and rewarded by the record-breaking release of Andy Muschietti's IT.
It is great to see such healthy innovation in this genre and a concerted move beyond lazy jump scares and found footage movies. Long may this continue.
Meanwhile, if you are up for a horror challenge during the month of October (or any other time) here are 31 of my favourite horror films!
1. The Descent
My favourite horror film. A group of friends decide to go on a caving expedition in the Appalachian mountains. Things go terribly wrong when they become trapped. Their only option is to go down, further into the depths of the cave. Little do they realise what horrors await.
2. The Shining
Stephen King doesn't much like Stanley Kubrick's adaptation of his classic novel, The Shinning. I understand his concerns but still feel that this film is a masterclass in pure terror. Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson) takes a job as the caretaker of an isolated hotel. He and his family move in for the winter. However, an evil presence exists within the hotel's walls and soon starts to possess Jack - driving him to unspeakable acts of violence.
3. The Thing
One of my very favourite films, John Carpenter's The Thing is an enduring horror classic. In the winter of 1982, an American research base comes face to face with an alien being that can assimilate anything it touches. As paranoia sets in, a battle for survival commences.
4. Pan's Labyrinth
Guillermo del Toro's Pan’s Labyrinth is visually stunning and deeply moving. The film tells the story of a young girl called Ofelia who lives in a rural military outpost in post-war (1944) Spain. Her home is full of danger, unimaginable cruelty and repression.
Ofelia seeks refuge in her books about fairy stories and by wandering the woods nearby. It is here that she discovers a labyrinth full of otherworldly and fantastical monsters.
5. Let The Right One In
My favourite vampire movie, Let The Right One In is wonderful because of the friendship between its two central characters. Indeed, their relationship is so powerful that it is easy to forget that one of them is a vampire.
Oskar is a lonely, friendless boy, who is horribly bullied at school. When an enigmatic young girl called Eli moves into his apartment block he wonders if he has found an ally. However, Eli warns Oskar that they cannot be friends. After all, she has been 12 for a very, very long time...
6. A Nightmare On Elm Street
A strange thing has happened with A Nightmare On Elm Street. For me at least. This film (telling the story of the residents of Elm Street who are being terrorised by a serial killer who murders their children after they fall asleep) absolutely terrified me when I first watched it. However, Freddy Krueger is such a familiar horror icon that his appearance in this movie provokes more nostalgia than horror. Perhaps it's just me. Regardless, Wes Craven's classic still always rewards a re-watch.
It is essential to watch and re-watch Alien (and Aliens) to remind ourselves, in the wake of lesser sequels and prequels - of just what a superb horror film this is. The transit crew of the spacecraft, Nostromo, respond to a distress beacon on a remote planet. While there, they discover an alien life form - and it isn't friendly.
So much of the horror that we watch today has been influenced by the work of John Carpenter. His steadicam location establishing shots, superb framing and suspenseful scores have all been endlessly copied - with varying degrees of success.
I love the BBFC's description of Carpenter's genre defining film, Halloween: "in which an escapee from an asylum returns to his old neighbourhood where he stalks and terrorises a baby-sitter." Really, what more do you need to know?
9. Don't Look Now
I just didn't get Nicholas Roeg's classic, Don't Look Now, on my first watch. In my defence, I was young and naive - impatient for a film full of ridiculous jump scares and unable to understand the power of this incredibly atmospheric and haunting movie about the horror of loss.
Thankfully it didn't take me long to discover the error of my ways. Don't Look Now is beautifully shot, incredibly tense and extremely unsettling. This one lingers...
10. The Exorcist
Another true horror classic, The Exorcist is shocking, disturbing and very, very scary. Director William Friedkin believes that you take away what you bring to his film. For me, it is a powerful portrait of a mother's love for her daughter. What does it mean to you?
11. The Babadook
The horror genre is full of movies about evil (or potentially evil) children. However, in recent years few have been as effective as Jennifer Kent's The Babadook. What is brilliant about this film is the fact that we care for its two central characters. In addition, we are never quite sure if Samuel is inherently evil, or if he is actually a victim of his sleep-deprived mother's
psychosis. Brilliantly unnerving stuff.
12. The Witch
Horror films don't come much more intense than The Witch. In New England, 1630, devout English farmer, William (Ralph Ineson), is banished from his colonial plantation. He moves his wife, Katherine (Kate Dickie), and five children to a plot of land on the edge of an ominous forest.
Things start to go wrong... very wrong. Their baby goes missing and, in among the family’s grief and desperation, paranoia and suspicion grows. Is teenage daughter, Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy), involved in witchcraft? Is she to blame for the baby’s disappearance? Or is something more supernaturally evil preying on the family?
13. The Cabin In The Woods
Scary movies don't all have to be intense and disturbing. Thankfully, they can also be a lot of fun. One such example is Cabin In The Woods - a film that has a blast deconstructing horror tropes and then goes all out bonkers in its final act. Genius.
14. The Mist
A huge mist engulfs a small US community. However, this is no ordinary mist. Somewhere within lies a host of terrifying monsters. How will the townspeople survive? Based on a story by Stephen King, director Frank Darabont creates a gripping horror with one truly shocking ending.
15. Drag Me To Hell
Christine Brown (Alison Lohman) is a loan officer in a small Los Angeles bank. Thinking that she needs to act tough if she is to make progress in her career, Christine refuses an old gypsy lady (Lorna Raver) an extension on her home loan. Big mistake. Huge.
The movie that reinvigorated the horror genre, Wes Craven's Scream is deliciously self aware, brutally violent and undeniably scary. Don't answer the phone... don't open the door... don't try to hide...
Sinister is an effective and genuinely unsettling horror movie. Ethan Hawke stars as Ellison, a writer who, unbeknown to his family, moves into a house where just nine months ago a family was murdered. Things take a turn for the (even more) sinister when Ellison finds a box full of super 8 home movies that suggest the murders are the work of a serial killer.
18. It Follows
Horror films are often cautionary tales - particularly for the young. Be good and you'll survive, break the rules and all bets are off. After having sex (so often a big no no in horror cinema), Jay (Maika Monroe) finds that her boyfriend has passed a horrific curse on to her. She will now be pursued by a malevolent, supernatural presence. Her only escape lies in giving the curse to someone else. Will Jay pass it on? Will she ever be safe again?
It Follows is noteworthy because it dared to break with convention. Many scary movies show a character being chased by some sort of monster. However, the spectres in this movie walk slowly towards their victim. They don't run, they don't even break into a light jog. On paper this shouldn't be frightening. In reality it really is.
Pennywise The Dancing Clown is another icon of the horror genre. It was hard to imagine anyone topping Tim Curry's performance in the television mini-series adaptation of Stephen King's IT.
However, along came Bill Skarsgård - making this role his own with a performance that honours the clown's iconic status. Pennywise is terrifying to behold - a strangely hypnotic screen presence full of unpredictable rage and unspeakable menace.
Andy Muschietti's IT is a wonderfully nostalgic adventure horror. I can't wait for chapter two.
20. Get Out
One of my favourite film experiences of 2017 was watching Get Out in a packed cinema. There were gasps, jumps, laughs and, to conclude, a round of applause. Jordan Peele's smart and hugely entertaining movie is both gripping thriller and provocative social commentary. A film surely destined to become a horror classic.
I couldn't make a list of horror movies without including Psycho, from master of suspense, Alfred Hitchcock. This movie (of course) still holds up, featuring one of the most shocking shower scenes in cinema and a twist that still gives me goosebumps...
23. The Blair Witch Project
It is easy to forget just how scary The Blair Witch Project was when it was first released. However, back in the day (before cinema embraced viral marketing and became obsessed with found footage) this movie was quite a thing. Having re-watched this reason to avoid camping, The Blair Witch Project remains an effective 90 minutes of horror.
24. The Others
The Others is a film that creeps up on you and leaves you feeling distinctly unsettled. While awaiting her husband's return from war, Grace (Nicole Kidman) and her two young children live an isolated existence in a secluded mansion. When three mysterious servants arrive, it becomes clear that there is far more to this house than meets the eye.
25. Under The Shadow
Shideh (Narges Rashidi) lives in Tehran amid the chaos of the Iran-Iraq war. After her husband is conscripted into the army, Shideh is left alone to protect their young daughter Dorsa (Avin Manshadi).
When Dorsa’s behaviour becomes increasingly disturbed, Shideh's superstitious neighbour warns of the presence of Djinn (malevolent Middle-Eastern spirits). Struggling to distinguish what is real from what is not, Shideh becomes convinced that a supernatural force is attempting to possess her daughter.
Under The Shadow is a rare beast. Writer/director, Babak Anvari, has created a chilling, intelligent film with a powerful feminist message. This movie is an absolute gem. Seek it out in whatever way you can.
26. It Comes At Night
It should be noted that It Comes At Night is not a horror in the traditional/familiar sense. There are no cheap jump scares or predictable thrills (although several scenes did give me quite a jolt). Meanwhile, the film offers few details about the horrific virus at the centre of its story. Instead we get a survival story full of tension... lots and lots of tension.
27. Shaun Of The Dead
Time for a bit more fun... Edgar Wright's Shaun Of The Dead is a brilliantly entertaining zombie horror comedy that feels as fresh today as it did back in 2004. Time to return to The Winchester?
28. Train To Busan
Instead of following the progression of a horrific zombie-inducing virus in South Korea, Train To Busan instead chooses to focus on the relationship between a father and his young daughter.
As a result, when their train is beset by a heaving horde of flesh-eating undead, we care about what happens to Seok-woo and Soo-an (brilliantly portrayed by Yoo Gong and Soo-an Kim) and desperately want them to survive their journey to Busan. A gripping and unexpectedly moving film.
29. 28 Days Later
Danny Boyle's movie starts with stunning shots of deserted London streets. A virus (handily called Rage) has infected the population, turning humans into crazed zombie-like creatures. How long can Cillian Murphy and his group of survivors last?
Author, Maddie (Kate Siegel), moves to a remote cabin in the woods (of course) to write her new book. All is going well until, one night, a masked psychopath appears at her window. So far so generic right? Well, don't write this film off yet. It is actually really effective. First, Maddie is deaf - which leads to several scary, he's behind you moments. And, second, she's not going down without a fight.
During the first week of horrific hazing rituals at veterinary college, desperate to fit in whatever the cost, vegetarian, Justine, strays from her family principles and eats raw meat for the first time. The consequences of her actions are disturbing as her true self begins to emerge.
Julia Ducournau’s superb first feature film is a shocking, visceral and darkly funny film (with a superb performance from Garance Marillier) about the awakening of a young girl’s true desires.
What's Your Favourite Scary Movie?
What do you think of this list? What is your favourite scary movie?
Do let me know. Leave me a comment in the box below or let's chat horror movies over on Facebook or Twitter (@500DaysOfFilm).