This Halloween I had planned on doing a random list of great horror films for the holiday. However, I came to the conclusion that it would be best to start off with what I consider to be my top 10 favorite horror films of all-time. Obviously, I have more than ten favorites, but I want to limit it to that number since I believe it is the best amount to start at. Maybe next October I will dedicate the whole month to 100 or 50. Or If I can’t do that, I will do a random “10 Great Horror Films” in which I just pick random films in the genre that I gave either * * * * or * * * 1/2 stars to. Since I do not post picture images on this site, I will give links that will take the reader to a google image site providing pages of images for the film I will talk about on each number. Expect to see the link above the film I talk about. For example, you see where it says “Google Links” on the top center, that is where you can go If you want to see images of the film I am talking about. This will take you to a page that shows pages of websites that provide pictures/images of the film for those who are curious about the mentioned film. P.S. I have given all these films on my list * * * * stars (Out of * * * *). Now with all that out of the way, I want to now present to you with what I call:
My Top 10 Favorite Horror Films of All-Time
1.) Night of the Living Dead (1968) (Dir: George A. Romero) (USA)
The granddaddy of all zombie films not only ranks somewhere on the list of “My Top 100 Favorite Films of All-Time” but it also happens to be my number 1 favorite horror film of all-time. The plot concerns a small group of people in a small American town trying to defend themselves from flesh eating zombies who once they have bitten you, that person infected will become one of them. Made on a low-budget and shot in grainy black-and-white, the style of the film gives off this documentary-like tone, which makes the proceedings even more disturbing. Add to that, Romero’s pessimistic yet subtle commentary on the political and social upheavals of the 1960’s and you have one of the most apocalyptic horror films ever made.
2.) The Old Dark House (1932) (Dir: James Whale) (USA)
Although every single one of them is laced with subtle humor, neither of director James Whale’s horror films have succeeded as pure comedies as clearly as this one. Blending elements of gothic horror and sophisticated comedy all into one, the result is a unique gem that is unlike any other film in the genre. Stranded during a bad thunderstorm, five travelers seek shelter at a nearby spooky mansion where they encounter all sorts of weird behavior from its inhabitants which includes among other memorable characters the family’s butler (Boris Karloff), a mute alcoholic. Taking into account everything I just said, The Old Dark House ranks above the competition as the greatest haunted house movie ever made.
3.) Kill, Baby… Kill! (1966) (Dir: Mario Bava) (Italy)
Mario Bava (1914-1980) was one of Italy’s undisputed masters of horror (the other being Dario Argento) and for readers of this site, I personally rank him along with Argento as one of my favorite directors of all-time. What makes Bava so deservedly legendary is that all of his films are primarily known for their amazing use of color and Kill, Baby… Kill! is no exception. The plot concerning a series of murders committed by the ghost of a dead girl takes a backseat towards Bava’s aforementioned use of color. One of many examples include a staircase sequence employing the use of blues, greens and yellows. If I did a list of the best horror films shot in color (and their are many candidates), this one would top the list.
4.) Bride of Frankenstein (1935) (Dir: James Whale) (USA)
Bride of Frankenstein is everything a sequel should be and much more. Previously thought dead, Henry Frankenstein (Colin Clive) and his monster (Boris Karloff) end up surviving and this time another mad scientist (Ernest Thesiger) comes along and successfully convinces Dr. Frankenstein to help him build a female mate for the monster. What follows is a monster movie loaded with subtle humor, gothic imagery and even pathos. All of this begs the question as to why is James Whale often labeled the greatest director of the 1930’s Universal Studios horror films? The answer is simple; he expresses pure enthusiasm whenever he is working within this genre and upon viewing, one can sense the high level of joy he infuses in the proceedings.
5.) The Evil Dead/Evil Dead II (1981/1987) (Dir: Sam Raimi) (USA)
Two for the price of one. Director Sam Raimi’s 1981 low-budget original ranks in my opinion as not only the quintessential cabin-in-the-woods horror film, but it also stands out as one of the greatest directorial debuts in cinematic history as well. His 1987 sequel Evil Dead II flawlessly blends slapstick comedy and graphic violence all into a complete whole and the result is pure madcap fun. The plot of the first film concerns a group of students spending a weekend in a cabin. While there, they come upon a “Book of the Dead” with a tape recorder that plays the translation. Listening to it accidently unleashes the demons in the woods and one-by-one it takes possession of each student. The second film is similar to the first in many ways; the only difference is the other film played out more like a grindhouse flick and this one plays out more like a comedic horror film. Nevertheless, they are both on the same level in terms of greatness and Raimi injects each film with a non-stop level of energy that has rarely been equaled. P.S. anybody who reads this site will also know that I gave Army of Darkness * * * * stars (Out of * * * *).
6.) The Black Cat (1934) (Dir: Edgar G. Ulmer) (USA)
Inarguably the first and best of the Boris Karloff/Bela Lugosi collaborations for Universal Studios. Amid his quest to avenge the death of his wife at the hands of a Satan-worshipping architect/priest (Boris Karloff), a vengeance-crazed psychiatrist (Bela Lugosi) must also save the wife of a newlywed husband by matching wits with the exact same guy, who plans to sacrifice her in a satanic ritual. Armed with a big budget, director Edgar G. Ulmer takes full advantage of his past experiences in art-direction ( 1927’s Sunrise) and gives us a horror film that conjures up imagery and symbolism worthy of German Expressionism at its best. Legendary horror film icons Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi are also in peak form as well with the former as a villain and the latter as a hero. The only downside is that it marked one of the very few times in Ulmer’s career in which he was allowed to work with a Hollywood budget. P.S. although Edgar Allen Poe is mentioned in the opening credits, the plot shares absolutely no similarities to Poe’s short story and is actually meant as an original piece.
7.) The Exorcist (1973) (Dir: William Friedkin) (USA)
Adapted from a best-selling novel by William Peter Blatty, The Exorcist truly comes off as one of the (If not The) scariest horror films ever made. The story as everyone knows concerns the efforts of two Jesuit priests (Jason Miller and Max von Sydow) trying to exorcise a demonic spirit out of the body of a young innocent girl (Linda Blair) after her actress mother (Ellen Burstyn) tries everything she knows to help her. Known for employing documentary-like techniques, director William Friedkin scares us out of our minds not so much with the icky special effects ( i.e. the spewing of green vomit), but with the quieter scenes like the early behavior of the girl during the early stages of demon possession as well as the medical examinations that follow. Everything is superbly chilling here; from everything I just mentioned to the film’s use of locations to the utilizing of darkness and light (most notably the film’s poster image which is a scene in the film). Last but not least let us not forget the brief but effective use of Mike Oldfield’s “Tubular Bells” music which is often associated with this film.
8.) Cat People (1942) (Dir: Jacques Tourneur) (USA)
Cat People is the first of nine horror films produced by Val Lewton for the prestigious RKO Studios and it is also quite a unique one at that. An American man (Kent Smith) falls in love with and marries a mysterious Serbian woman (Simone Simon), who fears she will turn into a panther If sexually aroused. On paper, this sounds like B-movie material, but in execution it is more than meets the eye. Director Jacques Tourneur (son of his filmmaker father Maurice) focuses on atmosphere rather than cheap thrills; one of many good examples is his decision of never presenting to the viewer what the monster looks like. Among Tourneur’s other skills lies his frequent use of light and shadow to emphasize the influence of German Expressionism. Credit should also be given to the lead actress of the film Simone Simon, who plays the femme fatale with a considerable amount of pathos and sensuality. Another thing to think about is the story penned by DeWitt Bodeen; psychoanalysis as a fad was in it’s infancy in 1942 and the main character’s aversion to intimacy in the film can arguably be seen as a social commentary on sexual repression.
9.) Dawn of the Dead (1978) (Dir: George A. Romero) (USA)
If “The Godfather Trilogy” serves as the definitive statement on the gangster film than George A. Romero’s “Dead Films” serve as their artistic equivalent in terms of the zombie sub-genre. This time, we have four people; two SWAT team members, one traffic reporter and his newsroom executive girlfriend. All together, they take shelter in a Philadelphia mall to defend themselves from the overpopulating zombies that have basically taken over Earth. Where the original film was shot in black-and-white, this one is shot in Technicolor and Makeup artist Tom Savini delivers the goods with his awesome display of blood and gore. Aside from being an undisputed master of horror, director/writer George A. Romero also knows a thing or two about social commentary and even humor. Released in 1978, this one could best be described as a critique of consumerism when one considers that zombies are roaming the mall as well as when our heroes begin overbuying to survive. The result is a true horror masterpiece that is both cynical and humorous.
10.) I Walked with a Zombie (1943) (Dir: Jacques Tourneur) (USA)
Based very loosely on Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre and blending it with a story set in The West Indies, I Walked with a Zombie is without a doubt the most visually exquisite and richly fascinating of the nine RKO Studios horror films produced by Val Lewton. The plot has a young Canadian nurse (Frances Dee) vacationing in the West Indies to care for the wife of a plantation owner (Tom Conway), who seems to be in a zombie-like state as a result of severe tropical fever. Destined to heal her, the nurse thinks a voodoo (courtesy of a voodoo ceremony) might be the cure. As with Cat People, director Jacques Tourneur highlights the atmosphere with his utilization of light and shadow and here it gives the overall tone of the film a hazy dream-like quality. Although the source material came from an article written by Inez Wallace for “American Weekly Magazine“, Lewton reportedly disliked it and asked the screenwriters of the film (Curt Siodmak and Ardel Wray) to use the aforementioned Eyre as the source material instead. Either way and I am being highly complimentary here, it stands out as the most literary of all zombie films.
6 thoughts on “My Top 10 Favorite Horror Films of All-Time”
Great list! I especially like your commentary. You should write commentary/capsule reviews for all your lists.
I sincerely love every movie listed here — including Kill, Baby, Kill, which is probably the most obscure title. Interestingly, I gave a talk on the horror film at the Wilmette Public Library on Sunday and showed clips from six movies to illustrate the evolution of the genre. Two of them were in your top 10 (The Old Dark House and Cat People). The other four were Nosferatu (Murnau’s version), Dracula (the first Hammer version from ’58), The Thing (Carpenter’s version) and Ringu.
Anyway, here are my top 10 horror films of all time:
10. Audition (Miike)
9. The Black Cat (Ulmer)
8. The Seventh Victim (Robson)
7. Rosemary’s Baby (Polanski)
6. Peeping Tom (Powell)
5. Nosferatu (Murnau)
4. The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (Wiene)
3. Vampyr (Dreyer)
2. The Unknown (Browning)
1. Psycho (Hitchcock)
Wow I love your list as well. I also love all the titles you chose. Ditto with the directors chosen. 7 of the directors on the list are on my list of “My Top 101 Favorite Filmmakers of All-Time” Besides Hitchcock, Dreyer and Murnau, my other favorites are Browning, Powell, Polanski and UImer. “The Seventh Victim” is a great Val Lewton production. Your choice on number 10 of Takashi Miike’s “Audition” is really fascinating:) P.S. I wish I could have gone to your talk at the “Wilmette Public Library” on Sunday to hear your talk. I was busy with a family gathering that day:( Anyway, you are an awesome speaker and you have an awesome blog. Keep up the great work:) and as usual I will continue visiting and commenting:)
Thanks for the kind words. Making that horror list was next to impossible. First of all, how do you even know to categorize a movie as “horror”? Is Mizoguchi’s Ugetsu horror? If so, it would be number one on my list. Other movies I considered for the list but left off because they weren’t “horror enough” were Kim Ki-young’s The Housemaid, Fritz Lang’s M, Teinosuke Kinguasa’s Page of Madness and Shohei Imamura’s Vengeance is Mine.
But I also really regret leaving off such bona-fide horror gems as The Black Cat, The Old Dark House, The Bride of Frankenstein, I Walked with a Zombie, Curse of the Demon/Night of the Demon, Dracula (Hammer), Black Sabbath, Onibaba, Repulsion, Black Christmas, the original Dawn of the Dead, Carpenter’s Halloween and The Thing, The Shining, Antonia Bird’s Ravenous, and lots of other things.
Actually, you included Ulmer’s The Black Cat on your list. It is on number 9 of your list. The way If a film could be categorized as horror is simple: I check the film under wikipedia and IMDB. Sometimes If wikipedia says it is and IMDB doesn’t, I have to think independently. Sometimes it could be IMDB that says it is and wikipedia that does not. Though this is all very rare. I checked both wikipedia and IMDB and they do not categorize Mizoguichi’s Ugetsu as horror but fantasy. Kim ki-young’s The Housemaid is categorized as horror, as is Teinosuke Kinguasa’s Page of Madness, but not Fritz Lang’s M or Shohei Imamura’s Vengeance is Mine. All the horror films you regret leaving off are ones I absolutely love including the ones you mentioned that I did not put on the list. As said earlier though, I love all the films that you put on your “Top 10 favorite horror film list”
Well, if those sites categorize Page of Madness and The Housemaid as horror, I can add them to my list and then regret the omission of The Black Cat after all!
Exactly:) Though just out of curiosity what is the second film that will go off the list besides The Black Cat?