Top Ten Horror Movies of All Time
The hair-raising build up, that tingle down your spine, that all gasping spook and the sleepless nights that follow; a truly scary horror flick will keep you up for weeks, turning you into an insomniac always on the edge, looking over your shoulder while walking an empty corridor.
But what you may not want to admit is that you find it all strangely enjoyable.
There’s a cathartic need that horror films serve which make us want to lap them up. If you notice, a great horror flick isn’t just all about its spooks. It’s almost always coupled with a great story or an underlying subtext that’s meaningful. It’s when these elements combine that you get a horror masterpiece, a celluloid experience that penetrates the subconscious. It toys with your fear of the unknown and the dark depths of human nature. It strangely rings true on a human level no matter how bizarre the premise.
So here’s my personal list of the top 10 horror films of all time. Pure, unadulterated horror.
10) Ju-on: The Grudge
From the famous family of J-horror, The Grudge (Ju-On) weaves in different subplots and jumps back and forth across them in a nonlinear fashion almost effortlessly. I’ve always envied long black tresses, but not after watching Onryos.
The story and its premise are pretty simple: two souls, tortured and killed, now unleash their wrath on whoever comes in contact with the house where it happened. And once you’ve stepped foot, God save you. There are very little special effects here. It’s simply great make up and an extremely talented contortionist who can bend her body in a way that seems, well, almost not human. This is what makes The Grudge scary. They are all over the house and will pursue you to your very death. Scary moments like when the ashen boy and his mother manifest themselves will scare the jujubes out of you.
9) Paranormal Activity
There’s a new master of horror in town and he’s a minimalist. There are no spooky faces, no white ladies with black tresses, simply an everyday couple that you identify with and a scary demon that’s after them. Oren Peli, the man behind the found footage genre mania, scared audiences out of their seats.
When The Blair Witch Project came about, it created a stir. However, that movie didn’t scare me as much as Paranormal did. Here’s a couple in a relationship that knows each other’s secrets. However, there’s one little thing left out. There’s a feisty demon in this whole equation. A demon out to consume them.
8) The Others
While this is more of a psychological horror piece, it is only fair to include it in the supernatural category considering (spoiler alert!) the ghosts are the lead protagonists and the ones being haunted here. However, that’s something we only find out at the very end. All along we follow the narrative of a mother who comes to believe her house is haunted with the arrival of three mysterious servants. You see her trying to protect her two photosensitive children from what lurks around.
This is nothing short of a Victorian horror tale, with a huge countryside mansion. The restrained performances of all the actors steer it away from the trappings that horror movies so often fall into. There are clues in the visuals and dialogues built in throughout the movie that all lead up to the end. Did you ever notice how pale the kids look through it all? You assume these kids probably don’t get out much. And as the backstory reveals itself, we find out here’s a mother who smothered her children to death and then shot herself about a week ago. It all adds up. Everything was a hint in this direction. The Others truly passes the test of a brilliant ghost story not merely because of it’s twist, but because it allows for repeated viewings. Every time you watch it you’ll discover something new.
7) The Omen
When children embody evil, it’s petrifying. And Damien is a kid you eventually feel no mercy for. He is truly the anti Christ and he’s down here on business along with a support staff that’s as lethal and brutal. As you see Damien mercilessly cause the deaths of those who stand in his way you begin to wonder does the Devil really have a plan.
I bet The Omen had every parent checking their miscreant kid for the 666 symbol of the beast. Who can forget the raven attack on the empty street? It brought back memories of Hitchcock’s The Birds. Damien demolishes everyone and eventually lands up in the care of the most powerful office of the United States of America. As he turns to the camera to give his diabolical smile you know all is lost.
6) The Ring
Urban legend has it that whoever watches this killer video tape will die within a week of viewing it. Enter a mother, too involved with her job as a journalist. She gets sucked into an investigation of this mysterious videotape. She views it and now the clock’s ticking for her. But the shit really hits the roof when her son lands up watching it too. Now saving her son is the sole focus of her life.
This Japanese remake is the perfect way to blend technology and horror. It will literally come out of the TV set and grab you by your tonsils. And the chilly icing on this horror flick is the mystery and the manner in which it unfolds. Samara’s story, the menacing evil little girl, is twisted and will leave you fearing TV sets for a long time to come.
5) Shutter (Thai 2004 version)
What if you were literally carrying your guilt on your shoulders? You’d surely land up in a mental asylum. There she is again, the battered ashen Asian face, her long black tresses. She’ll haunt you anywhere: atop your car bonnet while you are driving or at the foot of your bed while you are sleeping. But when she appears as a white ghostly figure captured in photographs, posing besides you, it’s guaranteed that she’s got some unfinished business with you.
In the case of Shutter, Tun’s act of past cowardice is going to cost him a heavy price. He succumbed to peer pressure in high school and photographed his girlfriend while his friends raped her. Now they have all leapt to their death and Tun knows he’s next. But she’s got something a little special planned for him. Through out the movie as Tun’s girl Jane digs deeper into the truth, he goes to the doctor to get a constant neck pain he has checked. Further to his dismay, the rather frail Tun, weighs 120kgs. Spooky? Oh yes! Everything builds towards the moment, when we finally realize the mystery behind the hero’s cryptic weight gain. As he flings the camera in frustration, (spoiler alert) he finds the ghost of the girl literally sitting on his shoulders. But this weight is one he won’t be able to shake off. This horror flick is a deep seated and very effective morality tale. I promise, you will never think about neck pain in the same way again.
4) Let the Right One In
This is not just a vampire movie. This is not just another love story. This is not just a story of a young boy’s angst as he’s bullied by the kids in his school. Nor is it just a horror film. Let The Right One In is not just any of these things while being all these things at the same time.
Adapted from a novel, Let The Right One In has a title that says it all. Oskar must accept Eli and take on her friendship while blocking out the rest of the world. Eli is all that Oskar is not, Oskar is weak but it is through his interaction with Eli that Oskar learns to fight back. As the vampire story and the love story coverage with snow-laden Sweden as its backdrop, the film creates an atmospheric, eerie, non-gimmicky horror love tale. The film also does a great deal for the Vampire myth. It takes all that we know about Vampires, its mythology and reinvents it in ways that make this age-old genre appear so fresh. And those moments of raw power and emotion that this movie possesses surpasses many. Who can forget the scene, when Eli enters Oskar’s house uninvited and she bleeds. Or the scene where Eli tells Oskat to “hit back and hard.”
3) The Shinning
Come play with us Johny, forever and forever. Everyone recognizes those haunting lines from the man hailed as the master of modern day horror, Stephen King. Danny the young boy in question has a special gift, he sees what others don’t. When Danny moves into the huge hotel with his dad as caretaker the past of the place comes alive. The Shining is as much a story about a haunted hotel with a bloody history as it is about a failed patriarch dipped further into a strange psychosis. Though any movie with Jack Nicholson is bound to have a certain edge, it’s the idea of a father turning rogue and turning an axe on his family that’s petrifying.
The Shining has a lot more going for it. There’s Stanley Kubrick’s indomitable style that makes your anticipation grow with every scene, the long corridors and the buckets of blood lashing through them all add to the atmospheric horror that makes The Shining what it is. There have been many Stephen King horror stories that leave a mark but it's the teaming of King’s story and Kubrick’s vision that makes this film a masterpiece.
2) The Orphanage
The sheer atmosphere created in this Spanish magnum opus, Produced by Guiremo Del Torro and directed by Juan Antonio Bayona, is emotional and hair raising at the same time. This is a movie that employs no pop up spooks so often abused in most horror movies. And the story just keeps unraveling itself. The sheer talent that the actress possesses, the pain portrayed in her eyes simply sucks you into the tale until it’s time for the revelation. She spends months looking for her son and pursuing the spirits in the house. But it is only when she wholly allows herself to believe in the other world does the truth reveal itself to her. The horror in The Orphanage lies in the atmosphere created through the children’s garden and the games the spirits play. No movie has made a children’s game seem so haunting and nerve wrecking. Sequences with the medium in the house are simply spine chilling.
But besides everything else one can view this as a Peter Pan story told from Wendy’s point of view. Wendy is a mother so desperately looking for her child that she takes the help of the lost children she once knew and was a part of. This quest eventually leads her to join the lost children. In this peculiar Neverland she is reunited with her son as the lighthouse shines in the background.
1) The Exorcist
Again, coincidentally a story that deals with a single-parent child relationship, The Exorcist has a famous actress-mother and her daughter adjusting to their new life. There have been several interpretations of The Exorcist ranging from it being laden with the subtext of child abuse, to the more obvious battle of fate versus science as Megan goes through those grueling medical tests that amount to nothing.
This horror masterpiece is the best to date and manages to scare you even after all these years. While The Exorcist is gripping and scary at the same time it gets under your skin because there’s the thought that the Devil in question chooses its victim at random. And in this case his choice is picking the purest soul, that of an innocent child. By corrupting her he wishes to purely prove that he still exists. And if that doesn’t get to you, the scene with the projectile vomiting is bound to. An inspiration for so many flicks to come, this movie lets you know that the Devil is out there and he can get to your mind.
The Exorcist commands and I have a feeling will continue to command its position at number one for many years to come. There have been a spate of horror films since The Exorcist but none have managed to shock the audiences of its time quiet like this one.
One must say coming up with a top ten list for the oldest genre there is, is a tough task. There are so many movies that have managed to get me that are not part of the list. I remember The Exorcism of Emily Rose, I couldn’t sleep for a week after that one. There’s also The Last Exorcist which besides its unpalatable end was pretty impressive. The Orphan, The tale of two sisters, The Innocents, Skeleton Key (more a thriller than horror), Rosemary’s Baby, they’ve all come to make the horror genre what it is today.