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The Greatest Horror Movies of All-Time

From underseen Laird Cregar vehicles to a Russian chiller based on a Nikolai Gogol story, from J-Horror to the Mexican gem "Alucarda," these are the best horror movies the genre has to offer.

70. “The Seventh Victim” (Mark Robson, 1943)

Editorial use only. No book cover usage.Mandatory Credit: Photo by RKO/Kobal/REX/Shutterstock (5870820a) Hugh Beaumont, Kim Hunter, Erford Gage The Seventh Victim - 1943 Director: Mark Robson RKO Scene Still

“The Seventh Victim”

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Val Lewton usually gave the horror films he produced a unique setting: a Greek island in “Isle of the Dead,” a Caribbean island in “I Walked With a Zombie,” 19th century Edinburgh in “The Body Snatcher.” A greater challenge is to mine eeriness and menace from a perfectly quotidian setting, such as the New York City subway. That’s what did in “The Seventh Victim,” which, more than “Cat People,” which was also set in Manhattan, dives into the dread of the ordinary in New York City life. A young girl goes in search of her missing sister with the help of a craggy PI — he’s stabbed to death and she runs from the scene, so terrified she ends up doing a complete circuit on the subway. When it stops at the station where she got on — right near the private detective was murdered — two men board, propping him up, trying to act like he’s still alive. They’re obviously the ones who killed him and they’re counting on New Yorkers’ indifference to their surroundings as their cover to dispose of him. It’s so chilling because this actually could happen. Turns out a Satanic cult is involved — clearly a prototype for the devil-worshipping Manhattanites in “Rosemary’s Baby” — but “The Seventh Victim” stays with you because it reveals an essential truth: personal demons are always scarier than literal ones. -CB
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69. “High Tension” (Alexandre Aja, 2003)

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“High Tension”

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One of the most divisive and best known New French Extremity entries, “High Tension” put director Alexandre Aja on the map with American audiences with his brutal psychological thriller. Marie heads to her classmate Alex’s secluded country home to study for final exams, but the idyllic country retreat becomes a bloodbath when a vicious serial killer slaughters the entire family, taking Alex hostage. Marie then transforms into the ultimate Final Girl, fighting to rescue her Alex before she meets a devastating end… except not everything is what it seems. The film’s big twist has divided audiences since its premiere in 2003, but “High Tension” still remains a thrilling slasher, packed with plenty of scares and gore to satisfy even the most skeptical horror fans. -JR
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68. “Dressed to Kill” (Brian De Palma, 1980)

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“Dressed to Kill”

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Brian De Palma was at the height of his powers as the master of pastiche when he made this riveting Hitchcockian horror tale about elevator murderers and people insecure in their own bodies. At first the story of a promiscuous woman (Angie Dickinson), “Dressed to Kill” borrows a page from “Psycho” by taking its apparent protagonist out of the picture after the first act. From there, the specter of a mysterious trans woman named Bobbi on a killing spree hovers throughout the story, as she stalks Liz (Nancy Allen) while a psychiatrist (Michael Caine) makes frantic attempts to warn the police about the threat at hand. The twist about Bobbi’s real identity is obvious to any engaged viewer, but De Palma’s stylish riff on slasher tropes uses the familiarity of its winding plot to deliver a brilliant meditation on fluid sexual identity — and the frustrations of being forced to suppress it — long before the concept had much visibility in popular culture. It’s a brilliant, risky examination of femininity, the terror involved in being the object of an insatiable male gaze, and what happens when latent desires remain underserved. No horror movie made today has the guts to go there. -EK
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67. “Black Christmas” (Bob Clark, 1974)

“Black Christmas”

screencap

Bob Clark is perhaps best known for his other holiday-themed film, “A Christmas Story,” but 1974’s “Black Christmas” deserves just as much attention. Set in a sorority house over Christmas break, a group of college women are stalked and slowly picked off by a deranged killer hiding inside the abode. The plot sounds formulaic, but “Black Christmas” remains timeless thanks to its terrifying and elusive killer, “Billy,” whose backstory is never revealed, as well as a foreboding ending that doesn’t offer much hope for the film’s Final Girl, Jess. But beyond this, “Black Christmas” is also remarkably feminist for its time, as Jess chooses an abortion and a career over being locked into a loveless relationship. Likewise, the terror felt by the women as they are plagued by obscene phone calls makes it clear that some horrors are all too common, and don’t require a boogeyman in a mask. -JR
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66. “The Descent” (Neil Marshall, 2005)

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“The Descent”

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One year after a tragic accident, six adventurous girlfriends meet in a remote part of the Appalachians for their annual spelunking trip. After an accident traps the group deep below, they unexpectedly come face to face with a race of monstrous humanoid creatures lurking under the earth. Neil Marshall’s tense, thrilling, and claustrophobic survival horror film stars a rare all-female cast who bludgeon their way through thrilling scene after scene in this deftly-directed and well-acted cinematic nightmare, that also serves as a meditation on issues of morality and vengeance. One of the more exhilarating creature features of the 21st century, it spawned a lesser sequel, although without Marshall’s involvement. -TO
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65. “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” (Don Siegel, 1956)

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“Invasion of the Body Snatchers”

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What’s worse than death? A lot of horror movies try to answer that — just dying, which every single person who’s ever lived experiences, can’t be the scariest thing facing us. Siegel suggests that losing your individuality is indeed something worse. Small town doctor Kevin McCarthy begins to suspect something is off in his community — some people are starting to act suspiciously robotic. Then a friend shows him a perfect doppelganger — a “pod person” — that’s growing on a pool table in his home. It seems some sinister force, possibly aliens, are quietly taking over by replacing people with exact duplicates. A metaphor for conformity and loss of free will that’s influenced everything from “The Stepford Wives” to “Get Out,” “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” is a powerful dramatization of the fear and alienation that results when you think something is wrong that everyone else thinks is right. -CB
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64. “A Tale of Two Sisters” (Kim Jee-woon, 2003)

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“A Tale of Two Sisters”

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Korean horror has provided some of the greatest scares in recent years, and “A Tale of Two Sisters” is another wonderfully warped and terrifying entry, filled with vengeful ghosts and surprising twists. A young girl, Su-mi, returns home to her father’s secluded estate after a stay in a mental institution. She is happy to be reunited with her younger sister, Su-yeon, but less than pleased to see her stepmother, Eun-joo. Eun-joo was once a nurse for the girls’ dying mother, and there is mutual resentment between the girls and their stepmother. When Eun-joo begins lashing out at the girls, targeting Su-yeon especially, their father is blind to the abuse, setting up a brutal conflict that will cause painful secrets to surface, threatening to drive a wedge between the two sisters for good. “A Tale of Two Sisters” is a psychological thriller that pulls the rug from beneath viewers more than once, foregoing the more obvious twists and reveals for a truly heartbreaking ending that will make you want to rewatch the film all over again. -JR
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63. “Let the Right One In” (Tomas Alfredson, 2008)

Lina Leandersson in "Let The Right One In"

Lina Leandersson in “Let The Right One In”

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At the exact time “Twilight” was being mainlined into our cultural veins, this quiet and beautiful Swedish film was the exact antidote audiences do desperately needed. Director Tomas Alfredson doesn’t always seem concerned with genre convention in his intimate story of a bullied 12-year old and the vampire he befriends. In the digital age, horror films are too often reliant on a flavorless shadowy look, but in Hoyt Van Hoytema’s cinematography not only can we see into the darkness, it is filled with one of the most unique color palettes in modern cinema. While creating an atmosphere in which we sense a lurking presence in the dark haze, the gorgeous and muted colors create an intimacy with the young characters. -CO
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62. “Jacob’s Ladder” (Adrian Lyne, 1990)

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“Jacob’s Ladder”

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That filmmaker Adrian Lyne is best-known to mainstream audiences for his erotic thrillers like “Unfaithful” and “9 1/2 Weeks” shouldn’t deter horror fans from experiencing his bracing, stomach-churning “Jacob’s Ladder.” After all, Lyne’s sexier work provides a window into his ability to center stories on the human body, a concept twisted to hallucinogenic ends in this Tim Robbins-starring story. Essentially a film about the after-effects of the Vietnam War, Lyne skillfully builds the tension and terror as Robbins’ Jacob attempts to navigate through the “normal” world after living through the hell of battle. While the film doesn’t shy away from the nerve-shredding visions that plague Jacob (from pre-war memories to a party scene that sees him almost totally given over to his monsters, real or imagined), it also offers up compelling evidence that the true terrors of this world aren’t just boogeymen — and that’s far worse. -KE
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61. “Evil Dead II” (Sam Raimi, 1987)

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“Evil Dead II”

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While ’80s horror franchises like “Halloween” and “Nightmare on Elm Street” stumbled through underdeveloped sequels, director Sam Raimi had the gall to bring something totally fresh to the sequel to his breakout cabin-in-the-woods shocker “The Evil Dead” — punchlines. As the sole survivor of the ghoulish threats from the previous film, Bruce Campbell’s kooky party boy Ash returns to the scene of the earlier events, where the monstrous spirits once again hurl themselves at him from every direction. As a wild-eyed Ash attempts to vanquish the demonic presence surrounding him in the walls from every angle, Raimi merges the gruesome intensity of the splatter genre with the surreal comedic heights of a Looney Tunes cartoon. Yes, there’s a famous amputation scene that unites Ash with his iconic chainsaw arm, but “Evil Dead II” is more than just a gory playground. In one defining moment, the camera veers close to Ash’s face as he cracks up in deranged laughter, while everything around him — including a lamp shade — join in. It’s a brilliant illustration of the thin line between comedy and horror that this movie walks so well, right up until the surprise twist of an ending that establishes a third entry in this original horror franchise that heads in a whole new direction altogether. Few examples of the genre have burst through so many expectations while remaining satisfying the whole way through. -EK
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