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The 155 Greatest Horror Movies of All Time

From lesser-known George A. Romero and Clive Barker gems to William Castle cheapies to an unclassifiable Polish shocker.

The 150 Greatest Horror Movies of All Time

The Greatest Horror Movies of All Time

130. “Night of the Demon” (Jacques Tourneur, 1957)

NIGHT OF THE DEMON, (aka CURSE OF THE DEMON), Dana Andrews, 1958

“Night of the Demon”

Courtesy Everett Collection

Horror can be at its most effective when it adheres to a rigid set of rules, when there’s a dastardly logic to the grisly doings onscreen. The British chiller “Night of the Demon” (originally released in the U.S. as “Curse of the Demon”) demonstrates just such a schematic precision. A professor in England cowers before his rival, a Satanic cult leader named Karswell (Niall MacGinnis). Karswell has unleashed a demon to take down the tweedy fellow, who had been determined to expose his cult. Of course, the poor guy bites it. But if you’re leading an evil cult, there will always be someone else to take you down.

Enter Dana Andrews, who teams up with the niece (Peggy Cummins of “Gun Crazy” fame) of the murdered man, to expose the bad guy. Karswell will not be stopped before he unleashes all the forces of hell in what unfolds as something like “Hellboy” meets the Basil Rathbone-Nigel Bruce Sherlock Holmes movies. His m.o. is to write a curse on a piece of paper, and what happens to the little scrap determines how it will play out. Which is to say that there’s a scenario where the very curse you wish on others can rebound upon you, and the way that it’s twisted around becomes one of Tourneur’s very best horror endings. —CB

129. “The House That Jack Built” (Lars von Trier, 2018)

THE HOUSE THAT JACK BUILT, from left: Matt Dillon, David Bailie, 2018. © IFC Films / courtesy Everett Collection

“The House That Jack Built”

©IFC Films/Courtesy Everett Collection / Everett Collection

Leave it to Lars von Trier to make a serial killer human. After he made his audience sympathize with a pedophile in “Nymphomaniac: Vol. II,” naturally all that was left was to turn his sadistic humanistic lens to a child killer. Aided by an inspired performance by Matt Dillon as the titular Jack, the protagonist in Von Trier’s darkest epic is plagued by Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, making his messy hobby as a murderer extra difficult. Von Trier mines this dichotomy for black humor, as we sympathize with Jack’s obsessive quirks while he talks his confessor, Virgil, through the details of his most heinous crimes. At just over two and a half hours, the tension of each gruesome scene helps the film sail along at a grotesque pitch. As each murder becomes more outlandish, the viewer is implicated in Jack’s transgressions, descending further into the circles of hell alongside this maniacal Dante. Sickeningly grotesque and utterly absorbing, “The House That Jack Built” is Von Trier at his most devilish artistic heights. —JD

128. “Relic” (Natalie Erika James, 2020)

RELIC, Robyn Nevin, 2020. ph: Jackson Finter/©IFC Midnight/Courtesy Everett Collection


©IFC Films/Courtesy Everett Collection

Echoes of David Cronenberg abound in Natalie Erika James’ chilling feature debut, “Relic.” Starring Emily Moritmer, Bella Heathcote, and Christian White, the film centers on three generations of women in a family that could be cursed by dark forces. With her 85-year-old mother spiraling into dementia, Mortimer’s Kay returns to her childhood home accompanied by her daughter, Sam (Heathcote). Not all is as it seems. “Relic” exists firmly in the realm of allegory, so if you’re looking for answers to the film’s spooky ambiguities and uncanny set pieces, you won’t find them. James is more concerned with creating an atmospheric rumination on intergenerational trauma, death, and dying that also happens to be a striking horror movie. In that sense, “Relic” belongs on the shelf next to “The Babadook” and “Hereditary” as highbrow, female-led horror movies that dwell in the slow burn. The movie concludes with easily one of the most disturbing, enigmatic, and strangely touching final scenes you’re likely to experience all year, a real showstopper that finds mother, daughter, and granddaughter coming together to bridge an ineffable gap. —RL

127. “The Evil Dead” (Sam Raimi, 1981)

THE EVIL DEAD, Ellen Sandweiss, 1981

“The Evil Dead”

Courtesy Everett Collection

The ultimate in cabin-in-the-woods terror, the franchise starter still impresses for its unrelenting pitilessness. Lacking the humor that defined “Evil Dead II” — and definitely did make that sequel the better film — this is a pretty monochromatic experience. Five college friends head to a rustic retreat where the porch swing ominously keeps banging into the side of the cabin until the moment the keys to the front door are retrieved from their hiding place. Pro tip: if that ever happens to you, rethink your vacation plans. A bevy of Sumerian demons lurk in these woods and the terrifying possessions that occur marries the supernatural terror of “The Exorcist” with the onslaught of dismemberment common in a zombie movie. Raimi calibrates every grisly happening to be as wince-inducing as possible: in his hands, a pencil can be as gruesome an instrument of terror as an axe.

A paragon of DYI filmmaking, Raimi schmoozed his way into raising the $375,000 budget himself, most of which surely went into the viscerally detailed makeup effects by Tom Sullivan, and had a crew made up largely of Raimi and star Bruce Campbell’s friends and family. Thirteen of the crew actually slept in the cabin itself, located near Morristown, Tennessee, in what by any standard sounds like a grueling shoot. But discomfort led to invention, and the dutch angles, inverted overhead shots, and home-made camera rigs Raimi and DP Tom Philo came up with resulted in an unusually absorbing movie. —CB 

126. “Dead of Night” (Alberto Cavalcanti, Charles Crichton, Robert Hamer, Basil Dearden, 1945)

DEAD OF NIGHT, Michael Redgrave, 1945

“Dead of Night”

Courtesy Everett Collection

When the Ealing Studios anthology film “Dead of Night” opened on September 9, 1945, it was the first horror movie to play in the U.K. in years: the British Board of Film Censors had banned horror movies during World War II. But what a great one to revive the genre: a man is invited to a country house in Kent for a party, and when he meets his fellow guests he has the disturbing feeling he’s seen all of them before. In fact, he has: in his dreams — nightmares all.

He proceeds to relate his nightmares, which begins a series of short horror films, some admittedly better than others. The best is Cavalcanti’s “The Ventriloquist’s Dummy,” which sets the stage for Chucky and “Magic” with the story of a ventriloquist (Michael Redgrave) who’s bullied into submission by his wooden puppet, who very much appears to have a personality of his own. Mixing scares with laughs, or at least dread with laughs — the moment Redgrave begs his dummy not to break off their partnership and go off on his own as a solo act and the dummy scornfully replies “Like hell I will!” is golden — “The Ventriloquist’s Dummy” mines some real pathos, appealing to the universal fear of abandonment. —CB

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