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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.

The Greatest Horror Movies of All Time

90. “The Leopard Man” (Jacques Tourneur, 1943)

Editorial use only. No book cover usage.Mandatory Credit: Photo by RKO/Kobal/REX/Shutterstock (5867591c) Margo The Leopard Man - 1943 Director: Jacques Tourneur RKO USA Scene Still L'Homme léopard

“The Leopard Man”


It can’t be stated enough how influential the films of producer Val Lewton remain, the true auteur behind an extraordinary run of horror films for RKO in the 1940s. In their lo-fi ingenuity they suggested that more personal visions could be afforded to independent filmmakers — the smaller the budget the less scrutiny from the financiers. But their reliance on suggestion over shock would prove an important influence on even blockbuster filmmaking — Spielberg took Lewton’s lesson to heart with “Jaws” that what you don’t see can be scarier than what you do. “The Leopard Man” may be on the lesser end of the Lewton canon, but in the hands of one of his go-to directors, Jacques Tourneur, this whodunit about a rash of killings is dripping with rich detail in its unique New Mexico setting. Oh, it also has as chilling a murder scene as you’ll ever see. -CB
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89. “Viy” (Konstantin Yershov and Georgi Kropachyov, 1967)



Based on a story by Nikolai Gogol, “Viy” is one of the rare horror movies made in Russia during the Soviet era. A group of seminary student wandering the countryside spend a night in the company of a witch, who is murdered by one of the students. In the morning, they discover the witch was actually the daughter of a wealthy landowner, and now the men must pass three nights locked in the local church, protecting her body from evil spirits. The horrors the men encounter over the three nights could rival some of Guillermo del Toro’s best monsters: goblins with melting flesh, pointy demons, and jagged skeletons, disarticulated hands breaking through the walls of the church, and the spirit of the young witch, clad in an etherial white gown and daisy-chain flower crown, bloody tears in her eyes, alternatively beautiful and terrifying. Some of the scares in “Viy” are outdated, but it remains a fascinating glimpse at the type of filmmaking once hidden behind the Iron Curtain. -JR
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88. “The Hunger” (Tony Scott, 1983)

Editorial use only. No book cover usage.Mandatory Credit: Photo by MGM/UA/Kobal/REX/Shutterstock (5884918e) Ann Magnuson, David Bowie The Hunger - 1983 Director: Tony Scott MGM/UA Scene Still Horror Les Prédateurs

“The Hunger”


It’s hard to imagine anyone ever wanting to leave David Bowie behind, but that’s just what Catherine Deneuve does as the ethereal vampire Miriam in “The Hunger.” Although he was turned over 200 years prior and promised eternal life, Bowie’s John begins to age rapidly, causing him to realize eternal life doesn’t mean eternal youth. Repulsed by his appearance, Miriam spurns him and begins looking for a new conquest, which she soon finds in Sarah (Susan Sarandon), a doctor specializing in aging who was looking to help John. But Sarah isn’t as compliant as Miriam’s former lovers, and as Sarah struggles to adapt to her new way of life, it puts her in direct conflict with Miriam, threatening to expose her centuries-old secret. “The Hunger” is an atmospheric vampire film unlike any other. While much has been made about Sarandon and Deneuve’s steamy lesbian sex, the film is also known for its opening sequence, where John and Miriam are on the prowl for lovers they can turn into a meal. The iconic sequence later served as the inspiration for Lady Gaga’s introduction on “American Horror Story: Hotel.” -JR
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87. “Masque of the Red Death” (Roger Corman, 1964)

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“Masque of the Red Death”


It’s incredible how much Roger Corman could get out of so little. This Edgar Allan Poe adaptation starring Vincent Price as the wickedly decadent nobleman Prince Prospero whose many sins come back to plague him (literally) is a masterpiece of production design. One sequence follows someone walking through a chain of linked rooms in Price’s castle and each room’s furnishings and wallpaper are entirely one eye-popping color. This is as much a film for the eyes as Argento’s “Suspiria” and “Inferno” but if the bold hues in those gorefests seem often unmotivated by the story, Corman’s bold stylistic choices serve a political message: that the indifferent one-percent puts so much time into a design for living that they’ve forgotten all purpose for living. -CB
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86. “A Nightmare on Elm Street” (Wes Craven, 1984)

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“A Nightmare on Elm Street”

New Line/The Elm Street Venture/Kobal/REX/Shutterstock

Whatever meta rabbit holes the subsequent “Elm Street” installments may have navigated, Freddy Krueger’s original tale is decidedly old-fashioned. Simply, it’s about how young people always have to pay for the mistakes of preceding generations: when the parents of Elm Street took justice into their own hands and burned their neighbor Krueger alive after discovering he was a pedophile, he comes back as a ghost to menace their children. Craven’s message is clear: Krueger needed to be brought to justice, but people taking the law into their own hands is never justice. Heather Langenkamp’s Nancy is the finest Final Girl since Laurie Strode in her quest to both defeat Krueger and grapple with her parents’ sin. You feel her vulnerability and identify with her so strongly as horrible frights await her: Krueger’s hateful telephone calls (somehow even literally lashing his tongue out through the phone receiver) and his claw-like hand emerging from the bathwater when she’s soaking in the tub. Those are indelible images, but it’s to Craven’s credit that they work not to dehumanize Nancy, but to cause you to identify and empathize with her all the more. -CB
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85. “Antichrist” (Lars von Trier, 2009)

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The first film in master provocateur Lars von Trier’s “Depression Trilogy,” it drew much controversy, and generated a myriad of theses and analyses, as with every other von Trier film. Beautifully stylized, dense with mourning and despair, telling the story of a couple who, after the death of their child, retreat to a cabin in the woods where the man has bizarre visions and the woman engages in increasingly violent sexual behaviour, “Antichrist” is said to have been influenced by von Trier’s own struggles with depression at the time of its writing. It is evident. Certainly divisive when it was released, it can ultimately be regarded as a meditation on human responses to psychological trauma. Prepare to be confronted by its at times graphic cruelty. At the very least, audiences will be captivated by its striking tableaux and strong performances from Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg. “Melancholia” and “Nymphomaniac” complete von Trier’s trilogy. -TO
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84. “What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?” (Robert Aldrich, 1962)


“What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?”


The best horror movies include both surface-level scares for an escapist jolt and deeper fears we can all relate to. Robert Aldrich’s adaptation of Henry Farrell’s pulp novel could’ve been just shock and schlock in its depiction of two sisters, one a former child star Jane (Bette Davis) whose fame was eclipsed by the later success of her movie star sister Blanche (Joan Crawford), who will spend the rest of her life in a wheelchair following an accident for which Jane is blamed. These two have been forgotten by the world and when we join them it seems they’ve been living out the same daily routine for decades — Jane slouches up the stairs taking meals up to Blanche with a sneer and a snide remark. Their lives are already over: they’re doomed to just rehash the same grievances from ages ago ad infinitum. The only thing that could change is if Jane’s resentment curdles into murderous rage. It does. The real fear Davis and Crawford tap into so urgently is fear of regret, building up to a final scene of ennui set on a beach that rivals the far more self-consciously arty beach-set ending notes of contemporaneous ennui in “The 400 Blows” and “La Dolce Vita”: “You mean this whole time we could have been friends?” -CB
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83. “The Ghost Ship” (Mark Robson, 1943)

Editorial use only. No book cover usage.Mandatory Credit: Photo by RKO/Kobal/REX/Shutterstock (5868266b) Richard Dix The Ghost Ship - 1943 Director: Mark Robson RKO USA Scene Still

“The Ghost Ship”


Kind of like John Ford’s “The Long Voyage Home” by way of “The Shining,” “The Ghost Ship” is Val Lewton’s slow-burn study of how passive-aggression can boil over into murderousness. Sailor Tom Merriam (Russell Wade) of the merchant vessel Altair come to suspect that something’s wrong with Captain Stone (Richard Dix) — at key moments he seems to go into a negative panic, at others he likes to bore the crew with dry, lengthy explanations of his views on authority. After one crewman, Louie (a young Lawrence Tierney), questions one of Stone’s orders, the captain replies, “You know, there are captains who might hold this against you, Louie.” Shortly thereafter, Louie is crushed to death by the anchor chain. Coincidence? Obviously not. But even if the rest of the crew suspect Stone’s a killer, they’d rather ignore his crimes or explain them away rather than get on his bad side while at sea — it’s up to Wade’s Merriam to play the part of a high-seas Will Kane, shake them out of their apathy, and recognize that the captain’s behavior should not be normalized. No one else wants to rock the boat. -CB
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82. “The Skin I Live In” (Pedro Almodovar, 2011)

Editorial use only. No book cover usage.Mandatory Credit: Photo by El Deseo S.A./Kobal/REX/Shutterstock (5884680h) Elena Anaya, Antonio Banderas The Skin I Live In - 2011 Director: Pedro Almodovar El Deseo S.A. USA Scene Still Drama La Piel Que Habito La piel que habito

“The Skin I Live In”

El Deseo S.A./Kobal/REX/Shutterstock

Spanish auteur Pedro Almodovar is in full Hitchcock mode for this twisty, sexy medical revenge thriller adapted from Thierry Jonque’s 2005 crime novel, “Tarantula.” Reunited with his protegé Antonio Banderas (“Matador”) after two decades, Almodovar digs into an offbeat plastic surgeon who pursues the far reaches of transgenic therapy, using pig genes to create impenetrable human skin. He also is keeping gorgeous Vera (Elena Anaya) captive in his home, refreshing her epidermis behind a white face mask. Housemaid Marilia (Maris Paredes) is also one of many mysteries to be revealed — his wife’s face was burned in an accident, for one thing — in a strange world where anything can (and does) happen. -AT
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81. “Suspiria” (Luca Guadagnino, 2018)



There are many horror films in which the filmmaking transcends its B-movie script, but Luca Guadagnino’s “Suspiria” remake is manages to do the exact opposite — this dense and erudite script at times requires Cliff’s Notes and a Witches 101 college-level course to understand, but the filmmaking is so intense and virtuoso that it serves as its own exposition. A movement elicits violence, a cut its supernatural connection. Compositions become lust, while sound embodies the world’s discord. Even for Guadagnino devotees, the depths of his raw filmmaking skill demonstrated in this film will astound, as much as the bone-crunching violence will unsettle. -CO
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