In this age of geekery and craft reigning supreme, film critics and academics no longer dismiss horror movies with the knee-jerk regularity some once did. But even now the specter of “elevated horror” (see that concept’s lambasting in “Scream 5″) looms over discussions of artier explorations of dread and terror — Ari Aster’s “Midsommar,” Luca Guadagnino’s “Suspiria,” Rose Glass’ “Saint Maud” — that are clearly distinguished from, well, non-elevated horror. The idea is that these exceptions to the “horror is bad” rule engage your brain more than just showing brains: eaten by zombies or splattered against the wall.
How can movies that fire your adrenal glands, send shivers down your spine, raise goosebumps, and quicken your breath — that inspire such an intense physical reaction — also be cerebral experiences? The answer is obvious enough. Viewers forget all the time that, as Anna Karina’s “Pierrot Le Fou” character Marianne Renoir says: “There can be ideas in feelings.”
What scares people says a lot about them, as the debates about “Get Out,” “Men,” and similar politically charged titles have revealed. What scares people, and makes them laugh, says even more; see “Ready or Not,” “Bodies Bodies Bodies,” or “What We Do in the Shadows.” These two genres, horror and comedy, are those most often expected to provoke an immediate, visceral reaction from audiences. Maybe the aversion some viewers have to both is a fear of losing control: of laughing so hard you snort or having to turn away in fright, of embarrassing yourself.
What’s funny is that horror, like comedy, is a genre in which each filmmaker has to assert their utmost control over the material so their audience can lose it. Extreme control so that the audience can lose control: That seems to be the key. What makes talk of so-called “elevated horror” misguided and even amusing is the assumption that such puppetry has not been at play since the horror genre’s inception in the silent film era. From before 1951’s “The Thing from Another World” to everything that’s come since the Kurt Russell starring “The Thing” remake in 1982, horror directors have been pulling the strings and pushing our buttons for decades.
To celebrate these intensely primal, personal films, the IndieWire staff has put together this list of the 200 Best Horror Movies of All-Time. It’s a list that captures the wide range and diversity of the genre, from underseen Laird Cregar vehicles to a Russian chiller based on a Nikolai Gogol story, from J-Horror to the Mexican gem “Alucarda.” Organized chronologically (and then alphabetized per year), this guide doubles as a history to a genre that’s been elevated all along.
Anne Thompson, Chris Lindahl, Chris O’Falt, Christian Zilko, David Ehrlich, Eric Kohn, Jamie Righetti, Jude Dry, Kate Erbland, Michael Nordine, Noel Murray, Ryan Lattanzio, Samantha Bergeson, Steve Greene, Tambay Obenson, and Zack Sharf contributed to this story.