25 Essential Horror Films

Looking to feel a little bit of Halloween spirit? Here’s a list of horror films that cannot be missed!

25. Alice (1988, Jan Svankmajer)

One of the most wildly unique films out there.  Like a kind of psychedelic horror take on Alice In Wonderland.  Watching this feels like playing one of those weird Nintendo 64 games.  It’s not a perfect film and probably not one I’d see myself revisiting too often but it’s a real one of a kind and does evoke some unforgettably terrifying moods.  It’s absolutely worth watching at least once.


24. The Blair Witch Project (1999, Eduardo Sanchez, Daniel Myrick)

The pioneer of the found footage film movement.  And still the best one in my mind!  I have a distinct memory of watching parts of this when I was 5 and it being one of the most terrifying things I’d ever seen.  The amateur nature makes the group of kids being lost in the woods feel incredibly authentic and that there is a true force of evil in the air.  A clever one of a kind film.


23. The Fly (1986, David Cronenberg)

A fantastic blend of being ethereal, heartfelt and gross.  It’s a disgusting and horrifying film that also leaves you feeling emotionally tied to the characters and their situations.  The make up design is stunning here.  Truly dark and terrifying stuff.


22. The Witch (2015, Robert Eggers)

Not a typical horror film in the slightest.  It’s more of a grounded historical drama with roots of the folky superstitions of the time period (this film being set in the 1630s).  It carries an air of paranoia within witchcraft around these characters.  It’s a slow burner full of masterful tension building.  The story is told in a folktale manner.  There are some genuinely terrifying moments here.  One of the greatest horror films to come out of this decade.


21. Kwaidan (1964, Masaki Kobayashi)

An anthology of classic Japanese horror tales.  Each of these unique stories contain their own atmosphere, characters and twists/turns.  A very haunting and stunning film with all stories leaving a disturbing taste by the end.  Perhaps the ultimate ghost film; it makes one feel as if they are listening to ghost stories at a campfire.


20. Get Out (2017, Jordan Peele)

A wildly entertaining and unique film that rightfully goes down as one of the most pop culturally significant of the decade.  A fascinating blend of horror, comedy and social commentary.  Has the feel of a Twilight Zone episode.  


19. Dawn Of The Dead (1978, George A Romero)

Perhaps the most essential zombie film of all.  It contains an endlessly enjoyable atmosphere and tone that makes it captivating from start to finish.  This clearly took plenty of influence from the Italian horror films being made in this era, particularly the films of Dario Argento.  


18. Hereditary (2018, Ari Aster)

Perhaps the most worthwhile and refreshing horror experience of a decade which has been reviving all kinds of horror sub genres.  It takes its influences from The Shining to Rosemary’s Baby and makes something refreshingly new out of it.  Some of the best and genuinely terrifying horror to come out in a long time.  The atmospherics are strong and performances are top notch, especially from Toni Colette. Her portrayal of a character gradually losing her mind is out of this world.


17. Halloween (1978, John Carpenter)

Another horror classic that holds up remarkably well.  The tone is minimalist, the atmosphere is strong and it’s basically the film to pioneer the slasher genre.  And still probably the most well made slasher to date.  Carpenter showcases a natural touch to capturing fear, tension and dread. 


16. Alien (1979, Ridley Scott)

A timeless horror classic that holds up remarkably well.  This all comes down to the pacing.  A generic B movie premise is told in a slow burner manner, evoking a sense of dread amongst each character.  


15. Jaws (1975, Steven Spielberg)

Much like Alien in the sense that it’s a cheesy B movie premise elevated to A tier status.  I am of the mind that this is Speilberg’s finest moment as a filmmaker.  Along with masterfully developing tension and suspense, he knows how to make these main characters plain likable.  This thing has too many iconic horror moments to count.


14. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974, Tobe Hooper)

A classic of 70s horror which also greatly foreshadows the slasher horror genre.  45 years later and it still has an incredibly disturbing and shocking nature to it.  A timeless tale of hippies who pick up the wrong hitchhiker; and that’s only the beginning. Foreshadows the slasher genre which would be fully realized in Halloween as well as the found footage approach seen in The Blair Witch Project.  Can’t imagine any horror fans not loving this one.


13. Suspiria (1977, Dario Argento)

A beautifully shot and masterfully executed piece of suspenseful horror.  Every moment is captivating within its colorful world and every character death leads to a greater mystique around this bizarre world.  It has some of the greatest lightning and color schemes I’ve ever seen in a film.  Goblin’s soundtrack is pretty unforgettable as creates a sense of uneasinessness and kind of rocks too.  There are many things to love here.  The ultimate Italian horror experience.  


12. Diabolique (1955, Henri-Georges Clouzot)

One of the greatest and most genuinely thrilling horror films I’ve ever seen.  Don’t let the fact this is a French film made in the 50s fool you into thinking this isn’t capable of edge of your seat suspense.  This thing gets wild!  Alfred Hitchcock was actually fighting to direct this but he’d just lost out in buying the screenplay.  Director Henri Georges-Clouzot does every bit as good, if not better, than I’d imagine Hitchcock doing.  Everybody must give this one a shot; the suspense and mood of dread is strong; reminiscent of The Shining and Rosemary’s Baby.


11. The Thing (1982, John Carpenter)

A classic tale of “us vs. them”.  Basically a fresh take on the Alien premise but set in Antartica instead of space.  And there’s an added sense of paranoia each character feels from each other.  Nobody can trust each other.  It’s a tale that’s deeply disturbing, haunting and is a plain thrill ride.  Carpenter’s visual effects are timeless, doesn’t feel like they came from 1982 at all.  It’s quite possibly the greatest horror remake of all time.  Fans of Tarantino’s Hateful Eight will find great similarities here.


10. Lost Highway (1997, David Lynch)

The entire film is one big psychological maze.  Basically David Lynch’s warm up to Mulholland Drive.  It’s a dark twisted puzzle that can’t be properly solved.  You will change your interpretation every time you revisit it and that’s the beauty of it.  Although Lynch would do this kind of formula even better with Mulholland Drive, this is one cold and horrifying experience that just might be Lynch’s darkest effort to date.


9. The Night Of The Hunter (1955, Charles Laughton)

Basically what would happen if the Coen Brothers were around back in the 50s.  This must’ve influenced them so much.  This film feels incredibly ahead of its time.  A desperate father turns to robbery, which lands him in prison.  A psychotic murderer disguised as a preacher is after the money and will do anything to get his hands on it.  And that’s just the beginning.  This film goes all over the place.  The whole thing has a classical gothic tone just as much as it has the tone of a children’s fairy tale.  This is a true one of a kind that feels remarkably ahead of its time.


8. Eraserhead (1977, David Lynch)

The film equivalent of having a really bad and unforgettable nightmare.  It’s possibly the most nightmare fueled film I’ve ever seen as well as the most dark and disturbed.  It has a way of tapping into deeply seeded fears.  A completely unique film in already unique filmmaker David Lynch’s catalogue.  One of those films that is tailor made to be experienced at midnight.


7. The Silence Of The Lambs (1991, Jonathan Demme)

Such a perfectly made film.  Kind of like the Casablanca or The Godfather of the horror/thriller genre in the way that every element of filmmaking comes together so perfectly.  The suspense is very well crafted.  I love its contrast between good and evil.  The character development is incredible, there is a great sense of humanity to be found within the darkness.  Kind of like Twin Peaks in that sense.  It makes me so happy that it not only won best picture for 1991, but is one of the three films in Academy history to win all five major academy awards.  


6. Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (1992, David Lynch)

An amazing and somewhat underrated piece of psychological horror.  Although the recent release of Twin Peaks: The Return has elevated this film to a higher regarded status.  Although it is essential to see seasons 1 and 2 of the show to get a serious impact out of this, it couldn’t be more worth it.  One of the most powerful and sleazy horror experiences I’ve ever had.


5. Psycho (1960, Alfred Hitchcock)

The first true modern horror film.  And still one of the best!  I honestly consider this to be one of the first films in general that feels like modern filmmaking.  Anthony Perkin’s acting feels way more three dimensional and layered than most films of the time period.  The directing is also highly detailed and atmospheric.  It’s a perfect horror film.  Genuinely suspenseful, surprising twists and turns, shocking death scenes, everything great about horror is here on full display.  Everybody knows the shower scene but there are two or three more scenes just as brilliant to look out for.  It’s timeless and endlessly masterful.


4. Rosemary’s Baby (1968, Roman Polanski)

A timelessly brilliant horror film.  The pacing is absolutely masterful.  It has a perfect slow burner feel in the way it pulls you into the characters lives so naturally that you forget it’s even a horror film for a while.  Then when the terror hits, it hits HARD.  It’s a fantastic exploration on paranoia.  You as a viewer are confused as Rosemary is constantly second guessing whether the implied Santanic rituals are actually real or all in her head.  Takes Hitchcock levels of suspense to the next level, this feels more visceral than anything he did.  


3. Blue Velvet (1986, David Lynch)

The David Lynch film to reach beyond Lynch’s cult audience and reach a wide audience.  Even though it is probably Lynch’s most accessible film of his surrealistic horror works, it sure is one odd film.  I don’t think there is a scarier character out there than Frank Booth, played masterfully by Dennis Hopper.  He is essentially all that is terrifying embodied into a person.  And Kyle MacLaughlin is just perfect as Jeffery Beaumont, who is a naive college kid both horrified and intrigued by all of the seediness and darkness he gets himself into.  This film is many things, ranging from an exploration on good vs. evil, a young man’s sexual awakening, a Hardy Boys mystery on acid, etc.  A true one of a kind that cannot be missed by any fans of horror and/or surrealism.


2. Mulholland Drive (2001, David Lynch)

Basically a dreamy/horror Pulp Fiction.  Takes what Lynch was doing with Lost Highway and adds a much more personable and an emotionally powerful angle.  A truly mind boggling cinematic experience. There’s nothing out there like it. It’s one of those films that will always remain an enigma no matter how many times you see it. The power of the film is driven by a dreamlike hypnotic spell it puts the viewer under. This film has the power to connect into your sub-conscience like few others I’ve ever seen. It’s a downright transcendental experience that is tragic, dark and horrifying.   Also very heartbreaking, weird and somewhat hilarious.  The perfect mystery/horror film experience.


1. The Shining (1980, Stanley Kubrick)

Simply the greatest horror film of all time in my mind.  It’s such a masterpiece that has a way of permanently sticking with its viewer.  The slow burn pacing feels so perfect and delivers in everything it builds up to.  Much like Rosemary’s Baby, it has a natural way of reeling you into the character’s lives.  Although the sense of dread is way louder here right off the bat.  The character development within the Torrance family is honestly some of the best I’ve ever seen.  The hotel itself feels like a supernatural character, as if it were putting the Torrance family through an endless psychological maze.  The soundtrack by Wendy Carlos is simply legendary, which really puts great emphasis on the general aesthetics of the film.  It’s the greatest kind of soundtrack for a horror film, I honestly wish more were like it.  To me, this is THE definitive horror experience and is a timeless masterwork of expert tier filmmaking.

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