Review Index


A Personal Selection

What follows are my fifty favorite horror movies of all time.  I like “Best of” lists as much as the next guy, and anyway, a number of you have asked me about my favorite horror movies, so here they are.

    In drawing up this list, I’ve endeavored to be strict in my definition of Horror.  Hence, faves like MASSACRE AT CENTRAL HIGH, TAXI DRIVER, SHOGUN ASSASSIN, THE FACE OF ANOTHER, THE HOLY MOUNTAIN and STALKER, although they may be close to horror (and considered as such by many), don’t make the cut.

    Furthermore, you may notice some “classics” missing from the list.  FRANKENSTEIN and DRACULA may be widely respected, but neither are particularly good movies in my view.  I’m not looking to impress anyone with the sophistication of my selections (I like THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI and EYES WITHOUT A FACE, but neither is a favorite) and I’m not choosing based on historical relevance (I respect M and PSYCHO for their precedent setting originality, but I’m partial to neither, particularly PSYCHO, which strikes me as overly calculated and mechanical).  Quite simply, what follows are the horror films I LIKE the most.

    They are:

1.  ERASERHEAD  (1976)
Yes, David Lynch’s ERASERHEAD is the scariest, strangest, most unrelentingly nightmarish film I’ve ever seen.  Did I say nightmarish?  The whole thing’s a nightmare, and certainly the ONLY big-haired-dude-living-with-a-mutant-baby-while-dreaming-of-the-lady-in-the-radiator movie you’ll ever need to see.  There have been many unclassifiable black and white horror-oddities in the years since ERASERHEAD, but none have gotten under my skin in quite the same way.  Demands to be viewed at least nine times. 

2.  THE SHINING  (1980)
I find Stanley Kubrick’s films scary even when they’re not horror-themed (the business with HAL the murderous computer in 2001 is damn freaky, as are the unforgettable basic training sequences of FULL METAL JACKET); here, making an all-out scare fest, he wasn’t kidding.  This film’s deceptively well-lit Overlook Hotel is one singularly shivery place, with ghosties of every variety.  Kubrick’s calm, cool style of calculated perfection works stunningly well in imparting an atmosphere where undying evil holds sway.  Jack Nicholson’s increasingly over-the-top emoting makes for a worthy counterpoint to Kubrick’s cerebral filmmaking, and Shelley Duvall’s controlled hysteria is in turn an equally potent tonic to Nicholson’s work.  Some dorks still insist the lame 1997 TV remake with Steven Weber and Rebecca DeMornay (snicker!) is superior—don’t believe ‘em!!! 

A classic of “quiet” horror: subtle, stately and gore-free.  Yeah, I know what you’re thinking: Yech!  Add to that a painfully low budget that’s obnoxiously evident throughout (the optical effects are extremely primitive, even by 1962 standards), much bad acting and a story that, at least in synopsis form, sounds like fodder for a mediocre TWILIGHT ZONE episode, and you’ve got...well, one of the most powerfully unsettling horror movies of all time.  No, this film really shouldn’t work, but believe me it does, imparting a profound sense of near-otherworldly unease that gets me every time! 

THE classic of head-banging, ass-kicking uber-horror.  Its grimy realism, shocking violence, imaginative art direction and sheer, undiluted delirium (particularly in the beyond-outrageous climax) have yet to be surpassed, and the final shot is among the all-time greatest. 

5.  PEEPING TOM  (1960)
Quite simply the last word on voyeurism, this Michael Powell production shocked critics worldwide upon its original release and was suppressed for years.  It’s still shocking today, being the bizarre account of a madman who kills attractive women with a spiked tripod leg while they watch themselves dying in a distorted mirror...and captures it all on film!  Other movies have probed the connection between psychosis and moviemaking, but none so potently as this one. 

6.  FREAKS  (1932)
I can’t see how anyone could NOT be freaked out by this politically incorrect movie, which is nonetheless a complex and intelligent look at freaks and our reactions to them.  The human oddities on display here—all of them entirely REAL—are by turns cunning, sad, petty, heroic and, ultimately, terrifying.  The blood-curdling climax is a guaranteed nightmare-inducer. 

7.  REPULSION  (1965)
Catherine Deneuve goes nuts?  Sounds good to me!  This is Roman Polanski’s greatest film, and introduced quite a few elements that have become genre staples.  The tiny-apartment-invaded-by-demonic-hallucinations has been recycled in quite a few lesser films, and I simply can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen the hands-bursting-out-of-the-walls sequence copied in the years since.  Yet no matter how often they’ve been ripped off, these elements all retain their full power in this timeless shocker

8.  DAWN OF THE DEAD  (1978)
Funny, scary, curiously touching and totally outrageous--the finest zombie movie of all time!  With great Tom Savini gore FX, some potent social commentary and a most unlikely central location—a suburban shopping mall—that George Romero somehow turns into one of the most memorable horror movie settings EVER.  Accept no substitutes!! 

9.  DEAD RINGERS  (1988)
This David Cronenberg skin-crawler is a flawlessly rendered masterwork that charts the horrific descent into madness undertaken by twin gynecologists.  Then-radical special effects, allowing Jeremy Irons to appear as twins cavorting in a single shot, remain seamless, enhanced by pitch-perfect performances from Irons.  Cronenberg’s smartest move was to direct the film like a tragic (albeit creepy) drama rather than a conventional scare fest, which only enhances the story’s underlying horror. 

10.  BLIND BEAST  [MOJU]  (1968)
Excepting ERASERHEAD, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a weirder movie than the Japanese BLIND BEST.  A blind sculpture kidnaps a beautiful fashion model and imprisons her in his eye-popping chamber of giant body part sculptures.  You’ve never seen anything like this place, nor have you seen another movie like this stunningly filmed blend of art and exploitation.   

11.  NEAR DARK  (1987)
This film was released in the US the same week as HELLRAISER.  As I remember, NEAR DARK seemed the lesser of the two back then.  Guess what?  NEAR DARK, it turns out, is one of the VERY few movies that actually get better with time (the same can not be said, unfortunately, for HELLRAISER).  The spare, poetic quality of the visuals remains hypnotic, and the central band of sadistic, punked-out vampires make THE LOST BOYS look like the teenybopper dweebs they are. 

Australia’s Peter Weir now makes Hollyweird flicks like DEAD POETS’ SOCIETY and THE TRUMAN SHOW.  His best work, however, was done much earlier, particularly in his two genre excursions, of which PICNIC AT HANGING ROCK is the first and best.  Set in the early 1900’s, it’s the quiet, dreamy, allegedly based on fact tale of three schoolgirls and a governess who mysteriously vanish during a sojourn at Hanging Rock, a prehistoric formation located somewhere in the Australian outback.  Weir never explains the disappearance of the girls, but superbly communicates the presence of an ominous, unknowable supernatural force at work, concentrated in the mysterious Hanging Rock. 

This tawdry fact-based black and white production could have sprung full-blown from the pages of TRUE DETECTIVE magazine.  Its mock-documentary veneer is entirely convincing, bolstered somehow by a music track consisting of Mahler symphonies(!).  Tony LoBianco plays Raymond Fernandez, a suave Latin charmer who scams lonely women out of their money.  He meets his match in Shirley Stoler as the obese Martha Beck, who tracks him down after he swindles her.  What follows is one of the most twisted love stories ever, with Martha assisting Raymond by tagging along as his “sister” on a series of mock marriages that turn murderous.  Stoler’s sad yet menacing performance is unforgettable.      

14.  TARGETS  (1968)
Only PEEPING TOM surpasses this film’s intelligent and unflinching dissection of the link between real and reel life violence.  TARGETS features Boris Karloff, essentially playing himself as an aging horror icon facing down a much younger, more modern monster: Tim O’Kelly as a clean cut suburban psychopath who out of the blue decides to embark on a random killing spree.  Neither character is aware of the other until the very end of the film, but director Peter Bogdonovich makes it clear throughout that these two are headed for a collision, as are our conceptions of what is scary now (O’Kelly) and then (Karloff).  TARGETS is over 30 years old, but its concerns are startlingly relevant to today’s world. 

15.  VIY  [a.k.a. THE VIJ]  (1967)
This Russian fantasy film has some truly amazing, jaw dropping imagery.  Sure, it starts out slowly, but once the horror kicks in, with the hero locked in a church with a witch, the film reeeeeeeally takes off, with an incredible barrage of monsters literally crawling out of the woodwork.  The special effects are primitive by today’s standards, but remain astoundingly effective nonetheless, proving that talent and imagination can actually trump a big budget. 

16.  THE LAST WAVE  (1977)
Scary and trippy, Peter Weir’s LAST WAVE is both a disaster movie and a serious inquiry into native Australian magic.  Richard Chamberlain (not one of my favorites but extremely good here) plays a lawyer who finds himself drawn into the weird world of some aborigine clients.  Weir’s touch, as in his previous PICNIC AT HANGING ROCK, is a disarmingly quiet one; you may just find yourself drawn into this film’s darkly mesmerizing world of raining frogs, underwater street corners and disquieting revelations in spite of yourself. 

17.  THE THING  (1982)
This one is a controversial choice.  It seems to be one of those movies people either really love or really hate.  Obviously I fall into the former category.  Unlike far too many horror moviemakers past and present, director John Carpenter isn’t afraid to show his monster up close and personal, and the stunningly imaginative mechanical FX of Rob Bottin make for some awesome sights.  The film’s corrosive atmosphere of apprehension and paranoia has always resonated with me, and seems more pertinent than ever in these post 9/11 days.  I also love the grim, ambiguous ending, which for me elevates the whole thing to another, more meaningful level. 

18.  MESSIAH OF EVIL  [a.k.a. DEAD PEOPLE]  (1975)
Another controversial choice.  I’ve heard some pretty compelling evidence to support the conclusion that this no-budgeter by the husband-wife team of Gloria Katz and Willard Huyck (who’d go on to make abominations like BEST DEFENSE and HOWARD THE DUCK) is total crap.  Yes, the story blatantly rips off NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD and the direction is far too self-conscious for its own good...but somehow the film excels in spite of it all.  It may well be a work of accidental genius.  Scenes of zombies invading the aisles of a supermarket or slowly filling up a movie theater have a deeply hallucinatory, nightmarish ambiance that’s unlike anything else.  Had David Lynch directed the aforementioned NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, the results might have looked something like this. 

19.  VIDEODROME  (1983)
Time has not been kind to this film, but its spectacularly gruesome, surreal imagery still startles.  Nobody on Earth has a mind like David Cronenberg’s, and in this film more than any other he really allows his imagination to run riot, with exhilarating (to me, at least) results.  A long red scar on a man’s chest mutating into a videotape-playing vagina?  A TV screen that literally makes out with its viewers?  A gun emitting long tendrils that burrow into its user’s arm?  I think it’s safe to say you won’t see anything else quite like VIDEODROME

A serious documentary about witchcraft that works today as one of the most outrageous spectacles of all time.  The “serious” aspect has been lost (if it ever existed to begin with), but director Benjamin Christensen’s fictional vignettes, featuring lascivious witches, naughty nuns and the Devil himself getting his ass kissed, remain unsurpassed for sheer insanity. 

21.  BEGOTTEN  (1989)
A worthy successor to ERASERHEAD, this is one of the most completely deranged movies of all time.  Like the aforementioned David Lynch film, BEGOTTEN is uncompromisingly weird and demands an awful lot from its viewers.  Those willing to put forth the effort will be rewarded with an astonishingly imaginative, gory freak-out that seems to be about a horrific trek through a mythical landscape precipitated by the death of God, who commits suicide by hacking himself up with a straight razor.  Yes, it’s that kind of movie!  The bleached-out, ultra-grainy black and white images, shot in 16mm and reconfigured in a lab for maximum disorientation, add to the otherworldliness of this cinemutation.  You may be bored, disgusted or both, but you will NOT forget BEGOTTEN!

22.  ALIENS  (1986)
Fast, intense, nasty and SCARY AS HELL!!!  You might want to see this James Cameron hell-for-leather sci fi/horror classic before proclaiming TITANIC his “masterpiece.”  Of the original ALIEN, incidentally, I don’t think all that much; sure, H.R. Geiger’s design work is superb and Ridley Scott’s visuals are impressive, but it’s goddamn boring waiting for the cast to be slooooooooooowly picked off by an all-too-obvious guy in a monster suit.  Cameron’s action makeover turns out to be exactly what the material needed. 

23.  DON’T LOOK NOW  (1973)
This Daphne Du Maurier-adapted film by Nicolas Roeg is a nerve-jangling effort unique in the way it fragments time, literally making it a character in the story.  Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie are an American couple living in Venice who become involved with an elderly psychic woman.  Years ago their young daughter was killed wearing a red jacket.  Guess what?  There’s a mysterious figure in a red jacket running through the streets of Venice...the ending is guaranteed to blow your mind. 

24.  THE KINGDOM  (1994/97)
Not really a movie, although it was released theatrically in the US.  Specifically, 2 roughly five-hour films were put out in ’94 and ’97, comprised of episodes of this Lars Von Trier produced Danish miniseries.  It’s a furiously compelling, hysterically funny and extremely spooky account of “The Kingdom,” a hospital infested by quirky doctors, loony patients and vindictive ghosts.  With its jerky handheld camerawork and video stock, THE KINGDOM can be seen as the forerunner of the Von Trier instituted “Dogma 95” series of films, but it remains unique. 

An extremely ambitious project that takes as its subject nothing less than the twin concepts of Good and Evil...or, if you prefer, Love and Hate, the words we see tattooed on the knuckles of star Robert Mitchum.  His performance here is almost certainly his best, as a murderous preacher who marries lonely women and then murders them so he can take their money.  Only problem is, two little kids stand in the way of the fulfillment of his latest crime.  A nightmarish chase ensues, in a film whose shadowy black and white photography pretty much defines eerie

26.  THE DEVILS  (1971)
Chilling, disturbing, outrageous, appalling and never boring—Ken Russell’s adaptation of Aldous Huxley’s DEVILS OF LOUDON is all these things and more.  Based on a real historical incident, but Russell’s aims were far more modern; he populates the film with recognizable, then contemporary “types” like a hippie exorcist and charismatic (rock star?) priest, all enclosed in a bizarre landscape composed of giant white walls (designed by future director Derek Jarman).  What goes on in this place, involving demonic possession, hysterical nuns and some nasty torture scenes, is loony beyond description, inciting laughter as often as it does scares (Russell, to his credit, never takes himself or his material too seriously). 

27.  THE HITCHER  (1986)
A truly shocking, nightmarish kill-fest that plays rough, so much so that an extended L.A. TIMES piece was written on it with the headline “How Does a Movie Like This Get Made?”  It’s a horrific take on Steven Spielberg’s DUEL that uncovers a deeply disturbing, possibly homosexual relationship between motorist C. Thomas Howell and the psychotic “Hitcher” (Rutger Hauer) who makes Howell’s life Hell while repeatedly imploring him to “stop me.”  Written by Eric Red, who also co-scripted NEAR DARK, another of my favorites; rather ironic, I’d say, as Red’s other projects—COHEN AND TATE, BODY PARTS, BAD MOON—are anything but. 

Poetic, erotic and deeply disturbing, this is THE Dr. Jekyll movie as far as I’m concerned.  Director Walerian Borowczyk has taken Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic and made the story entirely his own by bringing its underlying currents of perverse sexuality to the surface.  Although nowadays he’s been reduced to helming fodder like EMMANUEL 5, it’s important to remember that back in the day Borowczyk was the man.  See his stunningly surreal, erotic films GOTO ISLAND OF LOVE, IMMORAL TALES and THE BEAST, as well as DOCTEUR JEKYLL ET LES FEMMES, IMO his finest film, to see what I mean.   

It takes balls to make a horror movie whose scares nearly all take place in broad daylight, and great skill to pull it off.  The debuting John Hancock has both in spades, and Zohra Lampert, the vastly underrated star of this one-of-a-kind nerve-jangler, gives a flawless performance that really makes us feel her unstable character’s slow descent into madness.  The irony is that she’s just moved into a small town infested by very real vampires...or has she? 

30.  SANTA SANGRE  (1989)
This film mixes Luis Bunuel with Dario Argento to produce a surreal spectacle the likes of which I’ve never seen before...except maybe in the earlier films of its director Alejandro Jodorowsky: FANDO AND LIS, EL TOPO and THE HOLY MOUNTAIN.  A madman obsessed with the memory of his supposedly long-dead mother finds himself trapped in an insane world, a world made even crazier when his armless Ma appears one day and sends him on a murder spree while using his arms in place of her own.  There’s enough energy and imagination here to fill three “normal” films—will someone please give Jodorowsky the funds to make another movie?? 

31.  SECONDS  (1966)
This film plays into all our fantasies about new lives and second chances.  A discontented middle aged man stumbles onto a mysterious agency that fakes his death and literally turns him into Rock Hudson...but, needless to say, the new, supposedly better life the agency constructs isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.  James Wong Howe’s mind-boggling black and white photography makes excellent use of distorted lenses, creating a horrifically off-kilter universe of apprehension and foreboding.  It often looks more like a European art film rather than the Hollywood production it is, but its subject matter is strictly all-American.  In other words, you should watch SECONDS in place of AMERICAN BEAUTY. 

32.  BOXER’S OMEN  [a.k.a. MO]  (1981)
I love Hong Kong horror flicks, and this indescribably brain-fried concoction is the finest I’ve seen.  It’s COMPLETELY nuts, features much exploitive sex and nudity (ensuring that we’re never bored) and also provides a thought-provoking look into Buddhism’s darker extremes.  It’s got reanimated bat skeletons, sacred text that literally flows off the page and into an adherent’s body, snapping crocodile skulls, eel-vomiting, a melting body that reformulates itself into furry eyeball monsters, etc., etc., etc. 

33.  GOD TOLD ME TO  [a.k.a. DEMON]  (1976)
The story of this Larry Cohen brain-twister is difficult for me to describe without seeming like a babbling lunatic.  Here goes: a rash of random killings have struck NYC, all committed by seemingly normal folks claiming that “God told me to.”  The police officer hero investigates, uncovering an old woman who recalls having been taken aboard an alien spacecraft years earlier, where she was impregnated with twins.  One of the now grown twins is loose in an old apartment building, where he uses his extraterrestrial powers to convince people he’s God and do his deadly bidding for him.  The other twin is our hero, who discovers his own latent supernatural abilities and takes on his bro in a final apocalyptic conflagration.  The low budget is a constant annoyance, but Cohen’s fertile imagination and fearless genre mixing make for an unforgettable experience. 

34.  MANHUNTER  (1986)
Director Michael Mann includes far too many cheesy eighties fashions and pop tunes in his adaptation of Thomas Harris’ classic novel RED DRAGON, but this is still a singularly unnerving movie.  It has a disarmingly placid style and deeply scary performance by Tom Noonan as Francis “The Tooth Fairy” Dolarhide, one of the screen’s great psychos.  I like MANHUNTER better than any of the other Harris adapted films: SILENCE OF THE LAMBS, HANNIBAL and certainly RED DRAGON, the hopelessly overrated ’02 remake of this one. 

35.  POSSESSION  (1981)
This COMPLETELY nutzoid psychodrama is a veritable primal scream of a movie.  Its subject?  A disintegrating marriage brought down by rage, misunderstanding and the fact that the wife is carrying on an affair with a giant cucumber monster!  Divorce dramas were something of a staple during the early eighties (KRAMER VS. KRAMER, ORDINARY PEOPLE, SHOOT THE MOON, SMASH PALACE, MY FIRST WIFE), but THIS is the one to see, IMO.  Director Andrzej Zulawski has a genius for cinematic insanity (showcased in films like DIABEL and LE FEMME PUBLIQUE) and POSSESSION may well be his magnum opus.  FYI, I refer ONLY to the original 127-minute version of this film and NOT the heavily cut abomination released by Vestron Video!   

My favorite of the “Coffin Joe” films by Brazilian Jose Mojica Marins.  THIS NIGHT I’LL POSSESS YOUR CORPSE showcases a delirious mélange of grotesque and surreal imagery, and its climactic trip through Hell is among the most striking cinematic evocations of the Inferno ever rendered (Marins recycled the sequence in at least one other film).  The Overlook Horror Film Encyclopedia claims this film plays like “a very sick man’s home movies.”  Sounds good to me! 

37.  THE BEYOND  [L’ALDILA]  (1981)
Lucio Fulci’s best film, putting all his talents to excellent use.  The carefully constructed, steadily mounting atmosphere of dread is pure Fulci, as are the extremely copious, lovingly photographed (in extreme close-up more often than not) gore FX.  The blood-spattered set pieces are vivid and satisfying, with an Argento-esque dreamlike craziness.  The ending is particularly fine (SPOILER ALERT!!!): the central characters find themselves trapped in a surreal painting, which, given all that’s come before, seems like the only possible way the film can conclude. 

38.  NEKROMANTIK  (1987)
I’m allowed a bonafide guilty pleasure on this list, and NEKROMANTIK definitely qualities.  It’s the ONLY horror/love story about necrophiliacs you’ll ever need to see.  I admire this film for its uncompromisingly vile, grotesque and nasty aesthetic, though I’ll also allow that it’s hopelessly goofy, with laughable special effects.  But the fact is, I love every minute of this decayed, putrefying, maggot-ridden masterpiece. 

39.  SEVEN  (1995)
In direct contrast to overrated horrors like SILENCE OF THE LAMBS, SCREAM and THE RING, I believe SEVEN to be the state of the art in modern horror.  Incredibly grim and nightmarish, it showcases David Fincher as one of—if not the—most talented filmmakers of his generation.  He’s ably complemented by Kevin Andrew Walker’s authentically deranged script for a film that can be adequately summed up by a single word: DARK. 

40.  BRAINDEAD  [a.k.a. DEAD ALIVE]  (1992)
Often sighted as the goriest movie of all time.  That alone should count for something, but this comedic zombie mash is also sprightly, energetic and hysterically funny.  It is arguably the best work of New Zealand’s Peter Jackson (who now makes the LORD OF THE RINGS flicks), beautifully showcasing all his peculiar talents, as well as allowing for a Heaven-sent opportunity to go WAAAAAAAAY over the top.  In its mixture of horror and slapstick, BRAINDEAD resembles the EVIL DEAD flicks, but you know what?  I actually think it’s better. 

41.  JACOB’S LADDER  (1990)
A surprise from the director of FLASHDANCE(!), JACOB’S LADDER is a powerful and hallucinatory look at insanity, featuring a plethora of horrific sights—horns popping out of people’s mouths, folks with madly vibrating heads—made all the more disturbing by the fact that most of the horrors are dimply glimpsed and all were filmed in camera (no lame CGI work here!).  Intriguingly alternates between past (Vietnam) and present, and then reconfigures them in the twist ending.  FYI, my favorite scene comes not in the movie itself, but in the “deleted scenes” section of the DVD, which features an absolutely terrifying bit where Jacob is given an antidote to reverse the effects of his “ladder” and ends up locked in a room with an unseen monstrosity trying to break in. 

42.  RE-ANIMATOR  (1985)
A magnificent retro B-movie from the debuting Stuart Gordon, a guy who really knows how to do this kind of stuff.  RE-ANIMATOR is noted primarily for its outrageous gore, which nabbed the film an X-rating upon its initial US release.  Best scene: actress Barbara Crampton strapped nude to a table in the infamous “giving head” bit, still the end-all bad taste horror gag to beat. 

It may seem downright sacrilegious to choose this Werner Herzog production, a remake, over the original 1922 F.W. Murneau classic NOSFERATU, but the fact is I simply like it better.  Sorry.  Murneau’s innovation was to take (rip off, actually) Bram Stoker’s DRACULA and focus on the story’s underlying themes of death, disease and decay, complete with a vampire who more than anything else resembled a giant rat.  Herzog’s film intensifies the original film’s overriding queasiness, and features Klaus Kinski as Nosferatu.  I’m a BIG Kinski fan, and loved seeing him in pointy-eared vampire getup. 

44.  ROSEMARY’S BABY  (1968)
Roman Polanski’s classic is made effective by the sheer mundanity of its settings and atmosphere.  There are no dark castles here, just a NYC townhouse right out of an American sitcom.  Polanski lures us in with a deceptively calm, uneventful opening act, leading to a story teeming with Satan worship, supernatural conspiracies, mutant births and pure evil concealed behind the least likely facades, in particular that of a sweet old woman brilliantly played by Ruth Gordon. 

45.  ALUCARDA  (1975)
There’s not much of a story in this Mexican made nunsploitation movie, but its baroque visual design is brilliant, as are the incredible gore-and-nudity packed set pieces.  Mass orgies, levitating nuns, hideously painful exorcism rituals, reanimated corpses arising from blood filled coffins and a brain melting CARRIE inspired finale make this film the mini-masterpiece it is.  

46.  THE EXORCIST  (1971)
I’m not as enamored with this one as I know many of you are.  It’s an excellent film overall, certainly, and Linda Blair’s “freak-out” scenes are demonically perfect beyond compare.  I just wish so much of it hadn’t dated so poorly: the “family drama” at the center plays like bad soap opera, and the filmmaking often seems downright amateurish today.  A slow zoom back from Ellen Burstyn arguing with her estranged hubbie on the phone to reveal her daughter framed in a doorway had the audience at a recent LA revival laughing at the screen. 

47.  VAMPYR  (1932)
Carl Theodor Dreyer’s dark, murky phantasmagoria, partially based on DRACULA, is one the screen’s most authentically dreamlike movies.  The incoherent story, about a guy stuck at a strange inn where a woman has been bitten by a vampire, is ill constructed and perfunctory.  The film’s real draw is Dreyer’s unforgettably surreal imagery, particularly the famous sequence where the protagonist watches himself buried alive through a coffin window, one of the most justly celebrated in horror movie history. 

There simply MUST be at least one Mario Bava movie on this list, and BLACK SUNDAY, one of his earliest directorial outings, IMHO remains his finest work.  No other filmmaker had such a flair for horrific (yet disarmingly beautiful) imagery.  The story takes a back seat to the visuals (a recurring problem with Bava’s films), but when the images are as incredible as those on display here, do we really care?  BLACK SUNDAY also features the indispensable Barbara Steele in a duel role as a beautiful princess and an undead sorceress. 

I just caught up with this film within the last few months, but it’s quickly secured a place in my pantheon of all-time faves.  In contrast to many of the other films on this list, this is a straightforward, no-nonsense ghost story: a guy wrongs his wife, so her spirit comes back to take revenge.  Director Nobuo Nakagawa’s imagery is stunning, from the heroine’s glimpse of her decaying face in a hand mirror to her subsequent ghostly appearances.  A spooktacular in the classic mold. 

50.  INFERNO  (1980)
For me, this is the closest Dario Argento has ever come to making a fully satisfying movie.  As with all his films, it’s the delirious and kaleidoscopic set pieces that make INFERNO what it is.  Storytelling was never Dario’s strong point, and here he opted to pretty much ignore narrative logic altogether.  That’s okay, as INFERNO’S eye-popping color scheme, Goblin-esque Keith Emerson score and dreamlike ambiance (a puddle that leads to an underwater room?) make for a singular experience.



     One more thing: in an effort (doubtless a futile one) to staunch all the emails I’m sure to receive pointing out titles I “forgot,” I’ll briefly go into the types of horror movies I dislike.  I’m not a fan of the grossly overrated Val Lewton productions of the 40’s, the Hammer Films of the 60’s and 70’s, or modern-day teenybopper slasher flicks (be they “self-aware” a la SCREAM or otherwise).  And yes, I’ve seen quite a few of the shot-on-video no budgeters so prevalent in recent years, but none of them come anywhere near to making the above list!