The 50 Best Horror Movies on Shudder (2021)

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The 50 Best Horror Movies on Shudder (2021)

If you’re a horror geek, then surely you’re at least aware of the existence of Shudder at this point. The genre-focused service helped to prove the viability of niche streaming when it launched in 2016, boasting a robust library of horror, thriller and sci-fi features, while using its considerable marketing clout (thanks, AMC ownership) to ensure that it had far more visibility than would-be competitors. Along the way, it also explored the Netflix route of increasingly allocating budget toward original programming, bringing us series such as the Creepshow revival, and the resurrection of MonsterVision’s Joe Bob Briggs as a horror host.

Today, the Shudder library is typically one of the more eclectic that can be found on the web, with more depth and unusual picks than any of the major streamers (the likely exception being Amazon Prime). It has grown and shrunk at different periods throughout the service’s lifespan, as Shudder has faced the same difficulties with streaming rights as everyone else, but currently boasts more than 300 titles—closer to 400 once you factor in the TV side of the equation—representing an interesting amalgam of vintage slashers, historical horror classics, modern releases, foreign films and hidden gems. Certainly, Shudder is less reliant on straight-to-VOD junk than the likes of Netflix, which is a mark in its favor.

Allow us, then, to be your guide through the best Shudder has to offer.

You may also want to check out these other horror movie lists/streaming guides.

The 100 best horror films of all time.
The 100 best vampire movies of all time.
The 50 best zombie movies of all time.
The Best Horror Movies Streaming on Netflix
The best horror movies on Amazon Prime
The 50 best movies about serial killers
The 50 best slasher movies of all time
The 50 best ghost movies of all time
The 50 Best Movies About Serial Killers


50. Pieces

pieces poster (Custom).jpg Year: 1982
Director: Juan Piquer Simón

Pieces is the sort of silly, head-scratching early ’80s slasher where it’s difficult to decide if the director is trying to slyly parody the genre or actually believes in what he’s doing. Regardless, it’s a delightfully stupid movie, featuring a killer who murders his mother with an axe as a child after she scolds him for assembling a naughty adult jigsaw puzzle. All grown up, he stalks women on a college campus and saws off “pieces” in order to build a real-life jigsaw woman. The individual sequences are completely and utterly bonkers, the best one being when the female lead is walking down a dark alley and is suddenly attacked by a tracksuit-wearing “kung fu professor” played by “Brucesploitation” actor Bruce Le. After she incapacitates him, he apologizes, says he must have had “some bad chop suey,” and waltzes out of the movie. The whole thing takes less than a minute. That’s the kind of randomness one finds in Pieces, which also boasts one of the best film taglines of all time: “Pieces: It’s exactly what you think it is!” — Jim Vorel


49. Chopping Mall

chopping mall poster (Custom).jpg Year: 1986
Director: Jim Wynorski

Calling Chopping Mall the best film by director Jim Wynorski isn’t saying much—at all—but it remains a minor ’80s horror/sci-fi classic despite that. The premise is irresistible pulp, dressed in ’80s neon teen fashion—a group of kids hide out in the mall past closing time so they can party (and score) in one of the furniture stores overnight. Little do they know, however, that the mall recently unveiled a new fleet of deadly efficient security robots that are, shall we say, more than a little twitchy. The cast gives us Kelli Maroney, who also appears in the similarly teen-inflected Night of the Comet, and Roger Corman regular Dick Miller as the janitor, once again playing his signature role: “that guy who gets killed in an ’80s horror movie.” It’s a desperate fight for survival as the kids face off against the robots like the zombies of Dawn of the Dead, except with much more gallows humor. Today, genre fans are likely to fondly remember Chopping Mall for the fact that it contains one of the greatest single practical effects of the era; the graphic explosion of Suzee Slater’s head, followed by the robot’s wry line of “Thank you, have a nice day.” You’ve gotta love it. —Jim Vorel


48. Hell Night

hell-night-poster.jpg Year: 1981
Director: Tom DeSimone

1981 was almost certainly the most prolific single year of the early 1980s slasher boom, but already by this point some of the films were getting a bit on the derivative side. Hell Night is one that stands out mostly for its oddities—a “college hazing” story that feels like the result of a producer wondering what would happen if you mixed the emergent slasher genre with older horror film styles, like Hammer gothic horror films and American “old dark house” films of the 1930s-1940s. Consequently, the cast of young college students spending the night in abandoned “Garth Manor” are dressed in frilly period clothing, which gives an odd flavor to a film about these teens being stalked by the still-living, deformed monster known as “Andrew Garth.” Designed as a star vehicle for Linda Blair (in full-on Jamie Lee Curtis mode), 8 years after The Exorcist, it’s a bit uncomfortable to watch a grown-up Regan rocking some gaudy cleavage, but her performance really isn’t as bad as contemporary audiences made out—certainly not deserving of the Razzie Award for which she was nominated, anyway. The direction and production design, meanwhile, are actually quite good, taking advantage of the unusual slasher film setting with some atmospheric lighting and moody set-ups. As for “Andrew Garth,” he’s a pretty stock slasher villain of the day, with little motivation besides “kills people who come to Garth Manor,” but at least he gets a memorable denouement. —Jim Vorel


47. Bad Moon

bad moon poster (Custom).jpg Year: 1996
Director: Eric Red

May we present what is arguably the most underrated werewolf movie of all time: Bad Moon. From the premise, which revolves around a single mom and her precocious little boy living out in the woods when their werewolf uncle comes to visit, you might for a moment think that this film will be treating its subject with kiddie gloves, but man would you be mistaken. This is made clear enough within the opening minutes, which not only includes a fairly explicit sex scene but then features a camp full of people being torn limb from limb by a werewolf before its head is blown off with a shotgun. It’s a fist-pumping, Peter Jackson-esque “FUCK, YEAH!” moment that sets the tone for what is a campy, stupid but very fun feature. In some sense, the actual main character is the family’s overgrown and defensive German shepard, who is the only one to suss out the werewolf’s identity, pitting dog vs. wolf in a battle of wits. Featuring a whole lot of bloodletting, Bad Moon is entertaining despite (or perhaps because of) its melodramatic performances, and it also happens to feature one of the best physical werewolf suits you’ll ever see. Why the filmmakers used any of the atrocious CGI you’ll see in the transformation scene is beyond me, given how spectacular the actual suit looks. Don’t sleep on Bad Moon—it’s the best werewolf movie you’ve never heard of. a—Jim Vorel


46. Sleepaway Camp

sleepaway camp poster (Custom).jpg Year: 1983
Director: Robert Hiltzik

Of all the camp-based Friday the 13th rip-offs, Sleepaway Camp is probably the best one that isn’t The Burning. Our main character is Angela, a troubled girl who absolutely everyone picks on for no good reason. Seriously—it’s one of those ’80s era movies with a main character who is an “outsider” constantly harassed by dozens of people, but without any impetus or explanation—it’s just Angela’s lot in life. Everyone who meets her immediately hates her guts and subjects her to cruel taunting. But soon, the people at the camp who were mean to Angela start getting knocked off. The movie seems calculated to come off as a straight horror film, but the death scenes are often so outlandish that it veers pleasurably into horror comedy, as well. Highlights include the lecherous camp cook, who gets a giant vat of boiling water dumped on his face, or the kid who gets a beehive dropped into the outhouse with him. If you love classic slashers, it’s a must-see, especially for the ending. I won’t spoil anything, but Sleepaway Camp can proudly lay claim to one of the most shocking, WTF endings in slasher movie history. —Jim Vorel


45. Absentia

absentia poster (Custom).jpg Year: 2011
Director: Mike Flanagan

Before he became Netflix’s go-to guy for horror, in projects such as Gerald’s Game and The Haunting of Hill House, Mike Flanagan completed his first feature, Absentia, which may very well be the best horror film you’ll ever see that raised its initial budget on Kickstarter. The film’s most notable achievement, though, is just how little it happens to be constrained by the extremely meager budget—at least until the third act gets a bit overambitious. Still, Absentia is a really impressive piece of indie filmmaking, with steady direction and fantastic performances from actresses Courtney Bell and Katie Parker, the former playing a woman who is finally going through the steps of declaring her husband dead after he went missing seven years earlier. Only now, she seems to be seeing him everywhere she looks. Part psychological thriller and part urban legend fantasy, it hinges almost entirely on the skillful, naturalistic performances of its leads and a collection of well-timed, unexpected scares that are sprung on the viewer when you’re least expecting them. Only in the big finale does its reach exceed its grasp, which makes us wish that perhaps Flanagan could remake Absentia someday, complete with the budget it needs. —Jim Vorel


44. Body Bags

body-bags-poster.jpg Year: 1993
Directors: John Carpenter, Tobe Hooper, Larry Sulkis

Sometimes, even anthologies with less-than-stellar stories can get by on sheer charming commitment to gross-out delights, and that’s John Carpenter’s Body Bags for you. Originally conceived as a gorier, more grotesque spin on the Tales From the Crypt formula for Showtime, the series was cancelled after only a few potential episodes had been filmed. Not wanting to lose the material, Carpenter simply assembled his favorites into a feature film. Each segment isn’t particularly memorable, except for the closer, which features Mark Hamill as a baseball player who loses an eye and then gains the eye of a serial killer via a donation. You can guess where things go from there. What is memorable about Body Bags is the goofy wraparound segments, which feature Carpenter himself as a Crypt Keeper-esque mortician who gleefully hacks apart bodies and drinks formaldehyde, showing a much lighter hearted personality than you’d expect from the director of dour films like The Thing or Prince of Darkness. It’s fun to watch Body Bags today for the not-so-subtle genre references (“Another grisly murder in Haddonfield today…”) and the incredible array of character actors and cameos that were lined up, including the likes of Wes Craven as a leering perv, Stacy Keach as a guy receiving miracle hair transplants, Charles Napier as a baseball manager, Twiggy as a housewife (reuniting these two from The Blues Brothers), Roger Corman as a doctor, Tom Arnold as a mortician and Sam Raimi as a corpse. —Jim Vorel


43. Haunt

haunt-2019-poster.jpg Year: 2019
Director: Scott Beck, Bryan Woods

The “haunted house turns out to be real” horror subgenre is not a new one, with entries as recent as 2018’s Hell Fest, but Scott Beck and Bryan Woods’ Haunt attracted a notably warmer reception from horror geeks, most of whom seemed to appreciated its relative simplicity and throwback mentality. There’s a surface-level commentary here on abusive relationships and overcoming one’s crippling emotional baggage, although those are phrases you could throw around as backstory for practically any slasher protagonist—with that said, Haunt’s characters are a bit better than most, which is a strength. It’s hard not to be reminded of Channel Zero’s second season, “No-End House,” which similarly sent its protagonists into a supposed entertainment site in order to screw with their minds, but the goal here is nowhere near so lofty or cerebral—we’re just here to watch the group get picked off one at a time, until they manage to unmask the true nature of the sickos running things in this attraction behind the scenes. As is, it’s a serviceable modern quasi-slasher. —Jim Vorel


42. Horror Noire

horror-noire-poster.jpg Year: 2019
Director: Xavier Burgin

In the opening preamble of Shudder’s new documentary Horror Noire, professor Robin R. Means Coleman lays out a simple but effective mission statement when it comes to assessing the history of African Americans in the past century of horror cinema: “Black history is black horror.” Brutally honest, perhaps, but equally incisive. Horror Noire is a documentary about a community of often ostracized and maligned people coming to terms with their fondness for a genre that has rarely treated them well. Director Xavier Burgin has made what is for the most part a talking heads documentary, primarily structured around actors, writers and directors ruminating on the horror genre from the confines of a darkened theater. It comes to viewers in the guise of a history lesson, but simultaneously manages to provoke some palpable cognitive dissonance from its subjects and would-be teachers, who often find themselves grappling with the enjoyment they feel as audience members vs. the weight of responsibility they feel as black educators or activists—the compulsion to always be striving to combat inequality. Author Tananarive Due puts it best in the film’s opening moments: “We’ve always loved horror. It’s just that horror, unfortunately, hasn’t always loved us.” —Jim Vorel


41. Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers

halloween-4-poster.jpg Year: 1988
Director: Dwight H. Little

The return of Michael Myers to the franchise after Halloween 3: Season of the Witch’s misanthropic diversion into the anthology format was a move that initially pleased fans of the original Halloween, but the years that followed have not been kind to Halloween 4’s reputation. However, we are here to defend it: This is arguably a more entertaining film than first sequel Halloween 2, and one that gets an above-average horror movie performance out of Danielle Harris as Jamie Lloyd, who was only 9 years old at the time. Michael is at his menacing best, especially in the early dream sequence in which he emerges from beneath Jamie’s bed, and Donald Pleasence as Dr. Loomis is more histrionic and hyperbolic than ever as he insists—loudly and constantly—that Myers is a monster that must be destroyed once and for all. Halloween 4 is even blessed with one of the more legitimately shocking endings to an ’80s-era slasher film … but one that was unfortunately retconned at the beginning of Halloween 5 after producers got cold feet about committing to its consequences. In the end, that association with Halloween 5 (and don’t even get us started on Halloween 6) is the anchor around the neck of Halloween 4, but judged solely by its own merits, it deserves to be here. —Jim Vorel


40. Creepshow 2

creepshow-2-poster.jpg Year: 1987
Director: Michael Gornick

Creepshow 2 is very much a 1980s horror sequel in the sense that it attempts to largely replicate what audiences enjoyed about the first film in its series without mucking around too much with the formula, and produces a good (but not quite great) effort in the process. Things are hurt a bit here by the reduction in overall stories from five to three, which puts more weight on each individual entry. “Old Chief Wood’nhead” and “The Hitch-hiker” each have their moments, the first feeling like an HBO Tales From the Crypt episode and the latter like a Twilight Zone entry, but it’s “The Raft” that is really worth the price of admission here. One of Stephen King’s most simple stories makes for superb anthology content, with a premise that just can’t be beat: A group of teens are trapped on a raft in the middle of a lake, stalked by a blob-like creature that dissolves everything it touches, with spectacularly gory results. It’s like the 1980s remake of The Blob from Chuck Russell, simply cutting out backstory and subtext to focus on pure, primal action. Will the kids survive, or will they all be reduced to a pile of bones on the bottom of the lake? —Jim Vorel


39. Knife + Heart

knife-plus-heart-movie-poster.jpg Year: 2019
Director: Yann Gonzalez

Yann Gonzalez’s gleeful genre mashup Knife Heart is a queer provocation, a delirious journey through celluloid mirrors, daring to assert that pornography is as ripe for personal catharsis as any other art form. In the wake of a breakup with her editor Loïs (Kate Moran) and the murder of one of her actors, gay porn producer Anne (Vanessa Paradis) sets to make her masterpiece, one saturated with her rage and heartbreak. She sends a clear message to her lover etched into a reel of dailies, one of her performers’ head back in ecstasy as if in Warhol’s Blow Job: “You have killed me.” As her cast and crew are killed off one by one, Anne pushes on, driven to put herself in her work, literally and figuratively, the spectre of doom for her shared community growing ever closer. Gonzalez’s film pulsates with erotic verve and a beating broken heart, as if giving yourself up to cinema is the only thing that can keep you alive. When the lights go down and the wind screams through the room, it’s as if Knife Heart, and by extension all film, is the last queer heaven left. —Kyle Turner


38. A Bay of Blood, a.k.a. Twitch of the Death Nerve

bay-of-blood-poster.jpg Year: 1971
Director: Mario Bava

A Bay of Blood, released in the U.S. as Twitch of the Death Nerve, is the most important proto-slasher to often get left out of conversations on the history of the slasher genre, and this simply will not stand. Although many Italian giallos of the &#821]7;70s have slasher elements and pre-date the likes of Black Christmas and Halloween, none of them have kills that so directly seem like something out of a Friday the 13th movie. And indeed, that series borrows heavily from A Bay of Blood, especially Friday the 13th Part 2, which recreates two of Bava’s the death sequences almost exactly—most notably the bit where two lovers get impaled on a spear in mid-copulation. It’s Bava’s goriest film without a doubt, although not his most visually striking or narratively sensible, in terms of plot—all of the killings basically revolve around obtaining land ownership. That uneven nature and lack of compelling characters holds it back slightly, but when he’s throwing the red paint around, A Bay of Blood is enjoyably lurid. —Jim Vorel


37. Dead & Buried

dead and buried poster (Custom).jpg Year: 1981
Director: Gary Sherman

Dead & Buried is a thoroughly unusual horror film that revolves around the reanimated dead, but in a way all its own. In a small New England coastal town, a rash of murders breaks out among those visiting the town. Unknown to the town sheriff, those bodies never quite make it to their graves … but people who look just like the murdered visitors are walking the streets as permanent residents. The zombies here are different in their autonomy and ability to act on their own and pass for human, although they do answer to a certain leader … but who is it? The film is part murder mystery, part cult story and part zombie flick, and it features some absolutely gross creature work and gore from the legendary Stan Winston. It’s just a movie with a feel all its own, and one notable for some unusual casting choices. That includes a pre-Nightmare on Elm Street Robert Englund as one of the possibly zombified town locals, and, in a major role, Jack Albertson (Grandpa Joe from Willy Wonka) as the eccentric, jazz-loving town coroner/mortician, who steals every scene he’s in. More people should see this weird little film. — Jim Vorel


36. Audition

audition poster (Custom).jpg Year: 1999
Director: Takashi Miike

Audition, almost more infamous than genuinely viewed, earns its rather harrowing reputation. It’s a protracted slow burn, a mystery about a middle-aged man learning more about the young, beautiful woman—a little on the possessive side, and more than a little psychotic—who has suddenly come into his life. Compare it to say, Fatal Attraction, if Glenn Close had the chance to enact an extended torture scene. That is of course what people tend to remember about Audition today, especially the immensely unsettling portions with the needles and the piano wire. The rest of the film, though, is a deftly shot Miike thriller. You can tell from the very beginning that the characters are headed for a soul-scarring fate, but in this case it may very well be worse than you imagined. —Jim Vorel


35. The Old Dark House

the-old-dark-house-poster.jpg Year: 1932
Director: James Whale

Given the name, you’d be forgiven for assuming that this long-forgotten and then rediscovered James Whale classic had created the genre we colloquially refer to as “old dark house” movies, but in reality, the Frankenstein director seems to have been making a sly commentary on the familiar Hollywood tendency toward endless repetition. In reality, old dark house films replete with burglars, monsters and secret passageways had been all the rage in the American film industry through the 1920s and the end of the silent era, but as with so many other genres the arrival of sound created a talkie revival, with The Old Dark House as a new ur-template: One part parody and one part sincere thriller, expanding upon the elements of films like The Cat and the Canary while attaching major stars of the day (Boris Karloff, Charles Laughton) to a familiar story. The classic tropes are all there: A dark and stormy night; a group of strangers in a mansion; mistaken identities; disfigurement; a family secret. Elevating those elements is Whale’s considerable directorial talent, employing the same Expressionist-inspired use of darkness and shadow so often praised in the better-known Frankenstein or Bride of Frankenstein. The Old Dark House, in fact, seems like a film tailor-made for Whale’s beautifully atmospheric black-and-white visuals, all the more impressive now with modern restoration. —Jim Vorel


34. The Taking of Deborah Logan

Deborah-logan-poster.png Year: 2014
Director: Adam Robitel

This recent spin on the extremely crowded possession genre is the real definition of a mixed bag. Its initial premise is solid, as it follows a college film crew documenting the titular senior citizen, who is battling Alzheimer’s disease. What they don’t realize is that someone or something else may have been welcomed into Deborah’s mind as her mental faculties weaken. The film gets points for stylishness on a budget, and especially for the chilling, nuanced performance by Jill Larson as Deborah, but it’s eventually unable to sustain itself in the last third, becoming increasingly divorced from logic. There are moments of great, disturbing imagery, but that’s counterbalanced by characters who act incredibly irrationally—even for a horror film. It becomes more and more difficult to find reasons for any of the story being filmed at all, which leads to an ending that some might label a cop-out. But with that said, it’s still a far cry better than most entries in either the found footage or possession subgenres, with inherent style winning out over tight scripting. —Jim Vorel


33. The Canal

the canal poster (Custom).jpg Year: 2014
Director: Ivan Kavanagh

This indie Irish horror film announces Ivan Kavanagh as a serious talent and remarkably skilled director—I watched it for the first time recently and it blew all my expectations away. Nominally a “ghost story” of sorts about a man who discovers a century old grisly crime that occurred in his house, it is actually much more of a psychologically intense minefield—the sort of film that Polanski would have made, if he was shooting a ghost story. Combining elements that remind one of The Shining’s superb sound design with the the red-and-blue color palette of a film by Dario Argento, it is impeccably put together and beautiful to look at. The story, unfortunately, gets just a little bit too literal and wraps things up a bit neatly in the last 15 minutes, but the movie crafts an extremely effective web of dread and genuine fear through its entire runtime. Here’s hoping that we see another horror film from Kavanagh one of these days. —Jim Vorel


32. Scare Me

scare-me-poster.jpg Year: 2020
Director: Josh Ruben

For many, scary movies are fun. Watching scary movies is fun. Boil that down further: Telling scary stories is fun, no matter the setting, as long as you’re in proper company. Shudder’s Scare Me toasts that dynamic via a contest of wills between two horror authors trying to out-terrify each other before the second-best possible stage for telling scary stories: a crackling fireplace. (The very best is a campfire, but beggars can’t be choosers.) The authors are Fred (Josh Ruben) and Fanny (Aya Cash). Fanny is the best-selling writer behind the popular critical smash Venus, a zombie novel that, based on what little the audience hears about it, sounds like elevated horror nonsense (which is exactly the kind of thing that scored points on screens and shelves in the mid-2010s horror boom). Josh is a loser. He hasn’t written a damn thing or a thing worth a damn, and he’s secluded himself in a cabin at a Catskills resort to do Serious Work, which he doesn’t, because again, he’s a loser. Fanny’s staying in a nearby cabin, and when the power goes out across the area, she walks in on Fred and challenges him to scare her with his best shot.

The pace of Scare Me slows a tad more than ideal as Ruben takes the plot to its inevitable conclusion, but it’s still a joyful, satisfyingly eerie experience. There are reasons we enjoy the adrenaline blast horror movies give us. Scare Me, which should be essential viewing each Halloween season, understands those reasons well and celebrates them with enough laughs and gasps to leave viewers choking.—Andy Crump


31. A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night

girl walks home alone poster (Custom).jpg Year: 2014
Director: Ana Lily Amirpour

Advertising itself as “the first Iranian Vampire Western,” A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night transcends just about every word in that description, and yet it has the defiant one-dimensionality of a lurid graphic novel. Its moody atmosphere is all of a piece, cutting off our connection to characters or any sense of deeper thematic or emotional terrain. The film stars Sheila Vand (Argo) as the titular girl. She lives in Bad City, a desert community littered with slowly churning oil derricks and an unsettling open pit where dead bodies are dumped. This unnamed character walks the city streets at night decked out in a chador, which makes her look like a superhero. More accurately, she’s a vampire, feasting indiscriminately on men deserving of the grisly fate. (Pimps and other baddies seem to be favored targets.) Shot in Southern California, A Girl Walks is a triumph of high-contrast lighting, the dark shadows coexisting with the flickering streetlights. (The whole movie exists in the same arresting permanent-midnight environment of Touch of Evil, where empty desert threatens to consume the few signs of civilization.) Such a heightened visual palette risks becoming monotonous, but Amirpour and cinematographer Lyle Vincent keep delighting the eye, finding endless ways to surprise us with the ghostly appearance of Vand in the background. (With her pale face, heavily-mascaraed eyes and dark cloak, she’s the most bewitching vision of death you’ve seen on a screen in a while.) Amirpour has crafted a tone poem to alienation and first love that’s incredibly sensual and eerie. It has its share of spilled blood, but Amirpour prefers the creepy-crawly to the crudity of gore. Like Jim Jarmusch, she enjoys playing around with genres from an ironic distance, letting her noir-ish tone set the terms for everything else that goes into the film. Hers is a feature debut is so enveloping that it doesn’t much matter that not a lot happens within the frame. Draped in dreamy black-and-white and scored with proto-Morricone instrumentals and evocative goth-rock, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night proudly stakes its claim as an aspiring cult classic. —Tim Grierson


30. Nightmare Cinema

nightmare-cinema-movie-poster2.jpg Year: 2019
Directors: Alejandro Brugués, Joe Dante, Ryuhei Kitamura, David Slade, Mick Garris

There’s a special kind of perversity to following up Joe Dante’s portion of this bleakly delightful horror anthology—a freakish short about a woman with a scar on her face (Zarah Mahler) whose fiance convinces her to get a “little” plastic surgery before she meets his mom—with the introduction of Mickey Rourke as the Projectionist, the character whose spooky movie theater stitches our five stories together. Dante’s “Mirari” screams bloody disfigurement into the faces of people who look like Rourke, faces warped by what can only be a sad and jarring dysmorphia condoned by Hollywood and the movie-making machine with which many of the filmmakers involved here have struggled. And Rourke’s face resembling the puffed-out visage of one of the villains in Dante’s film can’t be lost on the director: Nightmare Cinema pretty clearly comments on, celebrates and deconstructs the idea of horror movies as popcorn fodder, of exploiting so many of our deepest fears as grist for the giant, cynical mill of populist entertainment. The Projectionist says as much: He’s collecting—literally in film canisters—the mortal terror of five strangers wandering in off the street. There’s the hot-to-trot high schooler (Sarah Elizabeth Withers) trapped in an ostensible slasher scenario (Alejandro Brugués’ pitch-perfect “The Thing in the Woods”); the beleaguered mom (Elizabeth Reaser) whose reality crumbles post-break-up in David Slade’s hilarious and heartbreaking “This Way to Egress”; the piano prodigy (Faly Rakotohavana) whose harrowing brush with mortality sinks him into an ever-shifting B-grade serial killer thriller in Mick Garris’s rollicking “Dead.” As is the case with so many of these endeavors, one segment squats below the rest: Ryuhei Kitamura’s “Mashit,” which follows a priest (Maurice Benard) and likely pedophile—a fact mentioned in passing after we’ve already seen the priest fornicate with a nun (Mariela Garriga)—forced to slaughter a private school full of prepubescents possessed by a demon who supposedly punishes the lustful. Cheap and mostly incoherent, Kitamura’s Grand Guignol has nothing interesting to add to any discussion about faith or the church or institutionalized repression or even the medium of horror, instead relying on the shock of watching a priest mutilate children in a church to sustain its spectacle. It’s all very stupid—unlike the other four stories surrounding it, each a welcome bite of reassurance that some of our best genre filmmakers still have the fear in them that keeps them working. —Dom Sinacola


29. Daniel Isn’t Real

daniel-isnt-real-movie-poster.jpg Year: 2019
Director: Adam Egypt Mortimer

Everyone has their demons: Maybe they grew up neglected, or trapped between warring parents—or maybe they saw things they shouldn’t have before they had the tools to process them. Some of these people manage to grow up well-adjusted in spite of their trauma. Others grow up keeping those demons close to their heart. Mercifully, none of this is literal, but what if, Adam Egypt Mortimer’s Daniel Isn’t Real asks, those demons look like the dashingly handsome spawn of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Maria Shriver? Mortimer weaponizes Patrick Schwarzenegger’s pedigree and good looks, turning him into both the best imaginary friend a loner like Luke (Miles Robbins, also the son of Hollywood royalty: Tim Robbins and Susan Sarandon) could ever hope to have, and the perfect catalyst for Luke’s transformation into an oily pickup artist at best and a true-to-form monster at worst. The subtext is on the surface—it’s a film about toxic masculinity—but Mortimer and his cast (which includes Sasha Lane, who takes the thankless role of “damsel trapped between hero and villain” and turns it into a performance of substance) shatter that surface, digging deep, then deeper, and then deeper still into the guts of that grossly overused pop psych phrase. What they find is thought-provoking insight into modern masculine identity. What they create with those insights is terrifying, a tactile smorgasbord of frights that wears its influences on its sleeve. (Would you guess that Mortimer loves Ridley Scott and Takashi Miike?) Those influences metastasize into one of 2019’s most memorable and original horror films. —Andy Crump


28. Southbound

southbound poster (Custom).jpg Year: 2016
Directors: Radio Silence, Roxanne Benjamin, David Bruckner, Patrick Horvath

Tricksters and demons, vengeful spirits and serial killers, the hope of salvation and the lingering presence of Satan: These are the things that anthology film Southbound is made of. The film has a single vision but is built on a wide variety of grim and ghoulish horror tropes, all the better to satisfy the hungers of even the most niche genre connoisseurs. Best of all, though, the wild variations from one section of the picture to the next enhances rather than dilutes the viewing experience. It helps that there are common themes that run across the film—loss, regret and guilt make up a repeated refrain—and that the sum of its parts adds up to an examination of how people unwittingly architect their own suffering. But Southbound is first and foremost a work of velocity, a joyride through Hell well worth buckling up for. —Andy Crump


27. Prevenge

prevenge-movie-jpg Year: 2017
Director: Alice Lowe

Maybe getting close enough to gut a person when you’re blatantly with child is a cinch—no one likely expects an expecting mother to cut their throat—but all the positive encouragement Ruth’s unborn daughter gives her helps, too. The kid spends the film spurring her mother to slaughter seemingly innocent people from in utero, an invisible voice of incipient malevolence sporting a high-pitched giggle that’ll make your skin crawl. “Pregnant lady goes on a slashing spree at the behest of her gestating child” is, in practice, more somber than it is silly, but the bleak tone suits what writer, director and star Alice Lowe wants to achieve with her filmmaking debut. Another storyteller might have designed Prevenge as a more comically slanted effort, but Lowe has sculpted it to smash taboos and social norms. Parenthood is a special experience, motherhood more so than fatherhood, but Prevenge imagines the bond between parent and child as something unnatural and even dreadful, without stepping clear over the line into poor taste. This is what pregnancy looks like when described by a woman through a genre lens, one of the best examples of its pedigree, moody and dreamlike with a blend of comic unpleasantry and homage that avoids navel-gazing. The best evidence of Lowe’s intentions is the film’s current of misanthropy. Prevenge hates human beings with a disturbing passion, even human beings who aren’t selfish, awful, creepy or worse. Ruth’s midwife (Jo Hartley) provides routine well-meaning encouragement and counsel, but through Lowe’s eyes her advice chafes more than it soothes. Another character, a kindly young fellow in a relationship with one of Ruth’s victims-to-be, is genuinely empathetic toward her in one of the movie’s gentler moments, but even he isn’t spared her insatiable wrath when his time comes. No one gets out unscathed, even the pure-hearted. They either fall to Ruth’s blade or Lowe’s merciless script. —Andy Crump


26. Stage Fright, a.k.a. Aquarius

stage-fright-1987-poster.jpg Year: 1987
Director: Michele Soavi

Stage Fright is what it looks like when Italian giallo films inform the American slasher genre, and then American slasher films return the favor by inspiring Italian imitation. Michele Soavi, perhaps better known in horror circles for 1994’s truly unique Cemetery Man, created this fusion of Argento-esque Italian horror (he was second unit director on Tenebrae and Argento’s similar film Opera) and American “escaped maniac on the loose” movies as an imaginative, gory dreamscape, and one that stands out as much for its ethereal visuals as it does for its shocking gore factor. Set overnight in a theater, where a troupe of actors is working overtime to premiere a new show about a homicidal killer, life of course ends up imitating art. The killer stalks the various nubile young actors dressed in an unusual owl costume, increasingly mottled with blood in its feathers as he impales or disembowels them. There’s a fantastical quality to Stage Fright that is its signature—a painterly quality to its beautiful set pieces that elevates it beyond the gratuitous violence. Although it takes a while to get going, once the killings begin, Stage Fright becomes a waking nightmare. —Jim Vorel


25. The House of the Devil

9. house of the devil (Custom).jpg Year: 2009
Director: Ti West

Detractors complain that Ti West’s movies are “slow,” which is missing the point. A better adjective is “deliberate.” On The House of the Devil, the first film to really start giving him a reputation as a director to watch, West builds the tension gradually and carefully, as though there is nothing scarier than watching a young woman dance around an empty house while listening to the Fixx. By the time the second act ends, you’ve been holding your breath for an hour when the film explodes into its gory, violent third act, which offers a perverse sense of release. It also gives Jocelin Donahue’s heroine her finest moment, as she at least attempts what the audience is by then shouting for her to do. It’s another film where the low-budget look perfectly fits the aesthetic, mirroring the style of “old dark house” and Satanist films that West is clearly drawing on as inspiration. —Stephen M. Deusner


24. Tigers Are Not Afraid

tigers-are-not-afraid-poster.jpg Year: 2019
Director: Issa López

It’s possible, even probable, that a portion of Tigers Are Not Afraid’s audience will receive the film as a parable about the current humanitarian crisis unfolding along the U.S.-Mexico border, a clarion call for compassion and decisive legislation to put an end to the suffering inflicted on innocent families fleeing mortal peril and economic repression. Such is the myth of America’s legacy. But Issa López made Tigers Are Not Afraid years ago, before the administration in power escalated the United States’ already appalling immigration policies into full-on decimation. This is not a cry for action. It’s a snapshot of Mexico’s recent history that bleeds into its present day. Tigers Are Not Afraid molds the sickening consequences of cartel violence on Mexico’s children to fit the shape of folkloric narrative. It’s a fairy tale, and a horror film, though the two tend to go hand-in-hand: Fairy tales point us to the darkness that exists on society’s periphery—or, in this case, occupies society’s center. The world of Tigers Are Not Afraid is made of crumbling walls and whispers, a land of ghosts where children are acclimated to ducking for cover under their desks when bullets interrupt class time. (Another thread to tempt viewers toward forced topical readings.) All the world is horror even before López starts ushering ghosts into the fray.

Estrella (Paola Lara) is one orphan among many in the unnamed border town López has chosen as the film’s location. When she’s given three wishes by her teacher, she immediately asks for her mother to return. Her mother does—but the conditions of her return are fuzzy, so mom resurrects as a hoarse, desiccated revenant. On the opposite end of the spectrum is Shine (Juan Ramón López), also an orphan, but one devoted to keeping his fellow orphaned boys safe on the streets as they outmaneuver cartel thugs and perhaps hope to find justice against them. Estrella and Shine share the screen as sun and moon share the sky, casting the film with light and darkness amidst graffiti-streaked buildings, the threat of death lurking in alleyways and on street corners. With Tigers Are Not Afraid, López threads the needle through tragedy and hope. This is at once a grim movie, an optimistic movie and a redemptive movie. It’s a welcome reminder that fairy tales and folklore are an essential part of our culture, too. At the most inhuman times, they lay down a path back to humanity. —Andy Crump


23. The Devils

the-devils-1971-poster.jpg Year: 1971
Director: Ken Russell
Stars: Oliver Reed, Vanessa Redgrave
Rating: R
Runtime: 111 minutes

There’s little doubt that Ken Russell’s The Devils is among the most audacious historical dramas/horror films ever made, featuring striking performances, elegant cinematography, and yes—an incredibly depraved, sacrilegious stance toward the church. Even in its heavily edited state, it’s a film that still needs to be seen to be believed, and remains one that many film aficionados simply choose to ignore from a comfortable distance. The “uncut” version of The Devils, likewise, is quite difficult to lay one’s hands on, but it contains scenes that are all the more shockingly explicit and powerful. This is a film that truly redefined the nature of trying to provoke a reaction via outrage in cinema. The Devils is based on Aldous Huxley’s 1952 text The Devils of Loudun, concerning a case of supposed mass demonic possession that struck a convent of Catholic nuns in the city of Loudun, France in the 17th century. The true root of the possessions was unsurprisingly a political one, as the royally backed governors of the region wish to tear down the city’s fortifications to prevent the local Protestant population from being able to fortify the city against the crown. Standing in their way is Catholic priest Urbain Grandier, who is betrayed by a jilted, hunchbacked nun who is secretly in love with him, and accused of crimes that include an array of supposedly devilish doings. What follows is a shocking descent into torture, blasphemy and madness, and one that will stick with you for a long time. —Jim Vorel


22. The Transfiguration

transfiguration-movie-poster.jpg Year: 2017
Director: Michael O’Shea

Michael O’Shea’s The Transfiguration refreshingly refuses to disguise its influences and reference points, instead putting them all out there in the forefront for its audience’s edification, name-dropping a mouthful of noteworthy vampire films and sticking their very titles right smack dab in the midst of its mise en scène. They can’t be missed: Nosferatu is a big one, and so’s The Lost Boys, but none informs O’Shea’s film as much as Let the Right One In, Tomas Alfredson’s unique 2009 genre masterpiece. Like Let the Right One In, The Transfiguration casts a young’n, Milo (Eric Ruffin), as its protagonist, contrasting the horrible particulars of a vampire’s feeding habits against the surface innocence of his appearance. Unlike Let the Right One In, The Transfiguration may not be a vampire movie at all, but a movie about a lonesome kid with an unhealthy fixation on gothic legends. You may choose to view Milo as O’Shea’s modernized update of the iconic monster or a child brimming with inner evil; the film keeps its ends open, its truths veiled and only makes its sociopolitical allegories plain in its final, haunting images. —Andy Crump


21. Society

society-movie-poster.jpg
Year: 1989
Director: Brian Yuzna

Society is perhaps what you would have ended up with in the earlier ’80s if David Cronenberg had a more robust sense of humor. Rather, this bizarre deconstruction of Reagan-era yuppiehood came from Brian Yuzna, well-known to horror fans for his partnership with Stuart Gordon, which produced the likes of Re-Animator and From Beyond…and eventually Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, believe it or not. Society is a weird film on every level, a feverish descent into what may or may not be paranoia when a popular high school guy begins questioning whether his family members (and indeed, the entire town) are involved in some sinister, sexual, exceedingly icky business. Plot takes a backseat to dark comedy and a creepily foreboding sense that we’re building to a revelatory conclusion, which absolutely does not disappoint. The effects work, suffice to say, produces some of the most batshit crazy visuals in the history of film—there are disgusting sights here that you won’t see anywhere else, outside of perhaps an early Peter Jackson movie, a la Dead Alive. But Society’s ambitions are considerably grander than that Jackson’s gross-out classic: It takes aim at its own title and the tendency of insular communities to prey upon the outside world to create social satire of the highest (and grossest) order. —Jim Vorel


20. We Are What We Are

20. we are what we are (Custom).jpg Year: 2013
Director: Jim Mickle

Jim Mickle is the best horror director to consistently get left out of discussions of “best horror directors.” His remake of this 2010 Mexican film of the same name is a brooding, tense blend of thriller and horror, the story of a seemingly normal (if stuffy) rural family that harbors a dark secret of religious observances based around yearly acts of cannibalism. When a family member dies and the long-held tradition is threatened, allegiances come into question, familial ties crumble and the younger generation faces an extremely difficult decision in potentially breaking away from the customs that have bound the family together for many generations. It’s part crime story, part grisly, gutsy horror, and features Michael Parks in a role that is about 100 times better than what he was sentenced to do in Kevin Smith’s Tusk. In particular, the conclusion and final 20-30 minutes of We Are What We Are is shocking in both its brutality and emotional impact, an intimate case study of family dysfunction driven by the changing times and the impracticality of the archaic traditions that sustain us. Look too closely, and you’ll end up questioning your own familial routine. —Jim Vorel


19. Hagazussa: A Heathen’s Curse

hagazussa poster (Custom).jpg Year: 2019
Director: Lukas Feigelfeld

Content warning for people with misgivings about cannibalism, vomit, organ splatter, maggoty mushrooms, sexual assault and infinitely worse: Hagazussa provides a minefield of triggers. It’s gross. It’s also stunning, a hypnotic recreation of its time and its place: 15th century Europe, a land cast into the dark ages long before the advent of the age of reason. In between unsettling and barefaced displays of noxious human ills and pseudo hallucinatory insanity, rests still frames so gorgeous they belong in their own art gallery tableau. Snapshots of Austria’s countryside megacosm center on Albrun (Alexsandra Cwen), a woman orphaned as a girl and still alone as an adult, who spends a majority of her time trudging through and taking respite in the forests of her homeland. But Hagazussa’s idyllic appeal belies evil lurking in its frames, stalking Albrun like a basilisk, turning the woods she inhabits to stone. Albrun is marked from birth, doomed to alienation from and othering by her fellow man: As a child, depicted in the film’s opening chapter by Celina Peter, she and her mother, Martha (Claudia Martini), are harassed in dead of night by men disguised in fearsome horn-headed costumes, as concealing as they are intimidating. They’re infernally convinced Martha’s a witch. An hour and change later, the audience is given reason to wonder if they were right. To young Albrun, their incursions qualify as nightmares worse than those chronicled in fables. In the present day narrative, the prejudice of her youth follows her. She’s harassed by snotty village boys, then spared their taunts by a seemingly benevolent woman, Swinda (Tanja Petrovsky), then manipulated into serving Swinda’s own perverse ends. If Albrun isn’t a witch, society does a bang-up job giving her incentive to reconsider the calling. Hagazussa is further distinguished through a patina derived from David Lynch and Panos Cosmatos—slow, deliberate, perpetually unsettling. The film takes its time, but it drags the viewer along the way toward a mind-shattering oblivion. Are Albrun’s visions real, or figments of her imagination? Is witchery truly afoot, or is she just losing her marbles at the business end of ignorant mob persecution? The last of these is the only question with an emphatic “yes” answer, though the idea that the real monster here is Woman is pedantic bordering on boorish. Movies like this function because the monster exists, not simply because people historically treat outsiders like stray dogs at best, vermin at worst. —Andy Crump


18. Black Sunday

17. black sunday (Custom).jpg Year: 1960
Director: Mario Bava

Technically Mario Bava’s directorial debut, and still considered by many his best film, Black Sunday is an extremely influential movie in the history of Italian horror and also managed to introduce audiences to ’60s scream queen mainstay Barbara Steele. It establishes so many different tropes, such as its opening sequences of brutal Spanish Inquisition-era torture that establishes the supernatural evil that will return over time. A beautiful gothic horror picture, it’s fascinating how closely it in some ways mirrors the work of Terence Fisher over at Britain’s Hammer Studios—Black Sunday is to Italy what Horror of Dracula was to Britain, some two years later, and with a sexy female witch/vampire instead of the gaunt Christopher Lee, one who returns 200 years later to terrorize her descendents. Bava would go on to be a major figure in both the supernatural horror and giallo film industries of Italy, right up there with contemporaries like Dario Argento and Lucio Fulci. — Jim Vorel


17. Black Christmas

black-christmas-poster.jpg Year: 1974
Director: Bob Clark

Fun fact: Nine years before he directed holiday classic A Christmas Story, Bob Clark created the first true, unassailable “slasher movie” in Black Christmas. Yes, the same person who gave TBS its annual Christmas Eve marathon fodder was also responsible for the first major cinematic application of the phrase “The calls are coming from inside the house!” Black Christmas, which was insipidly remade in 2006, predates John Carpenter’s Halloween by four years and features many of the same elements, especially visually. Like Halloween, it lingers heavily on POV shots from the killer’s eyes as he prowls through a dimly lit sorority house and spies on his future victims. As the mentally deranged killer calls the house and engages in obscene phone calls with the female residents, one can’t help but also be reminded of the scene in Carpenter’s film where Laurie (Jamie Lee Curtis) calls her friend Lynda, only to hear her strangled with the telephone cord. Black Christmas is also instrumental, and practically archetypal, in solidifying the slasher trope of the so-called “final girl.” Jessica Bradford (Olivia Hussey) is actually among the better-realized of these final girls in the history of the genre, a remarkably strong and resourceful young woman who can take care of herself in both her relationships and deadly scenarios. It’s questionable how many subsequent slashers have been able to create protagonists who are such a believable combination of capable and realistic. —Jim Vorel


16. Demons

demons poster (Custom).jpg Year: 1985
Director: Lamberto Bava

Lamberto Bava’s career as an Italian horror maestro picked up right where the blood-soaked giallo movies of his father, Mario Bava, left off. Demons, his best work, catches several different genres at an interesting crossroads. On one level, its demons remind one Sam Raimi’s deadites in Evil Dead, as does its sick sense of humor. At the same time, though, it’s just as indebted to the classic zombie film, and the demonic infestation is transmitted in much the same way. The plot involves a movie theater besieged by demons during a horror movie screening, in a structure that mimics Night of the Living Dead. Given that it’s an Italian production, one might expect some of the plodding artistic splashes of Lucio Fulci, but Demons feels like a much more Western, much more American work—frenetic, fast-paced, gory and relentlessly entertaining. It’s not a film with artistic aspirations, but it’s a rollicking good time for those who love the gauzy excesses of ’80s horror. —Jim Vorel


15. Stake Land

8. Stake land (Custom).jpg Year: 2010
Director: Jim Mickle

Starting with his debut work Mulberry Street, Jim Mickle has become one of the leading auteurs of low-budget horror, still striving for ambitious ideas, and Stake Land is all about ambition rather than exploitation. Lord knows how many cheapo zombie movies have been made in the last decade, but Mickle essentially makes a post-apocalypse zombie film, except with vampires. Still, Stake Land’s greatest achievement is inarguably its wonderful design and evocative landscapes, easily standing up to more obviously expensive productions. It’s a genius work of minimalism, to be able to suggest such a fleshed-out universe, where small pockets of humanity survive in barricaded cities and barter for goods with the teeth of dead vampires. Our characters and story are extremely simple—a veteran hunter (Nick Damici) and young protege (Conor Paolo) travel across the wasteland looking for safe refuge—but it’s exactly what the film needs to be: a sober-minded film that accomplishes so much with so little. —Jim Vorel


14. Zombi 2

zombi 2 poster (Custom).jpg Year: 1979
Director: Lucio Fulci

In the ’70s and ’80s, it was hard to beat Italy in terms of fucked-up horror movie content, and given that market’s fondness for the “cannibal film,” is it any surprise they also came to love the zombie genre as well? Zombi 2 is the crown jewel of all the Italian zombie movies, cleverly implied as essentially a direct follow-up (thematically, not plot-wise) to Romero’s Dawn of the Dead, which had been released in Italy to great success under the title Zombi. Helmed by Italian giallo/supernatural horror maestro Lucio Fulci, Zombi 2 significantly upped the crazy factor and pushed gore to a new ceiling. The effects and makeup on this film are absolutely disgusting, and it’s filled with iconic moments that have transcended the horror genre. Scene of someone having an eye poked out? They’re always compared to the eye-poking scene in Zombi 2. Scene where a zombie fights a freaking SHARK? Well, nobody compares that, because nobody has the balls to try and one-up Zombi 2’s zombie shark-fighting scene. That’s one contribution that will stand the test of time. Zombi 2 has had countless foreign imitators since, but none of them can measure up. (Note, this is just titled Zombie on Shudder.) —Jim Vorel


13. One Cut of the Dead

one-cut-of-the-dead-poster.jpg Year: 2017
Director: Shiniichiro Ueda

Director Higurashi (Takayuki Hamatsu), beleaguered protagonist of Shinichiro Ueda’s box office indie smash One Cut of the Dead, has two modes: “On” and “in dire need of an ‘off’ button.” Even at his most sedate, Higurashi hums with the unharnessed energy of a pent-up greyhound, always at the ready for a race around the track but conditioned to patiently wait until the signal is given. Once it is, he’s a sight to behold, a man unleashed, screaming like a maniac christened as dictator, vaulting around sets with such vigor and dexterity to put the world’s parkour champions to shame. Hamatsu’s is the kind of performance that can only be contained by a specific kind of film. That film is One Cut of the Dead. Ueda first introduces Higurashi as a despotic indie filmmaker howling at his weeping star, Chinatsu (Yuzuki Akiyama), then 37 minutes later reveals the man to be a docile, much too obliging videographer who chiefly works on weddings and karaoke clips. It’s a glorious, bonkers 37 minutes, too, presented as a zombie movie shoot gone wrong. Higurashi and his cast—Chinatsu, former actress (and Higurashi’s wife) Nao (Harumi Shuhama), and pain in the ass leading man Ko (Kazuaki Nagaya)—and crew have set up shop at a decrepit, isolated warehouse that also stores a coterie of shambling undead. As they’re besieged by ghouls, Higurashi, yet to find a take that he actually likes, keeps on filming through the carnage. Of course it’s all a film-within-a-film. Once One Cut of the Dead shifts gears from a zombie movie to a backstage inside baseball comedy, the initially cold atmosphere Ueda establishes warms up. The amateur terror of Higurashi’s guerilla filmmaking gives way to winning charms as the audience gets to see who he really is, what this project means to him and just how damn hard it is to make a movie in a single take. It’s chaos, but it’s controlled chaos (even if only just), and in the chaos there’s absolute joy. One Cut of the Dead ends with smiles, pride, reconciliations and the accomplished sense of having achieved the impossible. If that’s not a ringing endorsement of collaborative art’s benefits, then what is? Maybe Ueda’s film is an odd messenger for delivering such high sentiment, but it’s the messenger we have, and we should embrace it. —Andy Crump


12. Mandy

mandy-movie-poster.jpg Year: 2018
Director: Panos Cosmatos

More than an hour in, the film’s title appears, growing lichen-like, sinister and near-illegible, as all great metal album covers are. The name and title card—Mandy—immediately follows a scene in which our hero forges his own Excalibur, a glistening, deformed axe adorned with pointy and vaguely erotic edges and appurtenances, the stuff of H.R. Giger’s wettest dreams. Though Red (Nicolas Cage) could use, and pretty much does use, any weapon at hand to avenge the brutal murder of his titular love (Andrea Riseborough), he still crafts that beautiful abomination as ritual, infusing his quest for revenge with dark talismanic magic, compelled by Bakshi-esque visions of Mandy to do her bidding on the corporeal plane. He relishes the ceremony and succumbs to the rage that will push him to some intensely extreme ends. We know almost nothing about his past before he met Mandy, but we can tell he knows his way around a blunt, deadly object. So begins Red’s unhinged murder spree, phantasmagoric and gloriously violent. A giant bladed dildo, a ludicrously long chainsaw, a hilarious pile of cocaine, the aforementioned spiked LSD, the aforementioned oracular chemist, a tiger, more than one offer of sex—Red encounters each as if it’s the rubble of a waking nightmare, fighting or consuming all of it. Every shot of Mandy reeks of shocking beauty, stylized at times to within an inch of its intelligibility, but endlessly pregnant with creativity and control, euphoria and pain, clarity and honesty and the ineffable sense that director Panos Cosmatos knows exactly how and what he wants to subconsciously imprint into the viewer. Still, Mandy is a revenge movie, and a revenge movie has to satiate the audience’s bloodlust. Cosmatos bathes Red (natch) in gore, every kill hard won and subcutaneously rewarding. There is no other film this year that so effectively feeds off of the audience’s anger, then sublimates it, releasing it without allowing it to go dangerously further. We need this kind of retribution now; we’re all furious with the indifferent unfairness of a world and a life and a society, of a government, that does not care about us. That does not value our lives. Mandy is our revenge movie. Watch it big. Watch it loud. Watch yourself exorcised on screen. —Dom Sinacola


11. The Beyond

the-beyond-poster.jpg Year: 1981
Director: Lucio Fulci

It’s hard to describe Fulci’s The Beyond in absolutes. Some would contend that it isn’t a “zombie movie.” Which isn’t to say there aren’t any zombies in it, but it’s not a Romero-style zombie movie, as Fulci pulled off in Zombi 2. The Beyond is the middle entry in Fulci’s “Gates of Hell” trilogy, and takes place in and around a crumbling old hotel that just happens to have one of those gates to hell located in its cellar. When it opens, all hell starts to break loose in the building, in a film that combines a haunted house aesthetic with demonic possession, the living dead and ghostly apparitions. As with so many of the other films in this mold, it’s not always entirely clear what’s going on … and honestly, the plot is more or less irrelevant. You’re watching it to see zombies gouge the eyes out of unsuspecting innocents or watch heads being blown off, and there’s no shortage of either of those things. Thinking back to Lucio Fulci movies after the fact, you won’t remember any of the story structure. You’ll just remember the ultra gory highlights, splattering across the screen in a way that continues to influence filmmakers to this day. Modern horror films such as We Are Still Here show heavy inspiration from Fulci, and The Beyond in particular. It’s one of the most stylish of the Italian, zombie-featuring horror flicks. —Jim Vorel


10. Hellraiser

12. hellraiser (Custom).jpg Year: 1987
Director: Clive Barker

The head villain/eventual hero (there’s a sickening number of terrible Hellraiser sequels) behind Clive Barker’s Hellraiser franchise is the Cenobite Pinhead, sent from the pits of his own personal hell dimension to drag you down into the depths with him. Where he tortures you. For eternity. All because you opened a fancy Rubik’s Cube. Pinhead has zero remorse, looking you dead in the eye as he delivers a deadpan promise to “tear your soul apart.” Oh yeah, and the Cenobites are indestructible. Personally, it turned me off to puzzle boxes forever. As in his fiction, Barker’s obsessions with the duality of pain and pleasure are on full display in Hellraiser, an icky story of sick hate and sicker love. —Rachel Haas


9. Ginger Snaps

ginger-snaps.jpg Year: 2000
Director: John Fawcett

Ginger Snaps is a high school werewolf story, but before you go making any Twilight comparisons, let me state for the record: Where Twilight is maudlin, Ginger Snaps is vicious. A pair of death-obsessed, outsider sisters, Ginger and Brigitte, are faced with issues of maturation and sexual awakening when Ginger (Katharine Isabelle) is bitten by a werewolf. As she begins to become bolder and more animalistic in her desires, the second, meeker sister (Emily Perkins) searches for a way to reverse the damages before Ginger carves a path of destruction through their community. Reflecting the influence of Cronenberg-style body horror and especially John Landis’s American Werewolf in London, Ginger Snaps is a surprisingly effective horror movie and mix of drama/black comedy that brought the werewolf mythos into suburbia in the same sort of way Fright Night managed to do so with vampires. It also made a genre star of Isabelle, who has since appeared in several sequels and above average horror flicks such as American Mary. Even if the condition of lycanthropism is an obvious parallel to the struggles of adolescence and puberty, Ginger Snaps is the one film that has taken that rich vein of source material and imbued it with the same kind of punk spirit as Heathers. ——Jim Vorel


8. Re-Animator

5. re-animator (Custom).jpg Year: 1985
Director: Stuart Gordon

Ironically, the most entertaining take on H.P. Lovecraft is the least “Lovecrafty.” Stuart Gordon established himself as cinema’s leading Lovecraft adaptor with a juicy take on the story “Herbert West, Re-Animator,” about a student who concocts a disturbingly flawed means of reviving the dead. Re-Animator more closely resembles a zombie film than Lovecraft’s signature brand of occult sci-fi, but it boasts masterful suspense scenes, great jokes and Barbara Crampton as a smart, totally hot love interest. Jeffrey Combs is brilliant, establishing himself as the Anthony Perkins of his generation as West, a hilariously insolent and reckless genius whom he played in two Re-Animator sequels. The actor even played Lovecraft in the anthology film Necronomicon. The film is a near-perfect crystallization of best aspects of ’80s horror, from its delight in perversion to its awesome practical effects. —Curt Holman


7. Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon

behind the mask poster (Custom).jpg Year: 2006
Director: Scott Glosserman

In the years following Scream, there was no shortage of films attempting similar deconstructions of the horror genre, but few deserve to be mentioned in the same breath as the criminally underseen Behind the Mask. Taking place in a world where supernatural killers such as Jason Voorhees and Freddy Krueger actually existed, this mockumentary follows around a guy named Leslie Vernon (Nathan Baesel), who dreams of being the “next great psycho killer.” In doing so, it provides answers and insight into dozens of horror movie tropes and clichés, like: How does the killer train? How does he pick his victims? How can he seemingly be in two places at once? It’s a brilliant, twisted love letter to the genre that also develops an unexpected stylistic change right when you think you know where things are headed. And, despite a lack of star power, Behind the Mask boasts tons of cameos from horror luminaries: Robert Englund, Kane Hodder, Zelda Rubinstein and even The Walking Dead’s Scott Wilson. Every, and I mean every, horror fan needs to see Behind the Mask. It’s criminal that Glosserman has never managed to put together a proper sequel follow-up, but a fan-funded comic series raised twice its goal on IndieGoGo, so maybe it’s still possible. —Jim Vorel


6. The Wailing

the-wailing.jpg Year: 2016
Director: Na Hong-jin

The U.S. title of Na Hong-jin’s new film, The Wailing, suggests tone more than it does sound. There is wailing to be heard here, yes, and plenty of it, but in two words Na coyly predicts his audience’s reaction to the movie’s grim tableaus of a county in spiritual strife. Na trades in doubt and especially despair more than in what we think of as “horror.” He isn’t out to terrify us. He’s out to corrode our souls, much in the same way that his protagonist’s faith is corroded after being subject to both divine and infernal tests over the course of the film. The Wailing unfolds in Gokseong County, an agricultural community nestled among South Korea’s southern provinces. It’s a lovely, bucolic setting that Na and his cinematographer, the incredible Hong Kyung-pyo, take fullest advantage of aesthetically and thematically. The hushed serenity blanketing The Wailing’s opening images creates an atmosphere of peace that Na is all too happy to subvert (similar to how he subverts Bible verses). The film’s first full sequence shatters the calm as Sergeant Jeon Jong-gu (Kwak Do-won, turning in a knockout performance) is called to the scene of a savage multiple murder. When Jong-gu shows up, all is bedlam; people are screaming and crying, emergency workers litter the area like ants at a gory picnic, and the killer sits in a stupor, unaware of neither the mayhem nor the vicious boils coating their skin. This is an incredibly creepy and oft-unsettling film, but Na finds the tug of disbelief far more upsetting than the sight of bodies cut apart and blood splattering the wall. What do you do when your holy authority figures fail you? What do you do when you can’t trust your perception? Na has made these ideas, though hardly new in the horror canon, his film’s full purpose, and his conclusions are devastatingly bleak. When The Wailing arrives at its final, spectacular half hour, you’ll vow never to ask these questions about your own life, ever. You may not leave the theater scared, but you will leave it scarred, which is by far a more substantive response than naked fear. —Andy Crump


5. Deep Red

deep red poster (Custom).jpg Year: 1975
Director: Dario Argento

Dario Argento movies would be exceedingly easy to pick out of a police lineup, because when you add all of his little quirks together they form an instantly iconic style—essentially the literal definition of auteur theory. Deep Red is one of those films that simply couldn’t have been made by anyone else—Mario Bava could have tried, but it wouldn’t have the instantly iconic soundtrack by Argento collaborators Goblin, nor the drifting, eccentric camerawork that constantly makes you question whether you’re seeing the killer’s POV or not. The story is a classic giallo whodunit: Following the brutal murder of a German psychic, a music teacher who lives in her building starts putting the pieces together to solve the mystery, uncovering a tragic family history. Along the way, anyone who gets close to the answer gets a meat cleaver to the head from a mysterious assailant in black leather gloves. Except for the ones who die in much worse, more gruesome ways. Argento has a real eye for what is physically disconcerting to watch—he somehow makes scenes that are “standard” for the horror genre much more grisly and uncomfortable than one would think, simply reading a description. In Argento’s hands, a slashing knife becomes a paintbrush. —Jim Vorel


4. Train to Busan

train-to-busan.jpg Year: 2016
Director: Yeon Sang-ho

Love them or hate them, zombies are still a constant of the horror genre in 2016, dependable enough to set your conductor’s watch by. And although I’ve probably seen enough indie zombie films at this point to eschew them from my viewing habits for the rest of my life, there is still usually at least one great zombie movie every other year. In 2016, that was Train to Busan, a film that has since been added to our list of the 50 Best Zombie Movies of All Time. There’s no need for speculation: Train to Busan would undoubtedly have made the list. This South Korean story of a career-minded father attempting to protect his young daughter on a train full of rampaging zombies is equal parts suspenseful popcorn entertainment and genuinely affecting family drama. It concludes with several action elements that I’ve never seen before, or even considered for a zombie film, and any time you can add something truly novel to the genre of the walking dead, then you’re definitely doing something right. With a few memorable, empathetic supporting characters and some top-notch makeup FX, you’ve got one of the best zombie movies of the past half-decade. —Jim Vorel


3. The Texas Chain Saw Massacre

texas-chainsaw-massacre-poster.jpg Year: 1974
Director: Tobe Hooper

One of the most brutal mainstream horror films ever released, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, based on notorious Wisconsin serial killer Ed Gein, resembles art-house verité built on the grainy physicality of its flat Texas setting. Plus, it introduced the superlatively sinister Leatherface, the iconic chainsaw-wielding giant of a man who wears a mask made of human skin, whose freakish sadism is upstaged only by the introduction of his cannibalistic family with whom he resides in a dilapidated house in the middle of the Texas wilderness, together chowing on the meat Leatherface and his brothers harvest, while Grandpa drinks blood and fashions furniture from victims’ bones. Still, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre might not be the goriest horror film ever made, but as an imaginal excavation of the subterranean anxieties of a post-Vietnam rural American populace, it’s pretty much unparalleled. Twisted, dark and beautiful all at once, it careens through a wide variety of tones and techniques without ever losing its singular intensity. (And there are few scenes in this era of horror with more disturbing sound design than the bit where Leatherface ambushes a guy with a single dull hammer strike to the head before slamming the metal door shut behind him.) —Rachel Haas and Brent Ables


2. The Changeling

the-changeling-poster.jpg Year: 1980
Director: Peter Medak

George C. Scott tempers his natural irascibility to play a melancholy composer grieving for his recently deceased wife and daughter in Peter Medak’s conflation of haunted house movie and supernatural whodunit. Dubbed one of the scariest movies of all time by Martin Scorsese, The Changeling deals the terror out in spades, with Medak playing up the tightening fear of the unknown with the precision of a horror maestro. (Indeed, it’s amazing Medak had never even been near the genre before.) Having moved into a new home, a century-old manor also occupied by the restless spirit of a young boy, Scott’s John Russell digs to discover the tale of an institutional cover-up, and of power wielded monstrously in the name of financial gain. The Changeling may be a showcase for an effortlessly magnetic veteran lead, but it’s also a mystery thriller that engrosses as it frightens. What begins as another haunted house story ends as a commentary on the history of America: a nation built not just on hard work, but also on blood and not-always-heroic sacrifice. —Brogan Morris


1. Halloween

halloween-1978-poster.jpg Year: 1978
Director: John Carpenter

For students of John Carpenter’s filmography, it is interesting to note that Halloween is actually a significantly less ambitious film than his previous Assault on Precinct 13 on almost every measurable level. It doesn’t have the sizable cast of extras, or the extensive FX and stunt work. It’s not filled with action sequences. But what it does give us is the first full distillation of the American slasher film, and a heaping helping of atmosphere. Carpenter built off earlier proto-slashers such as Bob Clark’s Black Christmas in penning the legend of Michael Myers, an unstoppable phantom who returns to his hometown on Halloween night to stalk high school girls. (The original title was actually The Babysitter Murders, if you haven’t heard that particular bit of trivia before.) Carpenter heavily employs tools that would become synonymous with slashers, such as the killer’s POV perspective, making Myers into something of a voyeur (he’s just called “The Shape” in the credits) who lurks silently in the darkness with inhuman patience before finally making his move. It’s a lean, mean movie with some absurd characterization in its first half (particularly from the ditzy P.J. Soles, who can’t stop saying “totally”) that then morphs into a claustrophobic crescendo of tension as Jamie Lee Curtis’ Laurie Strode first comes into contact with Myers. Utterly indispensable to the whole thing is the great Donald Pleasance as Dr. Loomis, the killer’s personal hype man/Ahab, whose sole purpose in the screenplay is to communicate to the audience with frothing hyperbole just what a monster this Michael Myers really is. It can’t be overstated how important Pleasance is to making this film into the cultural touchstone that would inspire the early ’80s slasher boom to follow. —Jim Vorel

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