Top 10 Horror Movies (in order of release)
The Cabinet of Dr Caligari (1919)
What’s it about? Two friends meet the eponymous Doctor Caligari at a carnival show along with his sinister ‘somnambulist’ Cesare who has the power to predict the future. Cue kidnapping, chases, murder and a visit to the asylum.
Why’s it so great? One of the most visually-striking films ever made, Caligari is a masterpiece of German expressionism with weird camera angles, arty-sets, peculiar lighting and a dreamlike quality often imitated but never bettered. The story’s a bit daft by today’s standards, but it’s such a feast for the eyes and the imagination it hardly matters.
If you like this, try… Nosferatu (the original) or The Golem – also classics of German expressionist film-making.
The Spiral Staircase (1946)
What’s it about? A strangler preys on women with disabilities in the early 1900s – and sets his eyes on a mute girl as his next victim.
Why’s it so great? A superb film-noir horror in the grand tradition of Old Hollywood and probably the best spooky old house pic you’ll ever see. The scenes where the murderer eyes up his victims still pack a suitably eerie punch.
If you like this, try… Peeping Tom. Or Psycho!
Carnival of Souls (1960)
What’s it about? A young organist has nightmarish visions after she is involved in a car accident
Why’s it so great? So far as I know, this was director Herk Hervey’s only film and it’s a tragedy he didn’t do more. Everything works here, from the creepy soundtrack to the well-judged appearances of the ghoul who stalks our heroine. Many films are described as nightmarish, but this one really is.
If you like this, try… Anything by David Lynch
Night of the Living Dead (1968)
What’s it about? A group of mismatched people take refuge in a house to escape a plague of ravenous zombies
Why’s it so great? George Romero may have dined out on this seminal horror flick, but you can hardly blame him. This film practically invented the modern zombie-horror sub-genre. And in the late 1960s having a strong, black protagonist was unheard of. The grainy, newsreel-style aesthetic gives it a timeless charm.
If you like this, try… Erm… The Walking Dead?
The Wicker Man (1973)
What’s it about? – A rather straight-laced policeman goes to a remote Scottish isle in search of a missing girl
Why’s it so great? – The archetypal fish-out-of-water-among-a-bunch-of-weirdos story, Wicker Man is one of those strange, haunted films which will stay with you. There’s the lovely but eerie folk soundtrack, Edward Woodward’s powerhouse performance as Sergeant Howie and of course, Christopher Lee on his best-ever form. And there’s the closing scenes of course but we won’t go there.
If you like this, try… The League of Gentlemen?
What’s it about? A killer escapes from an asylum and stalks new victims on Halloween, 15 years after being incarcerated for killing his sister.
Why’s it so great? I could write a whole blog post about this (and in fact, I probably will at some stage). Suffice to say, this is as flawless as horror gets with faultless direction, powerful performances, a great soundtrack, Donald Pleasence… If you haven’t seen this, don’t read any more of this list, just go watch it. Now.
If you like this, try… Practically every slasher film ever made owes its existence to this little number, so take your pick. Friday the Thirteenth, Prom Night, Scream…
The Shining (1980)
What’s it about? A recovering alcoholic writer, his wife and his psychically-gifted son spend the winter in a hotel with a chequered past
Why’s it so great? One of the most intense mainstream horror films you will ever see directed by the late, great Stanley Kubrick. Stephen King is apparently not a fan since it takes liberties with his original novel but there’s no denying the power of this masterwork. A powerful study of a man’s slide into hell taking his family along for the ride.
If you like this, try… Some of the better Stephen King adaptations. Obvious choices include Misery, Dolores Claiborne and the Dead Zone.
The Hunger (1983)
What’s it about? An immortal vampire seeks a new companion to keep her company as her old lover succumbs to old age
Why’s it so great? A lesser-known classic directed by Tony Scott of all people (Ridley’s younger brother), this is an elegiac study of ageing and death with beautiful, if frenetic, direction.
If you like this, try… Something arty like Don’t Look Now
A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)
What’s it about? Teenagers are killed in their dreams by a scar-faced bogeyman
Why’s it so great? Surely the iconic horror film of the 1980s with Freddie Krueger a pop-cultural icon with few if any rivals. The fact it spawned so many sequels, most of them wretched, can be forgiven.
If you like this, try… The Scream franchise
The Blair Witch Project (1999)
What’s it about? Three teenagers go missing in the woods while filming a documentary
Why’s it so great? Probably the first film to make a mint from the internet via word-of-mouth hype, this is nevertheless a worthy candidate for this list. A classic slice of cinema verite all shot on grainy cameras, it may not be the scariest film ever (what is?), but it’s a gripping ride all the same.
If you like this, try… Paranormal Activity. The first one, anyway.