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Top 50 Horror Movies : Michael Montoure's "Bloodletters" < script type="text/javascript" src="http://apis.google.com/js/plusone.js">
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These are my picks for the fifty best horror movies of all time -- at least, the best ones I’ve seen so far. What am I missing? Let me know!
(Full Disclosure: I do receive a percentage of sales made through the links on this page. That has not influenced the page’s content in any way.)


50. Thir13en Ghosts (2001)

Okay, well, let’s start off by completely destroying my credibility, by listing this film. I just love it so much. The story? Well, that part not so much. Most of the acting? Forgettable, aside from the wonderfully over-the-top Matthew Lillard and the always excellent Tony Shalhoub. No, what you want to watch this movie for is its absolutely insanely great visual design. All of the ghosts are really striking and individual, and the house itself is just brilliant, like an oversized Hellraiser puzzle box. This is a great popcorn movie for your next Halloween party. Oh, and be sure to watch the DVD extras -- there’s a featurette that goes into detail about the elaborate backstory they came up with for each ghost, and it’s just great. (Better than the movie itself, if I’m being honest.)
Original: I know this is based, loosely, at least, on a William Castle movie. I don’t think I’ve seen it. I’m sure it’s nothing like this, though. Although I understand there was some gimmick where the audience had to wear special glasses to be able to see the ghosts, which is cleverly incorporated into this version quite literally — this time, the characters wear special glasses to see the ghosts.

49. The Evil Dead (1981)

Okay, this is, at a lot of points, just kind of a silly movie, but it’s got a lot going for it. Wonderfully over the top, it still somehow manages to be pretty damn tense and scary occasionally. It’s just so gleefully in your face, and I just have to love that about it. Some of the special effects have to be seen to be believed.
Sequels: The sequels strike out into their own strange territory, walking the line of self-parody, and practically become their own genre, especially by the time we get to Army of Darkness. I don’t know that they really count as horror movies, but they sure are a hell of a lot of fun, especially watching the lead character’s transformation into the ultimate bad-ass.

48. Halloween (1978)

Like The Exorcist, this is another movie that I can’t fairly judge — I’d seen too many of its imitators first, and everything that it did that I know was daring and different and original was just — part of the genre, to me, by the time I saw it and . . . I just found it kind of boring, the first time I watched it. I’ve come to appreciate it more since, with repeated viewings, and I certainly appreciate that it’s an important movie for how much it defined the horror genre, which is why it finally appears on this list. I resisted adding it for years, because as much as I’d like to love it, I just don’t. Donald Pleasance is fucking excellent, though, and sells the story much better than anything else in the movie.
Sequels: I thought Halloween: H20 was pretty decent, actually.

Remake: People had mixed reactions to it, but I kinda liked it. Rob Zombie approached the story and its characters with a surprising amount of sympathy, making me feel sorry for Michael Myers.

47. Re-Animator (1985)

Stupid, gory, and fun. Don’t watch this if you have a weak stomach and no sense of humor. It’s allegedly based on an H.P. Lovecraft story, but it doesn’t even approach the mystery and creepiness of Lovecraft, and, well, it doesn’t even try to — it just borrows the premise of the story as a framework for a lot of sick, in-your-face visual ideas. I’m probably much fonder of this movie than I really should be. There have been several times that I’ve revised this list and it’s nearly been shoved right off the end, but I just can’t seem to bear to take it out.
Sequels: I know sequels to this exist, but I just haven’t been able to bring myself to watch them. I just don’t see how they could recapture the style of this movie.

46. Friday the 13th (1980)

Surprisingly good. As the movie that popularized the “mad slasher goes around killing teenagers who were about to have sex” genre, I thought this film would be as bad as the countless imitators that followed. I was wrong. Some fairly decent acting, good pacing, and a few real surprises.
Sequels: Ummm. Yeah, there sure were some sequels to this, weren’t there?

45. Nightbreed (1990)

I always feel a little sad when I see this now, knowing that it should have been better — apparently, the studio really cut this one to ribbons, and it shows, with the occasional jump in the plot or gap in logic. But what’s left really makes me yearn for the long-rumored director’s cut to be released. Nightbreed is the film that finally realizes that the most compelling and even sympathetic characters in horror films aren’t the victims — they’re the monsters. And this film provides an entire nightmarish hidden city of them.

(I rewatched this recently, and in many ways it’s not nearly as good as I remember it being. But I love it too much to take it off this list.)

44. High Tension (2005)

This movie is kind of problematic for me, in many ways, and I have very mixed feelings about listing it here — it’s the only movie on this list whose ending I just genuinely, flat-out hated, and that has really colored my perception of the rest of the film for a long time. But I find there are just so many moments from this, so many images, that I just can’t get out of my head. In retrospect, I really do love the first eighty or ninety percent of this movie — it does just what the title says, constantly ratcheting up the tension of an increasingly desperate situation.

43. The Return of the Living Dead (1985)

I wasn’t really expecting much from this movie — it looked like a cheap knockoff of Night of the Living Dead, and that’s essentially true . . . . But if I’m not mistaken, the writer from NotLD actually had some involvement in this movie, and in some respects, was able to improve on his original ideas. These zombies really are (almost) unstoppable — and it’s fun watching the characters try anyway. It’s dumb, it wants you to laugh at it, but so much of what it does with the concept is so darn clever that you just have to stop and appreciate the ideas while you’re laughing. Also, it’s got a really great 80’s soundtrack.
Sequels: I don’t remember the second movie at all — but Return of the Living Dead 3 (1993) is hip, creepy, and clever, and takes the idea of zombie movies and makes it personal as we watch the deteriorating relationship between a woman who is slowly giving into her undead hunger and the man who brought her back from the dead. This movie is perfectly aware of both the real horror and the real absurdity of its premise, and sets tense, dramatic scenes against colorfully-lit, EC-comics-like backgrounds, giving the whole film a surreal and dreamlike feeling. (There were other sequels after that. Skip ’em.)

42. Nomads (1986)

Unsettling and original, this movie really conveys the feeling of a world both darker and larger than our own. Rather than tapping into the same well of old stories that most horror films use, with their demons and vampires and werewolves, this story creates a threat that feels unmistakably urban and modern and real. The movie’s slow breakdown of linear logic echoes the mental breakdown of the lead character. And the ending still really haunts me.

41. Creepshow (1982)

If you’re tired of horror films with pretensions of being serious and artistic, here’s your cure. It manages to be frequently campy without losing the edge of horror. (Okay, maybe during the animated sequences.) But this is just plain fun. It’s an homage to the horror comics of the fifties, especially the offerings from EC Comics.
Sequels: It wasn’t quite as good, so I can’t wholeheartedly recommend it, but if you really enjoy this film, check out the second one. The third one, though, I didn’t even finish watching.

40. May (2002)

I love this strange and awkward little movie, and I think anyone else who grew up feeling strange and awkward will, too. I think a lot of people can identify at least a little bit with a lead character who so desperately wants love and friendship, but just doesn’t quite understand how people work. The lengths that she goes to in an attempt to address this problem are played as much for dark laughs as they are for genuine scares, but that doesn’t make this movie any less disturbing. There’s nothing I could say about the ending of this movie that wouldn’t completely ruin it for you, so I’ll just say this — the ending is wonderful.

39. The Ugly (1997)

Disturbing, entrancing, and beautifully shot in a very modern, jerky, and disorienting style, this movie is the life story of a serial killer with a supernatural edge to it. While having an "unreliable narrator" is a common enough technique in prose fiction, I can’t remember another film that uses the same technique so well; we’re left uncertain whether the events we’re seeing are real memories, imagined memories, or simple lies. This movie also has a very distinctive visual style; for example, the blood in this movie isn’t red, it’s oil-black. That might sound almost cartoonish, but it’s incredibly effective — it draws your attention to the blood in a way that a normal portrayal wouldn’t, and underlines the horror of the situation. Simon’s victims look soiled and unclean by his acts.

38. The Devil’s Backbone (2001)

Gorgeously shot and directed by the always great Guillermo Del Toro (whose Pan’s Labyrinth probably deserves a place on this list, too, but I always think of it as more of a fantasy movie), this is one of the few genuinely good ghost stories made in recent years. The ghost effects are beautiful and unearthly, and beyond that, just as frightening as any ghost is the presence of an unexploded bomb in the courtyard of a school, a constant reminder to the children of the war going on, and a reminder that they could die at any minute. It helps make the line between life and death feel very thin in this movie.

37. Session 9 (2001)

Slow, moody, atmospheric, psychological. The decaying mental hospital is one of the most disturbing places I’ve ever seen on film, and the slow breakdown of the people working on it is even more disturbing. Even just thinking about the line "What are you doing here?" makes me shudder.

36. The Fly (1986)

The first Cronenberg film I ever saw, this one is fairly typical of his work. Not that this movie is typical by other standards; where Dead Ringers gives us a slow deterioration of a relationship, The Fly gives us a slow deterioration of a human body, as we watch a man slowly devolve into a monster. Worth watching just for Jeff Goldblum as the lead character; no one is better at being naturally creepy than Goldblum, and Cronenberg gets an excellent performance out of him.
Sequel: Ehhh. Kind of clever, but pretty forgettable.

35. The Descent (2005)

This one really, really got to me, for one simple reason -- I’m pretty damn claustrophobic. So the scenes where our heroines nearly get trapped in cave vents that are much too small for them had me squirming in my seat and trying not to hyperventilate. Very, very effective, to the point that when the monsters show up, I had an actual sense of relief — monsters I can handle. Probably not the intended effect. Mind you, the monsters themselves are quite well done.
Sequel: I haven’t seen it yet, but I definitely intend to.

34. Last House on the Left (1972)

Wes Craven’s first film, and easily his single most disturbing. I think this one works so well because he didn’t know what he was doing — it doesn’t fall into any safe, predictable patterns — you never know what’s going to happen to any of the characters at any moment. This is not light, fluffy, kiddie-fare — don’t toss this one in the VCR at your next Halloween party if you still want all your friends speaking to you afterward. This one is brutal and nasty, and shot in such a cheap, flat way that it looks like a documentary, or a snuff film; the cheapness actually enhances the realism, just as the badly-placed and -executed comic relief enhances the real horror of the rest of the film — you find yourself staring slack-jawed at the ”funny“ scenes as you would at someone who brought a whoopie cushion to a funeral.
Remake: The remake, on the other hand, is just a little too polished to really work right. It does manage, in its own way to be just as unpleasant as the original, but -- I dunno. Something falls flat here. They made some plots changes I really liked and some I quite simply hated, and gave it a really weirdly cartoonish ending. I wanted to like it, but I didn’t, really.

33. In the Mouth of Madness (1995)

I’m really fond of early John Carpenter, but I haven’t really liked much of anything he’s done since about 1988. With one exception — this really stands out to me among his recent work as being simply smarter, more inventive, more fun, and more creepy. The character “Sutter Cane” may be a thinly disguised version of Stephen King, but the film’s Things Man Was Not Meant To Know sensibilities are straight out of H.P. Lovecraft.

32. The Thing (1982)

Usually, when someone makes a remake of a "classic" film, they completely ruin it. This couldn’t be farther from the truth here. The original version of The Thing is, in my opinion, totally boring. This film went back to the original source material, a short story entitled "Who Goes There?" that the first film was based on, and brought back into the plot all the elements that had made the story work that the first film had just completely ignored. Lots of action, a claustrophobic setting, and a wonderfully ambiguous ending make this one memorable.

31. The Exorcist (1973)

It’s a little hard to judge this movie on its own merits — its images and ideas have become so firmly entrenched in our culture, and it’s been parodied and referenced so many times that’s it’s hard to separate the film itself from this idea of the film. Although it almost works better as an archetype than as a movie, The Exorcist still has the power to shock and horrify, even by today’s jaded standards; and I have to give it proper credit for not going with a "Hollywood" ending.
Sequels: I can’t remember for sure if I ever saw them or not. Hmm.

30. Cat People (1942)

You’d think that a movie this old would seem too dated to scare a modern audience, but this one still really shines. The characters are intriguing and well-acted, and the story and the direction both refuse to give you release from the tension they build up right until the final frames. The film is also beautifully lit and shot, using the black-and-white medium to its full advantage.
Remake: The 1982 remake had a great performance from Malcolm McDowell and music by David Bowie and Giorgio Moroder, and yet it still couldn’t touch the original.

29. Videodrome (1983)

Yeee-ikes. Creepy, icky, weird, and makes no linear sense. But should a film that shows someone’s gradual mental deterioration really have to make linear sense? It’s hard to tell, as the film progresses, how much of the action is "really" happening, and how much only takes place inside the protagonist’s mind — but it doesn’t really matter.

28. Martin (1978)

Okay, sure, this is another vampire movie. But I guarantee you that this is not like any other vampire movie you’ve ever seen. For one thing, you can never really be sure whether the title character really is a vampire, or whether he’s just horrifically delusional . . . . One of the creepiest horror movies I’ve seen, since aside from the flashbacks (which could just be fantasies), there’s nothing in this film that couldn’t actually happen. This isn’t one of George Romero’s better known films — but it should be, dammit.

27. The Hitcher (1986)

This one is really creepy and unsettling, but in a very cinematic way, so it’s a little easier to take. But not much. The perfect movie for people who always thought there was something just a little sinister about Rutger Hauer.
Remake: Nothing really wrong with it, aside from just being totally unnecessary.

26. Angel Heart (1987)

Written and directed by Alan Parker, who directed one of my very favorite non-horror movies (Pink Floyd: The Wall). It has the voodoo-laden, jazzy, hard-boiled feel that I wish Lord Of Illusions had managed to pull off.

25. Pumpkinhead (1988)

I avoided this film for years, thanks to a pretty stupid title and an unimaginative and cheap looking video cover design. I finally rented it out of desperation one night, when I couldn’t find anything else that looked appealing — and I was blown away by it. Great creature effects from Stan Winston, the man who made the creatures in Alien. An interesting story. And a compelling performance from Lance Henriksen, whom I loved in Near Dark.
Sequels: Completely unmemorable.

24. Near Dark (1987)

Speaking of Near Dark . . . . Still my favorite vampire movie. Even though it never uses the word "vampire" once — the characters in it don’t seem sure what they are. This does a better job than any other movie I can think of at treating vampires as real. It’s the story of a young man’s descent into darkness, and his redemption. Features Lance Henriksen as the lead vampire; he’s probably better known now as Bishop from Aliens, but this is the role I always picture him in. Great soundtrack by Tangerine Dream.

23. An American Werewolf in London (1981)

This is a difficult movie to categorize — it’s hard to tell what kind of film you’re watching, even from one moment to the next. It manages to be very genuinely creepy, occasionally hysterically funny, and sometimes even both at once. I’m not sure if this movie succeeds, because, quite frankly, I don’t know what the hell it was trying to do. But I found it fairly intriguing, even though it’s inconsistently paced. Definitely worth seeing just for Rick Baker’s werewolf transformation effects, which really pushed the envelope of what was possible to put on the screen. And it has a perfect ending.
Sequels: Personally, I really enjoyed An American Werewolf in Paris, but I can’t honestly say it was a good movie.

22. Phantasm (1979)

This is a very . . . weird little movie. I didn’t like it until about halfway through it, when I stopped trying to make sense of it. It has a very creepy, dreamlike feel and structure to it, there are parts of the film that are laughably bad and other parts that are really terrifying, and it doesn’t really add up to a cohesive whole — but you get the feeling that it wasn’t trying to, that it was just trying to tow you along as it drifted through a nightmare for a while. And I think it succeeds at that. Also, despite the overall cheapness of the movie, the makers had a good sense of visual style, and the Ball and the Tall Man are compelling images. In a lot of ways, this is one of the best fusions of horror and science-fiction I’ve seen, finding that uneasy shadow land somewhere between the two.
Sequels: Not terrible, all told. If you do see the second one, make sure you watch the third and fourth ones as well — it’s somehow more satisfying as a series than any individual sequel manages to be on its own. The fourth one is particularly fun for its use of footage that was cut from the first movie, so we get to see new scenes of one of the now-grown protagonists from back when he was a kid. (Side note: my dream project would be to turn this into a television series. No, seriously.)

21. Candyman (1992)

It’s based on a Clive Barker short story, so naturally I had to love this one. It strays a little far afield of the story it’s based on, but it does so fairly gracefully. This movie does an excellent job at creating an original supernatural menace, while grounding it so firmly in the context of urban legends that you’d be convinced the character has been spoken of in whispers for years. This movie has a quiet, low-budget look and feel to it that actually helps to enhance the unsettling mood it creates. To this day, even though I’m a grown-up now and everything, I still wouldn’t say “Candyman” five times in a mirror, not even after meeting Tony Todd in real life. Maybe especially not after meeting Tony Todd in real life.
I seem to recall I really liked the second movie, and I remember it did a really good job of creating a feeling of paranoia by having mirrors everywhere, but I can’t remember a single thing that happens in it.

20. The Blair Witch Project (1999)

Yeah, okay, this movie received a lot of hype. And it deserves it. How effective you find the film may depend on how likely your imagination is to work against you; if you’re like me, you’ll find that this movie lodges itself in your brain and ruins your sleep for days. The after-effects of the film are more unsettling than the actual experience. Kudos to Haxan Films for trying something daring and unusual instead of cranking out yet another slasher flick, and for convincing so many people that their invented legend was real, with an Internet campaign that was years ahead of its time.
Sequels: The sequel to this was a slickly-polished piece of idiocy that only proved that the big studios had no idea what to do with this property now they had their hands on it. It was clearly made by people who had no understanding of what made the first film work at all.

19. A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)

Do you really need a recommendation for this one? Well, maybe you do; maybe you’d just as soon avoid any film that spawned a franchise of endless sequels. But, really, the first one was groundbreaking and fun, and really manages to convey the strange logic that nightmares operate under. If you’ve never seen it, you need to.
Sequels: But, as long as we’re talking about the endless sequels, I have to admit I think they’re a lot of fun. None of them are very good mind you, but I enjoyed them, especially New Nightmare and the almost-a-parody Freddy vs. Jason.

Remake: I was really hoping this would be good, but it just wasn’t. They forgot to make it fun, and that actually made it less scary -- the original Freddy is actually scarier because he is having so much fun causing chaos and death. Admittedly, the character gradually became a self-parody in the sequels, but the remake swings back too far the other way to compensate, and it doesn’t really work.

18. The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974)

I know what you’re thinking. But really, this is not that kind of movie; despite the title, there have been many, many movies that have gone much farther out of their way to splatter blood, gore and intestines up on the screen than this one. This may have been visually shocking in the early seventies, but it’s awfully tame to today’s jaded thrillseekers, such as myself. It’s not tame, however, in its plot and direction; after slowly building up the atmosphere, nearly the last half of the movie is one, long, extended chase sequence. It may sound boring put that way, but it’s not. The viewer is made to feel tense, claustrophobic and trapped along with our heroine. Very creepy and unsettling.
Sequels: Second one’s pretty decent, although a very different kind of film. Haven’t really bothered with any after that.

Remake: Surprisingly decent. They made some serious modifications to the plot that I thought were really interesting choices and that really worked to make it a better, more compelling story. Also, I was really worried that the remake would go overboard on the gore factor, but it actually didn’t. I will say it does kind of suffer from being too slickly produced, and is a bit less effective than the original because of it — the first one felt at times almost like a documentary, but the remake was much more of a movie movie.

17. Les Yeux sans visage (1960)

Simultaneously sadistic and gentle, dreamlike and brutally real. The surgery imagery from this film has stayed buried in my subconscious more than any sophisticated modern special effect.
English titles: This is generally known as Eyes Without a Face — I’ve listed it here as Les Yeux Sans Visage because that’s how I originally saw it, and also because I’m kind of a pretentious bastard sometimes. When I was looking for the poster for this movie, I learned that it also is sometimes known in English as The Horror Chamber of Dr. Faustus, which amuses the hell out of me.

16. 28 Days Later (2002)

It never occurred to me that the director of Trainspotting would ever turn his hand to reinventing the zombie genre, but he certainly did — he took everything that works about it and stripped away everything else, investing what remains with an amazing depth of compassion for his characters, a sweeping sense of scale for what the world has lost.
Sequel: It was fine, I suppose.

15. The Wicker Man (1973)

The scariest part of the movie for me is not its famous ending — and if you’re one of the five people out there who doesn’t know what that is, I’m not going to ruin it for you — but just watching our hero wind his way through the slow, inevitable trap that’s been set for him. There was no way out from the moment he got off the plane, and watching him figure that out is like slowly watching him die.
Remake: I have seen juuust enough clips of this on YouTube to feel completely justified in my decision never to watch it. (“No! Not the bees!”)

Sequel: I just saw a trailer for an upcoming semi-official sequel, and honestly? It looks like it was made by crazy people. Time will tell whether this is a good thing or a bad thing.

14. Carnival of Souls (1962)

I rented this movie on the strength of the recommendations on alt.horror, and now I have to add my own. I love this movie. It’s very slow-paced by today’s standards, but it’s very creepy and effective.
Remake: The so-called “remake” doesn’t seem to have anything to do with the original. Skip it and rent this instead.)

13. Dead Ringers (1988)

Easily one of the best films by David Cronenberg, the most twisted and messed-up director I know (I love his work). I almost hesitate to call this a horror film; it doesn’t have the trappings of a traditional horror film, doesn’t have the pacing of one. What it does do is slowly unfold the unsettling, disturbing breakdown of two identical twins, both expertly played by Jeremy Irons with the aid of some flawless split-screen work.

12. Stir of Echoes (1999)

I’m really almost unreasonably fond of this movie. I’ve never been a huge fan of Kevin Bacon, but I find him at his most likeable here, as an everyday guy who is suddenly dealing with unwanted psychic powers, and a ghost who won’t rest. It’s nothing that hasn’t been done before, but it’s all done here with such conviction and style you’d swear they invented the ghost story, just now. It was released very shortly after, and completely eclipsed by, The Sixth Sense, a movie I also liked, but not nearly as much as this one.

11. Frailty (2001)

I really wish this movie were more widely known. For one thing, it has the best performance I’ve ever seen from Bill Paxton, but mainly, I find the story and the mood so compelling. We’re told from the start exactly what’s going on, as a man confesses his family’s bloody history of working for the Lord to the FBI, but we’re still drawn through twists and turns.

10. Cube (1997)

Damn. I made the mistake of seeing this movie alone when I saw it for the first time, and I couldn’t sleep afterwards. Claustrophobic and terrifying, this movie keeps setting up your expectations and knocking them down. Extremely nihilistic in its outlook, this film has a lot to say about the nature of life. Shot on an extremely low budget with amazing special effects provided entirely free of charge by volunteers, this movie proves what you can do with just a handful of actors and one set.
Sequels: The second one tried to make it more science-fiction-y and was just stupid. The third one tried to delve into a backstory that should never have been explained. Pretend they don’t exist, you’ll be happier.

9. Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (1990)

Yeeeesh. When you think you’ve become jaded, when you think you’ve seen it all, and that nothing you could possibly see in a movie could bother you — please, by all means, watch this movie. After seeing hours of stylized, glossy, slicked-up violence dished out by the Jasons and Freddy’s of the silver screen, this movie is a real fucking wake-up call. Disturbingly realistic in a flat, stark, almost documentary-like style, there is absolutely nothing glamorous about this movie. It will mess you up bad. Worth seeing, but really, really, unsetlling. See it with a friend who won’t hate you for making them watch it.
Sequel: Oh, God, while I was looking for links for this movie, I just reminded myself there's a sequel to this. I think I’ve been trying to pretend it didn’t exist. Can’t imagine it being worthwhile.

8. Let the Right One In (2008)

Best vampire movie anyone’s made in a long, long time. I’ve always been fascinated by the child-vampire trope, in everything from Interview with the Vampire to Near Dark. The idea of being a perpetual child, never really quite understanding adult interaction, is a deeply unsettling one, and I’ve never seen it handled better than it was here in this moody, chilly film. This is a movie that remembers clearly just how damn horrible it can be to be a child, and watching the quasi-romantic friendship that forms between our lead character and his neighbor, who’s really not the little girl she seems to be, is nicely uncomfortable. I also really like the snowbound setting — it really helps build a sense of isolation, makes the violence that happens seem flat and dirty and real. And I love how ambivalent the ending makes me feel.

(So, wait, didn’t I say that Near Dark was my favorite vampire movie? Yeah, I did. The thing is, I think this is a better horror film overall, while Near Dark is a better vampire movie, if that makes sense. I hope it does, because I’m not sure I can explain it any better than that.)
DVD Release: Make sure you get the one I’ve linked to here -- this was first released on DVD with a set of subtitles that weren’t the ones used in the theatrical release, and I’ve seen a side-by-side comparison, and the subtitles on the first release are just clumsy and poorly-written. People complained, and so they released a DVD with the theatrical subtitles, and that’s the one you want to see.

Remake: I know a lot of people who avoided the remake as being completely unnecesary, and I have a certain amount of sympathy for that view, but I was too curious, and I’m really glad I went. I’d have to agree that it’s not quite as good as the original, but honestly, I think it’s very damn close. Grab this one if you have friends who will whine if you make them read subtitles.

7. Dark Water (2002)

A very, very creepy little ghost story, from the same director as the original version of The Ring. This is a much tighter, more personal story, one that imbues the safest, most ordinary places and objects with meaning and dread. I had a hard time going into elevators after seeing it. And I never thought I’d be quite so scared of a little pink backpack. The pacing is slow and deliberate and builds an almost unbearable tension.
The American remake is a perfectly serviceable little film, and has some decent scares in it, but it’s just nowhere near as unsettling as the original.

6. The Shining (1980)

I had a conversion experience over this one a few years ago . I’d only seen it on video, and I always used to find it kind of boring — but I got talked into seeing it on the big screen, and I finally got it. It really needs a cinema screen to convey the sense of scale and isolation, and now I love it. (I still think Jack Torrance’s slow descent into madness would seem more convincing if they hadn’t cast Jack Nicholson, who seems a little unhinged at the start of the movie, but what the hell.)
Remake: I guess it doesn’t really count as a remake, so much as another stab at adapting the book, and okay, it wasn’t made by someone as brilliant as Stanley Kubrick, but I kinda liked the TV miniseries version. We get a Jack Torrance who seems like a genuinely nice guy at the start of it, for one thing. If you were ever disappointed that the movie wasn’t faithful enough to the book, you should check out the miniseries.

5. The Ring (2002)

Watching this in the theater when it came out scared me more than any movie had in a long, long time. It sets up a wonderful sense of pervasive dread, and absolute certainty that things are just going to keep getting worse. Also, I suppose partly what makes it so effective is that it subverts the one thing you know when you’re watching a scary movie — it is just a movie, it can’t hurt you. But somewhere in the back of your little lizard brain, you’re not really so sure. What if the scary things you see on the screen could find a way out? The biggest scares of this movie come when Samara does exactly that.
Original: The original version isn’t as good, in some respects — both of them have their plot holes and leaps of logic, but the original’re blasé acceptance of psychic phenomena make it a little harder to take seriously, and the remake added things like the scene with the horses, whcih I found ridiculously scary. The original’s totally worth seeing, though, and I think that Sadako is even more creepy and terrifying than the remake’s Samara, if you can believe that.

4. Night of the Living Dead (1968)

For a little over a hundred grand, and with a small cast and a bare handful of locations, George Romero created a monster. Literally. Several of the films on this list feature horrors we’ve told stories about for hundreds of years — werewolves, vampires, ghosts, demons — but this is the only movie to invent it’s own kind of monster that has had its own incredible cultural impact with countless imitators. But this original story is still the best of them. Bleak, hopeless, and relentless, this movie reminds us that in times of crisis, what we most need to fear is each other.
Remake: I saw the 1990 remake long before I ever saw the original, and for quite a while, I honestly thought I prefered the remake, at least partly because it has the talent of the incomparable Tony Todd behind it. But when it came time to compile this list, I realized that only one of the two had really managed to burn its images into my brain, and that was the original. The original may feel a little stilted and dated in some ways compared to the remake, but it’s got a power to it that just can’t be denied.

3. Audition (1999)

Okay, I’m going to make kind of an anti-recommendation here, okay? If you’re just looking through this list because you’re looking for something kind of scary for a date, or for a party, don’t — don’t pick this one, all right? Physically brutal, psychologically off-kilter, this movie is fairly brilliant — but don’t see it unless you’re sure you really want to.

2. Hellraiser (1987)

For years, this was my very favorite. The directing debut of my favorite author, Clive Barker, Hellraiser is a charming little tale of passions taken too far; it’s a movie that isn’t afraid to show gore, but does so for a reason. Hellraiser is an intelligent, thoughtful film, that sets up its own logic, its own reality, and its own mythology. Strikingly innovative, it raised the bar for horror films.
Sequels: I really like Hellbound: Hellraiser II (1988). Even though it has a different writer and different director, this movie still dovetails fairly seamlessly onto the end of the first; you can cheerfully watch them back-to-back. Hellbound manages to delve even farther into the mythology established by the first film while still remaining true to the spirit of it. There have been like, I don’t know, like about a dozen direct-to-video sequels in the years since, and they look pretty terrible.

Remake: Not yet, although I hear they’re working on one. Seems really unnecessary to me, but I hear Barker is directly involved with it, so maybe something good will come out of it all.

1. The Haunting (1963)

What can I possibly say about this movie that could convey the creepy feeling it provides? In some ways, this movie is a little stilted and dated, but no other film has ever really matched its atmosphere of oppression and dread. The characters are well-drawn, neurotic and compelling; the house really feels haunted, with shifting perspectives and weird trappings; and the writers and directors had the sense to know that what we don’t see is much, much worse than anything they could put on the screen.
Remake: Maybe it’s because the original is my favorite horror film, but the 1999 remake is my least favorite horror remake, and I think it’s a perfect example of everything that’s wrong with horror remakes. Every mystery left unsolved and unspoken in the first is flatly and prosaically laid out; every unseen menace presented full-frame in all its CGI glory, and the end result is about as scary as an episode of Scooby-Doo. Don’t even get me started talking about this movie.
An unreliable narrator, MICHAEL MONTOURE ( montoure@bloodletters.com ) is an indie writer of horror and dark urban fantasy. His obsessions include hidden truths, secret dealings, and the changing and fragile nature of our own pasts. He is known as much for his spoken-word performances of his fiction at Seattle coffeehouses and conventions as for the stories themselves. Currently working as a writer and producer of the webseries Causality, he lives alone with a gray cat by the edge of Echo Lake, Washington. ( Twitter / Facebook / Google+ )
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