Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962)
One of the best psychological horror films ever made. Think of it as a horror version of Grey Gardens. Bette Davis and Joan Crawford are two of the most talented actresses in history, and they get the chance to ham it up here.
Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (1986)
The low-budget film is praised for depicting murder as the grotesque act of violence it is, rather than stylizing or sensationalizing it. Hollywood serial killers are usually geniuses… Henry might be closer to the truth.
The Sixth Sense (1999)
20 years later, The Sixth Sense remains M. Night Shyamalan’s best work. It has his spirituality, his ability to create and maintain atmosphere and tension — and has one of the most celebrated twists in Hollywood history.
Black Christmas (1974)
In the genre of Christmas horror movies, Black Christmas has no peers. (Two others made this list: Dead of Night at #113 and Gremlins at #124) But this wasn’t even Bob Clark’s best Christmas movie — he directed A Christmas Story nine years later.
The Vanishing (1988)
The Dutch film is known in that language as Spoorloos. The story of a woman who disappears at a rest stop is horrifying — Stanley Kubrick thought it was the scariest movie he’d ever seen, and called director George Sluizer on the phone to discuss editing.
Drag Me to Hell (2009)
Horror movies aren’t always known for their acting performances, but Alison Lohman shines as a loan officer who is cursed to Hell by a woman whose home she forecloses on. Clever and frightening, the film is a gem to watch.
The plot is a little hazy, and the real fear comes from the atmosphere. The sounds and the cuts and the washed out lights. What is Allan Gray seeing? Who is that creepy man? Is the pale woman already past saving? In some ways, Vampyr is most suitable for background at a haunted house or Halloween party. It’s not necessarily a popcorn sit-and-watch movie like Dracula.
Bela Lugosi’s performance forever cemented the image of Count Dracula into our cultural memory. His Hungarian accent and slicked-back hair is what we think of when we imagine a vampire – not the Count Orlock of Nosferatu or Edward Cullen of Twilight.
The psychological drama explores the horror of divorce — it’s been compared to Antichrist, The Brood and Scenes from a Marriage. Be sure to get the “uncut” version, and not the chopped-up one first released in the U.S.
Train to Busan (2016)
There have been a lot of zombie apocalypse movies over the past 20 years. Train to Busan is one of the most inventive. The outbreak spreads from car to car, as terrified passengers try to flee and avoid the walking dead.
Jacob's Ladder (1990)
A Vietnam War veteran experiences strange visions upon returning home to the States. (The title takes its name from the vision in Genesis 28:12) It turns out, so do some of the men he fought with. The bizarre film has influenced horror movies and video games made into the 21st Century.
Kwaidan is an anthology film. It contains four separate narratives, each adapted from traditional Japanese ghost stories. Although they deal with ghosts, they are almost closer to fairy tales than horror stories.
Carnival of Souls (1962)
The extremely low budget ($33,000) independent horror film wasn’t recognized as a classic until decades after its release. A woman survives a car wreck and moves to Salt Lake City to become a church organist. But what is that strange abandoned pavilion on the shores of the lake?
Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)
Endlessly re-interpreted, the Cold War classic is usually said to have something to do with communism.Whether the “pod people” are the reds or the McCarthyites is besides the point; the film tapped into contemporary (and current!) fears of conformity.
The Devils (1971)
A story of witchhunting and exorcism, set in 17th Century France. If you’re at all uncomfortable with blasphemy, skip this one. Several scenes were excised from the film before release in 1971, and they’ve been missing from every DVD/Blu-Ray and streaming release even in the 21st Century.
Peeping Tom (1960)
Michael Powell was best known for Technicolor fantasies like The Thief of Bagdad and A Matter of Life and Death when his Peeping Tom surprised and disturbed audiences who were expecting something in his more usual style. His reputation suffered, but the ‘slasher’ later became a more mainstream genre and his film is now lauded as a horror classic.
The Phantom of the Opera (1925)
Lon Chaney famously devised his own ghastly appearance for this film, keeping it a secret until the premiere. Released just 15 years after Gaston Leroux’s novel, it’s a silent film — something almost unthinkable after Andrew Lloyd Webber.
Black Sunday (1960)
Also known as ‘The Mask of Satan’ and ‘Revenge of the Vampire.’ These 17th Century witchfinders actually burned themselves a real witch – but will they curse their own success? Director Mario Bava’s first feature film, and an early exemplar of classic Italian horror.
The Tenant (1976)
The last entry in Roman Polanski’s “Apartment Trilogy.” The plot of the psychological horror is better left unstated here. Any progressive readings of the film are neutered by knowledge of Polanski’s true predatory nature.
This is for the 2001 Japanese original, not the later American remake of the same name. You may find it listed as Kairo. Widely regarded by horror critics as one of the most frightening films ever made, especially the first half-hour. It hasn’t gotten as much of an American cult following as it deserves.
The Mist (2007)
An unknown, mysterious mist covers the town. Survivors find themselves trapped inside a grocery store. This is the premise for one of the most interesting horror movies of the decade — and the setup for one of its most divisive endings.