By Kyle Meltzer
What follows is a list of my 10 favorite horror films. Please note this is the list as it exists now, which is to say it didn’t always look the same in the past and it may not in the future. Some films included have been permanent mainstays, while others have more recently ascended to the top spots in the darker side of my imagination. So without further ado:
The Thing (1982, John Carpenter)
My absolute favorite horror movie by my absolute favorite horror director, the crown jewel of Carpenter’s career. The practical effects are inventive, gruesome, and convincing in a way that CGI could never duplicate, the narrative violently grips the viewer like a vice, and the cast featuring Kurt Russell, Keith David, and Wilford Brimley (in his pre-Diabeetus years) is uniformly solid.
The Exorcist (1973, William Friedkin)
I still feel this is probably the scariest movie ever made. I’m obsessed with the story – there’s something about demonic possession that’s much more bone chilling to me than zombies, ghosts, vampires, and the like. Maybe it’s the concept of a malevolence invading our world from a completely ulterior metaphysical plane? At any rate, if you’re watching the 2000 re-release, you better have a second pair of pants ready when the spider-walk scene hits.
Halloween (1978, John Carpenter)
Did I mention I love John Carpenter? This is, for me, the best slasher film period. Donald Pleasance as Dr. Loomis is my iconic horror movie good guy, just as Michael Myers is definitely my iconic horror movie baddie. The early stalking sequences around Haddonfield and scenes like Laurie Strode vs. Michael in the closet are among the most memorable in the genre.
Aliens (1986, James Cameron)
This comes before Alien as a pure matter of preference for its James Cameron action sequences – if you claim the original is the superior film, I won’t be one to argue with you. Aliens exemplifies the seamless meshing of the best tropes in sci-fi and horror, and it really solidified the concept of the space marine à la Heinlein as an enduring object of nerdy wonder. Plus, two words: Power. Loader.
Alien (1979, Ridley Scott)
The astounding visual effects. The atmospheric direction. The riveting screenplay. Sigourney Weaver. Yes, Alien has it all, and really what more can be said about one of the ultimate genre classics in modern film history? My skin breaks into goosebumps every time I watch Dallas crawl through the blackness of the vents – “Oh God, it’s moving right towards you!”
Evil Dead 2 (1987, Sam Raimi)
Sure, I could have chosen the original Evil Dead, and Army of Darkness is one of my favorite movies to throw on when I’m bored, but I prefer Evil Dead 2 most of all: it’s funny and fun as hell to watch. The highlights here made Bruce Campbell a legend – who could forget Ash sawing off his haunted hand or bursting into hysterical laughter along with the furniture?
Dawn of the Dead (1978, George Romero)
It would feel wrong not to include one of the late master’s zombie movies, and DotD’s classic shopping mall setting and “good guys vs. bikers vs. zombies” showdown makes it the obvious choice – especially with the heavy dollop of gore and cherry on top.
The Shining (1980, Stanley Kubrick)
Kubrick is one of my most treasured filmmakers in the whole of cinema. A perfect formalist to the end, he made this, a perfect formalist horror film. Meticulously shot, the only character in this movie that comes close to being a “protagonist” – possessing a will, so to speak – is the evil hotel.
Suspiria (1977, Dario Argento)
A visual feast and paean to extreme violence and terror. Positively baroque and proof (along with Bava, Fulci, and the like) that perhaps Italians just do this horror thing better.
Videodrome (1983, David Cronenberg)
Delightfully perverse, rife with sinister conspiracy – this is the best in a great line of body horror movies from Cronenberg. And remember: “Long live the new flesh!”
Honorable mentions: High Tension (2003, Alexandre Aja), Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (1986, John McNaughton), Hellraiser (1987, Clive Barker), A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984, Wes Craven), Re-Animator (1985, Stuart Gordon)