To celebrate Halloween, I decided to list my top 31 horror films of all time – but before we get to the list, let’s indulge in some pretentious self-analysis. As with any countdown, these are personal choices and a certain amount of curation is involved. To allow for more variety, I chose not to include more than one title from the same director and left out any contentious horrors (i.e. Silence of the Lambs) or horrors better linked with other genres (i.e. Alien). Despite their stature within the genre, no work from George A. Romero, Wes Craven or John Carpenter feature on my list and, to my regret, no classic Hammer horror or Universal monster movie made it either. Some other notable omissions include: Rosemary’s Baby (1968), The Exorcist (1973), The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974), Carrie (1976) and The Shining (1980).
Breaking it down by country, unsurprisingly, American horrors were most prominent, but only seven overall made the list. The most recent one being the Persian-language A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (2014) and the earliest being Paul Leni’s The Man Who Laughs (1928), which is one of three silent films to make the grade. Other silent horrors such as A Page of Madness (1926) or Vampyr (1932) were considered, but thought it’d be overkill to have too many. Robert Eggers’s The Witch (2015) was also in contention, but ultimately decided against including very recent movies. If judging on quality alone, Psycho (1960) would be at top spot, but as its credentials as a horror are disputed, I ranked it a little lower.
Along with Japan, five UK films made the list, including the number one spot. A major player in the horror genre in recent years is France with the “New French Extremity”, but the two French titles on my list predate that movement. Spanish horror has also rose to prominence in recent years with the likes of The Orphanage (2007) and Julia’s Eyes (2010) attracting a lot of attention, but they lost out in favour of [REC] (2007) – the only zombie film to be mentioned. I’m afraid there’s little love for the Italians Lucio Fulci or Mario Bava, but I did have room for one Dario Argento. The two versions of Nosferatu (a decision I’m semi-regretting) and three Scandi-horrors also feature, making it fourteen European horrors in total.
Of Asian films, Onibaba (1964) was highest placed, just about sneaking into the top ten, with some of the more recent famous J-horrors, such as Ringu (1998), Ju-On: The Grudge (2002) and Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s Pulse (2001) failing to make the cut. The only other non-Japanese Asian picture to be included in the list is Thirst (2009) from Korean director Park Chan-wook – one of six vampire flicks. Zombie thriller Train to Busan (2016) would’ve possibly been considered if I’d watched it earlier, but with it being so recent, I doubt I would’ve included it.
Outside of America, Europe and Asia, there were four titles including the second place finisher. The only two films from Latin America to make the cut were from Mexico, and it includes Guillermo del Toro’s The Devil’s Backbone – one of several ghost stories to make the list. Dead Ringers (1988) beat out The Fly (1986) as the compulsory David Cronenberg representative and Jennifer Kent’s The Babadook (2014) was the only Australian contingent. Her film was disappointingly one of only three features to be directed by a woman on the entire list, though American Mary (2012) from the Soska sisters was strongly considered.
Of course, there are regrets (I’m already bemoaning the omission of Valerie and Her Week of Wonders), but that’s an inevitable part of the list-making process. Anyway, without further ado, here’s my Top 31 Horror Films.
31. THIRST (박쥐, 2009) dir. Park Chan-wook
30. RAVENOUS (1999) dir. Antonia Bird
29. THE MAN WHO LAUGHS (1928) dir. Paul Leni
28. THE BABADOOK (2014) dir. Jennifer Kent
27. NOSFERATU THE VAMPYRE (1979) dir. Werner Herzog
26. THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT (1999) dir. Daniel Myrick & Eduardo Sánchez
25. THE WHITE REINDEER (VALKOINEN PEURA, 1952) dir. Erik Blomberg
24. TOKAIDO YOTSUYA KAIDAN (東海道四谷怪談, 1959) dir. Nobuo Nakagawa
23. A GIRL WALKS HOME ALONE AT NIGHT (2014) dir. Ana Lily Amirpour
22. [REC] (2007) dir. Jaume Balagueró & Paco Plaza
21. HOUSE (ハウス, 1977) dir. Nobuhiko Obayashi
20. LET THE RIGHT ONE IN (LÅT DEN RÄTTE KOMMA IN, 2008) dir. Tomas Alfredson
19. AUDITION (オーディション, 1999) dir. Takashi Miike
18. DRAG ME TO HELL (2009) dir. Sam Raimi
17. SUSPIRIA (1977) dir. Dario Argento
16. THE PHANTOM CARRIAGE (KÖRKARLEN, 1921) dir. Victor Sjöström
15. THE DEVIL’S BACKBONE (EL ESPINAZO DEL DIABLO, 2001) dir. Guillermo del Toro
14. DEAD RINGERS (1988) dir. David Cronenberg
13. DEAD OF NIGHT (1945) dir. Alberto Cavalcanti, Charles Crichton, Robert Hamer & Basil Dearden
12. KWAIDAN (怪談, 1965) dir. Masaki Kobayashi
11. DON’T LOOK NOW (1973) dir. Nicolas Roeg
10. ONIBABA (鬼婆, 1964) dir. Kaneto Shindo
9. MUTE WITNESS (1995) dir. Anthony Waller
8. EYES WITHOUT A FACE (LES YEUX SANS VISAGE, 1960) dir. Georges Franju
7. NOSFERATU (NOSFERATU, EINE SYMPHONIE DES GRAUENS, 1922) dir. F. W. Murnau
6. TWIN PEAKS: FIRE WALK WITH ME (1992) dir. David Lynch
5. POSSESSION (1981) dir. Andrzej Żuławski
4. FREAKS (1932) dir. Tod Browning
3. PSYCHO (1960) dir. Alfred Hitchcock
2. SANTA SANGRE (1989) dir. Alejandro Jodorowsky
1. THE INNOCENTS (1961) dir. Jack Clayton