The choices become more heartbreaking as I move further down the list. To recount, I used a three prong ranking system (historical significance, scare factor and enjoyability) to try to corral the films into some semblance of a list. You can view previous entries here: #100-51 #50-41 #40-31.
30. The Birds – This is one of my fave Hitchcock films and though it’s incredibly dated (the acting and visual effects especially), it’s still a great horror film. What’s so fun about it is that you’re not really given any warning as to why the birds are attacking people, it just happens. Tippi Hedren gives a great performance especially considering the circumstances behind the scenes. The special effects are rather dated, but it’s thrilling seeing everyone try to avoid the birds.
29. The Last House on the Left (1972) – One of the many thinly veiled societal commentary films of the 70s, this movie functions both an exploitation film and a critique of war’s affect on the American populace. Taking its core elements from an Ingmar Bergman, Wes Craven burst onto the scene with this shocking movie chronicling how the average family and psyche respond to violence.
28. The Strangers – It’s no secret that I love this film and were it not for its current lack of historical significance I would certainly make a case for a top 10 ranking. But based on sheer scare factor and ejoyability it makes the top 30. With some impeccable sound design choices, a great scream queen performance from Liv Tyler and some unrepentant villains, The Strangers grips you in it’s hold and forces you to bear witness to its horrors.
27. A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) – Part of the move from society conscious movies to public impressing and money-grubbing horror films, Nightmare stands apart as one of the truly scary titles of the 80s. Introducing us to one of the best villains of all time, Nightmare really draws its horrors from the fact that even though you might try, you’ll eventually fall asleep and be drawn into Freddy’s clutches.
26. Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978) – Each incarnation of the Body Snatchers tale has its own merits, but this film stands above the rest as the definitive edition of the story. Combining Cold War paranoia and amazing sci-fi, the film uses the chilly setting of the great city of San Francisco to excellent effect. Donald Sutherland is so fantastic in this movie and that chilling final scene…I shudder at the mere thought.
25. Saw – Let it be known that I abhor everything about this franchise and the modern torture porn films it has spawned, but even I have to admit that the sadistic genius of this first film works. We’re always used to villains physically hurting the main characters, but what Saw does so brilliantly is it forces the protagonists to inflict pain on themselves. The film gets a bit too cat and mouse near the end, but in terms of cerebral filmmaking combined with horror conventions, this film is pretty great.
24. The Mist – One of the great things about horror movies is that they are a study in human nature, what will one do when faced with insurmountable nods? But unlike most films, the monsters aren’t the villains. It’s the humans, trapped in that grocery store, that are more terrifying than any of the CGI monsters that populate the town. Darabont ratchets up the tension to the highest level, gives you a wee bit of hope and then shatters it with that incredible ending.
23. The Shining (1980) – Stanley Kubrick brought his trademark controlled camera to contrast the complete unraveling of Jack Torrence. In one of the few times were I feel like complete restraint worked for a horror film, the sense of dread is so overwhelming you can see how Jack could be driven to madness. Jack Nicholson gives one of his best performances and Shelly Duvall, while initially being an odd presence, totally gives herself over to Kubrick’s vision.
22. The Evil Dead – Sam Raimi, Bruce Campbell and Co went into the woods with fake blood, low lighting and a cheese-tastic story and emerged with a great horror film. Though there are some harrowing sequences (see tree, raped by), Raimi never lets us forget that this is actually a dark dark comedy with cackling ghouls and copious amounts of fake blood. The Cabin in the Woods owes many a debt to this Raimi flick.
21. Friday the 13th (1980) – Camping is supposed to be fun, but as the group of teens at Camp Crystal Lake come to find out, the woods aren’t as hospitable as you think. The film contains so many horror staples that would go on to be parodied in films like Scream and Scary Movie, like having sex equals guaranteed death. What’s so fantastic about this movie is that it launched a franchise on a villain we don’t see until the end of the movie, but manages to make Mrs. Vorhees just as powerful in the Jason universe.