20. Poltergiest – What happens when you throw together the men who made Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Jaws? Aside from some off set quibbles, you get a heartwarming tale of children kidnapped by ghosts, demented trees and toys, flesh tearing paranormal investigators, and Zelda Rubenstein…wait. All kidding aside, this is one of the best haunted house movies ever made. It lulls you into familiarity with the family before ratcheting up the tension and scares, wrapping up with that great house implosion.
19. 28 Days Later – Who in the hell told Danny Boyle it was OK to give zombies the ability to run? My nightmares would like to have words with them. This film, stripped of all pretense, is probably the closest film we’ll get to how a zombie apocalypse would actually do. Danny Boyle films the movie with this gritty found footage/cinema verite-esque style that really intensifies the already charged proceedings. Those opening scenes in a ruined London are phenomenal.
18. The Descent – This film is balls to the walls crazy and one of the scariest horror films of the new millennium. Females always make the best horror protagonists and by centering this film around 6 strong women, the movie is all the better for it. By making the characters tough, it gives the audience hope that even under insurmountable odds that they’ll survive, before your soul gets crushed at the end. I’ve no doubt that in the coming years, this film will only grow in estimation amongst horror aficionados.
17. Dawn of the Dead (1978) – I tried very hard not to include sequels on this list, but this film is just too good. George A. Romero has always been ahead of the curve when it came to blending real life and horror. This film is an incredible satire of the mall culture and consumerism that would overtake the country as well as being a claustrophobic zombie thriller.
16. Rosemary’s Baby – Among Polanski’s best films, Mia Farrow leads the tale as a woman whose womb is traded for her husband’s prosperity in a deal with the Devil. The film maintains a strong sense of creepiness throughout,, whether it’s through the devil rape sequence , the hallucinations Rosemary has, or Ruth Gordon’s scene stealing and Oscar-winning turn. But what makes this film so great is after everything our heroine has been through, she accepts the child as her own, ending on a chilling unsure note.
15. Scream – Revitalized horror films? Check. Classic opening sequence? Check. Shocking twists? Check. Kevin Williamson and Wes Craven teamed up to send a jolt through the film community helping revive the malaise horror genre was in. Through self-aware characters, fantastic young actors, and a sharp screenplay Scream provides a fun romp through the waters of a slasher film. Perhaps the best opening sequence of a horror film this side of Jaws.
14. Bride of Frankenstein – Easily my favorite of the Universal Monster films, this film is such a riot to watch because of the absurdity of Frankenstein having a wife. Boris Karloff and Elsa Lancaster are so wonderful in their roles and the costume/makeup design is top-notch. I love how the film combines so many aspects of humanity into the master as well as further extending the Dr. Frankenstein mythology.
13. Jaws – As much a drama about men obsessed and a horror film, Jaws burst forth in and completely changed not just horror films, but the motion picture industry itself. Through its expansive marketing, merchandising and wide release, Jaws blanketed the country making an entire generation of people scared to go near a beach, let alone the water. Armed with what is arguably John Williams best score (even if he was slightly aping Dvořák), Steven Spielberg makes bold directorial choices and delivers one of his pinnacle works.
12. The Sixth Sense – One of the few horror films to be nominated for Best Picture, The Sixth Sense functions so well as a drama we tend to forget that this is one scary flick. M. Night Shyamalan allows a sense of dread to permeate through the entire film while never deviating from the story of familial bonds and human interaction at its center. Much is made of that great twist (back when Shyamalan’s twists weren’t expected) but there are so many standout scenes from the creepy (the hanging bodies in the hallway) to the dramatic (that car scene, my goodness).
11. The Omen (1976) – Ave Satani. Putting the devil in the form of a child is nothing new (Bad Seed, Village of the Damned, a film that has yet to be mentioned ;) )but rare is it that the child isn’t active in the machinations, instead The Omen has the world around Damien (and Ms. Bavlock) doing the work for him. Richard Donner crafts so many iconic sequences that are propelled along by Jerry Goldsmith’s Oscar-winning score.