A-List: Top Five Horror Films of All-Time

By J. Don Birnam

September 3, 2015

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It is with much horror that we found out of the premature death of Wes Craven last weekend, after a long fight with cancer. If Alfred Hitchcock was the Master of Suspense, Wes Craven at least has a claim to being one of Hollywood’s all-time Masters of Horror. In his memory, today we discuss some of the best horror movies of all time.

After a few weeks of easily defined A-List columns, we are back in amorphous land. Is, for example, a suspenseful movie a la Hitchcock a horror movie? Are alien-invasion movies strictly speaking horror movies? Even within the horror genre, subtypes are plenty. Some movies, such as those in the so-called “slasher” genre (more on that in a second), feature guts galore and increasingly sadistic deaths. I suppose that a modern day criterion for spotting a horror movie is that it’s supposed to gross the audience out (think: The Final Destination and Saw series). But, in more classic times, the genre tilted more towards suspenseful, eerie, and bone-chilling sequences. These movies tended to have fewer deaths than slasher films, but were just as disturbing, if not more, in their ultimate denouements.

Still yet another subgenre within this group is the exploitation/indie film—these movies tend to be outside the mainstream as they disgust critics and most audiences alike, but achieve cult-like status in the coming years if the material is considered showy or original enough. Today, I will delve little into this subgenre, mostly because I’m ignorant of it. Dawn of the Dead, The Evil Dead, the Japanese Audition, and Don’t Look Now are movies that one sees frequently listed as all-time horror classics. Alas, I’ve seen few of these.


So, today I will limit myself to movies that are meant to cause fear, screams, and chills in audiences, however that terms is defined. And, to make it somewhat easier, I will leave monster movies out of it. To be sure, many horror movies include quasi-supernatural characters (think Jason in the Friday the 13th series). But, at least in theory, these killers take some human form. Not so in films featuring monsters/animals as the main antagonists - today, movies like Jaws, The Birds, and Aliens, all worthy of the number one spot, are ineligible.

Even then, the list of honorable mentions could go on forever. The American movie The Ring is utterly traumatizing, both because of the simple gimmick of death at the hands of a seemingly innocent videotape and because of the gruesome expressions in the faces of the victims to that creepy crawling girl out of the well/television. A gaping hole in my movie knowledge is the fact that I’ve never seen the original Japanese version, which is supposed to be 10 times scarier.

Or who can forget the classic lines spurred by the chilling adaption of Stephen King’s The Shining? Indeed, Stephen King adaptations could fill a whole A-List on their own and then some. And let’s not forget the all-time classic The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, with its gruesome, unforgiving deaths and its positively terrifying killer.

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