By Chris Hyde
Listen. Do you hear the leaves scuttling down the sidewalk? The chill wind that blows into town this week carries with it a manifestly evil horde of harridans, specters, revenants, wraiths, ghouls, succubi, lunatics, vampires, spooks, beasts, fiends, zombies, goblins, changelings and shambling sub-humanoids. And they brought their friends.
The history of the horror genre is a lengthy one, as humans of societies throughout time appear to have nearly always taken pleasure in scaring the living bejesus out of each other. In film, this tendency towards terror is almost as old as the medium itself, as evidenced by the devils and skeletons present in the movies of Melies and the early film versions of the still-classic stories Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (1908) and Frankenstein (1910). There also seems little chance that this trend will dry up any time soon at the cinema, since this month brings us not only the newest Hannibal Lecter romp but in addition a something-lurking-in-the-deep submarine film (Below), a remake of a 1998 Japanese killer videotape outing (The Ring) and another do-over of a slightly obscure 1952 haunted ocean-liner B-movie (Ghost Ship).
Given the continued existence of frightening onscreen ventures and the imminent arrival of All Hallows Eve, the Box Office Prophets staff thought that now was as good a time as any to assess the body of horror films visited upon us by filmmakers since the advent of the motion picture. A list of the top 50 of all time, as voted by the members of the site, follows this piece in all its ghastly glory, and the result is a relatively representative cross-section of the genre's history. It's not without its glaring omissions or controversial selections however; since little effort was put into defining what exactly typifies the horror film, there may be some entries that the splitters of the world would rather place into another categorical pigeonhole. There are also some classic films and influential personalities or studios whose efforts somehow didn't manage to garner enough votes to crack the final tally, though that's probably inevitable in an unscientific small-sample polling like this.
Still, we wouldn't want to completely overlook some of the influential giants who got the short shrift in our informal poll. There's no sign of the German Expressionists for one, as Murnau's Nosferatu only squeaked onto a couple of ballots and Robert Wiene's seminal The Cabinet of Dr Caligari went completely missing. European and Asian offerings as a whole are underrepresented, though there is the occasional foreign film or giallo gem nestled amongst the unsurprisingly Hollywood-dominated list. Also faring poorly were the pop Gothic horror of Hammer Studios and the work of the historic company that helped lay the archetypal foundations of the genre as it stands today, Universal Pictures. As far as neglected individuals go, the dean of the American cheapie horror film, Val Lewton, barely placed a single film in the top 50, and people like Peter Cushing, Vincent Price, Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi, Lon Chaney Jr, Barbara Steele (among many others) are in short supply within our final set of films.
It's obvious that there's some bias towards the more recent horror film in our final results; a cursory glance of the offerings reveals that films from the last 40 years or so pretty much dominate the whole, with many even more recent movies performing quite well towards the top. Perhaps the creaky icons of the genre, though historically important, are simply too old-fashioned to resonate with the jaded skepticism of audiences inured to horror by day-to-day reality. What chance does a stuffy old Transylvanian count, run-of-the-mill werewolf or garden-variety mummy have against headlines trumpeting random sniper shootings or chances of smallpox attack? Still, our final list, though neo-modern in bent, truly consists of an amazing collection of startling screen scarifying destined to make your proverbial hair stand on end. So what's keeping you? Go ahead; take a slow stroll through what our staff has identified as their 50 favorite horror films of all time. But pick your way through these littered corpses of film very carefully; the going is treacherous and not for the faint of heart. And if you happen to hear from over your perusing shoulder what sounds like some muted whispering or faint eerie scratching, just ignore it. It's probably only the wind.
Click here to read selections 41-50.
Click here to read selections 31-40.
Click here to read selections 21-30.
Click here to read selections 11-20.
Click here to read selections 1-10.
Click here for an alphabetical list of all selections.