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20 Best Horror Films


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Horror is a cheap and easy cash cow to tap in to.  Although the sequel has been much better received, the original Ouija (2014) was panned by critics and audiences alike.  So why did one of the worst films of 2014 get a sequel green lighted?  Because it cost just $5 million to make and cashed in over $100 million in the box office.  Recent horror films in particular have come under heavy criticism for an over-reliance of jump scares rather than good story telling.  I love a good formulaic slasher just as much as the next guy, but horrors with a building sense of dread and unease can be a lot more rewarding and memorable.  As with many modern films, there is also an over saturation of remakes and sequels to already established franchises, or copycat films.  It's a tricky genre to do anything original with.  When the zombie teen romance sub-genre feels tired out already, you know you're in trouble.  When The Girl With All The Gifts was released this year to critical acclaim, I was really disappointed to find it was 'just another' zombie story... but with plants.  Films with original concepts, or actually interesting twists on popular themes such as Let The Right One In (2008) and It Follows (2014) are possible.  Shame they're few and far between.

With Halloween weekend on the horizon, now is the time to be picking the DVDs you will be binging through.  I have a bit of a love-hate relationship with horror films, largely for the reasons above, but also because I'm a huge wimp.  I literally jump at every moment they want you to (and other moments you weren't too) and find that I usually enjoy a horror film the second time I watch it as I'm less on edge and can appreciate it for what it is more.  I decided to exorcise a few demons one summer in particular and checked off a lot of the classic horror staples you 'must' watch, and when it's done well, horror  Here are my ultimate faves!

20. The Invisible Man (1933)
Caught this by accident once on day time telly and the 80 year old special effects blew me away.  They still stand up today, and Claude Rains is both funny and terrifying.  It's a combination that he manages to balance really well.  Over to you Johnny Depp.
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19. Carrie (1976)
Puberty has never been so scary.
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18. The Evil Dead (1981)
Done on a ridiculously small budget, with the crew having to jump in as extras and zombies, Sam Raimi's gore-fest stands the test of time and is still shocking now.  If The Happening (2008) didn't leave you scared of trees (... it won't have), then this definitely will.
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17. Let The Right One In (2008)
This Swedish vampire romantic horror is gut wrenching in every sense.
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16. It Follows (2014)
Horror has always played on the fears and dangers of sex.  Few quite as well, and cleverly, as It Follows.  I was blown away by how good this was when it came out.  It marries an 80s horror feel with a brilliantly original concept whereby teenagers are left followed by a 'thing' taking any human form nobody else can see until it brutally murders them.  The only way to shake it off?  By sleeping with someone else and passing the curse on to them.
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15. Re-Animator (1935)
Something of a cult classic, Re-Animator is high on gore and fun.  A crazed scientist called Hans Gruber (no relation to Alan Rickmann's classic villain) finds a way of bringing bodies, and body parts back to life.  As you might have guessed, it doesn't go all that well.
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14. Don't Look Now (1973)
Don't Look Now's layers and complexities become clearer every time you watch it.  There's a sense of unease running throughout it that goes hand in hand with it's theme of foreshadowing.  It all comes to a head in it's shocking finale, but it's not until you re-watch it (again and again) that the genius of how it's done becomes more and more apparent.
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13. An American Werewolf in London (1981)
My mum always told me that when she went to watch this at university, her two friends had to walk her back to her flat after because she was scared about wondering London on her own.  Although it's as much a black comedy as a conventional horror, I know what she means, and I'm not sure I would fancy spending too much time in an underground station by myself either.  It also has some of the best practical effects ever put on film.  Easy to see why Michael Jackson got director John Landis and his team to do his famous 'Thriller' video.
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12. Rosemary's Baby (1963)
And you thought your neighbours were bad...
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11. Scream (1996)
A really clever twist on the typical horror slasher genre, Wes Craven's Scream has enough references to get acknowledging chuckles, followed immediately by brilliantly scary sequences.  The jumps from one to the next make for a great ride.
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10. Kill List (2011)
I watched this knowing very little about it.  Kill List is haunting and one I often think about now, years after I first watched it.  It tricks you in to thinking it's a thriller.  By the time you have survived the finale, you known it's anything but.



9. The Witch (2016)
The Witch made it on to my list of best 2016 films so far, and I imagine it will still be around when I revisit that at the end of the year too.  I was lucky enough to catch it in The Electric cinema in Birmingham, and it's fair to say that added to the atmosphere this modern horror classic does so well to create.  It may take a few minutes to take to the old english language used throughout, but once you have you are in for a treat.  This scared the hell out of me.
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8. The Wicker Man (1973)
Were this a list of the best ever comedies, Nicolas Cage's remake might have been in with a shout.  Instead it's Edward Woodward's turn in this British classic that makes my list.  Police Sargent and devout Christian, Neil Howie (Woodward), finds himself investigating the disappearance of a girl on an island inhabited by Celtic pagans.  Horror movie ever-present, Christopher Lee, stars but in my eyes it was always Woodward that steals the show.  His finale realisation of where his investigation has led him is harrowing.
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7. A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)
Easily my favourite of the slasher genre due to it's great concept and practical effects that have stood the test of time.  Whether it's Freddy reaching in through a wall, a teenage girl getting thrown around the walls and ceilings of her room, or a young Johnny Depp getting eating by his bed, they all look great.  The Freddy Kruger character turned in to something of a comedy character as the sequels were churned out, but his turn in the original left me reaching for the red bull... don't fall asleep.
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6. [•REC] (2007)
Zombie films usually fail to get me excited to be honest.  They have been done to death, and you could say the same with shakeycam horrors too.  I should therefore hate REC, but I don't remember getting as panicky watching it as with any other horror recently.  I vividly remember watching it with my uni housemates, each of us getting the other really worked up as it went on, and then being so relieved when it was over.  The TV camera crew following a fire brigade to a call out plotline doesn't feel forced, and the performances each feel genuine.  It's not pleasant viewing.  But in a really good way.
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5. The Exorcist (1973)
If Mark Kermode thinks it's the best film ever made then it's good enough for me.  Strap in for a classic.
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4. Alien (1979)
As good as the action in it's sequel is, I've always preferred the looming dread and slow pace of the original Alien film.  It has great scares, and makes the clever decision of showing very little of the alien itself.  When the creature finally appears it doesn't disappoint.
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3. The Thing (1982)
John Carpenter's cult classic has stood the test of time despite a poor showing upon it's initial release.  Kurt Russell stars as one of an Antarctic research team that unearth an extraterrestrial life form that consumes and exactly mimics other organisms.  Who is the 'thing'?  Who is not?  Who can you rely on?  Suspicion and paranoia is rife.  Add in some of the best practical effects ever put on screen and you're left with one of my all time favourite films, let alone horrors.
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2. Psycho (1960)
Janet Leigh's Marion Crane takes shelter in The Bates Motel as she flees the scene of a crime she has committed.  I don't think it's much of a spoiler to say that was a poor decision.  The famous shower scene still shocks despite Psycho now being over 55 years old.  Running just 3 minutes long, the scene has 77 cuts, and 55 different camera angles.  The idea is to leave you disorientated, as your mind fills in the gaps and tricks you in to thinking you have seen something you haven't.  The studio watched Hitchcock's first cut before it's release and were disgusted.  They were sure they had seen nipple (they hadn't), found the scene too horrific for audiences, and demanded their director make changes.  Hitchcock sat on the film for two weeks, and returned it to them without having made any changes.  The 'new cut' was approved.

Based on Robert Bloch's 1959 novel of the same name, Hitchcock's Psycho repeatedly fights with Rear Window as my favourite of his films.  Anthony Perkins is terrifying and fragile in equal measure... seriously, look at him...
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1. The Shining (1980)
Whenever I think of The Shining I always think of the first time I saw it late one night when I was probably too young.  From the opening sequence we follow the Torrance family car through the vast bleakness of winding mountains, one thing is clear: they're stuck.  If the isolation of the film doesn't scare you, then the twin girls, maze of corridors, ghost bartenders, naked old lady in the bath, bleeding stairs and psychotic father definitely will.

Kubrick creates a hotel with a layout that would be impossible, and it leaves you disorientated and running for the exits.  Jack Nicholson is absolutely brilliant... in the scariest and craziest way possible.  Those twin girls though...
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