Wednesday, October 31, 2007


I asked the world to send me a list of 31 films that scared the pee out of them. Many more people than I would have thought possible heard, and answered, the call. 183 films were nominated and voted on. The resulting list is not perfect, but it is a fascinating picture of what our little community considers canonical horror cinema. In the coming days I hope to post a runners-up list. And the Top 5 Horror Comedies is yet to come!

Incidentally, I chose not to vote. Hardly any of the films on my nominating list made it and I didn't feel that I had seen enough of the nominees to vote fairly.

And now, the 31 Flicks That Give You the Willies...

31. Bride of Frankenstein (1935; James Whale) 285 pts.

That iconic haircut and a goofier, more lovable monster (and script), garnered this sequel fifty more points than the original Frankenstein.

30. Aliens (1986; James Cameron) 286 pts.

I've never really thought of this as a horror film. It always played more like an action movie; the 'guys on a mission' thing. Adding to that effect, for me, is the classic problem of the horror sequel. If I already know what the monster is, what exactly it is creeping around in the dark, how can I be afraid of it? Great flick, though.

29. Poltergeist (1982; Tobe Hooper) 288 pts.

Poor Tobe Hooper. Even with Poltergeist, everyone will always say he's a one trick pony.

28. Seven (1995; David Fincher) 289 pts.

I've always secretly believed that everyone was so freaked out by this movie because they knew, deep down, there was something about their own personality that would compel Kevin Spacey to kill them in some creative and hideous way.

27. Night of the Hunter (1957; Charles Laughton) 290 pts.

One of the most beautiful movies ever shot in black and white, a plot that puts kids in danger (a perennial thriller trope that almost never fails to bloom into something creepy), and a pair of iconic knuckle tattoos. Need I say more?

26. Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956; Don Siegel) 292 pts.

Imagine if your best friend, all of the police and the other townspeople, even your own best girl turned into... Commies! Man would that suck.

25. Carnival of Souls (1962; Herk Harvey) 302 pts.

Bob Turnbull writes of this gem, "Proof positive that limitations in budget don't have to limit your imagination." (Read the rest of Bob's thoughts on the films on his own list here. Final Girl's take on the film, and a bunch of gorgeous screen shots, can be found here.)

24. Carrie (1976; Brian de Palma) 310 pts.

R.A. Naing at Direct Cinema writes of De Palma's breakthrough success, "A stunningly orchestrated, stylistically audacious study of female adolescence, teenage insecurity, and religious hysteria, this is without a doubt one of the best horror films ever made. Simply transcendent." All that, plus pig's blood and young Travolta!

23. The Ring (2002; Gore Verbinski) 317 pts.

For a while it looked like Hideo Nakata's original Ringu was going to be in the top 31 as well, but it came about 15 points short of making it.

22. (TIE) Eraserhead (1977; David Lynch) 327 pts.
The Fly (1986; David Cronenberg) 327 pts.

Two creepy movies directed by two creepy Davids. I like to imagine the two of them on a picnic together, both fascinated with the ants crawling all over the lunch they have spread out between them.

21. The Brood (1979; David Cronenberg) 347 pts.

Cronenberg strikes again with another tale of the body in revolt against itself and the natural world.

20. Rosemary’s Baby (1968; Roman Polanski) 364 pts.

R.A. Naing at Direct Cinema writes of this film, "Everything you've heard is true. Polanski's film is one of the few perfect horror films ever made." Me? I can't watch this movie without flapping my arms around and yelling at the screen in frustration as Mia Farrow makes one ridiculous decision after the other.

19. 28 Days Later (2002; Danny Boyle) 381 pts.

A lot of people blame this movie for pushing zombies back to the forefront of pop culture. I don't... care. (Here's what Final Girl has to say about the film, and here's me on Danny Boyle's career.)

18. (TIE) The Wicker Man (1973; Robin Hardy) 391 pts.
Eyes Without a Face (aka Les Yuex sans visage) (1960; Georges Franju) 391 pts.

The former is an imperfect movie with some lasting images and mild creepiness. The latter is a singular work featuring a villain pushed to horrific acts by totally understandable causes and a protagonist whose unseen countenance is covered by the creepiest mask ever NOT worn by a serial killer.

17. (TIE) Nosferatu (1922; F.W. Murnau) 413 pts.
The Descent (2005; Neil Marshall) 413 pts.

That's right, Murnau's insanely creepy vision of the vampire--the most animalistic and downright scary bloodsucker ever put on film--received exactly the same amount of votes as that movie about the spelunking girls from a few years ago.

16. The Evil Dead (1981; Sam Raimi) 421 pts.

Stacie Ponder wrote of this film, "Sometimes, it's just so simple: five friends, a creepy cabin in the woods, an eeeeeevil book bound in human flesh and inked in human blood. Writer/director Sam Raimi took that simple premise and a $3 budget and managed to create a horror classic- one of the most twisted and dangerous films of my youth." Read the rest of her piece on why the first is the best of Raimi's trilogy here.)

15. The Blair Witch Project (1999; Daniel Myrick & Eduardo Sanchez) 450 pts.

If there is such a thing as a one-hit wonder in the film world, this was it. People only remember the marketing campaign, but this film--one I don't particularly like--still sports a killer ending that is worth the wait.

14. The Haunting (1963; Robert Wise) 464 pts.

A great, old-fashioned idea for a ghost story executed in a great, old-fashioned manner.

13. Don’t Look Now (1973; Nicolas Roeg) 469 pts.

The shocking moment near the end of this film still divides viewers. Is it a brilliant scare-you-out-of-your seat left turn, or does it ruin the slow burn and emotional intensity of what comes before it?

12. Suspiria (1977; Dario Argento) 482 pts.

Witchcraft and other such spookery have never been my thing. Nonetheless, Argento's composition and use of color are just as beautiful here as in the slasher films I love him for best. Plus, there's that scene where they're really mean to the blind guy, and that's pretty creepy.

11. The Birds (1963; Alfred Hitchcock) 483 pts.

Not to step on any toes here, but... this one I just don't get. They're frickin' birds, man! What's the big deal?

10. Jaws (1976; Steven Spielberg) 526 pts.

Everybody who nominated the original blockbuster felt compelled to mention that it was originally just a scary movie with a shark you barely see. Though I mock these Spielberg apologists, they have a point: success and time tend to cloud genre associations, as if a popular movie is an island unto itself, completely separate from its generic lineage.

9. Dawn of the Dead (1978; George Romero) 645 pts.

The message inherent in this film is still so relevant that it was remade 25 years later and didn't have to be updated in the slightest.

8. The Thing (1982; John Carpenter) 661 pts.

Nobody who ever sees this film will forget that dog, and to me, that is what horror films are all about: indelible imagery that sticks with you and burns into you, recurring at the strangest moments.

7. Alien (1979; Ridley Scott) 675 pts.

Space + claustrophobia + icky crawly spitting grossy things=no one hearing you screaming.

6. The Exorcist (1973; William Friedkin) 723 pts.

As a child I had no conception of what this movie was about, but the image on the box alone was enough to make me tense up as I walked by it on the rack. I imagined 'the Exorcist' was the villain, and I wondered what he wanted to do to me with whatever was inside that bag he was carrying.

5. Psycho (1960; Alfred Hitchcock) 747 pts.

The "mother" of them all. Get it? Because, you know, it's like the movie that got all that blood flowing through American cinema and there's a character called Mother in it. So it's sort of like a play on words. Ha, ha...

4. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974; Tobe Hooper) 784 pts.

To me, nothing in this film is as scary as the shot of the chicken in that little tiny birdcage. Plus, it's a known fact that everything is scarier when it's shot on that 1970's yellowish sepia film stock.

3. Halloween (1978; John Carpenter) 824 pts.

There had been slasher films before, but none nailed the mindless evil psycho villain character quite like this one. And the score is so simple and brilliant that just two or three seconds worth of it gets the goosebumps going.

2. Night of the Living Dead (1968; George Romero) 862 pts.

A brilliant ending necessitated by financial woes; a social message implied by the mere fact of casting a black protagonist. Oh yeah, and the movie that gave us the modern American conception of the zombie, of which there have been infinite variations. Now let us all lurch and hunger, together, as one.

1. The Shining (1980; Stanley Kubrick) 997 pts.

For once, justice is served. I have long said that The Shining is the greatest horror film in existence and it won't soon be surpassed, for beauty, for chills, or for an ability to provoke thought. (My own personal relationship with Kubrick's last great film is detailed here. A brilliant analysis from Exploding Kinetoscope can be found here.)

Thanks everyone who participated, and especially to those of you who are spreading the word, and to those who were quoted in this post.


Anonymous said...

It's Alive! The suspense has been killing me but the results are worth the wait. That's one hell of a group of horror films. ;) I've seen them all except #13--which seems somehow fitting for the genre. Think I'll revist all of these creepy flicks again. Great job, Ed. Thank you for all of the time and energy you put into this.

Edward Copeland said...

A lot of my picks made the finals, but I have to admit I'm disappointed that Blair Witch Project landed on the list at all, let alone so high. Good job, Ed.

Anonymous said...

Re: your comments about #22 - Just magine the menu for that imaginary Lynch and Cronenberg picnic: blood oozing chicken, some bacon, fried extra crispy, almost black, raw internal organs of psychosexual cyborg implants, and some damn fine pie! mmm...

Anonymous said...

Not so fast on pod people as Commies! Invasion of the Body Snatchers deliberately was unclear on that point. Keep in mind that Don Siegel has made a point of working with blacklisted writers Abe Polonsky and Albert Malz.

Dave S said...

terrific work here, ed, and a lot of it too. the final list is a pretty fair and interesting representation of the flicks that give horror fans the creeps.

sorry to hear you don't get 'the birds'. while it didn't make my presonal list, i'm a big fan of the movie. i think the thing that makes it an effective movie is not so much the bird attacks specifically; it's the human interaction and reaction to the attacks and situations that give this flick its impact. oh yeah, and the amazing fimmaking of hitchcock.

Anonymous said...

While I can't imagine anyone finding the American remake of The Ring anything but laughable (the original is top five material), this is a really good, solid list. Nice job on this. I've seen all but Eyes Without a Face.

Edward Copeland said...

Ed, I'm actually with you on The Birds. I've always found it terribly overrated and even downright silly at times. Hitchcock made so many movies that are better than that one by leaps and bounds.

Shannon the Movie Moxie said...

Rockin list there! Thanks Ed for putting this all together it made for a very fun October activity!

I'm looking forward to checking out the eleven films on the final list that I've not yet seen.

R.A. Naing said...

Great work Ed! And thanks for the shout outs! This is something you've definitely gotta do next year, and in years to come. I am anxiously awaiting the top horror comedies list.

Unknown said...

Terrific poll, Ed - Maybe next year you can do the "31 Greatest Monsters!"

Great to see The Shining at No. 1. Justice was served indeed.

Anonymous said...

Only 6 of my own picks made the list so I feel rather disconnected from it. Plus there's some crap on it.

Poltergeist is plain crap. Even Tobe's Funhouse and Lifeforce are better.

Se7en has lost a lot of it's charm since I first saw it and Kevin Spacey's performance just makes me giggle now.

And the remake of The Ring over the original? That I really don't get. But then again, I also think the 1978 remake of The Body Snatchers is better than the original.

Oh well. Que Sera, Sera...

Stacie Ponder said...

Thanks for undertaking this massive project, Ed! That's a great, great list of films. Maybe even one or two I haven't yet seen!

And thanks for the shout-outs...much appreciated!

Eddie Hardy said...

Everyone: Thanks for the kudos, and for acknowledging the amount of work that it took putting this together. I feel like a grizzled war veteran now, warning the recruits that going into battle isn't as fun as it looks...

Edward: I hear you on BLAIR WITCH, that's why I intentionally took a potshot at it in my little blurb. And thanks for being with me on THE BIRDS--I thought I might get stoned to death for that one.

Peter: My joke about BODYSNATCHERS was intended to poke fun not only at the movie itself, but at all those people who think they can easily and totally reduce a film (or other text) down to one point. Obviously it's hard to convey all that in a one-line quip...

Goatdog: See EYES WITHOUT A FACE immediately! It's probably the second-best film on the list! (My deference to THE SHINING remains.)

Kimberly: Thanks for sticking in with the project even though you knew from the beginning what would be the probable outcome of your choices. I agree that some of what ended up on the list isn't that great--I'd tried to be diplomatic in presenting the results, since it was after all my survey. But I too feel "disconnected" from the results--I didn't even vote in the final round!

Anonymous said...

I was kind of dissapointed to read you didn't even vote in the final round Ed. But your right, the final results aren't too much of surprise.

For me, a list of 31 great horror films without a Corman or Bava movie, without any Hammer flicks and without Clayton's The Innocents (the best ghost film ever made damnit!) is hard to stomach, but I'll get over it somehow. Ha!

Last but not least, where's the list of the Top 5 Horror Comedies? I hope you voted in that and will share the results soon.

Mark said...

I join everyone else in thanking you for taking the time to put such a project together. It made the Halloween season even a little more fun.

Though, as you and others have said, I feel a little 'disconnected' from the list, it doesn't mean that I don't find it interesting. I'm also pleased to see The Shining made number one (though I had it quite a bit lower on my personal list). It's at least a respectful horror flick and I didn't feel a pang of embarrassment as I scrolled down and saw it there in all its glory.

Mister Moses said...

Great work Ed - thanks for the effort involved.
It's a strange list; there's quite a lot I'm not overly fond of and I agree with Cinebeats that no list of horror films is complete without at least one Hammer, Bava or Corman. Fun nevertheless.

Anonymous said...

Admittedly, The Shining has some extremely creepy imagery, but the entire movie is sunk by the fact that Jack Nicholson's character goes insane within about 5 minutes of screen time, which is completely stupid. Having said that, I wish there had been more films on the list that weren't commonly considered "horror" films, like Safe or Trouble Every Day or even Henry:Portrait of a Serial Killer, but alas, I came along too late to vote. Now those are some flicks that will give people the willies, but The Birds??

Neil Sarver said...

Allow me to join those who don't quite connect to this, which frankly doesn't surprise me much. There's just something about this process I think that leads to something less interesting than one might hope.

As has been said, a list with no Bava, Corman or Hammer just is missing... a lot.

On the other hand, there are several great, and very deserving, less obvious choices, such as The Wicker Man, Eyes Without a Face, Don't Look Now, Suspiria, Night of the Hunter and Carnival of Souls, that I was pleased to see make the list, and in some cases rank quite high, so it's certainly not a bust for me.

None of this should be taken as an insult to the work you put into this, as I think it was a really cool idea and I enjoyed watching it go on.

But I certainly hope more people go through the list of nominees (and runners-up) and seek out some of those movies that they haven't gotten around to, as there are many, many deserving... and, in many cases, more deserving titles... there that people should discover.

And allow me to concur with Anonymous regarding The Shining, although my complaint centers more around the goddamn talkin' finger.

Eddie Hardy said...

Kimberly: I didn't vote in the final round because I didn't feel I'd seen enough of the movies to make a list that would do anybody any good. The Top 5 Horror Comedies (which I did vote in, yes) is coming as soon as I can do it. I didn't even get the main list finished until 5:15 a.m. today (which was just a few hours until I was due at school) so we'll see how quickly I can do it... Another list, of the 31 runners-up, is in the works as well.

Neil: I agree. The voting process flattens everything out and leaves only the least interesting and safest choices left. But, if I'd wanted to just share a list of my 31 favorite horror movies, I doubt there would have been as much interest.

PIPER said...


Nicely done.

Some surprises but good stuff.

Neil Sarver said...

Ed, yes, that's it. And the thing I'm most thankful in the process for is the nominee list, which several people seem to have taken to heart as movies to put on their respective Netflix or mental queues of movies they needed to check out. I think the process was fun and hopefully led a few people to some delightful new discoveries that they may not have otherwise.

Eddie Hardy said...

Yeah, that nominee list is pretty great, but even at 183 titles strong there is so much greatness left out. This endeavor demonstrates how rich a history horror cinema has.

Steve Langton said...

Thanks for all the hard work you put in on this project. Very impressive. Quite a few surprises, with nothing from Mario Bava and Verbinski's RING lording it over Nakata's vastly superior original, but a good list all the same.

Jeff Allard said...

Great to see the final list! Thanks for all the work you put into this, Ed! I may not agree with all the choices but that's the appeal of getting a range of opinions. I have to say I love The Birds and don't get why anyone would not find it scary. I don't know - maybe the notion of having one's eyes pecked out isn't so alarming to some! And Blair Witch is a favorite as well so I'm glad to see that almost ten years after its release, it still resonates with many fans.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Ed, for all your hard work. Solid list for the most part.

I only voted for films that actually scared me at some level. Corman and Hammer films just do not; though I like The Pit and the Pendulum, for example, it's not really scary to me. Halloween doesn't scare me either. Eyes Without a Face is an interesting film, but not scary to me at all.

The film that scared me the most wasn't even on the list maybe because it's not fantasy horror--Open Water.

Anonymous said...

Flippin' great job, Ed! I echo everyone when I thank you for all the effort you put into this totally fun Halloween experiment! 14 of my picks made it onto the final list, which is cool, and I was delighted to see that so many people voted for The Brood-- my personal favorite Cronenberg film, and in my opinon his scariest. Also happy to see so much love for The Thing, Suspiria, as well as the old favorites like Night Of The Living Dead (in my personal opinion the scariest film ever made), The Evil Dead, Halloween and The Shining. And I have seen every movie on the list! Is that cool or sad?
I must step forward and assert that I was one of the shmucks who voted for The Ring. I know it gets a lot of grief, and while it's a film that I don't particularly like-- at all-- damn does it scare the crap out of me. Maybe it has something to do with my having seen it at age 15, in a packed theater, having no idea what it was about and not being a horror fan at the time and then... well, not a good memory, but it totally gave me the willies. Amber Tamblyn in the closet... noooo....
While a lot of the picks were predictable, still great fun. My beefs: Where oh where is Black Christmas? And My Bloody Valentine?
Sleepaway Camp? And I totally don't get Don't Look Now, I don't care what anyone says. Midget= creepy. Rest of the movie= gouge my eyes out with a pencil, please.
Ok, my rant is done. Great job, kudos, and can I please come to the Cronrnberg/Lynch picnic? Please? I'll bring the Eraserhead chicken.

Stacie Ponder said...

What I've learned from this whole thing is that- GASP- people have differing opinions!

Anonymous said...

I second that, Stacie... it IS really cool to see everyone's differing opinions. That's mostly why I get such a kick out of this project! Can't wait to see the runners-up!

theotaking said...

I wish I could've sent in my list in time (if only to give more votes for Ringu). Still, deadlines are deadlines and I couldn't work around them with my computer problems.

Anyway, I had only seen half of the movies offered, so I feel I have a lot of movies to watch in the upcoming year.

Thanks for putting this together Ed. I really enjoyed this.

Steve Langton said...

Just realised the only film in the list that has thus far eluded me is THE DESCENT, so I'll put that right before the year is out. Good to see Danny Boyle's 28 DAYS LATER in there. Although I didn't vote for it, the sight of London devoid of the usual people chaos was very unnerving and it probably deserves its place in there. Must check that one out again soon.

RJ said...

The Exorcist wasn't that frightening to me. It just wasn't.

I love The Birds, though.

Anonymous said...

Great list, except for The Ring. VHS tapes are not scary....Maybe Beta though.

FĂ©lix said...

very great choice of movies ! :)

pedro velasquez said...

The Bride of Frankenstein
A favourite of mine, it’s horror without the scares. Wonderfully baroque, bet basketball
it’s beautifully executed and is a lot of fun. I’m happy to see it make the list, as it seems many of the early horror films were looked over. 29. Poltergeist
I’m not really a fan, I didn’t like the fish lens thing, and with the exception of the melting face nothing really scared/drew me in. It became all too ridiculous towards the end. sportsbook 28. Se7en
I probably wouldn’t consider this a horror first and foremost, but it is far more visceral and gripping than most films that call themselves horror these days. All around an excellent film.
27. The Night of the Hunter
An all time favourite of mine, I don’t think a villain has ever been so menacing as Harry Powell. Borrowing on German expressionism, and leaning heavily on biblical themes and motifs was a stroke of creative genius. 26. Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)
I love this film, more than I thought I ever would. It’s genuinly scary, march madness always compelling and interesting as a reflection of the times. 25. The Ring (2002)
I was bored by it. 22. The Fly (1986) It’s been a very long time since I’ve seen this, I was very much eewwwed. 20. Rosemary’s Baby
Another favourite of mine, even outside the genre of horror, Polanski manages so effectively to build up anxiety and horror that you never know when it really hits you. Everything about it works.