A spot of indulgence today as I list my personal top 10 scariest horror movies of all time.
Horror is a misunderstood and much-maligned genre. At its worst, it’s nothing more than sickening exploitation. However at its best, it can be a place for experimentation, satire, and the exploration of the darker side of human nature.
This is not meant to be a definitive list. Add your own. But here are some movies that made me turn the light back on… and some that made not turn it off at all.
F W Murnau’s unofficial film version of Dracula led to him being famously sued by Bram Stoker’s widow. But the frightening make-up of Max Shrek as the titular vampire Count Orlock remains one of the scariest images ever committed to film. The moving shadowplay on the wall would be used again time after time. Remade stylishly by Werner Herzon with Klaus Kinski as the vampire.
Max Shrek. His name means “fear” in German!
A made-for-TV drama about what would actually happen in the event of a nuclear strike on Britain. Produced in the early 80s when nuclear war was still a grim possibility, this terrifying program shocked a generation. Once seen, never forgotten…
8. The Thing
John Carpenter’s homage to the 50s B-movie, this guts’n’gore horrorshow pushed the boundaries of what was possible with make-up effects. A box-office flop, it has since become one of the greatest horror films of all time. Compare the atmosphere of the freezing scientists in this pic to the lukewarm remake.
Tobe Hooper and Steven Spielberg collabroated to produce the grandaddy of all haunted house movies. A combination of SFX rollercoaster and shocking horror movie, it made a generation of kids afraid of trees and TV sets.
John Carpenter’s first big hit and the first true slasher pic. Indestructible madman Michael Myers stalks teenagers in a small town. But it’s the film’s creepy insinuation that horror could be lurking anywhere, even in the dark spaces of your own home, that truly lingers.
Just a normal street. But look again.
Alien is on some levels a very stupid movie. Butch warrant officer Sigourney Weaver displays more common sense than the rest of the entire crew of the ill-fated spaceship Nostromo, but still ends up trying to save a cat in her underwear. Even so, jaw-dropping production design and the most memorable alien in movie history combine to produce nerve-jangling scares from start to finish.
4. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre
Time has dulled the edge of this “based on true events” movie. But from the film’s opening shots we know we’re not in Kansas anymore. The casual violence remains shocking, but it was the film’s “endurance horror” that would go on to influence filmmakers such as Sam Raimi with his “Evil Dead” movies. Forget the countless remakes and sequels.
Yes, that shark terrified audiences in the 70s and beyond. It may look rubber now, but the film’s great ensemble cast and stirring theme music still manage to make bathtime a little scarier.
2. Dawn of the Dead
George A Romero followed up his genre-busting “Night of the Living Dead” with this satirical masterpiece. you get a real sense of claustrophobia watching this for the first time as zombies are everywhere. Copied over and over again from low-budget schlock to the more stylish “Walking Dead” TV series, Romero was the only one to do something actually new with the zombie as an archetype of horror. Remade quite well but with less ideas in 2004.
1. Salems Lot
This two-part TV movie must have sent network executives into a spin. A creepy Stephen King story about Dracula transplanted into the modern US becomes something quite different in the hands of horror maestro Tobe Hooper and veteran scriptwriter Paul Monash. The horror continues to rise as citizens of a small town are transformed into the most frightening bloodsuckers you have ever seen. 1970s TV heart-throb David Soul grows understandably more and more hysterical when faced with sneering James Mason and his army of undead. But it’s the surreal, frightening scenes where a vampire kid comes calling on his classmates that have stayed in my imagination. Watch the unedited version for the shocking twist ending.