Halloween’s Coming, So It’s Time For A Good Scare — My Top 20 Horror Movies Of All Time, Part 1

We’re less than a week away from Halloween, so what better time to crack out a list of movies that are some of my favorites in the horror genre?

Horror movies — and scary stories — have always been a favorite of mine, even since I was a little kid.  As a writer, a number of my fiction projects have used horror and suspense as their backbone as a result.  And even today, I’m a sucker for a good scare on the big screen.

Which movies are my favorite?  Probably not the one that are yours;  like any list, this one is completely subjective — your mileage may (and will) vary, and everyone’s welcome to chime in on their own favorites in the comments.  Besides, there’s not a whole lot of difference between most of the films in the bottom half of my top 20 anyway.

What you won’t see in this list:  With one exception, nothing made more than 40 years ago.  I’ve got nothing against the classics that started it all, but it’s difficult to rank movies like Frankenstein against modern-day fare like Hostel — it’s definitely a case of apples and oranges.  In addition, most of the classics are movies I haven’t seen in an eternity, and certainly not as many times as I’ve seen some of the movies on this list, so I don’t think I’d be doing them justice.  You also won’t see Jaws (a great movie, but just not that scary, at least to me), Seven (again a incredible movie and unnerving at times, but it doesn’t feel like a film that fits the genre, and Silence of the Lambs (see: Seven) — all of which I’ve seen on a number of top-whatever lists.

So without further delay, here’s Part 1 of my Top 20 Horror Movies Of All Time.  Look for Parts 2, 3, and 4 coming later this week!  But for now, here’s numbers 20-16!

20.  Jacob’s Ladder (1990)

The first time I saw this movie, I didn’t understand it.   And I definitely wasn’t sure what I thought about it, and whether I liked it or not — and I wasn’t alone, as the critics (and audiences) were equally divided.  The movie follows a Vietnam veteran and his increasingly disturbing hallucinations.

Further viewing made me appreciate the film more and more, and it’s definitely a movie that will disturb you at a deeper level, in addition to giving you a couple of good-old-fashioned scares.  Jacob’s Ladder features a top-notch cast, headed by Tim Robbins — not a guy I’d think would make a good horror movie lead, but he does a great job here as a man whose sanity is quickly slipping away.

19.    The Wicker Man (1973)

No, no — not the godawful remake with Nicholas Cage.  I’m talking about the original, starring Edward Woodward (The Equalizer!) and Christopher Lee.  We’re just going to pretend that remake never happened, okay?

The plot revolves around a British police sergeant (Woodward) investigating the disappearance of a young girl on a remote island.  What our helpless hero finds is an island with a populace participating in a cult, engaging in pagan rituals, and seemingly oblivious to the investigation at hand.

The movie is unusual in that its hero is a devout Christian who is — gasp — celibate, and who finds his own beliefs challenged by the acts around him.  The movie takes a while to build, but the tremendous ending makes up for it in spades.

18.   Paranormal Activity (2009)

An entry that may be controversial, this movie follows a young couple seemingly haunted in their suburban home.  The film is shown in the format of  “found footage”a technique that’s come into greater use in recent years as a storytelling device.  It’s a technique I have mixed feelings about — some of the films employing it have done so with great effect, while others (like Cloverfield) simply made me feel motion sick.

The acting isn’t great –in some places, frankly, it’s downright awful — but that adds to the films realism, as it makes it easier to believe that what we’re seeing is something real and not just a movie.  And it’s difficult to get past the stupidity of the protagonists — particularly the male lead — at points in the film to maintain the suspension of disbelief that’s necessary.

So why is it on the list?  Simply put, it uses a less-is-more approach that’s very effective, and sometimes, it’s the waiting for the littlest things to happen that makes for the most effective scares.  And it was one of the few movies on this list that made me want to leave a light on somewhere when I went to sleep the night I saw it, well after I’d left the theater.  That’s worth something right there.

17.   The Descent (2005)

Another entry from our British filmmakers across the pond, this follows five women who get together for a weekend in the Appalachian Mountains and look to do some spelunking.  Bad idea.

The women soon are lost in the caves following a collapse — and if that’s not bad enough, there’s something else underground with them.  What follows is a tense, claustrophobic movie experience that was one of my favorite surprises when I first saw it.  It’s also a film with a number of unique, well-developed female characters who carry the film — and that alone makes it a rarity.  Highly recommended.

16.  The Thing (1982)

John Carpenter’s underrated classic is something you almost never see — a remake that exceeds the original movie it was based on.  It’s a movie that didn’t do well during its initial release at the box office, but which has gained a cult following in the years since.

As for me — well, I love me some John Carpenter movies.  You won’t see some of his other fare on this list — the underrated The Fog, They Live, or Escape from New York (though you will see another of his films, no surprise which one though you’ll have to wait until the reveal) — but there wasn’t much that Carpenter did in the decade that was the late 1970’s through the late 1980’s that I didn’t like (his more recent offerings — eh, not so much).

Every one of Carpenter’s films has a style that set it apart, and The Thing is no exception.  The cast is outstanding, headed by Kurt Russell but featuring great turns by half a dozen other outstanding actors.  The plot involving an alien that can mimic the appearance of anyone — including those stranded at this distant Antarctic base — keeps the viewer continuously guessing that who can be trusted and who can’t.  It’s currently being remade/homaged — but I’m thinking whatever we see will be a disappointment compared to this classic.

That’s 20-16 — check out numbers 15-11 right here!

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2 Responses to “Halloween’s Coming, So It’s Time For A Good Scare — My Top 20 Horror Movies Of All Time, Part 1”

  1. […] 10-6 as we count down to my number one favorite later in the week.  For parts one and two, click here and […]

  2. […] My Top-20 Horror Movies Of All Time — Finale We’re made it here to the end — my top-5 horror movies of all time.  If you missed the first three parts, you can find them here, here, and here. […]

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