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The 100 Greatest Horror Films of All Time
The 100 Greatest Horror Films of All Time

60

M (1931)

A child’s balloon rises into the air before getting tangled in a telephone wire. Just like that, a young life is snuffed out with effortless precision. This striking early moment in Frtiz Lang’s masterpiece marks the dawn of the serial-killer film and the unsettling admission that no one, not even the earthly angels, are safe from evil. Peter Lorre’s nebbish predator is a complexly layered monster that has gone unnoticed in a society that breeds social repression and malaise. When his actions are revealed, the court of public opinion turns equally lethal, burning down democratic procedures in the name of swift justice.  Heath

The 100 Greatest Horror Films of All Time

59

An American Werewolf in London (1981)

Few films balance horror and comedy with the deft assurance of An American Werewolf in London. Two American teenagers hike across Yorkshire moors and right into a tooth-and-claw encounter that converts one (Griffin Dunne, inadvertent star of the show) into a particularly talkative corpse and the other (David Naughton) into a werewolf. What follows is a series of loosely associated set pieces that alternate between the blackly hilarious and the disturbingly violent. John Landis plumbs the Freudian subtext of lycanthrope mythology for all its camp value, both literalizing it through the best transformation scene in werewolf cinema and parodying it in several mischievously off-kilter dream sequences.  Das

The 100 Greatest Horror Films of All Time

58

Black Christmas (1974)

The setup is simplicity itself, even by the often spare plot standards of the slasher film: A deranged lunatic preys on a sorority house as the sisters drink and make merry for the approaching titular holiday. Though director Bob Clark stages his set pieces with a sense and command of atmosphere that he’d never again match, Black Christmas is ultimately so unsettling because the killer is a terrifyingly apt symbol for the disenchantment and melancholia that tends to creep up on us with disconcerting suddenness as the holidays loom around the corner.  Bowen

The 100 Greatest Horror Films of All Time

57

Santa Sangre (1989)

The shock-treatment cinema of Alejandro Jodorowsky has never been more affecting than in his carnivalesque Santa Sangre, a hall of mirrors trip into the depths of a tormented soul that’s as nightmarish as it is empathetic. The sideshow setting provides a fragile sense of normality the film shatters with relish as limbs are hacked and genitals are mutilated, while all manner of potently surreal psychosexual imagery—such as the bloody trunk of a dying elephant—abounds. That Jodorowsky makes plain his genre influences is both honest and thematically incisive, but the brute force of Santa Sangre—gorgeous, nightmarish, ethereal, and utterly insane—is entirely his own.  Humanick

The 100 Greatest Horror Films of All Time

56

Dead Ringers (1988)

In one grave, inevitable climatic gesture, Dead Ringers simultaneously brought director David Cronenberg’s initial phase to a close and his body-horror predilections to a logical plateau. Following a series of increasingly gruesome films pitting natural order against the outgrowths of the mind and flesh alike, Dead Ringers deconstructed at an uncomfortably intimate level the psychosexual intrigue between a pair of fraternal gynecologists and a genetically unique actress as they plunge into a moral gray area of drug abuse and professional malpractice. Sure, not the stuff of traditional horror, but in the hands of Cronenberg, one of the most macabre, haunting films of the 1980s.  Cronk

The 100 Greatest Horror Films of All Time

55

Kill, Baby…Kill! (1966)

The conflict between modern medicine and superstition gives Kill, Baby…Kill!, Mario Bava’s masterpiece, a profound moral urgency. Just as mind-blowing is the filmmaker’s dizzying mise-en-scène, all Escher-like warpings of time and space, none more iconic than the hero’s repetitive, seemingly endless trip through the same room (its influence on the finale of David Lynch’s Twin Peaks is unmistakable). Luchino Visconti purportedly led a standing ovation of the film at its Italian premiere. Indeed, what with all its violent explosions of colors and labyrinthine, almost-monochromatic alleyways seething with expressionistic shadows, Kill, Baby…Kill! often plays out like Bava’s answer to Visconti’s equally artificial, sensuous, and deliriously campy Senso.  Gonzalez

The 100 Greatest Horror Films of All Time

54

Maniac (1980)

If the through line between Psycho’s Norman Bates and The Silence of the Lambs’s Buffalo Bill took a wrong-turn detour through a grimy, grubby pre-Giuliani New York, it’d pass right through the bed of Maniac’s Frank Zito. William Lustig’s serial-killer profile is most infamous for its violence, particularly the scene in which SFX wizard of gore Tom Savini’s head is blasted at close range with a double-barrel shotgun, which caused Gene Siskel to turn tail and walk out of theater. But carried by co-writer Joe Spinelli’s performance as a schlubby NYC landlord who outfits mannequins with the flesh of murdered women, the film’s more dubious pleasures find a resonant, and scarily uncomfortable, psychological grounding.  Semley

The 100 Greatest Horror Films of All Time

53

The Last House on the Left (1972)

Before the slashing talons of A Nightmare on Elm Street and the spectral smirk of the Scream series, Wes Craven first brought dread to suburban America in his magnificently appalling directorial debut, The Last House on the Left. Kicking off the director’s troubling inquiries into broken-mirror family doppelgangers, the film mercilessly chronicles the fate of two young women captured by a gang of monstrous maniacs, a gory ordeal answered by equally bloody retribution once the criminals unknowingly seek refuge with the family of one of their victims. Based on The Virgin Spring, but exchanging Bergman’s classical compositions for purposefully debased, all-pervasive trauma, this remains a draining, lacerating experience.  Croce

The 100 Greatest Horror Films of All Time

52

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920)

Robert Wiene’s capstone of German Expressionism envisions the world as if it were created by an insane God, all jagged edges and precipitous landscapes. The artificial stylistics complement the nefarious motivations of a murderous physician who uses a somnambulist to do his lethal dirty work. Madness seems to engulf every distorted composition. Initially oblivious to the lurking danger, innocent characters are chased through a psychologically skewed nightmare that defies logic. Here, serial murder, mind control, desire, and brutality are all a means to an end, fully realized to appease the sadistic urges of a monster posing as a man.  Heath

The 100 Greatest Horror Films of All Time

51

Carnival of Souls (1962)

A triumph of artistic independence, Carnival of Souls was Herk Harvey’s lone feature, and in 80 minutes he contributed more to the medium than many filmmakers manage in a lifetime. M. Night Shyamalan’s redundant narrative tricks may have dulled the impact of this film’s final revelation, yet Carnival of Souls remains virtually unsurpassed in its capacity to sustain dread. Candace Hilligoss’s proto-feminist is an adrift spirit in an unwelcoming world, alienated by men and God and perpetually surfacing from a living nightmare beyond her comprehension. The enigmatic nature of her plight, and of the ethereal, titular carnival, suggest a multitude of fates to which death is preferable.  Humanick

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