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

50

Onibaba (1964)

Long identified with either the epic samurai saga or intimate domestic drama, Japan has staked a more contemporary international claim on the horror genre. But these roots stretch back as far as any larger trend. Kaneto Shindô’s Onibaba, for one, is something of a mid-century classic, a stylistically influential dramatization of a bygone Buddhist folktale wherein a mother and daughter-in-law sacrifice wandering swordsmen, stripping them of their possessions before depositing their corpses in a nearby pit. It’s the game of sexual cat-and-mouse that results from the appearance of a mysterious mask, however, that renders the film both feminist polemic and unnerving fable of moral comeuppance.  Cronk

The 100 Greatest Horror Films of All Time

49

Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)

Seething with a post-Vietnam, post-Watergate sense of distrust, Philip Kaufman’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers still finds much to dread in adversaries that resemble loved ones, but it doesn’t reveal a society gripped by anxiety so much as one dulled into complacency, betrayed by the technology on which it relies, and as such helpless to resolve the crisis of an alien invasion. The film is an eerily tragic evocation of hippie idealism giving way to the Me generation’s narcissism, anticipating even the greed of Reagan’s America. Indeed, a sense of futility pervades every scene, rendering an already scary story that much more unnerving.  Hunt

The 100 Greatest Horror Films of All Time

48

The Fall of the House of Usher (1928)

Through kaleidoscopic composition, of prismatic swamp water, soggy terrain, and branches that caress the sky like fingers, Jean Epstein affects Rorschach-like chiaroscuro, every image a dense, sludgy viscera, a looking glass held up to the audience and characters, daring us to pass through. And from The Fall of the House of Usher’s first image of a visitor with busy fingers wading through a tangle of trees and branches to the final orgy of poetic destruction, Epstein intensely considers the precarious push-pull relationship between life and art. He treats celluloid not unlike Usher’s delicate and fragile canvas, and to look at the screen of this film is to witness a portal into a complex, heretofore unknown dimension of cinematic representation.  Gonzalez

The 100 Greatest Horror Films of All Time

47

Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (1986)

The trend in found-footage films that has dominated post-Blair Witch horror cinema speaks to something beyond the genre’s tendency for creative paucity. Horror cinema thrives on verisimilitude. Shot on 16mm for a budget of just over $100,000, with a cast of mostly non-professionals, Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer isn’t a mock-doc, strictly speaking. Still, its unnerving qualities feel bound to its cheapness. The film feels like the snuff-y home movies of rape and murder made by its characters. Taken together with rock-jawed Michael Rooker’s unshakeable turn as a remorseless, captivating, and not-at-all charismatic serial killer and Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer’s psychological and material realism is unforgettable: a film that dogs any susceptible viewer like a trauma.  Semley

The 100 Greatest Horror Films of All Time

46

Poltergeist (1982)

Tobe Hooper is officially credited for having directed Poltergeist, but it’s co-scripter Steven Spielberg’s fingerprints that are all over this dark-mirror image of E.T. and Close Encounters, about unseen spirits tormenting a suburban family. It’s structured as an escalating series of reveals, from the frisson elicited by inexplicably mobile furniture on up to third-act hysteria derived from birth imagery, child peril, and the eternal creep factor of video snow in a dark room. Hooper’s Grand-Guignol flourishes are occasionally evident, particularly when a paranormal investigator pulls his own face off, but the technical proficiency is all Spielberg’s, as is the abiding interest in families and the influences (supernatural or otherwise) that disrupt them.  Das

The 100 Greatest Horror Films of All Time

45

The Night of the Hunter (1955)

Is there a more chilling scream than the high-pitched yelp that Harry Powell (Robert Mitchum) gives during the climactic scene in Charles Laughton’s gothic mood piece? It’s like listening to a wounded beast being dragged through the gates of hell. If anyone deserves such a fate, it’s this murderous and manipulative false prophet keen on stealing a wad of cash from a fellow criminal’s widow and his two young children. Moonlit vistas and slow camera moves down the river give this film a deceptively calm feel, but there’s an ocean of violence below the surface. Call it a foreboding noirish nursery rhyme warning against the evils of religious fundamentalism.  Heath

The 100 Greatest Horror Films of All Time

44

Tenebre (1982)

Dario Argento’s vicious riposte to Roland Barthes’s “The Death of the Author” (the opening shots depict an instructive text being tossed onto a pile of burning embers), the gruesome giallo shocker Tenebre decisively fuses artistic intentions and hazy personal experience with furious outcomes. The results is a CliffsNotes for perversion. The intersection of art and violence has rarely been as brutal (deaths are usually intertwined with architecture, and one victim’s blood fans across a white wall like a grisly Jackson Pollock), and Argento’s self-implication has rarely yielded something that argues so strenuously against interpretation. Understandably, given the body count.  Henderson

The 100 Greatest Horror Films of All Time

43

A Page of Madness (1926)

The tasteful picturalism of Gate of Hell may have brought director Teinosuke Kinugasa festival awards, but it’s the feverish frenzy of A Page of Madness that lingers most vividly in the minds of cinephiles. Making use of just about every cinematic device—from Murnau’s expressionistic camera movements to Eisenstein’s flickering montage—to visualize a tale of unspeakable loss taking place inside an insane asylum, this silent Japanese classic builds startlingly on The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari for a vision of characters locked in a dungeon of hallucinations not unlike a movie theater, where celluloid itself wavers and churns like a bedeviled entity.  Croce

The 100 Greatest Horror Films of All Time

42

Evil Dead II (1987)

Sam Raimi pioneered the splatstick genre with this upmarket sequel. Effectively remaking the first Evil Dead film with a bigger budget and tongue planted firmly in cheek, Raimi tosses loony Lovecraft references, sight gags worthy of the Three Stooges, and even the stray surreal non sequitur (like a roomful of revoltingly animated objects) into his pop-cultural Cuisinart and somehow still finds time to tear through the woods with his camera precariously mounted on a two-by-four. Seismic shifts in tone extend to Bruce Campbell’s Ash, depicted this time out as more akin to a rubber-faced action hero (complete with strap-on chainsaw and holstered 12-gauge) than the first film’s hapless victim.  Wilkins

The 100 Greatest Horror Films of All Time

41

Inland Empire (2006)

Radical even for director David Lynch, Inland Empire suggests the potential emergence of a new medium that remains unfulfilled, a medium that fuses the emotional and narrative containment of cinema with the elusive impermanency of the Internet. The entire history and future of cinema seems to flow intangibly through this film, which suggests, at times, an epic expansion of the visionary imagery from A Page of Madness. Laura Dern’s fearless performance embodies the loss of someone who’s torn between forces that are suggestive of bottomless chaos. It’s one of the most truly terrifying films ever made, but is it a horror movie? It’s every movie.  Bowen

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