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The 100 Greatest Horror Movies of All Time
The 100 Greatest Horror Movies 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. Jordan Cronk

The 100 Greatest Horror Movies of All Time

49

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 Movies of All Time

48

Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)

Throughout Invasion of the Body Snatchers, one of the subtlest and most extraordinarily fluid of American horror films, Philip Kaufman crafts textured scenes, rich in emotional and object-centric tactility, that cause our heads to casually spin with expectation and dread. Kaufman and screenwriter W.D. Richter fuse paranoia, eroticism, and flippancy to arrive at their own distinctly flakey yet intense genre-movie style. The filmmakers have gone out of their way to devise scenes which are set in places that have rarely hosted a horror-movie set piece before, such as a dry-cleaner’s, a book store, and the creepy swamp-colored spa that provides their film with one of its shock centerpieces. The soundtrack is particularly unnerving when we get a prolonged glimpse at how the pod people hatch out of the flowers blooming all over the city, which Kaufman stages as a simultaneous birth and rape. Bowen

The 100 Greatest Horror Movies of All Time

47

The Phantom Carriage (1921)

Not unlike Fritz Lang in Destiny, Scandinavian cinema pioneer Victor Sjöström in The Phantom Carriage sees Death as a sorrowful figure, gathering wretched souls with the eponymous spectral chariot in a limbo of despair. “His is a hard task,” says a brooding tramp (Sjöström) amid the tombstones, moments before meeting his end and being handed the Reaper’s cloak and scythe. Chronicling a lout’s humbling awakening, the film weaves a thorny, haunting web of spiritual anguish, using double-exposure photography astonishingly as an incantation of overlapping realms and the connection between body and spirit, physical action and emotional effect, fright and epiphany. Croce

The 100 Greatest Horror Movies of All Time

46

The Brood (1979)

A film that externalizes all its subtexts like nervous welts in order to mock the burgeoning self-help and divorce crazes that had parents everywhere willfully unable to look beyond their own navels, David Cronenberg’s dark comedy The Brood is as perverse as it is incisive. The message that, no matter what parents try to do to internalize their own therapies and protect their loved ones from the messes they’re inside, there’s no possibility for a clean separation from the beds they make coincided with Cronenberg’s own divorce, which may account for the film’s transitional tone, alternately savage and chilly. Henderson

The 100 Greatest Horror Movies of All Time

45

Eyes Without a Face (1960)

Robin Wood, that great analyzer of screen frissons, once noted that “terrible buildings” were the recurring theme in the films of Georges Franju, and perhaps none is more terrible than the mansion-clinic presided over by Prof. Genessier (Pierre Brasseur) in the French surrealist’s masterpiece Eyes Without a Face. As the surgeon operates on captive young women in hopes of restoring the face of his disfigured daughter Christiane (Edith Scob), an unforgettable portrait of subverted normalcy emerges—one where angelic doves and grisly hounds, obsessive love and appalling violence, the gruesome and the poetic, are all perpetually leaking into one another. Croce

The 100 Greatest Horror Movies of All Time

44

The Vanishing (1988)

A disquieting expression of pragmatism as proof of godlessness. Director George Sluizer devises a mystery that very purposefully collapses in on itself, as the terror of The Vanishing resides in its ultimate revelation that there isn’t any mystery at all, a development that carries obviously existential notes of despair. There’s no guiding motivation behind the disappearance that drives the film, and no cathartic purging of guilt or triumph of good; there isn’t even really a triumph of evil. A few things randomly happen, then a few more things, then nothing. The end. That non-ending, though, is one of the greatest in all of cinema and the source of many a nightmare. Bowen

The 100 Greatest Horror Movies of All Time

43

Alien (1979)

A film whose shadow looms darkly over subsequent decades of horror and sci-fi, Ridley Scott’s Alien is a master class in the evocation of escalating dread. Made forever distinctive by H.R. Giger’s visual rendering of psychosexual horror and biomechanical hellscapes, not to mention the unusual foregrounding of working-class and female characters, Alien is still—at its core—a prototypical haunted-house picture. It just happens to be one of the most artful, flawlessly executed examples of that type, the rationed-out shocks underscored by groundbreaking creature effects, jarring sound design, and the talents of a magnificent ensemble. It’s the stuff of primordial nightmare, mapping the infinite reaches of human anxiety—about everything from sexuality to technology—into two agonizing hours. Das

The 100 Greatest Horror Movies of All Time

42

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 of a Third Kind, 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 Movies of All Time

41

Frankenstein (1931)

James Whale’s adaptation of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein incited many vital developments in our consideration of cinema. Besides ushering in the concept of the modern American horror film, it also made a star of Boris Karloff, sent Whale off on a lengthy career in both film and theater, and brought censorship into the cultural conversation as no film had ever previously done. But on a more elemental level, it remains an intimate accomplishment in character-based drama and ethical inquisitiveness, spawning a legacy diverse enough to accommodate the likes of everyone from Victor Erice to Bill Condon, not to mention a franchise character in no threat of extinction. Cronk

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