Movies In Focus’ Top 20 Horror Films

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It’s very difficult to distill something into a list of ‘bests’. However, sometimes it’s good to take stock of something and evaluate the quality, trying to understand what it should or shouldn’t be. I’ve been writing about films for a decade now and Horror films are a large part of Movies In Focus has become, so I feel it’s about time I dove head-first into the genre and plucked-out what I feel are the genre’s best efforts. There are exclusions, which even to my eyes seem odd – for example Vincent Price and Hammer Films don’t make an appearance and the Universal monsters seem to be woefully under represented. Some films were excluded because they skirted the line between horror and another genre, be that thriller or science fiction, but I decided to select those which I think create a set of genre rules and an unabashed sense of terror and fear.

Here’s the list…

Halloween (1978)

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John Carpenter’s 1978 film essentially created the slasher sub-genre. High on tension and surprisingly light on gore, Halloween is the benchmark by which all modern horror films are evaluated. Carpenter’s score has also gone down as one of the definitive horror cues and it has recently inspired a whole new raft of genre filmmakers. (Read the Movies In Focus review)

The Sixth Sense (1999)

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M Might Shymalan broke onto the scene in a big way with this fantastic chiller. A perfectly composed ghost story, The Sixth Sense isn’t just a great horror – it’s a great film full stop, with Bruce Willis giving a career best performance.

The Thing (1982)

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If tension is your thing, then John Carpenter’s remake of the 1951 b-movie The Thing From Another World will fit the bill. This paranoia-fuelled sci-fi/horror is exceptional in every way and the snowy landscape creates a wonderful sense of isolation.

The Exorcist (1974)

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Atmospheric beyond belief, The Exorcist continues to terrify audiences decades after its initial release. William Friedkin’s film has been copied often, but never bettered. The use of Tubular Bells helped make this a huge hit and an iconic horror.

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)

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Disturbing, but not as violent as your imagination would have you believe, Tobe Hooper’s movie has been remade, prequelized and sequelized and nobody – not even Hooper himself – has been able to match its feral power. (Read the Movies In Focus review)

The Omen (1976)

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After years of working on television, Richard Donner kick-started his career with this classy demonic chiller. Gregory Peck adds authenticity and Jerry Goldsmith’s score adds power. Gripping.

An American Werewolf In London (1981)

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As darkly funny as it is terrifying, John Landis hit a career high with An American Werewolf In London. Rick Baker’s effects make-up is still stunning, while the opening werewolf attack remains one of the scariest things ever committed to film.

Psycho (1960)

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Many would argue that Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho is a thriller, but this is a serious piece of horror cinema. Bernard Hermann’s score is flawless, while great visuals and storytelling make this eminently re-watchable. Showers have never been the same since 1960.

Nosferatu (1922)

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F.W Murnau’s unofficial screen adaptation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula pretty much created the horror genre. This stunning silent vampire film has iconic visuals that are still inspiring filmmakers to this day. (Read the Movies In Focus review)

The Shining (1980)

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Stanley Kubrick’s big screen version of Stephen King’s novel may have deviated from the source material, but it packs a serious psychological punch. It has many great elements but it might be most famous for giving Jack Nicholson a career-defining performance.

The Blair Witch Project (1999)

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In 1999 the internet was in its infancy and The Blair Witch Project used it to its utmost advantage. Many thought this found-footage horror was real, but it broke the rules for how films were made and kick-started a slew of copycat features.

Jaws (1975)

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Steven Spielberg’s Jaws is flawless. It’s a masterclass in tension, showing that less is more in creating fear within the mind of the audience. John Williams’ score is simple, yet so very, very effective. (Read the Movies In Focus review)

The Wicker Man (1973)

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Robin Hardy’s cult horror is eerily disturbing on many levels and equally unclassifiable. Edward Woodward excels as the uptight Christian policeman searching for a missing child. What he discovers is a startling look at an unexpected pagan culture.

Dog Soldiers (2002)

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Neil Marshall’s werewolf horror is an exceptionally refreshing piece of horror cinema. The set-up is classic: Zulu meets Aliens with werewolves – and it’s every bit as good as you would expect. Funny and scary, this was a fantastic calling card for the British filmmaker who continues to impress on the big and small screen.

Night Of The living Dead (1968)

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George A. Romero’s fright flick is the best zombie movie ever made. It’s simplicity is mind-boggling, but this material is still being mined decades after its initial release (most noticeably with The Walking Dead). It’s about zombies, but also about how people deal with difficult situations.

The Cabinet Of Dr Caligari (1920)

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Robert Weine’s expressionist horror is filled with mesmerising imagery. Along with Nosferatu it helped shape the genre and this dream-filled film is still having an impact on a visual level, having inspired the work of Tim Burton and the recent horror hit, The Babadook.

Dracula (1931)

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Todd Browning’s Dracula kick-started Hollywood’s fascination with horror and it still remains one of the quintessential vampire films. The success of this Bela Lugosi starrer would lead to Universal Pictures’ iconic monsters series of movies and inspire Hammer Film’s interpretation of Dracula.

The Witch (2015)

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One of the great horror films of the 21st Century, Robert Eggers The Witch is impressive in how it builds atmosphere. It’s a simple story, with small cast that manages to do a lot in a genre that often resorts to cheap shocks.

The Lost Boys (1987)

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The Lost Boys might be firmly rooted in the 1980s, but Joel Schumacher’s MTV-style vampire film still hits the mark. Shrewd casting, good music and a witty script make this the only teen vampire film which entertains.

Manhunter (1986)

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Michael Mann’s Manhunter introduced the world to Hannibal Lecter (here called Lektor) and offered up a visually bright, but emotionally dark film that might appear to be a thriller, but it has its roots firmly in the horror genre. This might have flopped on release and been over-shadowed by The Silence of The Lambs, but it is haunting stuff.

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