Every year here at Cinema Smack, we have some kind of feature based on horror films for the fall holiday. We’ve had Best & Worst pieces ranking the Halloween and Nightmare on Elm Street franchises in 2016 and 2017 respectively. Last year, we discussed whether or not Hollywood was in the midst of a horror film renaissance based on the quality and success of recent films like A Quiet Place and Hereditary. This isn’t even counting all of the horror film reviews posted weekly on the site throughout the entire month of October.
Needless to say, horror is a favorite on this site. So, this year, we’re going to do something a little different. While there are numerous franchises to rank, countless reviews to be posted, and plenty of horror trends to analyze, this year’s Halloween feature will be more relaxed, personal, and fun. While personal opinions are usually kept off of this site, this year’s feature is going to be all based on preference. That’s right. This is Cinema Smack’s Top 10 Favorite Horror Films! To clarify, this isn’t a list of the best horror films ever made. It’s my own personal favorites and the reasoning behind them. Of course, it’s highly encouraged that you, the reader, give your own picks in the comment section below if you feel so inclined! Let’s get to it!
Limiting this list to only ten total films was somewhat easy but also quite challenging. There were a handful of films that absolutely had to be on this list. Then, there were some that were neck and neck with compromises being made. Films that didn’t make this list but were given consideration were Rosemary’s Baby, Carrie, The Thing, The Conjuring, and It Follows. Honestly, this list could go on and on. There are some others that were also considered but, again, compromises were made and some of those will be mentioned below.
10. Frankenstein (1931)
We kick things off with the oldest film on this list: James Whale’s 1931 horror classic, Frankenstein. The film opens in a cemetery where Dr. Henry Frankenstein (Colin Clive) and his hunchback assistant, Fritz (Dwight Frye), dig up a freshly buried body. Frankenstein uses human body parts to stitch together a new body. Fritz is tasked with getting a brain for the body but only manages to steal the brain of a criminal. Frankenstein inserts the brain and harnesses a bolt of lightning to bring his creation to life. Though, Frankenstein discovers that he has unintentionally created a brutal, yet misunderstood, monster.
At this point, Frankenstein’s monster (that’s right, Frankenstein is the doctor and not the creature) is immediately recognizable by people of all ages and walks of life. Boris Karloff’s monster is a cultural horror icon and his likeness has been borrowed, mimicked, and spoofed but never duplicated. Similarly, Colin Clive’s Dr. Frankenstein is just as iconic with one of the most popular horror lines of all time, “It’s alive!” cementing his legacy in the genre. Both Clive and Karloff returned for two sequels, Bride of Frankenstein and Son of Frankenstein which are also excellent horror films. The latter even adds in Bela Lugosi as the wildly entertaining Ygor. Usually Bride gets most of the love from horror fans but, in this writer’s opinion, nothing comes close to touching the original.
I’ve probably watched this film less than all of the others on this list. I first saw Frankenstein as an adult while the others all came at a younger age. Regardless, this film blew me away upon the very first watch. It also ignited an appreciation for the other Universal Studios monster lineup including Dracula, The Wolf Man, and Creature from the Black Lagoon. The acting, makeup effects, creepy atmosphere, and timeless story are phenomenal. Overall, Frankenstein is a horror classic in every sense of the word and every horror enthusiast needs to get their hands on this one.
9. Candyman (1992)
We follow up a cinematic classic horror film with a severely underrated one. 1992’s Candyman is an adaptation of “The Forbidden,” a short story by writer/filmmaker Clive Barker. The plot follows Helen Lyle (Virginia Madsen), a graduate student in Chicago studying urban legends. She soon hears of the local legend of Candyman (Tony Todd). When someone says his name into a mirror five times, he’s summoned to murder his caller with his hook for a hand. Helen tries her luck and calls for him along with her friend, Bernadette (Kasi Lemmons). Though, he doesn’t appear. She’s then led to the Cabrini Green housing project where a resident is supposedly killed by Candyman. From here, Helen’s life spins out of control as the murderous Candyman eventually appears and “sheds innocent blood” while leaving Helen at the scene of his crimes.
Candyman is a brutally gory time. There are some very uncomfortable death scenes with Virginia Madsen’s Helen playing victim to something she doesn’t fully understand. The racial overtones throughout the film are actually very relevant and handled well. They never get too preachy or bash anyone over the head. The horrors of real life and legend overlap to inflict fear in the film’s characters. Tony Todd is otherworldly in his performance as Candyman. His disembodied baritone voice and eerie calmness will send chills down your spine. Between the satisfying gore, intriguing social commentary, and iconic villain, Candyman is a film that rarely gets its just do but is more than deserving of a spot on this list.
Read our In Case You Missed It Review for Candyman here.
8. Freddy Vs. Jason (2003)
Alright, alright. This is one that’s bound to get a lot of flak. This long awaited versus film pits 1980’s horror icons Freddy Krueger and Jason Voorhees against each other in a fight to the death… again. When the film begins, Freddy (Robert Englund) is long forgotten by the teenage population of Springwood. He resurrects Jason (Ken Kirzinger) to begin killing the kids on Elm Street to instill fear in them once again. Once the town begins to fear Freddy again, he’ll be able to come back and resume his homicidal ways. However, he can’t stop Jason’s bloodlust and the two duke it out. Unfortunately, there’s a group of teens caught in the middle of their battle who aren’t safe when they’re awake or asleep.
This is a film that made the Top 10 based on a compromise. Is Freddy Vs. Jason the best film featuring either of these characters? No, it’s not. However, it was a way to cut two spots on this list down to just one. Both Freddy Krueger and Jason Voorhees needed to be represented on this list and this was the way to do it. Otherwise, both Friday the 13th Part 2 and A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors would’ve made it instead. This was a long rumored film that went through countless iterations before it finally hit theaters in 2003. When I first heard of it, it was slated to be released in 1999 with Alice from Nightmare 4 and 5 meeting Steven and Jessica from Jason Goes to Hell after Alice’s car breaks down due to Freddy’s glove being caught in the engine. Many people don’t care for this particular mashup but, personally, I think the cast and crew did a good job with what they had. Robert Englund is unsurprisingly great as Freddy and Ken Kirzinger does a decent job with Jason. Though, fan favorite Kane Hodder should’ve been cast as Jason without question. Ultimately, Freddy Vs. Jason does a good job incorporating both characters into one film and it’s a horror flick that I never hesitate to throw on for some good old slasher fun.
7. House of 1000 Corpses (2003)
Coming in at #7 is Rob Zombie’s feature length homage to The Texas Chain Saw Massacre in House of 1000 Corpses. Two couples are traveling across the country writing a book about offbeat roadside attractions. They come across Captain Spaulding (Sid Haig) and his Museum of Monsters and Madmen when they stop to get gas. Here, they learn about the legend of Dr. Satan and beg Spaulding to lead them to his infamous hanging tree nearby. On the way, they pick up a hitchhiker named Baby (Sheri Moon Zombie). After their tire bursts, Baby leads the group back to her family’s home where they’re kidnapped, tortured, and, for some, even worse.
As a Rob Zombie fan at the time, I was extremely interested in seeing the singer’s long delayed film debut. Upon initially seeing it, I absolutely hated it. The film was juvenile, vulgar, and unfunny. Though, something stuck with me after that first viewing and I found myself not being able to shake the overall experience. After acquiring a DVD copy of the film over a decade ago, House of 1000 Corpses has been one of the most viewed horror films of my entire collection. Everything I originally hated about it, I’ve learned to love. Most people would probably put Zombie’s followup, The Devil’s Rejects, on a top 10 list before Corpses. While Rejects is the better overall film, there’s just something indescribable about House of 1000 Corpses that gives it the edge for me. Even Zombie’s recently released third installment of the Firefly trilogy, 3 From Hell, is surprisingly good.
6. The Ring (2002)
This is one that was actually reviewed on this site this year so this will be kept brief. The American remake of Ringu, simply titled The Ring, centers around journalist and single mother, Rachel Keller (Naomi Watts). Her niece, Katie (Amber Tamblyn) dies under mysterious circumstances and Rachel finds out about a video tape that kills you exactly seven days after watching it. Rachel locates the tape and watches it before receiving her seven day warning via a phone call. From here, Rachel must solve the mysteries of the tape with help from her ex boyfriend, Noah (Martin Henderson), while also protecting her young son, Aidan (David Dorfman), from the curse of the tape.
The Ring is really a masterclass in suspenseful horror filmmaking. Every scene counts and contributes to the mysteries of the cursed video tape. The cinematography and chilling atmosphere of the film haunt the viewer with a feeling of uneasiness. The screenplay, direction, and editing create a riveting detective story with Naomi Watts giving a breakout performance that rivals some of the best in the genre. Then, there’s the villainous Samara Morgan (Daveigh Chase) who has become something of a horror icon herself. The Ring began a trend of Japanese horror remakes in the United States and it’s easy to see why when a film is this polished and effective. There’s a lot of drama that enhances The Ring‘s overall plot but, rest assured, this is supernatural horror at its best.
Read our In Case You Missed It Review for The Ring here.
5. The Silence of the Lambs (1991)
Is it a crime drama? A thriller? No. For the sake of this list, The Silence of the Lambs is a horror film. Special Agent Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster) is chosen to interview cannibalistic serial killer Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins). A new killer named Buffalo Bill is on the loose and Clarice’s superiors believe that maybe Lecter will assist in the investigation into finding Bill who kills women and removes their skin from their bodies. Lecter agrees to help Clarice with her case in exchange for information about herself and her past.
Similarly to The Ring, The Silence of the Lambs is a detective story. Both films show their female leads discovering clues and analyzing information to aid them in their respective searches. While The Ring is creepy because of its atmosphere, The Silence of the Lambs is more disturbing because of its realistic approach. Whether its Hannibal Lecter’s piercing stare and manipulative tactics, Buffalo Bill’s unsettling fashion choices, or even Howard Shore’s ominous score, Jonathan Demme’s film is littered with all things horror. If you need any more reason to check it out, the film also won Oscars for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress, and Best Adapted Screenplay at that year’s Academy Awards. Is The Silence of the Lambs good? Yeah, I’d say it’s pretty damn good.
4. Halloween (1978)
This is one movie that may be an entry on every single Top 10 horror list ever made. What else can really be said about Halloween at this point? The plot sees a young boy brutally murder his sister with a butcher knife on Halloween night. Fifteen years later, 21 year old Michael Myers (Nick Castle) returns to Haddonfield, Illinois to stalk the streets and murder unsuspecting babysitters. Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) and her friends become the intended targets throughout the night with no reasoning behind it.
That’s it. The original Halloween has no mention of sisters (other than Judith at the beginning), nieces, cults, faked deaths, or podcasts. It’s all about a masked homicidal maniac killing babysitters. Again, there’s not really much to say about John Carpenter’s holiday classic. It perfectly embodies the season with its trick or treaters, fall weather, and teenage shenanigans. Every single year, Halloween is a must watch on this holiday. In fact, I had it on, followed by Halloween II, while writing some of this exact list. It’s not only essential Halloween viewing. It’s mandatory at this point. For many, including myself, Halloween is the horror film that gets you into horror films.
3. The Fly (1986)
Now, this is horror. David Cronenberg’s 1986 remake of The Fly follows Jeff Goldblum as Seth Brundle, a brilliant but eccentric scientist. Seth is on the verge of a breakthrough with his teleportation pods but he can only transport inanimate objects. He begins a romance with Veronica (Geena Davis), a journalist who he shows his “telepods” to. Eventually, Seth figures out how to solve his problem and decides to run a trial on himself after a night of drinking. Unfortunately for Seth, a common housefly makes its way into one of the pods and merges with him during teleportation. Slowly, Seth begins to lose his humanity as he becomes more fly than man.
Without a doubt, The Fly is one of the most disturbing and disgusting horror films ever made but in the best way possible. The film’s practical effects are unbelievable and the work done on Jeff Goldblum throughout is legendary. Not only are the effects and story great but the actor has never been better in any film, show, etc. His character arc goes from quirky and silly to heartbreakingly sad and depressing. It often seems like The Fly is a film that many people have missed for one reason or another. Therefore, any time someone asks for a horror recommendation, the first film mentioned is always The Fly. Yes, even over the two films above it.
Read the Maniac Monday Review for The Fly here.
2. The Exorcist (1973)
It could be argued that not only is The Exorcist one of the best horror films of all time but it’s one of the best films in general. The plot sees a young girl, Regan MacNeil (Linda Blair) possessed by a demon. Her mother, Chris (Ellen Burstyn), brings her to the hospital for testing but no one can find anything medically wrong with Regan. Chris seeks out Father Damien Karras (Jason Miller) as a last resort to help her daughter. Father Karras becomes convinced that Regan is, in fact, possessed and Father Merrin (Max von Sydow) returns from an archaeological dig in Iraq to assist Karras in conducting an exorcism.
The Exorcist is a film like Halloween in which it’s always atop any horror fan’s list. That’s because it’s simply undeniable as to how good this film is. For all of the hype that it has gotten and continues to get since its release 46 years ago, The Exorcist continues to defy expectations. There have been countless exorcism movies to have come out but none can hold a candle to this film. The closest anyone has gotten is probably with The Conjuring which, essentially, is The Exorcist in some spots. Upon an initial viewing, you may not think it deserves some of its universal praise. However, with each subsequent watch, you’ll think differently. This is a film that buries itself in your mind and refuses to let you forget about it. The more you watch it, the more intricacies and subtle hints you catch. The scariest thing about The Exorcist is that it doesn’t really provide you with explanations for its chain of events. Sure, you can make assumptions and theories, but nothing is ever set in stone. From the story, performances, music, special effects, sound design, and everything in between, The Exorcist is the complete cinematic embodiment of the horror genre as a whole.
1. Hellraiser (1987)
The film to receive top honors on Cinema Smack’s Top 10 Favorite Horror Films is yet another underrated gem. Clive Barker’s 1987 directorial debut, Hellraiser, based on Barker’s novella, The Hellbound Heart, is superb. Pleasure seeker Frank Cotton (Sean Chapman) solves a puzzle box that opens metaphorical doorways to legendary pain and suffering. Frank is literally ripped to pieces as the Cenobites, led by the Lead Cenobite (Doug Bradley), who’s eventually known as Pinhead, come to escort him to Hell. Later, Frank’s brother, Larry (Andrew Robinson), and his wife, Julia (Clare Higgins), move into the house where Frank had been squatting. After cutting his hand on a nail, Larry’s blood drops on the floor and a skinless Frank escapes from Hell and is resurrected. Julia, who had an affair with Frank in the past, agrees to lure men to the house for Frank to feed on for strength. Meanwhile, Larry’s daughter, Kirsty (Ashley Laurence), soon discovers Frank hiding up in the attic and makes a deal with the Cenobites to return Frank to them.
I don’t even know how Hellraiser actually became my favorite horror film but there’s something so wonderfully grim and evil about it. The Cenobites are these hideous humanoid creatures, and yet, they’re not really villains. The monsters in Hellraiser are actually the human characters with their murder, deception, and disregard for humanity in general leading their actions. With so many slasher villains like Leatherface, Michael Myers, Jason Voorhees, and Freddy Krueger populating the 70’s and 80’s, it often feels like Pinhead is the odd man out. That’s because he’s a different kind of horror character. As previously mentioned, he’s not really a villain in the first two films especially. He only appears when called upon. It’s not often that there’s complexity or depth to these horror characters but Pinhead is the exception to the rule. While it’s true that later installments of the Hellraiser franchise entirely lose the spirit of what the franchise is all about, both this first film and its sequel, Hellbound: Hellraiser II, are must watch horror films. That being said, they’re not for the squeamish but that’s what make them all the more disturbing.
Read the Maniac Monday Review for Hellraiser here.
That’s all for Cinema Smack’s Top 10 Favorite Horror Films! During the Halloween season, it’s always a blast to talk about and watch horror movies new and old. Hopefully, some of you will find inspiration from this list and find something you’ve maybe never watched before. Please feel free to leave your own Top 10’s down in the comment section or give your opinions/critiques on this list.
Most importantly though, everyone have a fun and safe Halloween and watch some horror movies!