No other genre in cinema can best represent the strong impact of moving images like the horror genre. Horror films can strangely disconnect us from the horrors of our life. And at times satiate our quench for adrenaline. I greatly respect this genre for its capacity to stir up haunting new experiences each time. So here go some of what I consider the greatest horror films of all time (in reverse chronological order). I have combed through different eras of cinematic history to excavate these gems.
1. Kill List (2011)
There are two kinds of horror films. Those that lay out a concise and neatly tailored ending. And the other kind that fascinate and frighten us ceaselessly without offering any explanations for the evil. Ben Wheatley’s Kill List belongs to the second kind. It’s a twisted piece of domestic drama, where an atmosphere of fear gradually heightens beyond the control of its characters. The film’s strength is in the way it keeps us baffled till the perturbing climax.
2. Let the Right One In (2008)
Swedish filmmaker Tomas Alfredson’s Let the Right One In is a tale of adolescent friendship, littered with shocking bloodbaths and graphic violence. The protagonist is a 12-year old lonely outcast Oskar. He befriends Eli, who has been 12 years for quite some time (aka vampire). Alfredson’s flawless compositions subtly evoke an atmosphere of creepiness. Despite the bloody attacks, the film provokes more horror when it scares us with nuanced suggestions.
3. Pan’s Labyrinth (2006)
The horrors of the real world and a fantastical world have never been so beautifully merged. Guillermo Del Toro once again verges into the Spanish Civil War period, providing a more potent story of a child surrounded by fascism. It’s an immensely moving story punctuated with phenomenal horror sequences. The Pale Man — the destroyer of fantasy — would forever linger in the memory of horror fans.
4. Shaun of the Dead (2004)
Edgar Wright’s Shaun of the Dead is an altogether comedic take on Romero’s classic zombie territory. It has the perfect ‘loser’ characters. The humor arises from the characters’ reality and their baffled reactions to the extraordinary. While the director places tangible human emotions at the center, he also doesn’t shy away from bloody, graphic violence. Wright-Pegg duo perfectly knows when to push for laughs, pathos, and ghastliness.
5. The Devil’s Backbone (2001)
In this art-house horror, Mexican filmmaker Guillermo del Toro uses ‘ghost’ as a metaphor for the devastation created by war. The narrative unfolds in an isolated Spanish orphanage at the brink of the Spanish Civil War. It incites suspense through the environment rather than a complex story line. The brooding atmosphere reminds us of an Edgar Allan Poe story setting.
6. Audition (1999)
The pangs of shock felt in Takashi Miike’s Audition are still fresh. The flawless non-linear screenplay, excellent performances, and Miike’s gentle pace punctuated with violent twists make this cult horror a great success. Like David Lynch’s masterful works, the film stays on the surface to begin with, only to later expose the profound filthiness lying beneath.
7. The Sixth Sense (1999)
Manoj Shyamalan’s Sixth Sense is a riveting psychological horror about death and its manifestations. The film’s glacial pace makes it more evocative and powerful (unlike the director’s later works). This is the tale of a little boy who lives in a constant of terror due to the tribulations caused by supernatural forces. Besides tension and thrills, there’s an abundance of genuine emotions.
8. Ringu (1998)
Hideo Nakata’s The Ring stands at the forefront of J-horror sub-genre. Although David Cronenberg’s Videodrome (1983) dealt with malign force through video source, The Ring was a more visceral and chilling experience. Its visual techniques to induce high suspense and tension created a big impact among the post-modern horror features.
9. Cure (1997)
Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s ambiguous serial-killer horror is so different from the cat-and-mouse game played in Hollywood movies. This film is more about the terrifying atmosphere than the neatly structured plot. It’s a meditation on the nature of identity in a constrained, alienated society.
10. The Silence of the Lambs (1991)
In cinema’s hall of fame for legendary villains, Anthony Hopkins’ Hannibal Lecter will have a prominent presence. Silence of the Lambs is the story of a young FBI trainee Clarice Starling, who investigates the killings of a serial killer by seeking help from an imprisoned, genius killer. Horror can stem from different aspects. In this film, it heightens from the intellectual tug-of-war between the FBI agent and the serial killer.