There’s only one October! We spent it ranking horror movies.
This was an interesting edition of Rank & File behind the scenes. As always, plenty of bros submitted their own ranked lists of horror movies, and as always, I’ve combined all of our takes into a collaborative listicle we can all be proud of! This time around, we saw our shortest list ever (one movie, from Brian) as well as our longest; first Keith submitted a record-length ballot with 231 movies, and a day later Trevor upped the ante with 268 of his own. We also received our first ever co-authored ballot from Mel and Geoff. And thanks to the sheer number of movies submitted across the board, for the first time ever, I’ve increased the minimum vote count required for inclusion in the final rankings from two to three.
But what stands out most to me about this process was how each and every one of us held a slightly different notion of what constituted a “horror” movie. After lots of debating, agonizing, and arguing over the subject – a little with each other, but mostly with ourselves – we all wound up making different cuts and inclusions. In the end then, our combined list rewards not only the most popular movies and the most loved movies, but also the movies most universally recognized as belonging to the “horror” genre.
Trevor was the only bro to provide a definition as a guideline for his own inclusions. He says: “A horror film is a movie designed with the main intention of scaring audiences or, in turn, being a comedic parody of that which is designed to scare audiences.” As such, Trevor was very inclusive when it came to comedies like Beetlejuice and Ghostbusters but staunchly opposed to considering dramatic crime thrillers like The Silence of the Lambs or Seven. Keith on the other hand was much less forgiving toward tongue-in-cheek horror movies, preferring authentic scares to winking spoofs. Some couldn’t bring themselves to consider the likes of Anaconda, Deep Blue Sea, Cloverfield, or Snakes on a Plane, dismissing certain segments of the monster-attack and animal-attack subgenres. (But not all segments – see how often Jaws appears!)
Maybe most impressively, there were 434 unique movies submitted in total across our twelve lists, but 284 of these – close to two thirds – only appeared on one list. Plenty of these 284 titles were obscurities that it’s easy to assume only one of us has ever even seen, but other inclusions speak to the truly open-ended definition one could stretch across the idea of a “horror” genre. From Mulholland Drive to Home Alone and from 2001: A Space Odyssey to Edward Scissorhands, we’ve collectively covered just about every base imaginable. But in the end, only 65 movies made three appearances and thus qualified for an appearance in the final rankings. Without further ado, let’s see them.
|3||28 Days Later|
|4||The Blair Witch Project|
|5||The Evil Dead|
|6||The Cabin in the Woods|
|12||Shaun of the Dead|
|14||Evil Dead II|
|15||The Sixth Sense|
|19||Cabin Fever (2002)|
|25||Dawn of the Dead (2004)|
|26||Drag Me to Hell|
|30||A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)|
|31||I Am Legend|
|35||Let the Right One In|
|38||Tucker and Dale vs Evil|
|41||The Hills Have Eyes (2006)|
|45||The Human Centipede (First Sequence)|
|48||Freddy vs. Jason|
|51||The Devil’s Rejects|
|57||28 Weeks Later|
|61||I Know What You Did Last Summer|
|62||The Lost Boys|
|63||Jeepers Creepers 2|
(For pretty posters and further information, the rankings are also on Letterboxd – gametimebro Rank & File: Horror Movies)
I generally share each bro’s individual ballot here, but in the interest of saving time and space, here instead is a link to a Google Sheet with everyone’s inputs. See for yourself who’s responsible for what ending up where or why something’s absent entirely.
Lastly, two of us took the time and effort, possibly in vain, to partially annotate our lists.
First up, here’s a link to my own Letterboxd – Horror Top 50. Note that I’m often updating this, so it may not match my submitted ballot from October of 2016 further down the road. My methodology for ranking horror movies was pretty straightforward. Starting out by loosely ranking horror movies on how much I enjoyed them, I bumped different films up or down the list accordingly for being more or less scary, tense, or disturbing; more or less entertaining (which served as a balance against “disturbing” that helped comedies and parodies); and more or less iconic (credit to anything I sought out from before I was born, and not so much of it to anything I first heard of while browsing the Netflix library). Lastly, although I was very inclusive and liberal in my “horror” definition’s umbrella, the less purely the genre fit the movie, the further I knocked the movie down the list – with some truly good and scary movies disappearing entirely (looking at you, Pan’s Labyrinth). Oh, and I’m omitting all sequels and remakes, even though some of them (The Ring, Dawn of the Dead) would have ranked very highly for me. I don’t have a great reason for doing this, but who cares?
And lastly, here are Trevor’s annotations on his top twenty-five:
- The Shining – Undoubtedly this stands at my #1 slot. Yes, this is a critically acclaimed classic—known for being meticulously shot with tortured performances all from arguably one of the most talented (or at least famously obsessive and controlling) filmmakers of all time. But that’s not the reason this takes my top pick. It’s because this film is shrouded in mystery and lore to the point that a whole documentary was made about it. Each time I watch this movie, I see something new and different. Not only is it a fascinating film that has evolved with me over the years since I first saw it, but it scared the crap out of me when I was a kid.
- Alien – In space no one can hear you scream. What a great tag line. It’s hard not to see this lurking at the top of everyone’s lists. It’s dark, eerie, and suspenseful, while also being gorgeous and mystifying, taking audiences to the furthest reaches of space and their imaginations. Aside from all that good shit, this film was groundbreaking bringing a badass female protagonist front and center to battle perhaps one of the most iconic monsters in cinema history. Totally deserving of a top spot.
- The Evil Dead – I’m sure most of you who know me are shocked that this isn’t sitting at #1. Despite my absolute love for the franchise—to the point I named my dog after the director—I have to give credit where credit is due. This isn’t just a list of my “favorite” films. It’s which films I objectively think are the “best” as works of cinematic art. This film contributes to the horror genre by really being the one story that started the whole “let’s chase a bunch of kids who are trapped in cabin in the woods” idea (no relation to the film lower on the list). While Evil Dead II: Dead by Dawn is my favorite film in the trilogy, the original has the most artistic integrity, and is arguably the most scary.
- The Ring – I don’t expect this film to be nearly as high on anyone else’s list (if on any at all), but for me this movie has a very special place in my heart. Back in 9th grade, I went down to Baltimore with Paul to attend a horror film convention where there was to be a cast reunion for The Evil Dead. (For anyone who knows me or Paul, you likely understand why that’s such a big deal.) Anywho, while walking the convention floor one afternoon, this weirdo approaches us with a cardboard box under his arm. Without saying anything, he reaches into the box and pulls out an unlabeled VHS cassette tape and hands it over. We accept it, quizzically looking at one another before asking him what this was all about. He muttered that it’s “some Asian bullshit” and wanders off into the crowds. Immediately, we think PORN! But we toss the VHS into our backpack and continue on with our fanfare without a second thought. Skip forward a few weeks. I get a call from Paul saying, “Dude, you remember that tape from the convention? You have to come over and see this.” So I arrive and he plays me the tape. It’s the weirdest conceptual crap I’ve ever seen—this is before I got into David Lynch, mind you. I immediately think “student film project” or something, but without any credits attached to it we didn’t know what to make from it, and once again forget about the VHS tape. Months go by before we see a trailer for The Ring. Lo and behold we see clips that match our VHS tape. Of course that piques our interest enough to think we gotta see this movie. Movie starts and BOOM, we finally recognize that our tape is a playable replica of the cursed VHS tape from the film. Not only did that shock us and made us think we might be doomed to succumb to the fate of Samara’s wrath, but The Ring is perhaps the scariest event I’ve ever experience in a movie theater. People were screaming at the film, throwing popcorn at the screen… it was an utter madhouse! I doubt I’ll ever have that much fun with a horror film in theaters ever again. PS—In case you were wondering, Paul’s sister allegedly lost the VHS tape. So, yeah… that’s a bummer.
- Beetlejuice – This is my absolute favorite Tim Burton movie, and that’s saying something. Beetlejuice takes the horror of living as the “recently deceased,” and flips it on its head with humor and whimsy. Burton’s iconic style of goofy-gothic is best captured in this movie (and, yes, better than in Edward Scissorhands), not to mention I love the idea of making the afterlife a bit like hanging out at the DMV… only, you know, more normal.
- Suspiria – If you haven’t seen a Dario Argento horror film, I find it difficult to accept your opinion on horror films, in general. This guy is a true master at bringing our nightmares to the big screen—with Suspiria easily being his magnum-opus. It’s creepy, fucked up, and morbidly beautiful. Check it out.
- Audition – Takishi Miike was going to make this list somewhere, and what better film to pick from his filmography than the one that Eli Roth called an experience similar to “taking a beautiful swan dive into a pool of barbwire?” The film starts out like some cute little rom-com, then takes a hard hook into horror-ville. The ending of this film is beyond disturbing. I dare anyone to watch this film without ever looking away.
- Jacob’s Ladder – This movie is a slow-burn that steadily unravels into a horrifying nightmare. Without spoiling anything, its ending is a complete mind-fuck.
- The Exorcist – The brilliance of this film lies in its subtleties. Yeah, it’s pretty scary when a possessed girl spins her head around or when runs down the stairs with her back inverted, but there are plenty of quiet shots where the scenery screws with your head. Was that just a distorted shadow of a teapot, or did I just see the devil lurking in the background?
- The Sixth Sense – Of course now everyone knows the twist of this film. However, I was fortunate enough to watch this movie without the twist being spoiled for me, and wow… Now, this movie is scary, but unlike other horror films, it helps you come to terms with your fears and eventually leads you to conquer them. It’s brilliant.
- Ghostbusters (1984) – If anyone knew me from my childhood, you would know that I was a freak of Ghostbusters fan. I owned the jumpsuit, the proton-pack, the ghost-trap, toys of both the firehouse and Echo-One. I just couldn’t get enough. This film is not only pure fun imagination, but it’s funny. The chemistry between the lead actors is something that you can’t fake and certainly can’t replace. Plus that opening scene in the library was legitimately scary. Not sure what to make of Statz getting a BJ from a ghost…
- 28 Days Later – What happens when you give a “zombie” film to an Academy Award-winning director? You get real fucking art. Danny Boyle took a stab at the zombie genre (although, this is technically a rage-inducing virus that infects still living people, not a plague of the undead) and brings something both terrifying and realistic.
- An American Werewolf in London – Rick Baker, man. A true master in special effects and makeup. Technically he’s already on this list for his work on The Ring, but perhaps his most iconic work is done here when Kessler transforms into a Werewolf. At this point it doesn’t scare me, but rather I find the transformation mesmerizing. Side note: Rick Baker stuck again with werewolf brilliance in 2010’s The Wolfman. I think he also won an Oscar for his work on that.
- The Fly (1986) – Speaking of creature designs… Cronenberg. There are a lot of horror film remakes out there, but this one truly stands out from its predecessor. Goldblum’s slow transformation into a human fly is a thing from our nightmares. At the same time, we weep for such a terrifying creature’s utter demise. Great flick. Too bad its sequel couldn’t even come close to living up to its prestige, being one of the worst horror films ever made.
- The Cabin in the Woods – It’s hard to find a horror movie with a more satisfying third act. This movie straddles the line between being legitimately scary and absolutely funny. At the end, I found it funny. Morbid, but funny. Totally stood up and applauded it when I first saw it in theaters.
- Young Frankenstein – Mel mother-fucking Brooks. What can I say, Brooks’ humor is beloved. And Gene Wilder (RIP) is an utter gem. I still laugh to this day at “putting on the Ritz.” Who says horror can’t be filled with humor?
- The Thing (1982) – How do you stop an enemy who can impersonate anyone? There’s been a few different films that have explored this same dilemma (one that comes to mind is Robert Rodriguez’s The Faculty), but this is undoubtable the champion of all those stories. It’s also has some of the greatest special effects to hit the screen and one of the bleakest endings amongst my top twenty-five horror films.
- Jaws – This is likely number one on most horror lists around the internet for good reason. Not only because it is a cinematic classic, or because it established what it was to be a “summer blockbuster,” but because of its huge impact it had on the real world. The fear Jaws instilled in beachgoers scared everyone away from the shorelines the summer it came out. Do you think a film could ever have that power again? Hard to question the value of something that’s left that big of an impression on the world. That said, I never found that film all that scary. Like, at all. (Well, there’s one jump scare that got me where Richard Dreyfuss finds a dead body underwater, but that’s it.) However, I do respect Jaws as one of the greatest stories ever told on film.
- Poltergeist (1982) – Two Spielberg films?! Yup, and back-to-back nonetheless. I love Poltergeist. It’s such a fun imaginative movie that starts out all delightful when residents of a house discover they have some sort of specters living with them that like to move shit around. Then the gloves come off and we see how evil these spirits are. And how scary little toy clowns can be. I’ll never be able to look at static on TV the same way again.
- Oculus – This movie is about a ghost that lives in a mirror and fucks with your head. Don’t get me wrong, the movie is scary. But what’s perhaps the most unsettling thing about this film is its editing. The story has two narratives that start with clear walls established to separate them, but by the end, the narratives blend together, blurring what’s real and what’s not. While the characters struggle to make sense of their world, you’ll start questioning your own.
- Shaun of the Dead – What can I say… I love Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg, and Nick Frost. The Cornetto Trilogy is one of my favorite things on film. Aside from The Evil Dead, this might be the next most-watched film on my top-25 list. It’s a perfect parody on the way overdone zombie franchise. I’ve never felt more alive watching the undead than with this movie.
- A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors – When you think horror, how can you not think of Freddy Krueger? He could basically be horror’s one and only mascot—and that’s saying something considering the massive line of villains this genre has embraced over the years. While I will always respect the original film, the second sequel here is my absolute favorite of the series. Written by Frank Darabont (The Shawshank Redemption and The Walking Dead), this film continues Nancy’s story from the first movie. All grown up and now a licensed therapist, Nancy treats a group of children in a psychiatric institute who begin suffering from nightmares of Freddy. It’s a wildly imaginative story—an attribute a film would need if it challenged its characters to visit Freddy’s nightmares instead of their own.
- Saw – The sequels could never live up to the fear and mystery the first film of the Saw franchise put forward. The Jigsaw killer is one of my favorite horror villains, because—weirdly enough—the guy isn’t all that evil. Sure he traps his “victims” in horrible circumstances, but it’s in effort to save them from themselves. Makes you question your own morals and if you’re truly living a good life. Also, I did not see that twist ending coming.
- Braindead – Let’s be perfectly honest; horror movies are most often labeled as “dumb” movies. While I fail to see that any of the above titles on my list actually fit that description, this one is totally a dumb-ass movie. And that’s why I love it. What I would consider a close cousin to the Evil Dead films (in terms of horror blended with slapstick humor), this film could only come from the visionary mind of Peter Jackson. This film has it all… a zombie-rat, zombies that fuck and produce a zombie-baby, a giant-zombie-mother… Oh, who knew that zombies could be so hilarious. Plus, this movie teaches you the sheer destructive power a lawnmower can have when you strap it to the front of your chest.
- The Blair Witch Project – This movie scared the bejesus out of me as a child. Really, the first of its kind bringing to life the “found-footage” film. This “documentary” of the Blair Witch felt like it was real at the time. As a kid, I totally bought the fact that three kids died while walking through the woods on the hunt for this witch. And this was right around the time I would be starting with the Boy Scouts, so… fuck me was that a poor move on my part.
This has been Rank & File, the list-blending feature that turns individual opinion-fruits into a delicious collaborative take-smoothie.