Jeff asked me to do a Top Ten Horror Movies of All-Time list – a monumentally challenging task for a genre geek if there ever was one – and now I have.  I wanted to make a list that honored my tastes, that reflected my vision, and played a good balance between the canonical and more unexpected. There are classics I find overrated (The Exorcist) and classics I sadly *still* haven’t seen (Rosemary’s Baby, Frankenstein), so if you don’t see a movie make the top ten, there are myriad reasons why. And ultimately I had to go with what my heart chose — whether it’s a film I always come back to or a one-off that’s haunted me– rather than what has been deemed the ten most important horror films. So here it is my own personal Top Ten Greatest Horror Movies list:


1. The Thing

I have already expounded at great length on my love for John Carpenter’s evil extraterrestrial remake in our 1982:The Greatest Year series (you can read my article here). It still holds up 30 years later as a tense, frightening exercise in paranoid claustrophobic horror.


2. Scream

Is it the best slasher film, let alone among the best horror films? Maybe, maybe not, but I am of the firm belief that the horror films you see around age 12 or 13 help shape your love of the genre and stick with you forever. For me Scream came at that pubescent sweet spot that Friday the 13th served a generation prior. And The witty meta on the dead teen genre has held up in the years since. It may not really be the best, but call it my sentimental favorite.


3. Jaws

Steven Spielberg’s relentlessly, remorselessly scary underwater nature attacks thriller spawned decades of bad shark movies. None could come close to matching the power of this. Most horror movies work best when they’re “small”; Spielberg may be one of the few directors who can go “big” and still terrify.


4. Poltergeist

Another Spielberg film, juiced with visceral dark comedy of Tobe Hooper. Forget the controversy- its an odd marriage of talents that works, balancing suburban awe with gutpunch terror. One of the first horror films I’ve ever watched and still a favorite.


5. Halloween

Ditto Carpenter’s slasher classic. Scream wouldn’t exist without it and Michael Myers is one of the most terrifying implacable killers. Carpenter acutely understands just how important suspense is to this subgenre; it’s surprising how many slasher films forgot.


6. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre

Sweaty, dirty, relentless, unmerciful, hot… Hooper’s breakthrough film (one he’d have trouble living up to) is an onslaught of abbatoir based horror and far less gory than people think- it’s so full throttle intense that it must be a beacon of bloodshed right?


7. Vampyr

Forget Lugosi. My favorite horror film of the classic 30s era isn’t a Universal picture but this strange, hypnotic, surreal art horror from the legendary Carl Theodor Dyer. Dreamy and utterly spellbinding.


8. Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer


To the marrow disturbing, pulling us deep into the skin of a sociopathic, remorseless blue collar serial killer named Henry, played with a career-creating mix of empathy an fearsomeness by Michael Rooker. Chilling.


9. Night of the Living Dead

Romero’s classic created zombies as we know ’em. ‘Nuff said.


10. The Evil Dead

Whereas later entries went more for gore soaked slapstick, Raimi’s low budget debut feature cannily balanced absurd humor and intestine rattling terror.

Jesus has that been ten already? And no room for Alien, Carnival of Souls, Cannibal Holocaust (I can’t condone the animal killing, but no other film has left me so emotionally wiped for so long afterwards- a mark of an effective horror flick), Psycho, Suspiria, or Inferno, Final Destination (hey sometimes you just want to have fun with a movie), Night of the Hunter, God Told Me To, A Nightmare on Elm Street, Hellraiser, Don’t Look Now, The Fly, Re-Animator or Peeping Tom? Eh, ask me next year — for 2012 this is the list my gut is going with.


About Author

Johnny Donaldson

Johnny Donaldson is an actor, writer, foodie, and raconteur who’s been immersed in the geek world since childhood, especially when The X-Files changed his life. (Fox Mulder is his Han Solo.) A published film critic (his college-era movie reviews can be found in the archives of and a film producer with two films under his belt, Johnny likes kitty cats, coffee, the color purple (not the movie, the literal color purple), dark microbrews and good horror/scifi/fantasy and superhero movies. And occasionally long walks on the beach, when it’s not too hot.