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31 Greatest Ever Horror Films

19 min read

It's that time of the year again folks. The spooky season is upon us and to help all the lovers and borderline masochists on their path to the big day, the team at Filmhounds have constructed their definitive 31 Days of Halloween list. We have you covered for each day of October leading up to Halloween, with some of the very, very best from the genre. You might be thinking where is Halloween the movie on this list, and please refer to our Halloween ranked section for the best and worst from that iconic franchise.

From nearly 200 entries, we have painstakingly narrowed down the list to produce a harrowing ensemble of horror epics. Spanning almost 60 years, our list comprises blockbusters and indies, creature features and monster flicks, slashers and haunted hotels, and includes various psychological thrillers from recent years. The great thing about fans of the genre is that you already like to be pushed outside of your comfort zone, so please allow us to push you that little bit further with some of the following top choices.

Our list is an ode to the origins of fictional terror, from Georges Méliès' 1896 short The Devil's Castle to Nosferatu and the era of German Expressionism, the ancestors of horror are respected, reflected and replicated throughout aspects of all the following movies. Whether a first-time viewing or a re-watching of a personal staple, let us take the pressure off your shoulders in the build-up to everyone's favourite holiday. Sit back, do anything but relax, let your blood curdle, your spine tingle and remember – Be afraid, be very afraid! Dave Manson

This list first appeared in the print edition of Filmhounds Magazine #8 – available here

01. A Nightmare on Elm Street

It's easy now to laugh at the way the Freddy Kreuger franchise ran itself into the ground with cheesy visual effects and diminishing sequels, but Wes Craven's original surrealist horror remains potent today. A story of lies, sins and repressed trauma, all underscored by Charles Bernstein's haunting synth soundtrack mixes good old fashion slashing with reality warping plastic-reality effects. Robert Englund's original turn as Kreuger remains a haunting, imposing figure, attacking teenagers in their underwear when they fall asleep, forcing their nightmares to come alive. What Craven's film does best though is to not dwell on the crimes that Kreuger committed – molesting and killing children – but instead on the paranoia that the adults are the reason this horror is coming for the kids. Their lies, and their blood lust is the reason Heather Langenkamp and her friends are told “don't fall asleep”. The biggest fear is a basic one… how do we stay awake? PK


02. 28 Days Later

Danny Boyle's British riff on the zombie sub-genre (though these are infected and not undead), with a script provided by Alex Garland, not only made a searing comment on the post-9/11 anxiety many Britons had, but also brought British horror into the 21st century with gory aplomb. Following Cillian Murphy as he attempts to survive hordes of infected along with a group of survivors is tense from scary start to scar finish, only punctuated by Boyle's refusal to give easy answers or indeed let anyone off the hook with a good fight.


3. A Quiet Place

John Krasinski's directorial debut truly took suspense to a new level in the incredibly tense and emotionally moving post-apocalyptic horror flick. In an eerily quiet future where shadowy monsters hunt humans using their sensitivity to sound, Krasinski expertly taps into one of our most primal fears for a truly unique and gripping experience. What truly sets A Quiet Place apart though is the poignant tale of a loving family enduring at the heart of the film, along with the predominant use of sign language in a Hollywood blockbuster, which defies genre tradition for a predominantly visual type of storytelling. KA


4.  Hereditary

Ari Aster's cutting portrait of grief after a tragedy gave us our first glimpse into his twisted mind. Unseen forces target the Graham family, putting events in motion that tear them apart from the ground up. There's severed heads, spontaneous combustion, cultish behaviour, and inherited trauma spread large across the dinner table. Toni Collette's matriarch attempts to control her world, much like she does the figures in the miniatures she makes, but certain family friends have other ideas. Hereditary turns traditional horror tropes on their heads, as older women hold all the power, and men are putty in their hands.  EB


5. IT (2017)

Kickstarting a new generation of Stephen King adaptations, It: Chapter 1 takes a different approach to the novel and the previous 1980 TV adaptation. Simply telling the story of the children that ‘It' torments, rather than weaving the historical and modern. An ancient shapeshifting creature is tormenting the children of Derry. The Losers Club decides to investigate the spate of deaths, including one of their younger siblings, Georgie. Despite being a group of eccentric outsiders, they manage to work together and fight Bill Skarsgård's monster. Sending him into hibernation just long enough for them to grow up ready for Chapter 2. EB


6. It Follows

A horror movie that works as a metaphor for the dangers of sex and is essentially one big allegory for STIs? Maybe not the best movie to watch with a date but it is a truly fantastic and underrated horror that deserves to be seen by all fans of the genre. Taking the long-standing trope of horror that sex equals death, David Robert Mitchell's It Follows takes tropes of the genre and turns them upside down, bringing something truly unique to the genre while paying tribute to master of horror . Well directed, scary, unique and all with a killer soundtrack from Disasterpeace, It Follows is not a Horror to be missed this Halloween. MC


7. Jaws

Jaws is a film of many achievements; it kickstarted the career of Steven Spielberg, it was the first summer blockbuster, and for many, their first horror film. Who could forget the first time they jumped out of their skin at the appearance of Ben Gardner's decapitated head emerging suddenly from within his ship? The scariest moment though will always be Robert Shaw's monologue as Quint, and his memories of the sinking of the USS Indianapolis. The initial disaster was only the beginning of their nightmare, as the floating crew was slowly picked off by circling, invisible sharks.

8. Midsommar

Hereditary put Ari Aster on the map as an up-and-coming indie director. It was Midsommar that solidified his status as  an Auteur. Using influences from Scandinavian traditions, Aster crafted a weird, unsettling and ultimately terrifying culture that begs to be explored in his unusually long horror epic. The film should rightfully be commended for being one of very few horrors to be set completely during daylight and be frankly much scarier than a lot of the genre's other films set completely at night. With an award worthy performance from the then relatively unknown Florence Pugh and stunning visuals, Midsommar truly is a unique specimen of horror. FD


9. Night of the Living Dead (1968)

George A. Romero's first project is a seminal and ground-breaking scarefest which redefined the genre. On a shoestring budget and filmed in rural Pittsburgh, the simplicity associated with the initial concept quickly evolves to provide unmatched depth, with an astute social commentary and a re-writing of the horror rule book. By casting the first black man (Duane Jones) in a leading horror role in late 60s America, as it tears itself apart as shown in a microcosm, the allegorical subtly soon fades. However, it will always be remembered as the film which starts by inducing gasps and screams, and ends with self-reflective muted silence. DM


10. Psycho

The Master of Suspense created a horror film for the ages through one iconic scene and a score that will forever put the fear of controlling, knife wielding ‘mothers' in you. Adapted from the novel by Robert Bloch, Hitchcock moulded the story into his image, prompting this at the time controversial film to be re-evaluated when audiences couldn't get enough of those violent string noises. By genre twisting the story, Hitchcock lulled his audience into making us believe we're watching a crime drama, only to reveal that this is actually Norman Bates' world, and we're all just waiting to be killed in it. Spawning three sequels of varying quality (none of which Hitchcock directed), a prequel TV show and countless references throughout film and TV, Mrs Bates in the basement, along with the iconic Bates Motel, are images that will remain burned into our memories. KH


11. Saint Maud

Horror films focusing on religion can sometimes drift into each other and enter the supernatural realm, but Saint Maud instead has a continuous feeling of unease and impending doom. There are quite a few shocking images throughout the film but not visions of terror. Maud calmly putting drawing pins into her shoes so she pays penance for actions is nothing short of visceral. Her other acts of violence against herself are far more sinister than anything she inflicts on others. From humble pious beginnings, the ending to this film will always surprise you. The shocking image of Maud standing on the beach will stay with you long after the credits have ended. KH


12. Saw

Mixing squirm inducing gore with a slow ratcheting of tension marked James Wan's debut as one of the biggest talking points of that year. Saw might be remembered now for its endless stream of sequels that put gore before all else – though wisely utilised Tobin Bell as villain Jigsaw – but the film is actually a slow build. Watching two people – Cary Elwes and screenwriter Leigh Whannell – sit in a disused bathroom, chained to the wall, trying to work out why they're there is nerve shreddingly tense. The extended flashbacks that underline the motive of horror's newest big bad only adds to the mounting dread, then Wan goes for broke to great effect. Disgusting audiences before dropping one of the great movie endings. PK


13. Alien

In a post-Vietnam America looking for cosmic escapism, Alien hijacks the popularity of Star Wars and Close Encounters of the Third Kind but subverts all expectation, leaving even the most ardent theoretical space explorer second guessing themselves. Ridley Scott's survival horror is the substance of nightmares, with claustrophobia, dark corners and background movement all amped up to unnerve and unsettle viewers. It created the blueprint for future iterations of the sub-genre; from The Thing all the way to Sunshine, Scott's influential DNA is spliced throughout all space horrors from the last 40+ years.

Sigourney Weaver's Ellen Ripley plays the lead protagonist as part of an interstellar crew who are awoken from stasis on their return journey to Earth by a distress signal from a nearby moon. The rescue mission turns out be far more than they bargained for, as they pick up a murderous alien species who picks off the crew members one at a time. The realities of deep space set in, and the tension builds to an almighty climax as the crew's chances for survival deteriorate with every passing minute.

The minimalist but futuristic internal environment of the crew's starship, the Nostromo, is juxtaposed against the titanic exterior and expansive scope. The elite ensemble cast, headed by Weaver and the late John

Hurt, whose chest-bursting death ranks an all-time first in innovation, transcends an already brilliant narrative. Each cast member became a bona fide star in their own right, so witnessing them picked off like cattle is all the more disconcerting.

What truly makes Alien an iconic horror film is that the titular monster, also called a Xenomorph, is completely unhindered by morality or humanity. It has one clear objective: to find and to kill. It could easily be derided as a spoof monster, with a one-metre-long head, two mouths and acid blood. However, the final product is a scintillating masterpiece which has earned the right to appear in children's nightmares.

Despite spawning multiple sequels, video games and spin-offs, all of which become less subtle and more action-packed with each instalment, none compare in spectacle to the original. While the death toll increases exponentially in the sequels, the suspense and sheer terror inspired by Alien establishes it as the Mother of all monster movies. The vast and all-encompassing vacuum of space is the last place you want to be fighting for your life, and as the slogan aptly goes – ‘In space no one can hear you scream'. DM



The daddy of all religious horror films, The Exorcist takes a long look at the challenges of faith through all stages of life. The devil arrives to torment and test a young teen, a single mother, a bereaved son, and a man close to death. Each must overcome the obstacles they face, and rediscover their faith, to defeat the devil. William Friedkin's famously demanding direction draws incredible performances from his cast. Both Linda Blair and Ellen Burstyn faced serious injury from the rigorous physical expectations on them. The resulting film is as famous for the myths surrounding it as it is for its prowess as a masterpiece of horror. After protests from Christian groups affected the number of cinemas showing it, The Exorcist was withdrawn from home release in the UK between 1988 and 1999, with the BBFC refusing to provide certification. These attacks on the film overlook the mastery in its production and contributed to it becoming a cult classic. EB


15. Scream

Following the shock demise of star Drew Barrymore's Casey Becker, Wes Craven entertainingly pokes fun at and challenges the limitations and ‘rules' of the horror genre with such self-aware glee, breathing new life into a genre which frankly sorely needed it. Scream expertly deconstructed the classic horror formula – with Randy often referencing “the rules”- while also pushing against the stereotypical and outdate female archetypes, as Neve Campbell's brilliant Sidney Prescott joined the ranks of top “Final Girls”. It never took itself too seriously, wholly embraced the 90s and featured a fantastic twist – Scream really is one of the all-time best slashers. NA


16. Shaun of the Dead

This quintessentially British zom-rom-com proved to be director Edgar Wright's breakout movie, kicking off the beloved Three Flavour Cornetto Trilogy with regular collaborators Simon Pegg and Nick Frost. Developed initially from an idea Wright penned with Pegg in television series Spaced, the zombie flick received both critical and fan acclaim thanks to the refreshingly hilarious take on the genre, while still affectionally paying homage to the classics. This cult comedy is certainly still one of the best zombie flicks and definitely a favourite at Halloween – with the iconic fight sequence, set to Queen's “Don't Stop Me Now” in The Winchester, never failing to evoke a grin! NA


17. The Silence of the Lambs

The Silence of the Lambs was Anthony Hopkin's first foray as Hannibal Lector and the film that won both he and Jodie Foster Oscars. Foster's Clarice Starling is drafted from the FBI academy to interview Lector and gain insight on a fellow serial killer dubbed Buffalo Bill. Starling develops a rapport with Lector. There's a complicated sort of trust between them that both help her solve the case and gives him the tools to escape prison. Delicately balanced between horror, thriller, and procedural, Silence of the Lambs triggered a wave of serial-killer-based thrillers through the 90s, ultimately defining the decade in film. EB


18. Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)

From John Larroquette's fantastic opening narration of this 1974 classic you know what you are in for. Giving the film a true crime feel, solidified by the movie's basis on the crimes of Ed Gein, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is gritty from the get go. From in detail dialogue about the butchering of cows, a villain who wears a mask made of human skin, Leatherface's brutal killings of his victims (cracking Kirk with a Mallet is a particularly gruesome scene) and Grandpa Sawyer sucking on Sally's fingers, it only gets grittier as the film goes on. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is a must see for horror buffs and fans of the most disturbing pictures out there. MC


19. The Shining

Not wanting us to feel safe and comfortable, director Stanley Kubrick doesn't miss the opportunity to create an uncomfortable atmosphere. The aerial shot of the car on the winding roads with that ominous soundtrack illustrates without even saying a word that this is going to be an unpleasant trip. Hotels are already filled with terrifying possibilities, but making it empty and remote just makes this a spine-chilling experience and that's without even getting to the supernatural elements of the story. As a ghost tale, there is an enticing backstory that piques our interest as soon as it's mentioned in the film. Throughout we are given snippets of what occurred before the Torrance family arrived and the horrors that possibly await them inside. The ghosts of the hotel vary from ominous to appearing as regular people, making everything about this story even more sinister.

The film relays rather than explores the theme of isolation as the Torrance family are literally left to their own devices after they become snowed in. Cut off with only a radio as a lifeline, the horror starts to take shape. With no means of escape the ghosts of the hotel converge, trying to possess Danny and failing, therefore going for the weaker target, Jack. The isolation experienced isn't just the location, Wendy is isolated as Jack slowly slips from reality, leaving her wonder what the hell is happening. Danny is isolated

being the only child but also for having the terrible gift to see the horrors around them, completely scarring him for life. Isolation is part of the horror contained in The Shining and within The Overlook Hotel itself.

Although Stephen King hated the adaptation, as the film does indeed differ from the book, his storytelling married up with Kubrick's visionary filmmaking are a perfect match. While including familiar horror-esque tropes, The Shining stands out amongst its horror film peers for originality, earning cult status as well as being considered mainstream classic cinema. Aside from the ballroom scenes, the film is made up of terrifying images and intense scenes between very few characters. Against the eerie empty hotel and the feeling of something evil controlling it, the few players seen on screen creates a heightened sense of terror, showing that real horror can be simply captured and doesn't need to go to ridiculous lengths to make a good atmospheric horror. KH


20. The Birds

The idyllic harbour town of Bodega Bay is set upon by angry birds in this Hitchcock classic. Based on the short story by Daphne Du Maurier we are taken through the steps of a disaster film, before finding ourselves trapped in the Brenner family farmhouse. Birds peck at the walls, pour in through the fireplace, and scratch their way through the roof to get at the people inside. The lack of music lends it an air of cold realism, and the open ending makes it a bleak and tragic observation of nature getting its own back. As influential as it is iconic. EB

21. The Devil's Backbone

Before his comic book outings, and Oscar glory, but after his unfortunate run-in with the Weinstein's, Guillermo del Toro crafted a ghost story for the ages. Set during the Spanish Civil War, this story of an orphanage haunted by a terrifying ghost child might seem like your basic bump-in-the-night setup. But, thanks to del Toro's affinity for haunting drama, and beautiful visuals, the film becomes so much more than its horror. The anxiety of war and the anxiety of being a child is mixed to create an atmosphere of unease, and fear, that builds to one of the great reveals in cinema. PK


22. The Evil Dead

One of the most famous cult movies of all time, The Evil Dead did what many of even the most famous horror flicks have not and stemmed multiple sequels, a TV show, comics, video games and even a frickin' musical. It was an instant hit and has remained just as beloved over the forty years since its release. The Evil Dead took many of the horror tropes of its time and spun them on their head, all the while creating even more tropes for the genre to use over the next forty years. Overall, The Evil Dead is an incredibly fun and bloody time. If you are yet to see it, where the hell have you been? MC


23. The Host

Many will know Bong Joon Ho for his Oscar award winning feature Parasite, but he started to truly make a name for himself as an auteur with the fantastically unique, The Host. This film combines the classic monster flick with the slightly too familiar pandemic sub-genre to make a truly original horror/sci-fi epic. Much like Parasite, The Host gives you characters you care about, a story with various twists and turns and a thrilling good time filled with terror and tears. There really is no other film like The Host and it needs to be seen to be believed. FD


24. The Invisible Man

Delivering the horror of an abusive ,manipulative relationship, escaping it and then having to deal with the truly horrific consequences of trying to survive it was something you wouldn't have expected from The Invisible Man. Inspired by the original novel by H.G Wells, this story updated the science fiction element to involve technology and amped up the psychological thriller aspects creating an ominous atmosphere throughout. Our fighter for survival and the truth behind the strange and disturbing events, Cecelia played by Elizabeth Moss, is put through more than the wringer, keeping the suspense throughout all the twists and turns. KH


25. The Wicker Man (1973)

The Wicker Man is not simply an absolute classic example of British Horror, it's also a hugely intriguing theological battle between two diametrically opposed religions. Sergeant Howie is a dedicated police inspector, but he's also a devout Christian. To save a missing girl he's been sent to this mysterious island to find, Howie must confront a long-standing rival of his beloved faith, Paganism. Many will always remember The Wicker Man for its bleak and horrifying ending. Though what makes The Wicker Man so special is its themes of belief and what people do for it, along with the legendary Christopher Lee of course. FD


26. The Lighthouse (2019)

The Lighthouse answered the question we've been asking for generations: “What on earth do a Mermaid's private parts actually look like?”. More importantly though, Robert Eggar's second feature is a master craft in style and atmosphere. You will never see another horror film like The Lighthouse (ignore the 2016 film with the same name and premise…). There's no evil slasher or carnivorous monster in this, it's just two men on their own going completely insane. It's a career highlight for both Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe, the former who's just starting to get the attention he deserves and the latter proving what we already knew about him. FD


27. The VVitch

Many writers and directors have tried and failed to craft a horror film set during the age of Witch Trials. It's an era that seems rife with opportunities for great stories, with a unique setting and some pretty cool costumes. Only Robert Eggers has ever managed to make something truly brilliant set during those dark and horrific times. The VVitch is the perfect combination of dark, unsettling horror along with surreal acting and a fantastic story. Anya Taylor Joy owes her career to this generation defining cult classic of a fright fest. Watching The VVitch is truly living deliciously. FD


28. The Thing (1982)

After a year when we've been forced to stay in our homes, John Carpenter's cult classic The Thing feels all the more relatable. Granted we didn't all have to stay in the middle of the Arctic with a Lovecraftian shape shifting monster, but the feelings of Isolation will most likely be shared by us all. Isolation and loneliness are very bad for the brain, we're social creatures at heart and when we can't leave a certain place, dark things can happen. The Thing is the bleakest example of that very thing happening. Yes, the moments where the titular monster turns into unimaginably terrifying shapes are horrible and blood churning, but the real horror of The Thing lies in what happens in the heads of all the characters. As crew members of the base slowly start to drop off, the team get ever more anxious and ever more hostile toward one another. It's hard to know who to trust and who to kill, or if anywhere in the base is completely safe. The Thing is an example of how to get horror perfect. Yeah ok, you've got a scary monster, but it's only as scary as your characters make it. Screaming and running can only take you so far. Having normal human beings taking blood samples to test who's an imposter and turning on each other is true fear. Though this film was beaten at the box office by ET: The Extra Terrestrial, it's done so much more for cinema as a whole than Steven Spielberg's overrated family adventure ever did. FD


29. Train to Busan

How do you make something scary even scarier? Put yourself into a small space with it of course! There are few places that you can realistically get stuck in a claustrophobic environment, but a speeding train during the prelude to zombified Armageddon is one of those very places. Korean and Japanese horror is often at the forefront of innovation for the genre and Train to Busan is no exception. It's one of the best Zombie films ever made, not just because of its tight and petrifying setting but for the genuine emotion and connection you feel for the main characters. FD


30.Get Out

Mixing his comedy chops with some savvy genre knowledge, Jordan  Peele emerged from the Academy Awards race as the new Wes Craven, mixing audience thrilling jumps with deep rooted political underpinning. But, a film that handles the liberals and their inherent prejudice, wrapped in a genre, with Posh Kenneth off Skins struck a chord with people. Thanks to smart casting – Peele throws in everyone's favourite white people from indie darlings to Girls' girls – and an eye to never forgetting that messages about race, politics and fear is all well and good so long as your horror film is horrific means that Get Out has stayed in the public consciousness much longer than most horror films would. PK


31. Us

A seaside holiday is rudely interrupted by dehumanised doppelgangers determined to kill and replace those they mirror. Jordan Peele's cunning observation of the class divide in the USA forces us to examine the cost of our consumption. Everything good in our lives has a cost and who is being forced to pay it? Each setting encourages reflection, with glass houses and halls of mirrors highlighting secrets and superficiality. Lupita Nyong'o takes steps to protect her family as best she can, but that involves facing her past, and seeing how deep the rabbit hole really goes. EB