A few weeks ago on Twitter I asked you guys what “Top 10” list you’d want to see on here, and the vast majority of you voted for horror. So that’s what I’m about to do.
I know a lot of you can’t understand what draws me towards horror films and the genre does get a bad name due to it recycling the same stories and throwing out a stupid number of sequels. Not to mention, the content itself can be nauseating. But, horror isn’t always about gore and jumpscares, sometimes there is an interesting plot. Of course you’re never going to see a horror film that’s all sunshine and rainbows, but in my opinion the best horror films don’t simply rely on jumpscares every two seconds because it’s a cheap tactic. My list features a variety of films from different eras, and my attempts to convince you to give them a watch. If you happen to watch any of them, do let me know on Twitter or in the comments below! I love hearing your thoughts.
Before I begin I should mention that a few of my all time favourite horrors appear in My Favourite Films so I’ve already discussed them. You can read about those here. The below list is in no particular order because I couldn’t possibly choose, they’re all good, go watch them! As ever my notes are spoiler-free too.
1. The Conjuring (2013)
Directed by James Wan, Rated 15.
This film follows real life paranormal investigators, Ed and Lorraine Warren as they’re hired to help a family who believe they’re being haunted by a malicious spirit. That summary makes it sound like a generic horror film about some ghost, but trust me, it’s better than that. I absolutely love this film and can recall jumping out of my skin at one point when I went to see it at the cinema; it’s a film filled with lots of tense moments and anticipation, and the story of the Warrens is fascinating. I love James Wan as a director and this film is certainly one of his best after Saw.
2. 1408 (2007)
Directed by Mikael Håfström, Rated 15,
This film is based on a lesser known Stephen King short story by the same name. Håfström’s screen adaptation is brilliantly done and features one of my favourite John Cusack performances. He plays a writer who travels to supposedly haunted locations and documents his experiences. So far he’s found little of interest, until he visits the Dolphin Hotel and stays in room number 1408. It’s an emotional rollercoaster with lots of scares – a must watch for fans of ghost stories and Stephen King.
3. The Descent (2005)
Directed by Neil Marshall, Rated 18
As someone who’s claustrophobic and despises any closed space, this film is absolutely terrifying. It follows the story of recently widowed Sarah, who goes on holiday with friends to try and bounce back after losing her husband and daughter in a tragic accident. It goes without saying that it goes horribly wrong and the group find themselves trapped in a cave. If that isn’t bad enough, they soon find out they’re not alone in the cave. The film constantly keeps you on edge as you follow the characters, as clueless as they are about how they’re going to escape and what lurks in the darkness.
4. Scream (1996)
Directed by Wes Craven, Rated 18
This one is an absolute classic and if you haven’t seen it, I recommend you do. It’s a very clever film that is self-aware and mocks the horror genre throughout the story. Protagonist Sidney Prescott and her friends begin receiving anonymous phone calls from a serial killer who tests them on their horror film knowledge. If they don’t answer correctly, they die. Scream is very 90’s and provides excellent social commentary, particularly surrounding high school students and American culture. It’s hard to sell it to you without giving too much away, but it’s definitely worth the watch.
5. Carrie (1976)
Directed by Brian DePalma, Rated 18
This is the film adaptation of Stephen King’s first published book. The titular character Carrie is a repressed 16 year old girl who lives with her Christian fundamentalist mother. She faces physical and mental abuse at home, and is bullied relentlessly at school. But she soon discovers she has telekinetic abilities and it’s only a matter of time before she snaps, and the resulting chaos that ensues is one of my favourite pieces of cinema. DePalma did a great job of bringing Carrie to life on screen, and making the viewers feel sorry for her, even when she does the unthinkable.
6. Halloween (1978)
Directed by John Carpenter, Rated 18
In my opinion, this is the best slasher film to date. In fact if you haven’t heard of this film or Michael Myers, you’ve probably been living under a rock. Fifteen years after killing his own sister, he escapes from a mental institution and returns to his hometown. It’s become a popular film amongst film scholars, especially when dealing with the Final Girl Theory. The opening sequence is one of my absolute favourites, even though I’ve analysed it to death in essays.
7. Poltergeist (1982)
Directed by Tobe Hooper, Rated 15
This film is a must see for fans of the genre, and it’s one of my favourite “haunted house” films of all time. The story focuses on a suburban family who find out their home is haunted, as the ghosts have taken their youngest daughter. It features lots of intense, graphic scenes with special effects that were pretty damn good for the 80’s. You may have seen one of them already, as this was a commercial success and was the eighth highest grossing film the year it was released.
8. The Orphanage (2007)
Directed by J.A. Bayona, Rated 15
Also known as El Orfanato, this is a Spanish language film about a woman who returns to her childhood home with her family. It used to be an orphanage and she wants to turn it into a facility for disabled children. During her time there, her son claims he’s made friends with another boy, despite the fact the orphanage has long been closed. It’s a ghost story that is brilliantly done and doesn’t rely on constant jump scares, as it favours suspense instead.
9. The Cabin in the Woods (2012)
Directed by Drew Goddard, Rated 15
Like Scream, this film satirises the horror genre and makes fun of the tropes we associate with it. I love films that are clever enough to parody the genre without being over the top and cheesy (yeah Scary Movie, I’m looking at you), and this film is no exception. The special effects and makeup are insanely good, and the characters embody everything we already know about the genre, which makes it familiar. It’s hard to say much about this one without spoiling it, but the less you know about it before going in, the better.
10. American Mary (2012)
Directed by the Soska Sisters, Rated 18
This film is incredibly unique in many ways. Not only is it directed by two females, the vast majority of the main cast are female too. The story centres around medical student Mary, who turns to the world of body modification to help her pay the bills. The characters in this film are unlike any you’ve seen before, and it’s truly one of a kind. I absolutely loved the soundtrack, the story and the overall aesthetic of the film.