Mark Z's Top 10 Horror Films Of All Time

Here’s a list of ten films, some obviously horror, others more subversive, that I consider my personal favorites – divorced from critical opinion in some cases, but more than often predictable.

Matt here... Last year I asked all of the WhatCulture! (then Obsessed With Film) writers to come up with their own Top 10 favourite horror film lists as part of our 31 Days of Horror celebration to the genre but for some reason our New York based writer Mark Zhuravsky's got lost in the fold. I was reminded this past week that we never did publish Mark's and so here it is for your reading pleasure today, a particularly eclectic and intriguing list. Also be sure to check our other authors lists at the end of this post.
I am not loath to say horror is not my choice genre €“ that honor goes to crime dramas, occasionally to my chagrin. That said, I love a good chiller as much as any other goodfella. Here€™s a list of ten films, some obviously horror, others more subversive, that I consider my personal favorites €“ divorced from critical opinion in some cases, but more than often predictable.

Dead Birds (2004)

What is Dead Birds? A trip to IMDB won€™t clue you in on the scope of this film. Director Alex Turner€™s post-Civil War horror film shows its low-budget roots very early on €“ but don€™t let that dissuade you. After a robbery gone bloody, a band of criminals retires to a former plantation to wait out the authorities. From that point on, Dead Birds uses a disquieting location to maximum effect in telling a tale of torture, hate and good ol€™ demonic possession. What makes Dead Birds so damn effective is the unhurried pacing and the work of a cast that plants their feet surely in the material, dedicating emotionally affecting work. Steve Yedlin€™s (May, Brick, and the vibrant Brothers Bloom) cinematography is another star of the film, bringing the aging plantation house to disturbing life €“ try to watching the crew pacing along a auburn highway lit only by candlelight and not think, hmm, something is seriously creepy about this house.

The Blair Witch Project (1999)

I see no point in adding any more personal accolades in the defense of this landmark film. It€™s that good, by chance or by structure, it works and it disturbs you. For those that argue Paranormal Activity is only formula, you might be right, but you can only catch lightning in a bottle once and this was it. Also, the ending is possibly the most memorable shot I have ever seen in my short life €“ its not pretty, it doesn€™t wrap up a thing but the amount of discussion and pure dread it inspires in the moment and long after puts it, and the film, at the top of the heap.

The Shining (1980)

Kubrick, Shining, Nicholson, Duvall, moving on. But honestly, what else can be said? Do you want me to talk about the perfect framing, the immaculately unhinged Jack Nicholson performance or Shelley Duvall€™s grating but sympathetic soon-to-be-battered wife? Or maybe the score? The editing? Scatman Crothers? Or perhaps you€™d like to read about the final frame, which suggests a whole €˜nother dimension of terror. The Shining is€well, The Shining. See it!

Hausu (1977)

Criterion Collection released Nobuhiko Obayashi€™s 1977 magnum opus freak out last year on Blu-ray and you should seriously go and buy it immediately. Hausu or the more quant €œHouse€ is the strangest film I€™ve seen made within perfectly normal parameters. There€™s nothing unusual about a group of schoolgirl friends going to see the lead female Gorgeous€™ aunt at the titular house. But when the piano gobbles up one of the girls while squiggles dance around on screen and the recently diseased piano food girl€™s head pops up on screen and comments on the visibility of her panties€well, maybe something is just a bit off kilter. Hausu is an operatic freakout, a hallucinatory trip into the unknown, the silly and the very, very strange. Obayashi€™s straight up weird sensibilities blur the reality of almost every scene in the film and the production design and acting only heighten the idea that you€™re watching something alien. To say any more would be to spoil a definite guilty pleasure €“ in its glee, Hausu taps into those inexplicable terrors that we voice only in dreams.

The Thing (1982)

John Carpenter remade the 1951 original with enough vigor and visual to fill several films. What everyone remembers about this one is the monster work, which is undeniably unforgettable €“ Rob Bottin and Stan Winston€™s exemplary work is one reason this film continues to captivate decades down the road. Carpenter hits the horror sweet spot with this baby €“ an isolated location, a gruff action-ready cast and a hidden terror that tears the group apart and slowly escalates the stakes until the men are ready to incinerate their comrades in search of the thing. The appearances made by The Thing are among the most unsettling scenes in cinema and for good reason €“ the way it transforms the bodies of men (and the occasional dog) just like us is grotesque, bending limbs and sprouting spidery legs from disembodies heads. Carpenter and crew know it and milk it for all its worth €“ for sheer body contortion horror, The Thing is hard to top.

28 Days Later (2001)

Danny Boyle is one of my favorite directors and probably the most accolade-endowed English director working today €“ he is beloved by fans of the various genres he€™s touched on in more than 15 years of work and now by the American Academy, which honored him for Slumdog Millionaire. In 28 Days Later, Boyle imagines something stale €“ a zombie outbreak. Sigh, we€™ve all seen where this is going €“ except we haven€™t. Boyle€™s artistry is to blame for the success and engagement of 28 Days Later €“ his use of grainy digital video, the decision to make the zombies jogging predators instead of lumbering pieces of dead flesh €“ and Cillian Murphy as the so, so unfortunate Jim, awaking from a coma to witness a London post-infection, devoid of life, with a few survivors scrambling by to make a living in the land of the dead. Murphy€™s work makes us genuinely care for Jim€™s constantly lowered odds of survival while a cast that includes Naomie Harris and Brendan Gleeson elevates the genres standard rag tag group to a new emotional high. 28 Days Later is a surrogate family drama that happens to have zombies in it €“ a record of man€™s inhumanity to man, dead or alive.

Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)

Tobe Hooper never topped himself after riding high out of the gate with this sickening film, full of heat and dread, young bodies and bones on display. The artifice of Leatherface is borne of this film and his intimate pursuit of victim after victim, chainsaw in hand, is absurd and personally unforgettable. The inimitable climate of the American South almost leaps off the screen and the chase between Sally (Marilyn Burns) and Leatherface (Gunnar Hansen) is not only scary but just plain exhausting, hindered by tree branches and unsteady ground. Without Leatherface, this film would be nothing short of snuff, but with this near-mythical creature in tow, Hooper creates a horror monolith, a thing without a past that ekes out a future by blood and bone.

Irreversible (2002)

Enter The Void may be his most ambitious film but Irreversible will forever be Gaspar Noé clain to cinematic immortality. Far from a classic film, this is a triumph in form and content, or rather an emotionally battering experience that threatens to never leave you. With a prowling camera that goes just about anywhere, Noé begins his story at the end, which opens at a cavernous homosexual nightclub and punctuates with a bracing act of violence. He then takes us back and back again, showing how Marcus (Vincent Cassel) and Pierre (Albert Dupontel) and most importantly Alex (Monica Bellucci) ended up in their respective states. It is an old concept but the descent into violence that Noé orchestrates builds to unfathomably tragic proportions as we move from the darkest event of the character€™s lives to happier, more carefree days. Controversial but rarely deemed trashy, Irreversible is akin to seeing a future and knowing you can€™t avoid it, to recall the blessed times before an upcoming, unavoidable evil.

Psycho (1960)

If I had seen the shower scene alone without ever viewing Hitchcock€™s reverential thriller, I would be convinced of its greatness as a standalone moment in cinematic history.

Silence of the Lambs (1991)

Writing is not easy and eventually, fatigue sets in. Especially when writing a list like this, you can also use so many superlatives and exclamations to express unbound joy at the fact that these films exist and you were around to see them. So, to finish, I will say that Silence of the Lambs is possibly the most outright intellectual horror film on this list and one where the implications of violence are far more disturbing than the violence eventually shown. That€™s not to say Anthony Hopkins doesn€™t impress as Lecter and Jodie Foster€™s Clarice Starling is hard to top as a protagonist who wins our sympathies and makes it almost unbearable to watch her squirm. Lambs moves assuredly through bleak territory and deserves high aplomb for bring highbrow sensibilities to a base story of murder and cannibalism. Previously; Adam Rayner€™s Top 10 Horror Movies of All Time€˜Rob Beames on Horror€™: An alternative list from a non-scary movie fan!Dan Lewis€™ Top 10 Horror Movies!Tom Fallows€™ Top Ten Halloween Horrors!John Nugent€™s Top 10 Horror-ComediesStuart Cummins€™ Top Ten Horror Movies!
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The best of the five boroughs is now represented. Brooklyn in the house! I'm a hardworking film writer, blogger, and co-host of "It's No Timecop" podcast! Find me on Tumblr at Our Elaborate Plans...