Fear, excitement and suspense captivate the mind like nothing else. It’s for this exact reason that the horror genre has managed to capture people’s attention for decades and will continue to do so. While movie-making has undergone plenty of advancements, there is a wide array of incredible, scary films spanning across generations. The question of what makes a horror movie good might be subjective, but there are some key elements that are generally agreed upon: fear factor, immersion, credibility, filming style and remembrance. While the top 10 horror movies is a bold claim to make, this list takes into account the key elements and much more.
#10 The Green Inferno (2013)
Be advised that those who consider themselves squeamish will not find “The Green Inferno” particularly agreeable after a hearty meal. Directed by Eli Roth, this gory horror flick does much more than simply shock the audience with its brutality. The film follows a group of young activists who’ve flown to the Amazon Rainforest to protest against land destruction. In a twisted turn of events, however, the plane crashes in the middle of the forest and the survivors are discovered by some hostile inhabitants: a cannibalistic tribe. From a surface level perspective, “The Green Inferno” seems like a mindless gore fest, but the psychological turmoil, unique and intense atmosphere and the disturbing questions of morality make the movie especially memorable. “The Green Inferno” has a bold and distinctive approach to horror that many other movies fail to execute without losing substance or becoming comically disgusting.
#9 Veronica (2017)
There are a plethora of horror movies based on true events, but “Verónica” justifiably stands out from the rest. Directed by Paco Plaza and starring Sandra Escacena as Veronica, this Spanish film thrusts the audience into the chilling reality of a teenage girl who’s plagued by a threatening and ominous presence. After playing with a ouija board, Verónica’s life takes a turn for the worst as she struggles to free herself of the harrowing entity before it’s too late. While the plot may sound like other paranormal movies, the unnerving cinematography, impressive cast performance and aptly timed jump scares leaves many viewers remarkably shaken and disturbed by its climax. “Verónica” not only expands on its almost overwhelming intensity with physically dark and confined settings but also effectively captures the pure horror of the mind and its vulnerability.
#8 The Ritual (2017)
Netflix produces some pretty fantastic horror works from time to time, and “The Ritual” is no exception. Director Hank Orion, along with a notably admirable cast, brings a horrific battle involving internal struggles and external threats to the living room televisions of millions. Centered on the journey of four friends backpacking in Sweden, this outdoorsy spooky film has a lot to offer in both scares and fascination. As the movie primarily takes place in a forested area, “The Ritual” builds on the disorienting and high tension nature of the wild to edge the audience into a state of perpetual unease. The film also does an exceptional job of creating an emotional bond with the characters, making it all the more horrifying when the terror ensues. With references to Norse mythology, this creature feature is not only straight up terrifying but also extremely creative. The sense of utter distress, credible acting and heavy overall tone cultivates an impressive horror movie that is definitely worth the watch.
#7 The Shining (1980)
Being one of the more notable horror movies on this list, it’s no shocker that “The Shining” has made it into the top 10. A classic, thanks to the outstanding talent and efforts of director Stanley Kubrick and stars Jack Nicholson and Shelley Duvall, “The Shining” has instilled fear in the hearts of viewers since its release in 1980, and for good reason too. The premise of the movie is already an unnerving concept: a writer by the name of Jack Torrance and his family move into the Colorado Rockies’ Overlook Hotel as the sole caretakers and inhabitants for a brutal winter. What should be a productive and relaxing bonding experience turns into an absolute nightmare as the elaborate building’s dreadful past and seclusion from the outside world fosters madness within its maze-like structure. With “The Shining,” the obscure nature of the film’s confusing and overwhelmingly large setting is what truly makes it so petrifying. The relatively small family residing in such a disproportionately huge and mysterious space generates a lingering sense of something ominous lurking within the hotel. In the more dramatic scenes, it’s clear the actors were truly pushed to their limits to deliver the raw and disturbing performance that makes “The Shining’s” unsettling impact on viewers a timeless sensation.
#6 Us (2019)
Jordan Peele has certainly been one to impress with the last five years of his movies as director, writer and/or producer, but “Us” is undoubtedly his best horror film thus far. The 2019 movie stars Lupita Nyong’o as Adelaide and Winston Duke as Gabe, a married couple with two children played by Shahadi Wright Joseph and Evan Alex. During a seemingly normal beach vacation, the family comes face-to-face with their antagonistic doppelgängers, and their restful trip becomes a fight for survival. The cast’s acting is nothing short of moving, especially on Lupita’s end. With the realistic and well-developed characters accompanied by the extremely unique plot, “Us” tends to leave a lasting impression long after the ending credits have rolled. The juxtaposition between a content family life and a morbid reality of suffering creates a feeling of terror that isn’t easily shaken off. “Us” also excels with its exceptional cinematography, as the scenes are rich with emotion and wonderfully terrifying visuals.
#5 The Descent (2006)
Dark and cramped caves have always been an inherently anxiety-inducing environment, but director Neil Marshall takes this to an even greater extreme with his movie “The Descent.” The storyline begins with a group of daredevil friends exploring a cave system in hopes to mend old wounds from a traumatic experience; however, the trip does just the opposite after it’s discovered something sinister is lying in wait for them. As the explorers become progressively lost, the dark and unpredictable setting acts as arguably one of the best tension builders, maximizing the jumpscares’ effect. With almost a surplus of anticipation, the climactic reveal of the film’s antagonist makes “The Descent” easily one of the most terrifying creature features. The claustrophobic atmosphere also produces a constant feeling of suffocation and anxiety that never quite seems to reach a boiling point, which majorly contributes to why “The Descent” remains one of the best horror movies out there.
#4 Halloween (1978)
An excess of modern day slasher movies tend to fall short in one of three things: plot, scare factor or acting. Fortunately, “Halloween” excels in all of these aspects and more, standing the test of time to serve as a model film for others to derive inspiration from and viewers to thoroughly enjoy. Directed by John Carpenter and starring Jamie Lee Curtis as Laurie, “Halloween” tells the story of a deranged murderer’s, Michael Myers, escape from a psychiatric institution and his gruesome rampage that follows. In their quaint town of Haddonfield, Illinois, teenager Laurie and her friends are targeted by Myers, making their Halloween night especially terrifying. While the young and wild group of victims is one of many cliches present in “Halloween,” the movie itself acted as a trailblazer for most of the horror stereotypes present in a legion of subgenres. Slasher films that effectively build tension prior to jumpscares without coming off as cheesy or unimaginative are rare, but “Halloween” sets the bar exceedingly high with its eerie soundtrack and perturbing camera work. The movie’s writing constructs the characters as not only likable but incredibly relatable as well, making the horrors of “Halloween” transcend the barriers of the big screen. Most importantly, the puzzling, foreboding and realistic qualities of the movie’s antagonist further adds to the viewers’ paranoia that Michael Myers himself could be watching them just outside their house.
#3 Creep (2014)
Found footage horror can either be a hit or miss, but the 2014 low budget film, “Creep,” is easily a homerun. With the incredibly realistic and unsettling performance of the two and only actors, Mark Duplass and simultaneous director Patrick Brice, this independent movie is the poster child for hidden gems in horror. Almost entirely from the perspective of a camcorder, “Creep” depicts the story of a young videographer who’s taken the job of filming a terminally ill man for an entire day. Almost immediately from the introduction of the sick man in question, something is clearly off with his request, which becomes more apparent as the videographer continues to film his obscure and progressively frightening behavior. The intentionally awkward acting paired with the ameature filming style holds an extremely intimate and raw quality to it that blurs the lines between fiction and reality. Particularly, the dialogue and general interactions between the characters maintains an uncomfortable and anxious tone throughout the movie. After much build up of thick tension, a wide array of moments contain almost comically appalling acts and sights, which has an effectively more disturbing effect than anything humorous. “Creep” will have practically any viewer locking all of their doors, checking every nook and cranny and sleeping with the lights on.
#2 The VVitch (2016)
“The VVitch”, also known as “The Witch,” displays one of the most impressive atmospheres and terrifying premises the horror genre has to offer. Taking place in the 1630s, the film’s protagonists, a New England family, are exiled from society due to religious differences and attempt to sustain their lives in a wild and relatively uninhabited region. However, a malevolent and mysterious force that lies in the woods just beyond their quaint settlement brings chaos and death. With Anya Taylor-Joy playing the lead role and Robert Eggers directing the production, “The VVitch” provides an unforgettably distressing experience due to the intense acting and downright disgusting events that become progressively more nefarious as the slow burn film continues. The movie spares no expense in portraying the severe hardships of frontier life, thrusting this harsh reality into an even more gruesome and unforgiving state with supernatural influences at work. Anya Taylor-Joy’s almost concerning performance particularly dramatizes the already horrendous occurrences “The VVitch” showcases, leaving viewers with a sense of shock, shame and chilling betrayal.
#1 The Babadook (2014)
Australia makes a formidable name for itself in the horror genre with the astoundingly petrifying film “The Babadook.” To say there is nothing quite like this twisted masterpiece in the cinematic universe is a grave understatement. The movie’s director, Jennifer Kent, and primary stars, Essie Davis and Noah Wisemen, deliver potentially one of the most remarkable works of horror thus far due to the impeccable writing and practically flawless on screen performance by the two lead roles. “The Babadook” follows the life of a widowed mother and her unruly son as she navigates the demands of parenting and struggles with unresolved trauma. Upon discovering an eerie book titled “The Babadook,” the family is pitted against a heavy and wicked entity that is bent on the destruction of their minds and bodies. Shamelessly capturing the depraved and remorseless nature of mental illness, the psychological turmoil that ensues is almost unbearable to watch as the descent into utter insanity progresses. “The Babadook” takes on an extremely dark and dreary overall tone, with the depressing characteristics of the settings and declining mental state of the characters. Both the unsettling physical design and deeper significance of “The Babadook’s” harrowing creature serves to ensure that the antagonist’s powerful impact is not easily forgotten off screen.
Although these movies were some of the greatest flicks the horror genre has to offer, there were plenty of other works that could have easily made the cut as well. These impressive honorable mentions include “The Conjuring,” “A Quiet Place,” “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” (1974), “Midsommar” and “Get Out,” all primarily for the same reason: they excel in good quality scaring. At the end of the day, almost no one is going to completely agree upon what is truly terrifying, but there is a horror movie out there for everyone that’s capable of providing an unforgettably petrifying experience.