A great horror film from every year, from 1922 to now

A century of malevolent masterpieces. One film per year.

Don’t Look Now (1973)

Horror cinema didn’t begin in 1922. There were ghosts in the machine as early as 1896, when the medium’s early magus, Georges Méliès, packed a giant bat, the Devil, various phantoms and a final vanquishing by crucifix into a spooky three minutes.

Adaptations of gothic classics, such as Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and the short stories of Edgar Allan Poe, were already fixtures on the screen by the 1910s – and by 1920 the feature-length horror film wasn’t a scary kid anymore. Alongside a polished Hollywood version of Jekyll and Hyde, those German expressionist lodestones The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and The Golem marked the macabre coming of age of a genre that wanted to frighten, disgust and haunt us.

But as In Dreams Are Monsters, our autumn celebration of horror, takes place in the centenary year of both F.W. Murnau’s unofficial Dracula adaptation Nosferatu and Benjamin Christensen’s witchy pseudo-documentary Häxan, 1922 seemed the ideal place to begin our year-by-year rundown of frighteners.

Why year by year? Because it’s a better way to plumb the dark corners of horror’s cinematic history than a straightforward top 100. Selecting just one film per year leaves you with some nightmarish decisions for vintage years like 1960 – Psycho, Peeping Tom, Eyes Without a Face or Black Sunday? – and 1973, when December alone saw the release of The Exorcist and a double bill (!) of Don’t Look Now and The Wicker Man. And who really, for 1954, wants to pit Godzilla against the Creature from the Black Lagoon?

Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954)

Yet by travelling through the history of horror a year at a time, we can get a sense of the evolution of the genre – the strange, contorting, lycanthropic process by which we arrive at the fertile market we’re living in today. Bad moons rise, and purple patches come and go: the arrival of Universal’s gothic monster cycle and Hammer; the birth of the modern zombie movie and the slasher; the shots in the arm of J-horror and – though let’s not call them that – the ‘elevated horrors’ of the 2010s. But the journey also takes us through some barren terrain when either censorship took the fun out of the genre (the late 1930s) or audiences simply seemed to lose their thirst for it (the late 1940s and early 1950s). Even on these wind-blasted heaths, however, gems are to be found.

Before we get started, an arbitrary ground rule: we’ve omitted any horror films appearing on the IMDb top 250 list on the grounds of over-familiarity. So no Psycho, The Exorcist, Jaws (1975), Alien (1979), The Shining (1980), The Thing (1982) or The Silence of the Lambs (1991). The internet already knows and loves these films. We do too. But in picking over the carcass of a century of terror, we just wanted to keep things fresh.

– Samuel Wigley

1922: Nosferatu

Director: F.W. Murnau

Nosferatu (1922)

Cinema’s first vampire feature is a story of plague and plagiarism. Henrik Galeen’s screenplay is an unlicensed adaptation of Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel Dracula, and its pestiferous antagonist Count Orlok (the extraordinary Max Schreck) embodies real contemporary anxieties about postwar pandemic – as well as antisemitic stereotypes of verminous otherness. F.W. Murnau’s film is best remembered for its expressionist realisation of the vampire, whose very presence attracts all manner of uncanny effects (shadow play, sped-up film, superimposition, images shown in negative, breaches in spatio-temporal continuity) that transform his every environment into a landscape of twilit surrealism. 

– Anton Bitel

Shadow and substance: F. W. Murnau’s Nosferatu

As Murnau’s classic vampire horror turns 100, we revisit this 1967 feature, which picks apart the film’s timeless themes and influential techniques

By Gilberto Perez Guillermo

Shadow and substance: F. W. Murnau’s Nosferatu

One more to watch

Häxan: Witchcraft Through the Ages (Benjamin Christensen)

1923: Warning Shadows

Director: Arthur Robison

Warning Shadows (1923)

As early as 1923, the tropes of expressionism (including distorted shadows and set designs) were so embedded in the cultural consciousness – in Germany, at least – that the style was already heading into meta territory. An expressionist classic about expressionism itself, this experimental chiller is notable for its lack of intertitles, arriving a year before Murnau’s similarly purist The Last Laugh (1924). The plot is pretty straightforward, riffing on the players scene in Hamlet, as a magician arrives at a stately home to put on a magic lantern show that foretells the various fates of the guests, but its German subtitle – ‘A Nocturnal Hallucination’ – best sums up its nightmarish effects. Immersive and evocative, but long-neglected, here’s hoping its upcoming centenary ushers in an upgrade on the 2006 US-only DVD.

– Matthew Thrift

One more to watch

The Hunchback of Notre Dame (Wallace Worsley)

1924: Waxworks

Director: Paul Leni

Waxworks (1924)

An early great in the annals of the horror anthology film, Waxworks was the last picture director Paul Leni made in his native Germany before decamping to the US to make the celebrated haunted house film The Cat and the Canary (1927). Leni started his career as a set and costume designer for the likes of Ernst Lubitsch, and said talents are on full display in this wildly expressionistic triptych of tales. Conrad Veidt leads one, Emil Jannings another, before taking to the foggy streets of Victorian London in nightmarish pursuit of Jack the Ripper. It’s a rare portmanteau film without a weakling among its vividly realised episodes.

– Matthew Thrift

One more to watch

The Hands of Orlac (Robert Wiene)

1925: The Phantom of the Opera

Director: Rupert Julian

The Phantom of the Opera (1925)

Lon Chaney was already well known for his deeply committed portrayals of characters with disfigurements and deformities when he took on the role of Gaston Leroux’s opera phantom, Erik, designing and applying his own makeup to create and perform one of the most memorable characters in horror history. The film’s other star is the set, an imagining of the famed Paris Opera House that has inspired generations of villains’ hideouts, with five levels of staircases, trap doors and a subterranean river for the villain to cross in a gondola. As remakes of the story on stage and screen depict Erik as increasingly more attractive, the terrifying nature of Chaney’s phantom has never been surpassed.

– Kelly Robinson

One more to watch

The Monster (Roland West)

1926: A Page of Madness

Director: Teinosuke Kinugasa

A Page of Madness (1926)

A Page of Madness was thought lost after a fire destroyed Shochiku’s Shimogamo studio, but director Teinosuke Kinugasa stumbled on a print hiding in his storehouse in 1971. The avant-garde film is often compared to The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari because of its asylum setting and its blurring of the real and the imagined. Its true horror, though, comes from the madness itself. Both current hallucinations and flashbacks to horrific life events are shown from the patient’s point of view, drawing the viewer further and further into the delusion. The music, added by Kinugasa for the 1970s re-release, resembles shrieks of fright or pain, the dissonance mimicking the disconnect between the asylum patients and the real world.

– Kelly Robinson

One more to watch

Faust (F.W. Murnau)

1927: The Unknown

Director: Tod Browning

The Unknown (1927)

Director Tod Browning drew inspiration for several films from his days with travelling carnivals, working alternately as a barker, a clown, The Wild Man of Borneo and The Living Corpse. While Freaks (1932) is the most famous of his depictions of sideshow life, The Unknown is just as bizarre, with multiple twists that still have the power to shock. Lon Chaney’s tortured performance as Alonzo the Armless is among his greatest, and co-star Joan Crawford – here a luminous ingenue in one of her first lead roles – said she learned how to act by watching him. Chaney and Browning would ultimately collaborate on 10 films, and while it’s said that each of their finest works were outside of that collaboration, this is undoubtedly the best film they made together.

– Kelly Robinson

One more to watch

The Cat and the Canary (Paul Leni)

1928: The Fall of the House of Usher

Director: Jean Epstein

The Fall of the House of Usher (1928)

Edgar Allen Poe’s stories have been fodder for many a horror movie. One of the earliest (and one of two adaptations of The Fall of the House of Usher from 1928) is a dreamy, experimental take on the tale of Roderick Usher’s obsession with painting a portrait of his dying wife. Co-written by Luis Buñuel and director Jean Epstein (although the former’s contributions have been disputed due to a spat between him and the director), this early Poe adaptation is a hallucinatory classic of avant-garde horror cinema and has been lauded as Epstein’s finest achievement.

– Anna Bogutskaya

One more to watch

The Man Who Laughs (Paul Leni)

1929: Un chien andalou

Director: Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dalí

Un chien andalou (1929)

Salvador Dalí and Luis Buñuel were unknown Spanish artists before their collaboration on a 16-minute short gained the attention of the French surrealists. Their goal was to make a film that meant nothing (“Nothing in the film symbolises anything,” said Buñuel). Its appeal lies in our natural inclination as viewers to work out a meaning of our own from the bizarre and sometimes grotesque images (the eyeball-slicing sequence is still cited as one of the most disturbing in film history). Because of their rejection of any hint of narrative or plot – conventions that belong to literature and the theatre – the film is pure cinema.

– Kelly Robinson

One more to watch

The Skeleton Dance (Walt Disney)

1930: The Bat Whispers

Director: Roland West

The Bat Whispers (1930)

For a brief moment at the dawn of the 1930s, genre movies got big. In 1929 and 1930, some 11 features were shot on 65mm film in no fewer than five competing widescreen formats. Raoul Walsh’s The Big Trail (1930) is probably the best remembered these days, but this large format experiment in expressionism, released a mere fortnight after Walsh’s western classic, is a fascinating chamber whodunit that suggests an intersection between the silent-era crime serials of Louis Feuillade and the 1960s Batman TV series. Typically for an era that was still finding its feet with sound filmmaking, dialogue scenes are hardly inspired, but a surprisingly mobile camera and dynamic use of shadows and silhouettes lend this bat-burglar mystery a primal potency.

– Matthew Thrift

One more to watch

Swing You Sinners! (Dave Fleischer)

1931: Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

Director: Rouben Mamoulian

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1931)

By 1931, there had already been umpteen big-screen adaptations of Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic novella when Armenian émigré Rouben Mamoulian came along with his definitive take. Conjuring a vividly textured, fog-addled vision of Victorian London, Mamoulian amplifies the psychosexual subtext, his Hyde an untempered vessel of lustful primality. Made before the Hays Code came into effect, the censors insisted on substantial cuts for its re-release at the end of the decade. The transformation sequences are ingenious, but they’re only a part of the great director’s arsenal of effects: the editing remains astonishing, much like Karl Struss’s exquisite photography. It’s one of the true masterworks of 1930s horror cinema.

– Matthew Thrift

One more to watch

Frankenstein (James Whale)

1932: Vampyr

Director: Carl Theodor Dreyer

Vampyr (1932)
Eureka

Once described by Hitchcock as “the only film worth watching twice”, and now recognised as a masterpiece of early horror, Carl Theodor Dreyer’s beguiling interpretation of Sheridan Le Fanu’s short stories was not always held in such high regard. Met with almost unanimous derision upon release, Dreyer’s first film following the acclaimed The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928) proved impenetrable for critics, who were left bewildered by Dreyer’s esoteric approach. To be fair, such criticisms aren’t unwarranted – Vampyr is closer to experimental film than narrative cinema, with a dreamlike logic which renders the plot (about a traveller who finds evidence of vampirism at an old inn in the French village of Courtempierre) almost incoherent at times. Perhaps it’s a cliché to describe a film as being ahead of it time, but in the case of this eternal enigma, nothing could be more apt.

– Michael Blyth

Vampyr at 90: how Carl Dreyer conjured a waking nightmare

A disorienting dive into the world of the uncanny, Carl Theodor Dreyer’s horror landmark Vampyr retains its ability to unsettle and unnerve.

By Alex Barrett

Vampyr at 90: how Carl Dreyer conjured a waking nightmare

One more to watch

Island of Lost Souls (Erle C. Kenton)

1933: King Kong

Director: Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Shoedsack

King Kong (1933)

Conceived by the producer-director team of Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Shoedsack, and brought to life at RKO Studios by legendary special effects guru Willis O’Brien, King Kong’s assault on New York City was a landmark moment in Hollywood cinema. A box office smash that rescued its studio from oblivion, it’s safe to say there’d be no Citizen Kane (1941) if Kong had been left to his own devices on Skull Island. Even now, some 90 years later, no CGI spectacle has touched its hand-crafted empathy, and few films so loaded with B-movie thrills climax with the kind of exquisite melodrama of which Chaplin could have been proud.

– Matthew Thrift

One more to watch

Murders in the Zoo (A. Edward Sutherland)

1934: The Black Cat

Director: Edgar G. Ulmer

The Black Cat (1934)

The first big-screen meeting of two titans of horror, Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff, The Black Cat was a box office smash for Universal and the film’s newly arrived Austrian émigré director, Edgar G. Ulmer. In Hungary, a storm strands four travellers, including psychiatrist and war vet Dr Vitus Werdegast (Lugosi), in the house of Hjalmar Poelzig (Karloff), an Austrian architect and part-time Satanic cult leader. Highly stylised and wonderfully convoluted, it’s heaped with the sort of over-the-top grotesqueries that were only gotten away with in Hollywood’s pre-Code era. 

– Anna Bogutskaya

One more to watch

The Phantom of the Convent (Fernando de Fuentes)

1935: Bride of Frankenstein

Director: James Whale

Bride of Frankenstein (1935)

Although he was initially reluctant to direct a follow-up to his landmark 1931 version of Frankenstein, director James Whale managed to equal or even surpass the original, creating one of history’s greatest sequels. Elsa Lanchester’s performance as the bride makes the most of what amounts to only a few minutes of screen time, with head movements and hissing that she modelled after swans. Karloff’s performance is beautifully nuanced for a monster, and his scene with the blind hermit stands as one of the most poignant among all of the Frankenstein films.

– Kelly Robinson

One more to watch

Mad Love (Karl Freund)

1936: The Devil-Doll

Director: Tod Browning

The Devil-Doll (1936)

Or Honey, An Escaped Convict Shrunk a Pair of Unwitting Assassins to Wreak Revenge on Those Who Wronged Him. Ringmaster of freaks Tod Browning continued to mine the weirder corners of 1930s horror with this high-concept sci-fi chiller. Lionel Barrymore is the cross-dressing former banker on the lam in Paris, teaming up with a mad scientist to telepathically control the people he’s shrunk to the size of action figures, beginning with his “inbred peasant halfwit” of an assistant. The miniature effects are ingenious, some two decades ahead of The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957), but the biggest surprise is the screenplay credit for one Eric von Stroheim [sic]. It’s a Christmas movie too.

– Matthew Thrift

One more to watch

The Man Who Changed His Mind (Robert Stevenson)

1937: Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs

Director: David Hand

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937)

Disney’s first animated feature preserves some of the most grotesque aspects of the Grimm tale, making them all the more macabre by depicting them visually. Scariest of all is the queen-turned-witch, with a lair that is part laboratory and part torture chamber, littered with victims’ bones, and featuring an underground river that she rows across in a chilling scene reminiscent of The Phantom of the Opera. Walt Disney drew inspiration for the film from German expressionism, encouraging his animation crew to screen films like Nosferatu for ideas. In turn, Dario Argento has said that he tried to recreate the look of Snow White in Suspiria (1977).

– Kelly Robinson

One more to watch

Song at Midnight (Weibang Ma-xu)

1938: J’accuse

Director: Abel Gance

J’accuse (1938)

What do you do when you’ve already made one of the defining anti-war masterworks of the First World War but find, as WWII approaches, that your message has gone unheeded? If you’re Abel Gance, you make it again. Much like his 1919 version, the horrors of Verdun – bolstered with archive footage – would be enough to earn J’accuse its place on this list, but Gance introduces a supernatural element, building to a climax in which the war dead rise from their graves to implicate the living in their senseless slaughter. If the earlier film was pregnant with rage, this later variation feels resigned to a profound sadness.

– Matthew Thrift

One more to watch

The Ghost Cat and the Mysterious Shamizen (Kiyohiko Ushihara)

1939: The Hunchback of Notre Dame

Director: William Dieterle

The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1939)

Before he went on to serve as production designer for Orson Welles on Citizen Kane, the American art director Van Nest Polglase built one of the most astonishing sets in 1930s cinema. Built on the skeletal remains of those from the 1923 Lon Chaney version of Hunchback, his breathtaking recreation of 15th-century Paris ensured William Dieterle’s film was RKO Studio’s most lavish and expensive production to date. Its scale just about matches the magnitude of Charles Laughton’s performance here, or the anger felt by the star and his director in the face of the contemporaneous rise of the Nazis. It’s the definitive adaptation of the Victor Hugo epic, and a plea for humanity that has lost none of its political fury.

– Matthew Thrift

One more to watch

The Hound of the Baskervilles (Sidney Lanfield)

1940: Son of Ingagi

Director: Richard C. Kahn

Son of Ingagi (1940)

Although the title references the deeply racist exploitation film Ingagi (1930), this B-movie rights some of the earlier film’s wrongs. Written by pioneering Black filmmaker Spencer Williams, the film is one of the earliest extant sci-fi horror films to feature an all-Black cast. Even more notably, the mad scientist is played by a Black woman, Harlem stage actor Laura Bowman. The storyline features a hybrid ape-man, echoing Ingagi, but the depictions of everyday working people stand in stark contrast to the older film’s bigoted portrayals. Look past the low budget that handicapped non-white film ventures of the era, and you’ll see the positive advances to the horror genre – and to Black cinema. 

– Kelly Robinson

One more to watch

The Invisible Man Returns (Joe May)

1941: The Wolf Man

Director:  George Waggner

The Wolf Man (1941)

“Even a man who is pure in heart and says his prayers at night may become a wolf when the wolfsbane blooms and the autumn moon is bright.” It may not be the best film in the Universal Classic Monsters canon, but it’s hard to think of a better performance than that of Lon Chaney Jr as the titular Wolf Man. The initial attack sequence, taking place during a date in a fog-swept forest, is one of the most beautiful set-pieces of any monster movie. Like most werewolf films, it’s a romantic tragedy, albeit one lent a rare potency by Chaney’s tortured interiority, haunted by guilt as he wrestles with the beast within.

– Matthew Thrift

One more to watch

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (Victor Fleming)

1942: Cat People

Director: Jacques Tourneur

Cat People (1942)
Janus Films

Irena Dubrovna (Simone Simon), a beautiful young Serbian immigrant, falls in love with an American marine engineer. But their marriage is troubled by Irena’s belief that she descends from a tribe of hybrid panther people, compelled to transform in any moment of intense passion. Irena’s new husband begins to lose his patience, but their sterile marriage also inflates Irena’s inner turmoil. In a genre so often antagonistic to women, this classic entry in producer Val Lewton’s cycle of atmospheric 1940s horrors for RKO Studios distinguishes itself as a wonderfully empathetic exploration of female sexuality.

– Kelli Weston

One more to watch

The Ghost of Frankenstein (Erle C. Kenton)

1943: I Walked with a Zombie

Director: Jacques Tourneur

I Walked with a Zombie (1943)

Perhaps the greatest of director Jacques Tourneur’s films for Lewton, I Walked with a Zombie is a loose retelling of Jane Eyre, transposed to the Caribbean island of Saint Sebastian. Not a zombie film in the Romero sense, but one drawn from the rituals of vodou, its metaphors are disquietingly potent. A film about enslavement and the legacies of colonialism, the suggestiveness of the duo’s earlier Cat People is taken to oblique heights. In constant, critical dialogue with its own exoticism, Tourneur’s astonishingly expressive direction often edges towards abstraction in its uncanny diagnoses of its tropical maladies.

– Matthew Thrift

Where to begin with Val Lewton

A beginner’s path through the shadowy horror films of producer Val Lewton.

By Alex Barrett

Where to begin with Val Lewton

One more to watch

The Seventh Victim (Mark Robson)

1944: The Uninvited

Director: Lewis Allen

The Uninvited (1944)
Criterion

A pair of siblings (Ray Milland and Ruth Hussey) fall in love with Windward House, an abandoned property on the Cornish seafront, and are surprised at how cheaply they’re able to purchase it. Soon it’s revealed that the place is in disrepair because it’s haunted: a young woman named Stella (Gail Russell) says her departed mother is unable to move on after being pushed to her death by her husband’s lover. Perfectly eerie and unfolding like a ghostly whodunnit, The Uninvited sets the template for the vengeful female ghost.  

– Anna Bogutskaya

One more to watch

The Curse of the Cat People (Robert Wise)

1945: Dead of Night

Director: Alberto Cavalcanti, Charles Crichton, Basil Dearden and Robert Hamer

Dead of Night (1945)

This horror anthology from Ealing Studios, and directed by Alberto Cavalcanti, Charles Crichton, Basil Dearden and Robert Hamer, may may not have been the first of its kind, but it was hugely influential. Released shortly after the end of the Second World War, its legacy continues today, with Amicus, Hammer, Ghost Stories and Inside No.9 owing a debt to the production. The nifty framing device sees Mervyn Johns’ architect arrive at a country cottage to a group of guests who remind him of a recurring nightmare. Each tale plays out in chilling fashion, with Michael Redgrave’s eerie performance in ‘The Ventriloquist’s Dummy’ a stand-out.

– Katherine McLaughlin

One more to watch

Isle of the Dead (Mark Robson)

1946: The Spiral Staircase

Director: Robert Siodmak

The Spiral Staircase (1946)

An underrated blend of horror and film noir, The Spiral Staircase is a proto-slasher set in New England in the early 1900s, which sees a serial killer target people with disabilities, the “weak and imperfect of the world” as the murderer sees them. Helen (Dorothy McGuire), a young mute, is the newest target. With its ensemble cast of Hollywood veterans (including Ethel Barrymore), rich cinematography and sharp pacing, Robert Siodmak’s terrifying production deserves to be rediscovered by horror fans.  

– Anna Bogutskaya

One more to watch

The Beast with Five Fingers (Robert Florey)

1947: The Red House

Director: Delmer Daves

The Red House (1947)

By the late 1940s, all types of latent strangeness were seeping into Hollywood film from the American subconscious, and The Red House is a tremulous, looking-glass fairytale with unspoken-of horror at its heart. It sees high-school kid Nath taking work at the farm of classmate Meg’s adoptive father (played by Edward G. Robinson). He warns Nath not to return home via the woods, where a red cabin holds dangerous secrets. But like Lynchian innocents drawn towards darkness, Nath and Meg can’t contain their curiosity…

– Samuel Wigley

One more to watch

The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (Joseph L. Mankiewicz)

1948: Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein

Director: Charles Barton

Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948)

This horror spoof became the most successful Frankenstein film since the original was released in 1931. A crossover between the legendary comedy duo and the copyrighted Universal Monsters was not welcomed with open arms by any of the actors, but it was such a big hit it spawned a new franchise. Boris Karloff refused to reprise his role as the monster, with Glenn Strange stepping in, but Bela Lugosi and Lon Chaney Jr appeared to deliver the scares as Dracula and The Wolf Man. There’s even a Vincent Price cameo, alongside giddy slapstick, romance and killer one-liners. 

– Katherine McLaughlin

One more to watch

Night Has a Thousand Eyes (John Farrow)

1949: Mahal

Director: Kamal Amrohi

Mahal (1949)

A beautiful ghost believes the new owner of the desolate mansion she haunts is the reincarnation of her lost lover in this mournful gothic melodrama. One of just four pictures directed by Kamal Amrohi – who would go on to make one of the great Indian films in Pakeezah (1972) – Mahal would make a superstar of its spectral female lead, Madhubala. Generally considered to be India’s first horror film, it leans heavier on the vibes than the scares. With its brooding rhythms accentuated by Amrohi’s ethereal lighting schemes and haunting musical motifs, the film plots a delicate and soulful path towards inexorable tragedy.

– Matthew Thrift

One more to watch

The Queen of Spades (Thorold Dickinson)

1950: Sunset Blvd.

Director: Billy Wilder

Sunset Blvd. (1950)

No, it’s not a horror film, but it does have a foothold in the history of horror. Billy Wilder’s acidic tale of washed-up silent movie star Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson) piles on the gothic atmosphere in the decaying Hollywood mansion where screenwriter Joe Gillis (William Holden) finds her festering, with only a Teutonic butler and dead monkey for company. In one shot of her smoking, she’s a dead ringer for Nosferatu: her spectral, claw-like hand seems to hover mid-air. Sunset Blvd is also a forerunner of both the 1960s wave of gerontophobic ‘hagsploitation’ horrors, beginning with What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962), and David Lynch’s later excursions into Hollywood nightmare.

– Samuel Wigley

One more to watch

El hombre sin rosto (Juan Bustillo Oro)

1951: The Thing from Another World

Director: Christian Nyby

The Thing from Another World (1951)

You only need catch a glimpse of the group compositions to know that The Thing from Another World is a Howard Hawks picture in all but name. Directed by the great filmmaker’s editor Christian Nyby (with Hawks serving as supervising producer), it centres on the discovery of a malevolent alien in the tundra beneath an Arctic research station. Hawks and co swiftly establish the structures of their isolated, makeshift society, before expounding the film’s central tensions: not between man and monster, but between the frictional value systems within the group itself. John Carpenter’s 1982 remake would add a bonanza of squelching body horror, but it can’t touch its superior ancestor for the existential anxieties of a battle waged between emotion and reason.

– Matthew Thrift

One more to watch

The Man from Planet X (Edgar G. Ulmer)

1952: The White Reindeer

Director: Erik Blomberg

The White Reindeer (1952)

Alone and horny, newlywed Lapland woman Pirita (played by director Erik Blomberg’s co-writer and wife Mirjami Kuosmanen) is transformed by a shaman into a shape-shifting deer that seduces and preys upon male hunters – until her husband (Kalervo Nissilä) returns home to tame her with his phallic spear. Both a black-and-(mostly-)white ethnography of Sámi customs and rituals, and a mannered creature feature, this snowy saga pits humans against monster, men against woman, and Christianity against paganism, in a bittersweet allegory of the indigenous culture’s gradual subjugation to Church and patriarchy. It is abstract, enigmatic and archetypal.

– Anton Bitel

One more to watch

Trick or Treat (Jack Hannah)

1953: House of Wax

Director: André de Toth

House of Wax (1953)

With each of its big screen iterations, Charles Belden’s short story ‘The Wax Works’ was at the vanguard of technical experimentation. Michael Curtiz’s first adaptation, Mystery of the Wax Museum (1933), experimented with a new two-colour Technicolor process, while Jaume Collet-Serra’s House of Wax (2005) attempted to make a movie star out of Paris Hilton. André de Toth’s take on the story of a wronged, murderous sculptor came between the two, and was the first colour 3D feature from a major studio, an attribute wholly unappreciable by its one-eyed director. A macabre spectacular with a devilishly ripe central turn from Vincent Price, it’s a marvel of atmospheric, backlot design enlivened by de Toth’s sprightly set-pieces and ghoulish eye for grand guignol theatricality.

– Matthew Thrift

One more to watch

Ugetsu Monogatari (Kenji Mizoguchi)

1954: Godzilla

Director: Ishiro Honda

Godzilla (1954)

Ishiro Honda’s creature film kicked off the kaiju genre and gave the world one of its most recognisable monsters in Godzilla, one of the few fictitious characters to have a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Born out of post-Second World War nuclear fears, the film examines the idea of mass destruction as the result of technological interference with nature. Even as Godzilla crushes buildings and entire villages under his feet, there’s a feeling that humans brought on their own destruction, so no matter how high the body count, it’s always a little sad when he’s defeated. 

– Kelly Robinson

Where to begin with kaiju monster movies

Ahead of the upcoming release of Godzilla Minus One at BFI IMAX, we take a beginner’s path through Japan’s great monster movie tradition, from Godzilla to Mothra.

By Matthew Thrift

Where to begin with kaiju monster movies

One more to watch

Creature from the Black Lagoon (Jack Arnold)

1955: The Quatermass Xperiment

Director: Val Guest

The Quatermass Xperiment (1955)

A space rocket crash lands in an English field, bringing who knows what with it, in this influential British sci-fi horror. The story is from the unrivalled imagination of screenwriter Nigel Kneale (The Stone Tape), first dramatised as a BBC serial before Hammer Films picked it up for a big-screen treatment – launching their reputation for chills in the process. The Quatermass Xperiment climaxes with its mutant alien life force lodging itself in the rafters of Westminster Abbey – an unfathomable deep-space terror invading the sanctum of English Christianity. Hammer’s Quatermass II followed in 1957, the first of horror’s many, many numbered sequels.

– Samuel Wigley

One more to watch

Dementia (John Parker)

1956: Invasion of the Body Snatchers

Director: Don Siegel

Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)

Don Siegel’s the-enemy-is-among-us classic has been subject to all manner of metaphorical readings over the years. Some see its critique of America’s postwar social landscape as a symbol for McCarthyism, others the opposite, that it’s taking aim at the groupthink politics of communism. It’s why Body Snatchers’ central idea – ‘pod people’ are taking on the form of our nearest and dearest – is so enduring, and flexible enough to ensure three further adaptations would contain almost as much to chew on in their respective eras. Siegel’s Poverty Row original is still the best, a model of propulsive storytelling, psychological realism and lucid, existential horror.

– Matthew Thrift

Pod people: the legacy of Invasion of the Body Snatchers

As the original Invasion of the Body Snatchers debuts on Blu-ray, we take the measure of its many remakes and how they adapted the Jack Finney story to reflect the anxieties of their own times.

By Mark Salisbury

Pod people: the legacy of Invasion of the Body Snatchers

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X the Unknown (Leslie Norman)

1957: Night of the Demon

Director: Jacques Tourneur

Night of the Demon (1957)

Famously sampled by Kate Bush at the start of ‘Hounds of Love’ (“It’s in the trees! It’s coming!”), this eldritch marvel is one of the crown jewels of British horror. Adapted from M.R. James’s story ‘Casting the Runes’, it pitches Dana Andrews’ American rationalist into the heart of English darkness as he investigates a series of strange deaths linked to a Satanic cult. Although producer Hal E. Chester insisted we see the titular beast in the finale, elsewhere French director Jacques Tourneur gives us the kind of hinted-at horrors and pin-drop atmospherics he’d honed for Val Lewton in Hollywood.

– Samuel Wigley

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The Curse of Frankenstein (Terence Fisher)

1958: Dracula

Director: Terence Fisher

Dracula (1958)

Terence Fisher was the high priest of Hammer horror, responsible for some of the greatest genre hits in the British film studio’s canon. Inaugurating a run of nine pictures centred on the bloodthirsty count, Dracula is a marvel of Technicolor gothic, shot on Hammer’s limited soundstages in Bray, Berkshire. Christopher Lee was famously against the film’s divergences from Bram Stoker’s source material, but his romantic, melancholy performance would prove iconic – inescapably so, to Lee’s irritation. Peter Cushing brings a cruel edge to his Van Helsing, a side to the actor Fisher would mine to increasingly twisted ends with his Frankenstein pictures. Driving a stake of eroticism directly into the heart of Victorian (read: 1950s) repression, it’s a quintessential slice of English gothic.

– Matthew Thrift

One more to watch

The Blob (Irvin S. Yeaworth Jr)

1959: A Bucket of Blood

Director: Roger Corman

A Bucket of Blood (1959)

There are plenty of laughs to be found in horror films of 1959, populated as they are with lacklustre alligator people, killer shrews and plans from outer space. Director Roger Corman knew what he was doing with A Bucket of Blood, and in this horror send-up the laughs are refreshingly intentional. The gruesome plot features a busboy (Dick Miller) in a coffee shop who becomes an art world idol by covering murder victims in plaster. While the script captures the beatnik-era zeitgeist right down to the poetry (“Life is an obscure hobo bumming a ride on the omnibus of art”), its skewering of hipster art-world culture seems relevant today.

– Kelly Robinson

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House on Haunted Hill (William Castle)

1960: Eyes Without a Face

Director: Georges Franju

Eyes without a Face (1960)

Doctor Génessier (Pierre Brasseur) is determined to find a successful face transplant for his beloved daughter Christiane (Edith Scob), even if it takes killing a few other young women to get the job done. Meanwhile, Christiane is forced to wear a faceless protective mask while she lingers somewhere between the living and the dead. A direct influence on Pedro Almodóvar’s The Skin I Live In (2011), among many other films, this classic of the French fantastique is, at its heart, a tragic story of a father unable to protect his child.

– Anna Bogutskaya

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Peeping Tom (Michael Powell)

1961: The Innocents

Director: Jack Clayton

The Innocents (1961)

This superlative British ghost story might be directed by Jack Clayton, but credit for its timeless psychological unease has to be shared with master cinematographer Freddie Francis. Adapted from Henry James’ novella The Turn of the Screw, The Innocents is a masterclass in building dreadful tension through light and shadow and the positioning of objects within the frame. Francis alternates between smudged tunnels of candlelight and pin-sharp depths of field, tricking the senses to align with those of its paranoid protagonist. It’s a rare horror film that saves its biggest scare for broad daylight, as Deborah Kerr looks across the lake, catching sight of what James described as, “A woman in black, pale and dreadful…”

– Matthew Thrift

One more to watch

Pit and the Pendulum (Roger Corman)

1962: Carnival of Souls

Director: Herk Harvey

Carnival of Souls (1962)
Criterion

The only feature of industrial filmmaker Herk Harvey, this loose spin on Ambrose Bierce’s 1890 short story ‘An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge’ sees a young woman emerge from the river after a rail-bridge car accident, only to find her new life in Utah still close to both the water and the dead. Canted camerawork, stilted performances and unnerving sound design combine to create a mood of eerie disorientation, as Mary Henry (Candace Hilligoss) – frigid, faithless, independent and estranged from her own family – occupies the liminal lakeside while lost in the shifting frontiers of an increasingly secularised, liberated, educated American youth.

– Anton Bitel

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Night of the Eagle (Sidney Hayers)

1963: The Birds

Director: Alfred Hitchcock

The Birds (1963)

Alfred Hitchcock worked closely with screenwriter Evan Hunter (also known as crime writer Ed McBain) to move Daphne du Maurier’s short story about birds attacking a coastal community from Cornwall to the California village of Bodega Bay, while expanding the characters to give them rich backgrounds. Hitch made several bold and unusual choices that paid off big, nixing the idea of a score in favour of silence punctuated with mechanical bird sounds, and hiring a newcomer (Tippi Hedren) for the lead role. The pacing is masterful, slowly guiding what starts as a meet-cute screwball comedy into a nightmare of avian terror. 

– Kelly Robinson

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The Haunting (Robert Wise)

1964: Onibaba

Director: Kaneto Shindo

Onibaba (1964)

Deemed by William Friedkin “the scariest film I ever saw”, Kaneto Shindo’s feature takes place in feudal Japan, where a woman and her daughter-in-law, both abandoned by their conscripted husbands, have resorted to murdering soldiers who pass through the tall susuki grass, and selling their stripped armour for food – until a love triangle with a returned neighbour leads the mother to don a demonic mask. Having lived through the Second World War himself, Shindo uses his medieval setting to expose war’s power to corrupt and dehumanise. Mask or no mask, in this amoral landscape, everyone is a monster.

– Anton Bitel

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Kwaidan (Masaki Kobayashi)

1965: Repulsion

Director: Roman Polanski

Repulsion (1965)

Fissures are opening up in the streets of Chelsea in this expressive psychodrama from Roman Polanski. But it’s not just the pavements that are coming apart at the seams. Catherine Deneuve’s Carol is on a fast-track to psychological peril, repelled by the idea of sex and plagued with violent, traumatising thoughts. Polanski eschews pat explanations and diagnoses, his sharp wide-angle frame and Carol’s isolation enough to trigger her mania. The surrealism belongs entirely to Polanski, but in Repulsion’s cruel suspense and devoted punishment of its beautiful blonde, it was already clear the young Pole was Hitchcock’s heir apparent.

– Matthew Thrift

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Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors (Freddie Francis)

1966: Kill, Baby… Kill!

Director: Mario Bava

Kill, Baby... Kill! (1966)

Cult Italian director Mario Bava’s return to gothic horror, following landmark Italo horrors such as Black Sunday (1960), is set in the Carpathian mountains at the turn of the 20th century. It may have run into financial difficulties, but its hallucinatory qualities, innovative camerawork and subversion of good and evil had a lasting impact. A wicked ghostly young girl (played by a boy) is holding the town captive in a state of fear, and it’s up to the trusted local witch to save the day. Bava’s chilling portrayal of evil in the guise of a creepy girl has since materialised in countless J-horror films.  

– Katherine McLaughlin

Where to begin with Mario Bava

A beginner’s path through the horrifying, stylised worlds of Mario Bava.

By Martyn Conterio

Where to begin with Mario Bava

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The Plague of the Zombies (John Gilling)

1967: Viy

Director: Konstantin Yershov and Georgi Kropachyov

Viy (1967)

Strict censorship kept horror themes out of Soviet-era films, but Viy slipped through the cracks because of its purported connection to history and folklore. The first, and by some arguments only, Soviet horror film is based on an 1835 novella by Nikolai Gogol, in which a seminary student must stand vigil over a young woman’s body for three nights – a woman he beat to death when she attacked him in the form of an old witch. On each successive night, the horrors he witnesses increase, from the witch flying around the room in her coffin to a parade of otherworldly undead creatures, culminating in an appearance by the titular Viy. The creatures vary in scariness, but the student’s portrayal of fear keeps the disbelief suspended. 

– Kelly Robinson

One more to watch

Quatermass and the Pit (Roy Ward Baker)

1968: Night of the Living Dead

Director: George A. Romero

Night of the Living Dead (1968)

The film that established the cinematic zombie as we still know it, George Romero‘s debut remains so rich in socio-political allegory, so fascinating in its discussions around race, gender and the fundamental impossibility of peaceful human coexistence, and so central in shaping the landscape of contemporary horror cinema, that one particular aspect of the film is often overlooked – just how damn beautiful it is. Shot on gorgeously grainy black and white, it blends vérité-like realism with bold cuts and exaggerated angles, crafting a monochromatic marvel that feels simultaneously retro and forward thinking. No matter which of Romero’s Dead films tops your own personal list, there’s no denying that the days to follow never looked as good as the night before.

– Michael Blyth

One more to watch

Rosemary’s Baby (Roman Polanski)

1969: The Cremator

Director: Juraj Herz

The Cremator (1969)

Completed in 1969, withdrawn from circulation in 1973 and banned until the fall of communism in 1989, Juraj Herz’s surreal adaptation of Ladislav Fuks’ novel is a masterpiece of the Czechoslovak New Wave. Set in 1930s Prague, this pitch-black satire explores the banality of evil through the actions and intense monologues of a crematorium manager (played with a hypnotic fervour by Rudolf Hrusínský) who descends into mania and collaborates with the Nazis. Herz himself was a concentration camp survivor and doesn’t hold back in his confrontational depiction of the horrors of the Holocaust. His film was shot in real crematoria, with the actors surrounded by dead bodies.

– Katherine McLaughlin

One more to watch

Blind Beast (Yasuzo Masumura)

1970: Witchhammer

Director: Otakar Vávra

Witchhammer (1970)

Otakar Vávra’s startling depiction of 17th-century witch trials in Northern Moravia draws from real-life court transcripts and forced confessions in its portrayal of persecution, sexual repression and the evils of power and patriarchy – the film acting as an oblique critique of the political trials during Communist rule in 1950s Czechoslovakia. It’s truly uncompromising as it follows the escalation of a small misdemeanour (a woman stealing the Eucharist) into a full blown inquisition. Beautifully shot in crisp black and white, the visuals of oppressive courtrooms and women being burnt at the stake recall Dreyer’s silent classic The Passion of Joan of Arc.

– Katherine McLaughlin

One more to watch

The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (Dario Argento)

1971: Let’s Scare Jessica to Death

Director: John Hancock

Let’s Scare Jessica to Death (1971)

An atmospheric take on the vampire, and loosely inspired by the tale of sapphic obsession Carmilla, this 1971 film has been a cult favourite for many years before undergoing a recent resurgence (it’s a favourite film of horror expert Kim Newman). Recently released from a psychiatric facility, Jessica (Zohra Lampert) can’t catch a break when she goes to relax at a farmhouse that proves to be haunted by the spirit of a dead (or undead) woman. The direction emphasises Jessica’s confused state of mind, unable to tell what’s true and what’s in her head.  

– Anna Bogutskaya

One more to watch

Demons (Toshio Matsumoto)

1972: Tales from the Crypt

Director: Freddie Francis

Tales from the Crypt (1972)

It’s hard to choose a favourite Amicus anthology film, the quality remaining pretty consistent across the seven portmanteau films the British studio produced between 1965 and 1974. As its title would suggest, Tales from the Crypt (the last in the series to be directed by Freddie Francis) was comprised of five morality tales ripped from the lurid pages of the infamous 1950s EC horror comics, and while quality does vary slightly across the quintet, even the lesser yarns are great fun. Standouts include a deliciously mean-spirited riff on ‘The Monkey’s Paw’ and the knockout opener, which sees poor Joan Collins terrorised by a homicidal Santa Claus.

– Michael Blyth

Amicus at 60: in search of its crypts, wax museums and other locations

A rival to Hammer horror in its heyday, Amicus became famous for its creepy anthology films. Sixty years after the studio was founded, we went looking for the locations from some of its spookiest offerings.

By Adam Scovell

Amicus at 60: in search of its crypts, wax museums and other locations

One more to watch

The Last House on the Left (Wes Craven)

1973: Don’t Look Now

Director: Nicolas Roeg

Don’t Look Now (1973)

For a film so richly steeped in an inescapable sense of dread, and which boasts one of cinema’s most enduringly disturbing endings, it’s ironic that the most talked about moment in Nicolas Roeg’s enigmatic adaptation of Daphne du Maurier’s short story is one entirely devoid of horror. The source of countless ‘did they actually do it?’ conversations, the tender and loving sex scene that stands as Don’t Look Now’s emotional centrepiece offers the one true moment of hope and healing in a story otherwise driven by a chilling sense of inevitability. Yet the fact that its most celebrated scene is rooted not of fear, but optimism, is in no way reflective of any shortcomings as a horror film. Quite the opposite: it demonstrates Roeg’s awareness that scares are all but meaningless without an emotional core to support them.

– Michael Blyth

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The Wicker Man (Robin Hardy)

1974: The Texas Chain Saw Massacre

Director: Tobe Hooper

The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974)

Tobe Hooper’s influential feature is three distinct films: the shocker promised by the title; the near bloodless (and mostly chainsaw-free) restraint of the actual film; and the gorefest that we imagine we have seen. As young travellers encounter a family of retrenched, cannibalistic slaughtermen, unexpected domestic comedy offsets the grisly horror. But from the outset a pervasive atmosphere of dirty, doom-laden wrongness gets right under the skin, and once Sally Hardesty (Marilyn Burns) starts screaming (and does not stop), viewers are treated to one of the most sustained and harrowing nightmares of unhinged madness ever caught on film.

– Anton Bitel

One more to watch

Symptoms (José Ramón Larraz)

1975: Deep Red

Director: Dario Argento

Deep Red (1975)

The supreme giallo, Deep Red is Dario Argento’s first masterpiece, a murder-mystery whose staggering formal ingenuity and nesting-doll structure reveal new secrets on every viewing. Not for nothing does Argento cast David Hemmings, star of Michelangelo Antonioni’s Blowup (1966), as his lead, here scrutinising his memories of a murder just as he had the earlier film’s photographs. A puzzle box carved from repressed trauma and shards of the subconscious, Deep Red trades in vivid tableaux and set-pieces of startling beauty, at once ambiguous and exactingly lucid. Its final reveal of answers that were there all along is a masterstroke, sending the viewer, much like Hemmings’ protagonist, back into their memories of preceding events to question the very act of looking – and watching – itself.

– Matthew Thrift

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Shivers (David Cronenberg)

1976: Carrie

Director: Brian De Palma

Carrie (1976)

Despite being one of the all-time most frequently adapted authors, Stephen King’s work has proved notoriously difficult to replicate on screen. With a penchant for the sprawling, and a fondness for overlapping narratives and multiple characters (many of whom have a complex interior discourse which doesn’t translate to dialogue), King doesn’t make life easy for filmmakers. So why is it that so many keep trying (and so many keep failing) to get it right? Brian De Palma, would you please stand up? The first director to bring King to the movies, De Palma’s formidable interpretation of this story of a bullied girl with telekinetic powers was such a flawless mix of pathos, lyricism, suspense and baroque extravagance (with just a little touch of camp), he inadvertently fooled a whole generation of filmmakers into thinking it would be easy.

– Michael Blyth

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God Told Me To (Larry Cohen)

1977: Eraserhead

Director: David Lynch

Eraserhead (1977)

David Lynch’s first feature film took five years to make, and the dreamy, surrealistic result spawned a career in films that are practically their own genre, with haunting themes and cinematography that are so unlike anything else, they can only be described as ‘Lynchian’. Eraserhead is almost a silent film, shot in black and white with little spoken dialogue. The bleak landscape recalls the Depression era and the unsettling soundtrack features sounds that are mechanical and corporeal: hissing, gurgles, metallic clanks. The mood is weird, yet the story centres familiar fears, such as awkward family dinners and fatherhood. It’s the juxtaposition of the eerie with the everyday that makes the film resonate.

– Kelly Robinson

One more to watch

Hausu (Nobuhiko Obayashi)

1978: Halloween

Director: John Carpenter

Halloween (1978)

John Carpenter’s Halloween spawned one of the most lucrative and, indeed, most influential horror franchises to date. The film pivots around Michael Meyers, the silent, lurking serial killer so invincible he would also come to be informally known as ‘The Shape’. As a child, Michael fatally stabs his teenage sister on Halloween night and is sent away to a psychiatric hospital. Fifteen years later, on the night before Halloween, Michael escapes and terrorises his suburban hometown, where high-school student Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis in a famous film debut) becomes his ever elusive target.

– Kelli Weston

One more to watch

Dawn of the Dead (George A. Romero)

1979: Zombie Flesh Eaters

Director: Lucio Fulci

Zombie Flesh Eaters (1979)

Released in Italy under the title Zombi 2 (a brilliantly shameless attempt to cash in on the success of Romero’s 1978 zombie sequel Dawn of the Dead), Lucio Fulci’s undead opus was a watershed moment for the prolific filmmaker, signalling his transition from genre-hopping jack of all trades to the corporeally fixated Godfather of Gore. Scarcely logical, but always entertaining, the plot follows a scientist’s daughter who teams up with a reporter to investigate the disappearance of her father on a Caribbean island, which they soon discover to be overrun by the dearly departed. Featuring a series of grotesque set pieces, including cinema’s gristliest eye crime (sorry Un chien andalou), the film’s excessive gore proved more than enough for it to land a spot on the UK’s video nasties list, thus ensuring iconic status.

– Michael Blyth

One more to watch

Nosferatu the Vampyre (Werner Herzog)

1980: The Night of the Hunted

Director: Jean Rollin

The Night of the Haunted (1980)

Much like The Iron Rose (1973) and The Grapes of Death (1978), erotic-horror maestro Jean Rollin’s very best films are often those that stand outside the vampire genre for which he’s best known. Ditching the beaches of Dieppe and the rural chateaux of his gothic fantasias, The Night of the Hunted drifts through the halls of a mysterious urban institute straight out of an early Cronenberg picture. If nearly all of Rollin’s films bear the quality of a waking dream, it’s especially pronounced in this somnambulant tale of amnesia and insidious experimentation, as an ensemble led by the director’s muse Brigitte Lahaie wrestle to reclaim a sense of self from behind their dead-eyed masks.

– Matthew Thrift

Where to begin with Jean Rollin

A beginner’s path through the erotic fantasy-horror cinema of Jean Rollin.

By Matthew Thrift

Where to begin with Jean Rollin

One more to watch

Altered States (Ken Russell)

1981: Possession

Director: Andrzej Zulawski

Possession (1981)

Enjoying a dual status as respected Palme d’Or nominee and banned video nasty, Andrzej Zulawski’s shrill drama of marital collapse has different dualities at its very core. Double-agent Mark (Sam Neill) returns to divided Berlin, where his wife Anna (Isabelle Adjani) has been two-timing him with a pair of lovers, one human, one a tentacular creature. Mark starts his own affair with Helen (also Adjani), who is everything that Anna is not – but as husband and wife both seek outlets for their conflicted desires, Zulawski’s apocalyptic, Lovecraftian film reveals the divisions that exist around, between and within us all.

– Anton Bitel

One more to watch

The Evil Dead (Sam Raimi)

1982: Poltergeist

Director: Tobe Hooper

Poltergeist (1982)

The idea of malevolent ghosts entering the homes of suburban America via their TV sets is as chilling as it is inspired, and this unlikely meeting of minds between director Tobe Hooper (The Texas Chain Saw Massacre) and producer Steven Spielberg is still incredibly freaky 40 years on. Released the week before E.T., the contract for which prevented Spielberg from directing this too, it shares a similarly comfortable Californian domestic setting – and in fact E.T. too has some supernatural business with a television. In Poltergeist, however, the situation is played for sheer terror: this all-American family is visited not by a friendly alien but by violent spirits who abduct their daughter and cause unholy mayhem about the house.

– Samuel Wigley

One more to watch

The Slumber Party Massacre (Amy Holden Jones)

1983: Videodrome

Director: David Cronenberg

Videodrome (1983)

Following the respectable box-office of the disreputable Scanners (1981), David Cronenberg secured $6 million for his next venture (almost double his previous budget), plus major studio backing and access to A-list stars. Lead by a typically skeezy James Woods, with support from an atypically dark-haired Debbie Harry, the body-horror pioneer’s eighth feature sees a cable TV station head stumble across a pirate transmission of an ultra-violent snuff show while hunting down new content for his X-rated channel. Bigger budgets often come with bigger expectations and thus bigger risks, but Cronenberg’s refusal to dilute his vision for mainstream palatability resulted in his most ambitious film yet. Further exploring the synergy between the physical, psychological and technological central to his 1970s work, while anticipating the eroticised technophilia of Crash (1996) and eXistenZ (1999), Videodrome is Cronenberg at his most deliciously Cronenbergian.

– Michael Blyth

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Angst (Gerald Kargl)

1984: A Nightmare on Elm Street

Director: Wes Craven

A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)

There is something undeniably resonant about the simplicity of A Nightmare on Elm Street’s premise: a killer that targets you in your sleep. A gaggle of teens are preyed on by the vengeful ghost of the pederast Freddie Krueger, who holds a grudge against their parents. Unlike other slasher killers of the time, Krueger (an iconic role for Robert Englund) was a monster in life and empowered by death, relentlessly torturing teenagers in their safest of safe places: their own dreams. Wes Craven takes full advantage of the aesthetic possibilities of dream logic, creating some of the most terrifying and celebrated images of modern horror. 

– Anna Bogutskaya

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Gremlins (Joe Dante)

1985: Re-animator

Director: Stuart Gordon

Re-animator (1985)

When the new housemate (Jeffrey Combs) of Miskatonic Medical School student Dan Cain (Bruce Abbott) turns out to be an arrogant genius experimenting with a green-glowing, brain-reviving reagent, he will soon be embroiled in morgue-set mayhem and face life-or-death dilemmas with a randy rival professor (David Gale) and his own girlfriend Megan (Barbara Crampton). Updating one of H.P. Lovecraft’s weaker short stories (‘Herbert West – Reanimator’, 1922), Stuart Gordon crafts a schlockily psychosexual take on the Frankenstein myth that is pure 80s in its exaggerated excess – funny, outrageous, gory and wrong in every way.

– Anton Bitel

One more to watch

The Return of the Living Dead (Dan O’Bannon)

1986: The Fly

Director: David Cronenberg

The Fly (1986)

In the hands of Canadian body-horror maestro David Cronenberg, the 1958 Vincent Price vehicle in which a scientist transforms into a giant human-fly hybrid is reimagined as metaphor for disease, decay and the ageing process. Jeff Goldblum and Geena Davis (a real couple at the time) play lovers whose burgeoning relationship deteriorates, the film cannily blending romcom, sci-fi and horror with results that are both revolting and utterly heartbreaking; Cronenberg’s romantic tragedy has often been interpreted as AIDS allegory. The special effects by Chris Walas, on full display in the grotesque transformation scenes – deservedly won the Academy Award for best makeup. 

– Katherine McLaughlin

One more to watch

The Texas Chain Saw Massacre 2 (Tobe Hooper)

1987: A Chinese Ghost Story

Director: Ching Siu-Tung

A Chinese Ghost Story (1987)

A supernatural special effects extravaganza produced by the great Hong Kong filmmaker Tsui Hark, A Chinese Ghost Story was initially mounted as a vehicle for A Touch of Zen (1971) maestro King Hu. Ching Siu-Tung may have taken over when Hu quit early in production, but the film has Tsui’s fingerprints all over it, much like Spielberg’s on Poltergeist. That the finished film still owes such a debt to Hu is testament to Tsui’s reverence for the grandmaster, steering Ching through a kinetic flurry of maximalist set-pieces that flip between dreamy romanticism and monster mayhem on a dime.

– Matthew Thrift

One more to watch

Hellraiser (Clive Barker)

1988: The Blob

Director: Chuck Russell

The Blob (1988)

The Steve McQueen original may well be an icon of pulpy 1950s sci-fi, but this supremely entertaining refit surpasses its progenitor at just about every turn. Teaming up with co-writer Frank Darabont, Chuck Russell amps the mischief and cynicism, showing few qualms in knocking-off likeable characters within moments of introducing them. The worst of the duo’s ire is saved for the most inexcusable crimes: talking in a movie theatre incites a spectacular update of a key set-piece from the original. Conjuring a sense of place and character that recalls its Spielberg-produced contemporaries, the propulsive storytelling is ably matched by Tony Gardner’s extraordinary effects work, gleefully subsuming its victims into an ever-expanding mass of gelatinous space goo.

– Matthew Thrift

One more to watch

The Lair of the White Worm (Ken Russell)

1989: Tetsuo: The Iron Man

Director: Shinya Tsukamoto

Tetsuo: The Iron Man (1989)

Shinya Tsukamoto’s extreme, low-budget cyberpunk classic was self-funded and took 18 months to complete. Shot on 16mm, in black and white and partially in collaborator Kei Fujiwara’s own apartment, Tetsuo follows a sadomasochistic metal-fetishist (played by Tsukamoto) into a bizarre love triangle of sorts with a salaryman and his girlfriend, after they hit him with their car. In a film shot through with indelible imagery of painful penetration – including a terrifying rotating drill penis – Tsukamoto expresses the co-existence of destruction and creation with a furious creativity that recalls the work of Lynch and Cronenberg at their most uncompromising.

– Katherine McLaughlin

One more to watch

Society (Brian Yuzna)

1990: Nightbreed

Director: Clive Barker

Nightbreed (1990)

Having put himself on the cinematic map with his striking debut Hellraiser (1987), adapted from his own novella The Hellbound Heart, British writer Clive Barker once again sought inspiration from his own literary work for his much-anticipated second feature. Based on his fantasy horror novel Cabal, in which a man flees to a mythical town called Midian after being falsely accused of a string of brutal murders, Nightbreed was set to establish Barker as a bona fide horror auteur. But then the studio got involved. Flummoxed by Barker’s unconventional storytelling, and unsure how to market the film, it hastily recut (ie butchered) the film and pitched it as a mindless monster movie. Thankfully Barker oversaw a long-awaited director’s cut in 2014, at last allowing audiences access to his boundlessly imaginative queer underworld as it was always meant to be.

– Michael Blyth

One more to watch

Tremors (Ron Underwood)

1991: The People Under the Stairs

Director: Wes Craven

The People Under the Stairs (1991)

After his family is evicted by their greedy landlords, Fool (Brandon Adams) breaks into their grim, creaking home, unprepared to discover that they have a horde of children living under the stairs. The kids, living under a sadistic set of rules, have descended into cannibalism, and only one of them is allowed to live upstairs. Loosely inspired by a news story from the 1970s, this is an unsung minor masterpiece from Wes Craven, made just before his turn to meta horror with Wes Craven’s New Nightmare (1994) and Scream (1996).

– Anna Bogutskaya

One more to watch

Clear Cut (Ryszard Bugajski)

1992: Candyman

Director: Bernard Rose

Candyman (1992)

In Bernard Rose’s heavily reworked adaptation of Clive Barker’s short story ‘The Forbidden’, Tony Todd plays a hook-handed bogeyman – a 19th-century artist and son of a slave who feeds on fear and reawakens to murder the residents of the Cabrini-Green estate. Woe betide anyone who says the name of Candyman into the mirror. Shot on location in Chicago, this urban legend slasher explores its themes of race and class in America from an outsider’s perspective. When Virginia Madsen’s academic investigates the Candyman myth, past and present merge in nightmarish fashion.

– Katherine McLaughlin

One more to watch

Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me (David Lynch)

1993: Cronos

Director: Guillermo del Toro

Cronos (1992)

In this esoteric variant on the vampire myth, antiques dealer Jesus Gris (Federico Luppi) discovers an alchemical ‘Cronos device’ hidden in a carved archangel and, over the Christmas period, as evil men come for the contraption, darkly re-enacts his Biblical namesake’s story. In his debut feature, Guillermo del Toro already exhibits what would later become obsessive motifs in his genre filmmaking: cogs and clockwork, heroic monsters and monstrous humans, and adult affairs seen from a child’s view (here Jesus’s granddaughter Aurora bears mute witness to the unfolding passion play). Del Toro regular Ron Perlman is there too, as a thuggish villain.

– Anton Bitel

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Manichitrathazhu (Fazil)

1994: Cemetery Man

Director: Michele Soavi

Dellamorte Dellamore (1994)

The excellently named Francesco Dellamorte (Rupert Everett, never better) is the moody caretaker of a small-town Italian cemetery where the dead just keep coming back to life, much to his annoyance. His everyday tedium of reading phone books and killing zombies is broken when he falls madly in love with a nameless beautiful widow. Unfortunately, she too perishes and returns as a zombie. A strange and entertaining erotic-horror-comedy, Cemetery Man (titled Dellamorte Dellamore in Italian) is required viewing for anyone of the sadboi persuasion. 

– Anna Bogutskaya

One more to watch

Interview with the Vampire (Neil Jordan)

1995: The Addiction

Director: Abel Ferrara

The Addiction (1995)

From the title alone, it’s clear that Abel Ferrara’s existential vampire movie is happy to wear its metaphors on its sleeve. Arriving amid the great New York’s filmmaker’s peak run of masterpieces, The Addiction harks back to his early hit Ms. 45 (1981), beginning with a mirroring of that film’s inciting incident, an alleyway assault. Yet the protagonists of the two films couldn’t be more different, the later work replacing Zoë Lund’s mute avenging angel with a loquacious philosophy student in Lili Taylor. Beautifully shot in high-contrast black and white, and with a tremendous screenplay by Nicholas St. John (who also penned Ms. 45), it’s a profoundly religious film whose fascination lies in the tension between its writer’s belief in spiritual redemption and Ferrara’s earthbound insistence on personal responsibility.

– Matthew Thrift

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Tales from the Hood (Rusty Kundieff)

1996: Tesis

Director: Alejandro Amenábar

Tesis (1996)

Five years before the tasteful restraint of The Others (2001), Alejandro Amenábar delivered an altogether different horror experience. Made while still at film school, his intense, often brutal debut follows a film undergrad who uncovers a snuff movie while researching her dissertation about violence in cinema. The story of a film student exploring on-screen violence, made by an actual film student exploring on-screen violence, Tesis is about as meta as it gets (interestingly it was released just weeks before Scream would popularise the term ‘meta-horror’), serving as both a comment on violence as entertainment and, more broadly, a critique on the Spanish film industry at the time. But despite layers of self-referential subtext, Tesis serves up bravura set pieces and heart-stopping twists with such skill and confidence, it never feels academic. It’s just too damn scary for that.

– Michael Blyth

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The Frighteners (Peter Jackson)

1997: Cure

Director: Kiyoshi Kurosawa

Cure (1997)

When not looking after his ailing wife, police detective Takabe (Koji Yakusho) investigates a bizarre series of murders, all with a common signature but each carried out by different individuals who confess but are confused by their own motives. The multiple killers’ sense of perplexity pervades Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s mesmerising enigma, as his narrative becomes a conversation between criminology and psychology, with a nation’s repressed rage under consultation. In a style that is measured and unnervingly aloof, Kurosawa hypnotises the viewer into a state of uncertainty over where reality ends and delusion – individual or collective – begins. Nihilism is rarely so quiet.

– Anton Bitel

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Funny Games (Michael Haneke)

1998: Ringu

Director: Hideo Nakata

Ring (1998)

Who can forget the moment when the straggly haired Sadako climbs out of the TV set in Hideo Nakata’s unsettling ghost story? This urban legend about a cursed VHS tape provided the catalyst for the J-horror boom and has since spawned numerous sequels, reboots and crossovers. It’s a film that made the sound of a phone ringing absolutely terrifying; its meticulous rules stating that if you watch the tape, the phone will ring and you will die seven days later. Playing with Japanese folklore and based on the novel by Koji Suzuki, this modern update is a tense and scrupulous investigation of mortality.

– Katherine McLaughlin

10 great Japanese ghost stories

Do films come any more frightening than these?

By Katherine McLaughlin

10 great Japanese ghost stories

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Psycho (Gus van Sant)

1999: The Blair Witch Project

Director: Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sánchez

The Blair Witch Project (1999)

Aided by a viral marketing campaign by the directors, Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sánchez, who claimed that the three characters who disappeared in the woods searching for the Blair Witch were actually missing IRL, this intense found-footage horror became a cultural phenomenon, earning a massive return on its low budget. From the glitchy opening text emulating an old VHS, to the shaky handheld camera work, the team behind this horror used everything at their disposal to eke out as much terror, dread and confusion as possible.

– Katherine McLaughlin

One more to watch

The Sixth Sense (M. Night Shyamalan)

2000: Ginger Snaps

Director: John Fawcett

Ginger Snaps (2000)

Transformative creature-features love a metaphorical underpinning almost as much as body horror does, so what better subgenres to fuse together? Werewolf lore meets acidic teen flick in the bristling Ginger Snaps. It may not be the first monster movie to associate the throes of puberty with lycanthropic metamorphosis, but it’s hard to think of another that centres on a young woman, drawing parallels between the cycles of the moon and those of the female body. With a sharp-toothed screenplay by Karen Walton and a ferociously physical performance from Katharine Isabelle, it’s a coming-of-age tragedy with plenty of bite.

– Matthew Thrift

One more to watch

What Lies Beneath (Robert Zemeckis)

2001: Trouble Every Day

Director: Claire Denis

Trouble Every Day (2001)

Eyebrows were raised when the acclaimed filmmaker behind Beau Travail (1999), Claire Denis, revealed she wanted to do a cannibal love story as her next project. But the results were typically fearless and resonant: a moody, lissome exploration of desire and restraint. Trouble Every Day follows two couples: Coré (Béatrice Dalle), imprisoned by her husband (Alex Descas); and newlyweds Shane (Vincent Gallo) and June (Tricia Vessey). Coré and Shane are afflicted by the same unnamed ailment, which makes them long to munch on human flesh. 

– Anna Bogutskaya

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The Others (Alejandro Amenábar)

2002: In My Skin

Director: Marina de Van

In My Skin (2002)

One of the most unclassifiable films to come out of the New French Extremity, Marina de Van’s debut feature (which she writes, directs and stars in) sits in an uncomfortable space between horror and arthouse. Playing a young woman, Esther, who suddenly discovers she cannot feel pain, In My Skin quietly tracks her descent into onanistic self-mutilation. Fascinated only by cutting and prodding her own flesh, Esther isolates herself from her boyfriend, friends and everyone around her who isn’t serving her self-exploratory purposes. 

– Anna Bogutskaya

Pleasures and pains of the flesh: women, physical autonomy and the New French Extremity

In the taboo-busting films of the New French Extremity, female protagonists often break free of the shackles imposed by conventional cinema. Desires are quenched; boundaries tested.

By Nikki Baughan

Pleasures and pains of the flesh: women, physical autonomy and the New French Extremity

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May (Lucky McKee)

2003: A Tale of Two Sisters

Director: Kim Jee-woon

A Tale of Two Sisters (2003)

Loosely adapted from a Joseon-era Korean folk tale, Kim Jee-woon’s shocker tells the story of two close young sisters – one recently released from an asylum – who are not sure what they find more terrifying in their father’s traditionally decorated home: their abusive stepmother or the resident phantoms. A deft, disorienting hybrid of ghost story and psychodrama, this boasts swoon-inducing production design, right from the exquisitely patterned wallpaper that accompanies the opening credits, but it also positively drips with domestic dysfunction and madness, leading to a harrowing, tragic revelation. It’s the very finest horror feature of the Korean wave. 

– Anton Bitel

One more to watch

Gozu (Takashi Miike)

2004: Shaun of the Dead

Director: Edgar Wright

Shaun of the Dead (2004)

Shaun of the Dead is rare in its ability to deliver comedy and horror in equal measure, without compromising either. The screenplay by Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright is replete with comedic details, as slacker electronics salesman Shaun and his gang of friends fight off zombies with weapons such as cricket bats and a vinyl copy of Sade’s Diamond Life, leading up to a tense standoff at a local pub. Part of the fun is in spotting the homages to classic zombie flicks, such as a restaurant called Fulci’s and music cues from Dawn of the Dead.

– Kelly Robinson

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Saw (James Wan)

2005: The Descent

Director: Neil Marshall

The Descent (2005)

Some horror movies trade in symbolism, seeking to excavate universal human truths from the darkness. Others have a much more straightforward aim: to scare the shit out of you. Neil Marshall’s second feature belongs squarely in the second category, and it’s hard to think of a film more successful in doing so. A ‘sister movie,’ in Marshall’s words, to his lycanthropic debut Dog Soldiers (2002), The Descent follows six spelunking women deep underground, in a fight for survival against a horde of cave-dwelling creatures. No metaphors here, just razor-sharp group dynamics, muscular direction and an adrenalised commitment to unyielding terror.

– Matthew Thrift

One more to watch

Wolf Creek (Greg McLean)

2006: Inland Empire

Director: David Lynch

Inland Empire (2006)

With Lost Highway (1997), David Lynch had mined the creepy narrative potential in videotapes ahead of even Ringu and Michael Haneke, so it made sense that he’d be early to intuit the unnerving, not-really-there quality of digital imagery too. Inland Empire follows his 2001 film Mulholland Dr. in unboxing the sinister side of a Hollywood where dreams are dashed, sound stages are haunted and casting is often a Faustian pact. But the pixellated distortions of its Mini DV images give it a found-on-the-dark-web quality that makes for an even more terrifying experience. What, ever, is more scary than the housecall from neighbour Grace Zabriskie and her intimations of “brutal fucking murder”?

– Samuel Wigley

One more to watch

The Host (Bong Joon Ho)

2007: Rec

Directors: Jaume Balagueró and Paco Plaza

Rec (2007)

For their TV show While You’re Sleeping, Ángela (Manuela Vasco) and her unseen cameraman follow a night shift of firemen into a building to help release an elderly woman locked into her apartment, but find themselves at the epicentre of a rapidly unfolding apocalypse. Drawing on the imagery (and associated anxieties) of 9/11, directors Jaume Balagueró and Paco Plaza stick to a first-person, found footage format that brings involving immediacy to increasingly irrational events in the residential block. Deftly, and jarringly, Rec switches from one horror subgenre to another, before ultimately ascending to high tension and terror in the penthouse.

– Anton Bitel

One more to watch

The Mist (Frank Darabont)

2008: Let the Right One In

Director: Tomas Alfredson

Let the Right One In (2008)

In early 1980s Stockholm, as a Soviet sub runs aground in violation of Sweden’s borders, meek 12-year-old Oskar (Kåre Hedebrant), engaged in his own Cold War with vicious bullies, practically conjures his new neighbour Eli (Lina Leandersson), who helps him realise his closeted fantasies of revenge. Adapting the 2004 novel of John Ajvide Lindqvist, Tomas Alfredson merges pre-adolescent angst and timeless vampiric longing. In its cool distance, this is almost the anti-Twilight, perfectly nailing the pain of growing up, the beauty of melancholy and the irresistibility of violence. Miraculously, the results manage to be utterly unsentimental yet still deeply moving.

– Anton Bitel

One more to watch

Pontypool (Bruce McDonald)

2009: Halloween II

Director: Rob Zombie

Halloween II (2009)

It’s important to note, when citing Rob Zombie’s Halloween II as the best entry in the franchise since John Carpenter’s 1978 original, that we’re talking about the director’s cut of the film released, internationally at least, on home video. Picking up where its 2007 predecessor left off, in a place of pronounced psychological exhaustion, it’s a work of gnarled, grindhouse beauty and a profoundly empathetic study in trauma and PTSD that has unsurprisingly drawn comparisons with David Lynch’s Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me (1992). Staggeringly brutal, it’s a rare slasher that can deliver the genre goods while acutely essaying the spiritual costs of its unrelenting devastation.

– Matthew Thrift

One more to watch

The House of the Devil (Ti West)

2010: We Are What We Are

Director: Jorge Michel Grau

We Are What We Are (2010)

After the sudden death of their patriarch, an anthropophagic family living in an impoverished neighbourhood in Mexico City must assume his responsibilities, the most essential being the procurement of meat to satisfy their very particular dietary requirements. Using cannibalism as a macabre metaphor through which to explore themes of abuse, exploitation and class division, director Jorge Michel Grau’s biting socio-political allegory sees the disenfranchised underclasses literally feeding off themselves. Resolutely downbeat, despite an undercurrent of black humour throughout, this queer-tinged slice of kitchen-sink grand guignol is richly rewarding for those who can attune to its melancholic tone. A 2013 US remake from Jim Mickle reversed the gender dynamics of the original with interesting results, but Grau’s version remains the more wholly satisfying.

– Michael Blyth

One more to watch

I Saw the Devil (Kim Jee-woon)

2011: Kill List

Director: Ben Wheatley

Kill List (2011)

For those that didn’t catch his micro-budgeted debut Down Terrace (2009) on its limited release, Ben Wheatley seemed to come out of nowhere. The British filmmaker has built his reputation on subverting genre expectations, but nothing that followed this second feature can touch the brilliant control of its handbrake turns. It begins in the kitchen sink territory of Down Terrace – albeit with a markedly vicious edge – before settling into into its (unsettling) hitman double act. Even as violence erupts abruptly in this middle passage, there’s a sense of a deeper, barely suppressed darkness at play. Wheatley keeps us unmoored throughout, but in the nightmarish intensity of Kill List’s final act, he pulls the floor out from underneath us entirely.

– Matthew Thrift

One more to watch

The Skin I Live In (Pedro Almodóvar)

2012: Berberian Sound Studio

Director: Peter Strickland

Berberian Sound Studio (2012)

Working in an Italian post-production studio in the 1970s, British sound engineer Gilderoy (Toby Jones) observes that the director and producer are as sadistic towards women as the unseen-but-heard horror film that he’s scoring and mixing. Yet even as Gilderoy retreats into recordings from home sent by his mother, his craven retreat into Englishness may be more a fugue state of someone denying his own small but significant part in all the ambient misogyny. Peter Strickland’s elegantly crafted period piece is also an ambiguous experiment in meta-cinematic horror, interrogating where we all stand in relation to the genre’s violence.

– Anton Bitel

One more to watch

Sinister (Scott Derrickson)

2013: The Conjuring

Director: James Wan

The Conjuring (2013)
Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc

James Wan has revitalised horror not once, but twice. The first time was Saw (2004), which ushered in a new, hyper-violent brand of horror; the second time was The Conjuring, a Hollywood-ised reimagining of the adventures of real-life paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren (glowed up here as Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson). In the first instalment of what’s now become The Conjuring Cinematic Universe, they try to make sense of a vicious witch curse that has seeped into a house in New Jersey and is now affecting its new inhabitants, the Perron family.

– Anna Bogutskaya

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Under the Skin (Jonathan Glazer)

2014: It Follows

Director: David Robert Mitchell

It Follows (2014)

It Follows may boast a doozy of a high-concept scenario that referentially riffs on all manner of horror subgenres, but the steady hand of director David Robert Mitchell ensures no resting on conceptual gimmickry. Anonymous monsters are in solemn pursuit of suburban high-schoolers, a curse only shed – and passed on – through sex. But this is no puritanical cautionary tale, its metaphorical ambiguities enveloping the teenage experience in an all-consuming blanket of dread. The stately march of its menace coupled with Mitchell’s gliding camera instils an inexorable terror. Not for nothing does water serve as a recurring motif in a film that itself feels submerged in a pressurised state of liminal arrest.

– Matthew Thrift

One more to watch

The Babadook (Jennifer Kent)

2015: The Invitation

Director: Karyn Kusama

The Invitation (2015)

Six years after directing the feminist cult classic Jennifer’s Body (2009), Karyn Kusama re-established herself in the genre space with a chamber piece horror of paranoia. Still reeling from the shared loss of their young son, Will (Logan Marshall-Green) arrives at a dinner party hosted by his ex-wife Eden (Tammy Blanchard), who also welcomes a mismatched and eerie set of dinner guests. Set in a slick, austere house in the Hollywood hills, the film pulsates with anxiety throughout before detonating in an explosive finale.    

– Anna Bogutskaya

One more to watch

The VVitch (Robert Eggers)

2016: Under the Shadow

Director: Babak Anvari

Under the Shadow (2016)

Babak Anvari’s striking directorial debut takes place in 1980s Tehran, during the Iran-Iraq war. Shideh (Narges Rashidi) is banned from continuing her medical studies and finds herself stranded in the city with her young daughter. As the war outside intensifies, mother and daughter are plagued by strange happenings, including nightmares and the haunting presence of a ghostly chador. Even apart from its rich social subtext, Under the Shadow is a sleekly written and beautifully acted film, whose atmosphere lingers long after the credits roll.

– Kelli Weston

One more to watch

The Wailing (Na Hong-jin)

2017: Get Out

Director: Jordan Peele

Get Out (2017)

Writer-director Jordan Peele announced himself as a gifted horror filmmaker straight out of the gate with his first feature, a hilarious satire of white liberalism in contemporary America that sits comfortably as a modern genre classic. The simple set up of young Black man Chris Washington (played memorably by Daniel Kaluuya) visiting his white girlfriend’s family is exquisitely handled to reveal deep-rooted racism. With Twilight Zone vibes, Peele crafts an ambience of paranoia and discomfort as Chris sinks deeper into a place where he feels like he is losing his mind, when in fact it is everyone around him who wants to steal it. A cutting social commentary on appropriation and ownership. 

– Katherine McLaughlin

Get Out review: a surreal satire of racial tension

Jordan Peele's debut film is a brilliantly inventive horror that skewers the insecurities and injustices of modern America, says Trevor Johnston.

By Trevor Johnston

Get Out review: a surreal satire of racial tension

One more to watch

One Cut of the Dead (Shin’ichiro Ueda)

2018: Hereditary

Director: Ari Aster

Hereditary (2018)

Ari Aster burst on to the horror scene with this debut feature, which combines the emotional violence of a hyper-tense family dinner with an occult aftertaste. Still grappling with the death of her overbearing matriarch, Annie (Toni Colette, in a performance that was unfairly snubbed at the Academy Awards that year) begins to realise that not all was copacetic with her departed mum. The random and totally devastating death of her young daughter Charlie hits her even harder, and those little clues of occult dealings start taking over Annie’s sanity. A slow-burner to start, Hereditary cleverly builds tension culminating in an unhinged finale. 

– Anna Bogutskaya

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The Wolf House (Cristobal León and Joaquín Cociña)

2019: Atlantics

Director: Mati Diop

Atlantics (2019)

After the social realism of her short films, Mati Diop’s supernatural debut feature came as a complete surprise when it premiered at Cannes Film Festival in 2019. It nabbed the Grand Prix prize, making her the first Black woman to win it in the festival’s history. Set in Dakar, the film is both damning critique of capitalism and haunting tribute to the men who set sail on a doomed voyage across the ocean from Senegal to Europe in search of a better life. Diop’s film replays Ulysses’ Odyssey from the perspective of his wife Penelope, as grieving partners and family are visited by the lost souls to impart their last words.

– Katherine McLaughlin

One more to watch

Saint Maud (Rose Glass)

2020: His House

Director: Remi Weekes

His House (2020)

Writer-director Remi Weekes’ feature debut is a multi-layered and chilling depiction of the UK asylum-seeking process, and a remarkable piece of British cinema. He translates the experiences of two refugees from war-torn South Sudan who have been placed in temporary accommodation in a nameless English town into an atmospheric, supernatural horror filled with striking visuals and suspense where the central characters are trapped in a confusing no man’s land and forced to stick to absurd rules. The film plays with haunted house tropes in surprising ways, dealing with the psychological impact of displacement, trauma and personal demons while also delivering sharp social commentary. 

– Katherine McLaughlin

His House gives a displaced couple no happy home

Remi Weekes’s canny first feature finds fresh terrors for two South Sudanese refugees in the back rooms beyond British social realism.

By Kim Newman

His House gives a displaced couple no happy home

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Host (Rob Savage)

2021: We’re All Going to the World’s Fair

Director: Jane Schoenbrun

We’re All Going to the World’s Fair (2021)

A profoundly unsettling interrogation of our always-online age, told in the digital language of ASMR and creepypasta, this feature debut from director Jane Schoenbrun eschews the FX-driven yucks of most body horror films for something more psychologically disquieting. What begins in the familiar realms of screen-captured ‘found-footage’, as a young teenager takes part in a mysterious internet challenge, soon morphs into an unnerving examination of body dysphoria. Tracing the perilous boundaries of online communities that are at once inviting and isolating, Schoenbrun conjures ghosts in the machine to rival those of Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s Pulse (2001).

– Matthew Thrift

One more to watch

Titane (Julia Ducournau)

2022: Speak No Evil

Director: Christian Tafdrup

Speak No Evil (2022)

Too much hype is a dangerous thing, particularly for horror movies. Claims that a new film is ‘the most terrifying event of the year’ will all too often result in dissatisfied thrill-seekers, shuffling out of the cinema, bemoaning ‘well, it wasn’t that scary’. Having shook unsuspecting viewers at Sundance this year, Speak No Evil has the unenviable burden of being labelled the ‘most disturbing film in Danish history’. Only this time, it’s true. Once seen, never forgotten, Christian Tafdrup’s infinitely distressing, jet-black comedy of manners sees a Danish family endure the weekend from hell when they are invited to stay with a Dutch family they recently met on holiday. What ensues is so overwhelmingly uncomfortable, so breathtakingly nihilistic and so gleefully mean-spirited, it will leave many wishing they had paid heed to the warnings. But for those of a steelier resolve, the results are astonishing.

– Michael Blyth

One more to watch

Barbarian (Zach Creggar)

Sight and Sound Presents – The History of Horror Part 1: Vampires

Drawing on extensive material from the Sight and Sound and Monthly Film Bulletin archives, Vampires is the first in a major new series exploring the history of horror onscreen. Vampires takes us from the first vampire film in 1922, FW Murnau's Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horrors, to Carl Dreyer's Vampyr in 1932, and on through the endless versions of Dracula and other vampires that have abounded in cinema since.

Find out more and order a copy