Turner Classic Movies
TOP 10 Horror Classics
Written by A.J. Hakari   

It's hard to tell which of today's films will be tomorrow's classics. This goes double for the horror genre, in which originality and invention are harder to come by than Streisand tickets. But if remakes and re imagining s aren't your style, it's always worth returning to the films that scared the pants off of yesteryear's crowds. Here are my picks for the top 10 horror classics. Some may be your personal favorites and others you're hearing about for the first time, but each one is a treat worth popping in come All Hallows Eve.

1. Halloween (1978)

Most modern-day slashers have little more on their minds than one-upping each other in the gore department. But take another glance at John Carpenter's Halloween, the father of slice-and-dice cinema, and you'll see a suspenseful masterpiece that spills nary a drop of blood. Halloween is all about mood, placing you right alongside babysitter Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) as she's stalked by the infamous Michael Myers. Rob Zombie can try all he wants, but he'll never duplicate the simple, nail-biting genius of Carpenter's original, the most perfect horror experience I've ever seen.

2. The Omen (1976)

Horror flicks are scary enough with the usual assortment of ghosts and ghouls. But add religion to the mix, and you get The Omen, a film that ponders the terrifying notion that sometimes evil can be just as powerful as good. Gregory Peck's Robert Thorn learns this the hard way when he learns his adopted son may in fact be the Antichrist. The Omen brings up the issue of faith in a way that's both thought-provoking and entertaining and is as famous for its powerful themes as it is for its shocks (which includes the mother of all decapitations).

3. The Wolf Man (1941)

Universal's classic thrillers are second to none, and The Wolf Man is the best of the bunch. Lon Chaney Jr. didn't fit every role he was given (let's face it, the man was an awful Dracula), but he really hit it out of the park here as an innocent man cursed to turn into a horrifying beast every full moon. The Wolf Man boasts perfect atmosphere, terrific sets, and make-up effects that never cease to astound. It's the epitome of Universal's famous monster legacy, a creature feature that continues to spook viewers even as it approaches its seventh decade.

4. Frankenstein (1931)

In a story that would become a staple of countless B-movies, Dr. Henry Frankenstein (Colin Clive) learns the consequences of playing God when he brings a hulking monster (Boris Karloff) to life. Frankenstein has been parodied so much in pop culture that people seem to forget what a compelling film it is, especially with great production design and one of Karloff's most unforgettable performances. Its follow-up, Bride of Frankenstein, is an equal masterpiece, though it's the first that truly brought the mad scientist to the world's stage.

5. Freaks (1932)

After 1931's smash Dracula, director Tod Browning used the carte blanche at his disposal to create the undeniably unsettling Freaks. The story is about a gold-digging circus performer (Olga Baclanova) who sets her sights on a sideshow dwarf's cash. The film dared to depict "normal" human beings as the most grotesque monsters of them all. Even with a climax that remains one of the most harrowing scenes in all of horror, Freaks is frightening enough just for forcing viewers to take a good, long look at themselves in the mirror.

6. The Phantom of the Opera (1925)

Lon Chaney (the first one) gives the definitive performance as Gaston Leroux's Phantom, a mysterious figure lurking about the Paris Opera House. The best thing about The Phantom of the Opera is that it works great as both a tragic romance and a moody mystery. Being a silent work, it relies heavily on visuals and pulls through with some stunning sequences (including some striking uses of color). Michael Crawford may have a nice set of pipes, but he's no match for Chaney's bone-chilling Phantom and the masterpiece of a film that contains it.

7. The Mummy (1932)

Mummies are about as effective as teddy bears when it comes to horror villains, but scare tactics aren't the highlight of 1932 film The Mummy. At its core this is a love story between a resurrected Egyptian priest (Boris Karloff) and the reincarnation of his long-lost sweetie (Zita Johann). Though the make-up is top-notch and the attention to detail rather astute, it's the film's soul that sets it apart from your average monster mash. The pseudo-sequels that followed all stunk, but when you nail a story like The Mummy so well the first time, measuring up to it is one daunting task.

8. The Exorcist (1973)

Meet the film that scared yours truly so much, it took me 13 years to actually watch the whole thing. The Exorcist is a bona fide horror heavy, and for good reason. Like The Omen, it paints a portrait of faith being put to the ultimate test, in this case being the fight to rid a young girl (Linda Blair) of her demonic possessor. Its images are among the most disturbing of any movie, but the story's spiritual warfare is equally compelling. The Exorcist strives to show that there's no greater villain than the Devil himself.

9. The Body Snatcher (1945)

Thrice now has Boris Karloff shown up on my list, but this one has the added bonus of including his finest performance. The Body Snatcher stars Karloff as Gray, a sinister grave robber hounding the doctor (Henry Daniell) to whom he delivers fresh corpses. The script and setting are spot-on, but it's Karloff's acting that seals the deal, an ominous turn that reminds viewers of their own nagging dark sides. Of Val Lewton's RKO thrillers, The Body Snatcher is the best by far, a sophisticated take on a most unsavory subject.

10. Vampyr (1932)

The dark horse of my list, Vampyr, arrived 10 years after F.W. Murnau's Nosferatu but is perhaps even more visually daring. It's the rather simple story of a student (Julian West) who comes upon a strange European village. But what he sees sets the film's surreal tone, as shadows come alive and the laws of physics in general opt not to apply anymore. Where vampires figure as far in as movie creatures is for the viewer to discover, but Vampyr, a recent addition to the Criterion Collection, is a true gem worth venturing through a few cobwebs to snatch up.

Honorable Mentions:

-Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954)

-Dawn of the Dead (1978)

-The Innocents (1961)

-The Night Stalker (1972)

-Repulsion (1965)




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