Top 50 greatest scary films

JEP film critic Tom Ogg selects his top 50 favourite scary films

Jack Nicholson in The Shining (28840437)
Jack Nicholson in The Shining (28840437)

ONLINE streaming sites like Netflix and Amazon UK have made it easier than ever to access thousands of films with the click of a few buttons.

And with some Covid-19 restrictions ongoing, and Cineworld Jersey temporarily closed (although hopefully due to reopen ASAP), there has never been a better time to indulge in watching films in the comfort of your own home.

As such, I’ve been running a series on the JEP's weekly film pages in which, every Saturday, I pick my top 50 must-see films from a particular genre – not necessarily the greatest ever made (although many of them certainly qualify as such), but the ones that I personally most recommend watching.

To date, I have covered crime, comedy, sci-fi, war, romance, horror, action/adventure, film noir, drama, westerns, children’s films and even so-bad-they're-good films, and you can read my Top 50 Horror Films list below.

For reasons more to do with OCD than anything else, I never allow the same film to appear in more than one list, thus ET is absent from my top 50 children's films list because it already appears in my top 50 sci-fi films list, and so on.

All films are listed in order of personal preference, and all feedback is welcome, regardless of whether you agree or disagree with my choices: togg@jerseyeveningpost.com

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TOP 50 SCARY FILMS

OKAY, time to slap on an extra pair of undies, folks, because – aaaaarrrrrgggghhhh!! – here's my top 50 favourite scary films.

Unlike with previous lists, I’m not going to talk about those films at the very top of the list, simply because I feel I’ve blithered on about The Shining, The Thing and Jaws just a little too often on the pages of the JEP over the years, so I’ll just say that if you’re a fan of scary films (or just quality films in general) and you somehow haven’t watched these legendary classics... well, quite frankly you deserve to spend the remainder of lockdown isolated in the Overlook Hotel with an axe-wielding Jack Torrance.

When it comes to horror cinema, I find the greatest films were made somewhere between the early 1960s and the mid-1980s, and as such the majority of my choices stem from this period, although there are nevertheless films on the list that pre-date the 1960s. I particularly love the old pre-war Universal horror classics, especially James Whale’s Frankenstein pictures (both of which are in my top 25), although Tod Browning’s masterpiece Freaks (1932) isn’t included simply because I find it too disturbing to watch.

As for 21st century horror, there have certainly been plenty of outstanding films over the past 20 years, some of which only just missed out on a place in my top 50 (among them Ari Aster’s Hereditary, David Robert Mitchell’s It Follows and Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala’s Goodnight Mommy, the latter of which will, I guarantee, remain stuck in your head for weeks).

Unfortunately, though, a tendency has developed among many modern-day horror filmmakers to rely on endless lazy jump-scares, with the soundtrack SUDDENLY GOING ‘BLAM!’ REALLY LOUDLY in an attempt to frighten audiences. This tactic can be effective when used once or twice in a film (see Ben Gardner’s head in Jaws), but when used over and over and over again it soon becomes apparent that the filmmakers are using it to gloss over their inability to conjure any real atmosphere or suspense, and their films quickly grow tiresome as a result.

On top of this, Hollywood has taken to regularly churning out unnecessary remakes of established horror classics, the results of which are invariably either average (Craig Gillespie’s Fright Night, 2011), pointless (Gus Van Sant’s Psycho, 1998) or – more often than not – just plain dreadful (Neil LaBute’s The Wicker Man, 2006; Rob Zombie’s Halloween, 2007; Kimberly Peirce’s Carrie, 2013; etc).

So please take note of dates when scanning my recommendations, readers. I refuse to except blame if anyone mistakenly sits through, say, Sophia Takal’s horrendous 2019 remake of Black Christmas rather than Bob Clark’s classic 1974 original.

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1. The Shining (1980, Stanley Kubrick)

2. John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982, John Carpenter)

3. Jaws (1975, Steven Spielberg)

4. An American Werewolf in London (1981, John Landis)

5. The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974, Tobe Hooper)

‘IT'S all right for middle class cineastes to see The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, but what would happen if a factory worker in Manchester happened to see it?’

The above is a quote by the late James Ferman, former director of the British Board of Film Classification and the censorship-loving bogeyman of British horror fans in the 1980s.

As it is, time has provided us with an answer to Ferman’s hypothetical (and hideously snobbish) question. Today, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is readily available for anyone to watch on download, DVD or Blu-ray – Manchester factory workers included – and, at the time of writing, no chainsaw-inspired killing sprees have taken place in the UK.

Back in the 1980s, however, Ferman’s condescending attitude was the norm and the great British public were denied the opportunity to watch The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, with the BBFC refusing to grant it a certificate for home video. This despite the film having been lauded by Cannes, the London Film Festival and even the Museum of Modern Art, who bought a print for its permanent collection.

At the time, the typical response of the BBFC when faced with a gory or violent film was to cut out all of the gore and violence (much to the chagrin of filmmakers and horror fans). This, however, wasn’t an option with The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, as Ferman himself explained: ‘We tried to cut it... but there are very few on-screen atrocities.’

Here at least, Ferman was right. For all that its exploitative title promises a gruesome bloodbath, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is notably lacking in gore. The film’s body count is relatively low (it is more kerfuffle than massacre), and of the fatalities all but two occur off-screen, and only one involves the eponymous power tool of the title. If you’re squeamish, there is little to turn your stomach.

So why, then, is the film so scary?

Well, because rather than offering run-of-the-mill splatter, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre instead serves up an unadulterated nightmare of horror, with a grinding intensity that yanks you in and refuses to let go until the closing credits (‘this relentless terrorisation’, as Ferman put it).

Sure, the film’s synopsis may sound no different to that of hundreds of other titles (a group of youngsters encounter a family of inbred ex-slaughterhouse workers); however, the difference between Tobe Hooper’s film and the average slasher flick is akin to the difference between Jaws and Sharknado.

For all its frenzied energy, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is a flawless creation, with exceptional camera compositions, razor-sharp editing and a perfect sense of pace. Not for nothing is it often referred to as ‘the Citizen Kane of horror’. Like Kane, it is the work of an ambitious young director with nothing to lose and everything to prove – and also like Kane, it is a masterpiece.

Released in 1974, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre was only Hooper’s second feature-length production (his debut, Eggshells, vanished without trace) and was loosely based on the depraved activities of grave-robbing serial killer Ed Gein, whose grisly hobbies had earlier inspired Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960).

Despite a paltry budget of less than $300,000, Hooper’s film avoids all of the trappings of low-budget filmmaking, with the director extracting uniformly terrific performances from his amateur cast. There is none of the finesse you would expect from seasoned performers, but this only adds to the film’s documentary-like authenticity. You believe that the central characters are genuine friends, rather than a bunch of professional actors playing at being pals. The late Paul A Partain, in particular, is terrific, imbuing the wheelchair-bound Franklin with a wide-eyed temper that makes him seem almost as nutty as the film’s antagonists.

The bad guys are equally well acted, with even the mute, mask-wearing Leatherface (Icelandic actor Gunnar Hansen) given a distinctive personality – and an oddly sympathetic one, too.

The quality of the acting is no doubt partly due to the cast having been made to suffer almost as much as their fictional counterparts. By all accounts, the shoot was frequently unendurably gruelling, with filming coinciding with a mid-summer heat wave across the Deep South, and scenes often taking entire days to complete. When Sally (Marilyn Burns) begs to be released during the unforgettable dinner party sequence, you suspect that her deranged screams and desperate pleading have become all too real.

Along the way, the film steers clear of almost every horror movie cliché, making for a deeply unsettling and unpredictable viewing experience. For instance, when we first meet Leatherface – all 6’ 4” of him – he simply calmly and quietly steps out from an opening doorway, to the accompaniment of complete silence on the soundtrack.

When the soundtrack does appear, it seems to be in the throws of a devastating nervous breakdown, with bangs, scrapes, shrieks, animalistic squeals and what sounds like someone beating the living daylights out of a washboard. Anyone watching the film with a hand over their eyes would likely hear all of this and imagine all kinds of grisly barbarities unfolding on-screen, which possibly accounts for why so many people remember the film as being far grislier than it actually is.

It may seem hard to believe given the above, but Hooper’s film is also very funny. This is a film with a wicked sense of humour, as demonstrated by an early scene in which the young protagonists drive past an abattoir while we hear a blade being sharpened on the soundtrack.

Sadly, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre has had to endure its fair share of ignominies over the years. In addition to being banned by the BBFC, the film has been subjected to numerous dreadful sequels – including a misfiring 1986 follow-up helmed by Hooper himself – and an uninspiring remake in 2003. Nothing, however, could ever dilute the power of the original.

Film fact: A working title for The Texas Chain Saw Massacre was the altogether less frightening-sounding Head Cheese. This bizarre title was in reference to a line in the film in which Edwin Neal's creepy hitchhiker describes the grisly process of manufacturing pork products in an abattoir.

Leatherface (Gunnar Hansen) in The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (28826438)

6. The Exorcist (1973, William Friedkin)

HAD I compiled this list before 2000, then it is likely The Exorcist would have been comfortably in my top five favourite horror films, if not at the very top of the list.

Having first watched it as an impressionable 15-year-old, my passion for William Friedkin’s box office-bothering 1973 horror classic was akin to that of BBC film critic Mark Kermode, who famously considers The Exorcist to be the greatest film ever made.

But then came the release of a ‘director’s cut’ in 2000 – or The Exorcist: The Version You’ve Never Seen as it was called. Personally, I think of it more as The Version I Wish I’d Never Seen.

For whatever reason (I suspect a wrongheaded attempt to make the film more appealing to gore-hungry younger audiences), Friedkin chose to tamper with his hitherto faultless film, inserting random ghostly images into scenes for no discernible purpose, faffing around with the soundtrack and – worst of all – re-instating below-par deleted scenes, among them the notorious ‘spider-walk’ sequence (which, sadly, looks more like it belongs in French and Saunders’ famous Exorcist parody than the film itself).

The result is the equivalent of colourising Laurel and Hardy films or drawing a moustache on the Mona Lisa, yet sadly it seems this updated version now takes precedent whenever The Exorcist is shown on TV or re-released in cinemas. Suffice to say, I recommend watching only the untarnished original. Better the devil you know, as they say.

Film fact: Pea soup and oatmeal was used for the infamous moment in which cuddly little Regan MacNeil (Linda Blair) blows chunks all over Father Karras (Jason Miller). The look of shock on Miller’s face is entirely genuine – Friedkin had told Miller the fake puke would hit him in the chest, not slap-bang in the mush.

Linda Blair in The Exorcist (28826443)

7. Suspiria (1977, Dario Argento)

8. Don’t Look Now (1973, Nicolas Roeg)

9. Halloween (1978, John Carpenter)

10. Alien (1979, Ridley Scott)

IN space, no one can hear you scream. Well, they might if you're watching Ridley Scott's sci-fi-horror classic...

Released in 1979 (to surprisingly mixed reviews), Alien is set in the year 2122 and takes place on-board the Nostromo, a futuristic but believably time-worn merchant space vessel.

There, the ship’s ill-fated seven-member crew – among them Sigourney Weaver’s soon-to-be-iconic Lieutenant Ripley – are rudely awoken from hypersleep in order to investigate a mysterious otherworldly signal, which may or may not be a warning (it is). Cue facehuggers, chestbursters and one of the greatest false endings in cinema.

Watched anew, it’s odd to think that Scott’s low-key, slow-paced, unapologetically arty film would go on to launch a lucrative and still-ongoing Hollywood franchise. The film comfortably passes the half-hour mark before anything remotely extra-terrestrial appears on screen, and for all that everyone remembers the gruesome chest-bursting scene, Alien is notably restrained in the blood-and-guts department, with most of the film’s subsequent deaths taking place off-camera.

Instead, it is the convincingly nervy performances of the cast that account for much of Alien’s scariness and suspense, with seasoned American character actors like Harry Dean Stanton rubbing shoulders with theatre-trained Brit thesps (Ian Holm and John Hurt). This adds a real sense of understated authenticity to the unfolding action that succeeding Alien movies largely failed to match (John Carpenter’s 1982 remake of The Thing is probably the film’s closest cousin, with its assortment of bearded, unkempt, slightly slobbish character actors).

By her own account, Weaver – then a complete unknown – was nervous and somewhat unsure of herself on set, leading Scott to berate her for lacking motivation, and no doubt contributing to Ripley’s all-too believable horror-struck expression throughout much of the film.

In truth, over-familiarity has now rather dampened some of Alien’s scream scenes. Remember, at the time of its release, audiences had no idea what the title character looked like, and – thanks to Scott’s less-is-more direction – remained largely oblivious come the end credits.

However, as the series progressed H R Giger’s extraordinary xenomorph would be increasingly showcased in all its acid-blooded, multi-mouthed, phallic-headed glory, which was initially satisfying (the appearance of the Alien Queen in James Cameron’s Aliens is a franchise highlight), but ultimately transformed Giger’s creation from terrifyingly unknowable entity into just another movie monster.

Nevertheless, Alien is still capable of tingling audiences’ spines, not least during the climactic scenes as Ripley desperately tries to reach the ship’s escape shuttle without getting munched. The sequence represents what is for many people their worst nightmare: being trapped in a confined space with something unpleasant close behind.

Film fact: Believe it or not, Dan O’Bannon’s screenplay was a reworking of his script for John Carpenter’s cult sci-fi comedy Dark Star (1974), only minus the gags and the self-detonating walking time-bomb. As O’Bannon memorably put it (after a screening of Dark Star failed to generate laughs): ‘If I can’t make them laugh, then maybe I can make them scream’.

Sigourney Weaver in Alien (28826446)

11. Psycho (1960, Alfred Hitchcock)

FEW actors have ever been defined by a single role quite like Anthony Perkins. Throughout the 1950s, the New York-born actor was best known as a young heart-throb in family-friendly films and TV shows; but then came his note-perfect portrayal of mother-fixated motel proprietor Norman Bates in Alfred Hitchcock’s smash-hit Psycho and, well, Perkins’ days as a romantic lead were left as lifeless as a post-shower Marion Crane.

Based on Robert Bloch’s 1959 novel of the same name, Psycho contrasted sharply with Hitchcock’s previous film (the light-hearted adventure epic North By Northwest) and, as such, it was initially met with resistance from Universal Studios, who refused to give the Brit director the sort of big budget to which he had become accustomed.

Undeterred, Hitchcock simply shot the film in black-and-white and with a cast largely pilfered from his Alfred Hitchcock Presents TV series – a compromise that ultimately worked in the film’s favour (it’s hard to imagine it proving quite as effective had it been shot in bright technicolor and with Cary Grant or James Stewart playing Bates).

As with many classic horror films (The Shining, John Carpenter's The Thing), Psycho was reviled by film critics upon release, only to be hurriedly re-appraised following an enthusiastic reception from the public.

One theory for the critics’ negativity is that it was sour grapes because they had been refused pre-release screenings, a practice that, today, typically indicates that a film is dreadful, but which then was all part of the film’s ingenious marketing strategy.

In fact, Psycho’s enormous success at the box office was in large part due to its Hitchcock-devised promotional campaign, during which the Master of Suspense appeared on posters and in TV commercials and instructed film-goers not to miss the start of the film or reveal plot twists to their friends (and, boy oh boy, what a plot twist!).

Film fact: Psycho was the first ever American film to feature a flushing toilet. So now you know.

Anthony Perkins in Psycho (28826536)

12. Night of the Living Dead (1968, George Romero)

‘THE Walking Dead was a movie that George Romero made back in 1968. And they have milked that, and they are still milking it.’

So said Halloween director John Carpenter during a recent online discussion about popular zombie-horror TV series The Walking Dead.

Of course, the film that Romero made back in 1968 was actually called Night of the Living Dead, but Carpenter’s point was clear: no matter how good modern zombie movies – or zombie TV shows – might be, George A Romero will always have done it first and done it better.

The American-Canadian director is often referred to as ‘the godfather of the zombie film’, and with good reason. Yes, Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho and Michael Powell’s Peeping Tom (both 1960) may have invented the slasher genre, but it was Night of the Living Dead that introduced audiences to the horror template that thousands of subsequent films have sought to emulate.

From the startlingly graphic violence (see the scene in which a young girl messily devours her own parents) to the underlying message that it is other humans, not monsters, who are our greatest threat, Romero’s film has been endlessly copied, referenced and parodied in the half century since its release.

Yet despite this, Night of the Living Dead still maintains its power to shock. In particular, the despairingly downbeat ending remains as devastating as any in cinema history. (I once showed the film to an initially sceptical friend and he was completely blindsided by the finale, his loud gasp a joy to behold.)

After the success of his debut, Romero would go on to break further new ground with two impressive sequels: Dawn of the Dead (see number 19) and the underrated Day of the Dead (1985).

Those who dismiss these films as mere gruesome schlock are woefully off the mark: Romero’s zombie trilogy ranks among the most high-minded horror films ever made, with Vietnam analogies, social commentary and political subtext that howls off the screen with the force of a disembowelled victim’s final screams.

Film fact: Due to the film's original distributor, the Walter Reade Organization, failing to properly copyright the prints, Night of the Living Dead remains in the public domain, meaning anyone can screen the film publicly without fear of incurring a copyright strike. This is why clips and scenes from Night of the Living Dead appear so often in other horror films, typically on the TV screens of characters who are themselves destined to meet a bloody end.

Duane Jones in Night of the Living Dead (28840473)

13. Phantasm (1979, Don Coscarelli)

14. Black Christmas (1974, Bob Clark)

15. Frankenstein (1931, James Whale)

16. The Fly (1986, David Cronenberg)

17. Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978, Philip Kaufman)

18. Let the Right One In (2008, Tomas Alfredson)

TOMAS Alfredson’s foreign-language vampire classic is a horror film like few others.

Based on John Ajvide Lindqvist’s controversial novel of the same name, Let the Right One In may well have its share of creepy and/or gruesome moments (death by hydrochloric acid, anyone?), yet this is a movie more likely to elicit tears than screams.

Set in snowy Stockholm in the early 1980s, the film centres on Oskar (Kåre Hedebrant), an introverted 12-year-old who is ignored at home and bullied at school. That is until he meets Eli (Lina Leandersson), a mysterious young girl who has moved into a neighbouring apartment and who harbours several strange abnormalities, not least an apparent inability to feel the cold.

Bonding in their shared outcast status, the pair become close friends and it isn’t long before Oskar uncovers Eli’s secrets, including that she may not even be a girl at all (‘I’m 12, but I’ve been 12 for a long time,’ she tells him).

Along the way, Swedish filmmaker Alfredson breathes fresh life into the hackneyed vampire clichés of lore, with an unforgettable depiction of what happens when a vampire enters a property uninvited. Elsewhere, the director incorporates harsh overhead lighting to create an atmosphere of frosty isolation, as if the Nordic winter is inescapable even when indoors, although this frostiness is countered by the warmth of Oskar and Eli’s blossoming friendship.

Somewhat inevitably, Let the Right One In was subjected to a US remake, and while Matt Reeves’ Let Me In (2010) is better than most other such remakes, it doesn’t come close to matching the daring and dream-like beauty of Alfredson’s original.

An ideal horror movie for people who don’t like horror movies.

Film fact: It isn’t only me who doesn’t care for the US remake. When asked about it, Alfredson said: ‘I think that it is a little sad. When I first got asked about the remake I said, “Can you not just get [American viewers] to see this one? It is a perfectly good film you know!”.’

Kåre Hedebrant as Oskar in Let the Right One In (28826539)

19. Dawn of the Dead (1978, George Romero)

20. The House of the Devil (2009, Ti West)

21. Candyman (1992, Bernard Rose)

22. Eyes Without a Face (1960, Georges Franju)

23. Bride of Frankenstein (1935, James Whale)

24. Carrie (1976, Brian De Palma)

25. Kill List (2011, Ben Wheatley)

26. Les Diaboliques (1955, Henri-Georges Clouzot)

27. Carnival of Souls (1962, Herk Harvey)

28. Misery (1990, Rob Reiner)

DIRECTOR Rob Reiner struck commercial and critical gold with his 1986 adaptation of Stephen King's novella The Body. Titled Stand By Me, the coming-of-age classic remains one of the finest examples of a filmmaker portraying the less scary side of King’s oeuvre on screen.

When Reiner returned to King four years later, however, scares were very much on the agenda.

Released in 1990, Misery stars James Caan as Paul Sheldon, a successful author of cheesy romance novels who – following a car accident in the snowy wilds of Colorado – awakes, crippled and bed-ridden, in the rural home of his 'number one fan' Annie Wilkes (Kathy Bates).

Unfortunately for Paul, the former nurse is also several sandwiches short of a full picnic, with an eccentric turn-of-phrase (‘Now that’s an oogie mess’) and a propensity for increasingly violent physical and verbal outbursts (‘You’re just another lying ol’ dirty birdy’).

Both on page and screen, Misery is a perfectly conceived horror-thriller and remains a career highlight for Reiner, whose career had hitherto focussed primarily on comedy (This Is Spinal Tap, The Princess Bride, When Harry Met Sally...)

The only laughs to be found in Misery, however, are of the nervous variety. In fact, Reiner is so adept at building and maintaining nail-biting suspense that it’s a crying shame he has never subsequently returned to the genre. In particular, the scene in which a wheelchair-bound Paul escapes from his room to snoop around Annie’s house is almost unbearably intense, even on repeat viewings.

It helps, of course, that Misery was adapted by William Goldman, who was one of the most talented screenwriters in Hollywood and a published author in his own right (his rip-roaring 1983 memoir, Adventures in the Screen Trade, is required reading for any self-respecting film buff). Goldman mostly stays faithful to King’s classic potboiler, toning down the graphic gore (those hoping to see Annie squashing a state trooper’s head with a ride-on lawnmower will be disappointed) and amping up the already nerve-wracking tension.

Performance-wise, Misery is equally top-tier, with Kathy Bates on Oscar-winning form as the wacky Wilkes. The American actress perfectly balances the character’s absurd blend of eccentricity, naivety and menace without ever descending into caricature.

Caan has a less showy role but is equally good, gaining our sympathy despite playing a wealthy writer disdainful of his own success.

And Misery isn’t entirely a two-hander either, with credit due to the late Richard Farnsworth as the local sheriff, Buster, and Frances Sternhagen as his wife, Virginia. Together, these two use their small amount of screen time to make a big impression and, in doing so, they ensure we’re genuinely fearful for their safety when Buster starts investigating Annie’s new-found interest in bulk-buying writing materials.

Film fact: The legendary Lauren Bacall has a small role in the film as Paul Sheldon's literary agent.

Kathy Bates and James Caan in Misery (28826654)

29. Q – The Winged Serpent (1982, Larry Cohen)

REGULAR readers may recall me waxing lyrical about the oeuvre of Larry Cohen in my top 50 sci-fi films feature (Cohen’s satirical The Stuff made the list). Well, here’s another recommendation of a film by the late, great independent writer-director: Q – The Winged Serpent.

As its title suggests, Q tells of a gigantic flying serpent that has made its nest atop a Manhattan skyscraper and taken to feeding on unsuspecting New Yorkers, among them a window cleaner and a topless sunbather.

The film’s real star, however, isn’t the reptilian title character, but rather Jimmy Quinn, a nervy small-time crook, played to perfection by Cohen regular Michael Moriarty. On the run following a botched diamond heist, Quinn hides in the 1,046ft-high spire of the Chrysler Building, whereupon he stumbles across Q’s nest and discovers that a bloodthirsty monster lizard is a useful ally when it comes to seeing off vengeful criminals and authoritarian city officials.

The film feels like two entirely different movies combined: one a Ray Harryhausen-like production with dated but endearing stop-motion animation effects, and the other a gritty Martin Scorsese-style picture. It really shouldn’t work, but it does, with Cohen’s snappy dialogue and storytelling skills – and Moriarty’s mesmerising method performance – ensuring Q remains grounded (the film, if not the flying dragon).

Film fact: The jewellery store that Quinn and his companions rob early in the film is called – wait for it! – Neil Diamonds.

Michael Moriarty in Q – The Winged Serpent (28840489)

30. Cannibal Holocaust (1980, Ruggero Deodato)

31. The Mist (2007, Frank Darabont)

32. The Evil Dead (1981, Sam Raimi)

33. Rosemary's Baby (1968, Roman Polanski)

34. Children Shouldn’t Play with Dead Things (1972, Bob Clark)

35. The Wicker Man (1973, Robin Hardy)

36. Ringu (1998, Hideo Nakata)

37. Frankenhooker (1990, Frank Henenlotter)

WHEN it comes to high-concepts, they don’t get much higher than Frank Henenlotter’s cult comedy-horror.

Here’s a quick synopsis: medical school drop-out Jeffrey Franken (James Lorinz) is left heartbroken after accidentally decapitating his fiancée Elizabeth (Patty Mullen) with a remote-controlled lawnmower.

Unbeknownst to the authorities, the budding young scientist has rescued Elizabeth’s severed head from the scene of the tragedy with the aim of bringing his dismembered bride-to-be back to life, Frankenstein-style. This he does using the body parts of various New York streetwalkers, who are dispatched in show-stopping style via exploding crack-cocaine.

The ensuing resurrection doesn’t go entirely to plan, however, and when Elizabeth returns from the grave, she has inherited the attitude, addictions and habits of the ‘ladies of the night’ from whom she was stitched together.

As with most of American writer-director Henenlotter’s films, Frankenhooker is cheap but cheerful, with practical effects that are unapologetically shoddy, and bad taste humour that glories in its own crassness.

The main reason the film is such good fun, though, is the thoroughly committed performances of its two youthful leads: Lorinz and Mullen. By all accounts, the former improvised much of his character’s dialogue and the results are frequently laugh-out-loud funny (‘Oh my God – bunion!’ he exclaims while examining a severed foot); former Penthouse playmate Mullen, meanwhile, is an absolute scream as the sexy-scary title character, gurning wildly as she lumbers around the streets of New York. In a just world, she would have become a star, but sadly she never acted again.

Film fact: Henenlotter pretended the film was going to be called Frankenstein ‘90 during pre-production as he feared the actual title might scare off potential investors.

Patty Mullen in Frankenhooker (28826657)

38. A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984, Wes Craven)

39. The Innocents (1961, Jack Clayton)

40. Nosferatu (1922, F W Murnau)

41. The Omen (1976, Richard Donner)

42. Lake Mungo (2008, Joel Anderson)

43. The Descent (2005, Neil Marshall)

44. Strange Behaviour [aka Dead Kids] (1981, Michael Laughlin)

45. Fright Night (1985, Tom Holland)

46. The Changeling (1980, Peter Medak)

47. Let’s Scare Jessica to Death (1971, John Hancock)

48. Re-Animator (1985, Stuart Gordon)

49. Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988, Robert Zemeckis)

SCARY films aren’t always necessarily adult-only horrors, of course, and there are plenty of family-friendly films that have provided nightmare fuel for younger viewers over the years, from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1968) and Watership Down (1978) to Return to Oz (1985), The Witches (1990) and Joe Dante’s 3D frightener The Hole (2009).

For my money, Robert Zemeckis’s live-action/animated classic Who Framed Roger Rabbit is probably the scariest such film, and this is entirely due to its bad guy: the monstrous Judge Doom (played with unblinking relish by Christopher Lloyd).

For many, the moment when Doom is unmasked as a ‘toon’ is the ultimate scream scene (‘Remember when I killed your brother – and I talked. Just. Like. THIS!’), but an even more unnerving scene arrives earlier in the film. Keen to demonstrate his all-consuming evilness, Doom brutally kills a cute cartoon shoe, slowly lowering it into a vat of ‘dip’ (the cartoon equivalent of acid) as it squeaks and squeals in terror.

Check out the comments section beneath the scene on YouTube (search ‘shoe gets dipped from who framed roger rabbit’) and you will see that this scene scarred not just me, but an entire generation of impressionable moppets.

Film fact: Believe it or not, the scene was initially going to be even worse, with early screenplay drafts featuring a talkative cartoon gopher being forced to undergo a mock trial and then frantically begging for its life as Doom dunked it into the dip. Oh, and Doom was originally going to be played by Tim ‘Pennywise the Clown’ Curry. The mind boggles...

Bob Hoskins and Christopher Lloyd in Who Framed Roger Rabbit (28826660)

50. Abominable (2006, Ryan Schifrin)

NO, not the adorable 2019 computer-animated film from DreamWorks studios, but rather a low-budget creature-feature from writer-director Ryan Schifrin.

Based on the legend of Bigfoot, Abominable centres on a middle-aged widower, Preston (Matt McCoy), who has been left heartbroken and wheelchair-bound following a mountaineering accident which claimed the life of his wife.

In a somewhat self-flagellating attempt to overcome his loss, Preston moves into a woodland cottage situated directly beside the mountain (the name of which – Suicide Rock – would suggest climbing it had been an accident waiting to happen) under the ‘care’ of Otis, an unsympathetic nurse played by make-up artist Christien Tinsley.

Things turn hairy when a group of young women move into the adjacent cabin and immediately attract the attention of a very large, very hungry and very vicious Sasquatch-like creature.

The subsequent tension arises from Preston seeing that the girls are in danger, but being unable to escape from his wheelchair-unfriendly residence to help. Yes, it’s Rear Window – with Bigfoot!

Released in 2006, Abominable rises above standard killer-creature fare thanks to McCoy’s appealing central performance and Schifrin’s superbly paced screenplay and ability to stage an effective scare or suspenseful scene, including an edge-of-your-seat sequence in which the monster repeatedly hoists one of the girls towards it with a climbing rope.

Despite its low budget, the film also boasts a mainstream movie-quality score, courtesy of Theme from Mission: Impossible composer – and Schifrin’s dad – Lalo Schifrin.

Where Abominable really triumphs, however, is in the special effects department, with good old-fashioned practical effects chosen, rather than the ropey computer-generated visuals that so often blight modern-day genre pictures.

The result is a monster that presents a genuine sense of threat and gruesome death scenes that pack real bite (literally). As viewers, we are now so accustomed to ho-hum CGI that it’s startling to be reminded just how effective the time-honoured man-in-a-suit approach can be.

Sadly, Abominable would prove to be Ryan Schifrin's first and last outing as a film director. Of the experience, he said: 'At the end of the day, Abominable is a small, low-budget horror movie. But, it's my baby, my first movie, and I'm incredibly proud of how it turned out.'

Film fact: Abominable features cameo appearances from a number of familiar character actors, with Dee Wallace Stone (ET, The Howling) turning up in a brief prologue, and Jeffrey Combs (Re-animator) and Lance Henriksen (Aliens) enjoying themselves as a pair of doomed huntsmen.

Abominable (28840501)

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