The parameters of a horror film are often contentious. Some viewers may luxuriate in intense Zombie-eating gore, but go running for the exit when a character is stalked by a ghost. Identifying the most successful horror films is also an identifier of what frightens you as an individual, and everyone is different. For me – isolated settings and creepy noises almost always get me, as does the threat of intense unflinching violence.
There are a few films that would have made my list if I had opened up the range a little – Se7en, which I view as an (excellent) police-procedural thriller, and Shaun of the Dead, which is more of a comedy, are two examples. You may argue that The Silence of the Lambs and An American Werewolf in London fall into these respective categories, but I have included them because I value their horror elements more. If I were pressed I would file them under ‘horror’. Is Come and See a war film or horror? Most definitely a horror.
Then there are the sub-genres of horror – supernatural, psychological, monster, portrayals of true crime. Working out what the most successful examples of these sub-genres (and the genre as a whole) is very subjective. Two years ago I spent the better part of a year working through as many of the classic horror I had not yet seen. While I barely scratched the surface of what is out there, I put together a list I was proud of and felt was an educated assessment of the genre. Please find below an updated version of my ’50 Favourite Horror Films’, a list of sure-fire winners if you’re looking for quality suspense.