In honor of Horror-Movies.ca’s forthcoming Most Influential Horror Movies timeline we have asked our team of volunteer bloggers to put together a list of what they feel are the most influential horror films of all time. With each film on the list we have a reason and most importantly which team member selected the movie.
Tim Hannigan, Luke Franklin, Gwendolyn Kiste, Herner Klenthur and Jason McDonald are all contributing to this list and as noted it will evolve over time. You our readers are also encouraged to suggest films and why they are the most influential and if your answer is well thought out and we agree it will be added to the list and YOU will be credited.
This list of the most influential horror movies of all time is mostly a matter of opinion–and of course, a bit of film history to back up each entry–so I encourage everyone to add their lists of most influential horror movies to the comments at the end of this article. As always, the more horror, the merrier.
Jaws wasn’t the first film to use a giant monster or underwater scares, but short of Godzilla, no force of nature in horror ever seeped into popular culture quite like this finned menace. While Bruce the Shark is the obvious star, the story is driven by its characters without bogging down the audience with too much back story–thereby proving you can have terror sans the usual cardboard characters.
In terms of changing the genre in subtler ways, Spielberg broke the then-cardinal rule never to kill kids or animals (RIP Alex Kintner and Pippet) yet never delved into maudlin territory with the dangerous narrative maneuver. But his 1975 sharkfest was influential beyond horror. Widely considered the first summer blockbuster, Jaws paved the way for every June to August big budget bonanza to follow. You’re gonna need a bigger marquee. - Selected by Gwendolyn Kiste & Herner Klenthur
Evil Dead did for horror movies what Airplane did for Leslie Nielson’s career in comedy. It launched two of the most iconic names in horror Bruce Campbell and Sam Raimi and has become one of the most revered horror films ever made. Bruce Campbell at the time was a cab driver and thanks to Evil Dead he was a part of one of the greatest american horror film franchises which includes not just Evil Dead but also Evil Dead 2 and Army of Darkness.
The film was remade in 2013 with no Bruce Campbell and no Ash character but even despite these huge oversights I will concede that the remake overall was a great film that paid homage to the original while adding a fresh spin. Evil Dead has inspired countless horror films over the years with the most recent being the spectacular ‘Cabin in The Woods’ which featured Deadites and the possessed trees. - Selected by Herner Klenthur
The Blair Witch Project
This film broke new ground in many areas for horror films. First it became one of the most profitable films in cinema for quite some time until Paranormal Activity came along. Blair Witch also made popular the found footage craze. Lastly this was the first film to use the internet and word of mouth with amazing success. - Selected by Luke Franklin & Herner Klenthur
Horror of Dracula
Hammer Films ushered in a new era of horror cinema, one in which the color was more saturated and the women more buxom. With a sense of swashbuckling adventure, Horror of Dracula is like a bloodier Adventures of Robin Hood. The baddies might seem insurmountable, but our heroes come through in a grand finale.
Like a Victorian MacGyver, Peter Cushing’s Van Helsing utilizes what he’s got available–in this case, a curtain and a couple candlesticks–and defeats the world’s greatest bloodsucker. One of the first pairings of Cushing and Christopher Lee, Horror of Dracula was not the first vampire film–or the first effort to come out of Bray Studios–but it marked a moment when the horror paradigm shifted from old school restraint to unrepentant gore and sex. From Bava to grindhouse, everyone owes this film a macabre debt of gratitude. - Selected by Gwendolyn Kiste
John Carpenters The Thing
When it originally hit theaters it was not an immediate success but that has not stopped it from being recognized as one of the greatest sci-fi horror films of all time. It landed #8 at the box office when it originally opened June 25th 1982 in 800 theaters but that is mainly because it went head to head with the juggernaut E.T.
To this day the special effects for The Thing are considered to be some of the best use of practical effects ever. The Thing is one of the few films where the special effects continue to hold up and illustrate that practical effects are definitely worth the time and effort.
Martyrs directed by Pascal Lugiers and released in 2008 makes the list for being one of the most shocking and emotional horror films to ever come out of France. On the surface its a film that tells the story of a young woman quest for revenge against the people who kidnapped her but it quickly spirals into complete depravity.
Martyrs is coined by many as Torture Porn but unlike films like HOSTEL which finds its entire plot being driven by violence Martyrs has a deep moral message that is driven on the screen with its violence. Not for the faint of heart it is one of the most terrifying and poignant horror films ever made. – Selected by Herner Klenthur
A complaint that many level against horror is its Eurocentric focus. Watch as white teens frolic and canoodle and get chopped into ribbons. Even the foreign films that fans long ago accepted into the fold–those of Bava and Argento, for example–still reflect Western sensibilities. But in the late 1990s, so-called conventional horror got a taste of how Eastern cultures do terror.
Though in no way the first Japanese horror film, Ringu was the breakaway hit that forced American audiences to look beyond the typical continental settings for scares. And what scares they are. The unstoppable nature of J-Horror’s villains make Jason Voorhees look like a fleeting nuisance. Ringu‘s television scene alone is one of the most iconic moments in horror history. The remake did it well but still can’t quite compare. - Selected by Gwendolyn Kiste
This psychological horror story about a girl who snaps after everyone in her life turns their back on her is an extremely underrated film in every respect. It’s a complex and engaging story with interesting and deep characters that exist to supplement the main character May (Angela Bettis). No characters are thrown into the story just to be killed and no one has a single line designed to pad the running time.
It reminds the audience that we don’t’ have to have high body counts, naked coeds, and excessive amounts of gore to make a great horror movie. Just make us care about the characters and the rest falls into place. Made for next to nothing, we can only pray that talent like this lies dormant somewhere else in Lucky McKee’s head (and after seeing The Woods, I feel that his masterpiece is just around the corner, but that’s another article). - Added by PoppaScotch
Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining based off of the novel by Stephen King is lauded by many as the greatest horror film of all time. Jack Nicholson portrayal of a hotel caretaker who slowly looses his mind while looking after a lodge during its winter shut down was nothing short of spectacular. The Shining may not have initially won critics over but over time it has seen immense praise placed on it by filmmakers, critics, fans and most importantly Stephen King.
Up until Stanley Kubrick did The Shining Stephen King was quotted as being indifferent to the film adaptations of his novels. The Shining was the first film that not only earned the praise of us horror fans but also Stephen King himself
The Rocky Horror Picture Show
Some people don’t think of this one as horror, even though the word is literally in the title. But it’s a genre film if ever there was one. There’s mayhem. There’s murder. Heck, there’s even cannibalism. Sure, Rocky Horror has comedy too, but it blends the laughs with the violence to incredibly gruesome, not slapstick, effect.
Undoubtedly, this is the longest running horror film of all-time, still playing in places like the Hollywood Theater near Pittsburgh to this day. Back in the 1970s, the midnight movie was a honored tradition among genre fans. Everything from Eraserhead and Night of the Living Dead to El Topo and Pink Flamingos cemented legacies during the witching hour. Sadly, those titles have faded from the marquee, but thanks to Rocky Horror, the midnight movie remains alive and well. - Selected by Gwendolyn Kiste
One of my personal favorites from horror’s last twenty years, this 1996 slasher rebooted the murderous man in the mask trope, all while employing a decisive sense of style and wit. To obliterate expectations, Wes Craven eschewed the usual no-names and cast a group of actors that included several familiar, if not A-List, stars.
And scribe Kevin Williamson’s recent Twitter tantrums notwithstanding, Scream manages to hit–and skewer–the usual horror marks with tongue firmly planted in cheek and a self-awareness unlike anything before it. Since then, the imitators have been many–the entire Scary Movie franchise, for one–but this is where a modern generation of horror fans first discovered the genre. If that’s not influence, then nothing is. - Selected by Gwendolyn Kiste
The Hills Have Eyes
At first I found it a little hard to swallow that a man from France was lecturing me heavily on American foreign policy and global aggression. But after a year or two, it made sense that someone who doesn’t live in the country would have a totally unaltered view of world politics.
Did you ever realize that this is what the movie is about? That hidden agenda under a genuinely frightening and violent film set a new precedent for horror after it. Not only was there a message to be given to the audience, but it was done excellently around an extremely gory and entertaining movie. To stay in the minds of the critics after years have passed, just make your film say something (it really doesn’t matter what) and do it cleverly. – Selected by PoppaScotch
No list of influential horror movies is complete without a nod to one of the first and still among the best vampire flicks. The original imitator–Bram Stoker’s widow was so irked by the rip-off, she ordered every copy destroyed–Nosferatu exudes terror, due in large part to Max Schreck’s uncompromising performance.
The rules of bloodsuckers–coffins in crypts, innocent female victims, sunlight sensitivity–debuted on the Silver Screen in this 1922 feature and haven’t left the collective consciousness since. Plus, Nosferatu was a progenitor in terrifying visual effects, including that crazy rat makeup. There’s influential, and then there’s iconoclasm. Count Orlok is the ultimate rebel without a cause, creeper Templeton demeanor and all. - Selected by Gwendolyn Kiste
That terrible version of Godzilla with Matthew Broderick almost completely turned me off to monster movies all together. Then I saw the good (but not amazing) Cloverfield and the extremely underrated Host. Again, looking back on what made May a success was the well placed cast of characters with strong motivations, feelings, and backgrounds. The Host is mainly about a family coming together to save their daughter (also niece or granddaughter) in any way with whatever skills they could possibly contribute.
By the end of the film, one of the family members has fallen and I honestly started to tear up a bit. I cared about these characters so much that I became emotionally attached to their plight. The plight of saving a little girl from some kind of river dwelling monster… to illicit those feelings from a completely ridiculous premise solely shows why this movie was successful. Pretty much every horror movie can learn a thing or two about characters here. – Selected by PoppaScotch
Bride of Frankenstein
The mad scientist laboratory. The tiny figures under glass. That electrifying coif. Virtually every aspect of the Bride of Frankenstein has been repurposed and reimagined in the last eighty years. Heavily influenced by German expressionism–compare the Bride’s movements to Metropolis‘ female robot–James Whale’s 1935 magnum opus is Universal Horror’s most beautiful creation by far.
Although not the first horror movie by any means or even the first to star Boris Karloff, Bride of Frankenstein does something to your psyche, twisting you with its lyrical siren song. Modern audiences might find certain moments campy or overwrought, but without this entry into the horror canon, everything from Hammer Films to Young Frankenstein wouldn’t be the same. - Selected by Gwendolyn Kiste
Truth be told, Black Christmas is probably my favorite of the 1970s slashers. I even named it as the game-changing cut ‘em up in my very first article for this site, much to the chagrin of hardcore Halloween fans. But when it comes to lasting influence, John Carpenter’s Michael Myers has got the edge over Bob Clark’s Billy.
Fictional Haddonfield, Illinois is now synonymous with a place you don’t want to spend Samhain as well as the locale for the most beloved massacre that never happened. Since 1978, every single slasher looks to Carpenter’s masterpiece for guidance and rightfully so. The setting, the casting, the music–all of it is spot-on chilling. Who knew a William Shatner mask could ever be so genuinely creepy? (Okay, maybe everyone, but still.) - Selected by Gwendolyn Kiste
Night of the Living Dead
My writing perch rotates but almost always involves a Pittsburgh coffee shop. This means at all times, I have an omnipresent reminder of George Romero’s beloved zombies outside my window. Quite the inspiration for a horror writer. Night of the Living Dead is one of those films that’s influenced more than we’ll ever really appreciate. There would be no Walking Dead without it. There’d be no Return of the Living Dead. Horror simply wouldn’t be the same.
NotLD was ultra low-budget and out of the Hollywood system in a time when that just wasn’t done, helping to inspire legions of indie filmmakers. Add in the Vietnam War-inspired gore and Civil Rights-era racial undertones, and you’ve got a movie that works on a lot more levels than you’d expect, considering the monsters are literally brain dead. And almost a half century later, film students and critics are still analyzing its subtext. - Selected by Gwendolyn Kiste
28 Days Later
Oscar winning director Danny Boyle is a chameleon when it comes to picking out projects. 28 Days Later was his second stab at horror that was not only great at establishing characters (I know, broken record here) but was also an astounding technological achievement. Shot almost entirely on digital video, the film was able to stay under their paltry 8 million dollar budget while conveying digital and practical effects of a completely empty London. It’s important because it goes to show that even with next to no money available, filmmaking talent, storytelling, and performances can outweigh explosions and car chases. - Selected by PoppaScotch
Psycho / Peeping Tom
Like most of my lists, I’m going to cheat with a twofer. True cinematic doppelgangers, the influence of these two films diverged in very different directions over the years, only to meet up again in modern times. Psycho is remembered as the original slasher, the place where celluloid mastery collided with the lewdest of themes. It even earned Oscar nominations for Hitchcock and actress Janet Leigh. Along with The Exorcist and The Silence of the Lambs, Psycho is the closest horror’s ever come to being fully embraced by mainstream audiences and critics.
Peeping Tom, on the other hand, found itself much maligned upon release. Director Michael Powell forces the audience to see murder and mayhem and madness through the perspective of Carl Boehm’s Mark Lewis, leading one critic to call the film more horrible than a colony of lepers. Today, however, Peeping Tom stands tall with Psycho as the twin films that helped usher in an era of slashers, voyeurs, and Freudian devices. Who said you couldn’t intellectualize homicide? - Selected by Gwendolyn Kiste
Ginger Snaps is one of those movies that not even the casual horror fan may know much about. It all started as a small budget Canadian werewolf flick that went on to set a new standard of horror. A lot of people will focus on the idea that the transformation into being a werewolf is used as a metaphor for puberty which is clearly the main agenda of the film (and is handled fantastically). But what I want to accent is the subtly of the actor’s performances.
Nothing is over the top, ridiculous, or falsely delivered. This is a shock because all of the leads are children with limited acting experience. That my friends is just fantastic directing. It remains influential because its sets the example that with a small budget you can create anything, as long as the talent is there. - Selected by PoppaScotch
What horror movies do you think have been the most influential? Let me know in the comments below!