Our Top 10 Horror Movies of All-Time
By Jeff Ayers — / Lifestyle
At Death Wish Coffee Company, we take our love of horror movies pretty seriously. From classic haunts to the newest frights, here is my 2021 unapologetic ranking of the top ten horror movies of all time. (Who knows—maybe my opinion will change next year.)
If you don't agree with me, let us know what your top ten is on social media and make sure you tag Death Wish Coffee.
Honorable mention: "Scream"
Wes Craven's meta take on the whole genre that gave him a career could have backfired, but instead, turned the spotlight inward on what truly makes a good horror movie. Some of the best horror movies are equal parts gruesome and hilarious, and “Scream” has a lot of funny moments and quotable lines. The movie gets an honorable mention on this list because of its willingness to poke holes in the tried-and-true tropes of the horror genre, all the while also delivering some truly horrific on-screen kills. Spoilers for this 25-year-old movie—it was a masterful stroke of genius to cast a big-name actress Drew Barrymore and do away with her in the first few moments of the movie.
#10 "Evil Dead"
Before Sam Raimi or Bruce Campbell were household names, they collaborated on a little movie called “The Evil Dead.” Released to a modest success for a small budget movie, it is now considered to be one of the most successful cult-classic horror movies, and Campbell's character, Ash, is a cultural icon, spawning two direct sequels, a remake, comic books and even a television series. The movie helped solidify the now played-out theme of "five college students stay in a cabin in the woods and are haunted/attacked by evil" that other films like “Friday the 13th,” “Sleepaway Camp,” and “Cabin in the Woods” have also done with varying levels of success in storytelling and reception. The "deadites" might look a little cheesy in today's special effects standards, but the idea of being possessed by demons with no escape is still pretty terrifying.
#9 "The Blair Witch Project"
Filmmakers Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sánchez’s found-footage masterpiece introduced the horror genre to the true meaning of "low budget" and how that can translate to giant success, thanks to a new form of viral marketing. I was at that perfect age when the movie was released in 1999 to actually believe the hype—this was a real story of three aspiring filmmakers whose footage was actually found abandoned in the woods, and their last moments alive played out on tape. This brilliant marketing made this movie, and the experience of seeing it in the theaters on opening night made it even more terrifying. The final scene still makes the hair stand up on the back of my neck.
#8 "The Thing"
The original film by John Carpenter scared absolutely no one when it was released in 1982 due to predominately negative reviews. It wasn't until wider audiences were able to experience the movie on home video that its true cult-movie status took off. “The Thing” is constantly praised for its inventive and terrifying creature designs, as the story plays out with heavy themes of paranoia and isolation. Trapped in Antartica with a shape-changing alien life form, the main cast cannot trust each other as they are picked off one by one. One of the biggest strengths is the finale of the film, which leaves you, the viewer, with the same feelings of paranoia that the surviving characters are experiencing on screen.
#7 "The Witch"
Also called “A New England Folktale,” “The Witch” is a near-perfect period piece that is frightening in both its premise and setting. Starting off in the 1600s with a family banished from town for a religious dispute, filmmaker Robert Eggers expertly portrays the fears of God and the Devil in his directorial debut. Some have said this film is slow and lacks substance, but I challenge you to watch it and not experience what Eggers is hiding between the scenes—feelings of dread and despair, peppered with some seriously disturbing scenarios and an unsettling goat. The ending ramps up and cements the truly terrifying story as one of the best, and I never want to think about growing up in those Puritan times.
#6 "A Nightmare on Elm Street"
One. Two. Freddy's coming for you. This rhyme from “A Nightmare on Elm Street” sums it all up—no matter what you do, Freddy's going to get you. Wes Craven's supernatural slasher flick from 1984 gave life to New Line Cinema and the new breed of horror movie monster icons. Freddy has a compelling and terrible backstory, as well as a power set that is unmatched—he will find you in your dreams. After the events of this original movie, they needed to keep inventing new ways for people to try and fail at staying awake so Freddy could wreak mayhem all over again. (If they just drank the World's Strongest Coffee all night long, Freddy would have been defeated easily!) This movie was and is a must watch around the spooky season time of year and is one of the best films that plays on your perceptions of what is real and what isn't. For an added bonus, you get pre-superstar Johnny Depp as one of the ill-fated teenagers that has to go up against Freddy Krueger.
Clive Barker's directorial debut was 1987s “Hellraiser,” and this movie quickly became polarizing for many horror fans. You either love and embrace the sadomasochistic gory nature of it all, or it disturbs you to your core. With a premise straight out of the depths of hell, the cenobite leader Pinhead brings his army of ghoulish demons to terrorize poor Kirstie, who just happened to open the evil puzzle box. “Hellraiser” has some of the most gruesome and gory death scenes outside of the new wave of gore-porn horror films like “Saw” and “Hostel.”
Another movie that expertly blends the psychological and the grotesque, “Hereditary” is an expert class in how to make an entertaining and unsettling film. After her mother's death, Annie's life starts to spiral out of control, and the themes of family strife and inherited trauma that spans generations are the real monsters of the film. Yet sprinkle in some horrific scenes that will haunt you after your first viewing—and a Satanic presence that can be more than an undertone—and this movie is nothing short of incredibly scary.
#3 "The Exorcist"
“The Exorcist” is nearly 50 years old, and it is still absolutely terrifying. William Peter Blatty's source material is scary enough, but filmmaker William Friedkin dials the demonic possession all the way up as far as it will go and breaks the knob off. Linda Blair, portraying the possessed child Reagan, is unsettling in how expertly she does the job. Vomiting while laughing as Max von Sydow's exorcising priest tries to cast the demon out is scary enough, but there are more disturbing scenes to keep you awake at night. The true strength of this movie lies in the story itself, and the sheer terror of the thought that the devil is real and maybe he could possess someone you love, or even you, without warning or remorse.
#2 "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre"
The original theatrical poster for the “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” asks "Who will survive and what will be left of them?" This sets the stage for one of the scariest and most anxiety-inducing horror films ever produced. The film was originally marketed as "based on true events," and while the film's monster star Leatherface was loosely based on the real-life murderer Ed Gein, the story is much more fiction than fact, or at least as far as we know. Coming out in 1974, “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” is credited as one of the films that changed the horror genre forever as a quintessential slasher film. In fact, the “Final Girl” horror movie trope was born from this movie, with the character Sally being the lone survivor, bloody and screaming as she narrowly escapes the horrors the cast and the audience had endured for the length of the movie. Truly an unsettling movie—and Leatherface still makes me jump all these viewings later.
“Halloween,” John Carpenter's 1978 epic horror tale, might be the perfect horror movie. It expertly sets the stage for the story on Halloween night in 1963, when a six-year-old Michael Myers brutally stabs his older sister to death. Fast forward 15 years, and Myers has escaped from the asylum where he was kept and is on the loose to terrorize the poor town of Haddonfield, Illinois. Jamie Lee Curtis plays Laurie Strode, who is stalked and haunted by Myers throughout the film, culminating in a nail-biting final sequence that is equal parts scary and exciting. The score is also penned by Carpenter and is a character all its own, with the theme song instantly as iconic as Myers' creepy white mask. This film spawned a decades-long franchise with multiple interpretations of the character, and as I write this in 2021, I eagerly await the next installment aptly titled “Halloween Kills.”