Horror movies that are practically flawless

Horror movies get a bad rap. They're often seen as lazy, sleazy, and uncouth. Snobs treat them like lowbrow garbage for the mindless mob. As of this writing, only six horror films have ever been nominated for the Best Picture Oscar, and only one went home with the gold (The Silence of the Lambs). 

Granted, not every horror movie can be a masterpiece, but amidst the crappy sequels and the straight-to-DVD dreck, there are quite a few films we'd describe as pretty much perfect. They've got impressive camerawork and incredible creature design. The acting is impeccable, and the moody atmosphere will haunt your dreams for nights to come. In addition to featuring evil spirits and serial killers, they tackle heavy themes like sexism, depression, and disease. And most importantly, they're guaranteed to scare your proverbial socks off. From stories about satanic cults to films about possessed parents, these horror movies are practically flawless.

Rosemary's Baby is a masterclass in suspense

Rosemary's Baby is a masterclass when it comes to building suspense. But unlike modern filmmakers who use mystery to create tension, director Roman Polanski lets us know almost immediately there's something satanic happening in the Bramford apartment building.

When Rosemary Woodhouse (Mia Farrow) gets pregnant after a trippy evening full of naked seniors, evil eyes, and inexplicable scratch marks, we know there's something wicked growing in her womb. She starts craving raw meat, her skin goes pale, and her creepy neighbors won't leave her alone. And while Rosemary doesn't understand what's happening, the audience is totally aware the devil is in the details.

But the lack of mystery doesn't detract from the suspense. In fact, it makes things even more unbearable. As Roger Ebert wrote in his review, "When the conclusion comes, it works not because it is a surprise but because it is horrifyingly inevitable. Rosemary makes her dreadful discovery, and we are wrenched because we knew what was going to happen—and couldn't help her."

Don't Look Now is filled with dread

Don't Look Now is a movie built on foreshadowing, twisted time, and psychic flashes of what's to come—none of it good for John and Laura Baxter (Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie). They recently lost a daughter in a tragic accident, and now they're living in the gray world of Venice, Italy, trying to cope and conceal their grief.

Their mourning is interrupted by psychics who can supposedly communicate with the Baxters' daughter, a claim that divides the couple. Laura is eager to believe, but John is a rational man who won't accept anything he can't see…even though he feels something supernatural around every corner. This Venice is a dead, dank labyrinth, where there's a serial killer on the loose, gargoyles watch your every move, and people mysteriously appear where they shouldn't be.

Eerier still, John keeps seeing visions of a girl in a red raincoat—the same coat his daughter was wearing when she died. The movie is seeped in a feeling of doom, and it's all building toward something truly awful. While not a traditional horror movie, Don't Look Now will traumatize even the most hardened fright fan because it's a film about the destructive power of grief, and every frame will fill you with dread.

Carrie is a heartbreaking tragedy

For a genre that's often about blood and guts, horror movies can be terribly, terribly sad. When it comes to tragedy, few are more depressing than Brian De Palma's Carrie. Past all the pig blood and psychic powers, Carrie is a tale about a lonely soul, an outsider who's bullied so badly that she finally breaks. Sissy Spacek gives one of the best performances in horror history as Carrie White, starting off as a terrified teen, morphing into a happy girl with a great big smile, then turning into a wide-eyed telekinetic killer.

De Palma is on top of his game here, creating a high school world that feels like something out of a dream…before exploding into a full-blown nightmare. The prom bloodbath is ingenious in its editing and camerawork, with the director using every trick in the book, from slow motion and split screens to lighting techniques straight from Italian giallo films. The result is a movie that's horrific to watch, both for the fright factor and the heartbreaking loneliness.

Halloween is king of the slashers

Horror fans love to debate which movie was the first real slasher film. Was it Bay of Blood or The Texas Chainsaw Massacre? Or perhaps Black Christmas? Whatever gory flick got things started, Halloween took the slasher mainstream. Released in 1978, this brutal little thriller laid the groundwork for every masked killer movie to come, but few have captured the original's evil essence.

Who can forget that horrific synth score? The moment you hear the Halloween theme, you've got to look over your shoulder to make sure there's no one stalking you. Then there are the chilling visuals, like the iconic POV tracking shot of Michael making his first kill or the glimpse of The Shape lurking in Laurie Strode's backyard. It's all so simple, yet it hits something so primal. But really, the longevity of Halloween comes down to the man in the William Shatner mask. He's the personification of evil, cinema's biggest bogeyman, and no matter how many times you shoot him, Michael just keeps coming.

Alien makes you feel the fear

Take Ridley Scott's cold directing style, H.R. Giger's organic and graphic designs, and Sigourney Weaver's badassery, and you've got the freakiest sci-fi movie ever made. Released in 1979, Alien is a tactile and terrifying movie. Everything you see on-screen, you can just about feel on your skin, from the Xenomorph's slimy maw to the facehugger's strangling tail.

Everything in this movie is so viscous and violent, and the alien design—if you'll pardon the pun—is out of this world. The Xenomorph feels like something that could exist in real life, and those gruesome Giger creations let the movie play with our deep-seated fear of parasites. The idea of a creature crawling around your innards is truly disgusting, so when the alien pops out of Kane's chest, it's still one of the most visceral horror scenes ever filmed.

But with all that monster talk, let's not forget about Weaver as Ellen Ripley. While she became an icon in the sequel, Ripley establishes herself here as a big-time monster hunter. Whether she's suiting up for battle or creeping through hallways with flamethrower in hand, she's a horror hero for the ages.

A Nightmare on Elm Street is dream logic at its most demonic

Surrealism can be pretty disturbing. Luis Bunuel knew it. David Lynch knows it. Wes Craven knew it too. And while A Nightmare on Elm Street doesn't often get mentioned with films like Un Chien Andalou or Mulholland Drive, this fright flick is a masterpiece of surrealist horror. After all, it's about a serial killer who gets you in your sleep, and as the film goes on, Craven blends the dream world with reality, leaving you to wonder where the waking life ends and the nightmare begins.

With his ratty sweater and demonic glove, Freddy Krueger is one of the most frightening monsters to haunt the silver screen, and that's because when you fall asleep, he becomes your god. Just like an actual dream, there are no rules in Freddy's world. A bathtub can open up into a bottomless pit. Stairs turn into sticky goo. And when the dreams start bleeding into the real world—with tongues popping out of phones and beds turning into gory geysers—that's scary surrealism at its finest.

The Fly is body horror at its best

Everybody is scared of getting sick. Nobody wants to look in the mirror and see something they don't recognize looking back at them. That's why The Fly packs such a gut-wrenching wallop. Directed by David Cronenberg, this 1986 remake finds Jeff Goldblum as eccentric scientist Seth Brundle, a man who's morphing into a hideous insect. Body parts fall off Brundle's body. Hideous bumps and thick hairs sprout on his face and back. He twitches, shakes, and vomits all over his food. His humanity is rotting away, and the insect is taking over.

Cronenberg has said the movie is an allegory for AIDS, but the metaphor also works with everything from drug addiction to aging. The human body can't last forever, and while most of us won't morph into flies, we'll all start falling apart eventually. And that—coupled with a genuinely heart-wrenching romance—is why The Fly will linger in your mind for years to come. Because it wants you to be afraid…to be very afraid.

The Silence of the Lambs is a Gothic masterpiece

There aren't any vampires or werewolves in The Silence of the Lambs. Instead, this Oscar-winning thriller is about real-life monsters. Hannibal Lecter and Buffalo Bill are terrifying because they could actually exist. When Lecter stares straight into the camera, you're looking into the eyes of a genuine demon, a monster you could actually meet on the streets.

Of course, that's not to say The Silence of the Lambs is filmed with any sort of docu-realism. Jonathan Demme's movie is steeped in Gothic horror. Hannibal's dank cell and Buffalo Bill's murder dungeon look like the lairs you'd find in an Edgar Allan Poe story. The acting matches the lurid style, with Anthony Hopkins giving an electrifying performance as the world's most charming psychopath. Jodie Foster provides the perfect counterbalance as Clarice Starling—gritty, ambitious, inexperienced but strong.

But while killer cannibals are always scary, the real horror of the film is what it's like to be a woman in male-dominated world. Demme uses his unique camerawork and incredible composition to show Starling surrounded by intimidating dudes, from squaring off with a roomful of cops to her nightmare showdown with Buffalo Bill. But she never backs down from anybody, and her deathly dance with Hannibal makes for one of the most twisted relationships ever seen on the big screen.

The Host is a monstrous melodrama

Directed by Bong Joon-ho, The Host tosses the Spielberg rulebook out the window. Ever since Jaws, most creature features have kept their beasties off-screen until midway into the movie. But The Host isn't playing by Hollywood rules. The amphibious critter—with clumsy legs, limber tail, and toothy mouth—shows up in the first few minutes, kicking off one of the greatest monster attacks in horror history.

On top of the awesome creature design, this Korean movie works as a family drama and a goofy comedy. Bong Joon-ho has always been a master of balancing disparate tones, and he juggles them here with the greatest of ease, making us laugh, then scream, then weep. The film also works as a political satire, casting a snide glance at the media, military, and politicians, both Korean and American.

But the movie's heart is an eccentric family, searching for a little girl kidnapped by the creature and dealing with dastardly government figures. Sure, they can't stop arguing for more than five minutes, but these bickering weirdos have a whole lot of heart. And when they finally face the beast, you'll be on the edge of your seat, cheering as the Molotov cocktails start to fly.

The Orphanage is a truly haunting ghost story

The haunted house is a classic horror archetype, and cinema is full of spooky homes, from The Haunting of Hill House to Poltergeist. But few have captured the creeping dread and terrible sadness of living in a ghostly home like The Orphanage. Produced by Guillermo del Toro and directed by J.A. Bayona, this Spanish thriller takes its time, building a menacing and melancholy atmosphere and letting us wonder what horrors might be waiting down the hallway.

The story follows a woman named Laura (Belen Rueda) who buys an old orphanage with the hopes of using it to help disabled children. But when her own son disappears in its darkened corridors, Laura suspects there might be evil spirits at play. The movie takes its time, jarring us with disturbing images of a creepy kid wearing an unsettling mask. And as Laura searchers for her son and digs deeper into her past, she learns that history is full of ghosts, always haunting the present, and sometimes asking for help.

Drag Me to Hell brings the fun and the fear

Horror-comedy is hard. So many would-be chillers end up stumbling over their own goofiness. Mixing horror and humor can be challenging…unless your name is Sam Raimi.

The man behind the Evil Dead franchise, Raimi is a master at blending fear and fun, and we've sung the praises of Evil Dead II. But while everybody considers that groovy sequel a classic, not as many appreciate Drag Me to Hell. That's a real shame because this 2009 film is pitch perfect when it comes to melding dark humor with genuinely disturbing horror.

The plot follows a young woman (Alison Lohman) who's been cursed by a vengeful old woman (Lorna Raver). In three days, Christine will be dragged to hell, and until then, she'll be haunted by a powerful demon. This simple plot lets Raimi indulge all his gross-out horror urges, from eyes popping out of cakes to muddy exhumations. It's a great big goofy romp, with a foul-mouthed goat and Evil Dead fights. But Raimi pulls no punches when it comes to the scares, and Drag Me to Hell features one of the most frightening endings you'll ever watch through your fingers.

The Babadook is awesomely ambiguous

Horror movies love being ambiguous. Are the ghosts real, or is it all in your head? And when it comes to that kind of eerie ambiguity, there are few movies as freaky as The Babadook.

Directed by Jennifer Kent, this Australian film revolves around a single mom named Amelia (Essie Davis) who's dealing with the death of her husband, plus a very disturbed little boy (Noah Wiseman). Amelia has been trapped in her grief and depression for a while, and things only get worse when the Babadook knocks at her door. He's a top hat-wearing demon with his own pop-up book, the personification of Amelia's depression, and as she falls deeper into the darkness, the Babadook grows stronger.

Much like The Shining, The Babadook wants you to discuss its cryptic ending and try to figure out what's real and what's not. Is there a literal evil spirit trying to possess Amelia? Is it symbolic of the endless pain she's got locked away? Well, the best thing about The Babadook is that the answer is yes.

It Follows is inevitably scary

If you've ever watched a slasher film, you know only virgins get out alive. If the monster catches you having sex, he'll introduce your face to Mr. Machete. But writer-director David Robert Mitchell decided to play with that old cliche in It Follows, a horror film where having sex can actually kill you but can also keep you alive.

This 2014 film involves a young girl (Maika Monroe) who contracts a supernatural STD. Unless she passes it along, she'll be killed by a shapeshifting monster. And if she dies, the creature will hunt down the guy who gave it to her…and so on and so on. It feels like an actual urban legend—one accompanied by an incredible synth score from Disasterpiece—but this film is far scarier than any Creepypasta. That's because the titular monster is one of the most terrifying in recent memory.

Sure, It's slow, but It's unstoppable. You can't reason with It. You can't outrun It. Like death, It just keeps coming. You never know when. You never know how. But rest assured, It will stagger into view sooner or later. It's inevitable as old age and relentless as time.

The Wailing is horror at its most epic

Directed by Na Hong-jin, The Wailing is an epic horror film in every sense of the word. Running close to three hours long, this Korean tale is a Biblical battle of good vs. evil. There's something devilish going down in a tiny Korean village—a plague that involves illness, madness, and murder. An incompetent cop (Kwak Do-Won) is determined to get to the bottom of things, especially when his little girl starts showing signs of demonic possession. But unlike the stories of old, there's no guarantee that light will defeat darkness. 

The movie sits at a fascinating crossroads of religions and cultures. Some characters wear crosses to ward off the devil, while others rely on ancient Korean traditions. Some suspect a mysterious Japanese man living out in the woods is at fault, but is that just historical prejudice coming into play? And how far do you go to solve a mystery when human lives—nay, their very souls—are on the line? At its heart, The Wailing is a film about doubt vs. faith, one that features an unstoppable zombie, rabid killers, a horrific hellhound, and one of the most disturbing exorcisms ever put to film.

Hereditary is a modern-day classic of doom and despair

What's more tragic? Choosing your own destruction or being fated to fail? That's the question at the heart of Hereditary. Hailed as the scariest movie of 2018, Hereditary is certainly frightening, and it features one of the most twisted endings in horror history. But this film is far more than just scares and screams. It's an extremely disturbing look at the destructive powers of grief, the heartbreak that comes with being in a family, and the crippling power of mental illness.

Yes, there are seances, spirits, and the world's creepiest cult. Yes, the movie will keep you checking your ceiling for months to come. And, yes, that scene involving a sketchbook and a fireplace will leave your jaw all the way on the floor. However, Hereditary's real power comes from the sense of doom that lingers over the entire movie—that no matter what you do, you can't escape what's coming. Just like Toni Collette creating miniature dolls and tiny rooms, it sometimes feels like your life whole life is being manipulated. No matter how hard you try to escape your past, the things you inherit will haunt you forever.