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Decades of Horror: Our Favorite Frightening Films from 1920 to Today


Closing out our month of Halloween content, here's a late-night list of some of our favorite horror films of the last ten decades. Special thanks to Brisia Vargas for sharing her thoughts on each of the films she chose, and a welcome to our newest contributor, Elizabeth Drake!

1920's

Matt Linton & Shelby Cadwell: The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920)

Elizabeth Drake: Phantom of the Opera (1925)

Brisia Vargas: Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1920)

This film exemplifies the classic elements of horror in the silent era. Barrymore’s emphasized body language, dramatic facial expressions, and the sinister nature of his transformation into Mr. Hyde provide an insightful look into what disturbed audiences at the time.

1930's

ML: Bride of Frankenstein (1935)

SC: King Kong (1933)

ED: Werewolf of London (1935)

BV: The Invisible Man (1933)

The use of special effects in this film that hold up remarkably well along with its abundance of dark humor led The Invisible Man to take its place as my favorite horror film from the 30s.

1940's

ML: Shadow of a Doubt (1943)

SC and ED: Cat People (1942)

BV: The Uninvited (1944)

My grandfather enthusiastically recommended this film to me many. many times before I finally caved and watched it. This proved to be a good decision, because it managed to give some good scares through subtle methods that capitalize on suspense and fear of the unknown.

1950's

ML: The Night of the Hunter (1955)

SC: Them! (1954)

ED: The Abominable Snowman of the Himalayas (1957)

BV: The Fly (1958)

I had fun watching this film, which is more than I can say for many other horror films from this period. It was so entertaining it helped to alleviate my phobia of insects, but now when I see a bug instead of flinching or running away I fall into an existential crisis about the hubris of mankind.

1960's

ML: Psycho (1960)

SC: Peeping Tom (1960)

ED: Rosemary's Baby (1968)

BV: Night of the Living Dead (1968)

Think of every zombie movie or TV show you’ve ever enjoyed. Then, marvel at all that was established artistically and within the horror genre through this film with a limited budget and participation from people who were not professional actors. Or don’t, I can’t tell you what to do.

1970's

ML: Halloween (1978)

SC: Alien (1979)

ED: Soylent Green (1973)

BV: The Exorcist (1973)

Spooky fun fact! The third installment of this series was a favorite of Jeffrey Dahmer’s. The first is undoubtedly superior and is a cinematic masterpiece, however, so it seems as though the Milwaukee Cannibal had mediocre taste. If that knowledge doesn’t get you to revisit this iconic film, I don’t know what will.

1980s

ML: Evil Dead II (1987)

SC: Hellraiser (1987)

ED: The Shining (1980)

BV: A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)

I can think of fewer things more harrowing than the concept of having to resist the basic human urge to sleep in order to avoid certain death. This film was nearly replaced on my list by Dream Warriors based on sheer comedic value alone, but my appreciation of the original’s vast impact outweighed my amusement at the infamous television death scene (seriously, go look it up).

1990's

ML: Scream (1996)

SC: Disturbing Behavior (1998)

ED: Misery (1990)

BV: The Silence of the Lambs (1991)

As a huge fan of 90s horror films (good and laughably bad) it took me a bit of time to come to this pick. Ultimately, the phenomenal acting of this riveting thriller and the great memories of horror movie marathons I’ve had around this time of year including it earned Silence of the Lambs this spot on my list.

2000's

ML: Shaun of the Dead (2004)

SC: Paranormal Activity (2007)

ED: Hard Candy (2005)

BV: American Psycho (2000)

If it hasn’t been made clear by some of my picks so far, I’m kind of enamored with horror films that exploit the psychological aspects of fear. Patrick Bateman is a character that does just that, provoking the fear that seemingly ordinary people could be concealing immense inhumanity.

2010's

ML: Cabin in the Woods (2011)

SC: Happy Death Day (2017)

ED: It Follows (2014)/Get Out (2017) (tie)

BV: A Quiet Place (2018)

I’ve only seen A Quiet Place once, but it was by far one of the most memorable theatre experiences I had this year. Every single person sat fully engaged from beginning to end due the masterful sound design that took advantage of the power of silence and heightened the audience’s attention to detail.

Do you agree or disagree with our picks? Sound off in the comments with your own favorite horror films from decades past!

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