Ten Exceptionally Well-Written Horror Films

It’s October, and for many of you, that means it’s time to gather ‘round the television set and consume media about ghosts, werewolves, vampires, zombies and serial killers. The trouble with this time-honored tradition, however, is that quality horror films are hard to come by these days, particularly if you’re relying on Netflix Instant Watch, whose collection is spotty at best. Where are the scary movies that both shock the senses and satisfy the audience’s craving for a narrative journey? Where are the films that explore the emotional arcs of fleshed-out, realistic characters as they battle unspeakable terrors? Can we get a decent midnight movie that also features good dialogue?

Yes we can. We can have it all. Here are ten exceptionally well-written horror films that give us both the quality and the spooky we seek (and deserve), presented in no particular order.

Now, before we set out on this Halloween excursion, I’ll warn you first off that there might be some “glaring” omissions in this column—namely, classic horror films like The Exorcist or Rosemary’s Baby. I’ve intentionally left these and other titles off the list because, 1.) everybody knows about them already, so attempting to sell you on the idea they’re excellent films seems like a redundant task, and 2.) I’ve decided to challenge myself a bit and focus on films made from original screenplays, solely because I feel there are more great horror films adapted from equally great novels out there than there are works written directly for the screen, and we should let those originals get the spotlight for once.

Another warning: spoilers may lie ahead…

1. "Videodrome' (1983)

When you watch a David Cronenberg film, you feel as though you’re reading a novel. The man knows how to lay on the psychological subtext and symbolism without sacrificing narrative economy. I don’t think there’s a better example of Cronenberg’s simultaneously lean and dense style than Videodrome. The plot follows sleazy TV producer Max Renn (James Woods) as he tumbles down a spiral staircase of what-the-fuckery after viewing a sadistic torture and murder show that bears the same name as the movie, which illegally broadcasts from Pittsburgh and is purported to be “the real thing,” i.e.: actual snuff. 

The trick is, “Videodrome” comes prepackaged with hallucinogenic and mind-controlling properties, so for Renn, distinguishing between reality and hallucination becomes virtually impossible. Equal parts Raymond Chandler and William S. Burroughs, Videodrome will leave you scratching your head and pondering your own existence for days. 

Best Line Of Dialogue

Brian Oblivion (what a name!): The television screen is the retina of the mind's eye. Therefore, the television screen is part of the physical structure of the brain. Therefore, whatever appears on the television screen emerges as raw experience for those who watch it. Therefore, television is reality, and reality is less than television.

Videodrome (The Criterion Collection) ()

 

2. 'Martin' (1976)

Sure, everybody knows George Romero as the guy who created the modern zombie (he really did do this, people). But did you know he made a vampire movie? Well, probably not, since to call Martin a vampire movie would be like labeling To Kill A Mockingbird YA literature (technically correct, but such an understatement). The titular character in this underrated gem only believes he’s a vampire due to a familial obsession with Old World superstitions, reinforced daily by his overbearing uncle Cuda (a substitute for Van Helsing). 

Martin may not be an 84 year-old vampire, but he does feed on humans, utilizing syringes full of sedatives to paralyze his victims and a razor blade to cut their wrists and drink their blood. Despite this brutishness, Romero writes Martin as a sympathetic figure, a victim of environment and poor mental health, giving us a narrative as much indebted to coming-of-age tales like Harper Lee’s seminal novel as it is to Universal monster movies (and a serious critique of organized religion and suffocating small towns). Sure, there are horrific and gory moments, but in-between those scenes, Martin is a smart, often hilarious character study. 

Best Line Of Dialogue

Cuda (upon Martin’s arrival for an extended stay): Nosferatu. Vampire! First I will save your soul, then I will destroy you. I will show you your room.

Martin ()

 

3. 'The Wicker Man' (1973)

The title of this film itself is a mystery, though it’s never alluded to in the course of the narrative. It’s an intriguing image that lingers in your subconscious as you watch Sergeant Neil Howie (Edward Woodward) investigate the disappearance of a young girl on Summerisle, an isolated Scottish island. His search is thwarted or otherwise made difficult by the local populace, who worship ancient Celtic gods and engage in Pagan rituals. Since Howie is a devout Christian (and, at times, overbearingly pious), his stay at Summerisle is all the more difficult.

Unfortunately, the twist ending to this magnificent film has been spoiled on numerous “Best of Horror” lists, and many focus on the ending as the one terrifying or well-written moment in the film. A shame, since every bit of dialogue, every surprise moment, every dip into the murky waters of the grotesque are masterful moves by seasoned storyteller Anthony Shaffer, the celebrated playwright and screenwriter of Sleuth and Alfred Hitchcock’s Frenzy. The Wicker Man is a game of chess—the checkmate’s important, but so are all the moves leading up to the end. 

Best Line Of Dialogue

Lord Summerisle (played by Christopher Lee!): Do sit down, Sergeant. Shocks are so much better absorbed with the knees bent.

The Wicker Man ()

 

4. 'Deep Red' (1975)

Considered by many to be the quintessential Giallo film—an Italian genre blending crime, noir, horror and extreme violence—Deep Red is, in my opinion, Dario Argento’s most crafty, head-scratching screenplay. It features mysteries piled upon mysteries, plot twists about every five minutes, characters that move from trustworthy to dubious and back again, and increasingly bizarre clues leading to the identity of the murderer (and, of course, each death is more gruesome than the last). 

On paper, this labyrinthine narrative looks like a mess, but Argento and co-writer Bernardino Zapponi tie up every bit of outlandishness and resolve the film neatly. It’s one of those movies that makes you go, “Ohhhhhhhhhhhhh…” It’s also a nasty, blood-soaked ride through the streets of Rome, and the true progenitor of the slasher genre. 

Some of you are probably more familiar with Argento’s Suspiria, and I almost included it on this list, but I realized that, while it’s an excellent film, it’s the visuals that make it great, and not so much the writing. Discuss

Best Line Of Dialogue

Marc: I'm just trying to understand, because... Carlo, you know, sometimes what you actually see and what you imagine get mixed up in your memory, like a cocktail from which you can no longer distinguish one flavor from another.

Deep Red [Blu-ray] ()

 

5. 'Se7en' (1995)

Okay, I said I wouldn’t talk about (in)famous movies, but I’m including Se7en for the simple fact that I still, to this day, have to convince people this is a horror movie. Maybe you’re saying, “Really?” with me, or maybe you’re one of those that need convincing. Well, I could write volumes on why screenwriter Andrew Kevin Walker and director David Fincher’s film belongs in the same category as Halloween and A Nightmare on Elm Street, but since I’m doing a list-based column, I’ll keep it simple: watching Se7en mirrors the experience of walking through a really good Haunted House attraction. The detective/mystery narrative serves as a tour guide, weaving you through chiaroscuro streets and chilling interiors; then, without warning, the guide throws you into grisly horror set pieces (crime scenes) featuring imagery so terrifying you won’t be able to shake them for months 

Put even more simply, Se7en is basically a Giallo movie, except that the audience only sees the aftermath of the murders, and not the acts themselves. It’s also a smart, well-crafted story that shakes dust off the archaic concept of sin. If you still need convincing that this is a horror movie, consider that Saw, which everyone accepts as horror, is basically a poor man’s Se7en

Best Exchange Of Dialogue

Somerset: This guy's methodical, exacting, and worst of all, patient.

Mills: He's a nut-bag. Just because the fucker's got a library card doesn't make him Yoda.

Seven [Blu-ray] ()

 

6. 'Shaun of the Dead' (2004)

Yeah, I know, I’m breaking the “no famous movie” rule left and right here, but hey, sometimes rules are made to be broken, and in my opinion, you can’t talk about well-written horror movies without mentioning Shaun of the Dead. And yeah, I know, this is technically a horror comedy—some may even argue it’s all comedy with the “horror” elements used strictly for laughs—but again, I say, bah! 

Here’s the thing: Shaun of the Dead, while perhaps one of the funniest films ever made, is also pretty intense in many sections, and every bit as gory as a Romero movie despite the jokes (and, by the way, Dawn of the Dead is pretty hilarious too); moreover, genre distinctions aside, Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright’s screenplay is simply sublime. Every character is nuanced and distinct, with dialogue that could only come out of their respective mouths; the dialogue itself is fluid and natural, but also poetically punny and laced with sly one-liners that require multiple viewings to notice in full; lines are subtly repeated throughout the film, creating this brilliant rhythm and pace; jokes are set-up sometimes hours in advance of the punch-line; every narrative thread is tied up neatly at the end, with a perfect denouement sewed like a button onto the last few seconds that makes me kiss my fingers and declare, “Tres magnifique!”

Seriously, do a Freytag analysis of Shaun’s narrative, and you’ll see, it is absolutely flawless. It should’ve been nominated for Best Picture in the year of its release. It should have won Best Picture in the year of its release, and every year following. Every zom-rom-com that followed should at least thank Wright and Pegg in the opening and closing credits. It truly doesn’t get much better than this.

Best Exchange Of Dialogue (extremely difficult to pick just one)

Ed: You gonna thank me then?

Shaun: For what?

Ed: Tidying up!

Shaun: Doesn't look that tidy.

Ed: Well, I had a few beers when I finished.

Shaun of the Dead [Blu-ray] ()

 

7. 'The Orphanage' (2007)

On the surface, this film may seem like your run-of-the-mill haunted house narrative, but make no mistake, you can chuck all those preconceived notions right out the window. Consider this: when asked by Deadbolt what films influenced The Orphanage, screenwriter Sergio Sanchez replied:

"I'm not really sure I had any cinematic influences when I was writing. My influences were more literary. One of them was Peter Pan. Basically, it was just that picture of Wendy's mother sitting by the window waiting for her child. That's the spark that ignited everything. I was thinking, it would be really interesting to tell the story of Peter Pan from the point of view of the mother. Then The Turn of the Screw by Henry James."

The literary merit of this film bleeds off the screen, as Sanchez relies on psychological terror and an unsettling sense of doom coursing like undercurrents throughout the narrative. No funhouse shocks, unnecessary violence, misogyny, nor predictability here. Watch The Orphanage in a darkened room, and you’ll swear you’ve reading a Victorian novel by candlelight. An unsettling, devastating, and beautiful narrative.

Best Line Of Dialogue

Aurora: When something terrible happens, sometimes it leaves a trace, a wound that acts as a knot between two time lines. It's like an echo, repeated over and over, waiting to be heard…Like a scar or a pinch that begs for a caress to relieve it.

The Orphanage [Blu-ray] ()

 

8. 'Session 9' (2001)

A tale of lingering madness in an abandoned asylum—been there, done that, right? With Session 9, no, my friends, no you haven’t. Writers Brad Anderson and Stephen Gevedon serve up originality in heaps by withholding details until absolutely necessary and revealing said details organically. Centered around the slow, unnerving breakdown of a construction crew charged with renovating the aforementioned asylum, we the audience play the part of a spirit—perhaps that of a former doctor—wandering the dilapidated halls. Each character displays some kind of psychological malady, from Gordon’s increasingly temperamental mood, to Hank’s propensity to steal things. We’re forced to watch as the insanity boils over, but we’re powerless to do anything about it.

Not convinced? Then think about this: the film’s surprise climax should be visible from miles away, but it isn’t. To strip away the predictability of a typically predictable ending is the mark of truly exceptional writing.

Best Exchange Of Dialogue

Phil: [to the crew] Good first day, guys.

Henry: Yeah. If it keeps up like this, we'll all be dead by Monday.

Session 9 ()

 

9. 'Hour of the Wolf' (1968)

Ingmar Bergman is maybe the quintessential literary filmmaker. The guy doesn’t write screenplays, but rather short stories of psychological exploration and character dissection, which he hands out to his actors and crew as a “blueprint” for the film he wishes to make. This process results in dense,heady films that are rich with meaning and subtext, and that often explore the darker regions of the human mind. Hour of the Wolf represents Bergman’s most grotesque and terrifying expression of madness, comparing the loss of one’s sanity to an evening spent with ghosts and negative spirits. 

For Johan Borg (Max Von Sydow), the past literally comes back to haunt him, and his slow descent into their macabre world is truly nightmarish (for me, the idea of insanity, or the inability to trust your own mind, is quite scary); but Bergman also shows his audience, through the presence of Johan’s wife Alma (Liv Ullmann), the shaky ground partners of the insane stand on, and questions whether or not severe mental conditions can actually become contagious, given the right setting and circumstances. Hour of the Wolf is most definitely not your garden-variety, popcorn horror movie. Bring your thinking caps.

Best Exchange Of Dialogue

Johan: The old people used to call it “The Hour of the Wolf.” It’s the hour at which most people die and most children are born. It’s now that the nightmares come to us. And if we are awake...

Alma: We are afraid.

Hour of the Wolf (Vargtimmen) ()

 

10. 'Hausu' (1977)

Hausu (AKA House) isn’t scary, though it features spooky elements (and LOTS of blood). It isn’t a comedy, though it is quite funny. Large portions of this film are animated, and overall it has the spirit of a cartoon—anything can happen, particularly if it’s absolutely bonkers and bat-shit insane. Writing for Criterion, Chuck Stephens calls Hausu “a modern masterpiece of le cinéma du WTF?!”  

He’s correct. This is a film of pure, unfiltered imagination, a story constructed directly from the subconscious well of creation. It sprang from the mind of director Nobuhiko Ôbayashi’s eleven year old daughter Chigumi and was actualized on the page by writer Chiho Katsura. The creative minds at work here manage to present fully realized and realistic characters immersed in a narrative of rising and falling action; at the same time, the characters are culled from and named after stereotypes (Gorgeous is beautiful, Prof is smart, Kung Fu is tough), and the narrative is so looney-tunes and unhinged you wonder if you dreamt it. Hausu should be mandatory viewing for any writing class—an example of how to tap into the mainline of your creativity and just go. An essential film, whether it be Halloween, St. Patrick’s Day, or the Fourth of July.

Best Line Of Dialogue

Kung Fu (after ass-kicking a barrage of possessed fire logs): This is ridiculous.

House (The Criterion Collection) [Blu-ray] ()


I’ll be honest: my list of personal favorite well-written original horror films is much longer than this, and it was hard to choose only ten to discuss here. Furthermore, I could go on and on and on, to infinity, about the films I did select, but there simply isn’t enough time or space for one column. Perhaps I’ll return next year for a sequel…

In the meantime, let’s hear it from you, fellow LitReactorers. Have you seen any of these titles? What’s your take? Which top-notch Halloween movies would you add to this list? Sound off in the comments section below.
Christopher Shultz

Column by Christopher Shultz

Christopher Shultz grew up watching old Universal monster movies and reading Stephen King, and he hasn't left the shadows since. His stories have appeared in MicroHorror, the anthology 'Another 100 Horrors,' and, forthcoming, in Smashed Cat Magazine, among other places. He also writes columns and book reviews at LitReactor.com. Christopher lives in Oklahoma City with his lovely partner Lauren and their two mostly well-behaved cats.

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Comments

Ben666's picture
Ben666 from Montreal, Canada is reading Scar Tissue, by Marcus Sakey October 11, 2013 - 12:14pm

Yes. Finally some love for SESSION 9. One of my favourite movies of all-time!!

Keith's picture
Keith from Phoenix, AZ is reading Growing Up Dead in Texas by Stephen Graham Jones October 11, 2013 - 12:21pm

I've been circling Session 9 and The Orphanage for awhile, thanks for the recs.

Joshua Chaplinsky's picture
Joshua Chaplinsky from New York is reading Perfidia October 11, 2013 - 12:44pm

Great to see some of my personal faves on this list, including Videodrome, Hour of the Wolf, and Hausu, even if they aren't your typical horror movies.

Tom1960's picture
Tom1960 from Athens, Georgia is reading 11/22/63 By Stephen King October 11, 2013 - 12:59pm

Se7en is an incredible film. I liked the way David Fincher used white noise for the soundtrack. John Dough, a mere human, is far sacrrier than any maonster or demon.

JYH's picture
JYH from the place is reading the thing October 11, 2013 - 1:18pm

I don't know why, but weird shots of dolls creep me out. Dolls don't bother me in real life, ever. Nor do they as full characters like Chucky. But a well-timed, well-shot doll scene will give me the sinking dread that many horror films simply don't inspire, sometimes being the only part of a film which gets to me. Deep Red has one such scene. See also: Communion, The Conjuring, The Brotherhood of Satan.

Lady Hazmat's picture
Lady Hazmat from Salt Lake City, UT is reading Dreamlike States October 11, 2013 - 1:30pm

Love Session 9, just watched it again the other night. I thought Hausu was weird as hell, but was ultimately glad I watched it.  

Angela Styles's picture
Angela Styles October 11, 2013 - 1:40pm

The Haunting, 1963
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Haunting_(1963_film)

I love both the screenplay and the original Shirley Jackson book that the film was based on. The Hammer Horror 70's adaptation The Legend of Hell House was campy, but tons of fun. I won't put it in the "favourite writing" category as the screenplay was seriously choppy, but definitely a good watch for horror movie buffs. Let's not talk about the 90's adaptation with Catherine Zeta-Jones and Liam Neeson as I like to pretend it doesn't exist :). 

Jack Campbell Jr.'s picture
Jack Campbell Jr. from Lawrence, KS is reading Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy October 11, 2013 - 1:46pm

Se7en is one of my favorite screenplays ever. I took a class from a guy who taught a class that was attended by Andrew Kevin Walker, so we are practically related. Or at least that is what I tell myself. Definitely a horror movie.

I absolutely loved Shaun of the Dead. So much to like about that film.

big_old_dave's picture
big_old_dave from Watford, about 20 miles outside London, Uk October 11, 2013 - 1:47pm

What? No kill list or jacobs ladder? Booooo.....

Danny Collins's picture
Danny Collins October 11, 2013 - 2:03pm

What movie is the screencap from at the top of the article?

Ynara Camargo Pinheiro's picture
Ynara Camargo P... October 11, 2013 - 2:13pm

“a modern masterpiece of le cinéma du WTF?!” :D

Utah's picture
Moderator
Utah from Fort Worth, TX is reading Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry October 11, 2013 - 2:18pm

Danny,

Google drag-n-drop image search informs me that is Hausu.

Kimberly M Zamlich's picture
Kimberly M Zamlich October 11, 2013 - 3:06pm

What about the 6th Sense?  Is that considered a horror film?  I loved this one

Kimberly

http://kimberlymzamlich.blogspot.com/

Craig Marlowe's picture
Craig Marlowe October 11, 2013 - 3:22pm

When you say that the title of Wicker Man is a mystery...don't you think the title might refer to the giant burning man that looks like he is made out of wicker on the cover?

Gerd Duerner's picture
Gerd Duerner from Germany is reading Consider her ways and other stories October 11, 2013 - 3:31pm

I second "The Haunting" terrific movie with a truly terrible remake (it actually manages to be so bad it isn't even fun). :)

 

Candyman is great entertainment if you're up for a tragic lovestory, sorts of, with some quaint scares, lots of blood, an urban myth...

Best line of dialogue:

Candyman: What do the good know, except what the bad teach them by their excesses?

John Gilles's picture
John Gilles October 11, 2013 - 3:33pm

A smaller film no less worthy of recognition: Subject 2.

 

Fredovioa's picture
Fredovioa October 11, 2013 - 4:23pm

I think Bergman's Cries and Whispers is phenomenal, and very scary.  

Also, 

the Haunting

The Tenant 

Lost Highway

Repulsion

Toby Dammit

Don't Look Now

The Old Dark House

Marat Sade

Altered States

The Devils

Tideland

Matthew Jenkins's picture
Matthew Jenkins October 11, 2013 - 4:42pm

Well written AND well acted.

Chacron's picture
Chacron from England, South Coast is reading Blood of Dragons by Robin Hobb October 11, 2013 - 5:52pm

I would have included Suspiria, but then you did say you were avoiding films that people know about already. Trouble is with that film, I often name it and most most people I talk to don't know it. Never mind though, a pretty good list. I've wanted to see Martin for a while and just can't find a copy anywhere. Might have to do the unthinkable and Amazon it.

Kirk Diedrich's picture
Kirk Diedrich from Los Angeles is reading Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman by Haruki Murakami October 11, 2013 - 7:08pm

Se7en's brilliance is in the tableaus that harken back to late Greek tragic theatre. The murder/death happening offstage and the audience just being presented with the gory tableau forces them to imagine the death making it much worse than any real-time visual representation. And, our hero, with his tragic flaw of anger, is the perfect final victim. I can't say enough good things about the writing in this film. It's beautifully constructed from title sequence to blackout.

Dino Parenti's picture
Dino Parenti from Los Angeles is reading Burnt Tongues October 11, 2013 - 8:45pm

Okay, now I have to see Session 9. I keep hearinf good things about it, and now this list solidifies it.

I would throw in the original Alien to this growing list. Like Se7en, much of the horror and potential horror is brooded upon more than seen, with characters having actual conversations regarding their next move, rather than spewing stupid one-liners and making jokes. 

And who thinks Se7en isn't a horror film? All the tropes are there, and though I've seen it many times already, it still gets under my skin and lingers better than most conventional horror films.

Loren Kmp's picture
Loren Kmp October 11, 2013 - 9:48pm

"one: let me say that i love your list. your selections are wonderful... except

two: Se7en is not a horror film it is a psychological thriller. i'm sorry, and your argument for why you picked it is ok, but, it's a psych thriller, sorry. First, the primary reason that Se7en is psych-thriller and not horror is because the villain is real and tangible with a laid out motive and a history. What makes horror movies typically so horrifying is that the villain could/is any one and the motives are never laid out.
Second, the killer in Se7en is methodical, not random, like pretty much all other horror movie villains. I mean even in Saw there is still this ever present why, it's not until the sequels (when they are grasping for more plots) that they attempt to shed light on the history of the villain or who he really is. But Se7en is pure mind fuck and I say this because of the ending, not just because of it, but a big part of why its more psychological than horror.
Horror movie bad guys do not try and get themselves killed, they want to live so that they can go on to kill again and again. John Dough wants nothing more than to get inside of Detective Mills head and force him into a situation in which he would act out of character. His whole ambition eventually becomes to break this man and ruin him. Horror movie villains don't do that. They strike at random (random includes having a type (ex: only kills blondes with shoulder length hair and green eyes) but the victims aren't targeted for more than fitting a mold and that mold could be fit by any one.) At this point someone is probably like well what about Jason or Michael who sometimes go after their family members? Well that's why those two break the mold, they seek to, more or less, actively destroy their own history. But ultimately it fits the random profile because they don't discriminate, they just attack with no sense of causality, and ultimately their inability to be stopped makes them the most horrifying.
And now back to Se7en, John Dough is too methodical. He stalks his victims like prey because they are to him, he chooses to live this way, we know that from his journals and from him talking about his decision to take on these killings. He selects each and every person to fit his grand plan, which is to expel from the human condition the casual relationship we have with sin. And because of his sin of wrath and envy he realizes that he must also be struck down. That ever present thought process, that thinking things out and having a plan is horrifying because no one thinks human beings can think that way, but they can and they do, but the fact that there is a plan that we as the audience are aware of is what puts this in the psychological realm. We don't have to wonder why John Dough is the way he is, we know it: He's disgusted by mankind and this is his method to fix us.
I'm sorry for ranting, but as you can probably tell I have very strong opinions about this film....

Lethe's picture
Lethe October 12, 2013 - 12:02am

Paperhouse.

Jack Campbell Jr.'s picture
Jack Campbell Jr. from Lawrence, KS is reading Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy October 12, 2013 - 1:24am

@LorenKemp,

While what are are saying about the genre is true for a certain subgenre of horror literature and films. It's not true across the board, and really only applies to a subgenre of horror popular in recent decades. If you look to the roots of horror, Bram Stoker's Dracula was methodical in his planning, Richard Marsh's Beetle was specific in her target, as was Marie Corelli's Ziska. Frankenstein's monster had a very specific reason for this violence. It we want to go newer, Stephen King's Leland Gaunt is methodical in his seduction of victims through the things they think they need, and Jack Ketchum's Ruth from The Girl Next Door only has one very specific victim for very specific reasons, as insane as they may be. You actually see methodical specific horror quite a bit with King (look at Thinner, Misery, and many others), and Joe Hill, as well, all though I hate to compare him too much to his dad. Craddock from Heart-Shaped Box is specifically after Jude, and Lee Tourneau specifically targets Ig in Horns. The house in The Haunting of Hill House specifically goes after Eleanor.

There are a lot of different types of horror, and I am probably not giving the random monster enough credit throughout the history of the genre. Sweeny Todd was random, as was Mr. Hyde, the creatures from The Willows and The Wendigo, but while there is a subgenre of horror that includes the random monster, there is a lot of cerebral, personal demon type stuff, as well.

Se7en is definitely psychological suspense, but it is also horror. Part of the catharsis of psychological suspense is the release of that suspense at the climax, when you finally know what is happening. Se7en blew right through that and embraced the shock catharsis that comes with horror.

Madmadammelzy's picture
Madmadammelzy from Los Angeles is reading Neverwhere October 12, 2013 - 2:06am

That's a rough list to make. Although if I were gonna go with The Orphanage I woulda made reference to The Devils Backbone (El espinazo del diablo)... another spanish horror flick involving an orphanage and spooky as shit ghosties (also incidently an amazing Guillermo Del Toro masterpiece) that very definitely had to have inspired The Orphanage just a teensy. .... awesome double bill for the record.

Anubhav Dasgupta's picture
Anubhav Dasgupta October 12, 2013 - 9:40am

do consider : 

"What is a ghost? A tragedy condemned to repeat itself time and again? An instant of pain, perhaps. Something dead which still seems to be alive. An emotion suspended in time. Like a blurred photograph. Like an insect trapped in amber."

From El Espinazo Del Diablo

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0256009/?ref_=fn_al_tt_1

Tom Kinnee's picture
Tom Kinnee from Chico, CA is reading Ghost Light by Frank Ricb October 12, 2013 - 6:51pm

To those who say "Se7en" is not a horror film: I see that film as a grimmer non-campy version of those 70s Vincent Price movies "The Abominable Dr. Phibes" and "Theater of Blood." There's the same diabolically clever behind-the-scenes madman carefully setting up elaborate & ghastly murder tableaus to make an obsessive point. And the tableaus follow a literary theme -- the Biblical plagues, or violent Shakespearean scenes.
And certainly no one can argue that those Price films aren't horror (or really sick-joke horror/comedies).

SammyB's picture
SammyB from Las Vegas is reading Down and Out in Paris and London October 13, 2013 - 5:01am

Martin and Se7en are favorites of mine. I'm actually surprised to see Martin on here. It's rare for anyone to know about that film :)

Nate Lee's picture
Nate Lee October 14, 2013 - 12:34am

As long as you're going to have Hausu in the list you could add "The Great Horror Family". Technically a serial, but heaps of fun.

Sara Crow's picture
Sara Crow October 14, 2013 - 12:34am

I know we were avoiding "big hit" titles, but my exception would be Cabin in the Woods. That movie was exceptional. I'm also partial to the affore-mentioned Devil's Backbone, though Pan's Labyrinth is breathtaking. I'd also suggest almost anything with Val Lewton's fingerprints on it, though particularly I Walked with a Zombie, which is, believe it or not, a retelling of Jane Eyre (though maybe that gives away the fun of the intelligence of this movie). Also, don't miss Daughters of Darkness, which asks some splendid questions about immortality and the nature of the self. 

Oh, and The Descent. Does that count as "mainstream," though? Regardless, it's really incredible for those of us who like mental stimulation with our horror. 

Okay, I'm going to stop myself before I get carried away. But that's a start. 

cshultz81's picture
cshultz81 from Oklahoma is reading http://www.goodreads.com/user/show/6163604-christopher-shultz October 14, 2013 - 1:59am

Some awesome titles all around. Love the response this column's gotten!

Many of you have mentioned The Devil's Backbone. Sadly (embarrassingly), I've yet to watch The Devil's Backbone. This year, it will happen. Del Toro's Cronos would have been a good one too. 

Jack Campbell Jr.'s picture
Jack Campbell Jr. from Lawrence, KS is reading Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy October 14, 2013 - 12:28pm

I give a big thumbs up for both Cabin in the Woods and Pan's Labyrinth.

Alexandra Petáková's picture
Alexandra Petáková October 14, 2013 - 1:39pm

Of those films on the list that I've seen, I think Hausu left the biggest impression, but I know I enjoyed all of them immensely. As for the rest - some of them I know about and now I have the more reason to watch them.

I'd add Spalovač mrtvol (The Cremator) - http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0063633/?ref_=fn_al_tt_1. I have no idea why it's listed as comedy on IMDb. It's one of the most unsettling films I ever came across and displays the brilliance of both the author of the original novel and that of Hrušínský, the actor of the main character.

Ryan Hartman's picture
Ryan Hartman from Philadelphia is reading The Neverending Story by Michael Ende October 15, 2013 - 1:14pm

No Rosemary's Baby? Certainly top 10 in terms of cenematic style and writing that I can think of.

Scott Hnatowicz-Warner's picture
Scott Hnatowicz... February 2, 2014 - 9:05am

Although it's more of a psychological thriller than a horror, I'm surprised you didn't put "Room 1408" (with John Cusack) on this list.  You did include "Se7en", which is not a horror, but a p.t.

 

As for the 'mystery of the wicker man', there's really no mystery.  I mean, you practically answer your own question in your description of the movie.  Besides the fact that it's very obviously a large burning man made of wicker that has to do with the island resident's rituals, it's pretty easy to see the ladder by the right leg, even in the tiny movie cover.  I've never seen the movie, so can only assume that this is where the "victims" climb into their 'holy death bed'.

 

I'd rate your site a 7, but it seems pretty biased toward your own personal favorites and not "ten exceptionally well written horror films". 

"Some of my personally favorite well written horror films  with a psychological thriller or 2 and a very good mystery thriller thrown in" would have been a better title, I think.

(Mystery Thriller:  "Wicker Man")

But, all in all a 6 out of 10 isn't bad for an adequately written review.

And now I get to go watch a finely written mystery thriller thanks to you.