In celebration of my 30th birthday this week–February 4th, which also happens to also be George Romero’s birthday–I wanted to do something fun regarding the horror movies released in my lifetime. Below you will find a list of my favorite horror films from each year that I have been alive. This was a fun project to work on! There were some years where horror was disappointing and other years where I had a difficult time choosing. Enjoy the list!
1984: A Nightmare on Elm Street
A Nightmare on Elm Street is truly an iconic horror movie. While it isn’t my favorite horror film, as a child I was horribly afraid of Freddy Krueger. Just his presence was enough to scare the begeezus out of me. In fact, I was scared to even go into the movie rental store as a kid because there were posters and cardboard stand-ups of him scattered through the place.
1985: The Return of the Living Dead
The Return of the Living Dead is one of my favorite zombie movies, I admit. It is fun, tacky, and also features the scariest looking zombie I have ever seen–Tarman.
1986: April Fool’s Day
I realize I might get some flak for my choice here; 1986 had a lot of popular horror movies, including some now deemed classics of the genre. I ::gasp:: am not a fan of the Alien movies so Aliens isn’t going to make an appearance here. While I did like The Fly, The Hitcher, and Night of the Creeps, April Fool’s Day was a standout for me this year as being truly original.
Interestingly, I was never really afraid of Pinhead. Despite this, Hellraiser is a real standout of the genre. It was a dark, menacing foray into Hell and also featured a crew of memorable demons as well as had a rich story line.
This was a tough year for horror. I didn’t really love any of the movies released this year, but Waxwork takes my pick for favorite because it was such a cheesefest. It was also equally impressionable for me because each summer my family would visit St. Augustine and occasionally visit the wax museum there. I couldn’t go inside after watching Waxwork, it was just too eerie for my 6-year-old self to take.
1989: Pet Sematary
Pet Sematary does not get enough credit. It has a talented cast of actors–including an amazing job by 3-year-old Miko Hughes as Gage–a rich story, eerie flashback/dream sequences, and enough gore to satisfy most horror fans. As a child, I was of course scared by the demonic cat and possessed Gage, but I was also very disturbed by the flashback scene of Aunt Zelda. I was also torn by Victor Pascow; he was creepy as hell but he was a good ghost. As a child, this was a super disturbing movie to watch.
1990: [tie] Jacob’s Ladder & The Night of the Living Dead
I saw Jacob’s Ladder relatively later in life (I think I was in college). It ended up being one of the first twist-types of movies that I’d seen. Spooky but also heartbreaking.
Remakes don’t generally rank high for me but I thought the 1990 version of The Night of the Living Dead was really well done. I named my first car “Barbara” too.
1991: Sometimes They Come Back
1991 was a pretty weak year in horror. I did really enjoy Sometimes They Come Back, even despite it being a relatively fluffy TV-movie. I did see this young, probably when it originally aired on television, so that added to the favorable experience.
1992: Bram Stoker’s Dracula
Horror fans don’t generally care much for the Coppola Dracula movie but I thought it was well done. I love the atmospheric Gothic setting and thought that the acting, aside from Keanu, was commendable.
1993: Army of Darkness
So bad it is good, Army of Darkness finally fully embraced the silliness of the first two Evil Dead films and ran with the absurd concept of Ash battling zombies, but this time time-traveling is involved! And corny CGI effects. It doesn’t get better than this.
1994: [tie] Wes Craven’s New Nightmare & In the Mouth of Madness
New Nightmare was perhaps my first meta horror movie. I thought the story was really great, something completely original that I hadn’t seen before.
Yet another meta horror movie, I didn’t get round to watching In the Mouth of Madness until just a couple of years ago, when it was streaming on Netflix. I thought it was a really unique story and managed to hold up well throughout the years.
1995: Castle Freak
In high school after I got my driver’s license, I began taking advantage of the Tuesday “2-for-99¢” rental deal at my local Video Update store. Castle Freak was my first VHS rentals here and one of my first forays into non-mainstream horror. I had heard nothing of the movie so picked it up on a whim and was delighted by the smuttiness.
I experienced Scream at the perfect time: I was in middle-school and already a fan of classic horror when Scream had just been released and was receiving a lot of buzz. One weekend, I saw this in theaters accompanied by one of my friends’ irresponsible mothers, along with about 6 other of our friends. It was an amazing experience and truly reinvigorated the horror genre. It was the first modern horror movie I saw that excited me and it was also the turning point in my horror fanatic hobby.
1997: Scream 2
As much as the original reinvigorated the horror genre, Scream 2 reinvented the sequel. Sure, there were some typical “sequel” problems, but Scream 2 was a commendable movie that continued the excitement of the first.
I’m not necessarily a big fan of Strangeland, but 1998 didn’t have a lot of horror movies that I particularly enjoyed.
1999: The Blair Witch Project
Much like with Scream, I saw The Blair Witch Project at the perfect time as well. I hadn’t heard much about the film, but was staying at home one Friday night and caught a really spooky Sci-Fi documentary special on the disappearance of the student filmmakers of The Blair Witch Project. The special was marketed as being factual and I totally bought into it. I ended up seeing this in theaters and the shaky first-person camera was so not an issue as I was so convinced that these events had actually happened.
2000: Final Destination
I was a fangirl of Devon Sawa–Casper (1995), Now and Then (1995), Little Giants (1994)–so there was no way I wasn’t seeing this. Well, it turned out to have a really great and completely unique story line too. The effects were good and this was all-around, a high-energy, well-done horror movie.
2001: [3-way tie] Session 9 & Jeepers Creepers & Thir13en Ghosts
This was a particularly enjoyable year in horror for me. My favorites here are a mix of really fun and innovative additions to the horror genre.
Session 9 was spooky to the core. I was completely surprised by the ending of this.
Jeepers Creepers was just fun. I’m not generally a big fan of creature features, but the way this was done, including the ending, made for a really enjoyable experience.
The varying ghosts of Thir13en Ghosts was impressive, both their stories and also how they were visually depicted on screen. Particularly creepy was The Jackal. Overall I felt tge concept of Thir13en Ghosts was unique and I was a fan of Matthew Lillard from Scream.
2002: The Ring
The Ring tends to get hate from horror fans. I found it really enjoyable, actually more than the original Japanese version. I thought the film was genuinely spooky, well-written and acted, and has some creepy visuals too.
2003: Dead End
I’d have never seen this without Netflix Streaming. The cover looks pretty unassuming and the description sounds pretty typical for a 00’s horror movie. It ended up being a funny and unique addition to the genre, and Lin Shaye and Ray Wise supplied great performances.
Saw turned out to be much more than just a torture-porn gorefest. The plot was incredibly unique and the franchise ended up being pretty solid.
2005: The Descent
I reluctantly saw The Descent after a friend of mine, who doesn’t really watch horror movies, suggested it. I hadn’t heard of it and it looked a little silly. The Descent ended up being one of my favorite horror movies. There was a lot of psychological drama but also spooky cave creatures.
2006: [tie] Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon & Pan’s Labyrinth
This is an awesome meta horror movie. While the last quarter of the film drags a bit and is somewhat of a letdown, Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon is an awesome movie for its story alone. It also has one of the spookiest masks I’ve encountered in a horror movie.
While I typically don’t enjoy subtitled films–they tend to distract me from the visual experience–Pan’s Labyrinth is a truly stunning film. The fairy tale atmosphere and the fantastical setting, along with the courageous yet heartbreaking story makes this one of my all-time favorite films.
2007: Trick ‘r Treat
Horror anthologies can sometimes be hit or miss but Trick ‘r Treat managed to be a surprising success for me. I also enjoyed the wraparound story. It definitely warrants multiple viewings and has managed to be a Halloween staple in my house.
2008: Lake Mungo
Lake Mungo is a relatively under-the-radar horror movie. It is subtle and shot mostly in documentary/first-person style. It’s also low budget but manages to deliver one of the most unique plots I’ve seen, especially for an After Dark Horrorfest feature.
2009: [tie] Red White & Blue & The House of the Devil
Red White & Blue is slow-paced but truly horrifying. It isn’t a typical horror movie but is nonetheless horrible. It bothered me and I have to admire that in a scary movie.
Horror movie fans either really like or really don’t like Ti West. I think he’s an innovative writer and director and The House of the Devil is perhaps his best demonstration of that. While the movie crawls in certain points, the retro 80s atmosphere is impressive.
2010: [tie] Insidious & The Ward
I regret not seeing Insidious while it was in theaters. Luckily, I have an embarrassing setup in my media room, complete with surround sound and a 60-something inch well-mounted plasma television. I feel like I got as close as a theater experience as I could for Insidious. By the time I got around to seeing it, several of my coworkers had doting on how creepy it was. This was one of the first movies since the late 90s to deliver a scary mainstream horror experience for me.
John Carpenter made a successful comeback with The Ward. In fact, I saw this without knowing Carpenter’s connection to it. I loved the spooky, 50s psychiatric hospital and I also really enjoyed the supernatural elements to this. I’m not sure why it isn’t generally rated higher with horror fans but I completely enjoyed it.
2011: Red State
Extreme on-screen violence isn’t usually my thing, but Red State did a really great job of communicating a message. The acting was great and there were lots of twists in the film too.
2012: [4-way tie, what?] The Cabin in the Woods & Silent House & V/H/S & Sinister
I really think The Cabin in the Woods is one of the most unique horror movies I have seen. It was so much fun and completely original. And if you can get your hands on the accompanying visual companion book, do it. There are so many subtleties that I was unaware of when I first watched this.
Silent House is an unusual movie, one I think needs to be viewed a few times to fully appreciate. There are some points that can be left up for interpretation, which I actually enjoy in a movie.
Another anthology, V/H/S is unique in that several horror writers/directors came together to tell unique stories. And the content of all the individual stories is unique enough to cover a variation of horror sub-genres (aliens, monsters, ghosts, etc.). The wraparound story is well-done too.
Kids in horror movies are generally pretty spooky. Sinister did a good job of making a truly menacing impression on me. This is one of my favorite recent horror films.
2013: The Conjuring
I love that this story was based on the real life demonologists Ed and Lorraine Warren. The effects of The Conjuring were creepy and the story was well-developed, the acting amazing. There were also some unsuspecting scares for me. This is another one of my favorite modern horror movies.