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The 20 Most Visually Stunning Horror Movies Ever

27 January 2016 | Features, Film Lists | by David Opie

visually stunning horror movies

“There is no exquisite beauty… without some strangeness in the proportion.”

Evil in any form is generally perceived as ugly in nature, but the Master of the Macabre, Edgar Allan Poe, recognised that horror is far more complex than that. Today, many of the genre’s best filmmakers share Poe’s sentiment, finding beauty within the darkness of evil.

Horror is primarily designed to scare, but cinema is a visual form, one that encourages directors and cinematographers to experiment with the aesthetic of fear. Scary movies may not traditionally be thought of as beautiful or aesthetically pleasing, but some of the most stunning films ever made were born out of that initial desire to incite fear in a darkened room.

At its most effective, the beauty that can be found in horror is a thousand times more disconcerting than the most hideous of scary movies, forcing us to question why we find such depravities aesthetically pleasing.

 

20. A Tale Of Two Sisters (2003)

A.Tale.of.Two.Sisters

Japanese horror may have come to the forefront of Asian cinema in the late 1990’s, but Korea refined the process soon after, releasing a number of popular scary movies including Phone and Hansel and Gretel. Out of this new wave, Kim Jee-Woon’s A Tale Of Two Sisters is the most visually stunning, drawing inspiration from a wealth of dark fairytales to create a truly horrifying modern fable.

From the outset, the house where the action takes place acts as a strong visual marker, representing each characters isolation in the form of a breathtaking physical expanse. However, what truly sets A Tale Of Two Sisters apart from other Korean horrors is Jee-Woon’s bold use of colour, symbolising the mental state of each family member at specific times throughout the film.

Jee-Woon achieved this striking effect by placing different colour cloths over the lighting props, imbuing the film with a shade of purple for the stepmothers room or green for the sisters. As one would expect with a horror film of this nature, red also features prominently, suffusing the physical space with a constant sense of dread that entrances as much as it chills.

 

19. The Haunting (1963)

The Haunting (1963)

In the wake of films like Saw and The Human Centipede, it’s hard to imagine horror relying on anything but visceral gore and jarring music to produce scares, but trust us; there really was a time when horror primarily utilised the power of suggestion to create something truly frightening.

The original version of The Haunting is a prime example of this, expertly using shadows and open spaces to suggest the existence of apparitions where none can be found. Encouraging audiences to fill in the gaps forced viewers to imagine an evil far worse than anything the filmmakers could have put on screen themselves.

However, none of this would have been as effective in the wrong location, so it’s fortunate that the team behind the Haunting stumbled across the beautifully chilling house that became the focal point of the entire film. Robert Wise’s tight direction brings the house to life, imbuing every looming window and spiralling staircase with a hypnotic beauty that still stands out today as one of the best haunted house movies ever committed to film.

 

18. Eraserhead (1977)

eraserhead

Some of the worst horror movies ever made telegraph their intent, showing and explaining far too much in a bid to shock and scare. Talented filmmakers work hard to avoid this, refusing to give away a films secrets in order to exploit humanity’s deep rooted fear of the unknown. American director David Lynch takes this approach to the extreme, filling his movies with surreal imagery that shatter mainstream conceptions of narrative structure.

Lynch’s debut Eraserhead is one of the most beautiful of all, exploring the birth of a repulsive mutant with the kind of bizarre dream logic that defies categorisation. Eraserhead is literally a nightmare brought to life, but even the films darkest moments possess a fragile beauty, one that is heightened by the monochromatic film used throughout.

More than any other film on this list, Eraserhead is a perfect representation of what Poe meant when he suggested that there is no real beauty “without some strangeness in the proportion”…

 

17. Cat People (1942)

cat_people

Continuing our run of beautiful black and white horrors, Cat People is unique in the way it blends film noir tendencies with moments of genuine horror, creating a cult classic that’s only increased in notoriety as the years have passed.

Shadowy backdrops may be nothing new to the genre, but the striking contrast of light and dark in Cat People was revolutionary at the time, imbuing every moment with an ominous atmosphere that gradually closed in on the central character, scene by scene.

The idea of people turning into feline creatures could have been cheesy and even atrocious if handled poorly, but Jacques Tourneur’s delicate compositions and use of a soft filter lend Cat People an eerie quality that entrances audiences willing to immerse themselves in a horror/noir classic.

 

16. Thirst (2009)

Thirst-2009-still

With his epic revenge narratives, Park Chan-Wook may have become the most prominent voice in Korean cinema, but its the exquisite visuals of his films that stick with audiences long after vengeance has been found and the credits roll.

As one of the oldest staples of the horror genre, vampires are difficult to portray on film without inevitable comparisons to Twilight et al, but Chan-Wook took huge strides to revitalise the creatures of the night with Thirst, a lucid fever dream that invokes religious symbolism and crisp cinematography in innovative new ways.

Chan-Wook has always been first and foremost a visual filmmaker, but Thirst contains some of his most memorable imagery yet, including the vampires glaring white room and repeated use of symmetry, bringing order to the chaos of this supernatural world.

 

15. Don’t Look Now (1973)

dont-look-now

As one of the definitive films of the 1970’s, Don’t Look Now transcended the limits of the genre, securing a permanent place in cinematic history for its emotionally wrought performances and captivating visual style.

Even the most amateur filmmakers could make a beautiful horror film in The Floating City, but director Nicolas Roeg never takes the easy route, deliberately portraying the seedier elements of Venice to heighten the fragile emotional state of the films grieving parents. The remarkable architecture is just as beautiful as ever, but Roeg strives to show every facet of Venice, paying equal attention to the dilapidated areas of the city that are gradually crumbling away.

Don’t Look Now is also unforgettable for its vivid use of red, which acts simultaneously as a potent symbol and a key plot device during the parents search for their daughter in Venice. The prevalence of red in a horror film is hardly something new, but Roeg set the standard that all other filmmakers should follow, evoking primal fears that are aesthetically pleasing, yet psychologically chilling.

 

 

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  • Toni Beißkammer

    “A Girl Walks Home Alone” is horrible! imagine if there wasn’t all this pretentious bs, take away the B&W, the fact that it’s in Iran, burkas… Better yet, imagine this film was with white people (and a token black dude for good measure, maybe as the pimp in the beginning) and it was in coulour and in the US… People would fucking HATE it! set aside the sjw vs neckbeardy edgelords debate, i don’t even wanna start. But the director basically did a movie to exploit his spotify-playlist of indie-rock in drawn out, pointless shots of NOTHING!! (anybody who’s seen the movie knows which scene i’m talking about)
    I guess the shot-composition was alright, but it doesn’t deserve an average of 8/10 on imdb, let alone to be on the same fucking list with the likes of “Antichrist” or “The Shining”.
    2/10 it is. nuff said

    • Rudi

      Great movie. The scene with the White Lies song underneath was the most beautiful 3 minutes of cinema of the year.

      • Toni Beißkammer

        “most beautiful 3 minutes”, because of the song? The song was good. But there was nothing to warrant this scene to happen in the first place. You know, if you have a long shot of two characters slowly embracing, breathing down necks and stuff, i might like that actually. But there is no glue to hold it together. The scene would’ve been so much better if it happened later in the film. i might bump it up to 4/10 if i watch it again (and i will), but all i see in that scene is wasted potential. very hipster-ish scene.

    • astropolis

      The director’s a woman.

      I thought the picture, ultimately, was shallow and lethargic, but I can also see what people enjoy about the picture. It’s a first venture and shows promise, and I look forward to Amirpour’s work as a maturing director.

      • Toni Beißkammer

        i’m not looking forward to her next picture, tbh, but as i said, it has great shot-composition. I hope she gets better.

      • Toni Beißkammer

        actually, now that i read about her new project “The Bad Batch”, i’m interested.

    • Evan Derrickson

      so your saying if they change almost everything about the movie, people would hate it

  • Stephus

    Hour of the wolf must be here!!!

    • Rowsdower!

      Remarkable film, Seventh Seal, as well.

  • Klaus Dannick

    Interesting list, but I would have replaced Jacques Tourneur’s Cat People with Night of the Demon. Someone else mentioned that Bergman’s Hour of the Wolf belongs here, and I agree. Bava certainly should have made this list with Black Sunday, Black Sabbath, or Kill, Baby, Kill. Other aesthetically beautiful horror films include Browning’s Dracula and Whale’s The Bride of Frankenstein. Some of the modern choices, particularly The Cell and The Others, seem questionable to me when Rob Zombie’s The Devil’s Rejects elevates its ugly brutality to a level of subversive beauty. Empty and misleading as it is at it’s core, Coppola’s lavish Bram Stoker’s Dracula is stunning in ways few horror films can hope to be (even if its aesthetics are its strongest feature). And Romero, while not an especially visual director, made indelible naturalistic images in Night of the Living Dead and Martin. Finally, Terrence Fisher was one of the first directors to commit horror films to the full advantage of color filmstock, and he hit his visual stride with The Brides of Dracula and The Devil Rides Out. So many missed opportunities on this list.

  • allenmckee

    How is Suspiria not here? The Hunger? And I wonder if in a year there will be any regrets about It Follows being on every effing list here?

    • David Opie

      Suspiria is on the list

  • CaseX

    I’m beginning to think someone on this site WORKED ON “Under the Skin.”

    Christ, give it a rest…”overrated” doesn’t even begin to cover it.

  • Ruchit Negotia

    Gotta put the neon demon in here. that movie was gorgeous and frightening

    • SmithDoc

      it’s a stylistic homage to Suspiria, so it would be considered derivative.

  • Miroslav Maric

    Great list.
    Shining and Let the right one in are in my top 10 movies!

  • Thomas Barbeau

    For The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, 2005 is the release of a remake, not the original one 😉

  • Fredrik Johansen

    A Serbian Film

  • Mike Lovell

    Masque Of The Red Death? Tons of Roger Corman movies could have made this list.

  • Johannes Runge

    About stunning visuals, The Shining and especially Suspiria are outstanding here.

  • Jacob Lyon Goddard

    The Witch, A Field in England