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The 25 Most Artistic Horror Movies of All Time

28 October 2016 | Features, Film Lists | by Shane Scott-Travis

Suspiria

Due to the often exploitative nature of horror films and the upsetting ideas they often provoke, the artistic merits, technical skill, and aesthetic intentions behind them can often be diluted or overlooked entirely.

As with most populist filmmaking there’s always an influx of artless, derivative and profit-motivated work that discredits the real artist and auteurs out there making legitimately meditative and extraordinary work.

Lots of mainstream horror films are franchise wreckages, unoriginal remakes, or compromised failures. But there is also, as any horror fan will tell you, a long and constantly growing lineage and storied history of artistic films, inspiring and original, from true talents creating convincing and challenging works with Hieronymus Bosch-like perceptions that combine top-drawer vision with unerring craft. The list that follows fleshes out the very best films that result from arthouse and horror hybridization.

 

25. Let the Right One In (2008)

let-the-right-one-in

With a startling arthouse sensibility and refreshingly sophisticated emotional depth, Tomas Alfredson’s Swedish vampire film Let the Right One In has become an enduring classic and a highwater mark in the overflooded vampire milieu. Adapted by John Ajvide Lindqvist and based off his 2004 novel, this film is a brilliant merger of romance, horror, coming-of-age comedy, and stirring tragedy.

Oskar (Kåre Hedebrant) and Eli (Lina Leandersson) are both luminous as two lost and lonely kids—one a vampire, one a weirdo, both outcasts—who, for a time, need one another, and need to make sense of the world. Austerely elegant visuals, inventive and endearing re-imaginings of familiar vampire tropes, and pensive yet persuasive symbolism and spectacle, this is modern horror done to perfection. Let the Right One In is felt in the gut and strangely stirs the heart.

 

24. Hour of the Wolf (1968)

the-hour-of-the-wolf-1968

This surrealist psychological nightmare was inspired by the writings of fantasy and horror author E.T.A. Hoffman––the inspiration for Powell and Pressburger’s 1951 film The Tales of Hoffman––and also has the distinction of being the only horror film in Ingmar Bergman’s legendary oeuvre.

Hour of the Wolf is set on a remote island of Baltrum where troubled painter Johan Borg (Max von Sydow) is slowly losing his mind. The bizarre cult that lives on Baltrum are a suspicious and strange lot and Johan and his pregnant wife Alma (Liv Ullmann) begin to suspect that the disturbing visions and paranoiac delusions they’re suffering from may be a direct result of this cult and its eccentric leader, Baron von Merkens (Erland Josephson).

A visually dense gothic fantasy––cinematographer Sven Nykvist’s expressionistic lensing lifts the tale immensely, too––highlighted with haunting imagery and Bergman’s signature supply of existential dread, this is a fascinating, disorienting, and stylized work from a master craftsman.

 

23. A Field in England (2013)

A Field In England

Ben Wheatley’s incomparable A Field in England is the ultimate midnight movie as it gleefully blurs the line between dream and reality. Set in mid-17th century England this film is a black comedy disguised as an arthouse horror film that unravels like a morally ambiguous Möbius strip as it follows Whitehead (Reece Shearsmith) fleeing from a demonic alchemist named O’Neill (Michael Smiley) amidst a bloody English Civil War battle. Cursed and accompanied by a trio of deserters this ill-starred crew, high on psilocybin mushrooms, are soon at the mercy of O’Neill.

Cinematographer Laurie Rose lenses a monochrome world of creepy close-ups and other odd and ominous tricks as the trippy pastoral mise en scène mutates into a Grand Guignol chamber of horrors. Pitch-dark humor, abstract allure, quick-witted dialogue and grisly, visceral and enjoyably indulgent thrills proliferate with alacrity and alarm leading to a frightful finish. To miss out on A Field in England would be a regrettable faux pas.

 

22. Only Lovers Left Alive (2013)

best genre movies 2014

Eve (Tilda Swinton) is one part of an incurably cool vampire couple whose husband, Adam (Tom Hiddleston) is having self-harming thoughts in Jim Jarmusch’s chic shocker, Only Lovers Left Alive.

Tough-as-nails and fiercely romantic, this vampire film is full of leitmotifs involving fear, exhilaration, alienation, isolation, creativity, art, music, literature, life, and death. It’s not full-on in your face horror but it does have classic Gothic sensibilities, jets of blood, moments of mortal fear, piercingly sad genuflections, and painfully poignant ruminations on unending love.

More visual than it is verbal, this elegiac and eerie film displays, amongst other things, the wraithlike dissolution of Detroit, the unearthly otherness of Tangier and many amusing and macabre tableaus of the undead, their uncanny mores and their outlandish dwellings. Only Lovers Left Alive is a visual spree detailing the haunting harmony of ageless sweethearts in perpetual midnight. Marvellous.

 

21. Carnival of Souls (1962)

carnival of souls

Plagued by nightmarish and malformed visions, Mary Henry (Candace Hilligoss), the sole survivor of a deadly car crash under mysterious circumstances, is slowly drawn to the deserted and sinister carnival on the outskirts of town in Herk Harvey’s influential spine-chiller, Carnival of Souls.

This is the film that American auteurs like David Lynch and George Romero regularly cite as having a huge influence over their distinctive bodies of work. Harvey, working with a low budget, filled Carnival of Souls with cool monochromatic images that underscore the existential dread of Mary, making a ghost story of striking originality, upsetting atmosphere, stylized and forcible performances––Hilligoss is great in the lead role and Harvey’s epochal portrayal of “The Man” is pure nightmare fuel––and Gene Moore’s creepy score make this an early arthouse horror milestone.

 

20. The Innocents (1961)

The Innocents (1961)

Jack Clayton’s classic gothic horror thriller The Innocents takes several cues from Henry James’ “Turn of the Screw” as it details the sad story of Miss Giddens (Deborah Kerr) who takes a governess job for two orphans in a creepy AF Victorian home. The children display the requisite bizarre behaviour and Miss Giddens believes she’s seeing ghosts and other supernatural nightmares.

Legendary cinematographer Freddie Francis brilliantly deploys deep focus lensing, and artful, atmospheric lighting which heightens the emotional turmoil of the characters. Clayton couples Francis’ expert details with Georges Auric’s chilling score, and subtle, slow burn pins and needles aplomb.

Still spooky after all these years, The Innocents is a monument to mysterious psychological scares and sophisticated Freudian-obsessed cinema. Ghost stories are rarely this effectively rendered and beautifully framed. A classic.

 

19. House (1977)

Hausu movie

Like the bastard love child of Dario Argento and Scooby-Doo under the influence of LSD, director/producer Nobuhiko Obayashi’s House is a goulash of ghoulish goodies. A very strange and often baffling haunted house tale, this films is a fever dream of cluttered symbolism, off-kilter cartoonish comedy, odd nuclear war allusions, persisting strangeness, kitschy reappropriations, and floods of blood.

Visuals are teeming and let’s just say eccentric––a maniacal white cat, a people-eating piano, a bonkers grandmother––and curious characters with names like Gorgeous (Kimiko Ikegami), Fantasy (Kumiko Oba), Kung Fu (Miki Jinbo), and Sweet (Masayo Miyako) come and go like confetti.

Lots of expressionistic imaginings and stylish set pieces occasionally call to mind the likes of Powell and Pressburger or just get outright silly and enjoyably sadistic. One thing is for certain: you’ve never seen a film quite like House.

 

18. Vampyros Lesbos (1971)

vampyros-lesbos-1971

Jess Franco’s masterstroke, Vampyros Lesbos tells the libidinous tale of Countess Carody (Soledad Miranda) and her pretty young quarry, Linda Westinghouse (Ewa Strömberg).

Re-working the well-established Dracula mythos with some refreshing gender reversals, running in vintage sexploitation mode that’s ably assisted by Manfred Hübler and Sigfried Schwab’s thrumming psychedelic score (Franco makes some musical contributions as well), and Manuel Merino’s giallo-inspired lensing makes for a transgressive tour de force.

The sexual pathology combines explicitly and slyly with surreal imagery and uncommonly provocative and mesmeric deflections––the extensive love scenes are Franco’s finest and most bewitching in a long career of such deviations. This is a dreamlike procession that shouldn’t be missed.

 

 

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  • ttt

    Videodrome, Antichrist, House of 1000 Corpses, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night

    • D Train

      Seriously, House of a 1000 Corpses? Nothing artistic OR original about that one. Haha

      • ttt

        well thats your opinion, i think it was a work of art

        • D Train

          You’re right. I’m not a huge Rob Zombie fan but I did LOVE his animated film EL SUPERBEASTO. Ever see it? I watch it every Halloween. 🙂

          • ttt

            nope never seen it, thanks for the tip i will definitely check it. well i cant say im a rob zombie fan too, but there is something refreshing and artistical in 1000 cropses, perhaps the costumes, scenography, idk i just find it very imaginative.

    • shane scott-travis

      I love Videodrome, Antichrist and A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night. Both would have made this list if it were a little longer.
      Also really great, and I regret not making room for it here, Claire Denis’ Trouble Every Day. Ever see it? It’s great! Also, if you like Antichrist, see the 1981 film Possession. So good!

      • ttt

        thanks, i will check them for sure

  • Klaus Dannick

    Ganja and Hess. The Devils. Martin. The Addiction. Tetsuo.

  • Jasper ‘Melon’ Fragrantly.

    Hausu? Under the Skin? Suspiria? On a list here? Get out of town!

    • shane scott-travis

      They meet the requirements for a list of this nature. Why would that surprise you?

    • D Train

      All three of those classify as “artistic” and “horror” and they’re great. So why moan about it? Why not offer some alternative?
      What’s actually irritating is that The Shining is on here. It’s not scary, or any good and ToC writes about it daily.

      • Jasper ‘Melon’ Fragrantly.

        Am I moaning? They manage to put these 3 on every list.

        • shane scott-travis

          “Every list” is hyperbole so while I’m uncertain of your moaning, your blurring of fact and fiction is questionalbe and your original comment seems ridiculous. Of course a film list detailing arthouse horror is going to include the best of the genre, possibly ones you’ve heard of before.
          When there’s a sci-fi list that mentions Inception and Interstellar do you troll those comment sections, too? 😛

          • Jasper ‘Melon’ Fragrantly.

            Thanks two dads. I think a list website should try to be original. We all know about hausu by now. P.s. thats not hyperbole, it is a slight exaggeration for effect, you smug prick.

      • Nick Owens

        Well that is just your opinion, I’m sure many people (myself included) think of it as a masterpiece of artistic horror, thus a perfect candidate for a list like this.

  • Carlos Cordero Madrigal

    Hour of the Wolf is definitely NOT a Horror Film. Go back to high school.

    • Stephus

      It is

    • D Train

      Even Bergman said it was horror and von Sydow and Ullman and the New York Times and the British Film Institute and everyone who’s seen it. Duh! You’re a tool.

    • shane scott-travis

      Hour of the Wolf was written as an homage to fantasy & horror author E.T.A. Hoffman. Even the characters are named after Hoffman characters.
      So why do you want me to go back to high school? I graduated in 1995 & started getting published in ’98. Pretty sure I know what I’m writing about at this point.

  • Rudi

    The Neon Demon would be my number 1. But it’s also my overall number 1 movie, so no big surprise there. 😉

  • D Train

    Except for The Shining, this is a great list.

  • CaseX

    Tomorrow’s “Taste of Cinema” article – “The 25 Greatest Greatness Films of Greatness That are Great if You’re Into Greatness Being Great”

    1. “Under the Skin”
    2. “Under the Skin”
    3. “Under the Skin”
    4. “Under the Skin”
    5. “Under the Skin”
    6. “Under the Skin”
    7. “Under the Skin”
    8. “Under the Skin”
    9. “Under the Skin”
    10. “Under the Skin”
    11. “Under the Skin”
    12. “Under the Skin”
    13. “Under the Skin”
    14.”Under the Skin”
    15. “Under the Skin”
    16. “Under the Skin”
    17. “Under the Skin”
    18. “Under the Skin”
    19. “Under the Skin”
    20. “Under the Skin”
    21. “Under the Skin”
    22. “Under the Skin”
    23. “Under the Skin”
    24. “Under the Skin”
    25. “Hausu”

    • D Train

      Are you reading the same Taste of Cinema as I am? There’s too much junk like Stanley Kubirck (yawn!) and Christopher Nolan (double yawn) and not enough top drawer quality and divisive films like Under the Skin.
      Plus, CaseX, if you’re such hot shit, you know you can write for this site, hmm? Pitch something, I dare you. Then you can have a flood of unschooled idiots tell you all the dull films you left out. 😛

      • CaseX

        You wrote the article, didn’t you?

        • D Train

          No, but I’ve written horror articles in the past and there’s always elitist dweebs like yourself that have to attack the integrity of those who did or get all butt hurt because their favorite crappy Rob Zombie movie got ignored. Haha

          • CaseX

            Boy…really touched a nerve with you angry chaps, didn’t I? 😉 Have a good night…haha…

          • D Train

            You too. I suggest getting a hobby or maybe just moving out of your parent’s basement. They’ve suffered enough! Hahahaha

          • CaseX

            You’re still talking? Hahaha…

          • D Train

            You just need to get the last word in, don’t you? Well, get used to disappointment.

          • CaseX

            ….he says as he, himself, attempts to get the last word. Haha…loser…

          • D Train

            It’s a two-way street, you munch.

        • shane scott-travis

          Hey CaseX,
          Shane here, I wrote the article. I’ve actually only written about Under the Skin a few times, and almost never at this site. Not sure what you’re, to use D-Train’s parlance, so “butt hurt” about but it is a great arthouse horror film and seems well suited to a list about that very thing, no? And between Under the Skin and House there are 23 other films.
          So what’s your point again? Is it you think you’re funny? Or you don’t like something that others do and therefore you’re entitled to be a dork about it? Well, go right ahead.
          Thanks for reading (though I doubt you actually read my article).

          • tea & snark

            Well I liked your article.

            If that helps.

            Thanks for writing it.

  • Great list, but I do think The Neon Demon is missing in here

    • MpB

      Neon Demon looked pretty, but had zero plot. NWR is rapidly becoming the next Shyamalan – – all style, no substance.

  • RiSky RahmaLia Sofyan

    I still think “A Tale of Two Sister” could make it to the list

  • Nick Owens

    Fantastic list. There are many films on here that would make great viewing for the Halloween weekend, and I will try to find copies of them ASAP.