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The 10 Most Intelligent Horror Movies of All Time

08 December 2018 | Features, Film Lists | by Justin Gunterman

5. Let the Right One In

let-the-right-one-in

Let the record show that the novel Let the Right One In came out a year before the lesser vampire love story from Stephenie Meyer. Also let the record show that while Twilight is a creepy love story aimed at teenage girls, Let the Right One In was a complex Gothic horror novel that is of a much higher quality.

The same can be said about the respective film adaptations. When it comes to vampire love stories, one movie reigns supreme in terms of artistic merit. Let the Right One In isn’t just “a better movie than Twilight.” It’s also one of the best horror movies of the twenty-first century. To add to that, the remake is really damn good as well.

So what makes Let the Right One In so damn special anyway? “Vampire love story” doesn’t exactly do it justice. This is also a commentary on bullying, isolation, family, and anxiety. Honestly, this movie has a lot to say in such a limited amount of time. The innumerable themes are what make this stand apart from the crowd. It’s not smart in the same way as something like Eraserhead or Under the Skin.

In other words, it presents us with a straightforward narrative. The trade-off is that there’s an awful lot of information jammed into that straightforward narrative. There’s subtlety in the way it tries to reach its audience. That being said, it’s your job to figure out why that’s the case.

 

4. Jacob’s Ladder

jacobs-ladder

Want a film with a lot of subtext? Look no further. Jacob’s Ladder is the type of movie that can’t be completely comprehended within one watch. The film requires repeated viewings because there are so many layers that build upon one another.

All of these layers come together to create something with profound thematic depth. Yes, most viewers will be able to pick up surface-level themes within one viewing, but there’s honestly so much more than meets the eye here. Not every movie requires rewatches, but this one really does.

Without spoiling too much, the film delves into topics like PTSD, purgatory, and religion. The way it handles these sort of subjects is admirable. It doesn’t just lay everything out for the audience. It gives viewers just enough information so that they know the basics of what is happening.

The rest of the analysis is up to them. Some could argue that this sort of vague abstractness could deter from the overall message, but it seems clear that there’s a purpose here and everything onscreen matters.

All of the information described above pretty much explains why Jacob’s Ladder has such an enormous cult following. It’s a mind-blowing acid trip from beginning to end that really makes an effort to speak to the viewers. It’s not the most cohesive package on the market, but it makes up for it in so many ways. Lack of mainstream appeal aside, this is one hell of a movie.

 

3. The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari

cabinet-du-dr-caligari

Shortly after The Birth of a Nation set the stage for bigger narrative motion pictures, a slew of movies came out that redefined what movies can be. The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, for example, helped popularize the horror genre while also utilizing an unreliable narrator to eventually reveal one of the first examples of a plot twist in a full-length motion picture.

While it clearly didn’t have the influence of the aforementioned movie, it was revolutionary in a lot of ways. More importantly, it has aged significantly better than D.W. Griffith’s horrific racist commentary disguised as a movie.

Talking about its influence certainly hints at the fact that this is, in fact, an intelligent movie. It does not, however, confirm it. There have been plenty of influential movies that aren’t necessarily smart. The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, luckily, is both smart and influential. This is because, unlike so many other movies during this time period, straightforward storytelling wasn’t on the agenda. Nobody had really thought to frame a story this way.

The decision to have an unknown character present his story to someone else in the form of a flashback is brilliant, but that’s not even the highlight. The highlight comes in the form of a last minute plot twist that, frankly, nobody could have seen coming. Of course, all this talk about what it did for the time doesn’t exactly say a lot about what the movie is today.

Lack of dialogue and grainy cinematography aside, this is an accessible and highly watchable movie today. More importantly, all of the smart choices mentioned above remain pretty clever today. The framing device is still capable of catching people off-guard, and honestly, the twist is still pretty hard to predict. Film buffs are bound to love it, but even more casual viewers are liable to find something to appreciate.

 

2. Get Out

If you thought you could make it a whole year without hearing about Get Out, you are sorely mistaken. The movie is just too good to stop talking about. Complex themes, whip-smart dialogue, unique symbolism, and blink-and-you’ll-miss it moments all come together in a movie that’s nothing short of special. Seriously, this is a modern masterpiece that has deserved every bit of attention that came and continues to come its way.

In the previous paragraph, four highlights were listed. First off, the movie contains complex themes that deal with race, political affiliation, and freedom of thought. Next, there’s a constant stream of sharp dialogue provided by the always brilliant Jordan Peele.

Then of course there are the numerous symbols that are hidden in those blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moments mentioned earlier. If it just featured one of these things, it would have no shot of being included on this list, but the combination of everything is just perfection.

Even if you aren’t looking for something thought-provoking, it’s easy to appreciate Get Out. That’s what makes it so special. Looking for something funny? Give it a look. Looking for something genuinely eerie? This is the movie for you. How about a movie with a likable protagonist? Yep, this is for you.

Above all though, it is a smart movie and it’s one that needs to be watched by the horror intellectuals around the world. Judging by the acclaim, most people have already watched it, but anyone who’s cautious really need to give this a watch.

 

1. Don’t Look Now

The decision to put this movie at number one was actually decided before the unfortunate death of its director just two weeks ago. Basically, this wasn’t just some kind of sympathy vote. Don’t Look Now is about as intelligent as movies come. It’s timeless, haunting, and brilliant in just about every possible way.

It goes to great lengths to discuss topics like grief, the unknown, and misinterpretation. This isn’t the arthouse kind of smart seen in several other movies on this list. In fact, this movie is pretty accessible and straightforward. The messages are mostly pretty clear, but they stand out for just being so detail-oriented and rich.

The movie is well-known for its graphic content, but in reality, that shouldn’t be the topic of discussion. Yes, this movie is hard-R all the way through, but there’s so much more to it. In reality, it’s a melancholy experience that has a lot to say about life. It just happens to throw in some scares to liven things up. This leads to the next point. The movie is genuinely exciting as both a horror movie and an intelligent movie.

Some of the movies on this list work better as conversation-starters than horror movies. They might fail to provide any actual scary moments, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing because they more than make up for that. Still, Don’t Look Now is seriously thrilling and seriously well thought out.

It’s number one on the intelligent horror movie list, but it could seriously be number one on a lot of lists. It’s a horror masterpiece that deserves so much praise. There’s almost nothing to complain about here because everything is done with such craft. Those who haven’t seen it need to make it a point to check it out. It’s worth the attention.

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