14. Shaun Of The Dead (2004)
No film has quite captured the bizarre humour that underlies every zombie horror film quite so aptly as Shaun of the Dead. Shot with aplomb, packed with snappy dialogue and overspilling with blood, guts and gore, Edgar Wright’s masterpiece has come to represent the benchmark for British horror-comedy.
Shaun of the Dead is not exactly everyone’s cup of tea, but given how it splurges together two separate genres that ordinarily sit at opposite ends of the movie spectrum, it never really could be. Nonetheless, avid horror fans should find something to enjoy in the references to classic zombie films at the very least, whilst most others should get a kick out of the camaraderie of Simon Pegg and Nick Frost if nothing else.
13. Threads (1984)
Threads is not a film widely known outside of the UK given how it aired exclusively on British terrestrial television back in 1984. In some respects this is a travesty. In others it’s a blessing in disguise. Threads is a film so powerful, so moving and so deeply, deeply unsettling that appreciating it is easy. Enjoying it is a little more difficult.
Based in Sheffield, England, the film depicts the onset, occurrence and aftermath of Nuclear War. Television footage shows tensions between the Soviet Union and United States simmering, bubbling and eventually erupting, leading to the Russians launching a warhead that wipes out millions in the UK in an instant.
The first few scenes are uncomfortable to take in, but as Threads wears on it becomes nothing short of horrifying. Director Mick Jackson zones in on two particular families struggling to come to terms with the effects of radiation poisoning, and the ensuing anarchy that pits every man for himself.
The neorealist approach taken by Jackson makes everything in Threads feel unsettling real, and when the grislier images arise in the film’s final act, it becomes almost too tough to bare.
Power-hungry, tyrannical leaders ought to be force-fed Threads with the Ludovico Technique, in the same way that Malcolm McDowell was made to view images of violence in A Clockwork Orange. Perhaps then the imminent threat of potential Nuclear War might vanish forever…
12. Hellraiser (1987)
You won’t have to have seen Hellraiser itself to be familiar with the film’s lead antagonist. The menacing glare of Pinhead is splashed across film sites as far as the eye can see, and is often regarded as one of the most famous and fascinating horror movie images of all time.
The plot tells the tale of a man who unwittingly fiddles with a perplexing puzzle box that sees him tumble into the abyss of a malevolent world ruled by the Cenobites and Pinhead himself.
Both nasty and nefarious, Hellraiser is a profoundly unsettling experience, managing to offend a wide range of viewers upon its initial release. Difficult to watch it may be, but as a slice of seditious eighties horror cinema, Clive Barker’s movie is actually in some ways a work of genius.
11. Under The Skin (2013)
Bold, provocative and remarkably original, Under The Skin is a strange, eerie and decidedly unsettling film that sees Scarlett Johansson produce one of those extremely rare once-in-a-lifetime performances that eclipse any off-days she might have had in the past. After taking in Jonathan Glazer’s mesmerising movie, you’ll probably never be able to see her quite the same way again.
Throughout the film Johansson oozes the seductive lure of a fifties femme-fatale, yet an otherworldly presence that we can’t even begin to understand lurks within her. A creature from another dimension slips into the skin of Johansson at the start of the movie, hops into a vehicle, and uses her fluttering eyelashes and thick, full lips to trick men into taking a ride. These poor males are then lead to some unimaginable and horrific ends, which have to rank as some of the most troubling fates ever captured on film.
The film has since slithered its way onto the Guardian’s top fifty movies of the whole decade, and managed to top several critics “best of the year” lists when Christmas time rolled around in 2014.
It developed more of mixed reaction among audiences, which is understandable given its peculiar plot. But there is no doubting the audaciousness in play here. Under The Skin is sinister and strange, but it also grows as it ebbs on – becoming something almost heartfelt and emotional by its conclusion. Ultimately, it will go down in future years as a British classic.
10. Witchfinder General (1968)
A “folk” horror in the mould of The Wicker Man, Witchfinder General differs from most classic genre movies in how it is set against a backdrop of rural old England. Taking place during the English Civil War, it investigates the persona of Matthew Hopkins – a self-declared witch hunter who sought to rid society of anyone he suspected of being capable of producing evil black magic.
Hopkins was in fact a real person who “cleansed” the kingdom of witchcraft, but one can only hope that the sort of atrocities he committed weren’t quite as horrific as those he engages in Matthew Reeves’ movie.
Vincent Price stars as Hopkins, and gives one of his most fearsome performances. Gone are the wild eyes and deep-chested chuckle that acted as a key markers for most of his work. Instead he plays Hopkins straight and serious, only helping to enhance the grim, terrifying atmosphere that engulfs the entire picture.
One of the most memorable cult classics to emerge from the United Kingdom, Witchfinder General earns its place on this list of great horror classics for the way in which it managed to send audiences and critics ghostly white on first viewing.
9. The Haunting (1963)
If you’ve been searching high and low for a haunted house picture of considerable quality, it’s understandable why you might have been unsuccessful thus far. This is a subgenre of horror cinema that’s been explored, exhausted, and heavily parodied over the past few decades, and you’ll need to look as far back as The Haunting from 1963 to experience the kind of superb psychological, claustrophobic horror film that inspired so many carbon copies.
Another British classic that was ultimately remade and ruined with a glamorous Hollywood cast, the original The Haunting is a spine-chilling piece of sixties cinema. Directed by the genius Robert Wise (the man behind the ground-breaking editing sequences of Citizen Kane) the film is shot splendidly, generating a terrifically tense atmosphere that escalates into something delirious as malevolent spirits proceed to taunt and terrify a group of visitors.
Both smart and scary, The Haunting remains worth digging up for anyone seeking some classic haunted house horror.
8. The Curse Of Frankenstein (1957)
Mary Shelley’s novel might be regarded one of most influential pieces of literature of all time, but the impact her writing has had on cinema is arguably even greater. Alongside the pasty white complexion of a certain Count Dracula, Frankenstein’s monster has become the face of classic horror cinema for many.
Another Hammer Horror film that helped to establish the production company as one of the most bold and fearsome film distributors in the business, The Curse Of Frankenstein stars Christopher Lee in one of his most memorable and chilling performances as the dead-eyed monster. But it is Peter Cushing in the role of Frankenstein himself that really steals the show here – with the actor aptly portraying a crazed scientist who is both obsessed and haunted by his own creation.
Directed by Terence Fisher, Curse of Frankenstein proved to be a box office smash, and re-popularised the blend of gothic horror that had been so apparent in early horror cinema but had temporarily faded away.