I started writing these Top 5 lists for horror films ten years ago, mostly because I was sick and tired of how so-called “experts” and “critics” were reviewing and critiquing horror movies online. It drives me crazy that we are thirty years into Internet culture, effectively spending forty hours a week online and inside of social media—a second job’s worth of time, and people still don’t understand how to communicate with it. This technology that has democratized free speech has also reduced it to its most rudimentary form.
Anyone online can be “an expert,” or a “media critic.” Anyone can write an opinion and angle it as a collection of facts. There’s no test for anyone to take in order to see if they understand the basics of rhetoric, debate, constructing a persuasive argument, writing to and for a specific audience, etc. It’s still the wild west in terms of digital content creation, and that’s not likely to change anytime soon.
So, just in case you don’t know me, and you’re wondering why I’m so strident about this, or maybe you’re thinking, “Where the hell does he get off…?” Here’s my bona fides:
Born in 1969, I great up a Monster Kid in the seventies. I was exposed to classic horror movies at an early age and quickly became a fan. I read and collected horror comics: House of Mystery, House of Secrets and the rest of the DC horror line-up, along with Monsters on the Prowl and Creatures on the Loose from Marvel. Werewolf by Night was a favorite of mine, as was Swamp Thing. Later, when EC reprints became available, I lost myself in The Vault of Horror and Tales from the Crypt.
As an early and precocious reader, horror fiction, especially Stephen King (it was the seventies), and classics, too, were a big part of my childhood. Those Alfred Hitchcock story collections were awesome and introduced me to classic authors and 20th century masters like Robert Bloch, H.P. Lovecraft, Henry Kuttner, John Collier, Jerome Bixby, and other pulp authors, British mystery writers, and the like.
Growing up, there wasn’t an aspect of horror that I wasn’t interested in. Horror make-up effects, Aurora model kits, monster toys, monster cereal (Count Chocula for the win, followed closely by Fruit Brute), old time radio (you could still hear it on AM stations in the seventies), horror role-playing games like Call of Cthulhu and Chill, TV shows like The Twilight Zone and Night Gallery, and of course, horror movies. The 80s represented a shift in both the quality and the quantity of horror movies being produced, and that decade gave us some indelible classics that are still influential to this day.
When I was thirteen, my family owned and operated a video store. This was in 1984, and it pre-dated Blockbuster and all of the national competitors. I worked at the store and I was in charge of – you got ahead of me, there – the horror section. Also, fantasy and Sci-Fi, but back then, it all kinda ran together for kids like us. In the age of VHS, I had access to the vast history of horror movies, because companies couldn’t put their back catalog on cassette fast enough, and also the weird-ass, gonzo movies that lived and died at the drive-ins and grindhouses of North America, only to be resurrected in rectangles of black plastic and magnetic tape.
I watched it all. At the time, I entertained dreams of working in special effects and would re-watch movies that Rick Baker, Dick Smith, Rob Bottin, and Tom Savini had worked on, studying their creations intently. Eventually, it dawned me that I’d not spent my formative years sculpting with clay, working with slush rubber molds, and experimenting with industrial tubing and blood formulas. Hell, I’d not even shot a early amateur movie of my own! What a slack-ass. What I had been doing is writing, something I was quite good at from an early age. I went to college with the idea of critiquing and writing about popular culture of some kind—pulp literature, film studies, et.al. I wasn’t quite sure, but I was very taken with the film criticism surrounding Noir fiction and film Noir and I made a study of how to look at media critically.
I realized, after two-plus years of college, that I didn’t need a degree to write. I could write professionally without a diploma, and so I did, working on comics, fiction, short feature articles for the first real wave of commercial websites. My first paying gig was writing for Playboy Online—a job that ruined me for developing other life skills.
I’ve had the good fortune to be a published and paid writer for thirty years. In that time, I’ve written about, for, and in defense of, fiction, film, TV, comics, and games. I’ve written horror comic, horror fiction, horror stage productions, and I’ve reviewed horror books and movies from both a critical and fannish perspective, as there is a difference.
I’m most well-known for literary criticism. I wrote a biography of Robert E. Howard that was nominated for a World Fantasy and a Locus award. In 2017 I was awarded first place in the “Comment and Criticism” category in Division A newspapers for my film reviews by the Texas Associated Press Editors. All this to say: I understand how to write, and I know what I’m writing about.
Why a Top 5 List?
Because 3 is too short and 10 is too long. I’m totally serious. If I give you the top 3 of any given movie, your first instinct is to notice what isn’t there. A top 10 list is more of a check list, as in, “As long as The Exorcist is in his top 10, I’ll know he’s serious about this and not a dilletante or a tourist.” Which is all fine and good, until you see where it’s ranked: “Number 6? Of all time!? Screw this guy and his stupid list!”
A Top 5 list, on the other hand…it’s enough to evaluate a given subject without overwhelming a newcomer. At the same time, if you see anything on the list you agree with, you’re more apt to look at the other things on the list with an appreciative eye. With a top 5 list, you may have seen two of the movies listed, and thought they were pretty scary. Now we’re in agreement. You’re more likely to check out one or more of the movies you haven’t seen.
Why So Many Categories?
What’s scary to you might not be scary to me, and vice versa. If I made a list of the most terrifyingly scary movies of all time and I put a werewolf movie in the top 3, and you don’t like werewolf movies because you think they are stupid and unrealistic, that’s going to shade your opinion of the rest of my choices.
I’m not doing an all-time greats horror movie list. That’s for suckers. It’s far more useful to both of us if I make categories and sub-categories. That way, you can skip the werewolf movies and go straight to ghost stories, or killer dolls, or whatever really does terrify you.
The other reason is this: I made the decision years ago not to write about the same movie on different lists. There are plenty of movies that could go on multiple lists and fit in several different categories, but that just wastes space on a Top 5 list for me to talk about another movie that would fit better. I want to include as many lists as possible, so if you don’t see a movie on a list you think it should be on, it’s probably on another list altogether.
An obvious example is The Shining (1980). You’ll find it on the Top 5 Haunted Houses List, and not on the Top 5 Stephen King Movies List, for a whole lot of reasons which are obvious if you stop and think about it. This issue also comes up on the “by decade” lists, i.e. Top 4 Horror Movies of the 1940s. The Wolf Man (1941) isn’t on there, because he’s on the werewolf list, obviously, but yeah, it was also one of the best horror movies of the 1940s, too. It was just more important as a werewolf movie, so that’s where it went. There are plenty of other examples, as I am sure you’ll note and most likely tell me about. My answer will nearly always be, “It’s on another list.”
How Do you Decide the Rankings?
For starters, breaking the genre down into sub-categories and sub-sub-categories is a big help. It’s easier to compare like with like, as in, “How effective is the vampire at doing a bunch of vampire stuff?” Part of the ranking will almost always include, “Did it Scare Me?” except in cases where that’s not the most important consideration. So that’s the metric. First and foremost, I want to be scared: jumped out, creeped out, grossed out, etc. Scared, whatever that might mean for the genre. Second, with regards to the topic, i.e. zombies, werewolves, creepy kids, killer dolls, and so forth—is it a good example of that kind of movie? How well does it embrace the premise? That’s what decides the order of the Top 5 Lists.
The Master List
Here’s everything I’ve written about from the beginning onward, as well as a few that I’ve not posted yet. They will be updated in a random, out of order sequence, so it’s best to watch this space for when the titles change color—it means the entry has been updated, migrated, and re-integrated into the NTAB Vaults, appropriately tagged and cross-referenced. Or you can just read them as they drop, throughout the month of October.
My Top 5…
Creatures on the Loose
Devils and Demons
Horrors from the Deep
Long Form TV Series
Monsters from the Void of Space
Science Run Amok
TV Show Horror
When Animals Attack
When Insects Swarm
Horror Movies of the Silent Era
Horror Movies of the 30s
Horror Movies of the 40s
Horror Movies of the 50s
Horror Movies of the 60s
Horror Movies of the 70s
Horror Movies of the 80s
Horror Movies of the 90s
Horror Movies of the 2000s
Horror Movies of the 2100s
Bookmark this page and watch for updates!