Horror films have existed for nearly as long as motion pictures have been around. Beginning with French director Georges Méliès’s 1896 film “The Haunted Castle,” audiences have sought the thrill of movies that frighten, disturb, and deal in the morbid and macabre.
Yet, while audience demand has kept a steady stream of horror flicks in theaters and propelled titles such as “Jaws” and “The Sixth Sense” to the top of the box office, the genre has not always elicited respectability among critics. For instance, it was not until 1992 that a horror film – “The Silence of the Lambs” – won Best Picture at the Academy Awards.
The impression of horror movies as a purely lowbrow art form seems to have largely been shed. In his backhanded, two-star review of 1974’s “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre,” famed critic Roger Ebert wrote that audiences are left with “an effective production in the service of an unnecessary movie.” That unnecessary movie has since gone on to secure a place in the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art, and in 2012 it was included in the highly respected Sight and Sound’s 250 Greatest Films of All Time list. Films that were once considered pointlessly shocking are now viewed as legitimate works of art.
Today, modern horror films are being recognized with more awards than their predecessors. Although this is due in part to more organizations granting awards, it also reflects a newer mindset that these movies are deserving of appreciation. Hence George Romero’s highly influential 1968’s “Night of the Living Dead” receiving only one award, while the more recent 2007’s “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street” receiving 34.
This newfound appreciation is widely spread across the genre, as seen by the variety of movies that made our list of best horror films. While the older classics such a “Frankenstein” and “Dracula” are greatly represented, there are films from every decade – aside from the 1990’s – including four movies from the 2010’s.