One thing a horror film director will never be accused of: directing Oscarbait. While the genre isn’t completely unrepresented in the history of the Academy Awards, it would probably be fair to say that it is underrepresented. But who can blame AMPAS, really? Even devoted fans of the genre and defenders of pulp probably shrug or cringe at the subpar horror releases that seem to ceaselessly clog up multiplexes every year. Horror films are an easy way to make a quick buck, and after the constant deluge to which we’re subjected, it’s hard not to be a bit jaded.
But there’s a reason that horror films are quick, reliable money-earners: because we crave them. They speak to something primal. We think of fear as an emotion but it’s also a base human instinct; it’s in our hardwiring. It’s universal. It fascinates us. And while plenty of films try to exploit that fact to earn money, there are filmmakers out there who have been genuinely inspired by the primeval quality of fear.
We collected ballots from our members asking them to rank their favorite horror films. Below are the tallied results: the top 25 horror films according to AwardsWatch, as well as 5 honorable mentions. Also included are brief Oscar Spotlights detailing the categories in which these films were able to break through with the Academy.
5) Martin (Romero, 1976) –While Romero is undoubtedly best known for his Dead series, this sort-of vampire film might be his greatest achievement. It’s as much about modern notions of alienation and contemporary, visceral horror as it the antiquated and folkloric horror of vampire lore. While Martin’s status as a vampire may be questionable, he is certainly a monster, and the film’s violence can feel all too real.
4) Hour of the Wolf (Bergman, 1968) –Bergman might seem an unusual inclusion on a list of horror films, but he did contribute this great film to the genre. And truthfully, much of Bergman’s cinema, with its intense psychological inflection and fascination with metaphysical questions, can take on a sublime horror. This film, through flashback, tells the story of a painter haunted by demons who has disappeared.
3) King Kong (Cooper & Schoedsack, 1933)—While perhaps more an adventure film than a full-fledged horror, it’s hard to deny the power and charm this movie still holds eight decades later (it’s one of the oldest films on our list). And it’s hard to think of a movie monster that’s more iconic than Kong.
2) A Nightmare on Elm Street (Craven, 1984)—A unique take on the slasher genre that proliferated in the 80’s, Craven’s film centers on a deceased child-murderer who has the ability to attack people through their dreams. Unlike the faceless and wordless horrors represented by Jason Voorhees and Michael Meyers, though, Craven’s killer—Freddy Krueger—has personality to spare and is brought to vivid life by Robert Englund.
1) Dracula (Coppola, 1992)—Though Bram Stoker’s Dracula has been adapted countless times, it is this baroque interpretation from Francis Ford Coppola that finds its way on to our list. Paying homage to old-school filmmaking techniques, the film is considered a visual tour de force—if you can make it past Keanu Reeves’ oft-maligned performance.
Oscar Spotlight: While it didn’t receive noms or wins in any of the “major” categories, Coppola’s film had an impressive showing in the techs. It won for Sound Effects Editing, Makeup, and secured a statue for legendary costumer Eiko Ishioka. It also received a nomination for Best Art Direction-Set Decoration.
Next up: The List (25-21)