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Best Horror Movies of the Past 30 Years

Lionsgate / New Line / Orion

So many of the best horror movies of the past 30 years have been remakes, so it’s not easy coming up with a list of truly great ones. The golden age of horror had pretty much passed before the ’80s dawned. Still, we think these movies hold their own against the classics.


'Nightmare on Elm Street' (1984)

 
 

Before ‘Nightmare on Elm Street’ came along, horror movies were considered over, especially after a seemingly endless stream of ‘Friday the 13th’ sequels. Then Wes Craven reinvented the genre with one of the coolest franchise characters ever, Freddy Krueger. ‘Nightmare’ was a great idea that was long overdue, dealing with people dying in their dreams, and it gave horror a new lease on life.

 

'Re-Animator' (1985)

 
 

There were a number of great Edgar Allan Poe adaptations done by Roger Corman in the '60s, but HP Lovecraft hadn’t been done successfully on the big screen until Stuart Gordon tracked down one of his rarest stories, ‘Herbert West Re-Animator.’ Gordon took that story, which embarrassed Lovecraft because it was a pulp fiction he did for the money, and created the best movie adaptation of Lovecraft’s work yet. And where many fans don’t feel horror should ever be funny, ‘Re-Animator’ had a great, sick sense of humor that enhanced the movie instead of killing the scares.

 

'Evil Dead II' (1987)

 
 

Back in the ‘70s, Sam Raimi watched a lot of bad movies at the drive-ins, and he knew he could do better. With ‘The Evil Dead,’ he proved that with a tiny budget and a lot of ambition you could go a long way, and once he had a little ore money to play with, he came back with ‘Evil Dead II,’ an even more blood-soaked follow-up. Like ‘Re-Animator,’ Raimi brought a lot of humor to the proceedings, and Peter Jackson applied the same theory with ‘Dead Alive’ ... because when you’re being showered with blood, you just can’t help but laugh.

 

'Hellraiser' (1987)

 
 

In the horror world, a quote from Stephen King meant you’d arrived. When he pronounced that he loved ‘Evil Dead,’ it was the horror version of a rave review from legend movie critic Pauline Kael. King then called Clive Barker "the future of horror," and with ‘Hellraiser,’ a movie finally did Barker’s writing justice. (All due respect to ‘Rawhead Rex,’ which is pretty funny s---, but it certainly wasn’t a good representation of Barker’s storytelling talents.) ‘Herllraiser’ also gave us another great horror franchise character with Pinhead, the leader of the Cenobites.

 

'The Silence of the Lambs' (1991)

 
 

Only one horror film has ever won an Academy Award, and that’s ‘The Silence of the Lambs.’ It’s not hard to see why. The casting alone is extraordinary, especially Anthony Hopkins, who had been long overlooked but stole the show, even though he’s onscreen for only 27 minutes. ‘Silence’ is one of those films where all the elements came together brilliantly -- the directing, the cast, the screenplay -- and no other Hannibal movie ever recaptured the same magic again.

 

'Dead Alive' (1992)

 
 

After making several underground classics, Peter Jackson reached his gory peak with ‘Dead Alive,’ then left the horror genre behind because he just couldn’t go any further with it. Like ‘The Evil Dead’ on steroids, Jackson made a sick, funny, over-the-top gorefest, and where Raimi drew from the Three Stooges, Jackson’s combination of horror and hilarity was inspired by Monty Python. ‘Dead Alive’ was Jackson’s swan song to horror, and it was a great way to kiss the genre goodbye.

 

'Se7en' (1995)

 
 

The serial killer movie to end them all, at least until David Fincher reinvented the genre again with ‘Zodiac.’ ‘Se7en’ came at the tail end of the serial-killer trend, and it made Fincher an A-list feature director after he stumbled with ‘Alien 3.’ ‘Se7en’ also boasts a great script by Andrew Kevin Walker, and Fincher deserves kudos for refusing  to change its controversial ending. (Brad Pitt even had it put into his contract that the ending could not be altered.)

 

'28 Days Later' (2002)

 
 

We hate running zombies as much as anybody else, and we agree with George Romero that the undead should continue to rot and die and wouldn’t have the strength to compete in a marathon. But ‘28 Days Later’ is the best fast-moving undead movie, and it showcased the versatility of director Danny Boyle, who could go from “Trainspotting’ to this movie to ‘Slumdog Millionaire.’ 28 Days’ also went a long way in showing that digital video could actually look good on the big screen.

 

'The Cabin in the Woods' (2012)

 
 

This is the film that should have reinvented the horror genre, and we’re genuinely amazed it wasn’t a hit. Perhaps because 'The Cabin in the Woods' isn't a direct remake of anything, you wonder if audiences couldn’t figure what to do with it, which is a shame, because it’s what a horror movie should be: an exhilarating roller-coaster ride that takes a lot of familiar elements and turns them inside-out, subverting the audience’s expectations everywhere it can.

 

Next: 10 Movies to Watch With the Lights On

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