ByCourtney Dial, writer at
Scientist by day. Horror film aficionado by night.
Courtney Dial

Modern horror is considered to be any film produced after 1960. This was a critical time period when horror made the switch from vampires, werewolves and traditional aliens to something of a more "realistic" scheme. The 1960s to the early '80s was the time when the genre was forming into what it is today.

The films produced in this era are now considered classics, and provide the diagram that many films still follow. I mean, look at how many slasher films were created from the massive success of (1978). The films created not only set out to scare audiences, but also comment on real-world issues. We did a run-down of the films produced during this era and pulled out the top 10 films that every horror fan should view. These films are crucial in understanding the origins of many horror films coming out today, and their overall impact on film in general.

Without further ado, here are the top 10 films in no particular order (picked by yours truly) from the classical era of modern horror.

10. Psycho (1960): The Beginning Of Modern Horror

'Psycho' (1960) [Credit: Paramount Pictures]
'Psycho' (1960) [Credit: Paramount Pictures]

How can you compose a top 10 horror film list without placing the master of horror himself at the top of said list? Directed by the great Alfred Hitchcock, Psycho became the format for all horror to follow. The master of suspense earned his name through this film and, to this day, is considered his absolute masterpiece.

Psycho follows Marion Crane as she commits a pretty horrendous crime and flees to another town to stay at the Bates Motel. What ensues next are sinister crimes and a thriller that had not yet been seen in the cinema. This film has been considered one of Hitchcock's best work — and for good reason. With that said, Rear Window (1954) and The Birds (1963) are also two classics that helped cement Hitchcock as one of the greats. British director Michael Powell, who worked closely with Hitchcock, also deserves credit, as his film Peeping Tom (1960) created a motif that many horror films try to mimic today.

9. Suspiria (1977): Making Horror An Art Form

'Suspiria' (1977) [Credit: Produzioni Atlas/Consorziate]
'Suspiria' (1977) [Credit: Produzioni Atlas/Consorziate]

Dario Argento has been called the "Italian Hitchcock," and this description could not be more true. His film Suspiria is a beauty, and he uses an unforgettable soundtrack produced by the band Goblin (seriously check it out, its haunting) and saturated color to fabricate this elaborate, fairy tale-like landscape. This earned his film the appropriate title of "Mother of All Horror."

Suspiria puts art back into horror films. This films stands out as a truly artistic piece and put a spin on horror that many films cannot match. Suspiria follows Suzy, an American ballet dancer who travels to Germany to join a premier dance academy. She soon learns that a malicious coven of witches are the real powers at work behind the academy's façade. This film is one that any fan of horror should watch, especially those who enjoy soundtracks that act as a villain just as much as the actual antagonists.

8. Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974): Real Life Mimicked In Film

'Texas Chainsaw Massacre' [Credit: Bryanston Pictures]
'Texas Chainsaw Massacre' [Credit: Bryanston Pictures]

Ahh, the first slasher family. It's hard to think about classic slasher villains without including Leatherface on this list. Although this film is technically the first slasher (Halloween has officially been given this title), it has a family dynamic paired with such deep themes threaded throughout that it transcends this subgenre of horror. The dinner scene alone contains so many film elements that a complete analysis would span several pages.

Texas Chainsaw Massacre also commented on real-life events such as the Kent State massacre, the Vietnam War and the oil crisis. This film set out to make the perpetrators look inward and recognize the harm that was occurring as consequences of their actions.

Directed by Tobe Hooper, TCM begins its story with a group of teenagers traveling to an old house. When they run out of gas they are forced to make a pit-stop. During their exploration for gas they stumble upon a creepy house that is completely secluded, deciding that it is the perfect place to ask for gas (in their defense, there was a generator, so their assumption was a logical one). I believe you know what happens next. This film is worth a view for just the dinner party scene alone. It proves that horror is more than just blood, guts and gore, and skillfully uses elements to truly terrify audiences and make commentary on real-world issues.

7. Alien (1979): The Sci-Fi/ Horror Genre Is Born

'Alien' (1979) [Credit: 20th Century Fox]
'Alien' (1979) [Credit: 20th Century Fox]

Alien played into its '50s sci-fi roots with several terrifying twists, completely recreating the sci-fi/horror genre. This film spawned several spin-offs and director Ridley Scott created the unforgettable tagline:

In space no one can hear you scream.

The original Alien follows a group of scientists/astronauts aboard the Nostromo who crash land on an unfamiliar planet. They are soon met with a formidable opponent, and chaos ensues on the ship as the crew tries to fight off the alien. With way too many spin-offs to follow,Ridley Scott has returned to his iconic universe with Prometheus (2012) and Alien: Covenant (2017). Check out some more articles on the subject below:

6. The Exorcist (1973): Religion And Horror

To this day, The Exorcist, directed by William Friedkin, terrifies me to my core. The '70s special effects, paired with a subject that was taboo for the era, is why this film deserves its title as one of the scariest films of all time. Actors/actresses refused to work with Linda Blair after her terrifying performance as Regan. If that isn't a testament to how truly horrifying this film is, then I don't know what is.

The Exorcist follows a mother and her daughter who appear to be a happy family. That is, until Regan becomes possessed by the unthinkable. The events of the film are so heinous that they have been permanently ingrained in many viewers' minds, including my own. The Exorcist is a film that broke taboos. It showed a darker side of religion and showed a child, who started out sweet and innocent, become possessed by the devil himself. Rosemary's Baby (1968) directed by Roman Polanski, also took aim at religion, as well as The Omen (1976), directed by Richard Donner. Both films deserve credit for their efforts, although neither stand out like The Exorcist.

5. The Shining (1980): The Aim To Transcend The Genre Completely

'The Shining' (1980) [Credit: Warner Bros.]
'The Shining' (1980) [Credit: Warner Bros.]

"Here's Johnny!"

The next two films (The Shining and Carrie) on this list stem from novels written by the great Stephen King himself. The Shining, directed by Stanley Kubrick, is arguably one of the most famous movie adaptations of Mr. Stephan King's books, and has provided so many quotable moments.

"Redrum. Redrum. REDRUM!"

The wonderful cinematography, directing and narrative is what won this film its appraise, and many people look at The Shining as more than "just another horror movie." The audience follows Jack Torrance and his family as they move into a secluded cabin hotel in the mountains for the winter, to take care of the hotel in the off-season. In the mean time, supernatural events overwhelm the family, and the film turns into a thriller for the ages. Interested in reading more about the intricacies of The Shinning? Check out the articles below:

4. Carrie (1976): Representation Of Women In Horror

'Carrie' (1976) [Credit: United Artists]
'Carrie' (1976) [Credit: United Artists]

Carrie is really a superhero movie if you think about it (or maybe an antihero would be a better definition). My unnatural obsession with telekinesis really drew me to this film. This work really highlighted women in horror. There is a brilliant article by Barbra Creed entitled "Horror and The Monstrous-Feminine," noting the complexity of representations of women in horror films. This film does it so seamlessly it acted as the blueprint for films after to follow.

Directed by Brain De Palma, Carrie follows an abused young girl, both by her mother and her peers, as she learns that she is a telekinetic. Carrie is a film that truly displayed the dark side of bullying. Carrie never intended to be malicious, but characters pushed her towards it.

3. Halloween (1978): The First Slasher

'Halloween' [Credit: Compass International]
'Halloween' [Credit: Compass International]

Dubbed "the first slasher film," Halloween spawned countless attempts to recreate its successful formula through sequels, reboots and other film franchises. Its template was also developed into articles, laying out the format of a slasher by both Vera Dika ("The Stalker Film") and Carol Clover ("Her Body, Himself"). Halloween, directed by John Carpenter, is a classic for a good reason. This is the film that is parodied by the likes of Scream (1996) and The Cabin in the Woods (2012), but for its time it was groundbreaking.

Halloween follows the famed Michael Myers and his rampage on a small town in Illinois — need I say more? John Carpenter went on to direct another famed horror film, The Thing, which was a recreation of the film from 1951 entitled The Thing from Another World. This film can actually be seen in Halloween on the TV the kids are watching.

You can't say slasher villain without thinking of Jason (and Freddy, but he will have his moment). Directed by Sean S. Cunningham, Friday The 13th (1980) also made its mark on the slasher subgenre with a twist, and several sequels to follow.

2. Night Of The Living Dead (1968): Abrupt Commentary Of Socio-Political Issues

'Night of the Living Dead' [Credit: The Walter Reade/Organization/Continental Distributing]
'Night of the Living Dead' [Credit: The Walter Reade/Organization/Continental Distributing]

The first zombie film deserves a spot on this list, don't you think? Designed to look like a news report, Night of the Living Dead created the zombie craze that is sweeping the world.

Directed by George Romero, NOTLD, was beyond its time in more ways than one. With segregation in full force, George Romero cast the main character as a man of color, and we follow Ben as he leads the group to keep them safe from their impending doom. Ben's murder by white men is all too current for the issue that NOTLD addresses head on. It also called out the Vietnam War and our treatment of human beings as if they were nothing but a piece of meat.

The dramatic images of the meat hooks being used to drag the dead bodies (zombies) are the same that were being used to pull the people of Vietnam into burn piles. Although NOTLD created this subgenre of horror, for its time it also made important political and socio-economic comments about the real world, which is why it deserves a spot on any "Top Horror Film" list.

1. A Nightmare On Elm Street (1984): Bringing Horror Home While You Sleep

'A Nightmare on Elm Street' [Credit: New Line Cinema]
'A Nightmare on Elm Street' [Credit: New Line Cinema]

A Nightmare on Elm Street took a subgenre done so many times and added a new, "nightmarish" twist — and it was terrifying. Freddy is arguably one of the most freighting slasher villains to be created.

Directed by the horror man himself, Wes Craven, A Nightmare on Elm Street took a different approach to the slasher film and gave Freddy the ability to target his victims in their sleep. Craven also made Freddy's backstory so gruesome that it would make anyone's skin crawl. Growing up watching this movie made everyone afraid to go to sleep at night — the goal of any true horror.

Final Thoughts

All the films listed above have their own right to be on this list. They expanded a genre and brought something new to the table. These films should be in every horror fan's arsenal, and are classics that can be watched over and over again all with the same terrifying effect.


Which film is your favorite old-school modern horror?


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