Barry Norman’s 101 greatest films: horror

From The Exorcist to Halloween, find out which films scared our critic the most

Halloween 1978 18 87min Colour 


Not as scary as The Exorcist but close. A six-year-old boy commits murder, is locked up and 15 years later escapes to resume killing, on Halloween, on the same street where the original crime took place, by now having developed a loathing of teenage sexuality. Female babysitters are particular targets. John Carpenter’s dark, intensely creepy film keeps you remorselessly on the edge of your seat. 

Did you know? Paper leaves were painted in autumnal colours to help create the season, and the budget was so tight they were collected and re-used. 

Say it again! “Death has come to your little town, sheriff.” Dr Sam Loomis

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The Exorcist 1973 18 116min Colour 

This is not, as some have claimed, the greatest film ever made but it may well be the greatest horror movie ever made. Certainly it’s the only film that has terrified me. Linda Blair is the young girl possessed by a particularly vile, foul-mouthed, green-bilespewing spirit; Max von Sydow and Jason Miller are the priests seeking to exorcise it. The atmosphere is truly chilling, the effects horrific. There are no laughs here; this is deadly serious stuff, so cleverly done as to frighten the most agnostic. 

Did you know? Author William Peter Blatty once won $10,000 on a quiz show hosted by Groucho Marx. When Groucho asked what he planned to do with the money, he said he planned to take some time off to “work on a novel”. This was the result. 

Say it again! “What an excellent day for an exorcism.” Regan #

Oscars: William Peter Blatty, Adapted Screenplay 

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Frankenstein 1931 PG 68min BW 

Instead of the more familiar instant monster of later versions, the Creature in James Whale’s seminal work develops from an innocent being, miraculously given life, to the vengeful killer, victimised and misjudged by the society into which he has been born. This is perhaps the most intelligent reading of the story, strangely beautiful, never flamboyant and enhanced by an outstanding performance by Boris Karloff as the Creature. 

Did you know? The iconic monster make-up design by Jack Pierce is under copyright to Universal through to 2026. 

Say it again! “It’s alive! It’s alive!” Henry Frankenstein 

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Rosemary’s Baby 1968 18 131min Colour 

The most important ingredient of a horror flick is neither gore nor violence but terror, and here it exists vividly in the mind of Mia Farrow, a young wife who goes into meltdown as she comes to believe she has been impregnated by the Devil. This is a very good, frightening film full of ambiguity and strong, often deeply sinister, characters. 

Did you know? The Dakota Building where Rosemary had her apartment (renamed the Bramford for the film) was where John Lennon was assassinated in 1980. 

Say it again! “This is no dream! This is really happening!” Rosemary Woodhouse 

Oscars: Ruth Gordon, Supporting Actress 

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Night of the Living Dead 1968 18 95min BW 

Director George A Romero turned the horror genre on its head with his tale of flesh-eating zombies arising from the grave and terrorising all around them. In this kind of movie, we can usually be sure that good will conquer evil. Not this time. Whenever we think salvation is at hand, something goes horribly wrong. OK, many of the twists and turns you find here may be familiar from other, later movies. But it was Romero who set the trend. 

Did you know? Playing a zombie in this cult classic was no way to get rich quick. The ghouls were paid a measly $1 for their labours. But they were given a T-shirt which read “I was a zombie on Night of the Living Dead”, so that’s OK then. 

Say it again! “They’re coming to get you, Barbara, there’s one of them now.” Johnny

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Barry Norman’s 101 Greatest Films of All Time! part 1 was first published in Radio Times magazine (21-27 January 2012)


Barry Norman’s 101 Greatest Films of All Time! part 2 is available in next week’s Radio Times magazine