Halloween is that excuse we use to celebrate all things scary and I thought I would compile a list of what I consider to be the top 20 scary movies. Originally I published this back in 2013 around this same time of year but it’s been a good couple of years for scary movies.
For the record, they’re numbered but not in any real order and are simply listed chronologically.
1. Frenzy (1972)
Many will remember Hitchcock’s many other films and assume that something like Psycho or The Birds or my personal favourite Rear Window is better placed on this list. But the reality this movie about a British serial killer is truly his most tense. Freed from the many restraints of censorship this one will haunt you. In true Hitchcock style, you can be simply haunted by his technical wizardry and a long haunting camera shot up a stairwell as a victim screams for her life and the camera goes down as her screams are drowned out by the busy London streets.
2. The Exorcist (1973)
If any film is going to stand at the top of any scary film list it has to be the Exorcist. The tale of a priest struggling with his own faith who is called to an exorcism. Despite its age it’s still absolutely terrifying. It might be the nature of the child being possessed or the absolute ruthlessness of the demon within her but there are still images that hang around from it. Not easy on the heart rate.
3. Eraserhead (1977)
You would be hard pressed to actually understand what David Lynch’s original directorial debut is about but it’s disturbing imagery is unnerving in way many scary films are not. It’s hard pressed to not see the David Lynch we know of today in this black and white surreal nightmare.
4. Halloween (1978)
The original and still the best Slasher flick. A sadistic Michael Myers (No Not Austin Powers) goes on a murderous rampage after he escapes from a mental asylum. Myers is cold, silent and deadly. This may seem like a well-worn formula today yet it is still largely the pioneer of it. Avoid the later sequels and the very derivative Rob Zombie remakes
5. The Evil Dead (1981)
Young adults go to a cabin in the woods for a weekend away and find and read from the book of the dead. Still extremely gory and filled with a dark sense of humor. This one introduced us to the talents of director Sam Raami and actor Bruce Campbell. It was also shot on a shoestring budget. Beware the tree!
6. An American Werewolf In London (1981)
Still considered one of the finest werewolf movies of all time, it deftly manages dark comedy with true horror. There is plenty of laughs for those who want them but the growing burden on the protagonist of the chaos he causes will haunt you with its alley way final shot.
7. The Thing (1982)
A team is sent to investigate and rescue any survivors at an Antarctic facility that has stopped checking in. What the team finds is an alien that can look like anyone and no one can be sure who to trust. John Carpenter’s classic plays on the isolation of the remote station and the paranoia of distrust so well in this alien thriller. Also has great practical effects and Kurt Russell.
8. Gremlins (1984)
This is one of those movie that in retrospect isn’t that scary but as a kid just messed with me. Nightmares for weeks and its simple rule set of not getting them wet, don’t feed them after midnight is still burnt in my brain. Gizmo is pretty cute still!
9. The Blair Witch Project (1999)
With what can only be described as a viral marketing campaign (before the internet was really a thing) that made many convinced this was a true film. With zero budget and simple spooks like the rustling of a tents it plays on one’s imagination. It also seemed to establish the found footage genre as a viable technique for movie making. Amazing and terrifying ending. It will work for those with a great imagination. If you find a copy with the DVD commentary make sure to listen as it is quite funny. You might also want to check out my review of the new Blair Witch
10. The Descent (2005)
A bunch of ladies go caving and because one of their friends takes them on an unmapped climb they become extremely lost. It’s terrifying and is filled with mind games and that is before the monsters even show up. This film is all about atmosphere and is almost pitch perfect in what it does. Make sure you seek out both endings of the film and avoid the sequel at all costs. It’s also great as far as playing strong female characters in horror movies as opposed to every other cliche+
11. Let the Right One In (2008)
A love story between a child-like vampire and a bullied kid. It is both a rewarding movie and a terrifying display of the manipulation one can have on another person. The remake is excellent despite being completely needless. It doesn’t spend a lot of time on vampire lore but creates its own set of myths around the character.
12. You’re Next (2011)
An estranged upper-class family is forced to survive together when their family reunion goes horribly wrong as a mudering crossbow intruder start taking them out one by one. Terrifying and surprisingly clever. Doesn’t reinvent the formula but does what it does strongly.
13. V/H/S / (2012)
These two are the best found-footage scary movies in recent years. V/H/S is a wonderfully evil and disturbing short story compilation. With individual directors for each means, they are of varying quality. But my favourite is the girl who leads her friends out to the woods to have them slaughter by a monster in the static between video edits. It is truly full on and not for the faint of heart.
14. Cabin in the Woods (2012)
Starting out as a typical generic going into the woods movie only to die, Cabin in the Woods plays fun with the notion of actually being screwed with. Funny, blood thirsty and unpredictable.
15. The Conjuring (2013)/ The Conjuring 2 (2016)
The man behind the goriest horror movies of recent times, Saw is now making some of the most clever and down right scary films with ghosts. Both movies are about hauntings and while I probably have a preference towards The original Conjuring, both are excellent. They work more on the creaks in the house rather than out and out ghosts and special effects. Both also have a strong theme of family in them too.
16. The Evil Dead (2013)
No, you are not seeing double. The remake of the Evil Dead made the list. It’s probably a lot more humorless than the original but still quite terrifying. It plays on a number of conventions and manages to be both scary and gory at the same time. It’s also nice to know that a lot of the creative team of the original worked on this as producers. It also has the record for the most fake blood used in a movie
17. It Follows (2014)
An abstract look at sexually transmitted disease. When a certain person sleeps with someone else they pass on a creature that will eventually kill them unless they do the same. It is a cold and detached villain but it’s the action of the people who try and fight it that will disturb you.
18. The Babadook (2014)
A mother is on the verge of a mental breakdown when she is widowed descends further into insanity as her son becomes to see a creature from a picture book. It’s shot on a really small budget but is terrifying and emotional at the same time. It’s also one of the best Australian films in years.
19. The Witch (2015)
Set in the time of pilgrims and around the time you imagine The Crucible. It involves a family exiled from their village who decide to set up a farm on the edge of a haunted forest. Religious paranoia and isolation are just part of what makes this terrifying. Watch out for the twins.
20. Don’t Breathe (2016)
The latest film on this list about three thieves that break into the house of a blind man. You can read my review of it here
Tell us what are some of your favourite Scary movies?