There are tons of horror films in the world, many of which are about as horrifying as standing in line at the DMV… actually that can induce some nightmares on its own. What people find scary or unsettling differs from person to person, so before you get all bent out of shape that these aren’t scary, calm down, it’s only a stupid list… It’s just for fun. Breathe.
Now for your average movie fan, I have compiled a list of what I believe to be the most terrifying films ever made. Of the hundreds and hundreds of horror films I’ve sat through, I find these really help raise the old arm hairs and help keep you up at night while laying in bed. Are these necessarily the best horror films ever made? Yes, some of them are, but the main objective here is something to scare the shit out of you.
THE CONJURING (James Wan, 2013)
The Conjuring is the most recent film on the list and one I found to be an excellent cinematic experience. James Wan has a superb ability of building up suspense and the scares. I will say, on a rewatch at home I felt it lacked a little, compared to the first time in theaters. Wan also directed Insidious, which I strongly considered using instead of this, but both films suffer from an ending that just doesn’t live up to the first act. All that aside, The Conjuring is still worth a poke.
MARTYRS (Pascal Laugier, 2008)
This film is truly fucked, like the title of the article says… be warned. It’s not a film you’d want to recommend to your parents, unless they’re kinda screwed up. Martyrs is very abrasive and is filled with moments that will stay with you. It’s one of the films on the list that caused me the most anxiety, but in a good way.
THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT (Daniel Myrick, Eduardo Sánchez, 1999)
I think out of all the films on the list, this one is probably the most divisive. People seem to really love it, or think it’s one of the worst horror films ever made. I remember being scared shitless the first time I saw this in the theaters. The whole found-footage aesthetic wasn’t a thing yet and it really help make everything so much more believable.
JACOB’S LADDER (Adrian Lyne, 1990)
This is a little gem from the early 90s that I feel doesn’t get talked about enough. It’s scary, but in a unique way. You’re losing your mind and can’t really do anything about it. Was that demon humping my girlfriend on the dance floor or am I just having a really bad and prolonged acid trip? These are the kinda existential questions you’ll ask yourself during Jacob’s Ladder.
THE STRANGERS (Bryan Bertino, 2008)
The Strangers makes the cut, because unlike these other films, it’s something that could actually happen to you in real life. And unlike other home invasion films, it’s constructed in a perfect way that allows for the maximum amount of terror and suspense.
[REC] (Jaume Balagueró, Paco Plaza, 2007)
[REC] is a film that grabs you by the balls, or whatever’s down there, and doesn’t let go. It’s the definition of great pacing and for found footage, it doesn’t get much better.
THE RING (Gore Verbinski, 2002)
Some my think the Japanese version is better, but I prefer the English one. There are tons of scary moments littered throughout this thing – the footage from the cursed tape being one, or the dead girl in the closet scene (dat face tho).
THE DESCENT (Neil Marshall, 2005)
This film is scary. Seriously, it’d be hard to argue against that statement, even for diehard horror fans. The setting is a perfect location to frighten the hell out of an audience. Behind every turn, stalagmite, and dark corner may be some nefarious creature looking to eat your face off.
THE EXORCIST (William Friedkin, 1973)
This will never not be scary in my opinion. It’s like a fine Bordeaux wine that just keeps improving with age. The staircase scene is one of the most jaw dropping moment in my movie viewing history. God bless William Friedkin.
THE THING (John Carpenter, 1982)
This is probably my all time favorite horror film and for good reason. I could say stuff like, “It’s because John Carpenter directed it, and he’s god” or “It stars Kurt Russell, who makes everything better”, but what does that have to do with making it scary? The Thing is also packed with some of the creepiest and most unsettling special effects ever created. It’s also a pressure cooker of a horror flick that keeps building terror to the point of an explosive climax that leaves everything burning in flames… kinda like the first time you had sex (I mean, it doesn’t get more terrifying than that).
THE SHINING (Stanley Kubrick, 1980)
From that impeccable score that drops right out of the gate during the intro, you know you’re in for some dark times ahead. Ominous would be the perfect adjective to describe The Shining, everything just seems like one big quagmire that’s slowly unfolding into complete chaos. If you haven’t, you really should watch this film ASAP, it’s fun for the whole family.