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The 100 Scariest Movies of All Time

These are the films that terrify us in ways we never forget

100 Scariest Movies of All Time, artwork by Cap Blackard
100 Scariest Movies of All Time, artwork by Cap Blackard
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    Why do we love being scared? It can’t be the way it makes our heart beat at rapid rates. Or how it keeps us up at night, leaving us to clutch our sheets as we stare at our half-open closets and listen for the faintest sounds down the hall. What the hell is it then? What gives us the oomph to spend 24 hours at vintage theaters for horror movie marathons? Why do we feel the need to sit down and watch John Carpenter’s Halloween for the 568th time every time October rolls around? It’s really odd.

    For some, it’s an emotional release. Watching masked murderers hunt down hapless idiots or seeing nuclear families flee from the fractured promise of the American dream is a spiritually cynical escape from our own problems. It’s a cleansing of sorts that filters out our own personal anxieties that stem from real-world problems. So, in effect, these 90-minute B-fests serve as a therapeutic experience that a) costs less than your average therapist and b) traditionally involves candy and/or beer.

    For others, it’s a nostalgic thing. Growing up throughout the ’80s and ’90s, and even throughout the ’00s to a certain extent, there was a mythology to the horror movie genre. What made you scared said so much about you as a person. Whether your skin crawled over the sight of gore or your spines tingled at the sound of a werewolf, it was your fear to cultivate, and you wore that fear as a badge of courage. It was something to talk about on the playgrounds and in the aisles of your local video shop.

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    Today, that connection seems different, if only because everything has been sterilized by being parsed out through various streaming services. We seek out horror in different ways now, not through physical scouring but through mindless scrolling. It’s kind of the same, but it’s also not really the same — overall, it feels like something’s been missing from the experience. But, here’s the thing: Fear will always find us, no matter what changes, and this list is definitive proof of that notion.

    Because no matter the time nor the medium, these films will scare you.

    –Michael Roffman
    Editor-in-Chief

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    100. Hostel (2005)

    hostel The 100 Scariest Movies of All Time

    Yeah, it’s a torture movie, and the idea of being tortured or watching people be tortured is pretty terrifying no matter the context. But in Eli Roth’s second film, following the severely underrated Cabin Fever, severed Achilles tendons and mutilated faces are only part of the horrific collage. At its heart, Hostel is mostly there to scare you about traveling, particularly in a foreign country. When the film’s characters find themselves in Bratislava, subject to the whim and mercy of the places they stay and people they encounter, the vulnerability of the foreigner is magnified to a degree that we rarely feel when traveling ourselves. Yes, there’s also lots of gore — it’s flat-out hard to watch — but the long-term effects of the film don’t come from failed surgeons looking to operate on live people. No, it just makes you think twice about ever traveling to Eastern Europe. –Philip Cosores


    99. Hour of the Wolf (1968)

    hour of the wolf The 100 Scariest Movies of All Time

    It’s the hour in which fears, nightmares, and even death reign supreme. And what is this time but our collective ability to allow worries to run rampant? What a concept. A deliciously dark, big theme. Ingmar Bergman knew fear digs deep into that hour. Beatings, humiliation, fake eyes, silence, losing the ones you love – it’s all very primal. But that’s the dread perfected in The Hour of the Wolf, an attractive work of woe. (In Swedish, abstract black and white, of course.) More of a sketching ground for worry than a concrete tale, the film assembles sounds and images rooted in artistic madness, with an air of chilly and impersonal beauty. Jagged manic episodes. This isn’t just about some missing artist husband, weirdos on an island, or the brutal murder of a child. This is Bergman’s therapeutic scream, a film of pure agony in chilling fashion. –Blake Goble


    98. It Follows (2015)

    it follows screenshot The 100 Scariest Movies of All Time

    What we talk about when we talk about It Follows: the metaphor. Is the film’s antagonist — a sexually transmitted monster who can only be seen by its next victim — a stand-in for STDs? Unwanted pregnancy? Or is it a more innocent comment on the permanence of relationships, even after they’ve ended? All of these are valid theories, and whichever interpretation you settle on likely enriches a film that’s already one of the most unique horror movies of the last decade. But It Follows freaks me out for something not related to sex at all. I’m talking about the creature’s slowness. Taking what John Carpenter started with Michael Myers in Halloween to new, sluggish extremes, writer-director David Robert Mitchell usually frames his baddie from a distance with a static speed. It captures the moment we’ve all had when walking home and wondering if that person a half-block behind is actually stalking us. That’s a feeling just as ubiquitous as experiencing the dangers of sex. –Dan Caffrey


    97. An American Werewolf in London (1981)

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    Okay, An American Werewolf in London might scrimp on character development and lack any semblance of a satisfying ending, but John Landis’ 1981 cult favorite does deliver some legit scares along with its dark laughs. Much of the credit should be doled out to the makeup and effects crews. Before adequate technology existed, they dared to show 90% of a werewolf transformation onscreen. The mutilated bodies and living dead also still bring cringes decades later, as do David’s graphic dreams and the stalking camerawork used in the subway hunting. But not all the scares are visual. David’s dilemma on its own is outright grim. He can either kill himself to end a cursed bloodline or continue to risk the lives of others, which includes forever damning his best friend and any other victims to an eternity of roaming the world as corpses. Talk about being spoiled for choice. –Matt Melis


    96. Amour (2012)

    amour The 100 Scariest Movies of All Time

    Amour is no horror movie, but it’s the sort of film that will unsettle you on a deep, existential level, long after so many jump scares have come and gone and faded from memory. That last bit isn’t meant as a cheeky bit of wordplay on the film’s plot, but it certainly fits; as Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant) watches his beloved wife Anne (Emmanuelle Riva) slowly disappear into the endless void of dementia, Michael Haneke’s unsparing film follows them both all the way down. This is a film that bears witness to mortality at its most devastating and painful, and hits on the kind of thing that keeps many people awake in the dead hours of the night: this could happen to you, or somebody you love, and there is not a single thing you can do about it when it does. —Dominick Suzanne-Mayer


    95. The Witch (2016)

    thewitch The 100 Scariest Movies of All Time

    Demons and the dark arts are ubiquitous in horror, but few movies feel as truly satanic as The Witch, Robert Eggers’ stunning debut film about a Puritan family in 17th century New England and the nefarious forces that live in the surrounding woods. Striking, horrifying images and eerie, unexplained confrontations abound, but it’s the film’s reveal that Satan himself is behind the horror that elevates this movie to the next level. Religion is often treated as an opiate or character motivator in horror, but here Eggers gives us confirmation that the biblical forces of good and evil are truly at work in this world, thus giving the weight of the film’s final act a sense horrific grandeur. Yet, oddly, it also finds beauty in the concept of choice, leaving viewers with a queasy sense of uneasiness as the credits begin to roll. –Randall Colburn


    94. Phantasm (1979)

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    Phantasm, with its far-out storytelling and visuals, feels like a dream and, at times, a nightmare. It’s hard to tell what’s intentional and what’s a result of shooting the film over the course of three years (only writer-director Don Coscarelli knows for sure). Either way you slice it, Angus Scrimm’s Tall Man has the power to give audiences the willies. The film itself feels like a Southern California take on Italian horror with its cast of rock and roll dudes; vivid, saturated reds and blues; and blaring synth soundtrack. Phantasm also brought to life one of the most memorable onscreen killers: the flying silver sphere with a knack for drilling into its victim’s skulls. For all its weirdness, it’s actually the family drama that propels Phantasm, with young Michael Pearson (A. Michael Baldwin) coming to terms with loss and the specter of death that surrounds his loved ones, tapping into very real fears through a surrealistic lens. –Mike Vanderbilt


     

    93. The Strangers (2008)

    the strangers The 100 Scariest Movies of All Time

    The home invasion subgenre preys on a simple phobia: that even the one place in which you’re supposed to be the safest is only as “safe” as the will of the people around you. Yet, The Strangers ratchets up that fear by highlighting how fragile that social contract is and that if your home is suddenly violated by a roving band of thrill killers, there’s nothing to do but kill or be killed. And yet, against a trio of harlequin-masked murderers driven by no more valid a modus operandi than “because you were home,” what’s a nice young couple to do? Die, sooner or later. —Dominick Suzanne-Mayer


    92. Kairo (2001)

    kairo pulse The 100 Scariest Movies of All Time

    Let’s make something clear: This isn’t the Kristen Bell-starring Pulse, a 2006 trash fire that was, in fact, a directionless remake of the film we’re here to discuss: Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s Kairo. Released as Pulse outside of Japan, the film follows two separate narratives in a world where ghosts begin invading the world via the internet. The story is obtuse, but Kurosawa conjures a bone-deep sense of disorientation and dread in the way he merges themes of paranoia, loneliness, and emotional apocalypse with flashes of the uncanny. That Kurosawa is able to escalate such an insular story into one of global proportions is another achievement that satisfies on a narrative level while evoking the scope of the web’s influence, which, in 2001, was still in its infancy. Want to be really freaked out? Watch it on a computer. –Randall Colburn


    91. Christine (1983)

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    Christine, she’s a beaut. And so is Christine, John Carpenter’s 1983 adaptation of Stephen King’s novel of the same name (from a screenplay by Bill Phillips). It’s no surprise that Carpenter can take a premise that should by no means work — an evil car (with a female name, of course) starts to change the personality of the nebbish boy who owns her — and make it electric. And electric it is, even when it’s silly, even when the performances don’t quite work and the central battle feels deeply silly. But at the end of the day, this list is about good scares and good films, and this sucker is both. “Christine is, of course, utterly ridiculous,” Roger Ebert wrote in his review of the film. “But I enjoyed it anyway.” That pretty much says it all. –Allison Shoemaker

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    90. Cube (1997)

    cube movie The 100 Scariest Movies of All Time

    Though slightly more brilliant in concept than execution, Vincenzo Natali’s cult Canadian sci-fi horror film Cube is one hell of a dystopian thriller. Trapped in a mysterious cube filled with rooms that include all number of inventive and deadly traps, a group of strangers must find a way to work together to escape. They don’t know each other, how they arrived at the cube, or even what the cube and its purpose may be. Filmed in a single 14-square-foot space, changing the wall panel colors to reflect their location, Cube is a masterclass in economical independent filmmaking, using one room to convey all the claustrophobia and dizzying progress the prisoners make along their journey. While the characters are broad archetypes (each character is named after a famous prison), Natali plays them off each other well, creating a Kafkaesque nightmare of paranoia and existential dread that stays with you to the final frame. –Clint Worthington


    89. The Invitation (2015)

    invitation The 100 Scariest Movies of All Time

    Keeping your wits about you. That’s often the only chance a person has at managing an overwhelming situation that’s slowly slipping out of their control. But what if you can’t trust your wits to distinguish between reality and the manifestations of emotional trauma? That’s what makes Karyn Kusama’s The Invitation so horrifying. As Will (Logan Marshall-Green) returns to his old home to reunite with lapse friends at the request of his ex-wife, Eden (Tammy Blanchard), he has either nothing or everything to fear. And as the night wears on and he grows to suspect the latter, he can never be quite sure if he’s unraveling a sinister plot or if emotional scars from a tragic past are actually causing him to unravel. In the case of most scary movies, we know there’s a reason to be scared. However, The Invitation’s slow burn terrifies us precisely because we don’t know if we should be afraid or not. –Matt Melis


    88. Dead Ringers (1988)

    dead ringers The 100 Scariest Movies of All Time

    Dead Ringers is an elaborate, complex piece of psychological and body horror, a visual and auditory achievement that’s thematically rich and existentially terrifying. That’s an accurate description of David Cronenberg’s monstrous creation, but it’s also unnecessary. All you have to do to get someone on board with this film is use the phrase “identical twin gynecologists” and you should get the requisite shudder. The twins in question, both played by Jeremy Irons in what may be his two best performances, are creeps, to be sure, but their vital, demented, passionate link is what truly drives the film. By the time they’ve busted out their creepy bone tools for their last terrifying procedure, it’s a sure bet that you’ll be well and truly freaked out. –Allison Shoemaker


    87. The Babadook (2014)

    the babadook dining room The 100 Scariest Movies of All Time

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    The Babadook’s Babadook is scary. It’s a charcoal demon with skeletal fingers and a Gorey-esque sense of the uncanny; that’s scary. But the monster is the least scary part of this powerful Australian spooker, a solid effort that’s slightly undercut from the overwhelming nature of its metaphor. What it really gets right, though, is a mother’s resentment, a topic that’s taboo by nearly any standard. Because, despite its gifts, parenting is a nightmare, and the most honest mothers will tell you about the nights they’ve become overwhelmed by anger and bitterness at the fruit of their loins. The Babadook not only confronts this taboo; it races toward it head on, sending its exhausted widow, Amelia, down a dark path that sets her loud, awkward son right in her crosshairs. Nobody would admit they relate to this movie, but they totally do. –Randall Colburn


    86. The Ring (2002)

    the ring The 100 Scariest Movies of All Time

    The Ring helped shine a light to the inventive scares that were being created in Asian cinema at the time, leading the charge of remakes. While the original Japanese film, Ringu, is worth checking out, Gore Verbinski’s American reimagining upgrades its source material with masterful direction and a star-making performance from Naomi Watts, who was coming off of David Lynch’s Mulholland Dr. (also on this list). One of Verbinski’s best talents, however, is drawing out the scares. The idea of Samara killing her victims seven days after they watching that haunted VHS tape is horrifying on its own, but the film is wise to not waste her menacing grip. Instead, the fear comes from the waiting. Once Watts’ son watches the tape, the race is on to solve the mystery before that drowned-in-a-well demon comes for him, and the film fills that time with imagery that slowly disturbs — horses, ladders, insects, and, of course, the titular ring. It’s methodically paced so that the essential moments — like, you know, when the ghost girl dives through a television set — hit like a rush of adrenaline. –Philip Cosores


    85. Green Room (2015)

    green room The 100 Scariest Movies of All Time

    It’s way too common for victims of scary movies to defy reason. Not to say they’re always dumb, but tropes of separating from the group and exploring dark corners alone have become cliche to the point that they’re commonly spoofed. The scares of Jeremy Saulnier’s Green Room, however, are rooted in the way his relatable motley crew of punk rockers are consistently thwarted despite their grounded logic. From beginning to end, decisions as basic as whether or not to open a door are debated by all parties involved, enough that, as a viewer, you also start trying to solve the puzzle alongside them. That subconscious involvement makes the neo-Nazis, mean-ass dogs, and rural isolation all the more frightening, especially when you start to realize how plausible this wrong place/wrong time scenario may be. Off-the-grid America is the setting for many of the scariest movies, but when capable, young people struggle to make it out alive, the fear is that much more real. –Philip Cosores


    84. The Invisible Man (1933)

    the invisible man The 100 Scariest Movies of All Time

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    Among the films in the Universal Monsters catalog, The Invisible Man produces a particular terror for the fact that it feels entirely possible. Rather than a monster from a lagoon or a bunch of stitched-up, reanimated corpse parts, the Invisible Man was merely an egotistical, power-hungry creep with a bit of advanced science knowledge. Claude Rains’ portrayal of Dr. Jack Griffin is all the more frightening in the fact that he’s either an entirely concentrated potential menace — an absence that we fill in with all of the havoc he might do — or he’s the embodiment of the havoc itself, the villainy and murder incarnate. Though released far before CGI or the special effects that one might expect for invisibility to track as believable, the film’s scares work because of what’s not there to begin with. —Lior Phillips


    83. Frailty (2001)

    frailty The 100 Scariest Movies of All Time

    The best storytellers understand that twist endings need to be earned. In other words, a scary movie should already be frightening on its own merits – the twist introduced only to heighten and unleash the tension the filmmakers have spent an entire film constructing. And does Frailty ever earn its twist. For a moment, forget the Keyser Söze ending or the possibility that Mr. Meiks’ (Bill Paxton) religious mission may have been legit, and think back to all those trips to the shed. The one adult two young boys have in the world snaps and requires them to not only witness but take part in his wicked acts. The eldest forced to comply if only because he fears for his kid brother. In some ways, the ending may actually massage some of that fear away. For my horror, nothing is scarier than what Fenton and Adam endure in that shed when it’s just a story about two boys and an insane father. –Matt Melis


    82. Session-9 (2001)

    session 9 The 100 Scariest Movies of All Time

    The human mind is a powerful thing, but it’s also terrifying. That’s more or less the conceit of Session-9, Brad Anderson’s spellbinding 2001 psychological thriller that rounds up a bunch of angry men who’ve been tasked to remove the deadly asbestos out of an abandoned insane asylum. Much like Alien or The Thing, this one’s an ensemble piece, and it’s through the respective obsessions of each character that we start to see why this is a horror film. There are no ghosts, to be sure, but there’s something about the place that pulls the thread in each unlucky son of a bitch here. At the core of it all is a deeper and more sinister mystery, one that eerily parallels the uncovered tapes of a former patient’s hypnotherapy sessions. What’s perhaps most intimidating about Session-9, though, is how all of this could actually happen, and that stark realism opens the door for a variety of fears to be had from this movie, above all being the nagging insinuation that it could be you who loses their marbles. After all, how would you know? –Michael Roffman


    81. Hausu (1977)

    hausu The 100 Scariest Movies of All Time

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    Nobuhiko Ôbayashi’s hallucinatory cult horror film may yield its share of campy laughs, but what lurks beneath the surface of this bugshit-crazy haunted house story is so unsettling that those laughs often emerge more from confused discomfort than from irony. It’s the story of five doomed, young women sent to a palatial country estate, where carnivorous pianos and ghastly cats and the disembodied souls of those who died in the home await them. It may be a stylish, kaleidoscopic kind of horror film, but it’s also about a house that uses and devours the bodies of young women, reducing them to parts that laugh at the terror of those not yet killed. Not even in death does their use and abuse end. —Dominick Suzanne-Mayer

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