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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)

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    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)

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    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)

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    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)

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    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)

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    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)

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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)

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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)

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    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)

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    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)

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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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    80. Poltergeist (1982)

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    Poltergeist’s tagline alone is enough to send shivers down your spine: “It knows what scares you.” So much of Poltergeist is based on relatable, almost primal fears: the creepy doll in your bedroom, a tree branch scraping against your window, and, on a grander scale, the loss of a child (and on the flip side, being taken from your parents). Plenty of films have tackled those fears before and after, but it’s the realistic way in which the Freeling family interacts with one another that truly sells the film. Whether Steven Spielberg ended up taking the director’s reins from Tobe Hooper is still up for debate, but there’s no denying his distinct touch when it comes to the Freelings. It keeps the film grounded in reality so that even after the film is over, one might be concerned that a greedy realtor may have moved the headstones (but not the bodies) from their own home. –Mike Vanderbilt


    79. The Birds (1963)

    the birds The 100 Scariest Movies of All Time

    In 1963, Alfred Hitchcock demonstrated that all people are ornithophobic – that is, have a fear of birds – when enough wings and beaks are involved. Using a brilliant mix of trained birds and Disney animation, the horror auteur showed audiences just how vulnerable they’d be if the forces of nature turned on them. We never do learn what’s causing the horrible bird attacks in little Bodega Bay, which only makes the whole ordeal scarier. What we do discover is how claustrophobic a phone booth, car, home, or even a town can become as flocks of birds perch, amass, and attack. (In a sense, it’s the town’s residents who end up in cages.) As for a hopeful ending, we see thousands of our fine-feathered friends assembling as our heroes drive off in search of help and safety. It’s not unlike Hitchcock to leave us on this particular happy note: that the worst is yet to come. And this ending, like the film itself, is quite literally for the birds. –Matt Melis


    78. House of Wax (1953)

    house of wax The 100 Scariest Movies of All Time

    Anybody who has been to a history museum or waxworks probably agrees that wax sculptures are inherently creepy. Something made from wax should not look that real. And it’s that premise that fuels both the mystery and terror at the crux of André De Toth’s classic 1953 thriller House of Wax. The film deserves credit for being the first color 3-D feature, but third dimension or no, De Toth does a number on the audience with old-Hollywood screams, heart-pounding chases in foggy streets, and a Phantom of the Opera-worthy reveal of the villain’s visage during the climax. But again, it’s those lifelike wax figures that make the film so scary. When a celebrated sculptor (Vincent Price) who was thought burned alive resurfaces a time later to unveil the most lifelike sculptures ever seen, the question arises: Is this a waxworks or a morgue? Now, that’s one trade secret that’ll make you gulp nervously the next time you find yourself alone at a museum exhibit with a wax figure. –Matt Melis


    77. Friday the 13th (1980)

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    There’s no more iconic image in all of horror than the hockey-masked visage of Jason Voorhees. And that particular Jason, believe it or not, doesn’t appear until the sequel. The Friday the 13th franchise’s initial installment does, as it turns out, keep the killing in the family, though. While many prominent critics have called out this low-budget film for being a brainless exhibition of merciless slayings and T&A, posterity has recognized an art to director Sean S. Cunningham’s creepy shots from the killer’s perspective and the movie’s torturously suspenseful buildups to each murder. And while some may struggle with the film’s slow pacing, the script heaps all the terror one can stand on final girl Alice going down the last stretch. Oh, and be sure to watch the entire film. Hint, hint. –Matt Melis


    76. Candyman (1992)

    candyman The 100 Scariest Movies of All Time

    Tony Todd is one of horror’s greatest character actors, a towering presence with a raspy purr of a voice to match. As the Candyman, the vengeful ghost of Bernard Rose’s 1992 film of the same name, Todd oozes a deadly mystique that unsettles (and arouses) Virginia Madsen’s beleaguered researcher. Based on the Clive Barker story and sporting one of Phillip Glass’ very best scores, Candyman offers a particularly gory campfire story about urban legends and our obsession with them. Most fascinating is the Candyman’s surprising social relevance, however, particularly in the context of Chicago’s gentrification and the legacy of the Cabrini-Green housing projects. Situating the monster of your movie as an avenging angel of black rage and disenfranchisement is a ballsy move, but Candyman’s deep-seated undertones of white discomfort with/fetishization of black agency and sexuality still resonate in a deeply divided Chicago and the country at large. –Clint Worthington


    75. The Sixth Sense (1999)

    the sixth sense The 100 Scariest Movies of All Time

    It’s not the first film M. Night Shyamalan directed, but The Sixth Sense created the Shyamalan that would haunt the movieplexes for the decades to come. And while everyone remembers the film for the twist ending (or, maybe, for the exceptional performances, six Academy Award nominations, and record-breaking run at the box office), what often is forgotten about The Sixth Sense is just how scary it actually is. A lot of the tension and frights come from Shyamalan, whose use of space and camera angles leave the audience vulnerable to sneaky jump scares. As a viewer, you’re both afraid for the fate of Haley Joel Osment’s Cole and for the ghosts that only he can see. The deft balance between the dramatic content and the horror is pretty rare to find in film, and it only speaks to how well Shyamalan does the former if the latter gets overshadowed. But scenes like “Stuttering Stanley” and the puking Mischa Barton in the tent are about as chilling as you’ll find in a Best Picture nominee. –Philip Cosores


    74. Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1958)

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    Many classic horror movies stem from fears that linger in the back of your mind — feelings that you might not even know that you have — and then communicating them straight into your core. There aren’t that many people that live the reality of the Capgras delusion, but it resonates so clearly within the 1958 classic Invasion of the Body Snatchers. The idea that anyone at any time could be replaced with a nearly identical impostor might not seem as scary as a slasher on the loose or a malevolent spirit, but there’s an acute fear that comes with finding the world has slipped even ever-so-slightly off of the rails. The potential loss of individuality in the face of a modernizing world is an added layer of anxiety, just one of many readings that fit the paranoia of the moment perfectly. —Lior Phillips


    73. Cujo (1981)

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    In the novels for both Cujo and Jaws, a rogue animal embodies the small-town unhappiness of its characters. On film, only Cujo keeps that central conceit. Luckily, a nuanced performance from Dee Wallace prevents heroine Donna Trenton from being unlikable in her misery, and the rabid St. Bernard of the title rivals Bruce the Shark in its natural terror. Whatever the filmmakers used to create the symptoms of rabies in poor ol’ Cuge, it works. Armed with congealing slobber, matted fur, bloodshot eyes, and oh-those-teeth, Cujo is a machine of both slaughter and infectious disease. Screenwriters Don Carlos Dunaway and Lauren Currier also wisely borrowed another tactic from Steven Spielberg by toning down the starkness of the book’s ending in favor of something more Hollywood and crowd-pleasing. –Dan Caffrey


    72. Creature From The Black Lagoon (1954)

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    In a way, that GIF of the Creature smashing stuff, shouting “fuck this” and “fuck that,” was the best PR Creature from the Black Lagoon’s had in years. It reminded us of the Jack Arnold film. Of the Creature. And of how absurdly creepy and aggressive he is. Long before the Universal Monster Jams, The Creature from the Black Lagoon worked like a Darwinian nightmare, and its underwater terror still leaves us a little shook. Few things are as scary as the Creature’s dead eyes or that shot of him swimming in perfect unison underneath an unaware Julie Adams. And Jack Arnold nailed his basic conceit: what unknown dread lies just beneath the surface of the water? Fuck that, as they say. –Blake Goble


    71. The House of the Devil (2009)

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    If you found The House of the Devil on a nondescript VHS tape, you’d swear it was from 1981. Ti West’s 2009 throwback horror film is astounding for its vintage details. There’s the 16mm film, the Volvo 240, the greasy pizzeria, and, yes, the Walkman. Oh, how marvelous is that scene with the Walkman? As we watch our unlucky lead dance around this creepy house to the sounds of The Fixx, we’re seeing everything we love about ’80s horror. Of course, nostalgia isn’t scary. What’s scary is how visceral this film gets on the flip of the dime, because when this thing turns, it’s jarring enough to have made Wes Craven blush. And while some might scoff at its callbacks, we’d argue that horror isn’t the same when it’s set in an era where you can order 50 pies using a Domino’s app. No, we’re willing to time travel for good, old-fashioned scares any night of the week. –Michael Roffman

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    70. Martyrs (2008)

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    Martyrs is every bit as grotesque as many of its mid-aughts “extreme horror” contemporaries, but Pascal Laugier’s exploration of the limits of the human body transcends designations of horror porn in the same way that Anna (Morjana Alaoui) reaches the furthest limits of abuse by being abducted, tortured, and eventually flayed alive by a religious cult obsessed with the idea of punishment as a gateway to enlightenment. Needless to say, Martyrs is an especially sadistic piece of work, but one that speaks to primordial concepts of martyrdom in ways that chill even the hardiest viewers to the bone. Just remember: nothing good ever happens in basements. —Dominick Suzanne-Mayer


    69. The Omen (1976)

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    Even if you’re a devout atheist or agnostic, anything dealing with the devil is pretty scary. Creepy, killer kids are scary. The Omen deftly combines both with a big Hollywood sheen. When it comes to the heavy-hitters of ‘70s “devilsploitation,” The Omen has a comparatively lighter touch, no doubt due to director Richard Donner, who would come to prominence with quippy, action cinema. A proto-slasher in the way each one of Damien’s victims are offed more spectacularly than the last, The Omen has a more fun tone than the documentary-like Exorcist. The film is beautifully shot by Star Wars cinematographer Gilbert Taylor and the use of Jerry Goldsmith’s Oscar-winning score in the graveyard sequence is a devilish marriage of sight and sound that remains effective 40 years on. –Mike Vanderbilt


    68. The Changeling (1980)

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    Prestige horror can be so maudlin. How many times have we sat through a “horror film” that really boils down to a dark drama? Sometimes, though, it really works, and such is the case with Peter Medak’s The Changeling. The great and late George C. Scott stars as an acclaimed musician-turned-professor who moves into an historic home in the Pacific Northwest that, well, has a history. Yes, it all leads to a bunch of weepy family mumbo jumbo, but Medak never forgets it’s a horror movie, and the way he weaves in the revelations come off less as a tearjerker and more as a haunting coda. It’s essentially one long ghost story for the campfire, and all the spooky bells and whistles feel so natural. In other words, there are no big, black globs or rotten corpses jumping out like some fucking funhouse. No, there’s a finesse to the scares, and Medak’s use of silence, particularly large and empty spaces across the mansion, is an architectural nightmare for those with more mathematical minds. –Michael Roffman


    67. Drag Me to Hell (2009)

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    Sam Raimi’s post-Spider-man return to form arrived as one of the first cinematic reactions to the American mortgage crisis, and in its portrayal of a well-meaning (if promotion-chasing) young woman whose life is torn apart by an old woman’s vindictive curse, Drag Me to Hell swings the moral pendulum both ways. Atop it being one of the best post-2000 gross-out horror features, it takes the seemingly innocuous greed of people “just doing their jobs” to task even as it lingers on how rooting for their absolute punishment can lead to its own kind of moral rot. Plus, whatever you might say of the film, it’s impossible to deny that Raimi eventually delivers exactly the thing he promises in the title alone. —Dominick Suzanne-Mayer


    66. Seven (1995)

    seven 1995 The 100 Scariest Movies of All Time

    By now, we’ve seen some pretty fucked-up shit in serial killer movies. And while we can trace that back to Hannibal Lecter, no movie kicked procedural scares up a notch like Seven. Naturally, the most horrifying parts of David Fincher’s thriller stem from the imagination of the killer. Tasked with creating murders for each of the seven deadly sins, the actual way he carries them out are disgusting enough that the viewer starts to wonder how anyone could dream up this type of shit in the first place. Man, who is force-fed spaghetti and kicked to death? Gross! Or who fucks a prostitute to death with a bladed codpiece? Grosser! The deaths are inventive and warped, and yet, Seven is a harrowing reminder of the possibilities of evil in the world. Throw in a little Nine Inch Nails, and you have one of the scariest non-horror films ever made. –Philip Cosores


    65. The Night of the Hunter (1955)

    the night of the hunter The 100 Scariest Movies of All Time

    Veteran character actor Charles Laughton only directed one film in his life, the 1955 dark fairy tale The Night of the Hunter; only after his death did people begin to appreciate its sheer genius. Hunter spins a wolf-among-sheep story in the form of the firebrand, psychopathic preacher Harry Powell (a menacing, feral Robert Mitchum) and his ceaseless pursuit of two innocent children who unknowingly carry the stolen money he desires in their doll. Even now, Laughton’s visual ambition is practically unmatched, the film coated in Expressionistic compositions and a foggy, surrealist atmosphere as much evocative of Peter and the Wolf as it is Cape Fear. From images of a drowned woman’s hair floating alongside seaweed to the standoff duet between Mitchum and Lillian Gish’s matriarch, The Night of the Hunter has some of the most (arresting and suspenseful) moments in cinema. –Clint Worthington


    64. The Devil’s Backbone (2001)

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    Before Pan’s Labyrinth turned Guillermo del Toro into a household name for sophisticated Gothic horror fantasy, he toyed with many of the same ideas in 2000’s The Devil’s Backbone. Set in an orphanage near the end of the Spanish Civil War, the film follows a new arrival who learns of the unexploded aerial bomb that adorns the courtyard, as well as the ghostly boy who haunts the place. Del Toro would refine many of his stylistic and thematic mainstays here — dark, elegiac tones, a heightened sense of magical realism, deeply detailed creature designs — offering enticing glimpses of the genius that would come later in Pan, Crimson Peak, and his Hellboy films. Even through all that, The Devil’s Backbone remains a meticulously constructed, operatic ghost story. –Clint Worthington


    63. Tetsuo: The Iron Man (1989)

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    It’s not often that a group of movie critics can say that “you’ve never seen a film like this before” and truly mean it, but Tetsuo: the Iron Man is a movie that defies virtually any description. Shinya Tsukamoto’s cult horrorshow fuses a Cronenbergian fetishism for the destruction of the body with a near-absurdist sensibility that eventually heralds the oncoming techno-apocalypse. Ostensibly a parable about an everyday man doomed to metallicize as punishment for killing and abandoning a mysterious being made of metal, Tetsuo quickly descends into hallucinatory madness as the man slowly becomes another atrocity of metal unto himself, until a fight/birth sequence that has to be seen to be believed. The same could be said for the highly influential film at large; once again, you’ve never seen anything quite like Tetsuo before or since. —Dominick Suzanne-Mayer


    62. Dawn of the Dead (1978)

    dawn 1978 The 100 Scariest Movies of All Time

    Dawn of the Dead? More like Dawn of the Dread. George A. Romero’s 1978 epic sequel expands upon the world he created in 1968’s Night of the Living Dead — spoiler: also on this list — by indulging in larger set pieces, uglier gore, and, well, color. For over two hours, he sits with his apocalypse, chewing on weighty themes of consumerism and militarization while he slathers the proceedings with all kinds of existential dread. As we watch our fearsome foursome hold up in “one of those big indoor malls,” Romero relishes the opportunity to show what a life they can and cannot live with insurmountable excess. Sure, it’s a movie full of big and loud metaphors, but it works because you want them to keep surviving. It strikes something in you, that urge to persevere, that fight to live, that behind every ice skating rink and dinner set lies a possible future. Of course, it’s not long before those feelings of dread seep in again, leaving you to question why we fight for this bullshit in the first place. –Michael Roffman


    61. Mulholland Dr. (2001)

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    Look, Mulholland Drive is about whatever you want it to be about; never trust anyone who tells you there’s only one way to watch a David Lynch film. But if there’s one thing I think every fan of Lynch’s Hollywood-set masterpiece can agree on, it’s that dreams are as dangerous here as they are beautiful. The blurring of what’s real and what’s a dream is a theme we see time and again in Lynch’s work, but never does the dream seem so poisonous as it does in Mulholland Drive, which crushingly depicts how the vision of how things could be can cripple the actuality of what is. Don’t believe me? Just look at the movie’s infamous diner scene, where Patrick Fischler’s Dan discovers that the monster he dreamt up behind the dumpster is much realer than he ever could’ve anticipated. It’s not only the scariest scene in a movie filled with them, but it’s also a key to grasping the film’s stakes. Which are so, so high. —Randall Colburn

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    60. Pet Sematary (1989)

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    Several films adapted from Stephen King stories appear on this list. With King on board as both screenwriter and a brief cameo as a priest, it’s not surprising that Pet Sematary turns out to be one of the most faithful films to his source material. Full of characters, dialogue, and creepy scenes that have made their way into our pop-culture lexicon, the real horror resides in the prospect of losing loved ones – in this case, a daughter’s cat, a toddler son, and finally a wife. As Louis Creed (Dale Midkiff) sees loss tear his family apart, he becomes more and more desperate and incapable of acceptance. No father should have to suffer that type of loss, and, as we discover, no father or husband should be given false hope that there’s an easy fix to life’s most painful tragedies. You don’t want to go down that road. Damn skippy, Jud. –Matt Melis


    59. Peeping Tom (1960)

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    Released in the UK two months after Psycho, Peeping Tom was quite controversial upon its release. Dealing with similar themes of voyeurism and sexual repression as Hitchcock’s film, the movie all but killed the career of director Michael Powell due to its content. Featuring a main character who murders his victims on camera to capture their fear, Peeping Tom feels just as relevant and terrifying today when violent killings make their way to Facebook Live via cell phone cameras. Peeping Tom is also challenging — much like Psycho — as it dares the audience to have some empathy for the killer. With its vivid, saturated, primary colors — and featuring a filmmaker as its villain — Peeping Tom can be seen as proto-Giallo, which came to prominence in Italy in the early ‘70s. Peeping Tom also features several shots from the point of view of the killer that no doubt influenced ‘70s slasher classics like Black Christmas and Halloween. –Mike Vanderbilt


    58. The Innocents (1961)

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    An adaptation of Henry James’ terrifying novella The Turn of the Screw, Jack Clayton’s The Innocents is one of the most suspenseful, and influential, haunted house films of all time. Co-written by Truman Capote, The Innocents plants a saucer-eyed Deborah Kerr in the middle of a mystery surrounding the two children placed in her care. Have they been possessed by the dead? Or are the pressures of her governess position simply getting to her? The story is simple, but the craftsmanship superb: cinematographer Freddie Francis fills his expansive frame with achingly empty spaces, leaving you wondering what could be hiding in that darkness. Daphne Oram’s innovative electronic soundscape forever changed the sound of horror, and Kerr offers a masterclass in psychosexual torment. –Clint Worthington


    57. Repulsion (1965)

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    It’s not fun to write anything about Roman Polanksi in 2017, let alone about his classic film that specializes in terrorizing a woman with very prevalent, everyday fears. Catherine Deneuve’s Carol the manicurist is subject to rape, hallucinations, claustrophobia, madness, and more. Simply put, Repulsion’s a deeply unpleasant film. That said, Polanski, the little creep, was a hell of a genre genius in his heyday, and Repulsion stands firm as one of his grandest achievements of off-kilter chills. By blending surrealism with the banal, Polanski explores the strangulating nature of trauma through a very intense Deneuve performance. Here’s a film with upsetting scares and lasting scars that live up to the title. –Blake Goble


    56. 28 Days Later (2003)

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    By its very nature, 28 Days Later is designed to terrify. There’s the whole global pandemic angle, the crippling fear of isolation, and the spoils of humanity that splatter across every frame of Danny Boyle’s 2003 thriller. Coming off of 2000’s The Beach, the English visionary really honed in on his brand of adrenalized filmmaking here, even injecting his viral ghouls with lightning-fast speeds as they race across the London streets with those bloody eyes and razor teeth. Arriving less than two years after the events of 9/11, the film capitalizes on the scatterbrained paranoia of the era, and you can see that as each character wrestles with these confused emotions, all while trying to find some semblance of humanity in their new world. Most of the time, they’re simply running their heart out, trying to outpace death, whether it’s from the clutches of the Rage virus or the perils of human indecency, and that loss of safety will never not be haunting. –Michael Roffman


    55. Salò, or: The 120 Days of Sodom (1975)

    salocc80 or the 120 days of sodom The 100 Scariest Movies of All Time

    Think of Salò like this: creepy Nazi, Republican, and Bible dudes seem to secretly lean on sadomasochism because it gives them a sense of control and power. And one might easily argue that these practices create an outlet for their lack of empathy or imagination. But what people didn’t have to hide was their demons anymore, because they feel emboldened, or desperate? That’s the raw horror or Pier Paolo Pasolini’s Salò, or: The 120 Days of Sodom. Salò is an unflinchingly nasty portrait of evil at its end, set free. Calling forced excrement eating isn’t kink-shaming here. Pedophilia, castration, and coprophilia are but a few of the appalling practices of brutal fascist Italian Libertines living out their final days at the end of World War 2, like the world is their own private Dante novel. It’s terrifying to imagine man’s id set free. So, let them eat shit. –Blake Goble


    54. The Beyond (1981)

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    Italian horror films are 90% aesthetics and 10% somebody getting stabbed in the eye. With most of these films, it’s best for the viewer just to forget about trying to keep up with the plot and let the film simply take them away. The Beyond plays like a greatest hits of Italian horror tropes: the gangbusters synth- and piano-based Fabio Frizzi score, the blank, whited-out eyes, zombies galore, all that grue and gore, and a nonsensical ending. It’s perhaps Lucio Fulci’s most accomplished film, but like most Italian horror, it’s best not to get wrapped up in the details of the plot and simply let the movie take you away with its impressive visual style and copious amounts of bright, red blood. –Mike Vanderbilt


    53. Dracula (1931)

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    Tod Browning’s unforgettable direction introduced a new kind of villainy to American cinema’s first generation of genre moviegoers. Bela Lugosi’s take on the immortal Count highlighted the ambiguous sex appeal of a bloodthirsty, ancient being’s fatal cravings, but it’s Browning who draws out the lurking anxieties of the vampire in every form. Sure, there’s panic in the idea of being abducted by a being capable of entrancing and killing any prey it selects, but in the early days of the Hays Code, there was the subtler thrill of enjoying those fatal attentions that sent a very different kind of chill through viewers. It’s easy for a film to scare, but it’s far harder for one to still feel genuinely transgressive nearly a full century after its release. Such is the power of Dracula. —Dominick Suzanne-Mayer


    52. What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962)

    what ever happened to baby jane The 100 Scariest Movies of All Time

    Sibling rivalries can be harmless. However, as Robert Aldrich’s 1962 psychological thriller What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? demonstrates, they can also turn ugly and terrifying. The Hudson sisters, Jane (Bette Davis), once a child star, and Blanche (Joan Crawford), once a Hollywood starlet and leading lady, both find themselves well past their glory and living together with Jane doubling as Blanche’s caretaker. Alcohol abuse and pent-up false guilt over her sister’s paralysis eats away at Jane and causes her not only to lose her grip on reality but also to lock away, bound, and starve her helpless sister and murder anyone who stumbles upon her secret captive. The film gets credited with creating the psycho-biddy genre of thrillers, and it’s true that watching the spoiled, fallen Jane regress into childlike behaviors is incredibly creepy. However, there’s a more basic fear here, and that’s the idea that someone as physically dependent as Blanche could get locked away to wither and die without the world ever knowing. –Matt Melis


    51. Scream (1996)

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    Less of a whodunit and more a who’sdoingit, Wes Craven’s Scream successfully updated the slasher film and reintroduced the genre to mainstream audiences in 1996. In a brilliant stroke, writer Kevin Williamson conceived of a slacker generation of villains and victims who would’ve already watched hundreds of horror movies in their lifetimes. The end product was a smart, hyper self-aware slasher film that not only delivered scares but also made the effort to explain its methodology. While future installments would soon dilute the franchise, the original delivered the chills, chases, and collateral damage of a classic slasher flick with a clever meta angle perfectly suited for the alienated, sarcastic, know-it-all decade that was the ‘90s. –Matt Melis

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    50. Hellraiser (1987)

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    Clive Barker’s Hellraiser is similar to Friday the 13th in that there’s very little screen time for its most iconic villains. Still, unlike the original summer camp slasher, Pinhead and the rest of the cenobites do eventually show up. They’re just used for minimal effect, which is why the first film will always be so stirring. Hell — or, Barker’s intricate rendition of Hell — is such a mysterious place at this point in the narrative. All we know is that it’s an ultra-violent world, where the human body is not welcome, only the soul. But, it’s more complicated than that, as we later discover that Pinhead and co. (ha, try imagining these folks opening up an antique shoppe in Upstate New York) are celestial beings of logic. The fact that Barker has them operating on such ironclad principles makes them even more enigmatic. Instead, it’s the humans who raise hell, and as we see through the bloody exploits of Skinemax lovers Frank and Julia, they’re about as evil as evil gets. Bottom line: Everyone fears that Hell might be a place waiting for us in the afterlife, and this film makes you truly hope it’s nothing more than a myth. –Michael Roffman


    49. Antichrist (2009)

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    For a film that begins with a child’s dramatic death and the overwhelming girth of Willem Dafoe’s penis, you’d be forgiven for thinking that there’s virtually nowhere bolder that Antichrist could go in its following 90 minutes. But Lars von Trier’s exploration of a grieving couple in psychological free-fall only ramps up from there, following Charlotte Gainsbourg’s spiral into morally justified madness with self-devouring foxes, graphic genital mutilation on both ends of the traditional gender spectrum, and the lingering dread of what lurks beyond every subsequent cut until the film’s despairing end. The central thesis of woman’s inherent evil might be disquieting, to put it in the mildest imaginable terms, but the film’s revolting power is what endures even as its themes repel. —Dominick Suzanne-Mayer


    48. The Mist (2007)

    the mist The 100 Scariest Movies of All Time

    After successfully adapting two Stephen King dramas in The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile, Frank Darabont decided to slip on his spooky shoes (I apologize for nothing) for his adaptation of King’s novella from Skeleton Crew. Aided by a strong crew (from his time on The Shield) and a cast of solid character actors and Thomas F’n Jane, Darabont’s modern ode to ‘50s drive-in horror works best in its black-and-white form. However, the gross-out material and suspenseful moments in the mist still play well in the colorful aisles of a small-town supermarket. Between bugs bursting out of necks and tentacled entities pulling stock boys into a hell unknown, The Mist is one of the more successful King horror adaptations. The ending itself is polarizing as all get-out, but it will leave you thinking about it long after you’ve seen it. For some of us, years. –Justin Gerber


    47. Kwaidan (1964)

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    Although our list may be lacking somewhat in anthology-style horror storytelling, Kwaidan remains one of the best-ever examples of the medium. Masaki Kobayashi’s four-tale adaptation of Japanese folk legends touches on loyalty, fidelity, and the importance of painting one’s ears when attempting to ward off malevolent spirits, but what lingers is Kobayashi’s artistic eye. Kwaidan may be outright terrifying at points (“The Black Hair” is a particularly disturbing segment), but Kobayashi’s ornate designs lend the film a rare grace and beauty within the genre. At three hours, the anthology approach works well in maintaining the film’s haunting momentum, and it’s the best kind of ghost story: the kind where the spirits work their evil magic to reflect and punish the sins of man. —Dominick Suzanne-Mayer


    46. Misery (1990)

    misery The 100 Scariest Movies of All Time

    Sometimes we forget that the word fan is short for fanatic. Best-selling author Paul Sheldon (James Caan) will never make that mistake again after a mountainside car crash commits him to the care of nurse and No. 1 fan Annie Wilkes (Kathy Bates). Credit Bates’ incarnation of Wilkes for making director Rob Reiner’s film one of the scariest Stephen King creations to ever appear on screen. Wilkes’ violent mood swings – spooning Sheldon soup one scene and sprinkling him with lighter fluid the next – never lets Sheldon or the audience feel like they have a grip on the situation. In one telling scene, Wilkes, almost without a pulse, appears pitiable as she stares out at the rain and admits it gives her the blues, only to slowly reveal a revolver concealed in the pocket of her robe. Nobody will forget violence like the hobbling scene, but the most terrifying moments are ones like this in which Sheldon – desperately trying to decipher his captor and escape – realizes he’s dealing with someone even crazier than he thought and that the worst is surely yet to come. –Matt Melis


    45. Nosferatu the Vampyre (1979)

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    Given the many genres in which Werner Herzog’s long, strange career has seen him dabble, the vampire movie seems like an oddly perfect fit for many of his pet themes. His 1979 take on Murnau’s classic vampire story immerses itself in plague and despair and the slow, futile march toward death that all men undergo. Where so many vampire stories have added facets of lust to the characters over the decades, Herzog matches the original intent of Nosferatu by framing him as a foul, parasitic creature, even as the film also finds a certain tragedy in a being unable to restrain itself from spreading death wherever it goes. For Herzog, a vampire arriving to spread filth and death is just the next natural progression of man’s constant sprint into the grave. —Dominick Suzanne-Mayer


    44. Maniac (1980)

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    There’s nothing clean about William Lustig’s Maniac. His 1980 psychological thriller is filthy. Like back-of-a-toilet-in-a-rundown-porn-theater kind of filthy. For 87 minutes, we follow Joe Spinelli’s Frank Zito, a scumbag strangler who stalks the streets of pre-Giuliani New York City, looking to scalp unsuspecting victims for his rogues gallery of freak mannequins, all of which he stores in his one-room apartment outside Manhattan. Sound like fun? It’s not. It’s the opposite of fun. It’s a miserable experience that’s made even more nauseating by Lustig’s guerrilla-style filmmaking. Like Texas Chain Saw Massacre, the whole shebang feels like a documentary, and it helps that the film’s flooded with relative unknowns, save for a ghastly performance by make-up titan Tom Savini, whose work here is unbelievable. Yeah, that’s one word to describe the film. Yikes. –Michael Roffman


    43. Pontypool (2008)

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    The many iterations of the zombie movie have been run so thoroughly into the ground in the past decade or so that it’s hard to imagine a film finding a way to put an entirely fresh spin on the subgenre. Yet, the minimalist Canadian thriller Pontypool does exactly that, by hitting on the terrifying idea of a virus that can only be stopped by willfully and knowingly descending into incoherent madness. When the hosts of a small-time morning radio show are forced to interpret and report the incoming news of a zombie apocalypse outside, Pontypool reveals that the plague is spread through language itself, and only by completely ceasing to make sense of or comprehend one another can humanity possibly survive. It sees us across a brink that we’re always constantly teetering upon in the first place. —Dominick Suzanne-Mayer


    42. The Last House on the Left (1972)

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    The Last House on the Left is a total mess — it’s sloppily shot, clumsily acted, and tonally inconsistent in ways that are downright jarring. And the content itself, which finds two girls brutally raped, tortured, and killed by a gang of thugs (who are then tortured and killed by one of the girls’ parents), is enough to make any viewer question why they chose to watch this when they could be doing literally anything else. But Wes Craven, in his directorial debut, brings an eerie, off-kilter reverence to the death of young Mari, who, after having her rapist’s name carved into her chest, offers up a prayer and drifts into a lake to clean herself. Craven allows the scene’s residual hate to linger, and a shot of the perpetrators watching her struggle, the faintest mask of regret on their faces, allows the scene’s evil to calcify into something truly cruel. Mari then being shot and left to drift in the water brings a true, palpable air of tragedy to what’s otherwise an above-average exploitation film. —Randall Colburn


    41. The Haunting (1963)

    the haunting 1963 The 100 Scariest Movies of All Time

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    Yes, The Haunting is scary. As frightening cinematic experiences go, it’s distilled as purely as nearly everything else on this list. But what makes Robert Wise’s 1963 film (remade in limp and lackluster fashion in 2003) more than an exercise in jump scares is that, before all else, it’s a penetrating look at one woman’s mental state. The late Julie Harris won five Tonys, a couple Emmys, and snagged an Oscar nomination in her time, but The Haunting might be her best performance. The editing is jagged and jarring, the sound unnerving, and the cast almost uniformly superb, but Eleanor Lance’s unraveling is the real horror show, and it’s Harris who makes such a fearful feat possible. –Allison Shoemaker

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