Thought Catalog
July 9, 2014

50 Of The Scariest Horror Movies Of All Time

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Suspiria (Two-Disc Special Edition)
Suspiria (Two-Disc Special Edition)

Since a very young age I’ve been obsessed with horror films, and I made it a goal to find the scariest ones out there.  Back in the day I had to ask people who were older than me and into horror for their perspective on the scariest films.  In recent years I’ve utilized the internet in my search.  My loser self isn’t embarrassed to admit I’ve watched a horror or thriller every night before falling asleep for the past several years.

I’m not just some scrub who picks out a movie.  I do my damn research.  As a true geek should I spend a minimum of 45 minutes nightly browsing through the web (the world fuckin’ wide one) in an attempt to gather the top horror picks of anyone who has an opinion.  From lists to discussion forums I’ve read through them all.  Well, a lot of them.  I’m not that pathetic. (I am)

Many of the “Scariest horror movies ever” lists around the web are exceptionally close to one another, featuring the same movies over and over again.  I grew tired of coming across the same choices and decided to compile a list myself.

What I’m aiming to do here is provide scary movie fans the GO-TO guide for the creepiest films ever.  I’m not talking, “Oh that made me jump!” scary.  I picked films which will genuinely creep you out.  Quite a few of the selections are commonly seen or talked about, because they simply deserve to be on here.  Others you may have never heard of.  If any other horror buffs have suggestions for films I should check out don’t hesitate to let me know what should have made it.   Please don’t be a dick about it.

Important note:  There is NO SPECIFIC order.  The films are numbered so I can easily keep track of how many I’m listing.  They’re simply ordered based on when I thought of them.  It’s impossible for me to claim what might be scarier than another.  That’s like asking me to pick my favorite child.  I hate all my children equally.  JK I don’t have kids.  Also, I intentionally left off The Grudge and The Ring.  I don’t have any particular reason for this other than the fact that they’re mentioned so often.  Do not comment, “What about The Ring or The Grudge?!”  Let’s get down to business.

1.  Carnival of Lost Souls (1962) 

A young woman gets in a traumatic accident and finds herself attracted to an abandoned carnival.

This one’s listed first because it’s literally the first film that comes to mind when I think “creepy movies.”  I cannot recommend this enough.  The entire movie is eerie even when it’s not really trying to be.  Images from Carnival of Souls will stick with you forever, especially when you’re trying to masturbate.

2.  The Night of the Hunter (1955)

A religious nutcase marries a widowed woman whose children are reluctant to tell him where their real father hid the $10,000 he stole.

Not even just good as a horror/thriller, this movie is incredible in general.  One you’ll never forget.

3.  Burnt Offerings (1976) 

Summer caretakers move into a gothic house with their young son.  The house rejuvenates part of itself with each death on the property.

Don’t count this out under the assumption it’s a typical haunted house film.  It certainly has its moments.  If you’re not creeped out in the early viewing just wait for the limo driver.  That frightening asshole still pops into my head from time to time.

4.  The Woman in Black (1989) 

A lonely old widow dies in the seaside town of Crythin and a solicitor is sent by his firm to settle the estate.  The townspeople are reluctant to the tell the lawyer anything about the lifeless home or even go near it.  Ignoring the warnings of the townsfolk he goes to the house himself, discovering its terrible history.

Ignore the half-ass remake with Harry Potter which I haven’t even seen and probably never will.  It could be good but I have a general distaste for reboots.  This film is the real deal.  As an adult not many films bother me, but The Woman in Black made me turn on some game shows after to lighten the mood.  If I were to actually number these it would definitely make top 5.

Pet Sematary
Pet Sematary

5.  Pet Sematary (1989)

A young family moves into a home in Maine.  Behind it is a secret which holds the power of life and death.

This one gets a lot of hate.  Sure, it’s not an outstanding film, but it’s extremely scary.  For the wife’s sister, Zelda, alone this one would make my top 20.  The scenes with Zelda deserve to make any horror fan’s top 5 scariest movie scenes of all time.  If you need proof Pet Sematary is scary, I forced some people in my dorm hall to watch it during our freshman year of college.  A few refused to keep watching.  Either they’re huge pussies or this is some scary stuff.

6.  The Exorcist (1973) 

This needs no summary or explanation.  It still holds up as arguably the scariest film of all time.  Today I’ll watch it and laugh hysterically, but it still kind of bothers me.  I first saw it at age 11 and was severely messed up for months.  Reagan’s disgusting face and vulgar mouth kept me from sound sleep for a long time.  To this day I’ve never watched it alone.

7.  Suspiria (1977) 

A newcomer to a ballet academy soon finds that the school is a front for something supernatural.

Good old-fashioned sinister.  Worthy of top 20 on anyone’s list.

8.  The Sentinel (1977)

A model moves into a beautiful Brooklyn Heights apartment where scary occurrences lead to a twisted turn of events.

This gem does not get the credit it deserves.  It’s seemingly unknown and mentioned on almost no lists out there online.  Personally it’s one of my favorites.  It packs some very eerie punches, and you even get to see a lady in a leotard play with herself.

9.  Dark Night of the Scarecrow (1981)

In a rural town, a murdered man exacts revenge on those who killed him.

Made-for-tv gold.  The best television horror film next to Duel in my humble opinion.  It will certainly make you think twice about mistreating the learning disabled.

10.  Carrie (1976) 

A sheltered 17-year old discovers she has telekinesis, and gets pushed over the edge on the night of her school’s prom.

I shouldn’t have to say anything but I will.  What an effin’ classic.  First off, any film with an overly religious, psychotic parent is sure to make your skin crawl.  Carrie’s mother is the goddess of all these whackjobs.  I’ll never forget watching this as a kid in my neighbor’s basement.  I refused to walk home alone in the dark, and naturally none of the pricks I called “friends” would walk home with me.  I sprinted like I was running for the gold, my friends.  Usain Bolt saw the clip and contemplated retirement.

11.  The Island of Lost Souls (1932) 

A young military man  is stranded on an island where an obsessed scientist conducts genetic mutation experiments.

Based on H.G. Wells’ The Island of Dr. Moreau, which I loved in middle school, this disturbing film is sure to leave lasting images in your brain.  The Dr. will make you rethink morality, and his mutated servants will raise some back hairs (even you, ladies.)

12.  Psycho (1960)

A secretary steals $40,000 from her employer’s client, goes on the run and checks in at a motel run by a man under the domination of his mother.

You all know the shower scene.  Brilliant overall, and possibly Hitchcock’s finest.

13.  Peeping Tom (1960)

A disturbed young man murders women, using his camera to film their expressions of terror.

This flick is truly messed up, especially for its time.  However, it’s not just filth for the sake of filth like many “horror movies” today.  It has a thrilling storyline which will keep you watching (especially all you pervs out there.)

14.  Village of the Damned (1960) 

In an English village, the blonde-haired, glowing-eyed children of uncertain paternity prove to have frightening powers.

Someone call Maury on these bastards!  You can’t not love a film with creepy children, and these rugrats make the children of the corn look like a teeball team.

Rosemary's Baby
Rosemary’s Baby

15.  Rosemary’s Baby (1968)

A young couple move into an apartment surrounded by odd neighbors and events.  When the wife becomes mysteriously pregnant, paranoia over the safety of her unborn child begins controlling her life.

Simply, this should be top 5 on all horror lists.  It’s all about the unsettling build-up to the terrifying finale.

16.  Eraserhead (1977) 

Henry struggles to survive his industrial environment, angry wife and intolerable screams of his newborn mutant child.

Let’s be honest here.  David Lynch seems to make films with the sole intent of being weird.  Eraserhead is weird to the fullest extent.  It’s not a horror film, in fact I don’t know what it is, but it will disturb you more than almost any film you’ll ever see.  Nobody who sees this movie goes through life without telling someone about it.

17.  Let’s Scare Jessica to Death (1971)

A woman recently released from an institution moves into a supposedly haunted farmhouse and fears she may be losing her sanity once again.

Another top recommendation of mine.  If the scene in the lake doesn’t haunt you then I’m not sure anything is capable of that job.  Freaky throughout and downright frightening at times.

18.  Whatever Happened to Baby Jane (1962)

A former child star torments her crippled sister in a deteriorating Hollywood mansion.

In the words of me, “This is some good shit.”  It won’t scare the hell out of you but it’s chilling in its entirety.  Jane is very old and an absolute headcase, and nothing is creepier than that.

19.  The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane (1976)

A lone 13-year old resorts to murder to protect her haven.

This movie isn’t meant to scare you.  It’s disconcerting and authentically great.

20.  Misery (1990)

A famous novel writer is rescued from a car crash by an obsessed fan.

Kathy Bates won “Baddest Bitch Ever” for her performance in this thrilling work of mastery.  No movie has kept me on the edge of my seat like Misery, and yes it will unnerve you.

21.  Play Misty for Me (1971)

A short fling between a DJ and an obsessed fan takes a deadly turn when another woman enters the picture.

Any stalker or obsessed fan film is set to creep you out.  Play Misty for Me is no exception, and truly one of the best thrillers in existence.  In addition it features a young Clint Eastwood, so you know it’s delightfully badass.  Just a heads up, he doesn’t make any hateful comments towards all people of color in this one.

22.  Repulsion (1965)

Left alone when her sister leaves for vacation, a young woman feels surrounded by the demons of her past.

Oh goodness.  I find it difficult to write about this film.  I didn’t even particularly enjoy it, but it horrified me.  As a matter of fact I don’t think anyone could really enjoy viewing this.  It’s a must-see if you’re a fan of the creepy stuff, though.

Videodrome
Videodrome

23.  Videodrome (1983)

A scumbag cable-TV programmer begins to see his life and the future of media spiral out of control in an unusual fashion when he obtains a new kind of programming for his station.

Funky, bizarre and capable of making your blood run cold.  You may not be able to get excited for sexual activity in the hours after viewing.

 

24.  The Strangers (2008)

A couple staying in a vacation home are terrorized by three unknown assailants.

The only post-2000 film to make the list.  I’m not a fan of much recent horror, yet this one merits a solid spot here.  Regardless of how tough you think you are it’s sure to give you the creeps.  It’s the unanswered reasoning behind the terror that makes it so frighteningly bothersome.  You won’t feel settled when it’s over, either.

25.  In the Mouth of Madness (1994)

An insurance investigator discovers that the impact a horror writer’s books have on his fans is more than inspirational.

Another hardly mentioned treasure.  It has everything you want in a horror film, from creepy children and elderly folks to ghastly creatures.  In the Mouth of Madness rightfully qualifies for my top recommendations.

 

26.  Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)

Five friends visiting in the country are hunted by a chainsaw-wielding killer and his family of cannibals.

Much like The Exorcist, Carrie, and Rosemary’s Baby this needs no explanation.  It was made for real shocks, and it delivers.

27.  Black Christmas (1974)

A sorority house is terrorized by a stranger who makes frightening phone calls and murders the sorority sisters.

My all-time favorite horror film, which would make the top spot if these numbers had meaning.  It’s a perfect film.  Not to mention the killer’s obscene crank calls are both chilling and hysterical.  If you haven’t seen Black Christmas, make it the first one you choose off the list.

28.  The Entity (1982)

A woman is tormented and sexually molested by an invisible demon.

That plot summary alone should do it for you.  A lady gets raped by an unseen force for Christ’s sake.  It’s a bit tough to watch at times, and supposedly based on a true story.  I would have loved to hear that police report.

29.  Dead of Night (1945)

An architect senses doom as his half-remembered recurring dream turns into reality.  The guests at the country house encourage him to stay as they take turns telling supernatural tales.

A lot of horror anthologies are pure garbage, but Dead of Night is brilliantly done.  All of the tales cause a feeling of unease, perhaps because they realistically mirror a dark side of the souls within all of us.  This movie is never to be forgotten.

30.  Funny Games (1997)

Two psychotic young men take a mother, father and son hostage in their cabin and force them to play sadistic games for their own amusement.

The closest to what I would consider “filth” on the list, however, not merely a motive of unsettling your stomach.  There’s a psychological aspect to this film that disturbs, but also gets you thinking.  It’s like SAW without the gore and more wit.  It discomfits more than SAW because it feels like something far more likely to happen.

31.  Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975)

During a rural picnic, a few students and a teacher from an Australian girl’s school vanish without a trace.  Their absence frustrates and haunts the people left behind.

One you probably never heard of but need to watch.  It fits into the drama and mystery categories, so don’t expect any big scares.  Picnic at Hanging Rock chills by leaving the viewer with absolutely no idea what’s happening to these poor girls.

32.  Sisters (1973)

A journalist witnesses a brutal murder in a neighboring apartment, but the police do not believe the crime took place.  She seeks out the truth with the help of a private detective.

Sisters sets up wonderfully and packs some scary moments.  The thrilling conundrum keeps you anxiously watching and wanting more.  Then the last hour comes along and you’re wondering what the shit is going on.  It genuinely got super weird even for my taste, but that just terrified me even more.  I’m sure it will do the same for you.

33.  You’ll Like My Mother (1972)

A pregnant widow whose husband died in Vietnam goes to visit her late husband’s mother in a snowy Minnesota town, only to get snowed in where she’s forced to stay and uncover some very dark secrets.

I wish everyone knew about this film.  Unfortunately I haven’t come across anyone who does.  Here are just a few of the terrifying things in store:  An autistic girl who is treated as a servant, a sadistic older brother and a bat-shit crazy mother running the show.  Don’t miss this little-known prize of a thriller.

34.  Don’t Look Now (1973)

A married couple grieving the death of their daughter are in Venice when they encounter two elderly sisters, one of whom is psychic and brings a warning from beyond.

A true horror classic which includes some of the most horrifying images you’ll never have the pleasure of forgetting.  I barely followed the plot, but felt the need to watch Shrek afterwards which undeniably counts for something.

35.  Eyes Without a Face (1960)

A surgeon kidnaps young women, removes their faces and tries to graft them onto the head of his beloved daughter Christiane.

You really only have to catch about five minutes of the movie in order to be creeped out for a lifetime.

36.  Freaks (1932)

The plot summary doesn’t matter.  You don’t even need to pay attention.  Either way you’re going to find the true meaning of the term “disturbing.”

37.  Just Before Dawn (1981)

Five campers arrive in the mountains to check out some property they bought, but are warned by a forest ranger about a maniac terrorizing the area.  They ignore the warnings, set up camp and begin disappearing one by one.

It sounds generic, but there are some great twists in Just Before Dawn.  It’s great for a slasher, good for a horror film and pretty frightening overall.

38.  Magic (1978) 

A ventriloquist is at the mercy of his vicious dummy while trying to renew a romance with his high school sweetheart.

A wicked dummy.  Anthony Hopkins as an unstable entertainer being controlled by that dummy.  I don’t know what more you can ask for.  Magic is smart coupled with unquestionable terror.

Night of the Living Dead - Digitally Remastered
Night of the Living Dead – Digitally Remastered

39.  Night of the Living Dead (1968) 

A group of people hide from bloodthirsty zombies in a farmhouse.

I’ll come right out and say it – I don’t like zombie movies.  Spit on me and curse my family’s name all you want.  They simply don’t do anything for me.  That being said, I couldn’t leave Night of the Living Dead off the list.  My dad always told me it was one of the scariest movies he ever saw.  He’s a very intelligent man, and his opinion didn’t let me down.

40.  Poltergeist (1982)

A family’s house is haunted by a host of ghosts.

I’m not sure why I even wrote a plot summary.  You should all be aware of Poltergeist.  It remains just as scary and excellent today as it ever was.  I made an ex-girlfriend watch this one night, which also happened to be the first night her and I hooked up.  Please think about this next time you view, thank you.

41.  Wait Until Dark (1967)

A recently blinded woman is terrorized by a trio of thugs while they search for a heroin-stuffed doll they believe to be in her apartment.

A top-notch thriller.  You almost feel like a victim yourself as you watch.  If you’re getting beaten while it’s on you’ll unequivocally feel like a victim.

42.  The Wickerman (1973)

A police sergeant is sent to a Scottish island village in search of a missing girl who the townsfolk claim never existed.

You positively need to see The Wickerman.  Everything about it is petrifying.  Don’t waste your time on the Nicholas Cage remake unless you want to laugh your ass off like I did, along with everyone else in the movie theater.

43.  A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)

As a child I always found it frightfully scary, but I never realized how good of a movie it actually is until I rewatched a few weeks ago.  You’ll see it on just about every horror list, and frankly it warrants the position.

Hellraiser
Hellraiser

44.  Hellraiser (1987) 

It’s unearthly.  My words are not needed here.

45.  Halloween (1978)

The best slasher of all time, bitch!  That is all.

46.  The Innocents (1961)

The young governess for two children becomes convinced the house and grounds are haunted.

If you’re a fan of genuinely creepy movies, you’ll like The Innocents.  It moves slowly, but the journey itself is awfully spookish.  I’m inclined to mention that the woman in the black dress is a scary ass ho.

47.  The Blair Witch Project (1999)

Compulsory inclusion as I probably would have gotten shit if it wasn’t on here.

48.  The Thing (1982)

Scientists in the Antarctic are confronted by a shape-shifting alien that assumes the appearance of the people it kills.

In all honesty, I first saw this with my friends as a teenager and laughed a lot.  In the movie’s defense I was probably on drugs.  The effects are dated but it still manages to be a fearsome experience.

49.  The Shining (1980)

You really can’t make a horror list without it.  The whole movie could just be that old decaying bitch in the bathtub and it still would have made the list.

50.  Re-Animator (1985)

A student at a medical college and his girlfriend become involved in bizarre experiments centering around the reanimation of dead tissue.

A campy horror classic filled with some deeply disturbing visuals and a whole lot of gross.  Re-Animator is a lot of fun to watch while still remaining shocking.

Honorable mentions:

The Changeling (1980)

The Silence of the Lambs (1991)

Cat People (1942)

The People Under the Stairs (1991)

The Omen (1976)

The Brood (1979)

Salem’s Lot (1979)

Rec (2007)

Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)

Your Dad’s High School Wrestling Photos (1973) TC mark

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