The scariest horror movies are relative to the era in which they were produced. The horrors in a film can be affected by acting styles of the time, special effects (or lack thereof), the type of film used, the Motion Picture Production Code, the kiss of death, etc. Is it the jump scares, the vivid gore, the real scenarios, the music, how young you were when you first saw it, or the slow dread that was finally popped like a balloon? Light spoilers ahead!
This is a film about a crew who goes out to inspect a spaceship that’s disappeared for a while and returned. Its engine is a black hole. The best analogy ever made for interdimensional travel is conducted at the beginning. Fold a page, stick a pencil through it, and call it a day. Other movies have borrowed this analogy.
The ship has somehow passed through Hell and an evil force or entity has possessed the ship. The one scene where everyone is gorily murdering and raping one another is intense. The usage of Latin to get the Hell premise across was good.
28 Days Later
This is an awesome movie that popularized runner-type “zombies.” The character interactions and suspense creates horror.
The protagonist awakens from a coma, only to discover the horrors of humanity’s creation. The beginning of The Walking Dead series seems to have borrowed from the beginning of this film.
The premise is that an Eldritch horror does nothing but pursue its victims (who have sexually contracted a curse) by steadily walking towards them. The era in which the plot takes place is nowhere and everywhere. The furniture, technology, etc. don’t match the time period. It creates an eerie aesthetic.
We never know much about the entity. It’s hard to spoil a movie that trims all the unnecessary plot-fat from the story. It feels almost like Thomas Liggoti’s The Clown Puppet: an entity is led along by marionette strings that seem to disappear into the ceiling and sky.
This monster seems almost unconscious, like a bacterium or virus just moseying along its path, unaware of the difference between an ant or a human.
The insidious terror that comes from the first ¾ of the film is rife with tension. You are met with traditional horror. There are little to no jump scares. That means that you can cut the tension with a butter knife.
Requiem for a Dream
Some people might go, really? This is on the list?
But, this movie is unnerving. The music is an ominous blend of dissonant and staccato notes. It’s on this list—because it sits in the pit of your stomach, even after you’re done digesting the film.
It’s not a horror film, but it does cause feelings to arise that traditional-horror movies tend to employ.
A superior specimen that has “molecular acid” running through its veins aims to kill. It kills indiscriminately. The scariest things about this movie are twofold: the actors were not told about the most infamous scene and so their reactions were authenticly scared, and the usage of yonic devices (face-hugger aliens) with the and phallic (xenomorphs) causes a dissonance within the viewers’ relation to patriarchal society.
The 1970s were an era of women’s empowerment and the yonic devices in this movie stand to scare viewers who were not used to vaginally shaped things dominating humanity. Just a wild hunch.
This movie was chillingly scary. The terrifying experience comes from many different angles. You don’t know what’s coming next, we don’t know what the antagonist looks like, and the actors are good. The very beginning of the film puts you on edge, as though there is an entity watching everyone—like one would with a dollhouse.
The loss of loved ones plays a giant role. We see mourning and the tension it causes as the characters themselves change how they act and what makes them who they are.
This movie is scary. It’s got the works: jump scares, possession, exorcism, psychics, cursed items, and tension. The jump scares aren’t trite and annoying like most scary movies.
There really is this sense of hair standing up. The Conjuring even has its own universe.
The story is about climbers who go on an adventure with an unreliable friend who dooms them all by throwing out their navigational guidebook and informing people of where they are not.
The environment is scary and claustrophobic. A humanoid, underground species that descended from cavemen stalk the caves that the women descend into.
There is a US ending that’s happy because we Americans can’t handle anything that isn’t a painted-on smile. Then, there’s the UK ending for adults who are tall enough to ride the rides and not be spoonfed crap.
The Thing (1982)
John Carpenter creates an Eldritch horror, there are just no giant penguins like in At the Mountains of Madness. Get that new CGI crap out of here. We got timeless special effects with this masterpiece.
The show Rick and Morty lampoons The Thing in this video here.
Many people claim that this is the scariest movie that they’ve ever seen. It has good jump scares and decent actors. This one, in my opinion, is not as scary as the others on this list. But, still scary.
The Blair Witch Project
I remember seeing this as a teenager. I remember the end giving me chills (one of the only scary parts). People get lost in the woods and “someone” finds the footage and edits it into a movie. Many people find this to be the scariest movie they saw. Within its time period, it popularized the genre of found footage, so it’s not as cliché as it feels now.
Go ahead and watch this with your back to your bed. You’ll up the scare level tenfold.
This is based on a novel. The occult is always a great base for a horror movie. It’s not only a social commentary on its era but has a nice tension about it, not having the supernatural that normally accompany the movies of today. It’s an old movie but is considered one of the greatest horror films ever “conceived.”
Found footage. PETA was founded the month after this film came out (according to Wikipedia). I’m sure it had nothing to do with the film’s intense (real) violence against animals.
This is torture porn. Plain and simple. It goes on this list because it was banned in several countries. Accusations were made that actors were actually murdered.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)
This is the most agreed upon, scariest movie. It has a high score on Rotten Tomatoes. People die in horrific ways by the infamous Leatherface. We can only imagine what people in the 70s thought when they saw this with no expectations.