Ah, the month of October. When the New England weather begins to change and get cool, reminding all of the impending winter. While most spend the month bundling up and preparing, I like to bust out my movie collection and immerse myself in horror movies. Many TV channels will do the same, offering marathons of scary movies on at all times of the day and night. This is the time when the younger generation, more in-tune and aware of recent remakes than their predecessors, are able to catch the originals, made well before DVDs and Blu-Ray discs ever existed. (Side note: My collection consists of many VHS tapes – yikes! Now that’s scary!)
In the spirit of All Hallow’s Eve, I wanted to share my list of the top 15 scariest movies ever made that might serve as inspiration for anyone looking for ones to watch.
So without further ado, here is my list of the Top 15 Scariest Movies Ever Made:
15.) Dawn of the Dead (1978)
Although this is a sequel, it is greatly superior to director George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead, which unfortunately, is now dated. With a limited budget, Romero expertly crafted this zombie film that makes its audience feel just as trapped as the main characters. Definitely check this one out before seeing the 2004 remake, if possible. This could possibly be the best zombie film ever made.
14.) Alien (1979)
Speaking of claustrophobia, what movie personifies this better than Ridley Scott’s Alien? Featuring uber-female-protagonist Ellen Ripley, played by Sigourney Weaver, Alien has it all – great aesthetics, great scares (you’ll be checking your own chest after certain scenes!) and a great antagonist. While the movie’s memorable tagline is “In space, no one can hear you scream,” your neighbors will definitely know it’s you when you’re watching this one.
13.) The Evil Dead (1981)
Perhaps now best known for being the first full-length feature from Sam Raimi (director of the Spiderman series), The Evil Dead was a horror movie unto itself upon release. While it deals with zombies, it really pushes the card as far as reincarnation goes. The main character, Ash, played by Bruce Campbell (now found on USA’s Burn Notice), is one this generation’s great cult characters. This one is not for the faint of heart.
12.) Ju-On (2000)
Better known in the U.S. as The Grudge, Ju-On originally appeared in Japan in 2000 and contains among the creepier scenes I’ve witnessed. The film definitely lures you in with an intriguing premise and seems innocent for the first act until the true hide-under-the-blanket, edge-of-your-seat scariness sets in. I’d rather not ruin too much here for those that successfully avoided The Grudge.
11.) The Brood (1979)
I had to include a film from sci-fi / horror aficionado and director David Cronenberg on here. With so many to choose from (Scanners, The Fly, Videodrome, Dead Ringers), I choose the one with the most originality (though all of the aforementioned are quite original). The Broodrevolves around a man who desperately tries to uncover the mysteries of a local therapist as things begin to get creepy. He succeeds and finds something far more terror-inducing than he anticipated – a brood of mutant children, with stone cold, black eyes, intent on destroying anything in their wake. Yikes.
10.) Black Christmas (1974)
Unfortunately, this is another one that has a more recent, less-than-gratifying remake, which came out in 2006. This original, however, is ahead of its time. Know the old urban myth about the crazed killer’s calls coming from the line in the attic? This is first to feature this subplot prominently. Using the usually familial and comforting holiday of Christmas as the back drop, Black Christmas really attacks the security people feel that the holiday season inherently brings with it. While not the first slasher film, this film is creepy enough to think twice about going up to the attic all alone.
9.) Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)
And another classic ruined by a less-than-perfect remake. What makesNightmare so scary is its innovation. Take a franchise serial killer with a new weapon (a glove with knife fingers) and have him attack you where you’re most vulnerable – your dreams. What’s your reaction? Of course – just don’t sleep. Well, the kids in the film are just as wise, but unfortunately, they’re just as human as you. Eventually sleep wins out and you have to face your dreams, or in this case, your worst Nightmares. (A plus is that a young Johnny Depp makes his first movie appearance in the film! I won’t ruin how it ends for JDepp.)
8.) The Ring (1998)
One of the more innovative horror flicks to come out in the last couple decades. The Ring brings an array of truly creepy images mixed with new age pop-out scares. I think what’s most unsettling about this film is that every character – intentional or not – looks creepy. If you’re up for it, check out the original Japanese version, Ringu, which has a more intricate explanation at the end.
7.) Jaws (1975)
Anytime a movie can make the majority of America – heck, even the world – second guess going in the water, that’s a scary movie! What makes Jaws so scary is its incredible simplicity. People go in the water all the time. Sharks live in the water. People know this and still go. So what’s so inconceivable about a great white shark just eating people instead of fattening seals? While the third act of the film is more adventure than horror, you still never feel quite comfortable and the infamous scene when Roy Scheider is chumming confirms this. Not only will you need a “bigger boat,” you’ll probably need a bigger bed to hide in after watching this by yourself.
6.) The Thing (1982)
Aliens? Shape-shifting monsters that can take the form of anything or anyone? Secluded snow base in Antarctica? These are all elements that make The Thing not only one of the best horror movie remakes ever, but just one of the scariest flicks ever. Director John Carpenter, of Halloween fame, brings his incredible sci-fi eye to this flick, using advanced techniques to showcase his monster and its abilities throughout the film. Each transformation the monster makes becomes more stomach churning than the previous one. Add the fact that none of the characters OR the audience members knows who is the monster and who isn’t makes this one a truly edge-of-your-seat Halloween flick.
5.) The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)
The slasher film that might possibly have shaped an entire generation. Directed by Tobe Hooper and made for next to nothing, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is a film many never forget. Set deep in the woods, a group of teens stumble upon a terror previously unimaginable. Brandishing a weapon unused in horror films before, the infamous Leatherface plays by no rules and only appears when you feel the most calm. This film captures the true essence of a horror film – few cheap scares combined with terror-inducing aesthetics. You might not always see Leatherface, but you’ll certainly hear that chainsaw ripping in the night. Notoriously based upon the true life story of Ed Gein, this film is purely frightening.
4.) The Shining (1980)
My personal favorite, this film is the perfect storm of creative minds, based upon the original novel from Stephen King and helmed by famed director Stanley Kubrick. With one of many career-defining performances from Jack Nicholson, this film excels in situational and psychological horror. You thought being trapped in mall with zombies was scary? Try being trapped in a hotel amidst a snowstorm with your psychotic husband and the hotel’s ghosts. “Here’s Johnny!”
3.) Psycho (1960)
The classic, defining work of Alfred Hitchcock, widely considered to be the king of suspense. Anthony Perkins stars as the infamous Norman Bates, caretaker of the equally infamous Bates Motel. Featuring one of the most memorable and unforgettable scenes, Psycho essential did to the shower what Jaws did to the water 15 years later. With eerie landscape and unnerving serenity surrounding the environment,Psycho, way ahead of its time, paved the way for the future slasher generation. Without this film, the likes of Michael Myers, Freddy Krueger and Jason Voorhees might never exist. Be sure to keep your eyes open for the entire film, or else you’ll miss the controversial and terrifying finale!
2.) Halloween (1978)
The quintessential scary movie for All Hallow’s Eve. Sometimes the scariest movies can be the simplest ideas. Take a crazed killer and have him use the most cliched and obviously night to conduct his reign of terror. Wielding a butcher knife (nothing extravagant) and moving slowly, Michael Myers is now synonymous with Halloween, not just because that’s the title of the film, either. Sure, there are some cheap pop-out scares here and there, but the spray-painted William Shatner mask slowly appearing in a dark frame behind the unsuspecting character? That’s terror personified!
1.) The Exorcist (1973)
The quintessential horror movie, period. Featuring quite possibly the scariest antagonist ever conceived – that of 12-year-old Regan MacNeil, possessed by the Devil – The Exorcist succeeds in conveying true horror without any of the cheap conventions of today. No pop-out scares here, just pure terror personified by a 12-year-old girl and expressed through the characters witnessing her transformation. There’s a reason audience members were throwing up and leaving the theatres back in 1973. This is NOT one to watch alone.