The 5 Most Horrifyingly Otherworldly Horror Movies

Movies to Scare Me to Uncertainty

While I love all kinds of horror movies, I've never been a big fan of slasher flicks. Copious amounts of blood do not make a scary scene. My favorite films involve a psychological element, a suspenseful struggle, and an "other-worldly" quality. I don't mean I want to see aliens; that would be another genre altogether. No, I like movies that involve characters who develop a sense that there is another side to the reality they have taken for granted. I like movies that make me feel, if only for a little while, like it's possible I've been wrong in my evaluation of the world. When I watch a movie that does this well, I second-guess my security for a couple of hours; I rethink whether my daily existence is what it seems. To me, these are the most horrifying horror movies.

Disclaimer: Before anyone feels the need to tell me that I left off The Exorcist , or any number of zombie movies from this list, I know. I find The Exorcist to be more grueling than scary, and I'll save zombies for another time. I also left off a few ghost stories that are fringe horror at best. There were several other films that almost made my top 5 (including the 1982 version of The Thing ), but just missed the cut.

The Shining

There's no getting around the fact that The Shining , directed by Stanley Kubrick, may be the most psychologically distressing film ever made.  I liked Jack Nicholson back before he was a caricature of himself.  These days, he seems so self-consciously in actor mode all the time.  It's hard to fairly judge The Shining by present-day standards; so much of what the movie great has been reused time and again.  When this movie came out, "Here's Johnny!" sounded original, but the passing years have produced countless rip-offs.

Similarly, countless reviews have been written about The Shining .  Suffice it to say, the slow, agonizing mental decline of Nicholson's character, along with the vast and isolated setting of the Overlook hotel combine to make the movie one of the most tense watching experiences imaginable.  Throw in Danny's penchant for psychic-induced fits and Scatman Crothers earnest and futile efforts, and you've got yourself a heck of a scary film.

The Wicker Man

Going back some years earlier, The Wicker Man is an utterly upsetting experience. Like The Shining , this a slow ride, but the build-up and payoff are worth it. The winding psychological trail followed by a British police officer on a remote island is unnerving: it involves singing, dancing, sex, costumes, and a sense that nothing was ever as it seemed. The disappearance of a young girl may prompt the officer's investigation, but this movie is anything but a simple detective story.

I'm aware that a remake was made of The Wicker Man . If you haven't seen the newer version yet, don't. Save your money and time. Instead, make sure the kids are in bed, and watch one of the weirdest horror movies on this list. The film quality is a little dated, the acting is a little inconsistent, but one thing is for sure: this film will likely burn itself upon your mind for months to come.

Amityville Horror

To me, the 1979 horror classic is enough to cause acid-reflux. The acting isn't top-notch, by any means, and there are scenes that haven't stood the test of time, but the overall story is upsetting on a deep level. My understanding is the claim that the film is based on real-life has been roundly dismissed at this point, but nevertheless, the premise of purchasing a beautiful new home for a growing family, only to discover that it is a focal point for evil, never gets old. Some have called this an Exorcist rip-off, but if it is, then only slightly. It is the story of a man who succumbs to the darkness, and of a family who is along for the ride.

As a side note, I've very aware that most of my favorite horror movies come from a distinct ten-year span. Either the late 1970s were the height of fine psychological horror, or films associated with my youth just scare me 'cause. I suspect it's a little bit of both.

The Mist

See, I can move away from the 1970s. I first watched this 2007 horror film with the bar set low. I was very surprised by how effective the narrative was. Don't get me wrong: no one in this film deserves an Oscar. If you have the ability to suspend disbelief, however, this Stephen King adaptation seamlessly weaves its way through an apocalypse, leaving characters stuck inside a supermarket, trying to make sense out of the growing, deadly mist outside. The main character must protect his child while also getting his brain around events that simply can not be happening.  At some point, the characters and the viewers know that they must venture outside.

I thought this movie was suspenseful and edgy. Like many movies based on King's work, stereotypes abound, but in this film, I didn't care. The lead actor and the premise produced a nail-biter of a horror movie, and the wrenching ending is well-worth the investment.

The Ring

This 2002 film garnered a lot of teenage attention, unfortunately, which made it seem less than what it is to some viewers. It does have an adolescent quality at times, but overall, I think this film is horrifying. It's horrifying in a strange mix of nightmare and fact; in truth, this film may be the king of modern-day psychological mind-play. Odd and upsetting imagery populates this story of Naomi Watts trying to make sense of a curse involving a little girl in a well, who sees without seeing and knows without reason. The protagonist must make a journey to find the source of the curse, and discovers a terrible alternate reality in the process.

This film is highly stylized, but consistent. It's dark and moody throughout, and as long as you don't make the mistake of trying to watch its sequel, its ambience will hold up. My wife still won't go anywhere near this movie; that's how much it worms its way into your head.

The Ring Trailer

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Cogerson profile image

Cogerson 5 years ago from Virginia

Hey you left off The Exorcist....just kidding.....good list....I have seen all the movies except for the original Wicker Man.....thanks for the informative and interesting hub.

shogan profile image

shogan 5 years ago from New England Author

I knew someone would have to say it! :)

If you like the other movies on the list, you might want to give it a whirl. It's a weird one, though, so be warned.

The Reminder profile image

The Reminder 5 years ago from Canada

Great list. I have only seen The Ring and The Shining but from what I've heard Wicker Man is also scary as hell.

Twilight Lawns profile image

Twilight Lawns 5 years ago from Norbury-sur-Mer, Surrey, England. U.K.

OK, the original 'The Wicker man' is still embedded in my brain as being one of the most horrifying movies ever. I honestly could not watch it again, even knowing the last scene, I still would need a new set of underwear,

What about, 'Single White Female'? That works on so many levels and 'Misery'... Kathy Bates provides the best reason for any budding author to give up and take up gardening or anything else apart from writing.

shogan profile image

shogan 5 years ago from New England Author

The Reminder, yes, it is, in its own way. If you look for surprise jump-in-your-seat stuff, it's not for you. But if you like what I describe in the article, you've got to see The Wicker Man.

shogan profile image

shogan 5 years ago from New England Author

Ian, The Wicker Man's a surreal romp, isn't it?

Neither Single White Female nor Misery have that "otherworldly" quality I mention in the article. Both of those are essentially character studies. Creepy, yes, but not right for this article.

Jeannieinabottle profile image

Jeannieinabottle 5 years ago from Baltimore, MD

I LOVE the Ring, too! It is one of my all-time favorites. I saw that in the theater when it was first released. The audience was literally screaming and hiding behind seats. I have never seen that kind of reaction before. It actually scared me and that is quite an achievement. Have you seen the original Japanese version called Ringu yet? It is pretty cool, too. I even have the book that was translated from Japanese to English.

Esmeowl12 profile image

Esmeowl12 5 years ago from Sevierville, TN

I don't like scary movies but I agree that "The Shining" was terrifying. I would also add "The Silence of the Lambs."

shogan profile image

shogan 5 years ago from New England Author

Jeanieinabottle, yes, I saw Ringu. That reminds me, I also considered The Grudge. That one freaked me out a little, too.

shogan profile image

shogan 5 years ago from New England Author

Esmeowl12, Silence of the Lambs was one of the movies I really considered. I love it, but I think it's enough of a conventional detective story to make it unsuitable for this list. It's not "other-worldly" so much as just really gritty and unsettling.

lorddraven2000 profile image

lorddraven2000 5 years ago from Wheelwright KY

Good list, I liked that the Mist was included.

lookatmenow profile image

lookatmenow 5 years ago from Canada

Great list! way to rep the asian remake era with the ring!

Glimmer515 profile image

Glimmer515 5 years ago from Never Never Land

Loved the mist! and the ending is so unsual, no one was expecting it!

shogan profile image

shogan 5 years ago from New England Author

lorddraven2000 and Glimmer515, great support for The Mist. I think this film flew under the radar for a lot of people. It's probably the closest on the list to a conventional "monster movie," but the ending is so emotionally excruciating, I just had to put it in this top 5.

shogan profile image

shogan 5 years ago from New England Author

lookatmenow, if I can ever get the right kind of motivation, I plan on making another list based on non-English language horror. I've seen plenty of subtitled horror movies, and there's some great stuff out there.

mcrawford76 profile image

mcrawford76 5 years ago from Greeley, Colorado

Good list, loved all the movies on it with the exception of The Mist. My problem with The Mist is this, I read the short story first. Anyone who read the book and watched the movie knows that they completely changed the ending for more "shock value". And for me it ruined it. Nice Hub anyway.

And just because a list comment requires suggestions, I will add "In the Mouth of Madness" A great (otherworldly) thriller with some very disturbing images. And "Event Horizon" would fit as well.

P.S. If you haven't seen the Amityville remake with Ryan Reynolds you're missing out - it was great!

crystolite profile image

crystolite 5 years ago from Houston TX

nice hub,i enjoyed it a lot.thanks for sharing.

shogan profile image

shogan 5 years ago from New England Author

mcrawford, I actually read The Mist years ago, and I remembered it while watching the movie. I still didn't have that problem with the film, though. I like King for the kind of writer he is, but I don't think he's a writer whose work is untouchable. I think the movie is better than the novella in Skeleton Crew. So there, I said it. :)

I remember that In the Mouth of Madness came out in the mid-90s. I never got the chance to see it, though, so I can't comment (Sam Neill, right?). It's funny you should bring up Event Horizon, though (another Sam Neill film). It's a perfect fit for this list, and I deeply considered it. I ranked it around #7 or #8.

Almost forgot: I did see the remake of Amityville, and I agree, I was actually pleasantly surprised.

shogan profile image

shogan 5 years ago from New England Author

crystolite, thanks a lot for reading. I'm really glad you enjoyed it! :)

spookyfox profile image

spookyfox 5 years ago from Argentina

I think Asian cinema is unbeatable in horror. The original the Ring is much better than the american remake. I don't get scared often with movies anymore but the ones that managed to make me jump off my seat were A Tale of Two Sisters (Korean) and REC (Spanish).

shogan profile image

shogan 5 years ago from New England Author

spookyfox, I think you may be right about Asian horror. REC was turned into Quarantine, or am I thinking of the wrong movie?

spookyfox profile image

spookyfox 5 years ago from Argentina

Yes, you're right... I haven't seen it but I bet it's another example of an unnecessary remake that improves and adds nothing to the original.

shogan profile image

shogan 5 years ago from New England Author

Actually, I liked Quarantine. The ending was terrible, but most of the film was pretty good, I thought. I can't say if it adds anything, however, as I haven't seen REC.

Haunty profile image

Haunty 5 years ago from Hungary

I immediately thought of REC (the original). I saw Quarantine first and thought it was extremely good, then I saw REC and it was even scarier even in full knowledge of what was going to happen next. REC 2 was annoying, but it was still good, so I'm looking forward to 3 and 4, which are already in the pipeline.

shogan profile image

shogan 5 years ago from New England Author

I guess I'll have to see REC, Haunty. That seals the deal! :)

PeytonFarquhar profile image

PeytonFarquhar 5 years ago from So Cal

I have to say that the only movie in which I concur with your assessment was The Shining. Meanwhile, there are a boatload that would have been equally deserving of this list including but not limited to: The Others, 1408, Stir of Echoes, Pan's Labyrinth, The Grudge, et al. The list can be infinite, but as always, lists like yours are entirely subjective. To each his own, I suppose.

shogan profile image

shogan 5 years ago from New England Author

Peyton, yes, naturally, to each his own. In turn, I'd say that The Others falls under the ghost stories that are "fringe horror" (I mention this in the opening), 1408 is downright awful, Stir of Echoes is good but not top 5, and Pan's Labyrinth, while often classified as horror, should be considered fantasy. I actually mention The Grudge in the comments section above...this is the closest to what I'm shooting for.

kjs411 5 years ago

great hub and top 5 list. I agree that the niche within the horror realm you captured is truly the most terrifying. I've seen all 5 movies (remake of the Wicker Man) and will need to rent the original. I was shocked after seeing The Ring that it was rated PG-13. Everything about that movie creeped me out and I have the chills now thinking about it. The creepy images that make no sense, awkward crawling movements, anything in isolation (dark well in middle of nowhere), and story development haunt your mind. The ultimate fear is a horrific force that you can't escape and will lead to a terrifying demise.

The last 5 minutes of Paranormal Activity extremely eerie from the screaming, to the flying body, to the woman crawling into the room and finally the demonic face coming into the video camera that was on the floor. Chills! Great hub.

shogan profile image

shogan 5 years ago from New England Author

Hey, kjs411, thanks for the comments! If you're this much a fan of the type of movies described, you definitely should see the original Wicker Man. Be prepared,'s weird. Yes, part of why I didn't put The Grudge on this list is that I think it has a lot in common with The Ring, and as far as overall effect, I think The Ring does it better. That's a creepy movie. Hopefully, you didn't have to sit through the second one, though.

I saw Paranormal Activity, and thought it was ok. It didn't captivate me. I do love ghost stories, however.

jreuter profile image

jreuter 5 years ago from Portland, Oregon

The Mist! You may be one of two people I know who've seen that movie. I absolutely love it, especially since I could not stop thinking about how creepy that plot is for weeks after I watched the movie, I mean, monster from another dimension spilling into ours? That horrific. As far as the ending, did you know that King's original short story had it end with the family just driving into the Mist?

shogan profile image

shogan 5 years ago from New England Author

jreuter, when I saw The Mist, it had been years since I had read the novella. I found myself trying to remember how the book had ended; I had to check after I finished the film.

I agree that both are awful and wonderful all at once.

jreuter profile image

jreuter 5 years ago from Portland, Oregon

Agreed. The Director came up with the movie ending I believe, and when King heard it, he said something to the effect that he should have ended the novella that way. Anyways, great list!

PlanksandNails profile image

PlanksandNails 5 years ago from among the called out of the ekklesia of Christ

Try watching Event Horizon (1997), it will etch a new frontier into your memory just as The Shining has done to so many.

This would be in my top five.

shogan profile image

shogan 5 years ago from New England Author

I've seen Event Horizon several times, PlanksandNails. It's a really good experience, but I don't think it's comparable to The Shining. Again, just my opinion.

JeremyBentham profile image

JeremyBentham 4 years ago from Missouri

Many of my friends do not get The Mist. I agree not Oscar-worthy, but you get the scares you came for. And I like that the director made a definite choice of how to end it as opposed to the story which let you decide how it ended.

Hannah 4 years ago

I didn't find The Ring or The Mist to be very scary, but they were interesting concepts (the Mist was more entertaining to watch), but I don't go near scary movies unless my brother drags me into one. From what I've heard, Amityville Horror is out of my league. And I don't know if I can give Wicker Man a chance after seeing the remake. It was truly awful, but you do laugh a lot--the acting and dialogue is too painful not to--though you can just go on youtube to see all the funny scenes back to back. The Shining is definitely on my list though as a pop culture necessity. For some reason, a film that I found unsettling in its other-worldly premise was a kid's horror movie, Donnie Darko. I just couldn't wrap my head around it, and its creepy subtlety still sometimes flits around the edges of my nightmares.

WiccanSage profile image

WiccanSage 2 years ago

Exellent article. I never could get into The Ring-- by the time that little girl crawled out of the TV it looked like the revenge of cousin It; and I think I was too spoiled for Amityville Horror & The Mist to enjoy the films because I loved the books first. The Mist's ending really disappointed me.

The Wicker Man & The Shining are awesome films though, and always among my top favorite. Like you, I like a horror movie that's got more of a psychological element to it.

Some of my other favorites include 9 Dead, the Host, The Changeling (George C. Scott version), & Rosemary's Baby. I think the Exorcist is a brilliantly made film but a bit much for my tastes-- not something I can just watch and enjoy.

I had a lot of fun reading your hub and now I have to see what I'll be ordering from Netflix this weekend-- maybe a good horror.

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