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Ten Scariest Films of All Time
Ever wonder which are the scariest movies of all time? We asked our members to list the horror films that scared them the most and these are the results. These are not necessarily the best scary movies, but rather the movies that scared them the most. These scary movies are a combination of old and new horror films. While some of the classic may not seem as scary today as the newer film which keep increasing the bar of shock value, you have to view those old classics for their scare value at the time they were released. All of these films were horror shockers in their day.
Horror movies come in many different shapes and sizes; paranormal scary movies such as The Exorcist, serial killer films like Silence of the Lambs, crazy murdering clans, or cannibals, such as Texas Chainsaw Massacre. The most popular horror sub-segment varies over the years. When I was growing up in the 80s, the deranged real killer dominated with movies like Halloween and Friday the 13th. More recently paranormal and supernatural killers dominate in films like The Ring and Paranormal Activity.
Many different horror sub-genres are represented on this scariest films list. This list of the scariest movies is a composite of all the member rankings on Rankography best movies. If you liked this list, you might also like our list of Best Vampire Movies.
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10. The Omen (1976)
A Haunting Representation of the Devil as a 10 Year Old Damien
The Omen (1976) was not a classic horror movie in the sense that you are worried about a killer lurking in the closet. Rather, The Omen is one of those mental scary movies that sends chills down your spine and appalls you into fear. Childhood is supposed to be so innocent, so when we learn of the pure evil coursing through Damien (Harvey Stephens), it sends our heads spinning while trying to process what we are seeing. Stephens is alarmingly good as the young evil Damien.
Throughout the film you are continually confronted with the thought, "what would I do if this was my child". Robert and Katherine Thorn (Gregory Peck and Lee Remick) must come to grips with their child being evil and yet what are they to do about him? How can you harm your own child, and yet can you sit by as Damien commits repeated atrocities? It is this mental struggle between what we believe and what we are seeing that makes this 1970s film so chilling and one of the scariest films ever.
9. Psycho (1960)
Hitchcock Creates the Standard for Horror Movies
In 1960, Alfred Hitchcock scared the world with the ultimate psychological thriller, Psycho. The 1950s had been a period of great prosperity in the US. Most families now could afford to vacation in automobiles and America had become mobile. Fast food restaurants, such as McDonald's, and roadside motels sprang up across the country.
Hitchcock brilliantly saw the opportunity to exploit the public's psyche with a Horror film set against the backdrop of a lonely, isolated roadside motel, the Bates Motel. Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins) is the proprietor of this isolated motel and while things make look normal at first glance, there crazy brainwaves just under the surface. Perkins is brilliant as the psychotic Bates holding on to the memory of an overbearing mother.
Hitchcock is the master of suspense and he shows us how it is done in this movie. Given that it is over 50 years old, there is not much gore, horror shlock, but it is a must see for its suspense value. The shower scene is one of the most copied horror scenes of all time.b
This horror film endures after 50 years as one of the scariest films of all time.
8. Alien (1979)
But those eggs looked so peaceful...
In the 1979 classic, Alien, Ridley Scott takes us to a new place for horror, outer space, and what results is a riveting sci fi horror thriller. While horror is not Mr. Scott's main genre, he is masterful creating suspense by contrasting peaceful calm periods with terrifying periods of sheer chaos.
These periods of disturbing contrast throughout the film create wide-ranging emotional and physiological changes in our minds and body as we watch this scary movie. Over time, we learn the magnitude of capabilities of the Alien beast terrorizing the crew, you are sent down a road of sheer hopelessness. And yet you rally around the human instinct for survival.
This film was so groundbreaking in its concept that it would have been entirely enjoyable as a simple thriller film, but when you combine the this sci fi thriller with petrifying fear, it becomes one of the all time great horror films of our generation.
If you liked Alien, you might also like Pitch Black
7. A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)
You May Never Go to Sleep Again.
Wes Craven created a horror masterpiece in the first Nightmare installment. Sleep has always been our refuge from fear. When we were afraid as children, we hoped to fall asleep because the fear would be gone when we awoke. This is part of what makes A Nightmare on Elm Street so disturbingly scary -- "what if you could not go to sleep, because that is where the danger lies..."
Having a serial killer invade our dreams is a terrifying concept. What's more, we all know that eventually we all must sleep in order to survive. We Can't stay awake forever, and when we fall asleep -- Freddy Kruger (Robert Englund) will be there. That creates a chilling backdrop of fear throughout this scary movie.
Couple that backdrop with a hideously scary monster in Freddy (with his scarred face and 10 inch finger blades) and a motive for revenge and makes this one of the scariest films ever. It truly changed the game in Horror with its completely unique storyline and bizarre twist on the sleep refuge.
6. Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)
A Shocking and Edgy Horror Film Classic
In 1974, an unknown Director named Tobe Hooper shocked the world with a twisted and terrifying tale of a crazy backwoods clan of cannibal killers. At the time, many felt Texas Chainsaw Massacre was too graphic and edgy for its R rating and some argued it should not be allowed in theaters. Of course by today's standards it is an average level of horror gore, but for 1974 it was shocking. Naturally a cult classic was born.
The film is grisly and the opening narration gives it the feel of a true story. It almost had the feel of a "found footage" film before the genre even existed. What's more, the reality that a twisted group of crazy cannibals could live near you intensified the terror and made this one of the scariest movies of all time.
5. The Blair Witch Project
Trailblazer in the "Found Footage" Horror Genre
Another genre defining horror movie makes the list with The Blair Witch Project. It was the first horror film in the "found footage" genre and used a brilliant internet-based viral marketing campaign to build a following before the film was released. The campaign gave the impression of being a "true story" and that was the brilliance that really made this one of the scariest movies.
After the fact, many have ridiculed it as not being very scary, but in the moment it was groundbreaking and many other found footage horror films have followed including Cloverfield and the Paranormal Activity series.
The terror in this horror film is in the documentary feel of the film. In our minds we were asking, are we witnessing an actual videotaping of kids deep in the woods chasing the legends of ghosts and witches. And if we were, then that is terrifying.
Another great "Lost Footage" film is Cloverfield
4. Silence of the Lambs
Creepy, Creepy, Creepy
Silence of the Lambs had a major impact on me when it first came out. For a few years after this scary movie, I would not see any horror films. While it did not have a lot of the suspenseful horror of a Halloween or Nightmare, it had the creepy factor that just sticks with you.
I think this was the first major movie that portrayed the serial killer as a seemingly normal guy that could live next door, and that by itself was jarring. But then you add in the sadistic cannibal, Dr. Hannibal Lechter (Anthony Hopkins), and your skin begins to crawl.
Hopkins is brilliant in his Lechter role and he won the Best Actor Oscar for this portrayal. Few of us will forget how he pronounced the lead detective's name, Clarisse (Jodie Foster). And of course his escape scene is legendary. I for one will never be the same after seeing that scene.
This is the ultimate "psychotic" horror film and has firmly established itself near the top most scary movie lists. Mentally this horror movie will grab you and stick with you long after it has ended.
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3. Halloween (1978)
The Grandaddy of all Psycho Killer Horror Films
For me, Halloween (1978) is the scariest film ever. This classic horror movie scared me to the very core. John Carpenter is a master of suspense and many of his techniques have been copied by other horror directors over the years. He blends suspense with an absolutely chilling soundtrack that has you grabbing the arms of your chair every time the eerie melody starts up.
The other element of this film that really sets it apart is the "escaped mental patient" premise. It is a terrifying premise because it could happen anywhere. And of course, coupling the film with Halloween was also a perfect premise because it allows the killer to move around in costume without looking strange.
This was probably one of the first horror films with the chilling voyeurism that had you screaming (in your mind), "Get out of the house!", over and over again. Few will forget the name Michael Myers and we all look at the Halloween holiday a little bit different since this alarming scary film.
2. The Exorcist
A Parent's Worst Nightmare
Every parent fears losing a child to death or abduction. In The Exorcist, Chris MacNeil (Ellen Burstyn) must come to grips with losing her daughter, Regan (Linda Blair), to the devil in a demonic possession. What is so alarming about this scary movie, besides the visual effects, is the total lack of parental control. There is nothing Chris could have done as a parent to prevent this demonic possession. This lack of control is so disturbing that it pervades the entire film.
There are moments of suspense throughout the film, but it is not the typical horror film in that respect. Rather, The Exorcist scares us through its concept and by preying on our fear of the unknown. We ask ourselves,"could this happen to us or someone we know". That complete lack of control is the truly disturbing aspect of the movie and why members have ranked it as one of the scariest movies of all time.
1. The Shining (1980)
Terrifying Look into the Slow Descent into Madness
The Shining was another terrifying psychological horror thriller and probably Stanley Kubrick's finest film. This movie scares us on many levels. First, the setting is unnerving; the huge Overlook Hotel building, completely isolated from other people and occupied by just three people for the entire winter. I'll pass, thank you very much. The setting alone scared me to death. We have all been home alone and been frightened by a sound or sounds. Imagine the number of creepy sounds in an empty 300+ room resort.
Second, we see most of this horror film through the eyes of a 7 year old child, Danny Torrance (Danny Lloyd), which intensifies the creepiness especially when he is wandering the Hotel alone. Third, the things that young Danny sees throughout the Hotel are truly disturbing and enough to make us want to run screaming from the room. The scene with the two twins girls (ghosts) standing in the empty hallway is one of the most memorable and chiling horror movie scenes that I have ever seen.
Finally, there is Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson), the father who is slowly slipping into mental illness. His performance is stunning throughout the film and he is completely convincing as a deranged psychopathic killer at the end of the film.
All these reasons, coupled with Kubrick's brilliantly suspenseful cinematography, combine to create a terrifying movie that members ranked as the scariest movie ever.