Boo! One of the most treasured genres in all of cinema is horror. A frightfully good time can come by way of scary monsters, demonic possession, murderous families, or even an otherwise innocent looking girl crawling out from a well.
1. The Exorcist (1973)
Director: William Friedkin
Starring: Linda Blair, Ellen Burstyn, Jason Miller
Taking the number one spot in a HitFix poll of over 100 horror specialists to name the top horror movie of all time, The Exorcist tells the tale of a 12-year-old who seemingly becomes possessed by some sort of demon. She takes on an especially frightful appearance and personality, leading her mother to turn to a troubled priest to rescue her daughter. This film is filled with many iconic scenes that continue to influence scary movies several decades later.
2. Psycho (1960)
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Starring: Anthony Perkins, Janet Leigh, Vera Miles
Featuring one of the best-known horror movie soundtracks of all time, Psycho is a psychological thriller wherein a secretary finds herself staying at the secluded Bates Motel. As it turns out, the manager of the property has many secrets to hide, including the strange relationship he has with his mother. Psycho has been named as the horror movie that changed a genre with its utter savagery and remarkably visceral experience.
3. The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974)
Director: Tobe Hooper
Starring: Marilyn Burns, Paul A. Partain, Gunnar Hansen
There are few horror villains quite as frightful as Leatherface. In The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, a group of friends stumble by a house near a watering hole in search of assistance, only to be confronted by a family of violent and gruesome cannibals. The unavoidable murders are especially violent. Readers of Film School Rejects named The Texas Chain Saw Massacre as the scariest movie ever after a series of tournament-style, head-to-head voting rounds.
4. A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)
Director: Wes Craven
Starring: Johnny Depp, Robert Englund, Heather Langenkamp
In the iconic slasher film A Nightmare on Elm Street, teenagers fall victim to a claw-wielding Freddy Krueger. What makes this movie so different from others in the genre is that Freddy can only get to his victims when they are asleep, attacking them in their dreams. Anyone who falls asleep is a potential victim. MTV analyzed the Wikipedia pages of scary movies and placed A Nightmare on Elm Street at the top of its list.
5. The Hills Have Eyes (1977)
Director: Wes Craven
Starring: Susan Lanier, Robert Houston, Michael Berryman
It started out like any other family vacation for the Caters, driving through the desert en route to Los Angeles. After skidding off the road, they seek help at a nearby gas station only to learn of a deranged and deformed family with cannibalistic intentions. The Hills Have Eyes is a cult classic with its utter brutality and raw presentation. Kim Nicolini of Counterpunch says it is her favorite Wes Craven film, "haunted" by how "disturbing" it is.
6. Poltergeist (1982)
Director: Tobe Hooper
Starring: Craig T. Nelson, JoBeth Williams, Heather O'Rourke
The Freeling family appear to be enjoying their safe suburban lifestyle in California. Then one night, 10-year-old Carol Anne is drawn to the static on the television and begins to "talk" to the "TV people" before being sucked into another dimension. With a ghostly sense of the supernatural, Poltergeist defined the haunted house sub-genre of horror movies. Revered New York Times critic Vincent Canby says it is "like a thoroughly enjoyable nightmare" filled with "creepy, crawly, slimy things that jump out from the shadows."
7. Ringu (1998)
Director: Hideo Nakata
Starring: Nanako Matsushima, Hiroyuki Sanada, Rikiya Otaka
Also known as Ring and later remade for Western audiences in 2002, Ringu is a Japanese movie wherein a cursed video tape reportedly results in the death of anyone who watches it. A number of friends die on the same night with their faces frozen in a fearful expression, leading to further investigation into a vengeful spirit. The consensus on Rotten Tomatoes is overwhelmingly positive with only one "rotten" review among all critics.
8. Paranormal Activity (2007)
Director: Oren Peli
Starring: Katie Featherston, Micah Sloat, Amber Armstrong
Along with The Blair Witch Project, Paranormal Activity is perhaps one of the best known and best executed "found footage" horror movies. A young couple move into their new San Diego house. The husband sets up a series of cameras around the home to record any of the titular paranormal activity. With a creepy, demonic presence keeping audiences searching for the smallest of movements, Paranormal Activity was named by io9 as one of the found footage horror movies that are genuinely scary.
9. Halloween (1978)
Director: John Carpenter
Starring: Jamie Lee Curtis, Nick Castle, Donald Pleasence
If you're in the mood for a scary movie that is filled with blood, guts, gore, and terror, look no further than Halloween. The first movie in what would become a highly successful franchise, the original film shows the origins of the masked killer Michael Myers as he escapes from a psychiatric hospital and begins to stalk a young woman and her friends. Roger Ebert said that "if you don't want to have a really terrifying experience, don't see Halloween."
10. Night of the Living Dead (1968)
Director: George Romero
Starring: Duane Jones, Judith O'Dea, Karl Hardman
Widely credited for popularizing the "zombie" subgenre, Night of the Living Dead was heavily criticized at the time for its explicit gore. The film depicts a group of strangers who are trapped in an old farmhouse, hiding from a horde of re-animated rotting corpses who aim to feast on the flesh of the living. Turner Classic Movies applauds the "nightmare vision" of this movie, calling it one of the "first horror films that refused to turn away from its own gruesomeness."
Everyone Could Use a Good Scare
Famed director Alfred Hitchcock once said that "there is no terror in the bang, only in the anticipation of it." It is the power of that moment just before the big scare that makes a great horror movie so terrific. Gratuitous violence and gore are completely optional, but they certainly don't hurt when done bloody well.