These Are the Ten Scariest Horror Films of All-Time, Change My Mind
I spent ten years of my professional career co-hosting a radio show called The Screening Room. One of my favorite shows that my partner Dave Spencer and I ever did was our special edition episode in which we each shared our list of The Ten Scariest Movies of All-Time. While my list has changed a bit since then (Spencer and I retired that show back in 2010 on The Screening Room's 10th anniversary ), many of the titles on it remain the same.
So, here we go! These are the films that I consider to be the Ten Best Horror Films of All-Time.
#10- 28 DAYS LATER
I was a long-time fan of The Walking Dead and I appreciate George A. Romero's "living dead" films, but 2002's 28 Days Later sets the gold standard for zombie apocalypse movies. There's a scene in this movie that I vividly remember more than all the others (and, yes, it's been twenty years since I last saw it). The scariest scene in this movie doesn't involve a zombie at all. It's a subtle scene in which a goldfish, swimming in a bowl (that's barely filled with water) struggles to stay alive. That goldfish is every human survivor in this film and, honestly, every single one of us in reality. Brilliant! And, yes. Scary.
#9- THE SHINING
When I first published my list during my run in The Screening Room, this movie wasn't included. It is now. There are so many memorable, enduring and, well, psychotic moments from The Shining that it has no doubt earned its place in the canon of great horror. I mean, be honest. You've imagined yourself chopping down a door with an ax and proclaiming, "Here's Johnny!"
#8- THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT
There are a lot of naysayers with this film, but I think it's marketing genius. And, honestly, the script (or at least the basic plot) is cleverly conceived, psychological horror. Detractors of the film claim it isn't scary. While the movie is void of really big scares and not much actually happens, the terror derives from the fact that the three characters in the piece aren't sure what is actually happening and what isn't. The film is a deep dive into the wooded mouth of madness where every little noise you hear may or may not be the evil and dreaded Blair Witch.
#7- THE OMEN
There were a couple of horror movies in the 70s that were actually great films as well. Not only did they intend to scare the crap out of their audiences, they tried to tackle some pretty hefty themes in the process. The Omen was one of those films. The Omen tackles two topics we've always been told to avoid at dinner parties- religion and politics. As this movie unfolds, it's quite devilishly clear that the two don't mix.
Not a "horror" movie in the classic sense, but one of grittiest and most disturbing films you will ever see. The film Se7en, which revolves around a serial killer, who's committing his crimes based on the seven deadly sins, is twisted, unnerving and insanely suspenseful. When you see Kevin Spacey walk into a police precinct and scream "DETECTIVE", the wild and completely psychotic ride is only just beginning. You'll lose your head over this movie.
The movie that made generations of Americans afraid to go into the water. Steven Spielberg's horror masterpiece features a serial killer of a much different kind. It's a big ass fish. If you're afraid of sharks, there's a strong chance that fear is rooted in this film. The shark, like classic movie villains like Jason and Freddy and Michael and Chucky, is a relentless and ruthless force of nature.
#4- THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS
Like with Se7en, this entry on my list is diabolical, psychological and all too real. There's nothing supernatural here at all. The Silence of the Lambs is so absolutely terrifying because the methodical, plotting and savage Hannibal Lecter seems so damn real. And so does the mystery as it plays out. In most horror films, you can rest knowing that much of what you're seeing is well outside the realm of possibility. But not here. You just have a feeling that somewhere, in the basement of some house, there's a well with someone trapped at the bottom of it.
Carrie sports one of the most enduring images in horror and you likely know to which one I am referring. That scene? The one at the prom when Carrie's classmates drop a bucket of pig's blood onto her and send her into a telekinetic rage that kills nearly every student in the school. As scary as that scene is, it's Carrie's mother, Margaret (played by the brilliant Piper Laurie), who is the film's true horror. She's a religious zealot who does irrevocable harm in the name of God. That character, like some people I know who are just like her, are the scariest humans on Earth.
Well, what can I say? The "slasher" film that sports the eeriest serial killer of them all. Forget Jason Voorhees. Step aside, Freddy Krueger. Michael Myers, for me, is the true relentless scary movie villain. This movie not only has the genre's most notorious killer, it gave us the queen of all scream queens and the most pulse-pounding soundtrack in the history of horror. Oh, and I nearly forgot to mention Donald Pleasence, whose Dr. Samuel Loomis rolls into Haddonfield in pursuit of evil. He does it knowing full well that he may not be able to stop it, but someone has to try.
#1- THE EXORCIST
There's no contest. The Exorcist is the scariest movie I have ever seen. Yes, it's terrifying. Routinely. But it's also a brilliant study of religion, fame, modern medicine and single parenthood. Yes. Some of the imagery in the film is brutal, horrifying and uncompromising. But beneath the possession, the shaking bed, the lacerations, the vulgarity and the crucifix is gripping a social commentary. The Exorcist isn't just a great horror film, it's a great film. Period.