July 1, 2022

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55 of the scariest horror movies of all time

13 min read

Maybe your Halloween plans include hosting a massive costume bash with plenty of witches brew for your guests. Or maybe you plan on chilling at home and enjoying a family-friendly Halloween movie with the kids.

But if you’re a thrill seeker, then there’s no better time than now to watch some of the scariest movies of all time, streaming on Netflix, Hulu, Prime Video and beyond.

Chances are, just hearing title “The Exorcist” and “The Conjuring” can bring the chills. But what actually makes a good horror film? “Usually, a good horror film has a deeply felt fear at its core,” David E. Tolchinsky, professor of Radio-TV-Film at Northwestern University, told TODAY via email.

“That fear might be universal,” Tolchinsky said, like how “Strangers” plays on the idea of a home invasion. Or, the fear can be specific to a time and culture, or riff on disasters like disease war or environmental changes.

“Sometimes good horror films aren’t scary when you watch them, but they stay with you for a long time and scare you in your dreams,” he added.

So, if you’re good and ready to have the daylights scared out of you (awake or in your nightmares, your choice), we’ve compiled the ultimate, scary horror movie list, and it’s sure to send chills down your spine.

‘The Exorcist’ (1973)

Made nearly 50 years ago, “The Exorcist” still holds up and remains one of the scariest movies of all time. It’s film that you can’t unsee once you’ve seen it — including Regan’s (Linda Blair) 180-degree head turn.Truly terrifying, the plot revolves around a young girl who becomes possessed by an evil demon.

‘Night of the Living Dead’ (1968)

The flesh-eating zombie movie that launched a thousand imitations, George Romeo’s “Night of the Living Dead” remains just as gruesome and unsettling as it was back in 1968. The original black-and-white version remains the best, so don’t settle for anything else.

‘Hereditary’ (2018)

If you’ve ever enjoyed sticking your head out the window while riding in a car, you will absolutely never do it again after watching “Hereditary.” Starring Toni Collette and Gabriel Byrne, this horror movie is beyond disturbing. But it also gets at universal themes, like what we inherit from our family and parts our ourselves we can’t run away from.

‘The Witch’ (2015)

In 17th-century New England, a Puritan family on an isolated patch of land near a forest inhabited by a witch. An infant goes missing. Then, the family’s eldest daughter, Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy) starts acting … strange. This takes the whole Hansel-and-Gretel thing to a new level.

‘The Texas Chain Saw Massacre’ (1974)

Don’t even think about eating before watching this gruesome ’70s horror movie about a family that makes a career out of carving strangers up with a chainsaw. “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre” is a staple in the slasher horror genre, so prepare yourself before meeting the villain called Leatherface.

‘Midsommer’ (2019)

During the eternal daylight of Sweden’s summer season, a small village celebrates its once-every-90-years summer festival. A group of vacationing friends travel to the town to participate only to find out that the festival activities are more grisly than they could have ever imagined.

‘The Cabin in the Woods’ (2011)

A friends’ getaway to a remote cabin in the woods turns into a nightmare after it becomes overrun with killer zombies. To make matters worse, it’s all part of a sinister science experiment controlled by an underground laboratory.

‘Us’ (2019)

A relaxing beach trip turns into the fight of their lives after an unsuspecting family is stalked by murderous versions of themselves. This Jordan Peele film is a masterclass in suspense and mystery. Who are the tethered? What do they want? What do they say about human nature? These are the questions you’ll be chewing on. And you’ll never listen to the Beach Boys “Good Vibrations” the same way again. Promise.

‘Hellraiser’ (1987)

With tons of truly horrifying imagery and torture, this ’80s horror film is about a puzzle box that unleashes a group of demons looking for blood and flesh sacrifices.

‘Saw’ (2004)

Two men wake up imprisoned in a strange bathroom, a dead body between them, and no idea how they got there. It’s all part of the Jigsaw Serial Killer’s sadistic plan that involves – yep, you guessed it – the grisly use of a hacksaw.

‘Evil Dead’ (1981)

There are no holds barred in this ’80s horror classic. Chock full of completely gory, gruesome scenes, the plot revolves around a group of friends who plan a retreat at a remote cabin in the Tennessee woods and, as so often happens in horror movies, they accidentally wake the dead while they’re at it.

‘An American Werewolf in London’ (1981)

A backpacking trip in Britain gets, uh, hairy after two Americans are attacked by an unidentifiable creature while walking at night. During a full moon. One dies, the other is injured, and instead of getting better, he discovers a whole new set of problems. “An American Werewolf in London” is the first film to win an Oscar for “Best Make-up,” a category created the same year the movie was released.

‘The Conjuring’ (2013)

“The Conjuring” is based on the real-life work of Ed and Lorraine Warren. Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson play the paranormal investigators in this movie — and in all its many sequels, including an entire spin-off about a demonic doll.

‘A Nightmare on Elm Street’ (1984)

Along with “Halloween” and “Friday the 13th,” “Nightmare on Elm Street” is a seminal addition to the slasher film genre. Freddie Krueger, the series’ razor-blade-gloved murderer, is a horror icon. This is a must for anyone looking to check off all the horror movie classics.

‘The Ring’ (2002)

If you watch it, you’re dead within seven days. Journalist Rachel Keller (Naomi Watts) seeks to understand why when her niece and three friends die mysteriously after viewing the “cursed” videotape. Of course, she watches it, then must beat the clock in order to survive. It’s worth watching both the American remake and the 1998 Japanese original.

‘It’ (2017)

This Stephen King movie (adapted from the book by the same name), is a PSA on why to never, ever allow your paper boat to be swept into a storm drain. Ever 27 years, It emerges to prey on the people of Derry, Maine. The most recent “It” adaptation divides King’s long novel into two parts: One following a group of middle schoolers taking down the monster, and another when they’re adults summoned back to do it all over again.

‘The Fly’ (1986)

Years before Jeff Goldblum played a mathematician in “Jurassic Park,” he played a scientist in “The Fly” who inadvertently swaps DNA with a fly and, in extremely gruesome detail, becomes one.

‘Insidious’ (2010)

After moving into a new house, the Lambert family’s oldest son, Dalton, suffers a fall that leaves him in a coma. In the months that follow, supernatural events begin to occur. Despite moving houses again, the family’s troubles persist until a ghost hunter figures out that Dalton is captive in an alternate realm called “The Further.”

‘Child’s Play’ (1988)

It goes without saying that dolls with knives are unsettling — and “Chucky” sets the mold. Chucky is a red-headed toy possessed by a serial killer on a mission to murder everyone it encounters.

‘Sinister’ (2012)

Writer Ellison Oswalt (Ethan Hawke) and his young family move into a new house, but only Ellison knows that it’s the scene of a ghastly murder. Horrible things happen after he discovers a box of snuff films in the attic and Ellison soon realizes his family is caught in a “sinister” plan.

‘The Blair Witch Project’ (1999)

Three film students traipse out into the Maryland woods looking for a mythical witch and find way more than they bargained for. Meta and scary, “The Blair Witch Project” is a horror-film must. An indie film, “The Blair Witch Project” cost only $60,000 to produce and went on to earn nearly $250 million at the box office.

‘Cloverfield’ (2008)

Filmed cinéma vérité style, this “found-footage” movie chronicles a group of friends and their desperate attempt to stay alive after an alien-like monster attacks New York City.

’10 Cloverfield Lane’ (2016)

The unofficial sequel to “Cloverfield,” this follow-up features John Goodman and Mary Elizabeth Winstead as survivors of the alien apocalypse, trapped together in an underground bunker. A tense psychological thriller, the film will keep you guessing right up until the end.

‘The Haunting’ (1999)

“The Haunting” follows a group of insomniacs who stay at a spooky old mansion as part of a sleep study. When the lights turn off, that’s when they realize they’re not alone in the mansion.

‘Paranormal Activity’ (2007)

Another horror movie filmed in a “found footage” style, “Paranormal Activity” is about Micah and Katie, a husband and wife who find themselves at the mercy of an demon who stalks them as they sleep.

‘Friday the 13th’ (1980)

Kill, kill, kill … now, now, now. An evil serial killer wearing a hockey mask is murdering the counselors at Camp Crystal Lake, one by one. Is it the ghost of Jason, a young boy who drowned in the lake years before? Or something much worse? This 1980 film features Kevin Bacon as a young camp counselor prior to his breakout role as “Ren” in the movie “Footloose.”

‘Friday the 13th Part 2’ (1981)

The second movie in the “Friday the 13th” franchise ends up being nearly as fun as the first when sole-surviving camp counselor, Alice, returns to Camp Crystal Lake only to find out that the murdering is far from over.

‘War of the Worlds’ (2005)

What begins as a freaky lightening storm turns out to be the end of the world in this sci-fi horror film, which features alien octopods rising from the ground and using human blood to fertilize the earth … and Tom Cruise in a starring role.

‘The Babadook’ (2014)

After reading a terrifying bedtime story about a boogie monster named “Mister Babadook,” a son and his mother discover that he’s real – and living in their house.

‘Scream’ (1996)

Wes Craven, writer and director of “A Nightmare on Elm Street,” directs this 1996 horror film that parodies other horror films. Playing off slasher film tropes (think “Halloween” and “Friday the 13th), “Scream” pokes fun at the genre, while still being a worthy contender.

‘The Thing’ (1982)

If you’re planning a trip to Antarctica, “The Thing” is sure to make you reconsider. An old-school classic, this scary horror movie stars Kurt Russell as MacReady, an arctic researcher trapped with a killer alien able to disguise itself as his teammates.

‘The Shining’ (1980)

All work and no play makes Jack (Jack Nicholson) a dull boy and, unfortunately, it also puts him in an extremely bad mood. Maybe it’s the work — or maybe it’s the spirits at the Overlook Hotel, where Jack and his family are staying over the course of a long winter. Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 take on Stephen King’s book “The Shining” is both thought-provoking and scary.

‘The Lost Boys’ (1987)

There’s only one problem with living in the California beach town of Santa Carla – all the damn vampires. Campy, scary and gory, “The Lost Boys” is a classic.

‘A Quiet Place’ (2018)

What’s worse than aliens taking over the world? Aliens with super-sonic hearing that take over the world, then killing anything that makes a sound. This is unfortunate for Evelyn (Emily Blunt) and Lee Abbott (John Krasinski) who must protect their young family – and keep them extremely quiet – if they hope to survive.

‘Alien’ (1979)

In space, no one can hear you scream — and everyone’s screaming, like a lot in this sci-fi horror movie that stars Sigourney Weaver as Ripley, an astronaut battling a shape-shifting stowaway.

‘Salem’s Lot’ (1979)

A two-part miniseries released in the ’70s, “Salem’s Lot” is based on the Stephen King novel by the same name and is available to stream on Amazon. Despite being a bit dated, it still packs some super-serious scares in this tale of a small New England town overrun by vampires.

‘Get Out’ (2017)

Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) is heading to meet his girlfriend Rose’s (Allison Williams) parents for the first time. And if he’s being honest, things feel kind of weird. This groundbreaking Jordan Peele movie, which is also a commentary on race in the U.S., is a good reminder of why you should always listen to that little warning voice in your head telling you something’s wrong, before it’s too late.

‘The Amityville Horror’ (1979)

Before putting a deposit down on your dream house, make sure there isn’t a massive fly infestation or pig with glowing eyes floating outside your bedroom window. More important, however, double check with the realtor that no mass murders have occurred there that’ll lead to evil spirits stalking your family, as what happens in “The Amityville Horror,” inspired by a real crime.

‘The Mothman Prophecies’ (2002)

This slow-burn horror movie, starring Richard Gere and Laura Linney, isn’t full of gore or jump-scares. Instead, it’s a psychological thriller that promises to haunt you for days, maybe weeks, after watching it.

‘What Lies Beneath’ (2000)

Harrison Ford and Michelle Pfeiffer star as a husband and wife who own a very nice lakeside cottage. Too bad it’s haunted – or at least Pfieffer thinks it is. Apparitions appear and supernatural events occur, but only when she’s by herself. Are they real or is it all in her head?

‘Psycho’ (1960)

After absconding with $40,000, an embezzling woman books a room at a motel managed by a guy with significant mommy issues. Alfred Hitchcook’s “Psycho” defines the horror movie genre along with rendering showers unsafe for the rest of all time.

“The Sixth Sense” (1999)

Cole Sear (Haley Joel Osment) sees dead people. A lot of them, actually. That’s when child psychologist, Malcolm Crowe (Bruce Willis) intervenes to help. If the twist hasn’t been spoiled for you, watch it before it is.

‘Signs’ (2002)

Turns out farms can be surprisingly scary places, especially when uninvited visitors hide among the corn stalks and your baby monitor picks up transmissions from outer space. This M. Night Shyamalan film is a terse, sci-fi thriller.

‘World War Z’ (2013)

From start to finish, it’s nonstop action in this epic battle between the dead and undead. Brad Pitt stars as a United Nations investigator who must figure out how to stop the zombie apocalypse before it’s too late.

‘Fright Night’ (1985)

What’s the deal with Charley’s (William Ragsdale) creepy new neighbors? They keep strange hours and own a coffin for starters. Beyond that, a lot of women are turning up dead in mysterious ways. Are his neighbors — gasp — vampires? Charley enlists the help of a vampire hunter to find out.

‘Poltergeist’ (1982)

All is well with the Freeling family, until youngest daughter, Carol Anne, starts a conversation with a blank TV screen. In this movie written by Steven Spielberg, the Freelings rely on each other to survive their newly haunted house.

‘The Omen’ (1976)

Is it a girl, a boy or the antichrist? Unfortunately, for Robert and Katherine Thorn (Gregory Peck and Lee Remick), the result is not the one they’re hoping for Born with the devil’s “666” on his head, it seems the couple’s adopted son isn’t just difficult, but comes to them straight from hell.

‘The Descent’ (2005)

A group of women head to the Appalachian Mountains to go cave-diving and end up trapped inside a cave after it collapses. As they try and navigate their escape, they discover that they’re not alone down there. The movie is chilly, and not only because it’s set in a cave.

‘Candyman’ (1992)

Within the mythology of this movie, saying the name “Candyman” five times while looking in a mirror unleashes a throat-slashing monster. Still, everyone does it anyway to find out if the urban legend is real, including research student, Helen Lyle (Virginia Madsen), who finds out the hard way that it is. “Candyman” was remade in 2021.

‘The Purge’ (2013)

America is a crime-free utopia thanks to once-a-year “purge” that allows people to commit any and all crimes (including murder) during a 12-hour grace period known as “the purge.” Ethan Hawke stars as a wealthy businessman who must protect his family when their security measures fail.

’28 Days Later’ (2002)

After a chimp carrying a deadly virus is freed from an experimental lab, the world pretty much dies off in 28 days, except a handful of survivors, including Cillian Murphy (“Peaky Blinders”). Along the lines of the “Walking Dead” or “I am Legend,” it’s kill or be killed in this zombie flick.

‘The Ritual’ (2017)

When one of their friends is murdered in a robbery, a group of men take a hiking trip to Sweden in his honor. Things deteriorate after they become lost in the woods and realize they’re being hunted by a sadistic cult seeking human sacrifices.

‘Fresh’ (2022)

This recent release stars Daisy Edgar Jones as Noa, a young woman trying to navigate the dating scene. After finally meeting the perfect guy, she discovers he wants something more from her than just a relationship. He wants her flesh. Heads up, the “ew” factor is off the charts with this one.

‘The Strangers’ (2008)

After attending a wedding, a couple stays at a remote vacation home which turns nightmarish when they’re assaulted by a trio of strangers bent on murder and mayhem. “The Strangers” plays on the palpable fear of a home invasion.

‘The Haunting in Connecticut’ (2009)

Problems arise after a family moves to a Victorian home that once served as a funeral parlor. From ghostly apparitions to unexplained injuries, things unravel as supernatural forces take over.

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