The scariest movies?

‘Tis the season for scary movies. Or it was. Halloween may be over but I’m always in the mood for a frightening tale. Some people might think the Christmas movie season has begun, and if that’s you, I might have some yuletide themed horror films to suggest.

I realize not everyone enjoys the horror genre. Even for those who do, results vary. Joylyn's favorite movie is Jaws (or as she calls it, Jaws the Shark) and she asks if she can watch it at least once a month. However, none of the other kids enjoyed it. The whole family loves The Nightmare Before Christmas and it's a group sing-a-long every time we watch it. When I was younger, I didn't find Blair Witch Project scary at all, but my best friend at the time thought it was the most terrifying movie he'd ever seen.

Point is, art is subjective. One man's fear is another man's thrill. What one person considers nightmare fuel, another might call it boring. Horror is both revered and reviled. It's not for everyone. While I'm a sucker for a good scary movie, I won't judge anyone who doesn't enjoy them.

Halloween has passed, but there’s still time to enjoy a scary movie before everything turns red and green and festive. The following is a list of the ten movies that scared me more than any others. This is not a best-of list, or even a favorites list. These are the movies that instilled in me a lingering sense of dread lasting beyond the closing credits, movies where I left the theater feeling shook, films that kept me awake through the rest of the night after watching. If you're looking for a dose of cinematically induced flood of cortisol and adrenaline, here are my suggestions.

10. Pitch Black: A prison transport vessel crash lands on an alien planet with two suns keeping the world lit for years without nightfall. However, they crew has the worst timing ever as they arrive just before a rare dual eclipse plunges the landscape into darkness. The planet is inhabited by deadly creatures who are scared of light. To survive, the crew must rely on the prisoner who has the ability to see in the dark. While this is more sci-fi thriller than horror, it has a smart plot which provides a few good scares and enough twists to keep you uncertain of each character's fate.
image courtesy of Focus Features

9. The Exorcism of Emily Rose: This is skewed take on the traditional story of a priest's attempt to treat a girl suffering from demonic possession. It is told through the perspective of a courtroom drama as an attorney attempts to determine what is real while she defends the priest who is on trial for murder. At the end, you're left wondering if the possession was an issue of physical and mental ailments needing medical attention or if there was a spiritual element warranting exorcism. The film doesn't provide any solid answers.
image courtesy of Screen Gems

8. Stir of Echoes: Blighted with the unfortunate circumstances of a theatrical release a few months after The Sixth Sense, and both films containing a similar plot (a protagonist sees ghosts and solves a murder), Stir is the creepier of the two. It utilizes familiar ghost story tropes yet maintains a sense of dread in every frame. And there was an uncomfortable scene involving fingernails disturbing enough to stay with me ever since my first viewing 20 years ago.
image courtesy of Artisan Entertainment

7. Event Horizon: A rescue ship is sent into deep space to search for the missing crew of a research vessel abandoned at the event horizon of a black hole. Plenty of jump scares and gruesome imagery. This is the most frightened I've ever felt while walking out of a theater. I sat shaking in my car in the parking lot for twenty minutes before finding the nerve to start the engine and drive away. This movie would have ranked higher on my list except the fear factor seems to be unique to the theater experience. I watched it again at home and didn't feel a single twinge of fright. That might have been because I was viewing it on a 24 inch screen or that I was watching from the comfort of my own couch. Maybe if I saw it now on a bigger TV, it would inspire different results.
image courtesy of Paramount Pictures

6. The Babadook: An Australian film follows a single mom and her son wrestling with the death her husband in a car crash several years earlier. They are haunted by a monster from a storybook the boy likes to read, which may or may not be a physical embodiment of their emotional grief. Also, the creepy kid is creepy which, for me, is the scariest of all movie monsters.
image courtesy of Entertainment One and Umbrella Entertainment

5. The Exorcist: This classic horror film is featured on every "scariest movies of all time" list. Unsettling establishing shots. Claustrophobic setting. Demon possessed creepy kid. Projectile vomit. Levitation. Speaking backwards. Poltergeists. Solemn priests. This is the movie that had people feinting in the theater when it was first released. It is still a frightening movie but age has diminished some of the scariness.
image courtesy of Warner Bros Pictures

4. Alien: Trapped in space with an unstoppable predator built to hunt. The lone survivors are a tough woman and a cat. The men who refused to listen to the woman all die horrible and disturbing deaths. The xenomorphic is, on its own, one of the scariest villains in cinema. In Alien, its presence is made worse with the fear of isolation and helplessness.
image courtesy of 20th Century Fox

3. It: The first part of a remake of a TV movie adapted from a Stephen King novel. A group of outcast kids form the Losers Club and are tormented by a murderous interdimensional demon clown named Pennywise. The Losers must also navigate a world of abusive parents, teenaged bullies, and a town filled with indifferent adults.
image courtesy of Warner Bros Pictures

2. Phantoms: Want to know what I think makes the difference between an average scary movie and an excellent one? Atmosphere. The best films build up an atmosphere that you feel as much as you can see. Phantoms (adapted from a Dean Koontz book) oozes atmosphere. You feel it from the opening credits through the final frame of film. A woman is bringing her younger sister away from the temptations of the big city to live with her in a remote mountain village. When they drive into town, the place is empty. Everything is abandoned as if everyone vanished in an instant. No people, yet there's an ominous and malevolent unseen force preventing them from leaving.
image courtesy of Mirimax

1. The Ring And the winner for the movie that scared me more than any other is the American remake of a Japanese film about a cursed VHS tape whose viewers all die seven days after watching it. A reporter investigates the deaths in hopes to break the curse after she and her son viewed the tape. Bonus points, The Ring is set in the Seattle area and the constant rainy gloom adds a menacing atmosphere to the story.
image courtesy of DreamWorks Pictures

How about you? What is the scariest movie you've ever seen?


  1. Pet Semetary has got to be in the top 10 for me. And Ringu is way scarier than The Ring.

    1. The original Pet Sematary or the new one? I enjoyed Ringu but reading subtitles takes away some of the scariness for me.