Why do we love movies that scare us and keep us awake at night? I sure don’t know — maybe the adrenaline rush gets the heart pumping and makes us feel more alive. Every fan of horror movies has their favorites, and this is our list of the top ten scariest movies ever. Each of these thrillers is a classic of the genre and has scared the bejeezus out of me and lots of other people. I hope you enjoy the list and maybe even decide to watch (or rewatch) one of these terrifying flicks. If you agree, or have better ideas, please let us know via the comments form.
Director: Steven Spielberg
Don’t go in the water… This is the classic thriller that added a whole new dimension to beach vacations in the summer of 75. A gigantic great white shark is prowling around the beaches of Amity, a small island community that depends on summer tourism. After some very scary shark attack scenes, the new sheriff, Martin Brody, along with an annoying marine biologist and a nasty, grizzled old shark hunter have to go out and track down the shark before it strikes again.
Stars: Roy Scheider, Richard Dreyfuss, Robert Shaw, Lorraine Gary
9. The Silence Of The Lambs
Is Hannibal the scariest movie psycho ever? As Dr. Hannibal Lecter, Anthony Hopkins is the ultimate psychotic serial killer — sick and twisted while at the same time charming, in a creepy wort of way. I think it’s the fact that he’s so smart that makes him extra frightening. Even though he’s locked up in a maximum-security prison cell, he’s more dangerous than anyone realizes. Jodie Foster plays an FBI trainee who needs his help to catch another gruesome serial killer. He agrees to help her, but whose side is he really on?
Stars: Jodie Foster, Anthony Hopkins
There was a whole string of Halloween sequels of course, but to me the original Halloween is the scariest. And one of the scariest movies I ever saw. It’s the king of bogeyman movies. Here’s a bit of trivia: Jamie Lee Curtis who stars as the babysitter with the powerhouse scream, is the daughter of Janet Leigh, who starred in Hitchcock’s “Psycho.” (Psycho shows up later in this list.) This indie film cost only around $300,000 to make, but the cheapness just seems to make it more frightening. You don’t have to wait for October 31st to get a thrill from Halloween — just don’t watch it when you’re home alone…
Stars: Donald Pleasence, Jamie Lee Curtis
7. Seven (Se7en)
There’s no point denying it — I put this one at number 7 on the list because of the title. This movie was more about high tension and a disturbing sense of doom than outright horror of the Halloween variety, but it definitely caused some nightmares among viewers. Keven Spacey joins the running for creepiest serial killer in movieland. His character combines a deranged sort of creativity with brutal violence. His thing is to dish out eye-for-eye style punishments for the seven deadly sins.
Two detectives, a rookie played by Brad Pitt, and a veteran played by Morgan Freeman try to hunt the killer down before he completes his series of 7 gruesome murders. But he has more tricks up his sleeve than they bargain for.
Stars: Morgan Freeman, Brad Pitt, Kevin Spacey
6. Rosemary’s Baby
Director: Roman Polanski
A young couple move into a new apartment. Everything seems fine — other than the wife, Rosemary being raped and impregnated by Satan. Bummer! If only Dr. Phil had been around back then, maybe they could have talked it out. Of course everyone from her selfish husband (played by Nick Cassavetes) to her neighbors and doctors thinks she’s off her rocker. The sense of Rosmary’s (Mia Farrow) isolation, faced with monstrous evil and no support, is truly chilling.
Trivia: At the time of filming Farrow was married to Frank Sinatra. Right in the middle of filming, Frank sent someone to the set with papers initiating a divorce! Sounds like a bit of a horror show himself, that ‘ol Blue Eyes.
Stars: Mia Farrow, John Cassavetes, Ruth Gordon
5. 28 Days Later
Lesson: Don’t ever let a crow poop in your eye. This is kind of like a zombie movie, but much more realistic. I always find myself laughing at zombies, but this was a real thriller. “Rage” is a kind of contageous disease that turns people into rabid, crazy savages. Because they move fast, they are way more terrifying than your standard lumbering brain eater. The story is set in London and revolves around a man who wakes up in an abandoned hospital to find that the whole city has gone to hell. He, and a small group of people try to escape the carnage and fight off the infected.
The movie’s tag line was: “His fear began when he woke up alone. His terror began when he realised he wasn’t.”
Stars: Cillian Murphy, Naomie Harris, Christopher Eccleston
Bullies beware! This fright-fest is based on Stephen King’s first novel, about a socially awkward girl who is cruelly abused by her high-school peers. Boy, are they gonna be sorry! Holy murderous gory rampage, Batman! This movie also has the best ever scary ending, in my opinion. High school just ain’t the same after you’ve seen this one.
Trivia: When actress Piper Laurie, who plays Carrie’s religious nut-bar mother read the script, she thought it was going to be a comedic parody of horror movies. She didn’t realize it was serious until rehearsals started. Both she and Sissy Spacek (Carrie) were nominated for Oscars for this flick.
Stars: Sissy Spacek, John Travolta, Piper Laurie, Amy Irving
3. Ring (Japanese original version)
Director: Hideo Nakata
This is one scary-ass movie. The plot is pretty convoluted but the gist is that there’s a cursed video tape, and anyone who watches it dies a horrible death 1 week later. A woman named Reiko (Nanako Matsushima) is investigating, with some help from her husband. The tension goes into high gear when they realize their own son has just watched the video, so they only have a week to get to the bottom of the mystery and prevent the curse from getting their own child. There was a Hollywood remake of this in 2002, which was OK, but in my opinion, nowhere near as freaky as the Japanese original.
Stars: Nanako Matsushima, Miki Nakatani, Yuko Takeuchi
2. The Shining
You think your Dad’s a bit weird? See this movie and watch daddy jack Nicholson turn into the uber-maniac right before your (and his own family’s) eyes. Yikes! Even if you never watched this horror classic, you surely know the famous still shots of Nicholson’s maniac smile sticking through the doorway, or some of the terrifying lines he delivers. Like, “Heeeere’s Johnny!,” and “All work and no play make Jack a dull boy.” The plot is simple enough — a family is staying at an isolated hotel for the winter (nice idea, family!) and the father goes nuts due to some evil spirit thang. Also, his son is a kind of psychic and can see evil things from the past an future. But it’s really all about Jack, who makes this into one of the scariest movies of all time.
Stars: Jack Nicholson, Shelley Duvall, Danny Lloyd, Scatman Crothers (The Scatman!!)
1. The Blair Witch Project
This ultra low budget horror was shot completely with cheapo video cameras, as a fake documentary. The premise is that three young film students have gone deep into the forest to search for the legendary Blair Witch. But they never came back. The movie as we see it is said to be tape (shot by the students) that was found by the search party who went looking for them. The idea was absolutely brilliant, and the home-movie style plus the fact that all the actual violence happens off-screen means your imagination fills in the gaps. The effect is way more terrifying than any computerized special effects.
When this film came out, a lot of people apparently thought it was real, which helped it immensely at the box office. Many movies since this time have immitated parts of the Blair Witch Project style, but this was the very first of its kind. I rate this as the number one scariest movie of all time.
Stars: Heather Donahue, Michael C. Williams, Joshua Leonard