UPDATE: A co-worker pointed out that I should include clips from the shows but since I don’t want that much revealed I have instead included the official movie trailers. Enjoy a taster of each!
Hello everybody, today I am going to present my list of the top 13 scariest movies. But before I begin I want those that have seen these movies to realize that a horror movie is only scary once (maybe twice …rarely). After that you know how the plot and story will play out so you can enjoy the atmosphere but won’t be on the edge of your seat like that first time in a darkened theatre. This made for an intriguing mental exercise since I had to remember the movie-going experience that I went through as much as the movie quality itself. There is a long list of good and great movies that I did not include because they simply weren’t scary enough the first time I viewed them (sorry American Werewolf in London, The Fly, The Howling, Poltergeist, Saw, TCM, etc etc etc).
I like to use PMS symptoms to determine if a movie was scary enough to be memorable. PMS (which stands for Post-Movie Stress btw) usually consists of one of 2 reactions for me: a profound state of confusion (i.e.WTF did I just watch?!) mixed with just a hint of dread, or I exit the theatre with an excess of nervous energy (i.e. “Anybody else feel like a brisk walk home…from downtown?”) and a strong urge to talk constantly about the movie. In my younger self it would also include nightmares the same night (I shall point out the 2 on my list that did that).
Since I am recommending these for people that want to get scared or haven’t seen them I will be very very spare on details so not to spoil the fun for you guys. Oh and why 13 and not 10? Well I was looking for a Halloween-related number and 7 (as in the Deadly Sins) was too short while 666 (do I really have to explain that one?) was wayyyyy too long. Now on to the festivities!
13. (3-way tie) Event Horizon / Prince of Darkness / In The Mouth of Madness
All 3 of these movies deal with what is called Lovecraftian or Cosmic Horror. For those that don’t know, that is the concept that there are things that exist in (and sometimes outside) our universe that are mind-explodingly beyond our comprehension and they are all EVIL. Not to give anything away but they all look at this concept from different (non-Euclidian) angles so if you see one of them you definitely have not seen them all. And yeah this entry should be a clue that I really think John Carpenter is the bees knees when it comes to Horror movies
12. The Shining
To my surprise this is the only Stephen King adaptation on the list (though arguably the best of the lot) and also the only haunted house movie on the list (though an argument can be made for the next entry…). Even if you aren’t into horror movies the fact that Stanley Kubrick directed this should scratch your cinephile itch.
11. (Tie) Alien / Aliens
To be honest I simply couldn’t decide which is better. The first is a haunted house (in SPAAACCCEE) and the second is the best action-horror hybrid ever made. But what clinches their spot on the list is the body-horror/omni-rape subtext of the titular creature(s). Yeah, I seem to be a self-control freak so body horror is the perfect way for a movie to get under my skin (yeah I can’t help the pun so sue me). Because of that it does show up quite often here.
10. Trilogy of Terror (Zuni Fetish Doll sequence)
The first movie to give me nightmares, I watched this on TV when I was 7-years old one Sunday afternoon (I do believe it was rainy too). To be honest I simply don’t remember the other 2 parts AT ALL but I will never forget that final image of Karen Black. And then some sick bastard at Blizzard that was as scarred by it as I was went and put the little chattering freaks into Diablo II. By far the MOST ANNOYING MOB in the whole damn game! I couldn’t find a trailer since this is a TV movie from 1975 so here is the first 10 minutes instead:
This really is a good movie…really. It’s just that after millions of rip-offs and homages and remakes and reboots it seems soo played out, but if you can go into it with new eyes you won’t be disappointed.
8. Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer
Don’t let the NC-17 rating in Canada deceive you, the violence is minimal at best. This is a deeply disturbed and disturbing movie, and if you want to maximize your fear level watch it at home, in the dark, after midnight…with all the doors unlocked. My wife and I watched it like that (well ok we locked our doors) and she couldn’t get to sleep for hours afterwards where as I was just damn paranoid until I fell asleep. Fun fact #1: Based on the real serial killer, Henry Lee Lucas. Fun Fact #2: Michael Rooker plays Henry and now he’s Merle on The Walking Dead (does that count as typecasting?).
Hmm, think of it as a combination of 10 Little Indians and the opening sequence of Raiders of the Lost Ark. I don’t want to give much more away but I do want to point out one thing: That laser hallway from Resident Evil I is a direct lift from this movie NOT vice versa.
The only entry for Clive Barker on my list but it’s a damn (heh) good one. This is a combo of body horror and cosmic horror to very good effect. Fun Fact about me #1: I once spent 2 days making a Pinhead mask for a Halloween costume party with real nails that I filed off the points. Fun Fact about me #2: I owned and drove an RX-7 at the time, which was unwise on a bumpy road. I ended up with a wonderful series of little round bruises all over my scalp for a week afterwards.
Serial killers show up on my list so much because they can and do exist and thus the horror derives from the plausibility of these movies as much as it is the movie itself. Some people don’t think of this as a horror movie and insist it’s a crime procedural but to them I have only 2 words: POLAROID PHOTO. Just those 2 words prove beyond a shadow of a doubt why David Fincher is one of the greatest directors working today. I was pretty much fine until I saw that, but Fincher presents it in such a way that…well I best not say more without ruining it.
4. 28 Days Later
Even though I love zombie movies this has been the only one that had me on the edge of my seat. Another 2 words: FAST ZOMBIES (yeah I know they aren’t really zombies but still…). I thought about Dawn of the Dead (2004) but that wasn’t quite as freaky because when they bit you in that movie you at least had time.
3. The Thing (1982)
The ultimate body horror movie, since you can’t tell who is a monster and it’s questionable whether the monster knows its a monster until its revealed. The recent prequel was great but it didn’t have the heightened paranoia of the original.
An oldie but a goodie, this movie still works after all these years. An early sign that Spielberg would make a career of directing is probably one of the scariest scenes in the movie and yet it doesn’t involve anything but talking; the USS Indianapolis monologue.
1. The Exorcist
Yeah, I know its the standard answer to the scariest movie ever made but the reason for that is BECAUSE IT IS. I saw this for the first time on NBC when I was a 12-years old. You would think that a broadcast edit from the early 80’s would be safe but you would be soooo wrong. Everything was cool until she spun her head, then I watched another half hour through my fingers before finally giving up and going to bed. Where I spent the rest of the night waking up from nightmare after nightmare. I did finally see the entire thing 4 years later but it still deeply disturbed me. I cannot recommend this movie enough to scare the bejeezus off of anyone no matter how tough they think they are, it is a truly gruelling movie experience.
Well that’s it. I hope I gave you guys some ideas for movies to watch this Halloween. If they scare you then my mission was a success :).
Happy Halloween everyone!