The 100 Scariest Movies of All Time

on October 16, 2019, 1:30pm
view all

10. Hereditary (2019)

hereditary collette 0 The 100 Scariest Movies of All Time

The greatest kind of horror is that what we wish not to see, and not too many people wanted to see Hereditary in 2018. Upon its release, the film received a staggering D+ on CinemaScore, probably because moviegoers weren’t expecting to find the anxieties they were ostensibly running away from at home. At the very least, they weren’t expecting something so cynical, so dreary, and so suffocating. Alas, that’s what makes director Ari Aster’s feature film debut a haunting and confounding feat. There’s a truth to this modern Greek tragedy that shouldn’t sit well with anyone, and it’s how there’s no choice with regards to the past. The past is stonier than a man’s heart, to borrow from a more grizzled veteran, and it will break the best and worst of us, no matter how hard we try to ignore it. Hereditary hinges on that inevitability, offering zero hope in the way of a resolution, and that’s an ugly thing to sit with, all things considered. –Michael Roffman

09. Black Christmas (1974)

black christmas The 100 Scariest Movies of All Time

There’s so much we don’t see in Black Christmas. Everything is masked by shadows and the lingering darkness. That alone is what makes Bob Clark’s psychological slasher film a cut above the rest, pun absolutely intended. One of the earliest films of its kind, pre-dating John Carpenter’s very-similar Halloween by a good four years, Black Christmas chills the bones because it’s so achingly real. Screenwriter A. Roy Moore based the film on a series of murders that occurred in Quebec years prior, marrying that cold-blooded realism with the timeless urban legend of “The Babysitter and the Man Upstairs”. To Clark’s credit, he never leans on the sensational, opting for naturalism at every turn, and the way he juxtaposes these grizzly, mostly off-screen murders with the candy-colored aesthetic of the titular holiday is quite effective. You’ll be thankful landlines are a thing of the past, and you never have to hear that godawful voice at the other end. –Michael Roffman

08. Freaks (1932)

freaks The 100 Scariest Movies of All Time

The midget. The half-man, a man with no lower body. The hot dog man, with no limbs, but still capable of lighting his own cigarette. The pinheads, people born with microcephaly and abnormally small skulls. Bearded ladies. Conjoined twins. Stork women. These are not the monsters — the freaks — you may be expecting to hear about. They’re just carnival members, living and surviving in a time when such ailments or physical anomalies flummoxed the rest of the world. The real evil of Freaks is regular people guffawing at those aforementioned societal outcasts with their callow, cruel, and condescending eyes. And that’s the scariest and most upsetting thing about Browning’s cult classic: how sad the film is and how mean people are. Browning’s circus people? They’re not freaks. They’re misunderstood. And in the end, you’d rather be one of them (gooble-gobble and all). A cult curiosity by reputation, Freaks is a disturbing mirror on how shitty and ignoble regular folk can be when placed next to “freaky” others. –Blake Goble

07. Night of the Living Dead (1968)

nold The 100 Scariest Movies of All Time

When George A. Romero unleashed Night of the Living Dead on American audiences in 1968, the black-and-white horror film arrived to a country ravaged by war-torn politics, racial discrimination, and endless bloodshed. It was a dangerous time, and the film is arguably an offspring of that vitriolic era, which may be why it’s still the best out of the zombie genre. Sure, 1978’s Dawn of the Dead makes a strong argument otherwise, but here’s the thing: That film is also a fun action film, and there is nothing fun about Night. It’s dark, it’s merciless, it’s gruesome, and it’s eerily timeless. The technology might be dated, but technology goes out the window during the apocalypse anyhow, which leaves everything else, and few will argue much has changed when it comes to interpersonal relationships in our society. Most of us deserve to be eaten. –Michael Roffman

06. Alien (1979)

alien 1979 The 100 Scariest Movies of All Time

“In space, no one can hear you scream.” That iconic tagline cuts to the heart of Alien, Ridley Scott’s seminal 1979 sci-fi haunted house movie, in which a motley crew of charismatic space truckers run afoul of an extraterrestrial killing machine. H.R. Giger’s Alien design is a techno-sexual nightmare that still stands as one of the most unique creature designs in cinema history, and the gritty, practical look of the Nostromo helped usher in a new age of lived-in science fiction. At the acid-rotted heart of the film, however, is its pitch-perfect ensemble cast, from Ian Holm’s calculating android Ash to Sigourney Weaver’s fierce, iconic breakout performance as Ripley. While there have been many imitators, none have come close to Alien’s nail-biting perfection. –Clint Worthington

05. Jaws (1975)

jaws 1975 The 100 Scariest Movies of All Time

You know why Jaws is scary and why it deserves a spot on this list: the music, the economic use of the shark, the power of what you don’t see. But we so rarely talk about how damn pleasant Amity Island looks, and how that’s scary. Outside of the opening death of Chrissie Watkins, every shark attack in the film takes place in broad daylight, among plenty of swimmers, sunshine, and Fourth of July festivities. It conjures what looks like the happiest place of the 1970s, until that dorsal fin cuts through the water, crystal clear, to remind you that, in any great horror movie, terror lurks right below anything that’s pretty. Not that I’d want to go in the water at night, either… –Dan Caffrey

04. Inland Empire (2006)

inland empire The 100 Scariest Movies of All Time

Leave it to David Lynch to break you. By now, you’ve read about two of his films — 1977’s Eraserhead and 2001’s Mulholland Dr. — but neither hold a candle to his 2006 opus, Inland Empire. Clocking in at a sweltering 180 minutes, the Laura Dern-starring behemoth is a billion-piece puzzle that’s been dragged through hell and placed on a rickety coffee table surrounded by jittery crystal. There’s nothing easy about this movie, and that’s partly why it’s such a mesmerizing experience. Well, maybe mesmerizing isn’t the right word. Torturous? Sure. Look, Lynch isn’t kidding when he says it’s “about a woman in trouble, and it’s a mystery,” but he undersells the trouble. This is Dante’s The Inferno by way of Escher, and as we watch Dern stumble through nightmare after nightmare, taking her from the seediest parts of LA to the coldest confines of Poland, we also start to lose our minds. It doesn’t matter whether you love it or hate it, the film is always in control, and that’s an unnerving feeling for any viewer who’s not. –Michael Roffman

03. The Exorcist (1973)

exorcist The 100 Scariest Movies of All Time

Normally, if a classic, beloved film is on TV, one stops to jump right into the proceedings. The Exorcist is kind of the opposite of that. It’s so damn nerve-racking, and immediately effective, you may just throw your Samsung out the window. Oh my god, The Exorcist. That shivering film of demonic possession that made ‘em weep and faint in the aisles. That Oscar-nominated shocker that had a helluva shot at Best Picture (but was never gonna win because come on, horror and The Academy). That movie with eternally disturbing images, goosebumps-inducing Mike Oldfield sound, and lasting fears of evil burrowed into the psyches of something like $900 million worth of ticket buyers. We’re still clutching our pearls and holding back tears at lines like “your mother sucks cock in hell.” We’re trying not to shake at the guttural screams of exorcism. And we’re not nervously going for the Scotchguard over the sudden piss on the carpet. How did William Peter Blatty come up with all this brilliantly deranged shit? It’s like this film was possessed itself, unable to do anything softly. The Exorcist manifested a vicious environment of dread and extreme cinema that still makes folks sweat today. It’s still a hell of a thing. –Blake Goble

02. The Shining (1980)

the shining The 100 Scariest Movies of All Time

There’s something eternally frightening about The Shining. That “something” could be any number of things: Stephen King’s prose come to life, Jack Nicholson’s manic performance, those hypnotizing Grady twins, the nightmarish scrapbook of a score that ranges from Wendy Carlos to Krzysztof Penderecki to Bela Bartok, or the labyrinthine vision of Stanley Kubrick. But really, it’s a chaotic mixture of everything, namely because the film itself is a cataclysm of terror caught on celluloid. Kubrick was a demon behind the lens — pissing off Nicholson to no end, sending Shelly Duvall into a catatonic fit, waking up King late at night with existential nonsense, and turning Scatman Crothers into a blubbering mess — and that chaos lives onscreen today. It’s in the eyes of every character, and those eyes sell so much of the horror that we don’t see, whether it’s the doomed isolation or the nagging feeling that nothing is what it seems and everything is about to fall apart into little pieces. This is a cold, tantalizing piece of cinema, the likes of which have warranted plenty of theorizing, and not a single generation has been immune to its carnal gaze. It’s a film that stays with you forever, and ever, and ever. ::cymbal crash:: –Michael Roffman

01. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)

texas chainsaw feature The 100 Scariest Movies of All Time

What’s left to say about Tobe Hooper’s iconic American horror masterpiece that hasn’t yet been said? Over 40 years after its release, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is still, for our money, the scariest damn film we’ve ever seen, and perhaps the best testament to its powers is that it’s also one of the best-made on this entire list. For all of the shared cultural memories of grisly dismemberments and saw blades tearing through sinew, Hooper’s craft was such that these are merely inaccurate recollections; there’s scarcely a bit of actual onscreen violence in the film. Yet, the mere suggestion of what was happening to poor Sally Hardesty and her doomed friends was so singularly revolting that, to this day, it remains one of the most feared horror movies of them all.

Not even a litany of poor-to-terrible reboots in the years since have been able to diminish the blunt-force impact of Hooper’s defining hour as a filmmaker, a feverish nightmare preying on the fears of a newly hyper-connected America driven to urban spaces out of its fear of the rural unknown. In a time when the serial killer had become one of society’s biggest fears, here was a movie that Hooper foolishly believed could be cut to a PG by leaving the nastiest gore to implication. This is the sort of horror movie that transcends the easy shocks for which audiences knowingly sign up in favor of something more lasting, a roiling tension that will creep back up on you when you get onto those strips of highway where the rest stops become fewer and farther between and the terror of a broken-down car begins to take over. This is the sort of horror movie where Leatherface was based on a real-life figure, and it leaves you wondering if another Leatherface is still out there, sickly aware that he probably is. This is the kind of horror movie that can ask “who will survive, and what will be left of them” without a trace of hyperbole.

We’ve said enough. The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is, for our money, the scariest movie of all time. Arguably features the best final shot of a horror film, too. –Dominick Suzanne-Mayer

view all