You know a movie’s scary when a week goes by and you still can’t get through the night without an “episode.” Here, in no particular order, we call out the scariest horror movies that permanently scarred our psyches and stole countless hours of beauty sleep.
Child-bearing is hard enough. Giving birth to Satan’s spawn? Now that’s a different beast entirely. Roman Polanski’s demonic thriller might be somewhat laborious to get through, but the lifelong fear you’re left with is the ultimate horror reward.
Stanley Kubrick took Stephen King’s novel and ran with it straight to cursed room 237. Using King’s manuscript as a bare-bones outline, the director reinterpreted much of the spine-chilling action—including Jack’s tryst with the wet lady in the aforementioned room and his frigid ending in the maze—to suit his own masterful preferences. And we have to say, we’re not mad at him for it.
If there’s one thing that’ll get you to church on Sundays, it’s religious horror. William Friedkin’s contribution to the subgenre is arguably the most effective. It’s based on William Peter Blatty’s original novel, which is inspired by a bizarre true story of a boy who was possessed in 1949.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre
Tobe Hooper’s unflinching cutthroat journey into the den of Leatherface and his killer hillbilly clan still racks up the screams 40 years later. But even though its relentless nature grabs hold of you and refuses to let go, there’s one particular sicko scene—aside from dinner with Gramps—we can’t forget.
A Nightmare on Elm Street
Though Wes Craven’s classic reads as a bubble-gum teen scream at first sight of its comely cast, it doesn’t take long for the movie’s grisly themes to bubble up like blistered flesh. Innocence is corrupted courtesy of a freaky-fried villain’s razored hands, who murders kiddos in their most vulnerable state—while they’re asleep.
From triggering bouts of claustrophobia to inducing low-ceilinged nightmares, Neil Marshall’s spelunking screamer is one that’ll make you forget to breathe. One of the most underseen films of 2005, it’s most definitely a vigorous task to get through, but, like finishing a marathon, its completion is worthwhile—sweaty palms and all.
Gore Verbinski’s English-language version of Ringu, a ghost story about a videotape that comes with deadly consequences when watched, may employ a blonder scream queen in Naomi Watts, but a lot of J-horror maestro Hideo Nakata’s Japanese staples remain in tact. Namely, the vengeful ghost with a face draped in hair.
Produced by Guillermo del Toro and directed by J.A. Bayona, El Orfanato is a psychological thriller about a woman whose scavenger hunt with a little ghost boy—in the scariest sack mask ever—will hopefully lead to the discovery of her missing 7-year-old son. Oh, and it all takes place in a creepy, seaside home, which used to be an orphanage for handicapped kids.
Freddy Krueger is terrifying, no question. But Robert Harmon’s interpretation of the “villain” is one that has stalked us since the 1980s. There’s no claw glove in this killer thrill ride, no charred expression. Just a man in an overcoat looking for a lift. Rutger Hauer’s chillingly realistic portrayal of a cold-blooded hitchhiking killer does way more psychological damage than an actor in a costume.
One of most underrated horror films, this remote-cabin thriller delivers the scares not in booming discord but in mostly complete silence. Based on true events, Bryan Bertino’s narrative follows the horrifying antics of a trio of masked loiters, toying with a couple on the brink of a breakup. Lock your doors and close the blinds.
[Spoiler alert: That’s the final scene above!] It’s easy to snub this found-footage film about a couple who can’t get rid of a sinister entity—especially since it triggered an array of franchise rubbish. But before word got out, Oren Peli’s Paranormal Activity introduced genre fans to some pretty freaky stuff. In fact, its scares firmly root it in the “stuff you can’t unsee” category.
A Tale of Two Sisters
Perhaps it’s the unfamiliar setting, or the presence of an evil stepmother who hits a little too close to home. Whatever scares you about Jee-woon Kim’s supernatural terror about a couple of girls who are fresh out of a mental institution but still fighting a few demons, it’s something you’re not going to be able to shake. Even if you watch it in broad daylight on a Sunday afternoon.