In choosing from the hundreds of horror and thriller films I have viewed in my lifetime I challenged myself to compose a list of the 15 scariest movies of all time. I encourage comments and additional entries!
1.“The Exorcist” – repeated viewings never lessen the intensity of this masterpiece by William Friedkin. The most recent release with the additional footage only compounded the terror in the greatest film ever made about demonic possession.
2.“Jaws” – although often quoted and somewhat tame by today’s film standards — anyone who saw this film in 1975 has to admit to jumping out of their seat several times and second-guessing ever going in the ocean again!
3.“A Nightmare on Elm Street” – recently remade, the original version remains a horror classic. It is only the campy dialogue by Robert Englund as nocturnal killer, Freddy Krueger, that allows for any levity in this film that poses the horrific premise of not being able to escape death if you should fall asleep under Freddy’s watch.
4.“Halloween” – forget about the original sequels or recent Rob Zombie remakes. John Carpenter’s original, low-budget film about a demonic serial killer that terrorizes the neighborhood of Haddonfield, IL, on a Halloween night has changed the way parents send their kids trick-or-treating forever!
5.“The Blair Witch Project” – the film that made Independent Films cool! Forget about the bad acting or shaky camera — this movie about three campers lost in the Pennsylvania woods in search of the truth behind the legend of the Blair Witch will chill you to the bone with its’ realism and extremely disturbing final image.
6.“Don’t Be Afraid Of the Dark” – originally made as a TV movie in 1973, this terrifying cult film starred Kim Darby, Jim Hutton and William Demerest in a tale featuring a house haunted by diminutive demons hell-bent on claiming their ancestor (Darby) for their own. This gem of a terror tale even inspired horror author, Michael Laimo, to write his classic novel, “Deep In the Darkness.” Thankfully, Guillermo del Toro is finally doing a big-screen update of this movie. I just shudder at the fact that it stars Katie Holmes and hope that doesn’t work against it!
7.“Alien” – claustrophobia meets sci-fi meets monster movie. Let alone, one of the biggest gross-out scenes (circa 1979) ever put on film.
8.“The Legend Of Hell House” – another movie initially filmed for TV and based on the classic Richard Matheson novel. This movie received unfair comparison to “The Haunting” — but it’s unique perspective of applying scientific explanation to supernatural haunting is so well executed and has a brilliant twist of an ending.
9.“Dead Of Night” – the oldest film on my list, this 1945 film features a group of guests at a country house sharing various tales of terror. The story that features Michael Redgrave as a ventriloquist terrorized by his demonic puppet was the forerunner of many other movies and TV stories. The Twilight Zone ending with star, Mervyn Jones (best known for playing Bob Cratchit in the Alastair Sim version of “A Christmas Carol”) will give you chills!
10.“Carnival of Souls” – 1960’s setting and black & white film-making create an eerie and unsettling backdrop for a movie about a young woman driving cross country and mysteriously haunted by demonic figures along the way. Anyone who remembers the classic Twilight Zone episode “The Hitch-Hiker” can thank “Carnival Of Souls” for this creepy premise.
11.“The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” – again, I refer to the original film by Tobe Hooper and not the sequels or recent remakes. Based loosely on the true story of serial killer/cannibal Ed Gein (also the inspiration for “Psycho”) this 1970’s movie is made with such gritty realism you will forget you are watching a movie and believe this is the ultimate horror snuff film ever made. Extremely unsettling!
12.“Rosemary’s Baby” – Director Roman Polanski’s adaptation of Ira Levin’s classic novel made the NYC housing complex known as The Dakota famous long before John Lennon resided there. When actor hubby (John Cassavetes) literally sells his soul for a shot at the lead in a Broadway play, his wife Rosemary (Mia Farrow) pays the price by carrying the infant spawn of Satan himself. Filmed without any gross-out scenes in a manner that allows this incredible cast and creepy locations to portray all of the suspense and pending horror as the audience feels every bit of Rosemary’s pain!
13.“The Haunting” – the original version that starred Julie Harris and Claire Bloom brings Shirley Jackson’s classic horror novel to the big screen. The result is one of the most unsettling films ever made about a ‘haunting’. The puzzle here is who or what is actually being haunted!
14.“Open Water” – extremely low-budget, and that is what makes it so realistic and terrifying. Two vacationers are ‘forgotten’ in the middle of the ocean during a scuba diving expedition. When the sun goes down, the very real monsters come out — and the result is very unsettling and not pretty!
15.“Paranormal Activity” – this recent low-budget indie benefited from having Steven Spielberg look at the three proposed endings and help them select the best one. They definitely made the right choice as this film about a couple that films their bedroom while they sleep in an effort to capture what is ‘haunting’ them provides amazing suspense and an ending that will not easily be forgotten.