What is wrong with us that we love to freak ourselves out by watching scary movies? On this list of the best horror movies of all time there are some truly shiver-inducing films that are capable of making the most fearless among us scared to turn the lights off at night. Though the majority of the selections on this list are among the scariest movies ever made there are a few that deliver a bit of humor to help relieve the tension, and though they definitely have a horror theme they wouldn’t be out of place of a list of the best comedy films of all time either. Here are my selections for the creepiest films counted down from 50 to 1.
50 – The Birds – No list of the best horror movies would be complete without at least one entry by the master of horror himself: Alfred Hitchcock. Rod Taylor, Jessica Tandy and Suzanne Pleshette all star in this harrowing tale of a small California town that is attacked by flocks of vicious birds.
49 – Village of the Damned – Though John Carpenter remade it in 1995, the original 1960 version was far better, and is very creepy, even by today’s standards. The film takes place in an English village where blond-haired, glowing eyed children are possessed by a demonic force, and menace anyone who tries to enter the town.
48 – The Howling – You know you’re going to have a few werewolf movies pop up on a list of the scariest movies ever made, and this 1981 howling classic was one of the best of its era. Such was its popularity that Hollywood went a little werewolf crazy, cranking out a slew of lycanthropy films. However, along with The Howling, only the stellar An American Werewolf in London really scared audiences, and the trend, like many in Hollywood, died down for a few years.
47 – Arachnophobia – Though many folks might consider this a comedy first and a horror film a distant second anyone with even the slightest fear of spiders will feel their skin literally crawl when they watch this creepy spider flick starring Jeff Daniels and John Goodman.
46 – Poltergeist – Few images in the horror movie genre are as enduring as the little girl sitting in front of the TV, communicating with the poltergeist that haunts her family’s house. Steven Spielberg’s classic is easily one of the best horror movies from the 80s.
45 – Army of Darkness – Speaking of films with comedic elements to them, Sam Raimi’sArmy of Darkness, the third installment in hisEvil Dead trilogy certainly fits that mold. Bruce Campbell is stellar, reprising his role as Ash who battles the legions of hell with a shotgun and chainsaw strapped to his stump. Endlessly quotable, this film could easily make a list of the best comedy movies of all time, yet still belongs in any self-respecting horror fan’s DVD collection.
44 – The Hitcher – Though this movie, like several on this list, was recently remade, there is no comparing the 2007 remake to the original 1986 classic starring C. Thomas Howell and Jennifer Jason Leigh as two young adults who make the nearly fatal mistake of picking up a hitchhiker. What makes the original so much better? Simple, the chilling performance by Rutger Hauer as John Ryder (the homicidal hitchhiker) is one of the best supporting roles in the history of horror movies. Watch this film, and not only will you never be tempted to pick up a hitchhiker again, but you’ll catch yourself inspecting your French fries very carefully before eating them.
43 – The Fly – This is one rare case where I will give the nod to the remake of a classic horror film. As synonymous as Alfred Hitchcock with horror movies, Vincent Price was great in the original, but Jeff Goldblum fills those big shoes without batting an eye, and his performance as Seth Brundle, a scientist whose DNA merges with a fly’s following a teleportation experiment gone wrong, is eerily convincing. Don’t eat donuts while watching this movie. Actually, don’t eat anything. Flies have some really unpleasant habits…
42 – Salem’s Lot – When Alfred Hitchcock died in 1980 there was another so-called master of horror waiting to take his place. Though Stephen King is a novelist rather than a director like Hitchcock was, his books are so visceral, so frightening and so real that several of them have been adapted to the big screen, and you’ll find this list of the scariest movies ever made liberally peppered with his work. However, Salem’s Lot, a story of a New England town under siege from vampires was actually made for TV. Don’t let the fact that it never made movie theaters turn you off though. It’s spot on this list of the best horror movies of all time is well deserved.
41 – Scream – In 1996 it can be argued that legendary horror director Wes Craven invented a new subgenre of horror films: the startle the hell out of you and make you jump out of your seat genre.Scream, along with its two sequels Scream 2 and Scream 3 spawned a flurry of copycat movies like I Know What You Did Last Summer and even parodies like the obviously named Scary Movie. However, though the genre quickly got stale the original starring Neve Campbell, Courtney Cox, David Arquette and Drew Barrymore was definitely a groundbreaking film for its day.
40 – Misery – Another adaptation of a Stephen King novel this film landed Kathy Bates an Oscar for best actress in a leading role for her turn as Annie Wilkes, the psychopathic superfan who takes stalking to a whole new level when she captures best-selling writer Paul Sheldon (James Caan) and forces him to write a story for her.
39 – Shaun of the Dead – Here is another of those horror comedy movies I was talking about. Simon Pegg is at his bemused best in this British comedy parody of the zombie film genre. If you love zombie flicks then definitely give this one a watch. Plenty of gruesomeness, but more laughs.
38 – A Nightmare on Elm Street – One of the horror genre’s most iconic characters made his debut in this 1984 Wes Craven classic. I refer to Freddy Krueger, of course, the burned up hat and sweater wearing serial killer with knives for fingers. Robert Englund is perfectly cast in the role as Freddy, and though the rest of the film is mostly filled with no-name actors, a young Johnny Depp made his jump from TV’s 21 Jump Street to the big screen in one of the scariest movies of the 80s.
37 – The Hunchback of Notre Dame – No, not the animated Disney movie. This spot is reserved for the much creepier 1939 version starring Charles Laughton as Quasimodo, the Notre Dame Cathedral’s deformed bellringer who is the only one who can save a gypsy girl who has been framed for murder.
36 – Child’s Play – You wouldn’t think a movie about a plastic doll named Chucky that comes to life would find a spot on a list of the best horror movies of all time. However, when that doll is possessed by the spirit of a serial killer the picture becomes a little clearer. Yes, it is a bit of a goofy premise, but the demonic Chucky had plenty of people jumping out of their seats in movie theaters, and the movie enjoyed such success that it went on to spawn several sequels.
35 – Hellraiser – Novelist Clive Barker puts on a director’s hat for this demented tale of nail-faced demons, puzzles and the doorway to hell. Reading his books and watching his movies you have to wonder about Clive Barker’s own sanity. Some dark imaginings emerge from that twisted mind of his.
34 – Cape Fear – If this were a list of the best horror movies of the 90s this 1991 remake would have to get high consideration for the top spot. Robert De Niro has been entertaining us in great roles for decades, but his turn as convicted rapist and sociopath Max Cady is as convincing as any I’ve seen from this Oscar-winning actor. Nick Nolte, Jessica Lange and a young Juliette Lewis are also good as the family Cady terrorizes, but like most horror movies it is all about the villains, and De Niro’s Max Cady is, in my opinion, one of the best movie villains of all time.
33 – The Blair Witch Project – Much likeScream did in 1996, 1999’s The Blair Witch Project temporarily turned the horror genre on its ear. The movie is definitely not for those who suffer from any sort of motion sickness as the entire film is shaky cam footage from a handheld video camera. However the story about 3 film students who disappear while hunting the Maryland woods for the Blair Witch is definitely creepy, and it is one of those movies that will cling to your psyche for a few days after you watch it. Thankfully this one didn’t spawn copycats like Scream did. I don’t think my stomach could have taken more than one film like that.
32 – 28 Days Later – One of the most refreshing horror films of the new millennium this film about a mysterious virus that turns its victims into mindless killer zombies will have you on the edge of your seat throughout. These aren’t your grandfather’s shambling zombies, who shuffle along with their arms out in front of them, slobbering for brains. These zombies can move, and I don’t know about you but speedy zombies would scare me a whole hell of a lot more than the shambling variety. If you are tired of the conventional “______ of the Dead” type zombie movies then give this one a try.
31 – Se7en – Few movies I’ve seen have had the chilling psychological impact that this disturbing David Fincher movie about a serial killer who punishes his victims for their seven deadly sins did. Kevin Spacey, Brad Pitt, Morgan Freeman, and Gwyneth Paltrow are all at the top of their game in this classic horror thriller, and the twists keep coming right to the last scene.
30 – Saw – Though this franchise has quickly grown tired due to the four sequels they’ve reeled off in quick succession, the original film starring Cary Elwes and Leigh Whannell as two strangers who wake up in a room, chained up with a dead body in between them was an instant classic. Another movie with more than its share of twists, the gore factor is nothing to sneeze at either. If you’re a horror film fan who has somehow missed this one, and you can stomach the blood, definitely add it to your DVD collection.
29 – Pet Cemetery – I remember being really creeped out when I first read this Stephen King novel, and the movie does an excellent job of retaining the sense of horror that made the book so chilling. This one will give you nightmares even if you aren’t an animal lover.
28 – White Zombie – No, not the band that sang More Human Than Human, but they are named after this 1932 classic horror movie. A creepy tale of infatuation that stars the legendary Bela Legosi as the evil witch doctor Legendre this movie helped define the zombie genre that has spawned so many classic movies over the intervening decades.
27 – Friday the 13th – Speaking of movies that have spawned sequels it is hard to think of another movie in any genre that has given birth to more progeny than this 1980 horror classic about a murderous mom who goes on a murderous rampage at a summer camp to avenge her dead son, Jason Voorhees. In future films Jason would take the reins, coming back from the grave to deliver his own bloody brand of justice., but none of the many sequels could top the original. Look closely to spot a young Kevin Bacon.
26 – Carrie – Surprise, surprise, another appearance by Stephen King on this list of the best horror movies. This time it is a movie based on the novel that launched King’s prolific career. Sissy Spacek is perfect as a shy, friendless teenage girl with telekinetic powers that finally goes over the edge on prom night. The results are bloody to say the least.
25 – Frankenstein – It seemed appropriate that a classic movie monster mark the entry into the top 25 horror movies. Frankenstein, based on an early 19th century novel by British writer Mary Shelley has gone on to spawn literally hundreds of spinoffs, sequels, remakes, and copies, however this 1931 classic starring the incomparable Boris Karloff as the Frankenstein monster was a groundbreaking horror film and easily one of the scariest old movies ever made.
24 – Hostel – From classic terror to gruesome, gory, disturbing, and perhaps downright vomit-inducing. Director Eli Roth pulls absolutely no punches in this horrific tale about backpackers who visit a hostel in Slovakia and wind up as playthings for demented millionaires acting out their most violently gruesome fantasies.
23 – Evil Dead 2 – Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell are at in again in this prequel to Army of Darkness. Not as campy as AoD, but with less seriousness than the original movie Evil Dead 2 finds that perfect balance between horror and comedy. I highly recommend you rent all three films and make an evening out of it.
22 – The Amityville Horror – Based on a 1977 novel that author Jay Anson claims is a true story, this creepy film about a family who moves into a house where six people had been murdered just over a year before. Demonic forces haunt the house, eventually driving them out, but not before scaring the hell out of them.
21 – The Ring – A remake of the classic Japanese horror film Ringue The Ring, starring the lovely Naomi Watts of King Kong fame, is one of the creepiest, spine-tingling horror films to come along in years. The menace is this particular film is none other than a video tape. People who watch this tape inevitably end up dead, and Watts’ character must solve the mystery before she and her son become its latest victims.
20 – Dracula – Another legendary movie monster marks our entrance into the top 20 horror movies of all time. Bela Legosi stars as vampire Count Dracula in this big screen adaptation of Bram Stoker’s classic novel.
19 – The Hound of the Baskervilles – Though not as old as Frankenstein or Dracula you would have had to have been alive 50 years ago to attend this movie when it first came to theaters. Based on the novel by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle this film set in the spooky moors of Devonshire has Doyle’s legendary character Sherlock Holmes and his erstwhile sidekick Dr. Watson solving a grisly murder mystery.
18 – Night of the Living Dead – ThoughWhite Zombie may have defined the genre, and28 Days Later may have reinvented it there can be no denying that for many years George A. Romero was the undisputed master of the zombie horror movie genre, and his introductory black and white film Night of the Living Dead remains one of the best horror movies ever made to this day. Forget The Blair Witch Project this is low budget horror film-making at its very best.
17 – The Omen – Often the scariest films are those with religious overtones, and this movie about a young child named Damien who is the Antichrist in the flesh was one of the darkest, most disturbing movies of the 70s. Gregory Peck stars as the father, who is horrified to learn what his son actually is. However, as great as the performances are the haunting music is just as responsible for the creepiness of this film. The Academy apparently agreed as they awarded The Omen an Oscar that year for Best Music, Original Score.
16 – Alien – This film could challenge for the top spot on a list of the best sci-fi movies of all time, but just because it takes place in space doesn’t make it any less horrifying. This collaboration between director Ridley Scott and set designer H.R. Giger brought audiences one of the most horrifying movie monsters in cinematic history.
15 – The Thing – A remake of 1951’s The Thing from Another World director John Carpenter’s 1982version, shortened to just The Thing was the first real gruesome horror film I had ever seen and one I remember to this day. Dogs ripping open and turning inside out, severed heads sprouting legs. This one gave me nightmares for a long time. Despite being more than 25 years old now it still delivers the shivers. If you haven’t seen it lately, or at all definitely give this DVD a rental.
14 – The Texas Chainsaw Massacre – The title absolutely screams classic horror gore fest, and that is exactly what this 1974 cult classic horror film is. Leatherface, one of a whole family of cannibalistic psychopaths, is one of the genre’s biggest icons, and this movie is one of those that is not only scary, but deeply disturbing as well. Don’t bother with the various sequels or remakes, but make sure you have the original in your DVD collection to terrorize your significant other from time to time.
13 – Dawn of the Dead – George A. Romero makes another appearance on the list of the scariest horror movies of all time. This time he’s got a budget, and he makes good use of it. The action picks up where Night of the Living Dead leaves off, and a group of survivors must battle through hordes of flesh eating zombies to try and preserve civilization as they know it.
12 – Nosferatu – Though Bela Lugosi’s performance in Dracula is more well remembered, this 1922 silent film classic is actually the first big screen rendition of Bram Stoker’s novel, despite the fact that the vampire’s name in the movie is actually Count Orlok. The ghastly visage of Orlok is enough to give anyone the shudders. This film is a must watch for true classic horror movie aficionados.
11 – Bride of Frankenstein – Rarely does a sequel or a spinoff outstrip the original movie, especially when the original is as good as Frankenstein was, however most fans of these old monster movies will agree that this film is the best movie based on the legend of the Frankenstein monster to date. Boris Karloff is back as Frankenstein, but this time he has a mate to keep him company.
10 – The Sixth Sense – One of the best twists in movie history earns M. Night Shyamalan’s The Sixth Sense a deserving spot in the top 10 horror movies of all time. Veteran action star Bruce Willis and talented newcomer Haley Joel Osment team up in this clever ghost story. I won’t say more in case you haven’t seen it yet. If not, what are you still reading this for? Go out and rent it!
9 – An American Werewolf in London – Arguably the best werewolf movie ever made, An American Werewolf in London will leave you afraid to go out in the mist. This was another film that I saw as a kid and had nightmares about it for a long time after.
8 – Rosemary’s Baby – If someone asked me to pick a movie I would define as “spooky” Rosemary’s Baby would be the film I would choose. This movie is one of those rare films that can really alter your mood, and leave you feeling out of sorts and disturbed for days after the final credits roll, and the film gave American audiences a good look at just how great a talent director Roman Polanski would become.
7 – The Silence of the Lambs – This 1991 serial killer classic absolutely cleaned up at the Oscars, landing hardware for Anthony Hopkins, Jodie Foster and director Jonathan Demme for their extraordinary work on the film. Hopkins brings to life one of film’s greatest icons in any genre, the paradoxically polite cannibal, Dr. Hannibal Lecter. Even the hardiest horror veterans will have a hard time watching this film alone in the dark.
6 – Aliens – As good as the original was the sequel was even better. More monsters, more violence, more gore, more of everything that makes a horror film great. If you liked the first one, I promise you you’ll enjoy this one even more.
5 – Psycho – The master of terror got us started, and also marks the start of the top 5 horror movies. Alfred Hitchcock has made many classic films including the aforementioned The Birds, Rear Windowand Strangers on a Train, however his horror masterpiece is indisputably his 1960 slasher filmPsycho. Perhaps Hitchcock’s greatest achievement was his casting of the cadaverous Anthony Perkins as Norman Bates. You know a movie has had a huge influence on pop culture when all you need to say is “shower scene” and everyone in the room knows immediately which movie you are referring to. Psycho is a true horror film classic and is just as frightening today as it was nearly 50 years ago.
4 – Halloween – As I mentioned above, music can really set the mood of a scary movie and John Carpenter’s Halloween is one of only two movies that features a scarier soundtrack than The Omen. Whenever that music starts playing you’ll find yourself holding your breath as you wait to see what horrors homicidal maniac Michael Myers will visit on his victims. Like most popular horror franchises this one spawned plenty of bloody sequels, including the dreadful Halloween H20, but none could come close to the high standard set by the original.
3 – Jaws – I mentioned one movie with scarier music than The Omen – well here is the other one. Though I didn’t live anywhere near an ocean as a child Jaws terrified me like no movie before or since. Spielberg’s masterpiece based on the novel by Peter Benchley is one of the great landmarks in American filmmaking in the past 50 years, and there is little doubt in my mind that when the movie came out in 1975 beachgoers were staying out of the water in droves for fear of becoming shark food.
2 – The Shining – Stephen King winds up as a runner-up on this list of the scariest movies ever made, and it was by only the narrowest of margins that his horror masterpiece was edged out. Jack Nicholson is absolutely perfectly cast as father, novelist and hotel caretaker Jack Torrance who loses his grip on sanity due to a combination of cabin fever and a haunting presence in the hotel. A spine-shivering downward spiral of psychopathic violent behavior ensues. This collaboration of the disturbed minds of novelist Stephen King, director Stanley Kubrick and actor Jack Nicholson makeThe Shining indescribably creepy. No matter how many times you’ve seen it, watch it again. It will never fail to spook you.
1 – The Exorcist – Only a movie this scary, this disturbing, this powerful could top The Shining for the number one spot on the list of the best horror movies of all time. As I mentioned earlier movies with a religious theme seem to evoke more powerful responses from people and that is certainly the case in this highly disturbing film about demonic possession. Though I am not old enough to have seen this 1973 film when it came out in theaters, my parents did, and they told me that people walked out of the theaters in droves during the movie, physically or spiritually sickened by what they were seeing. I can think of no higher praise for the power of a horror film. With Halloween fast approaching this classic should definitely be on your must watch list.