The best horror movies of all time know that fear comes in many forms. The best scary movies understand that being afraid isn’t just about loud noises and jump scares. As the nights draw in, it’s the ideal time to revisit the best scary movies ever made – horror films that draw you into nightmarish worlds, rattle your bones for a few hours, and spit you out on the other side to process the physical and emotional terrors.
Whether you’re looking for funhouse frights or searing explorations of societal issues with added blood-spatter, you’re in the right place. We’ve done the research so you don’t have to, and pulled together a handy list of some of the scariest, most chilling and thrilling movies to watch.
Three years after he made his feature-film debut with a surprisingly good Evil Dead reboot, filmmaker Fede Alvarez directed and co-wrote his own gripping, original addition to the horror canon.
A trio of teens attempt to rob the house of a blind man. It’s only then they learn about their target’s past: He’s is a bereft Army vet whose daughter has died and, to cope with his lost, has subsequently taken some dark turns in his life. Tables get turned, and predators become prey – it’s abject, twisted and totally compelling.
The Blair Witch Project
This, now almost mythical, found horror footage follows three young documentary makers as they journey to Burkittsville in Maryland. Heather, Mike, and Josh start off interviewing the locals about the local legend of The Blair Witch.
What’s waiting for Heather and co in the woods is terrifying enough, as strange noises drift through the trees and they descend into a directionless spiral of madness and anger, but what’s equally scary about The Blair Witch Project is the perfect blurring of reality and fiction. Every wobbly shot, every scream, and every stick figure that the three find, are there to tell your brain that these people really went into the woods and never came back. Oh, and the ending is like being punched in the gut by nightmares.
A Nightmare on Elm Street
Just like a certain dungaree-clad possessed doll, Freddy Krueger fell firmly into killer clown territory as the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise evolved over the years. Freddy becomes the ultimate boogeyman when he dons his favorite murder glove and goes after a whole new generation of Springwood spawn while they slumber.
Robert Englund’s Freddy might be horrible to look at but it’s the very idea of falling asleep and never waking up again that’s the true terrifying kicker here.
Sure, teens have outrun hockey-mask-wearing homicidal maniacs and unstoppable killing machines – but what happens when they have to face off against the Grim Reaper? Having avoided a plane crash, a high-school student (Devon Sawa) and several fellow passengers find out first-hand that Death does not like being cheated.
This durable horror franchise would up the ante on baroque “accidental” killings as it racked up entries, but its first installment remains eerily prescient, kicking off a decade that’d be characterized by IRL instances of horrific, random acts of violence on a large scale.
An elderly Guatemalan general (Julio Diaz) is appearing before a war-crimes tribunal to account for decades of persecuting, imprisoning and torturing political dissidents. “The past is in the past,” declares his wife (Margarita Kenéfic), who may or may not lead a coven that’s helped keep him in power and out of trouble.
Except the past is always here, sitting right beside us, and so are its ghosts — a concept that filmmaker Jayro Bustamante brilliantly mines for slow-burning dread. It’s the kind of tale of mystery and imagination that prefers to get under your skin rather than shock your central nervous system, which only makes its near-suffocating feeling of foreboding more potent.
It spawned five sequels and numerous parodies, but neither time nor imitation have diminished the scares of Oren Pelli’s directorial debut. Initially released in 2007, Paranormal Activity introduces us to Katie and Micah who have been experiencing some odd goings on in their LA home. Micah sets up a camera at the foot of their bed to keep an eye on things while they sleep. The bumps in the night that follow are enough to make you never want to see another bed again, let alone lie on one.
The reason why Paranormal Activity is so nerve-janglingly effective, is simple. Regardless of your favorite snoozing position or habits, we all lie down in a dark room, switch off, and become perfect prey for whatever lurks in the gloom. The now infamous shot from the bottom of Katie and Micah’s bed is a masterclass in slow burn terror. Every simple extended shot as the clock ticks forward becomes an agonizingly tense eye test.
A female ghost with long, black hair, the grotesque loom of fright on the faces of those she comes for, home video – Gore Verbinski’s remake of influential Japanese horror Ringu transposes the story from Tokyo to Seatlle, but the song (and more importantly, the scares) remain the same.
A VHS tape begins circulating that, upon viewing, allegedly kills whoever views it seven days after watching it. Quicker than you can say “urban legend,” bodies begin piling up and an angry spirit is crawling out of a TV set. Rarely has an American remake of a foreign horror film captured the original spirit so spot on.