Over time, horror has evolved and grown as a genre. There have been countless fads and fashions that have been circulated through films, but one thing remains the same, the love for good scares. By design, all horror movies are intended to be scary but it takes a special kind of film to truly terrifying veteran horror lovers. We’re a picky bunch, we’ve seen it all and we’re not easily spooked anymore. Luckily, many great films have risen to the challenge and scared the pants off even the toughest audience members.
Take a look at 10 of the scariest horror movies of all time in the gallery below, then let us know your favorite film from this list in the comments section on social media.
“The Exorcist” (1973)
In 1973, “The Exorcist” terrified audiences and continues to horrify movie watchers to this day. The film is based on the novel of the same name by William Peter Blatty and tells the story of a twelve-year-old girl who becomes possessed by a demon and must be exorcised by Catholic priests. Subject matter aside, one of the biggest reasons this movie was so terrifying was Linda Blair’s performance. Blair was just 14-years-old at the time of the film, but she executed this role with the performance chops of a true professional. Additionally, the special effects and gore in this film were pretty top notch for it’s time.
“The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” (1974)
Cannibals have been the subject of horror movies for decades and it’s arguable that this really kicked off with 1974’s “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.” This film played on the events of a real life serial killer, Ed Gein, and crafted a family of villains so horrifying it launched a slew of sequels. This film was so successfully scary because it effectively road the line between reality and fiction. The scenario our characters found themselves in felt very real, while the horrific kills and disturbing behaviors of Leatherface and his family was straight from our deepest, darkest nightmares.
“Faces of Death” (1978)
For a film that claimed to have been banned in 40+ countries, we can see why it’s made a lasting impression on horror. This film belongs to the mondo genre, which are pseudo-documentaries depicting taboo and sensational situations. The film follows a pathologist who presents the audience with a variety of disturbing and gruesome ways to die. What makes this movie so shocking is that while most of the scenes were fake, some in fact were pulled right from news reels.
“The Shining” (1980)
Many adaptations of Stephen King’s novels and short stories have been made, but “The Shining” is arguably the scariest. This film had a lot working for it: the source material, a breathtaking set design, impressive performances by the cast and plenty of memorable scares. There were also levels to this movie that has earned it high praise among both horror and film fans alike. Plus, there are so many horrifying moments that live in our heads rent free: from the creepy twins to the old woman in the bathtub to the elevator filled with blood.
“The Blair Witch Project” (1999)
Say what you want about “The Blair Witch Project,” but they knew how to promote a movie. This film was presented in found footage style and for a year the actors were listed as “missing, presumed dead” on the film’s IMDb page. Audience members were absolutely horrified by this movie when it hit theaters, with some throwing up or fainting. Although it was a relatively low-budget indie film, it became a major sleeper hit and influenced many other horror directors to create found footage movies like “Paranormal Activity” and “Cloverfield.”
“The Descent” (2005)
“The Descent” is one of the best horror movies of the early 2000s— point blank, period. And there are few reasons for that. The film gets your heart racing from the start, but it doesn’t rely on cheap jump scares to do so. The performances by the mostly female cast are totally sensational and there’s some shocking twists and turns in the script. Plus, it packs two big fears into one film without seeming messy: claustrophobia and deadly monsters. Not to mention, there’s a U.S. and a U.K. ending, so you can decide for yourself which you prefer.
I like to think that this movie truly sparked by love for horror. This story takes the concept of demonic possession and modernizes it, giving us something that feels fresh. The scares in this movie are truly impressive and the ending scene of the film will stay in your head for weeks, likely leading to many sleepless nights. Seriously, this is one of James Wan’s best and he’s got a pretty impressive rap sheet.
In a 2020 study, The Science of Scare, this movie ranked number one scariest among the subjects tested. And if you’ve seen this movie, you can tell why. The film follows a true-crime writer who comes across a series of super 8mm film home movies which showcase the brutal murders conducted in his new home. However, after watching the tape, “sinister” things begin to occur. Although the movie relies on clichés such as killer home movies, which we’ve seen before, the ways in which the scares are presented will keep you on the edge of seat the whole way through.
“The Conjuring” (2013)
Speaking of James Wan, this wouldn’t be a list of the scariest horror movies without mentioning the iconic “The Conjuring.” This movie set off what would become one of the highest grossing horror franchises in history and it truly delivers everything horror fans could want. There are excellent scares, an all-star cast that keep you coming back to theaters and a plot based on true events? And don’t even get me started on the way this film changed how I feel about clapping.
With this film, Ari Aster went from an unknown director to one of the biggest names in horror. This film was straight up shocking, especially in how it was marketed to conceal one of the biggest act one plot twists of all time. Toni Collette absolutely owned her role as the film’s protagonist and the ending, well, you’re unlikely to ever forget it. If this is where horror is going, I’m along for the ride.