1. THE SHINING(1980)
The Shining might just be Stephen King’s most popular horror novel. Stanley Kubrick’s movie adaptation is almost certainly the most popular Stephen King movie. The project was an unusually commercially-focused one for Kubrick, but the same stylistic elements that defined his earlier films were on full display, and the film remains a haunting and unsettling chronicle of a family man’s psychological breakdown.
Jack Nicholson is iconic as Jack Torrance, the struggling writer who accepts a job as winter caretaker for the Overlook Hotel in the Colorado Mountains. The knowledge that the previous caretaker had gone insane and murdered his family fails to scare Jack away. But when both Jack and his psychically attuned son begin communing with the many spirits haunting the Overlook, things quickly take a turn for the worse. Deadly hedge mazes, elevators full of blood and the terrifying Room 237 are only some of the horrors that await viewers.
This is one of the best horror movies of all the time.
Psycho is both one of the greatest thrillers of all time and one of the greatest entries in Alfred Hitchcock’s legendary resume. A true master of suspense and tension, Hitchcock crafted a memorable horror experience with a limited cast and even more limited budget. Like so many great horror movies, Psycho’s scares far exceed its limited scale.
The film tells the story of crazy old Norman Bates and his even crazier mother. When a young woman on the run from the law arrives at the remote Bates Motel, she falls victim to a knife-wielding killer. Several more victims are claimed before the true secret of the Bates family stands revealed.
The content of Psycho isn’t as shocking as it was way back in 1960. After all, girls get stabbed in the shower all the time in modern horror cinema. However, it’s a testament to Hitchcock’s skill as a director that Psycho remains a tense and nerve-wracking experience. The killing of Janet Leigh’s character and the accompanying musical key by Bernard Herrmann is one of the most famous scenes in Hollywood history.
3.The Exorcist (1973)
“Tubular Bells” is the scariest music arrangement ever made. We hear it and we’re the shaking-in-our-boots equivalent of Pavlov’s Dog.
This is one of the best horror movies of all the time. The movie’s premise— a little girl possessed by a demon — is scary enough as words on paper. But what director William Friedkin does with it, aside from prove that he has a seriously strong (or frightfully off) constitution for this sort of stuff, is treat the extraordinary of it all as if it were really happening next door to us.
The scares come from a place based in faith, where Heaven and hell are as real as your beliefs in them care to be. Faith, for all the documentation on the subject, is tethered to the intangible; it’s not something science can define or strategize. The demon that comes from The Exorcist’s interpretation of that idea is something more powerful than a Freddy or a Jason. Something that can’t be shot or stabbed or detonated.
Before it can be attacked, let alone defeated, it has to first be believed in — as terrible and soul-threatening as this may be to the young priest and old priest charged with delivering the climatic exorcism. Fathers Karras and Merrin spend the third act of the movie fighting back the devil forcontrol of young Regan’s soul. And in doing so, Karras, a man of wavering faith throughout most of the movie, finally believes in the only true good he knows by sacrificing himself to save that little girl.
4.THE EXORCIST (1973)
This is one of the best horror movies of all the time. You may not agree that The Exorcist is the scariest movie ever, but it probably also isn’t much of a surprise to see it at the top of our list — with a whopping 19% of all the votes cast. William Friedkin’s adaptation of the eponymous novel about a demon-possessed child and the attempts to banish said demon became the highest-grossing R-rated horror film ever and the first to be nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars (it earned nine other nominations and took home two trophies). But outside of its critical and commercial bona fides, the film is well-known for the mass hysteria it inspired across the country, from protests over its controversial subject matter to widespread reports of nausea and fainting in the audience. Its dramatic pacing and somewhat dated effects may seem quaint compared to some contemporary horror, but there’s no denying the power the film continues to have over those who see it for the first time.
5. HEREDITARY (2018)
Coming in at the seventh spot on our list is the film that introduced the world to all-time scream queen Jamie Lee Curtis and put John Carpenter on the map. Halloween is frequently cited as one of the earliest examples of the slasher genre as we know it today, and while it may not feature the same kind of realistic gore we’ve come to expect of films in that category, it packs a lot of tension and some inventive thrills in a relatively small-scale package. The film’s legacy is also fairly untouchable: Michael Myers’ mask has become the stuff of legend, and the giant, unstoppable killer and the “final girl” have become ingrained in the horror lexicon. There’s a reason the franchise is still going after more than 40 years.
7. INSIDIOUS (2010)
This is one of the best horror movies of all the time. James Wan has already shown up higher on the list, but before he and Patrick Wilson made The Conjuring, they worked together on this supernatural thriller about a young boy who falls into a coma and begins to channel a malevolent spirit. The bare bones of the story weren’t the most groundbreaking, but frequent Wan collaborator Leigh Whannell infused it with a compelling enough mythology that it spawned three more installments. Wan also stated that Insidious was meant to be something of a corrective to the outright violence of Saw, which compelled him to craft something on a more spiritual level, and the end result is an effective chiller featuring what is frequently regarded one of the best jump scares ever put on screen.
8.The Haunting (1963)
This is one of the best horror movies of all the time. Robert Wise’s adaptation of Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House is just one in a long line of new takes on not just the original story, but the formula perfected by that story. Like many films that followed, it’s the story of a group of people visiting a spooky old house to try and find evidence of ghosts, and getting more than they bargained for in the process. But no other film since The Haunting has been able to do it in such an achingly, dreadfully beautiful way. In Wise’s subtle hands, Hill House becomes a character in frightening new ways, and the film keeps your pulse high without ever revealing a single actual ghost.
9.The Wicker Man (1973)
This is one of the best horror movies of all the time.The greatest folk horror movie ever made, Robin Hardy’s The Wicker Man has barely any violence, and very little in the way of gore. What it does have is an overwhelming, all-encompassing sense of dread tinged with haunting natural beauty and the unnerving power of its smiling villains. It’s a 90-minute, nail-biting buildup to one unforgettable ending, and even when you know that ending’s coming, its power isn’t diminished.
10.The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974)
This is one of the best horror movies of all the time. Fans of Tobe Hooper’s 1974 classic (now streaming on Peacock!) about a group of youths who run afoul of a family or murderous Texas cannibals will talk to you all day about how the film’s reputation as a shocker isn’t earned, because there’s almost no blood, and no gore at all, in the movie. That’s true, but what makes Texas Chain Saw work isn’t just how effective it is at implied violence. It’s that in many cases, the film doesn’t need violence to be terrifying. Decades after its release, the scariest parts are often looks, screams, and the sense that we the viewer are trapped in the house with Leatherface and his kinfolk.
This is one of the best horror movies of all the time. Jaws is one of several major horror films that fans still argue over, not in terms of its greatness, but in terms of whether or not it actually fits the “horror” mold. Well, you can call it a thriller all you want, but Steven Spielberg’s breakthrough film about a New England town plagued by shark attacks is undeniably scary. From underwater jump scares to great creature effects and one of the most unsettling opening kills of all time, Jaws has horror in its soul, and that means it belongs here.
12.Dawn of the Dead (1978)
This is one of the best horror movies of all the time. With Night of the Living Dead, George A. Romero essentially invented the modern zombie genre. With Dawn of the Dead a decade later, he cracked it wide open. Presented in vivid color and with often jaw-dropping scale, Romero’s sequel to his original black-and-white classic dials up everything about the first film to great effect, and is as frightening as it is fun.