What makes a movie truly terrifying? Is it flesh-eating zombies? Vengeful spirits? Or perhaps a crazed serial killer with a penchant for the taste of blood?
The scariest movies leave us spooked even after we leave the theater because they play to our greatest fears and phobias. Psychology Today says there are specific elements that make movies scare us, including things like death, the dark, generally spooky places such as graveyards and overgrown forests, suspense, disfigurement, and dismemberment (yikes).
While opinions vary on the scariest movies of all time, these horror flicks are undoubtedly chilling and probably shouldn’t be watched alone. See which ones made the list.
The Film That Gave People Claustrophobia (And Nightmares)
Released in 2005, The Descent tells the tale of a group of innocent young women who go spelunking in the mountains of North Carolina. All seems well at first—that is, except for the ever-building anxiety that something is about to go terribly wrong.
As the women meander through the cave, they realize that they’re terribly lost and can’t find their way out, leaving them disoriented with a limited amount of light. As if being lost within the depths of a dark cave isn’t already scary enough, they soon discover that they are not alone.
The flesh-eating humanoid who inhabits the cave makes your run-of-the-mill murderer look like Mr. Rogers. The women must fight their way out in a suspenseful gore-fest of a film that isn’t for the faint of heart. The combination of the otherworldly creature coupled with the chilling thought of being lost in a cave with no light and no way out is sure to make even the bravest film watchers uncomfortable.
This Film Makes You Think Twice About Having Kids
Released in 2014, The Babadook is an Australian psychological horror film that is unexpectedly terrifying. Although the movie took a while to catch on, after the film showed at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival, The Babdook rose in popularity and is now considered one of the best horror films of the last decade.
The film centers around a widowed mother and her son who are haunted by an evil entity from a mysterious pop-up book called Mister Babdook. Although the film itself is terrifying, with breathtaking jump sequences and disturbing images, perhaps the aspect of the film that is truly chilling is the underlying theme of mother-child resentment. If you watch this alone, chances are you’ll be sleeping with your closet door open for a while.
This Movie Will Leave You Disturbed and Ashamed
Antichrist is an experimental horror film starring Charlotte Gainsbourg and Willem Dafoe. It has been regarded as one of the most polarizing movies of 2009 due to its twisted and obscure plot and extremely graphic sexual content. The film focuses on a grieving couple after the untimely death of their toddler son. With thematic elements of motherhood, grief, misogyny and sexual violence, viewer discretion is seriously advised with Antichrist.
After viewing the film, you are left feeling almost ashamed for watching it, yet continue to keep thinking about it over and over. Although Antichrist is unlike most horror films, lacking in jump scenes and alien-like creatures, it’s a film that is psychologically damaging and you don’t want to be alone when the credits roll around.
The Movie That Is 100% Totally Wrong
Advertised as “one hundred percent medically accurate,” The Human Centipede is bound to go down in film history as one of those movies that you already have to be somewhat sick in the head to watch. If you watch it alone, it’s recommended that you seek counseling.
Released in 2009, the film follows the story of a mad scientist-doctor who kidnaps three individuals to perform his sick medical experiment of surgically connecting all of them in an anus-to-mouth line in order to create a human centipede. If the gore and graphicness of the film don’t get you, the psychological aspect will, certainly making you think twice before you knock on a stranger’s front door.
The Film That Makes Your Own Home Feel Unsafe
The 2009 film The Collector takes the horror of home invasion thrillers to an entirely different level. The film tells the story of a burglar breaking into a house where a horrendous crime is already taking place.
The burglar enters the home, but the first intruder has set up gruesome booby traps all over the house as he takes turns torturing the family members inside. The burglar must fight his way through the maze of dangling fish hooks, bear traps, and acid all while attempting to save members of the family and fighting off the killer. If you have any issues with suspense or highly-detailed gore, avoid this movie like the plague. If you do decide to watch this by yourself, your house may seem a bit less safe than it once did. You can’t say we didn’t warn you.
The Movie That Makes You Want to Avoid Punk Concerts
Green Room is a suspense film centered around a struggling punk band that has the opportunity to play a show in the Pacific Northwest. After their performance, they witness the gruesome murder of a young girl by neo-Nazi skinheads. In an effort to flee the scene, the band is trapped in the venue and held hostage.
They must then rely on their wits, resources, and adrenaline to battle against a gang of skinheads that are dead-set on making sure they don’t get out alive. Packed full of hunting dogs, razor blades, and machetes, “suspense” is a term that doesn’t do this film justice. You might not want to watch this one alone because you’re going to need someone to grab onto.
The Movie That Makes You Want to Avoid Sex Like the Plague
Released in 2013, Contracted is an independent film that heeds warnings about the dangers of unprotected sex. However, this story might be on steroids.
The film centers around a girl who finds herself drunkenly having unprotected and possibly non-consensual sex with a complete stranger. She then begins showing signs of a severe infection that is seemingly tearing her apart from the inside out. Not only is the film graphic in nature, but it is truly horrifying for young people who may think that nothing that bad can come from unprotected sex. This film unearths a fear that many bury deep down.
This Film Will Make You Hold Your Breath Too
Released in 2016, Don’t Breathe was a breath of fresh air in the horror movie genre, yet was still well received by most traditional horror connoisseurs.
When clueless criminals break into the home of a blind man, they assume it will go off without a hitch. But soon, it turns into a worst-case scenario. The tables are turned when the group is hunted by the highly-trained and highly-adapted blind man in his house with no way out. A squeak of a floorboard, a cough, or breathing too heavily could cost them their lives. The movie continues with one plot twist after another with ongoing suspense up until the films final moments. If you don’t have anyone with you, you’ll at least want a blanket to cover your eyes.
The Ring Helped Kill VHS for Good
The 2002 film The Ring helped establish a whole new sub-genre of horror related to technology. Focusing around a videotape that if watched will end up killing you in seven days, it was a truly terrifying movie when it was first released.
It had such an impact on its audience that even today it is still one of the most highly regarded horror films in the last few decades. It also helped to open the door to the numerous other technology-related horror films that followed which resonate deeply with an audience whose lives revolve around tech.
You Are Never Safe When It Follows
In 2014, It Follows started out as a small horror film, yet quickly caught the attention of horror enthusiasts. Centering around a girl that cannot escape an unknown entity that continuously follows behind her until it catches her, It Follows plays on psychological terror.
No matter how far the character gets away from the unknown entity, it continues walking endlessly to catch up with her. It’s an interesting take on the horror genre but has become highly regarded in the community and has paved the way for new takes on psychological horror films. If you’re watching this film alone, be prepared to look over your shoulder every once and while.
The Shining Isn’t What It Sounds Like
In 1980, director Stanley Kubrick brought Stephen King’s novel to life on the big screen. The Shining follows a family that is watching over a summer resort in the depths of winter in Colorado. On top of some highly uncomfortable paranormal events, the audience hopelessly watches Jack Nicholson’s character slip slowly but surely into madness.
King’s knack for making any story horrifying combined with Kubrick’s masterful eye for dream-like imagery, uncomfortable angles, and inability to hold back is what makes this film an overall cinema classic. The film is relatively quiet, so if you’re watching it alone, it makes you realize just how alone you are…and that maybe you’re losing your mind too.
The Movie That Isn’t So Funny
In 2007, director Michael Haneke released his 1997 remake of the film Funny Games. The film is based around a group of intruders that casually break into a family’s home, unmasked. They proceed to play a variety of sick and twisted games and make the family members do awful things to fight for their lives.
What makes the film so disturbing is how much fun the director had with the sadistic premise of the film along with the stellar performances of all of the actors. There are even some advanced filming techniques used such as the breaking of the fourth wall in which the intruders speak directly to the audience, making for an oh-so-suspenseful ending.
You Don’t Want to Get to Know These Strangers
Much like Funny Games, the 2008 film The Strangers is about home invaders that terrorize a couple in their secluded cabin. However, these invaders aren’t just wearing masks, they’re wearing the scariest masks they could possibly find.
After a night of torture, suspense, death, and suffering, the film finally concludes. However, the terrifying aspect of the film is not just the attackers, their weapons, or their masks, but their motives. Eventually, the viewer discovers that the group is terrorizing the couple for no particular reason, except “because they can,” making the film all too realistic. This movie is sure to unsettle anyone spending a night alone in an empty house.
This Film Will Make You Want to Believe in God
No film has had such an impact on its audience as the 1973 film The Exorcist. There isn’t a single aspect of this film that isn’t overwhelmingly unnerving. From gore, and religion to possession and body disfigurement, the film plays on almost every fear imaginable to terrify viewers.
If you manage to remain unphased as an innocent girl transforms into highly evil and downright terrifying demon right before your eyes, not much will. If the idea behind the film doesn’t make you uneasy, then the 360-degree head rotation or green projectile vomiting must have some effect.
The Film That Changed the Way We Look at Power Tools
In 1974, Tobe Hooper released his spine-chilling film The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. The film follows a group of young adults traveling together who find themselves in a nightmare of a situation with a maniac chainsaw killer and a sadistic family.
What makes this film even scarier is that it was said to be based on a true story. The thought of there being an actual murderer who uses a chainsaw to sew his victim’s faces over his own was a lot to handle in the ’70s and is still a lot for today’s modern audience. While the story turned out to be fictional, the plot details were inspired by the real-life serial killer, Ed Gein. In any case, the film is scary enough to make you flinch whenever a power tool is turned on.
Insidious Will Make You Sleep With the Lights On
Insidious is a 2011 supernatural horror film that centers around a family whose son falls into a coma. While in a coma, evil ghosts and creatures attempt to use his body as a vessel in order to walk among the living.
The film is packed full of heartstopping jump scenes, disturbing images, and demons and ghosts that are straight out of your worst nightmare. This is a great movie to watch with a group of friends, yet to watch it alone in a risky decision. The film gained wide popularity due to its originality, as well as extensive use of effective jump sequences leaving the audience consistently on the edge of their seats.
The Film That Horrified the World
In 2013, The Conjuring was the horror film that nobody could stop talking about. It was the first installment in a continuous series, centering around a family experiencing disturbing paranormal events in their new Rhode Island home. It is also based on the real-life reports inspired by the Amityville Horror story and film franchise.
The film grossed over $318 million worldwide from a paltry $20 million budget, making it one of the highest-grossing horror films of all time. The film was so impactful on the audience not just because of the original story, but it was extremely well produced and it is clear the director and producers knew exactly what they were doing.
Goodnight Mommy Makes You Question Everything
Goodnight Mommy is a 2014 Austrian horror film about two young identical twins who are convinced their mother has been replaced by an imposter after she undergoes facial surgery and is covered in bandages.
The boys go to great lengths to prove that she is not their mother—mainly by mentally and physically torturing her. If that isn’t enough, the twist at the end will surely leave you dumbfounded. This film is particularly scary not only because it is in a foreign language which adds its own element of surprise, but because of the psychological terror that builds throughout the film.
The Movie That Will Keep You Awake
Released in 1984, Nightmare on Elm Street managed to make the essential act of sleeping completely and utterly terrifying. The film centers around a group of friends that are terrorized by the supernatural villain Freddy Kruger in their dreams. The catch is if he kills you in your dream, you die the same way in real life while you’re sleeping. The film is famous for the gruesome kill scenes with sleeping teenagers that are gutted and thrown around the room by an invisible force.
If the gore and Kruger’s abominable appearance aren’t scary enough for you, the premise should be. Everybody needs to sleep, and eventually, you will fall asleep, which means you can never really escape Freddy Kruger. After watching this film, you might find falling asleep is a little harder.
Released in 2007, Dead Silence features everyone’s favorite vaudeville dolls. The story is about a ventriloquist named Mary Shaw that was murdered by the people of her town in the 1940s after she was suspected of kidnapping a young boy. After her death, she lives on to seek revenge on the people and families that killed her, along with the help of her dolls.
The most horrifying part of this film, aside from the incredibly scary dolls, is that you will only be killed if you scream. This adds a lot of psychological torment because you have to test yourself if you think you would scream at the moment, hence the title, Dead Silence.