With Halloween just days away, it’s that time of the year for another one of our writers (this time Henry Faherty) to give us their Top 10 scariest movies.
Horror is an interesting category as many people are so different in what really scares them, aside from the usual creepy films that manipulate you into jumping. Real horror is that thing that just creeps you out, sends that weird chill up your spine and makes you look back over your shoulder every so often while you’re watching the film. It stays with you long after the movie ends and certain scenes will come back over time to haunt you.
Well, these are the films that do it for Henry. Again, he’s goes into some great detail explaining why these films scare him so rather than like some just jotting down a bunch of films that you expect to see every Halloween.
10) The Babadook
Rarely do I literally place my fingers over my eyes when watching a film. And even though horror isn’t my favorite genre, there’s no denying when a great one comes along. That’s not very common these days, despite so many lovers of the genre just trying their damnedest to make the next Halloween. However, one of the few that has stuck with me was the out-of-nowhere masterpiece called The Babadook. I would hear the occasional rumor of some amazing horror blowing everyone away, but I didn’t pay much attention to that—at first. The film later appeared on Netflix, giving me the lazy way to watch it. 95 minutes later, I was done for.
It tells a refreshingly simple story of a mother who is struggling with her erratically acting child. I won’t go into details, but the story quickly wraps you up in its horrifying web. Not only does the film contain a noticeable amount of depth, it keeps you unsettled and utterly terrified in every single frame. The titular monster has an incredible design that seems right of a child’s story (which it weirdly is), and it constantly seeps into your skin like nothing else. If that wasn’t scary enough for me, the scenes that show the mother trying to stay sane as her child does the opposite is equally as distressing. There are endless screams, whines, cries, and everything in between. The film doesn’t pull fast ones on you, nor does it talk down to us like many mainstream horror movies do. And that is a special thing in today’s Hollywood.
Fair warning, there will be a few classics in this list. That doesn’t mean it’s going to be dull or repetitive, it simply means a that I am a lover of where certain genres got their start. Ridley Scott’s Alien is one of those that could actually be an absolutely perfect film. Despite its well-known strengths like production design and H.R. Giger’s unbelievable work on the iconic Deacon creature, this film is also just so thrilling to watch. Unlike many, it may be one the most well-paced films I have ever seen. That aspect becomes more apparent after many re-watches because you realize why every scene has the delivery it does.
Then, of course, the horror factor is amazing. The film is basically 85% horror and 15% science-fiction, which both compliment each other tremendously using that predetermined genre blend. The alien is always a wonder to behold, not only being visually grabbing but still pretty horrifying in its own right. The film is a cinematic achievement and still manages to give me a thrill even though I may know what’s lurking in William Hurt’s chest.
8) Evil Dead II
I often like the sequel or middle chapter of a series more than the original simply because you don’t have to go through the setup every time to get to the goods. That’s not to say that the original can’t be good, it’s just that I personally enjoy getting right to things. I only saw Sam Raimi’s cult horror trilogy earlier this year, but it had a profound effect on me. There’s nothing like that campy style of horror that knows it’s campy, allowing for a superb mix of laughs and scares. Evil Dead II has the the bloody gore, Bruce Campbell’s iconic performance, and the talented direction by Raimi.
Campbell is definitely my favorite part of the trilogy, regardless of each film venturing into some surprising places for its scares. And that only gets better because of the stellar makeup and costume work. The so-called Deadites are as equally creepy as they are stunning to watch. Make sure you understand that this film came out in 1987. That’s a pretty spectacular achievement, and not many films since then have even come close to matching the artistry that went into making this cult horror classic.
7) Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
Just because this is technically a musical doesn’t mean it also can’t be an incredible horror film, too. First off, I am a major Tim Burton fanboy. He recently may have lost a little bit of his edge, and probably should be making films similar to Bong Joon Ho’s Stoker or Guillermo Del Toro’s Crimson Peak. Regardless, Sweeney Todd is phenomenal to watch. The film has Burton at the peak of his iconic gothic style, while also mixing in an array of throat-silting wonders. Johnny Depp plays the titular character, giving one of the best performances of his career. Just had to make that fact known to all of you.
And we haven’t even reached the horror part of this film yet. Burton uses wonderfully over-the-top blood effects during the killings of Todd’s many victims. The gore is ridiculous yet still weirdly entertaining. Just because I need to include it, Stephen Sondheim’s lyrics never get old. As you mix his dark music into a story filled with diehard revenge, the result is as great as you would expect.
What still amazes me today is just how well Steven Spielberg handles the iconic killer shark. There are so many ways a massive, mechanical-controlled animal could come off as extremely goofy. And because the titular shark looks just as real now as it probably did back in 1975, that make it all the more unbelievable. Even after so many viewings, the moments when you see a swimmer’s dangling legs, happy as can be, then music swells, it couldn’t be more terrifying. Just how Psycho made audiences scared to take a shower, Jaws makes you think of water as a mass burial ground.
Another reason why this film holds the masterpiece status that it does is the very clever setup to why this shark is able to wreak so much havoc. The film is set during July 4th weekend, where all the chipper residents of the island really want to be in the water. Therefore, you get tons of families who are determined to have fun in the sun. This allows the fear to build up for both you and the lead character. You know people are in danger, but who wants to get out of the ocean and step onto the boiling hot sand? Nobody, that’s who. So, what follows is a maddening and horrifying realistic take on what it’s like to witness a shark attack. Something like that is so simple yet all the while setting a very unnerving tone to entire film.
5) The Wolfman (2010)
This choice will probably turn some heads. It received pretty awful reviews, bombed hard at the box office, and doesn’t seem like it’s had much of a shelf life. Some of the love for this film may be due to me having seen it on my birthday, so just wanted to put that out there. However, I think this remake does have many notable strengths. First of all, the makeup of the multiple wolf men is so beautiful. Some of it is CGI, but there’s a lot of practical work done to bring the creatures to life. That alone is enough for to forgive the film for lagging at points or not diving as deeply it could into the central story.
Have you seen the cast of this one? You got Benicio Del Toro, Anthony Hopkins, and Emily Blunt—how often do you see huge stars like this take on such a small movie? Not often, I would guess. They all do superb work here, particularly from the two gentlemen who also become violent wolf men along the way. The film is set in Victorian Era England, giving it a nice sense of myth and legend. I do love classic Hollywood horror, so it should please anyone that is even remotely fascinated with that era. Give it a try, trust me.
4) The Conjuring
I usually don’t like jump scares—they feel cheap most of the time. But for some unholy reason, I could barely walk around my house at night after watching The Conjuring. I didn’t see it in theaters because horror audiences are often the absolute worst ones to see a movie with. I instead sat down on my couch in a house that was completely silent and empty. I’m sure you already know that’s a bad, bad plan—so bad.
The film’s 1960s setting in an isolated rural home is not necessary all that original, yet it managed to continually make the hairs on my arms and neck stand at attention. Some of that horror is due to James Wan’s excellent direction. He loves to use a lot of motion in his camera work, never allowing for the audience’s anxiety to subside. While the look of the house may be a little over-designed for me, the way in which Wan shoots it is truly brilliant. The uneven shadows and creaking wood make this a great watch. Compared to the film’s predecessors, that wouldn’t seem that uncommon. But as with every genre, it all comes down to execution. And Wan creates an unpredictable, mystifying horror film that is easily one of the best the decade.
3) Enemy (2013)
This one may seem like a more minor horror work in the big scheme of things. However, it has a deep-rooted sense of atmosphere and tone that I love. It’s one of those mood pieces, similar to Only God Forgives and Black Swan. It tells the creepy story of a man who sees his doppelgänger one day and is determined to discover the stranger’s identity. Are they related? Is the stranger dangerous? Those types of questions are continually brought up as the lead character attempts to make some sense of this odd occurrence. Not only that, the film delves into just how easily someone who looks like you could completely take over your life. And that’s what really makes this one so terrifying to me.
While not much happens in its tight runtime, your eyes can’t wander anywhere besides the lead character’s curious gaze. The world around him presents surreal imagery, including massive spiders, underground sex organizations, and a city that might as well be from another planet. The film is so nerve-wracking not just because of its disquieting atmosphere but also how it never allows us to fully understand the unknown of this scarily realistic world.
2) The Invisible Man (1933)
Featuring one of the coolest performances in any horror film, The Invisible Man is an absolute masterpiece. It follows a man who was exposed to a deadly chemical that literally turned him invisible. While he still wears clothes to cover himself, he spends his time terrorizing the local townspeople. At the same time, he’s a man who has been greatly wronged in the past. At certain moments, we do feel for him. He can’t live a normal life, despite him trying so hard create one. And even though the film isn’t that scary now, it’s a wonderfully crafted classic film that has a surprising amount heart and commentary.
The look of the titular character is another home run for this film. He wears a black trench coat with a collection of gray cloth that covers his exposed areas. And just to top it off, he sports a pair of black sunglasses. The guy looks, sounds, and plays like no other character I’ve ever seen before. Frankenstein and The Mummy are great and all, but The Invisible Man is on an entirely different level.
Under the Skin
This is the best horror movie of the 21st Century. It also happens to be my favorite horror film, which I promise isn’t a coincidence. Starring the top-class Scarlett Johansson, Under the Skin follows an alien who has inhabited a human female body. The creature drives around Scotland, picking up lone men in the night. Sorry to give away a few minor spoilers here, but the woman takes the men back to her home and kills them in an indescribable fashion. Just believe me, you won’t be able to make much sense of it. Nevertheless, the film executes these surreal scenes in a masterful way
Johansson gives one of the best performances of her career even though the character rarely ever speaks. But what really gets me is how her facial expression can instantly change from looking genuinely charming to showing no emotion at all. The film doesn’t really have much of a narrative to it, but it makes up for that with unique imagery to carry the story forward. You won’t know what you’ve just watched—but you’ll know you love it. That’s the power of movies.