I’ve seen thousands of movies in my time (most of them horror), and it’s hard to choose favorites. Some movies boast one terrifying scene, and some are relentlessly scary. Some are unintentionally scary. Of course I thought of The Exorcist and contemporary loves like Ringu, but I tried not to go straight to the obvious. Here are my picks!
- The Reflecting Skin (1990)
It’s a coming of age tale taking place in the ’50s. Seth is a young boy who likes typical young boy things like exploding frogs in his neighbor’s face and taking home a discarded fetus and talking to it. It depicts miserable, tragic events but has a dreamy, surreal quality to it as well. It’s hauntingly beautiful but unpredictable and unsettling. Also it has a young Viggo Mortenson as Seth’s older brother Cameron.
- The Elmchanted Forest (1986)
This is an animated Yugoslavian children’s movie. I grew up watching it. There are some parts that are eerie to a child, like when a character is menaced by an axe-wielding suit of armor, but mostly it’s just creepy to an adult. The animation is painfully bad, and the writing is…well, maybe it lost something in translation.
- Coraline (2009)
I swear, this is the last kids’ movie! One of the few straight-up horror movies for children, it follows Coraline, a willful girl who finds an alternate world where her parents always have time for her and dote on her—as long as she obeys. Other Mother has ways of correcting children who don’t follow her rules…
- J-Horror Anthology: Legends–“She-Bear” segment (2003)
Two teenage girls are menaced by a scissor-wielding beast-woman who covets their jewelry.
I couldn’t find a trailer, so here’s the whole segment in 2 parts (go ahead and skip the host, he has nothing relevant to say):
- Dark Skies (2013)
A family is targeted by extraterrestrial beings that are planning to abduct one of them. The ending (well, a scene towards the ending, not the final frame itself) is like a punch to the gut, and as a mom it’s easy to empathize with the parents who are struggling to keep their children safe. I actually had nightmares about aliens coming to take my daughter after watching it–twice.
- Inside (2007)
This is a French gem about two women beating the crap out of each other for possession of an unborn baby. La Femme is a terrifying figure, always a step ahead of anyone trying to deter her from what she wants.
- Get Out (2017)
Chris is a black man who reluctantly goes to his rich white girlfriend’s family estate (out in the middle of nowhere, natch) and finds that they have more in store for him than sparklers and bingo. As a white person I’m pushed to see things from Chris’s perspective—the prosecution and the casual and institutional racism that impacts his life. The performances overall are amazing. The score especially is creepy, full of abrupt violins and whispers. And don’t get me started on “the sunken place.”
- The ABCs of Death 2–“D is for Deloused” segment (2014)
Remember the music video for Tool’s “Sober”? It’s like that but with more bugs and even more horrible, baffling things happening. Ugh stop motion is just an abomination. Here’s the whole thing, you’re welcome, don’t say I didn’t warn you:
- Session 9 (2001)
A crew renovating a defunct mental hospital finds that the place is out to get them. The twist is horrifying, and the last lines are absolutely chilling. This one stays with you.
- The Babadook (2014)
A harried woman is menaced by a boogeyman who tells her that he will make her kill her son. It’s scary on the level that women who’ve had postpartum depression will recognize—the fear of hurting their children. But also the Babadook—even the little we see and hear of him—is just plain terrifying.
If you’ve missed any of these, I urge you to see them now. Except The Elmchanted Forest, you can go ahead and skip that one.