Ask me what the scariest films are tomorrow and my picks may differ from those I’ve listed today. Horror is just such a huge part of my life, and I love so much of it, it’s a challenge listing (in limited fashion at that) the scariest pictures out there at any point in time. And you can let me pick 25 films, I’ll still have trouble. But for the sake of discussion, I’ve joined in on our Staff Picks pieces this month.
It seemed like the right thing to do.
Think about this for a second: Jaws genuinely dissuaded beach goers from so much as dipping their toes in water. People took on a legit fear of the ocean, and more specifically, those mammoth sharks with three rows of teeth. A single film changed aquatic perception, and that’s remarkable. The fact that we become so invested in the characters that eventually find themselves in one of the most perilous positions imaginable only amplifies the terror.
There’s an alarming realism to this Japanese production that absolutely chills to the bone. It’s a mocumentary, but it relies primarily on human quirks and reactions to fear more so than monsters or possessed individuals or ghosts with long black hair. It all just unravels with little to no movie magic, and that leaves it feeling astoundingly haunting. If you didn’t know better, you may even mistake this film for a genuine documentary.
08. Ils (Them)
I’m not typically frightened by home invasion films. I’m one of those psychos that says ‘let ’em come in, I’ll split their skull in two with a fireplace poker and chuck the leaking brains at any accomplice fool enough to come into my house, too!’ Well, Ils left me feeling a little less confident in my fireplace poker plan. This is just a haunting film loaded with senseless savagery, and to this day, it’s the greatest home invasion to see release.
I’ll tell you what does frighten me: disruption of the norm. Suburbia is – ideally – the perfect, safest place to live. When you throw a voiceless, faceless serial killer in the streets of suburbia with a desire to slice teenagers to pieces, that comfort goes flying out of the window, and that’s when the true chills come into play. Michael Myers himself is a frightening presence, but his methods of murder, and his choice locations are what really sets him apart from others.
06. Black Christmas
Before Halloween left me petrified, and before Ils gave us an idea of how paralyzing home invasions can be, there was Bob Clark’s classic, Black Christmas, which actually does a stellar job of combining a slasher concept with a home invasion concept. The film features a slew of iconic moments, and one of those moments features a maniacal looking eye peering through floorboards to gaze at a sorority resident. It’s terrifying, as is the bulk of this gorgeous but deeply disconcerting picture that inspired a few classics.
There are so many disturbing elements to this picture it is almost unfathomable. The pic deals with incest, murder, schizophrenia, and a sorrowful loneliness. And it all comes together to leave viewers utterly shocked. It’s perfectly acted, and Alfred Hitchcock’s understanding of visual dread is just awe inspiring. Psycho will always hold a place on my favorite film list.
I’m a father of three, so when I see a lunatic woman attempt to carve an unborn child from the belly of a susceptible and terrified pregnant woman, it has a very, very real affect on me. It’s just a terrifying and revolting film. It succeeds in doing exactly what was intended and I can’t get that terror out of my head for the life of me. This picture is so powerful it literally brought my wife to tears. That’s an amazingly impacting picture.
03. The Shining
There are extremely few haunted house films that manage to frighten me, but Stanley Kubrick’s rendition of Stephen King’s The Shining is one of them. In fact, it rules the roost of this sub-genre. Nicholson is horrifying, and Wendy’s dangerous plight is riveting. Then you take little Danny Torrance and factor in all of the frightening shit he sees and you can call it a wrap. The Shining is a shocking piece of work.
02. Session 9
Session 9 utilizes atmosphere and character development to manufacture scares, and that method has rarely, if ever, been matched. There’s a sense of dread that courses through the body as soon as the film begins, and as it progresses it becomes so terrifying that – at times – it’s hard to keep your eyes on the screen. This is an absolute masterpiece.
01. A Nightmare on Elm Street
You shouldn’t be surprised to see this picture top the list. Let’s all be real here: we’re supposed to recharge and find comfort in sleep. But when a severely disfigured man wearing a knife equipped glove enters your dreams, all but salivating over the idea of tearing a child to shreds, sleep takes on a whole new life. No one wants to be slaughtered in their sleep, where they’re all but helpless in combating the homicidal ways of Freddy Krueger.