Want a thrill? We have rebooted our list of the 50 scariest movies of all time. While the term “scary movie” is somewhat subjective, we focused on three main categories:
1. Is the movie so scary that it could change one’s behavior?
2. Does the movie have a high likelihood of producing nightmares in many people?
3. Does the movie startle you, make you anxious, get your heart pumping, or just plain gross you out?
So draw your curtains, check out our list, tell us what you think, and rank your favorites! — Jesse Nunes, Globe Staff Next
50. ‘Silent Night, Bloody Night’ (1974)
Memorable quote: “I have wandered in bitterness until all seasons have become as one. And that is a season of vengeance.”
Scare factor: The movie that birthed the modern slasher flick. This forgotten classic—which takes place in Arlington, of all places—features the creepy atmosphere, disturbing backstory, and out-of-the shadows violence that have become staples of the slasher films of the ‘80s and ‘90s. Some mansions are best left deserted.
49. ‘Fire in the Sky’ (1993)
Memorable quote: “Get back in the truck, Travis!”
Scare factor: One of the most realistic alien abduction scenes (if you believe in that sort of thing) ever put to film. While pop culture pokes fun at alien “probes,” you won’t be laughing during this one. Instead, you may just be giving a second glance to that blinking star in the sky or that slow-moving airplane. Is that an airplane?
48. ‘When a Stranger Calls’ (1979)
Memorable quote: “Have you checked the children?”
Scare factor: This slow-moving thriller is sure to be scariest to babysitters. It will send chills down the spine of anyone who has put the kids to sleep and waited anxiously for mom and dad to return with your $20. You may need to spend it on therapy.
47. ‘The Amityville Horror’ (1979)
Memorable quote: “Get out—get out!”
Scare factor: This movie uses a staple of effective scares: based on “true events.” Whether or not you believe the Lutz family’s account of what happened in the Long Island manse, it’s hard not to jump at the bumps in the night. The lesson here: Never move into a house where a murder occurred. We know, seems like common sense.
46. ‘Dawn of the Dead’ (2004)
Memorable quote: “I know that there are some things worse than death. And one of them is sitting here waiting to die.”
Scare factor: Some of the scariest scenes come in the opening moments of the film, when a zombie outbreak is just beginning to spread, and a little girl — well, we won’t spoil it for you. While the film is technically a remake of George Romero’s 1978 zombie epic, it’s different enough to be enjoyed as an original.
45. ‘The Mothman Prophecies’ (2002)
Memorable quote: “Are they trying to warn me?”
Scare factor: It’s bad enough when you start getting predictions of doom from a strange-sounding, shadowy figure who looks like he could be one of Satan’s minions. It’s worse when those predictions start coming true. Let’s not even mention the fact that this movie is based on a book chronicling supposedly true events from the late ‘60s. What horrible prophecies will come next? Here’s one: you, frightened.
44. ‘Evil Dead II’ (1987)
Memorable quote: “That’s right... who’s laughing now? Who’s laughing now?!”
Scare factor: This is the movie that made Bruce Campbell a B-movie icon and won Sam Raimi a whole lot more directing gigs. This films has equal parts humor and gore, but when the frights happen, they happen on a grand scale. Ever wondered what it would be like to fight your own hand? You won’t have to wonder anymore after watching this movie.
43. ‘Paranormal Activity’ (2007)
Memorable quote: “I feel it. I feel it breathing on me.”
Scare factor: This low-budget, single-camera movie, shot in the first-person style popularized by “The Blair Witch Project,” is simple and effective. It eschews story and visual effects for the slow build, and unlike so many similar films, all that building tension really pays off.
42. ‘The People Under the Stairs’ (1991)
Memorable quote: “She’s been feeding that thing between the walls again.”
Scare factor: If, for some reason, you have ever been inclined to burglarize someone’s house, this movie should serve as a proper deterrent. While there are a few light moments in this Wes Craven classic, the scares still satisfy. An insane couple and a seemingly inescapable house drive the thrills. The movie also features the effective use of a “gimp suit” a la “Pulp Fiction.”
41. ‘Session 9’ (2001)
Memorable quote: “I live in the weak and the wounded.”
Scare factor: An old abandoned mental hospital (hello, Danvers!) provides the creepy location, as strange things start happening—and people start disappearing—when an asbestos removal crew starts taking apart the floors and ceilings. Scary scene of note: One worker trying to outrun the lights in a long tunnel as the generator powers down. Plus, the film employs the best use of an ice pick this side of “Basic Instinct.”
40. ‘A Tale of Two Sisters’ (2003)
Memorable quote: “That woman is strange. And so is this house.”
Scare factor: This Korean chiller follows a family with an unexplained past and a ghost that seems to pop up and scare the stuffing out of everyone watching. The odd behavior of some of the characters, and silent and shameful expressions on others, make you wonder if you’re getting the whole story. In one scene, your mind may be turned into a pretzel trying to follow along. Just go with it.
39. ‘Suspiria’ (1977)
Memorable quote: “Bad luck isn’t brought by broken mirrors, but by broken minds.”
Scare factor: It’s a stylish, sometimes gory movie from Italy’s Dario Argento, and a most unlikely location for a horror film: a ballet school in Germany. The frights come in waves and start as an unassuming student slowly learns who is actually running the school — and what their motivations are. For those squeamish around bugs, there’s a scene involving maggots falling from the ceiling that will have your skin crawling.
38. ‘Signs’ (2002)
Memorable quote: “Swing away, Merrill.”
Scare factor: “Night of the Living Dead” meets “War of the Worlds.” While not all of the scares here are what you’d call original, they are incredibly effective. The rural setting and slow build up to the reveal of the bad guys really make the finale pay off. Yes, there are some scientifically curious things going on that defy explanation, but who’s got time to be rational when you’re hiding your eyes behind a couch pillow?
37. ‘The Beyond’ (1981)
Memorable quote: “Woe be unto him who opens one of the seven gateways to hell, because through that gateway, evil—evil will invade the world.”
Scare factor: Aside from the fact that Italian goremeister Lucio Fulci likes to push the envelope with his violent scenes, he masterfully builds in the waiting—the suspense before the prolonged periods of over-the-top bloodshed—that makes those payoffs so cringe-worthy (in a good way). This movie should also make any owner of a turn-of-the-century fixer-upper think twice before undertaking a major renovation.
36. ‘Cujo’ (1983)
Memorable quote: “Don’t worry ‘bout it m’aam, Cujo won’t hurt him.”
Scare factor: Rabies, rabies, rabies. This ain’t “Old Yeller” we’re talking about here. Anyone who has even a slight fear of dogs will not want to watch this one alone. This film, based on a Stephen King book, makes a compelling argument for tighter leash laws.
35. ‘The Crazies’ (2010)
Memorable quote: “I’m not right, am I?”
Scare factor: This is one of many recent remakes of ‘70s and ‘80s horror movies, but one of the few to actually improve on its predecessor. This remake of the George Romero’s 1973 original will make you fear your neighbors, distrust the government, and question whether your water supply is contaminated. Oh, and there’s a scene in a car wash that will get your heart racing.
34. ‘The Omen’ (1976)
Memorable quote: “Look at me, Damien! It’s all for you!”
Scare factor: Forget all the stories about bad luck befalling the cast and crew during the movie’s production: this Gregory Peck-helmed thriller is scary enough as merely a film. Remember: Never secretly adopt someone else’s child without meeting the kid’s parents first — or at least seeing a picture. If creepy children scare you, then young Damien will be sure to burrow a hole in your brain and come out in your nightmares. Oh, and by the way, if decapitation scenes get your blood pumping, this one has one of the all-time greatest.
33. ‘The Hills Have Eyes’ (2006)
Memorable quote: “Mister, will you play with us?“
Scare factor: This remake of the horror classic actually packs in a few more scares — and a lot more gore. It doesn’t hurt that the makeup department spared no expense to make the bad guys as revolting as possible (no offense to Michael Berryman). And there are just enough disturbing scenes to make you never, ever look for off-the-highway shortcuts when traveling through the deserts of the western United States.
32. ‘28 Days Later’ (2002)
Memorable quote: “Plans are pointless. Staying alive’s as good as it gets.”
Scare factor: Many movies have tried to recreate what a major city could look like after an apocalypse, but not many do it as hauntingly well as Danny Boyle’s “28 Days Later.” The terrifyingly fast zombie-like creatures roaming the landscape proved to be so effectively scary that the movie spawned a wave of movies featuring fast-paced zombies.
31. ‘The Changeling’ (1980)
Memorable quote: “Whatever it is, it’s trying desperately to communicate.”
Scare factor: This is a standard-setter for haunted house scares. If you’ve ever slept in an old house or heard some creaking pipes, you may have been gripping the sheets just a little tighter thanks to this movie. Also, never has a wheelchair been used to more terrifying effect.
30. ‘The Sixth Sense’ (1999)
Memorable quote: “I see dead people.”
Scare factor: There’s something very unnerving about being put in the shoes of a young child who experiences the supernatural. It’s even scarier when said child is played as effectively as young Haley Joel Osment. And the scene where he encounters the little girl — aye carumba.
29. ‘In the Mouth of Madness’ (1994)
Memorable quotes: “What scares me about Cane’s work is what might happen if reality shared his point of view.”
“The thing I can’t remember is what came first: us or the book.”
Scare factor: An evil creepiness seeps through the whole movie and continues building throughout, which sets the stage for an inordinate amount of legitimately scary jump-out-of-your-seat moments. Add in a healthy dose of grotesque monsters and you have the recipe for an all-time scare fest. If you ever felt guilty about not reading enough books, this film will make you feel better. Sort of.
28. ‘The Brood’ (1979)
Memorable quote: “No belly button?! The thing has no belly button?!”
Scare factor: Something’s off about those kids. You know, the ones who hide in the shadows and attack people who get near them. What’s their deal? Could it be somehow related to that woman being treated by that strange psychiatrist? Or are those odd kids just lost, hungry trick-or-treaters? So many questions.
27. ‘Hellraiser’ (1987)
Memorable quote: “We’ll tear your soul apart!”
Scare factor: You’d think a skinless man living in his girlfriend’s attic trying to get her to commit unspeakable acts to help him become whole again would be disturbing enough. But then you get a glimpse at the gang of demons that is chasing the skinless man. Bad guys don’t get much scarier looking than they look in this flick.
26. ‘The Devil’s Backbone’ (2001)
Memorable quote: “What is a ghost? A tragedy condemned to repeat itself time and again? An instant of pain, perhaps. Something dead which still seems to be alive. An emotion suspended in time. Like a blurred photograph. Like an insect trapped in amber. ”
Scare factor: Before “Hellboy” and “Pan’s Labrynth,” Guillermo del Toro was crafting this chilling ghost story about an early 19th-century Spanish orphanage. There aren’t many movie character who deserve more sympathy than Carlos, who struggles to fit in and is harassed by bullies and paranoid caretakers. Throw in the ghost of a boy whom Carlos keeps spotting, and you feel the hair stand up on the back of your neck with each passing moment.
25. ‘Pet Sematary’ (1989)
Memorable quote: “Sometimes dead is better.”
Scare factor: Do you remember that heartbreaking day during your childhood when your beloved pet died? Remember how you would have done anything in the world to bring the pet back, even if it was just for a day? Remember how crushing it was to realize that such fantasies of reunion were never going to happen? If so, here’s a good movie to help you get over it. It’s another film based on a Stephen King book and the author makes an appearance as the preacher.
24. ‘The Descent’ (2005)
Memorable quote: “Hey, there’s something down here.”
Scare factor: This movie will terrify you if:
1) You’re claustrophobic.
2) You’re scared of the dark.
3) You have a fear of being trapped under the earth.
4) You have a fear of being trapped under the earth with creatures that can see you but you can’t see them.
Yeah, it’s scary for all those types of people.
23. ‘Friday the 13th’ (1980)
Memorable quote: “Look what you did to him—look what you did to him!”
Scare factor: It may be a cliched setup now, but this movie can still provide a hefty dose of terror. And don’t blame the original for the pile of mediocre-to-awful sequels that followed. There are real scares here, even if they take a bit to materialize. And try not thinking of this movie if you’re ever alone, floating in a canoe, in the middle of a lake.
22. ‘1408’ (2007)
Memorable quote: “Hotel rooms are a naturally creepy place, don’t you think? How many people have slept in that bed before you? How many of them were sick? How many of them lost their minds? How many of them—died?”
Scare factor: Ever felt uneasy staying in an unfamiliar hotel room? This Stephen King-inspired tale will make you never want to set foot in one again. This underrated gem has John Cusack as a writer who specializes in haunted hotels, while not really believing any of the stuff he writes about. That is, until he checks in to a certain room in a New York hotel. He’s about to become a believer.
21. ‘Nightmare on Elm Street’ (1984)
Memorable quote: “Whatever you do: Don’t. Fall. Asleep.”
Scare factor: As if insomniacs need another thing weighing on their minds every night. Before Freddy Krueger became a quipster who occasionally dabbles in scares, he was the burned-face murderer with knives for fingernails who killed teenagers in their dreams. Oh, but they wouldn’t just die in their sleep. No, the gore would follow them into the real world. Sweet dreams! “One, two, Freddy’s coming for you...”
20. ‘Dawn of the Dead’ (1978)
Memorable quote: “When there’s no more room in hell, the dead will walk the earth.”
Scare factor: What’s scarier than watching one of the remaining humans slowly transform into a zombie? Realizing that the zombie-in-progress is one of the only people who can fly the helicopter to get you out of there. George Romero’s epic-scale zombie apocalypse movie is really the only film featuring the living dead that really captures the pure hopelessness of a global zombie apocalypse. It has spawned sequels and knock-offs and inspired video games, but nothing beats the original.
19. ‘Deliverance’ (1972)
Memorable quote: “Squeal like a pig! Wheeee!”
Scare factor: It’s why so many city slickers are terrified of the the South. There has likely been no greater enemy to the tourism industry in rural Georgia than this film. If anything, it teaches us two things: Whenever you’re a visitor somewhere, don’t anger the locals. And it’s probably best if you keep your canoe trips to the Charles River.
18. ‘Saw’ (2004)
Memorable quote: “Live or die, make your choice. “
Scare factor: Before this movie franchise became a sad parody of itself, it brought legitimate shock and terror to a new era, giving birth to a sub-genre in the process. As unsettling as the predicaments of the characters are, it forces each viewer to answer the question: What horrible things could I withstand doing in order to save my life?
17. ‘Salem’s Lot’ (1979)
Memorable quote: “The house was a monument to evil sitting there all these years holding the essence of evil in its smoldering bones.”
Scare factor: These aren’t your kids’ vampires, all modern and emo, falling in love with the living and fostering a rivalry with werewolves. No, these have gnarly teeth and glowing eyes and conjure nothing but pure terror. So, get out your crucifix and holy water and enjoy.
16. ‘The Mist’ (2007)
Memorable quote: “I don’t know what this mist is, but there are things in it, and they’re dangerous.”
Scare factor: The quote kind of sums it up. But not completely. Without giving too much away, there are things in the mist that I guarantee you wouldn’t think of just by reading the movie’s back-cover description. And the shocking ending just may be the ultimate nightmare scenario.
15. ‘Psycho’ (1960)
Memorable quote: “She just goes a little mad sometimes. We all go a little mad sometimes.”
Scare factor: There’s a reason women are wary of guys with mommy issues. And that reason is this movie. Thank you, Norman Bates. Janet Leigh’s iconic shower scene has become imprinted on the American psyche due to this Alfred Hitchcock classic.
14. ‘Silence of the Lambs’ (1991)
Memorable quote: “It puts the lotion on its skin.”
Scare factor: An incredibly disturbing serial killer is on the loose, and the FBI seeks the assistance of an even more disturbing — yet somehow very charming — serial killer in a maximum security prison. Unlike most horror movies, the conversations here are scarier than the gore. But fear not, the gore doesn’t disappoint.
13. ‘Invasion of the Body Snatchers’ (1978)
Memorable quote: “I keep seeing these people, all recognizing each other. Something is passing between them all, some secret. It’s a conspiracy, I know it.”
Scare factor: Honestly, the wide-open mouths, extended fingers, and high-pitched screeching should be enough to keep you locked in your house for at least a week.
12. ‘Rec’ (2007)
Memorable quote: “The police won’t let us leave and are giving us no explanations.”
Scare factor: This instant classic has some serious grip-your-armrests and hold-your-breath scares in it (and it’s better than its American remake, “Quarantine”). If you live in a multi-unit apartment building, you’ll be planning your escape routes after watching this film. And go ahead, try maintaining complete silence in the grip of total panic. It’s not so easy, is it?
11. ‘The Shining’ (1980)
Memorable quote (three-way tie):
“All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.”
Scare factor: From your little boy seeing horrifying visions to your well-adjusted husband slowly descending into madness and becoming a homicidal maniac, there’s plenty to frighten you in this classic, another Stephen King-inspired thriller.
10. ‘The Ring’ (2002)
Memorable quote: “Before you die, you see the ring...”
Scare factor: Beautifully ominous settings, a creepy soundtrack, and a good, if somewhat gimmicky, plot device to drive the scares. “The Ring” — based upon the Japanese film “Ringu” — did successfully carve its own path, and let disturbing visuals and an impending sense of doom ride to good effect. You may indeed be scared to death.
9. ‘Alien’ (1979)
Memorable quote: “I admire its purity. A survivor, unclouded by conscience, remorse, or delusions of morality.”
Scare factor: Maybe it’s just a little indigestion. Yeah, that must be it. Oh wait, what’s that bulge violently erupting from my torso? If serving as the incubator for a killing machine from outer space doesn’t scare you, then just wait until it grows up, and hides in the shadows of your spaceship, and picks off your crew one-by-one. Luckily, you have a cyborg on your side. Right?
8. ‘The Texas Chainsaw Massacre’ (1974)
Memorable quote: “Hit ’er, grandpa, hit ’er.”
Scare factor: Frankly, there’s not much to not be scared about in this movie. Even before the bodies hit the meat hooks, the movie is simply unnerving. Once Leatherface makes his entrance, get ready for a full hour of psychological terror. If you ever complained about your in-laws, watch this movie and thank your lucky stars.
7. ‘Halloween’ (1978)
Memorable quote: “I realized what was living behind that boy’s eyes was purely and simply evil.”
Scare factor: It isn’t just that Michael Myers is a homicidal maniac. He’s a homicidal maniac who wears a mask that carries an expression of pure blankness, as if killing is boring. This film set the standard for all supernatural serial killer films to follow. And it stars a very young Jamie Lee Curtis.
6. ‘Night of the Living Dead’ (1968)
Memorable quote: “They’re coming to get you, Barbara! They’re coming for you! Look, there’s one of them now!”
Scare factor: Not only did George Romero’s movie essentially spawn a whole genre with this zombie classic, it also set the standard for the barricade-yourself-in-the-house survival tactic. Admit it: You have assessed your dwelling’s defensive strengths and weaknesses because of this film.
5. ‘Ju-on’ (2002)
Memorable quote: “Eeeeeeeooooooooooow.”
Scare factor: There is perhaps no movie in history with creepier children than this classic Japanese haunted house/ghost story. The one that stands there, frozen-faced, mouth-agape, while meowing will keep you up at night. Add in a creepy low-key soundtrack and some legitimately striking visual scares and you have a recipe for instant nightmares. Oh, and don’t forget the single scariest scene involving a staircase in cinematic history.
4. ‘Poltergeist’ (1982)
Memorable quote: “They’re heeeeeere.”
Scare factor: From white-noise on the TV to empty in-ground pools to ancient Indian burial grounds, the scares are almost too numerous to count. This movie would make anyone want to know as much as humanly possible about the history of a house before buying it. It’s the ultimate haunted house movie.
3. ‘The Exorcist’ (1973)
Memorable quote: “The power of Christ compels you! The power of Christ compels you!”
Scare factor: No child should ever be that foul-mouthed and that convincingly scary in a movie. Linda Blair’s seminal performance is almost enough to make you believe in demons (that is, if you didn’t believe in them already). If you haven’t watched this in a while, do yourself a favor and check out the director’s cut, then go ahead and try sleeping afterward. Good luck with that.
2. ‘Jaws’ (1975)
Memorable quote: “You’re gonna need a bigger boat.”
Scare factor: Be honest, every time you hear news reports of great white sightings off the coast of Cape Cod, you think of “Jaws” (which was actually filmed on Martha’s Vineyard). Due to this movie, millions of people think twice anytime they set foot in the ocean. If you have ever freaked out when something has brushed against your leg in the water, thank Steven Spielberg.
1. ‘The Thing’ (1982)
Memorable quote: “Somebody in this camp ain’t what he appears to be. ”
Scare factor: What makes this the top fright fest? Could it be the fear of complete isolation in the face of disaster? Or the invisible enemy in sub-zero temperatures? How about the terrifying feeling of not knowing which of your supposed friends and colleagues are who they say they are, and not a shape-shifting alien? Yeah, all those things.
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