I initially had 12 on this list but it ended up with a fitting 13. I know not all of these films would be traditionally considered scary but they have all scared me. Good stories and freaky imagery rank way higher than any kind of special effects in my books. Please note this list includes some mild spoiler/content info.
I hope you enjoy the list! Without further ado, and in alphabetical order here are my scariest movies of all time:
2001: A Space Odyssey
Dir: Stanley Kubrick
Cast: Keir Dullea, Gary Lockwood, William Sylvester
Yes, you are reading a scary movie list and 2001 is on it. While researching just reading the name “Dr. Dave Bowman” scared me. I have yet to see the end of the it because I get too freaked out. It is so creepy. Things that happen that you know can actually happen but you see happen and believed? Omg… it doesn’t get scarier than that. Open the pod bay doors Hal....
Dir: Nacho Cerdà
Cast: Anastasia Hille, Karel Roden, Valentine Ganev, Carlos Reig
Spain, release date tbd
This film was part of the 2006 Toronto International Film Festival and I would say its one to watch for folks who love horror. It’s the first time in a long time that I’ve seen some refreshing innovativeness in terms of storytelling and imagery as oppose to shock value and gore in this genre. At some points it was a little confusing and the acting could be a little better, but on the whole I was impressed.. and scared!!
Dir: Ridley Scott
Cast: Signourney Weaver, Tom Skerritt, Veronica Cartwright, Harry Dean Stanton, John Hurt, Yaphet Kotto, Ian Holm
The definitive, classic thriller that still stands the test of time. I can’t think of another film that holds an atmosphere of tension as well this film. Brilliant direction, stellar casting, great writing and design I would have to say this film is about as flawless as you can get.
Dir: Peter Medak
Cast: George C. Scott, Trish Van Devere, Melvyn Douglas, Jean Marsh
This may be one of the lesser known on this least but is in no way less scary. Steeped in the supernatural and set in a house of secrets we experience some very freaky stuff. I remember the second time I watched this film, and then collectively decided with my fellow viewers that we were insane to watch it again, it is just too scary.
Fire in the Sky
Dir: Robert Lieberman
Cast: D.B. Sweeney, Robert Patrick, Craig Sheffer, Henry Thomas
Released in the midst of the rise of stories of crop circles and TV series “The X-Files” this is my alien abduction submission for scary movies. It may not the best film but it sure is scary, for me more so because at that time I was really into that kinda stuff. Plus, it stars D.B. Sweeney, who will forever in my family known as “The Navigator”.
Dir: Rick Rosenthal
Cast: Jamie Lee Curtis, Donald Pleasence, Jeffrey Kramer
I’m not entirely sure why I am including this film over the original, it could be the creepiness of the setting. This is another high tension, eye closing, popcorn jolting scary film. It’s another classic for sure, not film in general but for sure in terms of scary films but.
Haunting, The (1963)
Dir: Robert Wise
Cast: Julie Harris, Richard Johnson, Claire Bloom, Fay Compton
This one is not to be confused with its 1999 remake. See the original please. I would have to say that for me this is the classic scary movie. Not a horror film perse but a thriller about the things that go bump in the night. Great tension, imagery and sound accompany a great story. I think it might be the root of my curious love of stairways.
Dir: Tobe Hooper
Cast: Craig T. Nelson, JoBeth Williams, Dominique Dunne, Oliver Robins, Heather O’Rourke, Beatrice Straight
If you haven’t seen this make sure you see the original and not the sequels, or the TV show. It truly is one of the scariest films I’ve seen. Some everyday objects will not appear the same after seeing this film. I think also seeing kids being scared also turns up the creepy and believability factor. A hair-raiser for sure.
Dir: Gore Verbinski
Cast: Naomi Watts, Martin Henderson, Brian Cox, David Dorfman
It is refreshing to have a more current entry! Although I did also quite enjoy the original Japanese version, Ringu, I include The Ring over it as I saw it first and it’s heavily plot based therefore the original didn’t hold as much POW! for me. The imagery is unbelieveably scary. I think I had to spend at least 30% of the film not watching the screen. If you’ve seen neither and are ok with subtitles I’d recommend Ringu first (and if you can get it), but this version does hold its own.
Writer/Dir: Michael Crichton
Cast: Tom Selleck, Cynthia Rhodes, Gene Simmons, Kirstie Alley
It’s slightly humorous to see a film over 20 years old that is ‘futuristic’, but if you can get past (or enjoy) the 80’s-ness of this film its is completely worth it. Gene Simmons plays an excellent bad guy in this ‘high tech’ thriller.
Dir: Stanley Kubrick
Cast: Jack Nicholson, Shelly Duvall, Danny Lloyd
It has been many years since I have seen this film, in fact I think I only saw it once at a friends birthday party where I remember the host trying to calm down her brother who was also watching it but saying “Don’t worry, it’s just ketchup”. I’ll tell ya one thing, it ain’t ketchup. Again, Stanley Kubrick brought us this visually stunning and scary as hell horror movie with imagery I will never forget, although with this one I almost wish I could.
Writer/Dir: M. Night Shyamalan
Cast: Mel Gibson, Joaquin Phoenix, Rory Culkin, Abigal Breslin
I think the fans of this genre have a clean split in opinion on M. Night Shyamalan. Those who like is films, and those who don’t. I, myself am a fan of his work. I think the comment that the films are too similar is really more reflective of the fact that there aren’t currently a lot of thrillers out there. Horror & gore-fest, yes .. but actual thrillers, not so much. I think Signs is a great film and it scares me every time I watch it, I think because of how accessible the situation is. Joaquin Phoenix’s acting in particular is in my opinion, one of the keys as to why this film works so well. Amazing tension building techniques as well as less-is-more philosophy make this thriller an edge of your seat viewing pleasure.
Watcher in the Woods
Dir: John Hough
Cast: Bette Davis, Lynn-Holly Johnson, Kyle Richards, Carroll Baker, David McCallum
If someone told me I would be including a Disney film in my list of scary movies, I would think there was something fishy going on. But, this is a Disney film and it is scary. Some say it doesn’t hold up as a scary film to adults but I watched it a few years ago and I was still scared, it could have been reflective of the first viewing though. For this one I would say it’s all in the imagery.
© Shannon Ridler, 2006
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