10: It Follows (2014)
The modern horror scene, especially in the past decade or so, has been painfully sparse. Few films have come close to capturing the terrifying majesty of the horror classics made in the 70s and 80s. “It Follows” is exceptional for a couple reasons. One, unlike many of the films on this list, this film doesn’t use gore or violence to scare the audience (which is quite refreshing in a modern horror scene saturated with over-violent slasher films). Two, it manages to somehow be interesting and original, even though the plot is full of tired horror tropes such as physical intimacy leading to death, and teenagers being the sole targets for whatever the film’s monster is. For people looking for a fresh, modern horror movie, look no further than “It Follows.”
9: Psycho (1960)
The film that started it all, “Psycho,” holds up surprisingly well for being the first film to feature blood on-camera after the censorship of it in 1934. As the first slasher film, “Psycho” introduced the idea of a the audience being forced to watch as a cast of characters are progressively killed, while hoping that maybe one of them might be able to outwit the killer. While there have absolutely been better entries in the genre since this film’s release, none are quite as influential to horror as a whole.
8: The Blair Witch Project (1999)
“The Blair Witch Project” is potentially the most polarizing film on this list. While a large portion of viewers still insist to this day that it is the scariest film ever made, an almost equally large portion argue that this film is almost painfully dull. What a viewer’s opinion really comes down to is whether or not they are able to put themselves in the shoes of film’s main characters. These film students are presented with various scenarios that don’t seem scary, such as stacks of rocks or sticks, but in the context of their isolated position in the woods, these small events become absolutely terrifying. Added to this is the atmosphere, due to both the low budget, and directorial decisions, and “The Blair Witch Project” becomes a masterpiece of horror, especially for its measly budget.
7: The Conjuring (2013)
Another of the few examples of exceptional modern horror films, “The Conjuring” draws some of its uniqueness from the fact that it is, at least partially, based on a true story. Following a portion of the lives of Ed and Loraine Warren, two real-life paranormal investigators, the film follows a pretty traditional haunted house story, where the Warrens move into a home and realize that various supernatural events are taking place. The reason the film is exceptional, however, is that the cinematography and sound design are almost perfect. Every single scare comes without much of any indication, and the sound is just subtle enough to be absolutely terrifying.
6: Friday the 13th (1980)
“Friday the 13th” does nearly everything right. The villain is terrifying, the deaths feel meaningful, some are surprising, and the violence is doled out at a rate that is neither excessive nor boring. The film’s setting, while not particular ground breaking, manages to present a dark, terrifying backdrop to the events that are taking place. While “Psycho” created the slasher genre, “Friday the 13th” was one of the films that perfected it, and other horror movies have been trying to copy it ever since.
5: Alien (1979)
“Alien” is a bit of an anomaly on this list, because it stands on its own as a science fiction movie as well as a horror film, something that no other movie on this list can claim. However, this does nothing to detract from the fact that “Alien” is an incredibly terrifying film. Between the clever use of gore to the design of the alien itself, nearly every moment of this film is nerve-wracking. Add to that exceptional performances, especially by Sigourney Weaver, and a masterfully crafted soundtrack and you have the formula for both a great horror film, and a great action movie, all rolled into one package.
4: Halloween (1978)
Alongside “Friday the 13th,” “Halloween” is the other film that mastered the slasher genre. The difference between the films, and the reason “Halloween” ranks higher, is because it plays upon the fears of the viewer better. Both feature larger than life villains, and both feature murders of innocent victims, but the deaths in “Halloween” feel less expected, as it takes place in a more realistic location, instead of a summer camp. “Halloween” manages to trump its competitor, if only by a small margin.
3: A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)
While many horror films play upon various innate fears in the human psyche, there are a rare few that manage to create horror like “A Nightmare on Elm Street”. This is, of course, because instead of things in the world around the characters in the film, it draws from their dreams, and their nightmares. This strikes a very specific chord with viewers, as everyone has had a bad dream at some point in their lives. This movie takes the natural human fear response found in nightmares, and takes it to extremes, as suddenly due to the film’s villain, Freddy Krueger, dreams start killing their hosts. Few things are scarier than being unable to escape death, and being asleep while it happens is even worse.
2: The Exorcist (1973)
“The Exorcist” is simply unsettling. Some horror films try to create scary moments using gore or violence, this one simply disturbs the viewer to no end. Playing upon both a primal fear of the unknown, and the idea of demon possession that has been present in Christian mythology for centuries, the film draws viewers in the madness that the mother of a demon possessed child must endure. Every moment of the movie is tense, to the point of keeping the viewer sweating throughout the whole thing. One of the things that horror films do exceptionally well is show their audience realistic depictions of evil in its purest form, and this film had that in spades.
1: Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)
Many movies have tried to recreate the absolute horror that came from the original “Texas Chainsaw Massacre”, but none have managed to succeed. The reason behind this is simple. This film managed, with little gore or explicit violence, to construct a sense of dread, and to call upon the instinctual human fear of the unknown. The film answered very few of the viewers questions, instead leaving them wondering why the events of the film took place, and contemplating the horror of Leatherface, the film’s silent villain. More than anything, however, the horror in this film comes from how blunt the deaths in it are. There are no bells and whistles, and no punches are pulled. While there is little gore, each death in the film packs an enormous punch, feeling visceral and real, instead of bloody and excessive like most modern horror films. Any fan of horror who hasn’t seen this films needs to add it to their repertoire right away.