Looking for a good scary movie? The Spotless Mind reviewers were asked to list their Top Five Scariest Movies, in order, and I’ve compiled the list below. So get to watching, but don’t blame us for your lack of sleep!
1. THE SHINING (1980)
Jen – Taking your eyes off of this film is virtually impossible. I remember sneaking out of bed, around the age of 10, while my parents were watching this movie one evening. It was the scene when Danny sees the apparition of the dead twins that I started wailing and ran back to bed in a frenzy. It was probably another week or so that I was able to sleep without my light on. If I ever catch The Shining playing on TV I almost feel bad not watching it because it is so extraordinary.
Adam – Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece is one of the few effective Stephen King adaptations to film (the other notable exceptions being Misery and The Mist, both which make honorable mention on my list). An exercise in cinematic tension, the story is captured through the eyes of the hotel as its three winter inhabitants fight its imperial forces. I can’t say enough for how iconic and worthwhile this movie is…every moment is brilliant.
Greg – Now anybody who knows me at all is well aware of the love affair that I wish I had with Stanley Kubrick. I love every one of his films and this one is no exception. I could have easily put A Clockwork Orange or Full Metal Jacket in this list, because they’re both equally terrifying, but in different ways. If someone is searching for a brilliant gothic horror then look no further cause they don’t get better, or more beautifully constructed, than this. Also I must mention Jack Nicholson’s extraordinarily psychotic performance. The man was born to play a nut-job.
James – Easily my favourite horror movie. Like the best psychological horror films the mood is created slowly and carefully, a pervasive horror hanging over every scene, slowly growing to the inevitable fever pitch of Jack Torrence attempting to murder his family. Kubrick’s long takes in huge halls, mixed with carefully selected sudden cuts to the scariest images gives me huge, enjoyable shivers every time. The ambiguity of this film also plays into the pervasive dread.
2. THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT (1999)
James – A popular choice for this list it seems. Again, Adam showed me this movie and I actually did not go to bed until the sun came up. This was not that long ago. The movie is predicated on the very true assumption that the audience’s imaginings of what is out hollering in the darkness is a hundred times scarier than any special effects or makeup could ever be. The actors give startling and increasingly more panicked naturalistic performances and I will say, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that the final few seconds of this movie had me more scared than I had ever been in my entire life.
Adam – I think this film is one of the most underrated in its genre, victim to over exposure and too many terrible offshoots. The concept is the most groundbreaking in the past twenty years, and the execution is immaculate. If you haven’t been wholly unsettled by this movie yet, watch it alone.
Alan – Even looking past the ridiculous ‘true story’ concept (that I remember not believing for a second, even as an impressionable youth) this is a pretty scary film. I subscribe to the idea that the unknown is the scariest thing you can imagine, and as soon as the killer/ghost/demon/whatever is shown on screen it becomes 90% less scary. So this movie definitely got that aspect right, as the titular Witch is never shown once. There are plenty of other things that show up to scare you, and combined with the ‘reality’ aspect of the film (all the footage being from the character’s camcorders) it truly is one of the scariest films ever made. The scene at the end with the guy standing in the corner is still something I find more disturbing than all the Saw movies combined.
3. PSYCHO (1960)
Alan – This movie is a great example of why suspense > gore. The infamous shower scene is just the tip of the iceberg, and I can only imagine seeing the film during it’s initial run when you DIDN’T know Janet Leigh was going to die partway through. Along with the iconic soundtrack and the amazing performance by Anthony Perkins, it has become a classic for a reason. Just try and watch the final scene and not squirm a little. It’s chilling. And awesome.
4. THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS (1991)
Greg – Two words: Anthony Hopkins. In a scant 16 minutes of screen time, Hopkins delivers a performance that infects the soul and disturbs the mind with thoughts that a character like Hannibal Lecter could actually exist. One of the only horror movies in history (aside from The Exorcist) to be truly honoured as a work of art, and rightfully so. Every performance is brilliant and every scene gives off the feeling of coming horror. A sequence that immediately comes to mind is the exact minute before Hannibal is first shown to the audience. Clarice is walking down the prison hall and at the very end waiting for her is the chair and the cannibal; the music builds to an unbearable crescendo and then appears short little Anthony Hopkins waiting for her, standing politely behind the glass. I love it.
5. THE EXORCIST (1973)
James – This selection is a testament to how subjective my list really is. I watched two-thirds of the remastered version of this movie when I was thirteen and to this day have not dared to try and finish it. The makeup, the crawling-down-the-stairs scene and especially the cuts to “Captain Howdy” all still scare the shit out of me even though they are a distant memory.
6. BATTLE ROYALE (2000)
Jen – It was the quick pace of the film that distracted me at first from all of the mayhem. After the credits rolled it had finally sunk in that I had just witnessed 41 teenagers slaughter one another. Even though the premise is incredibly creative and the film is handled brilliantly, I can’t help but remain very uneasy about it. I will also never listen to classical music the same way.
7. SCREAM (1996)
Alan – It’s interesting to watch this movie now, because when it was first released on VHS my family rented it and watched it together, and I thought it was a legit horror film (and not a loving homage/parody of horror films). I couldn’t see the humor in the movie because the opening scene with Drew Barrymore and her boyfriend getting killed had me literally hiding under the blankets throughout. I watch it now and it’s awesome, but back then I felt sick to my stomach, and terrified.
8. THE CHILDREN (2008)
Adam – This is a surprise for me, having just seen the movie after initiating the concept behind these lists. This British import is one of the most compelling, well performed, taught rollercoaster of a horror movie I’ve ever seen. Admittedly, the synopsis on the back cover made me rent it because I thought it would be laughably bad – A virus sweeps through a group of children, its symptom being a desire to kill their parents. What follows is a dramatic and effectively gory sequence that adds art to an otherwise mundane concept. If you weren’t scared of children before, this’ll do it.
9. ALIEN (1979)
Greg – I love it when space looks even more filthy than earth. Ridley Scott certainly achieved that and much more in this low budget sci-fi/horror classic. Even though it was made in the seventies, the spaceship set still looks great, and even before the alien gets onboard there is the feeling of suffocating claustrophobia. This movie takes a lesson from the greatest horror films and takes its own sweet time getting going: Building tension and developing characters, so when the full grown alien is finally shown over an hour into the film, the audience doesn’t really care that it looks a lot like a muppet, they care about the character that is gonna get eaten by said muppet and about the pants they just pissed in.
10. FUNNY GAMES (2007)
Jen – I guess I have a Naomi Watts thing. Even though no violence is shown onscreen this movie remains truly graphic. It strives to make people uncomfortable and succeeds. The thing that resonated most with me was the fact that this could happen, and DOES happen. This movie is both gripping and repellent simultaneously and I refuse to watch it again.
11. THE RING (2002)
Alan – There’s a certain uneasiness about this film that I found very unsettling the first time I watched it. I rarely get legitimately scared from movies, but to be honest this was one of the first ones that scared me as an adult. It’s unforunate so many shitty copycat films were made after this one, as at the time it was a nice change of pace from the usual breed of horror movie.
Jen – I, like Alan, found this movie very unsettling. Had I not been paralyzed by fear in my chair, I would have asked for my money back. I was mislead into believing this movie was about a psychic and my life will never be the same because of it. The movie is incredibly stylish and takes you on an absolute roller coaster ride of terror.
12. STIR OF ECHOES (1999)
Alan – I saw this movie during a midnight showing on Halloween, and couldn’t sleep afterward. While a lot of the stuff I got scared by were cheap ‘make-you-jump’ moments, there was an element to the movie that haunted me for a few weeks to come. I won’t spoil it, but the manner in which the young girl is killed (the one haunting Kevin Bacon’s house) was particularly uncomfortable to watch, and shook me to the core.
13. DANCER IN THE DARK (2000)
James – I have not seen Lars Von Trier’s Antichrist yet, and I have a sneaking suspicion that that film may soon find its way on to lists like this one, though I can’t imagine a more sadistic experience than Dancer In The Dark. The cruelest twists of fate are the villains in this film and horror is the only word to describe my reaction to the tragedy of Selma’s story. Everyone who has seen this film knows the most horrific “moment” in it and it is a test of courage not to look away from it.
14. THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE (1974)
Adam – The film paved the way for low budget horror in years to come. There is something perfect about the form matching the content, where the stark and dusty nature of the deep south is captured in the simplest and least obtrusive way. The terror is left up to the legend, and so is categorically more macabre and gut wrenching. (I’ll also give a mention to the 2003 remake, which surprised me in its revolting and effective re-imagining of the classic.)
15. SE7EN (1995)
Greg – Good Lord this is a good looking movie. Every shot and every frame is beautifully rendered to give the feeling of a decaying metropolis where it is always raining, and maybe that is a metaphor for Jon Doe’s state of mind? (I just came up with that while writing this, don’t judge me too harshly) Morgan Freeman and Brad Pitt are great, in fact I really hope that Pitt continues this DeNiro/Scorsese relationship he has going with David Fincher, cause he gets better and better with each movie Fincher casts him in. Anyway, the scariest moments in this film are the crime scenes when Freeman and Pitt investigate each killing. None of the killings are actually seen, just the aftermath, which leaves it up to the audience to imagine what each victim went through in those unseen moments. A good imagination is always more terrifying than anything a director could put on film.
Jen – Se7en sits at my #3 favorite films of all-time. There is nothing more chilling than Brad Pitt screaming, “What’s in the box?” Moments after I first finished my first viewing of this I immediatly rewound the VHS and watched it for a second time. The movie is terribly grim but absolutely breathtaking. 10+ years later, it still remains unique, polished and pretty damn phenomenal.
16. SAW (2004)
Greg – It’s hard to believe that this little movie kicked off the woefully prolonged ‘Saw’ franchise (Next one is in 3D!!!!!!! OMG-SPLOSION). I guess it’s inevitable that there will be sequels when the first film is made for a million bucks and then earns 55 million. That’s a good ratio. And even though this series lost all hint of believability around the opening death of the second film, I still think that Saw 1 is a modern horror classic. It has some genuine scares, some really fantastic unintentionally funny moments (Carey Elwes’ entire performance comes to mind, God I love that guy), and a completely ridiculous twist that is only really awesome once, but FUCK is it ever awesome that first time. Even though this is the movie that gave rise to the sub-genre of torture porn, I still love it. Long live the Dread Pirate Roberts.
17. REQUIEM FOR A DREAM (2000)
James – Adam showed me this movie and I distinctly remember thinking “I will never watch this film again”. Several days later I bought it and watched it again. This film, although not strictly a horror movie, wholly embodies that feeling of not being able to turn away from the horror, of being so invested in the characters you must watch the horrible places they inevitably go to. Brilliant and horrific.
18. THE DESCENT (2005)
Adam – I’m not one for creature films, but both The Descent and The Mist created a believable atmosphere where I was invested enough in the characters to be genuinely terrified by what hunted them. The Descent uses the claustrophobia of a cave to ensnare the audience, and bring them along for the ride. The manipulation of darkness and the sparse revealing of the predators, turns what should be hokey science-fiction into realistic horror.