Nerd Culture

The 20 Scariest Horror Films of All Time

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Imagine a giant malevolent alien orb that can derive your greatest fears and manifest them into real life just to terrorize you. People might not consider Sphere a particularly scary movie when they're making their lists, but the film, which is based on a Michael Crichton novel, is not one to be overlooked. If you don't believe us, look no further than the infamous jellyfish scene above. Not so whimsical anymore, are they?

Yep, this is the third film to make the cut that's based somewhat on Ed Gein. That guy really did a number on the horror film industry. Anyway, this Alfred Hitchcock film has everything you're looking for in a good slasher: intensity, uncertainty, and even a graphic murder scene, despite being filmed in black and white. As Phoenicians, we love getting caught up in our hometown's cameo at the beginning of the movie, but everyone can agree that the shower scene is one of the most pivotal moments in horror movie history.

The Thing
In terms of non-CGI special effects, John Carpenter is the master. The Thing is chock-full of all the creepy crawly monsters and gooey severed limbs that you could hope for in a scary movie. Undeniably, Kurt Russell is a total babe as the Antarctic scientist protagonist, but the movie's more than just his pretty, pretty face. The uneasiness and distrust builds between the characters so well in the movie that it's hard to know who has been infected with the alien virus. It keeps you guessing and jumping a bit when people explode a new batch of E.T. monsters.

Rosemary's Baby
There are people who are completely freaked out by this 1968 classic, and then there are men. However, even the unfairer sex can feel sympathy pains for Mia Farrow's character as she carries a demon baby to term thanks to her evil neighbors. You might've thought your pregnancy stories were a nightmare, but trust us, it's nothing compared to Roman Polanski's take.

Really, there shouldn't be a whole heck of a lot more explanation needed than saying there's a murderous clown named Pennywise on the loose and he's ready to terrorize your dreams for the rest of your life. If you insist on more, just know that this film adaptation of work by the prolific horror writer Stephen King is a deeply disturbing story about a clown that sucks kids into the storm drain to eat them or whatever it is he has planned. We know it isn't good.

28 Days Later
You're probably mad right now that Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead aren't on the list and this movie is, but you know what? Slow zombies aren't scary. What is scary is ravenous, infected cannibals running at full speed toward you. This movie doesn't spare any of the gory details, either. Prepare to see a fair amount of people being eaten by other people. Yikes.

No good horror movie list is complete without including a Dario Argento movie. The master of horror expertly melds beauty with gore and madness with subtlety. Visually striking and unique, there's no mistaking an Argento movie. While we also love Inferno, you can't deny how creepy this witch coven masquerading as a top dance academy actually is.

It says a lot that this film, made in 1932, has stood the test of time for more than eight decades. Though there's supposedly an even more distressing version of the film that was deemed pretty much unfit for society back in those days, we're fine with the Freaks that's out there. If you haven't seen the movie, which stars real people with physical deformities, you might think the title was patently offensive. However, there's a twist and the real "monsters" in this movie might not be who you'd think, despite being made in the pre-politically correct era.

The Exorcist
You're probably possessed if you genuinely thought we'd leave The Exorcist off this list. It's widely hailed as one of the best, if not the best, horror movie of all time for a reason: It pretty much invented the formula for movies centered around demonic possession. This movie stands out to this day for a number of reasons, but we think that Linda Blair's performance as the possessed daughter Regan is unbeatable. And the film won two Oscars, so that's got to count for something.

Nightmare on Elm Street
It's like you can hear the conversation that Wes Craven was having when he came up with the idea for this 1980s horror movie. We're guessing it was something to the effect of, "Oh yeah, let's make everyone literally afraid to sleep" — and that he did. Freddy Kreuger is a twisted S.O.B., and Robert Englund's mix of humor and terror will definitely make you uneasy when the lights are out. Worst of all, he's relentless. So just don't fall asleep ... ever.

Editor's note: This post has been updated from its original version, which first appeared in October 2014.
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Heather Hoch is a music, food, and arts writer based in Tucson. She enjoys soup, scotch, Electric Light Orchestra, and walking her dog, Frodo.
Contact: Heather Hoch