Horror movies aren’t just for Halloween, and while what we find hair-raising is subjective there are some films that are just unquestionably terrifying. Here is our list of the top ten horror movies of all time, listed in alphabetical order. The list includes movies that also cross into the sci-fi and thriller genres — but all of them will make you sleep with the light on.
1. Alien, 1979
Alien left millions of moviegoers hiding behind their couches after drawing them in with the chilling tagline: “In space no one can hear you scream.” Unusually for its time, the film had a very strong female lead character which saw Sigourney Weaver in her first big-screen role. The plot sees Sigourney as Lieutenant Ellen Ripley on board a commercial spaceship heading back to earth when seven crew members are awakened from hypersleep to investigate an SOS signal on a nearby planet. The unwanted guest they inadvertently bring back and their bid to destroy it makes for one of the most bone-chilling space-based horror movies in history. Directed by Ridley Scott, Alien has been classified in the science fiction, thriller and horror genres — and essentially, it’s all three. The 1987 sequel, appropriately entitled Aliens, is directed by James Cameron and is just as compelling to watch.
2. The Blair Witch Project, 1999
This independent mockumentary was made by Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez — and became famous as one of the first ever extremely low-budget films to make millions at the box-office. It tells the story of three film students who get lost in a forest in Maryland as they are filming a documentary about the Blair witch. Using their own handheld footage of the unfolding events, the tension turns into horror as they become convinced that the woods really are haunted.
3. The Exorcist (The Version You’ve Never Seen), 1973
Yes, that’s how the film is now titled. And if you’ve not seen this version with four new scenes and a longer running time, it’s time to do so as this movie is even scarier than the original — if that’s possible. It tells the chilling story of a family’s efforts to rid an evil spirit from the body of a young girl and is based loosely on a true story, although the real-life ‘possessed person’ from the 1940s that it was based on was in fact a boy. Director William Friedkin did all he could to make the movie as realistic as possible, down to keeping the set so cold the actors’ breath could be seen. The story’s author, William Peter Blatty, won an Academy Award for best adapted screenplay after rewriting it to fit the big screen.
4. Halloween, 1978, and Halloween II, 1981
John Carpenter’s original Halloween movie is one of the earliest slasher films to grace our screens. It stars Jamie Lee Curtis, whose mother, Janet Leigh, acted in Alfred Hitchcock’s legendary horror flick Psycho (see below). Considered tame in terms of gore by today’s standards, Halloween is still full of edge-of-your seat suspense and is a must-see during the Halloween season. Halloween II (directed by Rick Rosenthal and produced by Carpenter) was just as terrifying. The opening scene is actually the end of the original — a pretty much unique feature for a film at the time. The terrifying central character, Michael Myers, is certainly not a guy you would want to run into on a dark night.
5. The Haunting
Based on the novel The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson, the movie’s title was shortened to just The Haunting — although it didn’t become any less petrifying. Made in 1963, this black & white version shows what a psychic, played by Julie Harris, experiences as she encounters the harmful spirit that occupies the haunted Hill House. This isn’t a blood ‘n guts gore-fest but a moody, genuinely haunting film directed by Robert Wise.
6. Psycho, 1960
The original Alfred Hitchcock version of this classic horror film was made in 1960, and was also shot in atmospheric black and white. Again, there is little blood and guts – but there’s enough imagined brutality to last you a lifetime in the film’s infamous shower scene. Psycho was considered the most violent picture ever made within the Hollywood studio system at the time. It was remade (in color) and brought up to date by director Gus Van Sant in 1998.
7. Rosemary’s Baby
Rosemary’s Baby is based on Ira Levin’s novel of the same name, and the 1968 movie was brilliantly directed by Academy Award-winning director Roman Polanski. It is genuinely creepy, with an incredibly taut plot that never lets up on the suspense. Mia Farrow plays the title character Rosemary, who endures a very rocky pregnancy. She then discovers that the neighbors in her large old haunted New York City apartment building are Satanists and the baby she’s carrying isn’t that of her actor husband, but is the son of Satan.
Seven (Se7en) stars Brad Pitt, Morgan Freeman, Kevin Spacey and Gwyneth Paltrow in director David Fincher’s 1995 crime thriller. The sinister plot and menacing mood of the film make for a particularly disturbing watch. It sees two homicide detectives trying to find a serial killer who is slaughtering his victims after they betray the Seven Deadly Sins. All the sins – wrath, greed, pride, sloth, lust, envy and gluttony – are covered in the twisted plot. Actor Kevin Spacey received an Oscar nomination for his performance as the killer.
9. The Shining, 1980
This is where the trifecta of movie making masters merges: Jack Nicholson, Stanley Kubrick and Stephen King. And it’s as good, if not better, than the Stephen King book it’s based on. It tells the story of a young boy who has a psychic gift, which is referred to in the title, who is swept up in the events that take place in the secluded Overlook Hotel he’s staying at with his parents because his father is the caretaker. Only a great actor like Jack Nicholson could add the such well-executed touches of black humor necessary to make this the epic film it ended up being. Watching the main character disintegrate onscreen is terrifying to watch.
10. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, 1974
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre was directed by Tobe Hooper and is a truly chilling movie. Although filmed well before The Blair Witch Project” was hyped as being based on actual events, so was this one. It’s loosely based on a serial killer from Wisconsin, and was also the inspiration for director Ridley Scott’s second movie, Alien. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre stars a cast of then unknowns who stumble upon the home of the chainsaw-wielding Leatherface and his cannibalistic family. This truly classic horror movie is well paced and shocking in its depiction of evil as the young people encounter enemies that feast on their prey.
That’s all from our top ten horror movies list, folks. If you think we’ve missed out any important or more terrifying films, be sure to let us know in the comment section below. What would be in your top ten horror movies list?