One of the scariest movies because: Well… clowns. The latest adaptation of Stephen King’s frightful page-turner that debued in September quickly surpassed The Exorcist for highest-grossing R-rated scary movie ever.
What the critics say: Even before movie reviews dropped, critic Halleigh Fatouch of Collider tweeted “It’s scary as sh–.” Skarsgard nails Pennywise, she added. “Beyond killer clowns, It also delves into the grief & anger kids feel when they realize those who should love & protect them do the opposite. These are themes in King’s stories that filmmakers often ignore. But the best adaptations figure out they’re the most vital part.”—Anthony Breznican, EW. This one’s definitely not for children, folks.
One of the scariest movies because: Terrible, terrible things come out of a little girl’s mouth (which happens to be attached to a spinning head, thanks to a demonic possession). Audiences were so affected by this fearsome film that some theaters even provided “Exorcist barf bags.”
What the critics say: “The climactic sequences assault the senses and the intellect with pure cinematic terror. “—Variety
One of the scariest movies because: Jack Nicholson is seriously freaky as crazed novelist Jack Torrance, who [spoiler alert] tries to chop his family to little bits after a particularly stressful winter.
What the critics say: “Scaring the viewer is easy… What is harder is to accentuate the horrifying aspects of things that are familiar… Kubrick isn’t out for screams, but he manages to make his movie thoroughly unnerving by keeping the horror so close to home.”—Janet Maslin, The New York Times
One of the scariest movies because: This John Carpenter original is a cold, bloody slasher flick that cuts to the bone; and it’s not afraid to take itself seriously.
What the critics say: “A visceral experience – we aren’t seeing the movie, we’re having it happen to us. It’s frightening.”—Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times
One of the scariest movies because: Things aren’t what they seem in Poltergeist: A static TV screen releases evil spirits, invisible beings rearrange furniture, and houses move through dimensions, which might make shadows seem a bit menacing as you settle into bed after watching.
What the critics say: “…a marvelously spooky ghost story that may possibly scare the wits out of very small children and offend those parents who believe that kids should be protected from their own, sometimes savage imaginations.”—Vincent Canby, The New York Times
One of the scariest movies because: It’s so packed with evil that even the trees rip hapless teenagers apart in this pre-Spider-Man flick from director Sam Raimi, which has enough murder and supernatural mayhem to warrant an NC-17 rating.
What the critics say: “Sam Raimi directed this 1983 horror feature fresh out of film school, and his anything-for-an-effect enthusiasm pays off … The film is ferociously kinetic and full of visual surprises.”—Pat Graham, Chicago Reader
One of the scariest movies because: This recent movie lampoons horror conventions while packing in some thrills of its own – a hulking family of zombies is mostly meant to be funny, but they’re sort of disturbing.
What the critics say: “It is by turns moderately horrifying and wickedly funny, offering more nods and winks than a narcoleptic on jury duty.”—Christopher Orr, The Atlantic
One of the scariest movies because: Adolescence is tough enough without worrying about razor-armed Freddy Krueger killing hormonal teens in their sleep.
What the critics say: “Tailor made for those who like their gore leavened with thought-provoking ideas – something that is a rarity in this genre.”—James Berardinelli, ReelViews
One of the scariest movies because: You’ll never quite look at ravens the same way after seeing them descend upon a group of schoolchildren as if they were mealworms.
What the critics say: “Genuinely disturbing thriller classic from the master of suspense.”—Kim Newman, Empire
One of the scariest movies because: The suspense mounts until it’s nearly unbearable, and then, finally [spoiler alert!], a bizarre creature rips through a man’s chest. After that, the real horror begins.
What the critics say: “Even with its horrifying villain and scenes of bloody excess, Alien endures as a superior piece of filmmaking, with a pace that’s like watching an art film.”—Peter Hartlaub, San Francisco Chronicle
One of the scariest movies because: Who wants to imagine being eaten by Anthony Hopkins?
What the critics say: “For all the unbridled savagery on display, what is shrewd, significant and finally hopeful about Silence of the Lambs is the way it proves that a movie can be mercilessly scary and mercifully humane at the same time.”—Peter Travers, Rolling Stone
One of the scariest movies because: It’s about a killer videotape – which doesn’t bode well for the viewer of this unsettling Japanese original. More atmospheric than the American remake, Ring is worth a late-night viewing.
What the critics say: “Ring forces fear into every cut as a psychic telejournalist counts down the hours till a fatal visitation, while making a gung ho attempt to save her brood.”—Edward Crouse, Village Voice
One of the scariest movies because: Even though the death traps are beyond gruesome – though, clever in this first Saw film, tortuous in its sequels – what’s scariest is that you just might understand the villain’s twisted motives by the end of the film.
What the critics say: “A messy, gristle-cut B psycho thriller that makes you squirm a few times, but mostly makes you giggle.”—Owen Gleiberman, Entertainment Weekly
One of the scariest movies because: It’s straight-up exploitation done right: the body count is high, and the evil guys are fearsome both in appearance and demeanour.
What the critics say: “I can’t imagine why anyone would want to make a movie like this, and yet it’s well-made, well-acted, and all too effective.”—Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times
One of the scariest movies because: This murderfest is filled with unsavoury characters – humans with dark personalities and darker motives, plus an assortment of bizarre and terrifying beasts. Not for the faint of heart.
What the critics say: “It’s the voluptuous residues of Hellraiser, not a low-voiced dude with a porcupine head, that spark the fear of mortality.”—Eric Henderson, Slant
One of the scariest movies because: It presents a horrific situation that’s impossible to grapple with: How do you deal with your murderous child, even if he is the antichrist?
What the critics say: “…fun in a portentous sort of way.”—Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times
One of the scariest movies because: It’s styled like a documentary, making the terror startlingly plausible.
What the critics say: “The Blair Witch Project leaves its horror to the audience’s imagination, and in doing so creates a truly scary horror film, something akin to a lost art these days.”—Keith Phipps, The A.V. Club
One of the scariest movies because: Worse than Anthony Hopkins, who wants to imagine being eaten by hordes of undead strangers?
What the critics say: “George Romero’s remarkably assured debut, made on a shoestring, about a group of people barricaded inside a farmhouse while an army of flesh-eating zombies roams the countryside, deflates all genre clichés.”—Elliott Stein, Village Voice
One of the scariest movies because: It’s genuinely surprising: Movie monsters are often slow and stupid, but the beast in this Korean film is fast, even calculating. Creepy.
What the critics say: “A gross, scary, funny, and dramatically satisfying ride… it’s enough to make you think twice about that river-rafting trip you were planning for next summer.”—Dana Stevens, Slate
One of the scariest movies because: The silent film doesn’t have today’s blood ‘n’ guts special effects, but director F. W. Murnau still creates a creepy, nightmarish setting with shadows and tension. Brilliant.
What the critics say: “Remains one of the most poetic of all horror films”—Time Out