The Ten Best Horror Films [Of All Time?]

I was primed from a young age to adore horror. My parents and I had a weekend tradition where we would go out for dinner and then hit up Borders [pour one out], where I would pick up a book and inevitably finish it within the hour. I love to read. I also love being freaked out. This manifested in a childhood obsession with the Goosebumps series. I think I have them all [there were many weekend dinners out]. When those grew old, I’d pick up the “Ghosts of…” book from wherever my parents and I were on vacation [Notables: Ghosts of Gettysburg, Ghosts of Williamsburg].

When I was old enough to graduate from children’s horror to film horror, my parents weren’t thrilled. Books were something I could enjoy quietly and privately, but neither of my parents are fans of scary movies and probably didn’t want to endure them for my sake. On one notable occasion they did, but I’ll get to that shortly.

So I started watching scary movies by myself. I had a TV in my room, and I would shut the lights off, crawl under the covers and freak myself out. I reveled in the feeling of fear and pushed myself to keep my eyes open as long as possible. This may sound insane, but in the end it allowed me to develop an intense appreciation for the genre. Now, I respect a writer or director that can make me jump, because it truly is an art. There’s something beautiful about horror.

Just in time for Halloween, here’s my list of the top ten horror films of “all time” and a little bit about what inspired me to include them. The reasons are largely personal, and I do realize this leaves quite a few notables [off the top of my head, The Amityville Horror and Pan’s Labyrinth] off the list. If there’s something on here you’ve never seen, I encourage you to turn off the lights, get under the covers, and give it a shot. What better time than Halloween to freak yourself out? You may even find you like the film for more than just its scare-factor.

10. A Nightmare on Elm Street [1984] – “Whatever you do, don’t fall asleep.” Nobody likes a nightmare. You rarely have one and wake up feeling good, and this film takes that and runs with it. The thought of being so horrified of closing your eyes is something I’m sure we’ve all experienced, and that’s what makes this so gut-wrenching. I came to this film because of Johnny Depp, and left it with a fear of children’s nursery rhymes.

9. The Silence of the Lambs [1991] – Hannibal Lecter is truly one of the most brilliantly manipulative and terrifying characters, making it such that it’s impossible to turn away from the screen yet oh-so difficult to watch. That’s why this movie is perfect.

8. The Sixth Sense [1999] – SPOILER ALERT AHEAD. This movie holds a special place in my heart for a few reasons. First, Shyamalan is a PA native and films much of his work in my hometown. Second, I’m pretty sure this was the first [and last] scary movie my parents and I saw together in theaters. I remember jumping out of my skin, but I also remember pissing off my dad when I turned to him about 15 minutes in and said, “Bruce Willis is dead.” I don’t know how I knew, I just did. Courtney the sixth-grade scary movie expert?

7. Poltergeist [1982] – “They’re heeeeere.” Aside from being petrifying [who wants stuff coming out of their TV?], this movie sparked a curiosity in me about the supposed destructive spirits. There are some great “true” stories from all over the world, and I remember digging into books about them as a kid.

6. 28 Days Later [2002] – Zombie films have generally been regarded as broader social commentaries, and Danny Boyle took that concept and smacked you in the face with his metaphor, giving us a literal taste of a world controlled by rage. The creatures in this film are less like Romero zombies and more like the zombies I’ll be chased by this weekend, but the imagery and soundtrack [including a great version of Ave Maria during the only two peaceful minutes in the film] make this one equally as beautiful as it is unnerving. I still struggle watching it in the dark, but I love every second.

5. The Strangers [2008] – I’m still pretty shocked that this makes my list, but holy crap is this movie horrifying. I mean, it centers around a couple in a cabin in the middle of nowhere. Duh. The first time I watched it was in my New York apartment when my roommates were away [huge mistake], the second in Shaun’s old basement apartment [still a huge mistake, even with company]. It scared the crap out of me. It’s definitely not one to be overlooked. In fact, Shaun just looked over at my screen while I was writing this and screamed, “OH YEAH… That movie was *expletive* SCARY.”

4. The Shining [1980] – “Danny isn’t here, Mrs. Torrance.” I’ll cut to the chase: I love this film. Jack Nicholson is an all-star. There’s not a character in this movie that isn’t creepy. Especially them. If movies aren’t your thing, check out Stephen King’s novel. It’s the perfect Halloween-week read. This is a gem in Stanley Kubrick’s arsenal which boasts films like Lolita, A Clockwork Orange, and Dr. Strangelove. It’s hard to beat.

3. Psycho [1960] – “Oh, we have twelve vacancies. Twelve cabins, twelve vacancies.” When my parents got their first DVD player, this was the first DVD they got for Christmas – from my uncle. He was trying to make a point [that this is one of the best movies ever], but suffice it to say the film ended up in my collection after a few short minutes. Alfred Hitchcock is sure to do a few things: (1) creepy plot twist right at the beginning; (2) put himself into the film; (3) scare the crap out of you; and (4) creepy plot twist at the end. Classic.

2. Night of the Living Dead [1968] – “They’re coming for you, Barbara!” The father of the zombie film, doubling as a social commentary on the Civil Rights movement and political unrest of the 1960s. George Romero invented this genre, and in my opinion, it’s all downhill [including even some of his later movies] from here. You can only see the undead crawl out of the ground so many times, and I’d recommend seeing it in this manifestation above all others. It’s downright alarming.

1. The Exorcist [1973] – The first scary movie I ever watched alone, which I soon learned was because it’s so scary that no one ever wants to watch it. Aside from the classic staircase scene, this movie is filled with moments that make you cringe, cry, hide, and jump – exactly what you want out of a horror film. Take some time to read William Peter Blatty’s novel, too. You won’t be disappointed.

I’m curious to see how my list matches up with others’ tastes. What are the scariest movies you’ve ever seen?


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Courtney grew up in Reading, PA, and has lived in New York City (where she earned a bachelor's degree at NYU), Prague, Philadelphia, and Charlottesville (where she received a J.D. from UVa Law). Courtney and her new husband will settle in Philadelphia following a six-week Euro-trip extravaganza in September of 2012. Courtney's interests include music, writing, criticism, fitness, travel, cooking, and sports. Please enjoy the blog. LinkedIn: Tumblr:


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2 Comments on “The Ten Best Horror Films [Of All Time?]”

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    […] talked themed breakfasts, movies, and stories, but TV shouldn’t be overlooked, either. Whether you want to scare yourself or […]

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