With Halloween around the corner, we wanted to make sure we included our mark on the top 20 scariest films of all time. The selections have been scrutinized over and in fact mirror many other such lists. Though we’d added a few surprises that I think get forgotten from time to time. I wanted to point out something painfully obvious.
Alot of our scariest films occurred at the 70’s end years. I don’t think it’s coincidence as we had great directing talents behind several. It says something about our culture at the time. Mainly that there was a real grasp on things that scared us…a vibe if you will. What changed over the years is the studio’s needs, the technology, the fast turnaround times, the culture, and the style of films. I believe some of the greats stem from a more careful time with less at ones disposal creating a need to make “more of very little”. No shortcuts, just ….do it right or fail. Lucky for us, between then and now we’ve had a few gems to add to the list..onward.
Not in ranking order:
01- The Exorcist (1973)
Kind of a given as a top fav. Even with all our modern gimmicks, we still can’t top this one in the possession and scary arena. Modern kids don’t respond to the dated look as well…however it’s safe to say it made a major impact and inspired 1000’s of films in the genre. I think its most relevant aspect was coming as close to being possessed by the devil as you can imagine. Christianity had a field day with gaining more attendance in church. People fainted when this came out, others left, others had nightmares for weeks. A film not to be taken lightly as it’s properly effective when alone with lights dimmed.
02- Insidious (2010)
Horror fans rejoiced when they caught wind of a modern horror film that was “actually” scary. It don’t matter if a few critics picked it apart, it works and that’s all that counts. The idea of a boy being haunted doesn’t sound all that rough. However, there are some nasty entities and elements surrounding this idea that make it all wok. Great use of cuts, framing and build up. A keeper for sure.
03- The Shining (1980)
With it’s brooding score running in the background, the idea of a vacant hotel with loose spirits was felt in spades. I’m still most haunted by the imagery of the girls in the hallway and of course there’s that room that your not supposed to enter. Kubrick’s sense of framing and shot grandeur helped to build a cinematic paranoia and loneliness in this vast space. Jack Nicholson was the prime choice for husband and father who can’t keep things together. A crowning achievement for Stephen King films (even if he didn’t like it)
04- Jaws (1975)
There is no denying that Jaws made “everyone” afraid to go in the water. When it debuted, it shocked audiences and generations to follow. In analysis, it’s really a powerful score that makes the whole thing effective. We know the shark is plastic, we have seen better version of sharks in movies. However, even with that notion, the music and visual experience combined under Steven Spielberg directional eye sends shivers and fear. In all, a fine movie with some groundbreaking ideas. Less is more worked in this case….add a few impact sounds and your ready for the ride.
05- Burnt Offerings (1976)
Looking back now, one might get pulled down in the 70’s dated look of this film. Keep in mind that the date was 1976 and there was plenty of TV commercials promoting this one. As a youth I was haunted by Anthony James smiling at the camera in his role as The Chauffeur. The film had this hint of evil purpose through out that was felt like a bad nightmare. It also seemed to follow in the suite of “the mysterious person in the window” trend at that time. What is it about ominous figures in windows that creep us out? There is one more on this list is you want to find out.
06- The Ring (2002)
Not only was this effective, but it created a world wide rave over tracking down scary Asian horror movies. The result was alot of great products. The response was….(after watching about 10 of these)…all these are kind of all the same. Regardless if the mass was Ring inspired or Ju-on inspired, it still offered great scary moments. The image of wet girls with long black hair stayed in our psyche. If they were wet, better yet. The concept here was simple enough…”don’t watch the video tape”…but as voyeurs we all HAD to watch that video tapes. Even as fiction, the movie still made you check your surroundings for any signs of young ghost girls. Purists prefer the original Asian “Ringu”, but for me, the American version was my selection of choice.
07- Stephen King’s “It”
Another Stephen King film that makes the all time list. Oddly presented in mini series fashion, this little gem of an opus made us afraid of clowns again. Tim Curry should NEVER wear clown makeup!. He’s just too damn freaky. Rocky Horror was bad enough , but Curry clown….yikes! I think most will agree this films could have been tightened up to pulling out alot of the in-between buildup. The ending spider thing, not so scary..but his human personifaction (IT)…..yep the one who stalks us in Sewer drains….prett frightening.
08- Alien (1979)
Ripley takes on a monster! By now we have all been exhausted with slimy alien creatures attacking folks on space ships, alien worlds, Earth and so on. A single offering that spawned a franchise of sequels, dolls, and other memorabilia owes it to a HR Giger inspired monster that wiped out an entire ship. Certainly original in its design, the clincher here was that the movie really scared people. It rocketed Sigourney Weaver, Weaver into heroine status and educated us on acidy spit. Ridley Scott had his hand on the pulse of Americans fear of extraterrestrials. I hope when they eventually make contact they don’t look like this.
09- Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)
Who was that madman who just slammed the kitchen door like that? Holy Crap and he’s wearing a face made of leather? Yep, a VERY important film from the 70’s based on some truth. His family was evil enough but it was leather face and that damn chainsaw that we remember most. Being chased thru the woods or hung on a meat hook is no picnic. This Hooper directed film was banned in several countries but stands as one of horror’s most influential. At the time, there was some scuttle about the rating. Wow, the film board probably never imagined the 21st century to be so accommodating when it comes to horror releases.It still is effective watching almost 40 years later. Leatherface was so impacting that he became a horror icon (and not a bad run for Gunnar Hansen)
10-Parnormal Activity (1, 2)
I had to include a few modern films on this list. This one according to the box office and young teens was a hands down winner in the fright category. With budget and presentation aside, it is easily one of the better cinema verite films (another list in progress). The movie only further promoted the use of this style (with its reported theatre numbers). I think if it’s ending wouldn’t have been fulfilling, it would have bombed, though the fans demanded it and so it arrived into movie houses for a great harrowing theatre experience. I really like these films, and think they are deserving.
Top 20 Scariest Movies of All Time – Part 1