13 Best Horror Films of all Time

November 18, 2013

13. The Descent


A recent classic, this film makes horrifyingly effective use of pitch-black darkness to make you feel the claustrophobic terror of its doomed female spelunkers. It’s also one of the rare horror feature with almost no downtime; it’s gripping from start to finish.

Halloween Trivia: The director went on direct “Blackwater,” the unforgettable episode of Game of Thrones where Stannis Baratheon’s navy attacks the Lannisters
Scariest Scene: The reveal of the cave’s lurking horrors–possibly the most memorable monster design since H.R. Giger’s Alien

12. The Changeling


This ghost story starring George C. Scott is one not many have seen, but those that have stumbled across it have never forgotten its intensely spooky story about a composer’s stay in a haunted house with a tragic past. You’ll never see an empty wheelchair without getting the chills ever again.

Halloween Trivia: Won the Canadian equivalent of the Academy Award for Best Picture
Scariest Moment: The ball’s return trip down the stairs

11. The Blair Witch Project


The film that launched the found-footage genre has been imitated and parodied, but let’s not forget how terrifyingly real it seemed when it was first released. Its scares are less pronounced than the other films on this list, but its profound creepiness stays with you like a frightening urban legend that may or may not be true.

Hollywood Trivia: Its production budget was only $22,500
Scariest Moment: The final seconds

10. Suspiria


Suspiria’s gory shocks are complemented by its lush, gothic beauty; Dario Argento’s best film is exquisitely shot–and terrifying. Bonus points also go to Goblin’s pulse-pounding score that perfectly accompanies the frenzied second half.

Halloween Trivia: David Gordon Green was once slated to direct a remake (since canceled due to complicated international legal issues)
Scariest Scene: The sudden crash through the plate glass window

9. [REC]


The found footage genre has no better representative than this Spanish horror movie about a zombie outbreak in an apartment building. It uses every minute of its brief running time to maximum effect, culminating in one of the scariest third acts in horror history.

Halloween Trivia: [REC] is among the shortest theatrical feature films in recent memory at a trim 78 minutes
Scariest Moment: The reveal of the horrific secret in the doctor’s apartment

8. The Exorcist


Nearly forty years later, The Exorcist is still a potent shocker, centered by Linda Blair’s unforgettable performance as the demon-possessed Regan MacNeil. Though it’s hard to imagine in today’s world of multiplexes, the lines for this one often stretched around any movie theater lucky enough to receive a print.

Halloween Trivia: Stanley Kubrick wisely turned down the offer to direct the sequel
Scariest Scene: The voice of the priest’s mother coming from Regan’s mouth.

7. Poltergeist


Steven Spielberg’s alleged hijacking of credited director Tobe Hooper’s helming duties on Poltergeist has been a persistent rumor since the film’s release, but this film is best reflected on as a combination of both of their styles. The family that moves into the haunted suburban house is positively Spielbergian, but the horrors that await them are as frightening as anything in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

Halloween Trivia: Many attribute the “curse” that the cast suffered post-filming to the real skeletons used in the pool scene
Scariest Scene: It can be nothing but the clown doll under the bed–what else did you expect?

6. Rosemary’s Baby


Roman Polanski’s film about the literal pregnancy from Hell is still shocking today, thanks to bravura filmmaking (the dream sequence is still one of the best ever committed to film) and Mia Farrow’s stunning performance as the mother-to-be.

Halloween Trivia: Has an absolutely dreadful sequel with an equally dreadful title–Look What’s Happened to Rosemary’s Baby
Scariest Moment: “What have you done to his eyes, you maniacs!”

5. Don’t Look Now


The director of Walkabout switched genres and made this supremely creepy film about a bereaved couple who move to Venice after their only child drowns in a pond. Intensely atmospheric and beautifully shot, this is one that should be watched in HD.

Halloween Trivia: The love scene between Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie had to be trimmed to slightly to avoid an X from the ratings board.
Scariest Moment: Only the most shocking horror film ending of all time

4. Night of the Living Dead


Our modern-day fixation with the zombie apocalypse began right here, with George A. Romero’s directorial debut about a group of survivors defending a farmhouse against an undead mob. Almost 50 years later, it’s still just as harrowing as it was when it debuted in drive-ins in 1968.

Halloween Trivia: In the public domain due to a copyright error–now you know why this gets so much airtime around Halloween
Scariest Moment: The attack in the basement

3. Halloween


John Carpenter arguably invented the modern-day horror film with Halloween, which introduced one of the classic film villains with Michael Myers, an escaped lunatic who is relentlessly pursued by his psychiatrist. Top-tier filmmaking and an equally classic score (also by John Carpenter) put this one head and shoulders above the lame imitators (Friday the 13th, anyone?) it spawned.

Halloween Trivia: The Michael Myers mask is an inside-out William Shatner mask painted white
Scariest Moment: The POV shot from the balcony

2. The Shining


Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation of Stephen King’s novel is one of the rare instances of an adaptation totally outclassing its source material. So mesmerizing is the direction and the performances that it will thoroughly scare you despite mostly taking place in broad daylight.

Halloween Trivia: Stephen King passionately hates this film, comparing it to a beautiful car without an engine
Scariest Moment: What little Danny finds at the end of the hallway while riding through the hotel on his bigwheel.

1. Dawn of the Dead


George A. Romero’s sequel to Night of the Living Dead takes the apocalyptic scenario of the first film and gives it an epic twist, telling the story of a group of survivors who turn a suburban shopping mall into the ultimate anti-zombie fortress. Easily one of the most influential films of all time.

Halloween Trivia: The actor who plays Peter (Ken Foree) has a memorable cameo in the 2004 remake
Scariest Moment: The SWAT team’s discovery of what’s inside of the besieged apartment building’s storage room.