The 25 scariest movies of all time
Think scary just means silly shrieks and monsters? Then it’s time to enter fright school. Paving the way for The Haunting, there are enough breeds of scary to fill a pet cemetery: funny-scary and grim-scary, smart-scary and schlocky-scary. We’ve compiled the top 25 nightmare causers, so draw the blinds and kill the lights — but don’t dare cover your eyes.
1. The Exorcist
(1973) Directed by William Friedkin
A cat unexpectedly jumping from off camera is scary. But The Exorcist is so disturbing it will mess you up for months. Controversial and profane, The Exorcist remains the most viscerally harrowing movie ever made not only because it dares to question the existence of God but because it has the cojones to put Satan in the body of a 12-year-old girl. Moviegoers literally fainted as Linda Blair vomited pea soup on a priest. And after a series of mishaps, Friedkin asked a clergyman to perform an exorcism of the set. ”A lot of people definitely thought something weird was happening,” says Blair, ”but I was so young they tried to keep me in the dark.” Consider yourself blessed, Linda.
2. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre
(1974) Directed by Tobe Hooper
Truth is stranger than fiction…and it’s a hell of a lot scarier, too. Based (like much of Psycho) on the horrific ritual murders committed by Ed Gein, Chainsaw looks, feels, and smells so much like a grainy, low-budget documentary that it borders on snuff. It opens with a sober-voiced narrator (a young John Larroquette) detailing a heinous killing spree. Then we see the split-second flashbulb pops of crime scene carnage before finally meeting Leatherface — a deranged homicidal lunatic wearing a butcher’s apron and a mask stitched out of human skin. Hooper (Poltergeist) says that when he settled on the film’s title, ”I lost several friends. But I thought, they’re putting so much energy into hating the title, maybe there’s something there.” Indeed there is; a copy of Chainsaw resides in the Museum of Modern Art.
(1979) Directed by Ridley Scott
Grimy, claustrophobic, and more haunted-house thriller than space-bound sci-fi, Alien follows a group of interstellar truckers rendered lunch meat by an acid-dripping, H.R. Giger-designed nemesis. Contrary to popular rumor, the alien-out-of-the-stomach shot was not a surprise to the actors, but Veronica Cartwright (Lambert) says that Scott amped up the tension by keeping the cast waiting and filling the set with retch-inducing buckets of formaldehyde and fake blood. ”It’s a shame that they don’t have outtakes,” she laughs. ”I got hit with a jet of blood, repelled backwards, and flipped over the couch behind me. All you could see were my cowboy boots sticking up!”
4. The Silence of the Lambs
(1991) Directed by Jonathan Demme
”A census taker once tried to test me. I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice Chianti…fpt-fpt-fpt.” Released only one year into the ’90s, Silence remains this decade’s scariest vision of pure sociopathic evil. As Dr. Hannibal Lecter, Anthony Hopkins is a waking nightmare of seductive depravity — the sick, twisted serial killer America hates to love. Even with Hannibal the Cannibal safely locked away in his maximum-security cell, Jodie Foster’s FBI trainee Clarice Starling is as helpless as a lamb. ”Great villains are subversive — audiences go and see them because they feel uncomfortably attracted to them,” says Scott Glenn, who plays Starling’s seen-it-all FBI mentor in Silence. ”To this day I still have nightmares about it.” Join the club.