Spooky season is upon us. The changing of the leaves and return of pumpkin spiced everything means it’s time to rewatch all of my favorite horror movies. My roommates have varied tolerances for terror, so I’ve been thinking a lot about how scary some of my favorite scary movies actually are. In fact, I’ve decided to rank them. (Warning: Spoilers ahead.)
9. Get Out
Jordan Peele’s 2017 directorial debut is a unique balance of horror, humor and commentary. Confronting the issue of race through the lens of horror, Get Out tells the story of Chris, a Black man who visits his white girlfriend Rose’s family at their remote lake house. There, Chris discovers that what was supposed to be a vacation was actually a trap. The movie is titled perfectly — viewers can’t help but think “get out” over and over as they watch Chris fall into the clutches of Rose’s creepy family. While Get Out is disturbing, it is also interspersed with well-timed satire that breaks up many of the scariest moments. Even the end scene, which had my heart pounding, added a delightful dose of humor. This is a film that everyone, even those who dislike horror movies, can and should watch.
8. The Sixth Sense
The Sixth Sense is known for its big plot twist, and if you have managed to avoid seeing it until now, maybe skip this blurb because it will spoil the movie. When I saw the 1999 film for the first time, I was not as shocked as I hoped to be by the big “he was dead the whole time” reveal. Still, the story of Cole, a little boy who is haunted by ghosts, and his relationship with dead child psychologist Dr. Malcolm Crowe is a well-thought out and satisfying watch. Cole is by far my favorite horror movie kid; Haley Joel Osment gives an outstanding performance. In terms of fear factor, the movie touches on some very dark stuff, notably a child’s death from Munchausen by proxy. Still, the ghosts aren’t that scary, and many of them actually have good intentions, so most non-horror movie fans would still be able to enjoy it.
If this list was based on how scared I was of the movies at the time I first watched them, Coraline would be ranked #1. I saw it in 2009, the year it came out, when I was 8. The animated film follows the protagonist, Coraline, through adventures in her new (creepy) home. I had recurring nightmares for months after watching this. In them, a giant spider lady sewed buttons over my eyes. For that reason, I do not think children should watch this. But after watching it as an adult, I can say for sure that it definitely holds up next to my other favorites. It’s a great watch, especially around Halloween.
6. The Shining
The Shining is a renowned classic of the horror genre, featuring a family of three taking up residency in an empty hotel and slowly losing their grip on reality. The 1980 adaptation of Stephen King’s novel invites watchers into an unstable world where the supernatural forces collide with the increasingly violent Jack Torrance. This movie gave us iconic scenes like room 237 and the creepy twins which Danny, Jack’s young son, encounters in the hotel hallway. Nicholson gives an excellent and terrifying portrayal of a man losing his mind, and Jack chasing Danny through the hotel’s labyrinth strikes fear into my heart. I think one of the reasons this isn’t higher on my list is because, as a foundational film in the horror genre, many recent horror movies were built upon the themes of The Shining. So watching it now seemed all too familiar. If you’re not a fan of horror, I can see this being very frightening, and I recommend it if you haven’t gotten the chance to watch.
5. The Silence of the Lambs
It nearly swept the 1992 Academy Awards (and for good reason), with Jodie Foster and Anthony Hopkins winning Best Actress and Best Actor, respectively. The relationship between Foster’s Clarice Starling and Hopkins’ Hannibal Lecter gives some of the best dialogue sequences in any movie to date, and certain scenes still manage to shock me no matter how many times I’ve watched them. For any non-horror fans reading this, we’re certainly getting into legitimate nightmare territory in terms of fear factor. But like the Shining, the Silence of the Lambs has lost some of its impact because, in the close to thirty years since its debut, horror movies have just gotten scarier. Beyond that, the ending of the Silence of the Lambs is actually satisfying, which, though I appreciate it, does take away some of the lasting fear it would otherwise invoke.
4. The Blair Witch Project
Shaky hand-held cameras, film students lost in the woods and supernatural happenings make The Blair Witch Project one of the scariest movies of its time. The 1999 movie is supposed to be the found footage of three student filmmakers who disappeared in the woods and were never seen again. The movie is presented as a low budget student documentary, which makes what happens in it appear very, very real. As things start to go wrong and the characters are more and more lost, the viewer experiences increasing levels of terror. The movie ends with the characters going into an abandoned house with children’s bloody handprints on the wall. They’re attacked by an assailant who never enters the frame, and the camera drops to the ground. To be honest, at this point in the movie, I have to look away to keep from screaming.
3. The Babadook
As we get into the top three, it’s honestly a toss up, because these movies are all quite terrifying. My third choice is Jennifer Kent’s 2014 directorial debut, The Babadook. The film begins with single mother Amelia struggling to raise her son Samuel, who has behavioral problems. Amelia is also still grieving her husband, who died in a car accident driving her to the hospital to have Sam. Then the Babadook, a creature introduced through a storybook, begins to take over the lives and minds of Amelia and Sam, and they become increasingly isolated in their struggles. The creature is a representation of the grief and trauma Amelia has experienced because of her husband's death, and if she is unable to conquer it, the Babadook could take over her life. This movie terrified and intrigued me, and the only reason it isn’t number one is because it has a relatively happy ending, which allowed me to sleep better.
2. The Conjuring
Continuing on with the theme of motherhood, The Conjuring is the main reason I will never move to any kind of remote farmhouse, especially one our family dog refuses to enter. The Conjuring is terrifying from start to finish, from the moment the children start playing “hide and clap” until their possessed mother chases one of them with a knife. Although I’m not a fan of jump scares, the ones in this movie are more effective than most. The fear they impart lasts even after you turn off the movie. After watching this, I stayed up for many nights worried I would be possessed by a demon hiding somewhere in the shadows of my room or in my closet.
From the moment a decapitation by a telephone poll occurred in Ari Aster’s 2018 film Hereditary, I knew I was in for a wild ride. The movie is a bit of a slow burn compared to The Conjuring, with the scariest and more supernatural stuff only happening in the last part of the movie. However, even the explained occurrences leave viewers with an overwhelming feeling of dread. There are scenes in this movie that are so disgusting they make me nauseated. From birds and bugs to demons and cults, Hereditary uses so many fear-provoking mechanisms that you never know what might happen next. It all adds up to create a film that haunts viewers for days, if not weeks, after watching. Is this my favorite horror movie? No. I think I was too distracted by my own fear to appreciate the plot. But if you are looking to be disturbed, uncomfortable and afraid, this movie certainly offers that.
Thumbnail photo "Halloween Pumpkin Burning lamp helloween candle candela" by euart is licensed under CC BY 2.0