Top 10: Horror films that have scared me the most...
Updated: Oct 10, 2020
10. Insidious (2010): By now, I think there isn’t anybody out there who does not know the name James Wan. He has given birth to a couple of modern classics that, whether you love them or hate them, have without a doubt become an important part of horror history. Of course, I’m talking about Saw (2004) and The Conjuring (2013). But in between those two films there is a third Wan piece that is often overlook and I’m here to redeem it. I loved Insidious from the first time I saw it. Yes, it’s somewhat cheesy and it is not an absolute masterpiece. But it is still, to this day, one of the films that have made me scream the most. Most people diss Insidious because of the jump scares. I like a good jump scare from time to time (red-faced devil, anyone?). The thing about jump scares is that they are only an issue if the movie relies solely on them. But when added to a film that has an element of suspense and thrills, they can be very effective. And I think that’s what made me like Insidious so much, and even if it’s not one of my favorite films, I still find it scary and entertaining.
9. Pet Sematary (1989): Most of the films on my list are more recent ones (early 2000s or 2010s), and that’s because it is the era of horror that I have lived in a direct way, from my early teens to today. However, there are a few movies here that date back before my time, ones that I saw when I was very little. Those were the films that drew me to horror, and at the same time, the films that scarred me for life. Pet Sematary is one of those films. I remember being very little, not sure how old I was, and seeing the scene of Zelda in the bedroom, and that image was stamped in my brain immediately. In retrospective, Pet Sematary might not be a super frightening film, but it was definitely one for me.
8. The Descent (2006): I’m gonna keep it short with The Descent here, because you’re gonna read/hear a lot more about it on a different list. To me, The Descent was pure terror and it was absolutely unexpected. I watched the film without knowing what I was getting into, and it surprised me in all the best ways. From the claustrophobia-inducing scenes to the jump scares that made me scream my lungs out, this film was so frightening for me, that it has become one of those movies that I never get tired of watching (but more on that later…).
7. Shutter (2004): You know when a movie is so effective it makes you forever scared of something meaningless? Well, after watching Shutter, I can never have neck pain without freaking out. Shutter is a Thai film that was released back in the days where Asian horror was becoming increasingly popular within the genre. However, this wasn’t a particularly successful piece. Why? Beats me to this day. This movie was so terrifying for me, it is one of the few films that have left me scared for the entire night, and for several days after. Maybe it is too formulaic, but it is a classic ghost story with a pretty dark twist, and to me that’s scary enough.
6. Stephen King's It (1990): Much like Pet Sematary, the only reason this film did not rank higher on the list is because I was very little when I watched it, so naturally my take on it has changed. What were my parents thinking letting me watch this? I’m not sure. But enter coulrophobia for the rest of my life. The 2017 remake is also a great film, but anyone who grew up in the ‘90s will never forget Tim Curry’s Pennywise, and not because of particularly good reasons. Pennywise next to a tomb, Pennywise in the showers, Pennywise in the library… all of these are images that will never ever leave me. And to me, that’s what good horror does.
5. The Orphanage (2007): “Un, dos, tres, toca la pared…” I just repeated that sentence in my head and it gave me CHILLS. Leaving the American empire, you can find great filmographies in other cultures. Spanish horror is one that has been particularly great for quite some time now, and in the early ‘00s we had some amazing examples (this won't be the only Spanish movie in this list, so keep reading…). The Orphanage is one of those. Creepy kids, a grieving couple, a big old house with noises at night… this movie has it all. And it uses everything in a magnificent way. Yes, it has a cheesy ending that could’ve been a lot better. But overall, this movie is the perfect mix of ghostly horror and suspenseful intrigue.
4. The Exorcist (1973): I already talked about The Exorcist as an influential horror movie. Now I’m going to talk about it from a purely subjective point of view. Most of the time, classics are what they are: great films that back in the day shocked and terrified audiences all over the world. But given the ways in which horror has changed and evolved, if you watch a film from the ‘70s or ‘80s today, it is likely that you will not feel as terrified as people did when it first premiered. However, I do not think that’s the case with The Exorcist. Its horror is timeless and Friedkin’s masterpiece keeps on terrifying anyone who sees it, at any age and anytime. I saw it when I was a kid and it was a terrible mistake. I saw it all grown-up and it was still a mistake. Talk about an icon within the genre.
3. Rec (2007): I first watched Rec back in the early ‘00s and I still remember everything about the moment I watched it: where I watched it, when I watched it, and who I was with. And I remember it all because it was a film that marked me. Another Spanish gem, Rec is a film that stands out from a subgenre that has otherwise worn out: zombies. I rewatched it this year during quarantine -the pun was not intended though- and boy, I was not prepared to go through that again. Since I had already watched it before and I remembered how much it scared me, I didn’t think it would be so scary the second time around. Well, I was very wrong, because it might have been even scarier. I don’t usually like found footage films, and I think all of my readers know that by now. However, Rec’s horror is so on point that it has scared me in ways that The Blair Witch Project and Paranormal Activity never achieved. Plus, the ending is probably the scariest one I have ever seen, and that’s saying something.
2. The Conjuring 2 (2016): If anyone out there tells me they were not terrified when they first saw the now very popular Nun from The Conjuring franchise, I will never ever believe them. Already a fan of the first Conjuring, I went to see this at the movies with my fellow horror geek friends. Let me tell you, I had never in my life seen them as I did while watching this film. Even if it may be cheesy from time to time -and I'm obviously talking about that CGI-infused crooked man-, The Conjuring 2 was James Wan knowing exactly what to do to scare everyone out of their seats. And that’s what makes him the master of horror he is. And although The Nun and the Annabelle films aren’t as good as these, he has created a contemporary franchise that will forever remain a referent from our times. Frankly, I think both of the entrances for The Conjuring could be on this list. And even though I actually like the first film a lot more, it was The Conjuring 2 that made me stay up all night with the lights on. And that is not a saying, it actually happened.
HONORABLE MENTIONS: There are a lot of honorable mentions, because I have seen a lot of scary films: The Ring (2002), It Follows (2014), The Autopsy of Jane Doe (2016), Poltergeist (1982), Dead Silence (2007), Sinister (2012), amongst others.
1. The Exorcism of Emily Rose (2005): Is The Exorcism of Emily Rose a great film? No. Will it make you sh*t your pants out of fear? Most definitely. I remember watching this movie at the cinema, which means I was 13 when I watched it -again, thanks mom and dad for encouraging my horrorphilia, but what were you thinking?-. Even if The Exorcism of Emily Rose may not receive a lot of praise from the critics -or even from me- when referring to great examples from the horror genre, it is a film that used a very effective trope, that of the demonic possession, in a very effective way. And because of that, even at 28, I am still scared of being awake at 3:00 a.m. Fun fact: Just doing this list I realized this movie was directed by Scott Derrickson, the man behind Sinister as well, so I guess there’s something pretty good about his type of horror, even if it’s not the best out there, objectively speaking.