Few movie genres have proven to be as enduring, lucrative, or beloved as horror – and there are a number of reasons for this. As the art and technology behind cinema continues to develop, directors are discovering new and innovative ways to keep audiences on their toes. This is why Netflix Bird box managed to feel just as revolutionary today as that of Alfred Hitchcock The birds in 1963.
Lodged deep in the reptilian part of our brain, fear is among the most primitive emotions we can feel. Wouldn’t that, by extension, also make horror one of the most powerful cinematic genres? Admittedly, the feeling that comes over us when the lights go out inside our local theaters is rarely as enticing as when we prepare for a good scare.
By delving deeper into the science and psychology of terror, one can even discover a number of health benefits associated with horror consumption. For example, a 2020 study found that people who frequently watched horror movies felt better equipped to deal with fear and anxiety at the start of the coronavirus pandemic.
But while horror can desensitize us to reality, they also desensitize us to other horror movies. Every Halloween, it seems people are looking more and more frantically for a movie that manages to send them real chills. If you are one of those people, then you are in luck. In the following list, we bring you some of the scariest horror movies ever made and what makes them so effective.
The scariest monsters in cinema
Similar to myths and legends, many famous horror movies revolve around some kind of monster. However, which of these monsters should be considered the scariest is hard to say. Where Godzilla could have made a terrifying entrance in 1954, today audiences just can’t help but see him for what he is: a man in a rubber suit.
That’s not to say that there aren’t some iconic contenders in this category. The xenomorph of Extraterrestrial was well designed to the point of spawning an entire media franchise of films, shows and video games. The shark Jaws also deserves an honorable mention. Showing fish only at the very end due to budget constraints, Steven Spielberg single-handedly revitalized our fear of the deep sea.
These days, however, the scariest monsters seem to be the ones that defy categorization. Think, for example, of the titular entity of the Steven King story This. Although he frequently takes the form of a clown called Pennywise (played hauntingly by Tim Curry in 1990), “It” is actually a Lovecraftian evil that can take any form “It” wants. The same principle applies to “The Thing” from the years 1982 The thing.
Other monsters seem terrifying to us not by their intangibility but by the pure originality of their concept. The Weeping Angels, a particularly memorable monster of the week in the long-running British drama series Doctor Who, serve as an example. These “quantum-locked” aliens turn to stone every time they’re looked at, but come closer whenever you look away or blink.
The greatest horror “movies”
Cinema is an inherently audiovisual medium, which means that every filmmaker who takes full advantage of it can produce a very good film. In recent years, we have seen the emergence of what is sometimes referred to as “horror of the senses,” or films whose premises revolve around our ability to see and hear.
One of the films that defined this current trend was the John Krasinski film A quiet place. Originally released in March 2018, it takes place on a day when the human world is suddenly and inexplicably overrun by some bloodthirsty species of aliens. These aliens are blind like a bat but have excellent hearing. This means that, in order to survive, human characters need to make as little noise as possible.
Which makes A quiet place Particular is the way Krasinski continues to build on this already captivating premise. In a stroke of cinematic genius, the director decided to deaf one of his main characters. As if the odds weren’t stacked against them to begin with, this character must avoid the aliens by relying on a sense she doesn’t have.
The dramatic irony created by this situation – i.e. a human character totally oblivious to the noise she makes and the aliens she attracts as a result – does both A quiet place and its 2021 sequel to some of the best sense-based horror movies of all time, putting them up there with Bird box (view) and It follows (to touch).
Definitions of fear
When you browse the corners of the internet in search of the scariest horror movies, one point you will come across is that “fear is subjective”. What may seem horrible to one person will make another laugh. One form of fear that is rarely addressed in Hollywood blockbusters but which is thoroughly explored by independent filmmakers is disgust.
Disgust is not the same as fear, but the two emotions have a lot in common. Serbian film was released in 2010 and follows an actor forced to commit unspeakable acts while recording an “experimental” film, including the rape and murder of a newborn baby.
A cut above Serbian film is the 1975 film by Pier Paolo Pasolini Salò, or The 120 days of Sodom. Based on the sickening sadomasochistic writings of the Marquis de Sade, this film tells the story of a group of aristocrats who kidnap, humiliate and torture a group of innocent teenagers for their own amusement. Among other things, the victims are raped, forced to swallow human excrement and burned to life.
These films aren’t scary in the traditional sense, but they channel and amplify the emotions conveyed by mainstream horror, including an unwavering disbelief in basic human decency and the maddening lack of divine justice. Whatever type of horror you prefer, there’s no shortage of filmmakers who’ve managed to bring their darkest, twisted thoughts to the big screen. Oh, and happy Halloween.