back to top

We’ve updated our privacy notice and cookie policy. Learn more about cookies, including how to disable them, and find out how we collect your personal data and what we use it for.


32 Horror Films You'll Wish You Hadn't Watched

Consider yourself warned: Do not watch these movies alone.

Posted on

1. The Haunting (1963)


Directed by: Robert Wise

Written by: Nelson Gidding

Those who assume classic black-and-white horror can't offer the same thrills of more modern offerings should check out The Haunting. (The original, of course — not to be confused with the 1999 remake, which is just scary-bad.) Based on the Shirley Jackson novel The Haunting of Hill House, the film is your standard story about a mansion haunted by a vengeful ghostly presence. But the conventions it helped make mainstream are just as scary now as they were then.

2. Repulsion (1965)


Directed by: Roman Polanski

Written by: David Stone

The true horror of Repulsion is that it's not clear how much of the threat Carol (Catherine Deneuve) faces is real — and how much is just a product of her neuroses and overactive imagination. Her descent into madness and paranoia plays out in the house literally crumbling around her (something only she can see), and in her brutal, violent outbursts against men who get too close. It's a complicated psychological portrait that's harrowing no matter which way you slice it.

3. Rosemary's Baby (1968)

Paramount Pictures

Directed by: Roman Polanski

Written by: Roman Polanski

Another psychological thriller from Roman Polanski — there's no denying his mastery of the genre. Rosemary's Baby stars Mia Farrow as Rosemary Woodhouse, a woman who suspects that her unborn child is the spawn of Satan, and that her family and friends are conspiring against her. It's the latter that really gets under your skin. The violation Rosemary endures is horrible, but it's made all the worse by her inability to trust anyone, least of all her husband Guy (John Cassavetes).


4. The Exorcist (1973)

Warner Bros.

Directed by: William Friedkin

Written by: William Peter Blatty

Evil children will always be scary, and it doesn't get more evil than Regan MacNeil (Linda Blair) in The Exorcist. To be fair, it's not Regan's fault — she's possessed by the demon Pazuzu, who is determined to exact revenge on Father Merrin (Max von Sydow). Everything possessed Regan does is the stuff of nightmares: her deep, guttural growl; her shocking sexual candor; and, yes, her green vomit. No exorcism film has ever come close to the original in terms of sheer terror.

5. The Omen (1976)

20th Century Fox

Directed by: Richard Donner

Written by: David Seltzer

Combine the evil kid trope from The Exorcist with Rosemary's Baby's spawn-of-Satan storyline and you get The Omen, which is just as scary as its thematic predecessors. There's something very wrong with Damien (Harvey Spencer Stephens), the child adopted by Robert (Gregory Peck) and Katherine Thorn (Lee Remick), and, as is so often the case, no one believes the truth until it's too late. Few things are as haunting as the final shot of Damien's knowing smile.

6. Suspiria (1977)

Blue Underground

Directed by: Dario Argento

Written by: Dario Argento and Daria Nicolodi

Dario Argento made a name for himself with his unique brand of stylized horror that blends gore with high art. Suspiria is arguably the best example of his aesthetic: His garish use of color, particularly red, makes the entire film feel like a bad dream. Just looking at a still from the movie can induce dread. The story itself — about ballet student Suzy Bannion (Jessica Harper) who encounters a witch's cult at her dance academy — is secondary to the deeply unsettling vibe Suspiria emanates.

7. Halloween (1978)

Anchor Bay

Directed by: John Carpenter

Written by: John Carpenter and Debra Hill

Sometimes less is more, as John Carpenter learned when he made Halloween, which set the groundwork for the slasher genre. (The same rules that Scream outlined two decades later largely originated here.) Halloween isn't particularly gory, and it doesn't rely on cheap jump scares. And yet, it's more frightening than almost any recent slasher, thanks to the harrowing cat-and-mouse game between Michael Myers (Nick Castle) and Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis).


8. Alien (1979)

20th Century Fox

Directed by: Ridley Scott

Written by: Dan O'Bannon

Aliens, the 1986 sequel to Alien, is a tense thrill ride, but it's pretty clearly a sci-fi action flick. The brilliance of Alien is that the outer space setting is largely incidental. It's essentially a horror film: The Nostromo might as well be a haunted house. As it turns out, the creature is scariest when it's on its own, stalking Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) and the rest of the ship's crew, showing itself only when absolutely necessary. This is a slasher movie, complete with an iconic Final Girl.

9. The Shining (1980)

Warner Bros.

Directed by: Stanley Kubrick

Written by: Stanley Kubrick and Diane Johnson

As an adaptation of the novel, The Shining has problems. But the same reason that Stephen King hated Kubrick's film is part of what makes it so goddamn scary: Jack Nicholson's Jack Torrance is psychotic from the get-go. Even when he's playing loving dad and husband, he's a study in barely repressed madness and rage. His inevitable rampage is terrifying because you've been waiting for him to crack. Add to that Kubrick's deeply unsettling imagery, especially the twin girls in the hallway.

10. Poltergeist (1982)


Directed by: Tobe Hooper

Written by: Steven Spielberg, Michael Grais, and Mark Victor

Here's the thing: Poltergeist is occasionally hilarious. It's not the relentless thriller that many of the other films on this list are. It even managed to earn a PG rating, if only because PG-13 didn't exist yet. But for all its humor, Poltergeist is often downright chilling. The clown doll alone is responsible for countless childhood nightmares, but there's also something deeply upsetting about Carol Anne's (Heather O'Rourke) cheerful announcement of ghostly arrivals: "They're heeeeere."

11. A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)

New Line Cinema

Directed by: Wes Craven

Written by: Wes Craven

Like Halloween, A Nightmare on Elm Street inspired a franchise of increasingly underwhelming sequels. Freddy Krueger (Robert Englund) became more of a quippy cult antihero than the monster he was set up to be. That's why it's extra impressive that the original Nightmare holds up as well as it does. Revisiting Wes Craven's surrealist slasher is a staggering reminder of Freddy's enduring status as nightmare fodder — and that good horror, like Krueger, never really dies.


12. Pet Sematary (1989)

Paramount Pictures

Directed by: Mary Lambert

Written by: Stephen King

Another Stephen King adaptation, Pet Sematary has the author's seal of approval: He wrote the screenplay, too. It's faithful to King's novel, making both the film and the book two of the scariest works he's ever produced. While the concept itself is terrifying — Louis Creed (Dale Midkiff) stumbles on a cemetery that brings dead things back to life, at a cost — it's the enduring image of Victor Pascow (Brad Greenquist), mutilated by a car accident, that will keep you up at night.

13. Candyman (1992)

Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

Directed by: Bernard Rose

Written by: Bernard Rose

If you're afraid of hooks, bees, or castration — all totally rational, by the way — Candyman is bound to leave you rattled. But the horror goes beyond that: The film follows graduate student Helen Lyle (Virginia Madsen) as she investigates the urban legend of the Candyman (Tony Todd). What she discovers is that the fiction is based in fact, forcing all of us to question the folklore we grew up with. What's real and what's not? And who would dare chant "Candyman" five times in the mirror to find out?

14. Funny Games (1997)

Fox Lorber

Directed by: Michael Haneke

Written by: Michael Haneke

Funny Games isn't your typical horror movie, but few Michael Haneke films are easily catalogued. Nevertheless, making it through Funny Games is an endurance test, and one that leaves its viewers seriously shaken. The real source of unease comes from the random acts of cruelty: Peter (Franz Giering) and Paul (Arno Frisch) torture a hapless family for no other reason than the fact that they can. Knowing there's no method to the madness is the scariest truth of all.

15. The Blair Witch Project (1999)


Directed by: Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sánchez

Written by: Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sánchez

The Blair Witch Project may not scare you now as much as it did when you first saw it in 1999. Because part of that fear came from the unknown: As one of the first found footage horror films to cross over into the mainstream, Blair Witch was largely uncharted territory. And the footage of three campers lost in the woods, facing an unseen threat seemed, well, real. Knowing the backstory now takes away some of the film's initial power, but objectively, it's still a highly effective thriller.


16. The Others (2001)

Miramax Films

Directed by: Alejandro Amenábar

Written by: Alejandro Amenábar

The children in The Others aren't evil, but there's certainly something off about them. Their mother, Grace (Nicole Kidman), can't quite determine what's behind the strange goings-on at her quiet country home — so much of it defies explanation. The Others eventually offers a clever (and truly haunting) reveal. In ghost stories, learning the truth behind the poltergeist is usually the first step toward purging it. Here, the answer is more horrifying than anything that comes before it.

17. Ju-on: The Grudge (2002)


Directed by: Takashi Shimizu

Written by: Takashi Shimizu

Ju-on: The Grudge is actually the third film in the Ju-on series, but it was the first theatrical release and it's by far the scariest — much more so than the 2004 American remake The Grudge. All of Takashi Shimizu's films in the series revolve around a curse, but while the tropes may be similar, the scares are unique (and uniquely frightening). In Ju-on: The Grudge, social worker Rika Nishina (Megumi Okima) is the latest victim of vengeful ghosts intent on destroying her.

18. The Ring (2002)


Directed by: Gore Verbinksi

Written by: Kôji Suzuki, Ehren Kruger, and Scott Frank

The Ring is another remake of a Japanese horror film, but unlike most American takes on Japanese horror, it more than holds its own. The movie is terrifying in part because of the inherent dread of its concept: You watch a tape, get a phone call saying "seven days," and know that you'll die in one week. But The Ring's effectiveness is also a credit to its ingenious twist, as Rachel (Naomi Watts) learns that the girl she's "rescued" isn't quite what she seems.

19. 28 Days Later (2002)

Fox Searchlight Pictures

Directed by: Danny Boyle

Written by: Alex Garland

Zombies shouldn't run. But the zombies on a rampage in 28 Days Later aren't really zombies, so that's not a mark against it. And because they run, they're extra scary: With all due respect to traditional zombies of the shuffling variety, it's hard to compete with bloodthirsty creatures who can sprint. Like all great zombie films, 28 Days Later also offers scary-insightful social commentary. In the end, humans prove themselves to be the worst monsters of all.


20. A Tale of Two Sisters (2003)

Kino Lorber

Directed by: Jee-woon Kim

Written by: Jee-woon Kim

A Tale of Two Sisters is actually inspired by a classic Korean folktale, though it was, of course, updated for a modern audience. Nevertheless, the seemingly convoluted narrative actually rests on familiar themes: most notably, to American audiences as well, a wicked stepmother. Like so many films on this list, the supernatural horror mingles with the psychological. Horrific acts of violence that seem real are revealed to be hallucinations, yet somehow knowing they're imagined is even scarier.

21. The Descent (2005)


Directed by: Neil Marshall

Written by: Neil Marshall

Honestly, even without the homicidal mutants lurking in the depths of the caves, The Descent would be frightening. The mere act of spelunking is stressful to watch — and, of course, the characters here quickly get lost, descending deeper into an unfamiliar (and mostly dark) maze beneath the earth. And then creatures begin to pick them off. By the time they turn on each other, it's (pun intended) overkill, but in the best possible way. The Descent is relentless.

22. REC (2007)

Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

Directed by: Jaume Balagueró and Paco Plaza

Written by: Jaume Balagueró, Luis A. Berdejo, and Paco Plaza

Most found footage horror starts off with a clear goal in sight, but in REC, TV reporter Ángela Vidal (Manuela Velasco) and her cameraman Pablo (Pablo Rosso) are working on an innocuous documentary series when they stumble on a zombie outbreak. It's a clever entryway and one that catches the audience off-guard, even when you know you're watching a horror film. It's a stark reminder that zombies, however far-fetched, always feel a little bit like something that could happen.

23. The Orphanage (2007)

New Line Home Video

Directed by: J. A. Bayona

Written by: Sergio G. Sánchez

Sometimes it doesn't take much, like this little boy standing in the hallway, standing just far enough away, a mask painted on the burlap sack he wears over his head. Long after seeing The Orphanage, this is the image that sticks with you, and it's creepy enough that you'll wish you could will it away. In the end, this ghost story offers surprising pathos. But its depressing conclusion proves haunting in a different way. The more you think about the somber twist, the worse it gets.


24. Paranormal Activity (2007)

Paramount Pictures

Directed by: Oren Peli

Written by: Oren Peli

Some would argue that the scares in Paranormal Activity were overhyped. And indeed, it's hard to match expectations when a film's entire advertising campaign is based on how much it freaked out audiences. But isolated from all the hype and promotion, Paranormal Activity stands the test of time as a deeply frightening minimalist thriller. If anything, the ad campaign only heightened the tension: It put audiences on the edge, unaware that most of their time would be spent waiting.

25. The Strangers (2008)

Universal Studios

Directed by: Bryan Bertino

Written by: Bryan Bertino

The Strangers comes to a similar conclusion as Funny Games: Sometimes bad things happen to people just because. As Kristen (Liv Tyler) and James (Scott Speedman) are horrified to discover, the masked intruders terrorizing them chose their victims based on who happened to be home. However loosely inspired by reality — The Strangers claimed to be based on a true story — it's the kind of home invasion thriller that feels like it could happen to anyone who answers the door.

26. The House of the Devil (2009)

Dark Sky Films

Directed by: Ti West

Written by: Ti West

Because it's written and directed by Ti West, one of the hippest horror filmmakers working today, The House of the Devil is both a total '80s throwback and also very much of the now. It's fun. But as West effortlessly proves, fun can still be a terrifying mindfuck. When Samantha (Jocelin Donahue) is offered a strange babysitting job she can't afford to turn down, she soon discovers she's in over her head. It's a joy to watch until it isn't, and by then, you're too far in to stop.

27. Insidious (2010)


Directed by: James Wan

Written by: Leigh Whannell

On paper, Insidious is a fairly straightforward possession story. The trailers didn't do much to dissuade that notion. But low expectations ended up helping by luring audiences in with a false sense of security: However mundane it looked on the outside, Insidious was serious, sleep-ruining horror. And frankly, that's harder to pull off when there are no real gimmicks. It's just a father (Patrick Wilson) and mother (Rose Byrne) trying to save their possessed son (Ty Simpkins), and it's brutal.


28. The Last Exorcism (2010)


Directed by: Daniel Stamm

Written by: Huck Botko and Andrew Gurland

Found footage makes cheap scares easy: The in-your-face style means that jump scares happen, well, in your face. But a truly scary horror film has to do more than make you drop some popcorn. The Last Exorcism, which has Rev. Cotton Marcus (Patrick Fabian) attempting to save the seemingly possessed Nell (Ashley Bell) gets under your skin by purposely blurring the line between the supernatural and the all-too-real. Bell's performance draws you in when you're clamoring for distance.

29. The Crazies (2010)

Overture Films

Directed by: Breck Eisner

Written by: Scott Kosar and Ray Wright

A remake of a largely forgotten George A. Romero movie, The Crazies isn't about zombies, but it's of a similar vein — think Living Dead meets Body Snatchers. And that's perhaps what makes the film so hard to shake. Sheriff David Dutten (Timothy Olyphant) has to confront the fact that his friends and neighbors are turning into monsters. But not mindless zombies — still human but dangerously homicidal. That makes them harder to kill, and worse, impossible to forget.

30. Sinister (2012)

Summit Entertainment

Directed by: Scott Derrickson

Written by: Scott Derrickson and C. Robert Cargill

There is a terrifying Babylonian deity named Bughuul in Sinister, and that's nowhere near the scariest thing about it. That honor goes to the "found footage" element — the home movies Ellison Oswalt (Ethan Hawke) discovers that end up being snuff films from the previous owners of his new house. Their innocuous titles — Family Hanging Out '11 shows a family hanging themselves to death — make them that much more disturbing. The demonic force behind them is, frankly, incidental.

31. The Babadook (2014)

IFC Films

Directed by: Jennifer Kent

Written by: Jennifer Kent

The Babadook returns to a repeated theme on this list: Is Amelia (Essie Davis) really being tormented by a demonic force, or is she just losing her mind? There's a reason this is a popular element in horror, and why it makes these films as overwhelmingly frightening as they are. Once you reach a certain age, the boogeyman — or Babadook, as it were — doesn't scare you the way it used to. The fear of losing your mind, of being a danger to yourself and others — that is ageless.


32. It Follows (2014)


Directed by: David Robert Mitchell

Written by: David Robert Mitchell

Much like The Babadook before it, It Follows has become the surprising horror hit of the year. It's another seeming retread of a common horror theme: A girl (Maika Monroe) has sex and is punished for it. But it's far more complicated than that. David Robert Mitchell's themes are far more progressive than recycled: Their resonance is downright scary. And the monster is frightening for its calculated simplicity. With an ever-shifting appearance, it could literally be anyone.