Even if we don’t like being creeped out right before we shut out the light and prepare to sleep, we keep going back back to the movies for more things to be afraid of. In truth, most of us love being scared. We can’t get enough of it. That’s why people turn up in droves to have the popcorn frightened right of their laps whenever a new (or reimagined) creepshow comes to town. With the release of Sinister 2 beckoning audiences to enter the dark and have their minds invaded by the dreadful, the grim, the macabre, here is Screen Rant’s list of 15 Horror Movies That Will Give You Nightmares.
Last year’s indie horror sensation earned its reputation as one of the most frightening films of modern times. A stressed widow named Amelia (Essie Davis) is raising a paranoid problem child (Noah Wiseman), who counters imaginary threats to his safety by creating dangerous, Rube Goldberg-esque contraptions that put others in danger. One night she reads to him from a ghoulish storybook and accidentally wakes up a mythic creature, precipitating her decline into insanity. The emotional trouble Amelia faces would be bracing and horrific enough without the presence of a smirking demon lurking in every shadow to rob her of sleep and peace of mind.
Director Jennifer Kent makes sure that it isn’t just the presence of Mr. Babadook that sends viewers hiding behind their fingers; the look on her characters’ faces when they know he’s coming is enough to send shivers down your spine.
While films like Unfriended are mixing up the found footage genre through rigorous formal experimentation, it pays to remember that once upon a time all you needed was a camera pointed at something unspeakable and an assurance that the filmmakers couldn’t stop or control it. [REC] was the beginning of the found footage craze as we know it, picking up the gauntlet thrown down by The Blair Witch Project, The Last Broadcast and Cannibal Holocaust.
[REC] begins in media res, showing raw, unedited footage of a reporter (Manuela Velasco) and her cameraman (Pablo Rosso) interviewing firemen for a human interest piece. The fire crew is called out to an apartment building, responding to a sick tenant (Martha Carbonell) who lately contracted a disease that has turned her into a ravenous zombie. Once the action starts it never relents. The Die Hard of horror films, [REC] is proof that found footage films once seemed like a viable future for horror instead of a hoary trope in need of saving. [REC] was remade by Hollywood as Quarantine in 2008, but it’s the Spanish 2007 original that holds the real scares.
The Woman In Black
The Woman In Black not only resurrected the declining fortunes of the legendary studio Hammer Films, it did so by outmatching the house of horror’s best films scare-for-scare. The Woman In Black pits Arthur Kipps (Daniel Radcliffe, fresh off his final outing as the world’s most famous boy wizard), a young widow, against a malevolent spirit occupying a decrepit mansion. The children of the town Crythin Gifford, England are being compelled to kill themselves and Radcliffe discovers it’s because of the ghost occupying the house on the edge of town.
The film is bursting with spooky images, but when Kipps enters the house for the last time, determined to stop the woman in black, director James Watkins goes for broke. He throws every imaginable tactic at the screen, not satisfied until you’ve succumbed to the fright. The Woman In Black takes no prisoners, daring you to look away and knowing full well you’ll be back to see what you missed.
Breakout art horror hit It Follows wound up in multiplexes despite a too-respectable festival pedigree and purposely formalistic style for one reason: it’s absolutely bone-chilling. High school student Jay (Maika Monroe) has the worst date of her life when her would-be suitor (Jake Weary) sleeps with her, then drugs her and ties her up. But that’s only the start of her bad luck. He’s apparently passed “It” to her, and that “It” is a very bad thing indeed. “It” is some kind of shapeshifting entity only the two of them can see, and it will walk slowly but deliberately in her direction until it gets to her and kills her. That is, unless she can sleep with someone else and pass it on to the next unlucky sap.
Director David Robert Mitchell scores his biggest jump-out-of-your-seat moments by simply setting his camera up a few dozen yards away from “It,” which can take the form of any person, whether friend or stranger, and watching them steadily march toward Jay. It’s a remarkably effective strategy and it turns every shot in the movie into a jack-in-the-box. Without warning someone could burst out of the background of any shot and walk towards the camera, Jay, and we poor saps in the audience. It’ll have you looking over your shoulder on the street and in your dreams for weeks.
The Evil Dead
I know what you’re thinking. Which one? The charming 1982 original, or the slick, sick 2013 remake. Pick either and walk away with interrupted sleep. The films both concern a group of unknowing tourists who unthinkingly read from the Necronomicon, the Book of the Dead.
The original film prizes tactile grotesquerie, pitting a then-unknown Bruce Campbell against a host of grizzly demons, all created with low-budget, stop-motion effects, which are after his easily mortified flesh. Director Sam Raimi, years before his taking on the Spiderman films or Oz: The Great & Powerful, takes impish glee in making things pop out from every corner of the frame, pummeling his star with every conceivable torment over the course of one long night.
The Necronomicon returns in Fede Alvarez’s remake/tribute, this time opened by kids staging an intervention for a heroin-addicted Mia (Jane Levy). Alvarez can’t match Raimi’s original for sheer, pulse-racing effect, so he goes for the gag reflex. The 2013 Evil Dead is a parade of gooey spatter and improperly amputated limbs. It will send the faint of stomach into hysterics, if they even opened their eyes long enough to see. Whichever you choose, be sure to watch with the lights on.
Fans of the insanely popular survival horror video game series Silent Hill were crushed when it was announced that the latest installment of the game, starring Walking Dead heartthrob Norman Reedus, was pulled from development. If you don’t know why fans would be crestfallen to lose another chapter in the ongoing saga, give Christophe Gans’ 2006 film adaptation of the game a spin. The Silent Hill movie is a properly uncanny experience.
Operating on the logic of nightmares, Gans’ Silent Hill is about Rose Da Silva (Radha Mitchell) and her adopted daughter Sharon (Jodelle Ferland). Sharon keeps wandering off in her sleep and shouting about a place called “Silent Hill,” so Rose takes Sharon to the town of Silent Hill, the source of her nightmares. The two are separated almost immediately, but Rose’s troubles only really begin when the air raid sirens go off and a hellish red night falls on the sleepy town, sending every manner of psychosexual apparition after the frantic mother. The flamboyantly disturbing creatures occupying this alternate dimension may have you drinking coffee to ward off a fitful night’s rest.
When Gil Kenan’s reboot of Poltergeist hit theaters earlier this year, the question most frequently posed in reviews was: why do we need a new Poltergeist when we already have a perfectly good one? The 1982 film is suburban horror at its finest. Combining the doe-eyed wonder of producer Steven Spielberg with the surgically precise brutality of director Tobe Hooper, the original film puts the concept of a nuclear family through the ringer.
Every Fan undoubtedly has their own favorite creepy image, from the paranormal investigator with a sudden skin condition, to the unwanted guests in the pool, but the film will probably go down in history for the presence of the world’s least friendly clown doll. Every potentially scary thing about childhood comes to vivid life in Poltergeist, which is why it will never lose its power to give even the most stoic viewer a night of bad dreams.
Guillermo Del Toro’s success as the director of singular blockbusters like Pacific Rim, Hellboy and Blade 2 has allowed him to become one of the most distinct producers in the world. In between the massive productions of his own projects, he’s overseen a handful of ghost stories that unmistakably bear his imprint.
The most effective of these films was newcomer Andrés Muschietti’s jaw-dropping Mama, about a forest-dwelling spirit who raises two abandoned kids as her own. When social services discover the children and place them with their closest relatives (Game of Thrones’ Nikolaj Coster-Waldau and Jessica Chastain), “Mama,” the name the children have given to the spirit, comes to stay with them. The adults don’t notice it (or her) at first, but something as bloodcurdling as Mama doesn’t stay hidden for long.
The most hair-raising creation in recent horror movies, Mama has only to show her face or produce a spindly, decomposing digit to ensure that people will thoroughly check under their beds before going to sleep.
There’s just no beating practical effects for an old-fashioned scare. Master director John Carpenter’s best film is comprised of an isolated, claustrophobic location, eleven of the greatest character actors in America led by Kurt Russell at his most magnetically unkempt, and a rogue’s gallery of monster effects created by special effects guru Rob Bottin. A remake of 1951’s The Thing From Another World, Carpenter’s film follows a scientific team in Antarctica after an alien organism infiltrates their base and begins to take over people’s bodies, which it then distorts in horrific ways.
The Thing, like its lovingly crafted alien being, is a nesting doll of unnerving developments. Just when you think you’ve seen it all, some new part of “the beast” opens up and out comes a new set of teeth or an impropable eye. Bottin and Carpenter seem to have reached into our unconscious brains and pulled out the most horrendous things they were capable of imagining, which is why the film’s staying power is unquestionable.
Producer J.J. Abrams, writer Drew Godard and director Matt Reeves (responsible for Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Cabin In The Woods and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes between them) had more than a few tricks up their sleeve when they conceived Cloverfield. First there was the brilliant ad campaign, which teased only that something rather large would be attacking New York, told through the perspective of a young man (TJ Miller) with a video camera. Then there was the unveiling of the monster: a curvy, giant alien capable of toppling skyscrapers. And if that didn’t scare you, maybe the parasites it carried with it through space are more your speed.
When our heroes run afoul of the beasts in the subway, it’s plenty terrible, but not a patch on what happens when they bite you. Cloverfield boasted a pretty impressive monster rampage, but it pales in comparison to the nauseating chemistry lesson the space bugs give our heroes. The human body and extraterrestrial bacteria don’t mix. That section of the movie might cost you a few nights’ sleep.
The Town That Dreaded Sundown
Alfonso Gomes-Reyes, director of the Sundance darling Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, made the jump to feature films (from episodes of American Horror Story) with a remake of this cult horror film, justifiably revered by fans of 70s horror. Based on a spate of bizarre, unsolved murders in Texarkana, independent trailblazer Charles B. Pierce’s The Town That Dreaded Sundown moves us from one ornately scary crime scene to the next. The Phantom (Bud Davis), as he is dubbed by newspapers, is just a huge guy with a crude burlap mask on, and it’s that simplicity that proves so eerie. This hulking mass of unmotivated aggression ties up and kills innocent couples one after the other, outwitting every attempt at being caught by simply seeming to come out of the woods to kill and then disappearing into thin air.
Just the sight of The Phantom walking around with unknowable, twisted purpose is enough to make you sleep with the lights on.
If ain’t broke, don’t fix it. And if it still keeps you awake with its onslaught of unforgettably shocking tableaus, why seek substitutions? William Friedkin approached William Peter Blatty’s novel with a fierce, unyielding immediacy, launching un-processable ideas and scenes with lightning speed and perfect aim at his unsuspecting public. The Exorcist has lost none of its ability to horrify since taking the world by storm in 1973. Linda Blair’s scarred green face as the possessed child Regan – and the 360 degree turn he head does around he neck – have become iconic.
And while the film’s treatment of devilish possession is frightening, to be sure, but it almost doesn’t match the scenes of our young heroine undergoing awful, invasive surgery to find a scientific cause for her ills. The devil wouldn’t put you through that.
When the first season of True Detective came to a close, some horror fans must have experienced acute deja vu. A creepy backwoods loner living in an elaborate maze who draws victims into a trap they have no hope of escaping from? Sounds a lot like Wolf Creek.
Greg McLean’s merciless debut is based on real cases of abducted tourists in Australia, but the fortress-like Outback hideaway of its giggling serial killer antagonist is all brilliantly disturbing invention. So is the killer himself, played in a career-best performance by John Jarratt, who takes piggish delight in presenting himself as the sadistic Ozzie antidote to Crocodile Dundee. McLean films the carnage like a war photographer, finding stark beauty in the chaos and bloodshed. The fact that it could plausibly happen makes it all the more shudder-inducing.
Humanoids From the Deep
It’s fun to think that Producer Roger Corman is now known to a generation of hungry shlock-hounds as the guy responsible for Dinocroc, Cobragator and Sharktopus vs. Whalewolf. Before he threw his lot in with the Syfy channel, Corman was one of the savviest talent scouts in the film world. He was the first moneyman to take a chance on Martin Scorsese, James Cameron and Francis Ford Coppola, among others. One of his less-celebrated proteges was the director Barbara Peeters, who gave us the film that turned into the template for latter day Corman productions like Piranhaconda and Dinoshark.
Humanoids from the Deep was Peeters’ swan song as a feature director, which is a crying shame as it’s one of the most joyfully nasty horror movies of the 1980s. After an experiment goes awry, turning aquatic wildlife into six foot tall sex-crazed mutants, a seaside community acts quickly to stop the menace. Of course, this being a horror film set in a small town, no such cooperation takes place. After a few isolated assaults, everyone in town is attacked by the humanoids at a county fair. With their disgusting features, too-long arms and inhuman momentum, the monsters will stay with you long after the specifics of the plot have faded.
Recently, Robert Eggers, director of the feted new horror film The Witch, said that he would be remaking F.W. Murnau’s classic vampire film Nosferatu as his next project. Not that taking another stab at the material was a new trick – Werner Herzog did the same thing in 1979 and that was a masterpiece. Furthermore, Murnau’s film is a poorly disguised adaptation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, a novel that has been adapted for the screen countless times. But for pure nightmare fuel, it’s tough to beat this 1922 German expressionist masterpiece.
Murnau does a lovely job making nature look a force of evil, but the meat of the piece is the performance by Max Schreck as Count Orlok (. Feral and regal at once, Orlok is one of the greatest characters in the history of film, and he remains among the scariest. With nothing more than make-up, a dead-eyed stare, and crustacean-like fingers, Schreck creates an indelible impression of animalistic lust and ferocity. His hideous figure will never leave the memory of those who have seen him preying on the unsuspecting. He’s been causing bad dreams for almost a hundred years and he’ll likely never stop.
Of course, filmmakers have been scaring audiences for decades, and this list is only a taste of the damage. Did we make any obvious omissions? Did we leave out the scariest film you’ve ever seen? Let us know in the comments below!
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