Top 100 Horrors That Scare You Shitless: Part 3

In parts one and two we’ve counted down the Top 100 Horrors That Scare You Shitless.

That’s probably why you’ve wound up here, so no more bloody mucking around—here are the top 20 most terrifying horrors in our poll of readers and Flicks writers.

20. The Thing (1982)

John Carpenter’s sci-fi/horror masterpiece gets maximum oomph out of various elements expertly combined: remote Antarctic setting, claustrophobic camp life, paranoid alien impersonation, Kurt Russell in top form, and the gross, horrific creature effects of Rob Bottin and Stan Winston. With an excellent ensemble cast soon realising that each other may not be who they seem, Carpenter builds an enthralling atmosphere of distrust alongside the terrifying realisation that the transforming creature in their midst has the potential to eradicate humanity completely. And if not, maybe just chomp your arms off n’ that.

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19. Saw

It’s gross enough waking up on a bathroom floor, let alone one with a corpse for company that points to you and your other companion’s fate if you can’t get out. Subsequent sequels would turn the Saw series into the tale of some trap-making mastermind, whereas the original tapped into the viewer’s own fears—what would you do? Saw, kill, live or die? The premise is engrossing, the tension escalates, and while you’re busy putting yourself in the protagonist’s shoes, Saw isn’t afraid to pull a swerve or two on you.

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18. Ringu

We’ll let actor Josh Thomson explain what’s scary about watching this movie that’s itself ingeniously about watching something you shouldn’t: “I watched it on DVD all by myself during the day. Even though it was all about watching a haunted VHS tape—I was terrified. I found myself saying out loud “it’s ok, you have a DVD… you have a DVD”. By the end, I didn’t even want to take it out of the machine.”

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17. [REC]

Found footage zombie pic ramped up the adrenaline from previous entrants in the subgenre, which seemed to favour walking heaps, arguing, complaining, or waiting instead of actual scary stuff. When a Spanish apartment building is quarantined during an outbreak, [REC] becomes a choreographed dance through a haunted house-like experience, the camera and accompanying TV reporter whisking us through an increasingly terrifying series of undead events that culminate in sustained creepiness.

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16. The Grudge (2004 remake)

Sam Raimi produced this US remake, which kept all the good stuff—creepy child, throaty noise, stair-crawling, turning a normal suburban home into something terrifying—as well as (wisely) its director and setting. Adding a couple of Yanks including Sarah Michelle Gellar didn’t hurt any, perhaps helping the remake set the English-speaking world’s hygiene back centuries by making people terrified of showering.

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15. Friday the 13th (1980)

A bunch of camp counselors, a murderer stalking them, and the story of a drowned child… They’re the makings of a slasher classic, one that helped codify the rules of the genre (ie young people, especially horny ones, shouldn’t do anything fun, ever) and embrace an often imitated voyeuristic tone. It’s hard to contemplate Sean Cunningham’s 1980 original without the hockey mask that came to define the franchise a couple films later, and so we’re pretty sure that the frequent release of Friday the 13th films that followed helped get this effort higher up this list that it may have done on its own.

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14. Insidious

Director James Wan followed up his Saw films here with a desire to make something less gory and violent, with Insidious moving away from gritty realism to demonic possession and supernatural scares. Patrick Wilson—who confusingly would also star in Wan’s Conjuring films (as a different character to the one seen here)—and wife Rose Byrne fight to keep evil spirits from trapping their comatose son in a realm called The Further, and in the process Wan gets to employ a creepy bag of demonic and occult tricks in the service of making audiences’ flesh crawl.

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13. The Omen (1976)

We’ve mentioned creepy kids in this list already, but few come creepier than Damien Thorn, and for good reason—you would want the Antichrist to be bloody creepy, wouldn’t you? Like Rosemary’s Baby this taps into parent’s fears of their child being a little… off, except here the evidence is a little more overt, what with all the killings that seem to follow the young chap about. In an increasingly secular world, showing the Antichrist being raised in a contemporary setting gave people the heebie jeebies, helped by an iconic Oscar-winning soundtrack by Jerry Goldsmith.

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12. It (1990)

If you thumbed your nose at last year’s It remake, chances are you have fond (or not-so-fond) memories of Tim Curry’s turn as Pennywise in this late ’90s mini-series. Curry’s sneering, malevolent, cackling performance propels this along, and while the notion of condensing Stephen King’s 1000+ page novel into four hours of network TV might now seem absurd, it was that format that beamed his balding, powder-faced murderous clown-thing into living rooms and scared a generation of kids home in front of the telly.

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11. The Blair Witch Project

Has there been another horror phenomenon quite like this since? Capitalising on speculation about its found-footage format, its impact on pop culture is fueled as much by the experience around it as anything else. The Blair Witch Project seemed to go viral before anyone even knew what that meant, egged on by filmmakers and marketing that promoted its veracity as a documentary, helped along by creepy symbolism and public chatter both prior to, and after, its release: “Have you seen it yet?”; “I heard it’s actually real”; “What the hell was that ending?”

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10. Candyman

There’s nothing like being a perennial 90s video store rental fave to help cement a horror film in a generation’s minds. But the film’s got to be up to chop, too. As Deathgasm director Jason Lei Howden described Candyman to us “the mythos, the atmosphere, the depressing urban ghetto setting, the amazing performances (Tony Todd is perfect as the horrific, darkly romantic and morally ambiguous “monster”), and satisfyingly bleak ending all combine to form one of the most terrifying modern horror films.”

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9. The Babadook

Jennifer Kent’s tale of grief sent shivers through audiences with a winning combo of haunted house vibes and storybook evil that wrote itself. While a widowed mother and her son struggle getting through day to day, an increasing agitation takes hold that a creature living on the pages of a pop-up book will kill them both, a book that resists attempts to destroy or defy it, and offers increasingly ominous texts accompanied by the nightmarish chant “Baba-dook-dook-DOOK”.

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8. Alien

Ridley Scott’s classic is still the best horror movie set in space—sorry, Event Horizon (#72 on this list), Jason X (not ranked), etc, but it’s true. Setting a haunted house thriller inside a worn, lived-in, spaceship, where an iconic H.R. Giger-designed alien slaughters its way through officers and blue-collar engineering crew is genius; add excellent casting of the whole ensemble, especially the star-making turn by Sigourney Weaver and some of the most memorable scenes in cinema, and the results speak for themselves, one of the best, most influential films in both the science fiction and horror genres.

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7. Halloween

Some can’t see the word Halloween without hearing John Carpenter’s classic score or, worse yet, picturing the misshapen William Shatner mask covering the face of Michael Myers. Bringing  terror to the suburbs, killing babysitters and other unsupervised kids, the Myers depicted in Carpenter’s 1978 original (and this year’s revisiting) is a terrifyingly believable embodiment of evil, and therefore represented perfect viewing for teens themselves left to entertain themselves on late weekend nights…

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6. Hereditary

As Aaron Yap said in his Flicks review when this released, “Hereditary just stays in the hurt”.  This horrific study of grief, paranoia, and family secrets taken to the grave features ante-upping moments throughout (one of which had yours truly hearing himself exclaim “oh, FUCK” in the cinema). Toni Collette’s phenomenal performance sustains her character’s hysteria, even when she’s unsuccessfully trying to mask it, a gripping portrayal of a woman pushed to the very brink by family tragedy amid a nightmarish, stylish horror that’ll stick with you.

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5. The Ring (2002 remake)

Some might consider a remake sitting so high on this list to be horror heresy, but that would be to deny the impactfulness of Gore Verbinski’s redo of Ringu (itself above at #18). Borrowing the most compelling imagery from the original and pairing it with a strong performance by Naomi Watts, The Ring favours atmosphere over gore—except when determined to scare you shitless which it does frequently, in jarring fashion against its calmly drizzly, everyday Seattle setting.

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4. A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)

Another synthesis of winning ingredients, Wes Craven’s introduction to Freddy Krueger sees teenagers have the sins of their parents visited upon them as they’re stalked in their dreams by a grotesque, vindictive killer. Tapping into teen loneliness and alienation—authority figures don’t believe me/won’t understand, nobody can help me—and adding terrifying dream sequences, Craven created a gripping ticking clock scenario—you can’t run away from sleep, no matter how hard you try—and introduced the world to an iconic horror character in Krueger.

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3. The Conjuring

After veering away from gore towards the occult with Insidious, James Wan improved on that formula here with his first crack at the supposedly real-life paranormal encounters of Ed and Lorraine Warren. Prior to their involvement in the haunting that inspired The Amityville Horror, the couple investigated strange goings-on in a Rhode Island home, their experiences brought to the big screen here by actors Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga. Teased by an insanely effective “hide and clap” trailer, audiences flocked to cinemas, got scared silly, and birthed a new horror franchise with decidedly throwback 70s-set Christian horror overtones.

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2. The Shining

Of the many Stephen King adaptations on this list, this is the one he’s least fond of, which makes sense when someone else is meddling with the novel you wrote, we suppose, but denies the sheer artistry on offer in Stanley Kubrick’s retelling of a man driven mad and murderous.  Kubrick’s painstakingly detailed filmmaking (obsessed over to the point of its own madness by the subjects of doco Room 237) saw evil and insanity bleed over into the meticulously created physical spaces of the Overlook Hotel, pollute Jack Nicholson’s psyche, and seep into the minds of audiences and pop culture in general.

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1. The Exorcist

Frequently labeled the scariest film of all time, after topping this list The Exorcist can also now stake formal claim to being the film most likely to scare you shitless. Arriving at a perfect cultural crossroads in 1973, the film took advantage of increasingly permissible cinema standards to show a young woman saying, and doing, the unthinkable while possessed by a demon.

Dragging the evils hinted at by the Church kicking and screaming into the modern world, and posing deep questions about faith in an increasingly secular and cynical culture, The Exorcist terrified audiences at the time, has done for decades, and will likely continue to do so for years to come.

While contemporary films may be getting box office mileage out of similar subject matter and a 1970s setting, they can’t hold a candle to how genuinely confrontational and terrifying this horror masterpiece is.

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That’s it—the Top 100 Horrors That Scare You Shitless.

Check out parts one and two for the rest of the list.