My Favorite Scary Movies

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I have watched a lot of horror movies since I began working in the Music, Film & Audio Department over four years ago. While I was a casual fan at the time — I have always enjoyed a good scary movie for the same reason I enjoy, say, roller coasters — I can now say that I’ve grown to respect the genre.

I’ve written before in defense of horror movies, and also shared a list of haunted house films as well as a list of children’s movies that terrified me while growing up. This past year I was inspired to take stock of my favorites from over the years, so here are my all-time favorite horror films.

[Note: I left off some newer favorites (House of the Devil, The Babadook, and It Follows) since I feel like I need to sit with them for a while before I know where they land on this list — and because making best-of-lists is serious business!]

Alien

The crew of the Nostromo unwisely bring an alien critter onto their spaceship, and are slowly picked off one by one. Can Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) and Jones the cat make it out alive?

Carrie

The real terror of this movie lies not in its supernatural happenings, but in its depiction of the horrors of puberty and adolescent cruelty. And in what could be called a very unhealthy mother-daughter relationship.

The Changeling

John (George C. Scott) takes up residence in an historic mansion while grieving the loss of his wife and daughter — but it turns out he may not be the only one in the house. This is both a ghost story and a haunted house story, and features one fantastically creepy attic.

Dawn of the Dead

The 1979 sequel to Night of the Living Dead. An eclectic group of people come to hide out in the Monroeville Mall, while armies of the walking dead threaten to overtake them.

The Descent

A group of women cavers go spelunking in Appalachian country, but little does the group know that their daredevil leader has planned to take them into a system of unmapped, unexplored caves. The group gets lost, and stuck in many tight spaces, and then…did you hear something out there in the dark? This is the ultimate horror flick for people with claustrophobia.

The Devil's Backbone

The recently orphaned Carlos is sent to live at the Santa Lucia School, where something sinister may be afoot. Everything about this film is sad and beautiful and unnerving, from the setting (an orphanage during the Spanish Civil War) to the atmospheric visuals.

Halloween

Still the gold standard by which all slasher films in the horror genre can be measured. Even though over thirty years have passed, it is still legitimately scary, and the John Carpenter composed score is sparse, terrific, and eerie.

Rosemary's Baby

There is no explicit violence or gore in this film, just a sustained sense of looming paranoia and dread. Young Rosemary Woodhouse moves into an old apartment building with her husband Guy, and soon after becomes pregnant. The apartment building and its eccentric inhabitants make for a claustrophobic and unsettling viewing experience. Guaranteed to give you the creeps.

The Shining

The location (an empty, isolated hotel in winter) and the beautiful, unsettling visuals are enough to make this a totally great horror movie, even before Jack Nicholson goes crazy or those twin sisters show up.

Sleepaway Camp

Angela and her cousin Ricky are sent to a summer camp where mysterious deaths start piling up. This movie is not exactly scary, but it is amazingly off-the-charts bonkers. If you’re a fan of 80s films, men in short shorts, Jersey accents, unintentional laughs, and implausible twist endings, then this is for you.

Suspiria

An American dancer travels to Germany to study at a ballet school in the Black Forest where it just so happens horrific murders are being perpetrated.  Everything in this movie looks absolutely gorgeous and spooky, and the soundtrack by Goblin really adds to the film’s creepy atmosphere.

28 Days Later

Our hero Jim wakes up in a hospital and then wanders around an abandoned London alone, before eventually encountering the reason that no one seems to be around — rage-filled zombies! This is the film that introduced the concept of the “fast zombie,” and was also one of the first films to take full advantage of being shot entirely on digital cameras.