The hair-raising build up, that tingle down your spine, that all gasping spook and the sleepless nights that follow; a truly scary horror flick will keep you up for weeks, turning you into an insomniac always on the edge, looking over your shoulder while walking an empty corridor.
But what you may not want to admit is that you find it all strangely enjoyable.
There’s a cathartic need that horror films serve which make us want to lap them up. If you notice, a great horror flick isn’t just all about its spooks. It’s almost always coupled with a great story or an underlying subtext that’s meaningful. It’s when these elements combine that you get a horror masterpiece, a celluloid experience that penetrates the subconscious. It toys with your fear of the unknown and the dark depths of human nature. It strangely rings true on a human level no matter how bizarre the premise.
So here’s my personal list of the top 10 horror films of all time. Pure, unadulterated horror.
10) Ju-on: The Grudge
From the famous family of J-horror, The Grudge (Ju-On) weaves in different subplots and jumps back and forth across them in a nonlinear fashion almost effortlessly. I’ve always envied long black tresses, but not after watching Onryos.
The story and its premise are pretty simple: two souls, tortured and killed, now unleash their wrath on whoever comes in contact with the house where it happened. And once you’ve stepped foot, God save you. There are very little special effects here. It’s simply great make up and an extremely talented contortionist who can bend her body in a way that seems, well, almost not human. This is what makes The Grudge scary. They are all over the house and will pursue you to your very death. Scary moments like when the ashen boy and his mother manifest themselves will scare the jujubes out of you.
9) Paranormal Activity
There’s a new master of horror in town and he’s a minimalist. There are no spooky faces, no white ladies with black tresses, simply an everyday couple that you identify with and a scary demon that’s after them. Oren Peli, the man behind the found footage genre mania, scared audiences out of their seats.
When The Blair Witch Project came about, it created a stir. However, that movie didn’t scare me as much as Paranormal did. Here’s a couple in a relationship that knows each other’s secrets. However, there’s one little thing left out. There’s a feisty demon in this whole equation. A demon out to consume them.
8) The Others
While this is more of a psychological horror piece, it is only fair to include it in the supernatural category considering (spoiler alert!) the ghosts are the lead protagonists and the ones being haunted here. However, that’s something we only find out at the very end. All along we follow the narrative of a mother who comes to believe her house is haunted with the arrival of three mysterious servants. You see her trying to protect her two photosensitive children from what lurks around.
This is nothing short of a Victorian horror tale, with a huge countryside mansion. The restrained performances of all the actors steer it away from the trappings that horror movies so often fall into. There are clues in the visuals and dialogues built in throughout the movie that all lead up to the end. Did you ever notice how pale the kids look through it all? You assume these kids probably don’t get out much. And as the backstory reveals itself, we find out here’s a mother who smothered her children to death and then shot herself about a week ago. It all adds up. Everything was a hint in this direction. The Others truly passes the test of a brilliant ghost story not merely because of it’s twist, but because it allows for repeated viewings. Every time you watch it you’ll discover something new.
7) The Omen
When children embody evil, it’s petrifying. And Damien is a kid you eventually feel no mercy for. He is truly the anti Christ and he’s down here on business along with a support staff that’s as lethal and brutal. As you see Damien mercilessly cause the deaths of those who stand in his way you begin to wonder does the Devil really have a plan.
I bet The Omen had every parent checking their miscreant kid for the 666 symbol of the beast. Who can forget the raven attack on the empty street? It brought back memories of Hitchcock’s The Birds. Damien demolishes everyone and eventually lands up in the care of the most powerful office of the United States of America. As he turns to the camera to give his diabolical smile you know all is lost.
6) The Ring
Urban legend has it that whoever watches this killer video tape will die within a week of viewing it. Enter a mother, too involved with her job as a journalist. She gets sucked into an investigation of this mysterious videotape. She views it and now the clock’s ticking for her. But the shit really hits the roof when her son lands up watching it too. Now saving her son is the sole focus of her life.
This Japanese remake is the perfect way to blend technology and horror. It will literally come out of the TV set and grab you by your tonsils. And the chilly icing on this horror flick is the mystery and the manner in which it unfolds. Samara’s story, the menacing evil little girl, is twisted and will leave you fearing TV sets for a long time to come.
5) Shutter (Thai 2004 version)
What if you were literally carrying your guilt on your shoulders? You’d surely land up in a mental asylum. There she is again, the battered ashen Asian face, her long black tresses. She’ll haunt you anywhere: atop your car bonnet while you are driving or at the foot of your bed while you are sleeping. But when she appears as a white ghostly figure captured in photographs, posing besides you, it’s guaranteed that she’s got some unfinished business with you.
In the case of Shutter, Tun’s act of past cowardice is going to cost him a heavy price. He succumbed to peer pressure in high school and photographed his girlfriend while his friends raped her. Now they have all leapt to their death and Tun knows he’s next. But she’s got something a little special planned for him. Through out the movie as Tun’s girl Jane digs deeper into the truth, he goes to the doctor to get a constant neck pain he has checked. Further to his dismay, the rather frail Tun, weighs 120kgs. Spooky? Oh yes! Everything builds towards the moment, when we finally realize the mystery behind the hero’s cryptic weight gain. As he flings the camera in frustration, (spoiler alert) he finds the ghost of the girl literally sitting on his shoulders. But this weight is one he won’t be able to shake off. This horror flick is a deep seated and very effective morality tale. I promise, you will never think about neck pain in the same way again.
4) Let the Right One In
This is not just a vampire movie. This is not just another love story. This is not just a story of a young boy’s angst as he’s bullied by the kids in his school. Nor is it just a horror film. Let The Right One In is not just any of these things while being all these things at the same time.
Adapted from a novel, Let The Right One In has a title that says it all. Oskar must accept Eli and take on her friendship while blocking out the rest of the world. Eli is all that Oskar is not, Oskar is weak but it is through his interaction with Eli that Oskar learns to fight back. As the vampire story and the love story coverage with snow-laden Sweden as its backdrop, the film creates an atmospheric, eerie, non-gimmicky horror love tale. The film also does a great deal for the Vampire myth. It takes all that we know about Vampires, its mythology and reinvents it in ways that make this age-old genre appear so fresh. And those moments of raw power and emotion that this movie possesses surpasses many. Who can forget the scene, when Eli enters Oskar’s house uninvited and she bleeds. Or the scene where Eli tells Oskat to “hit back and hard.”
3) The Shinning
Come play with us Johny, forever and forever. Everyone recognizes those haunting lines from the man hailed as the master of modern day horror, Stephen King. Danny the young boy in question has a special gift, he sees what others don’t. When Danny moves into the huge hotel with his dad as caretaker the past of the place comes alive. The Shining is as much a story about a haunted hotel with a bloody history as it is about a failed patriarch dipped further into a strange psychosis. Though any movie with Jack Nicholson is bound to have a certain edge, it’s the idea of a father turning rogue and turning an axe on his family that’s petrifying.
The Shining has a lot more going for it. There’s Stanley Kubrick’s indomitable style that makes your anticipation grow with every scene, the long corridors and the buckets of blood lashing through them all add to the atmospheric horror that makes The Shining what it is. There have been many Stephen King horror stories that leave a mark but it's the teaming of King’s story and Kubrick’s vision that makes this film a masterpiece.
2) The Orphanage
The sheer atmosphere created in this Spanish magnum opus, Produced by Guiremo Del Torro and directed by Juan Antonio Bayona, is emotional and hair raising at the same time. This is a movie that employs no pop up spooks so often abused in most horror movies. And the story just keeps unraveling itself. The sheer talent that the actress possesses, the pain portrayed in her eyes simply sucks you into the tale until it’s time for the revelation. She spends months looking for her son and pursuing the spirits in the house. But it is only when she wholly allows herself to believe in the other world does the truth reveal itself to her. The horror in The Orphanage lies in the atmosphere created through the children’s garden and the games the spirits play. No movie has made a children’s game seem so haunting and nerve wrecking. Sequences with the medium in the house are simply spine chilling.
But besides everything else one can view this as a Peter Pan story told from Wendy’s point of view. Wendy is a mother so desperately looking for her child that she takes the help of the lost children she once knew and was a part of. This quest eventually leads her to join the lost children. In this peculiar Neverland she is reunited with her son as the lighthouse shines in the background.
1) The Exorcist
Again, coincidentally a story that deals with a single-parent child relationship, The Exorcist has a famous actress-mother and her daughter adjusting to their new life. There have been several interpretations of The Exorcist ranging from it being laden with the subtext of child abuse, to the more obvious battle of fate versus science as Megan goes through those grueling medical tests that amount to nothing.
This horror masterpiece is the best to date and manages to scare you even after all these years. While The Exorcist is gripping and scary at the same time it gets under your skin because there’s the thought that the Devil in question chooses its victim at random. And in this case his choice is picking the purest soul, that of an innocent child. By corrupting her he wishes to purely prove that he still exists. And if that doesn’t get to you, the scene with the projectile vomiting is bound to. An inspiration for so many flicks to come, this movie lets you know that the Devil is out there and he can get to your mind.
The Exorcist commands and I have a feeling will continue to command its position at number one for many years to come. There have been a spate of horror films since The Exorcist but none have managed to shock the audiences of its time quiet like this one.
One must say coming up with a top ten list for the oldest genre there is, is a tough task. There are so many movies that have managed to get me that are not part of the list. I remember The Exorcism of Emily Rose, I couldn’t sleep for a week after that one. There’s also The Last Exorcist which besides its unpalatable end was pretty impressive. The Orphan, The tale of two sisters, The Innocents, Skeleton Key (more a thriller than horror), Rosemary’s Baby, they’ve all come to make the horror genre what it is today.
Junaid on August 10, 2019:
Zara Rasul (author) from Mumbai, India on October 30, 2018:
What didn't you like? Do you think I missed out on anything?
Mik on September 16, 2018:
What happened to hellraiser and texas chainsaw masscre?
Hubert on June 25, 2016:
Not a fan of the list.
Ced Yong from Asia on June 14, 2016:
Except for Shutter, the rest share one trait. The victims were innocent. They didn't deserve what happened to them, so to speak. That's why the stories horrified.
JackR on May 31, 2016:
Nice mix of old and new movies, but I don't count 10. Surely you can come up with some more to finish it out?
Suzana Mustra from Quartu Sant'Elena on April 02, 2016:
Yes great.... Only "horror " that I don't consider horror is Paranormal Activity. I find it very ridiculous but that's my opinion
A Happy Man from Washington State on October 03, 2015:
Helluva list here for sure-I've seen most of 'em-may need to check out "The Orphanage" now, however...if I DARE, that is! I also suggest "The Houses October Built"...genuinely unsettling with it's realistic depiction of evil among us.
Zara Rasul (author) from Mumbai, India on August 05, 2014:
OMG!!! a typo on my hub!!! Will 'fiiix' it right away. :)
litfan85 on July 17, 2014:
I think you have fantastic taste and I certainly agree with your #1 pick - just do us a huge favor and fix the typo! REGAN is the girl's name :)
Sam Little from Wheelwright KY on March 21, 2013:
Not a bad list. I found the american remakes of the japanese horror films to be lack ing most aspects. Grudge, The Ring and the like just never really appealed to me.
Carlo Giovannetti from Puerto Rico on March 19, 2013:
Interesting list, but it's lacking Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Night of the Living Dead ;-) Anyway, another recent one that worked for me was The Descent.
GAGANPREET SINGH BHATIA from Kanpur, India on March 18, 2013:
Great list. I have still not seen a couple of them. Will do that soon.
Voted up useful.
Nerd Mama from USA on March 08, 2013:
Awesome choices. Great article. I find it funny that you spelled it "Shining", as that's what Willie calls the gift in an episode of the Simpsons.
Mattie Mae on March 07, 2013:
Great list! I have to say I did not find any of the Paranormal Activity movies scary at all, but to each their own. :) I am glad you picked Let the Right One In, instead of the American remake, Let Me In. Good taste!
Zara Rasul (author) from Mumbai, India on February 20, 2013:
Hi Moshin, thanks for reading. I have seen 'Silence of the Lamabs and Seven. While both movies are great and have horror elements, I would classify both of them more as mysteries and Seven perhaps as neo-noir.
Mohsin Ghafoor from Islamabad on February 20, 2013:
Have you seen
1. Silence of the Lambs
I hope if you see them, you will add them to your list too.
Lybrah on January 02, 2013:
I love all of these movies! After I saw The Exorcist, I had to sleep with the lights on for about a week! And I kept a rosary by my side.
THE BLACK ALPACA on December 26, 2012:
Great list. Anyone ever heard of In the Mouth of Madness. That was pretty scary, in a weird way.
nanderson500 from Seattle, WA on August 12, 2012:
The Exorcist is also my favorite horror movies. I also like The Omen and The Shining as well.
Zara Rasul (author) from Mumbai, India on August 11, 2012:
Thanks for the read Judith. I remember begin young when I saw both of those movies and I was really spooked!
Judith C Evans from Boise, ID on August 11, 2012:
Yikes, great list! The Omen and The Exorcist are such classics. Thanks for the good scare :)
Zara Rasul (author) from Mumbai, India on August 03, 2012:
Thanks Monty. Love The Others.
Monty Hamilton from Austin, Texas on July 17, 2012:
I'm a big fan of The Others, so thanks for giving it some love! Great article and great list!
Zara Rasul (author) from Mumbai, India on July 09, 2012:
Thanks Kumar24894. The exorcist is one moive that really spooked me.
HI undermyhat. thanks for the comment. It will take a great effort to top a movie like exorcist.
undermyhat from Indianapolis, Indiana on July 09, 2012:
It is amazing how the Exorcist has continued to dominate the imagination of horror film fans. More frightening is that it is based on a well documented exorcism in the 1950s. Good Hub.
kumar24894 from Fuck of HUBPAGES on July 08, 2012:
Yes. the exorcist is the best one. Great hub . voted up.
Zara Rasul (author) from Mumbai, India on June 28, 2012:
Thanks Dev Saini. Which is your fav horror film?
Zara Rasul (author) from Mumbai, India on March 28, 2012:
Thanks ishwaryaa22! the Exorcist scared the hell out of me too! I really liked the tale of 2 sisters as well!
Ishwaryaa Dhandapani from Chennai, India on March 28, 2012:
An engaging list of horror films! The Exorcist deserves the top position as it scared me a lot that I had some sleepless nights after viewing it as a child! I had seen The Ring, Paranormal Activity, The Orphanage, The Omen, Shutter, Orphan, The tale of 2 sisters & Rosemary's baby. These are very good horror-films!
Thanks for SHARING. Interesting. Voted up.
Zara Rasul (author) from Mumbai, India on March 25, 2012:
Hi LailaK. I have seen Orphan. It's one of my fav. horror movies... It didn't make it to the list but I get it an honorable mention towards the end. :)
LailaK from Atlanta, Georgia on March 25, 2012:
I like your list of top movies! And I will totally admit that I love scaring myself and feeling afraid from my own shadow; weird, but I find it enjoyable like you said. I personally want to see The Orphanage. Have you watched Orphan? That movie kept my mind going for weeks after I watched it.