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My 10 Favorite Horror Movies

So with Halloween around the corner (and a deep fondness for the weird and creepy), I’ve been thinking about some of my all-time favorite horror movies. I am not a “slasher flick” guy, so you’ll find this list absent of the Jason’s and Chucky’s of Horrorama (although there is a Lechter). If you’re looking for shocks, chills, disgust, suspense, or psychological terror, here’s my 10 favorite horror films for your dissection.

10.) The Orphanage (2007) — Old-school gothica; genuinely creepy without tons of gore and shock.  (Sleep Deprivation Points.) Viva la Mexico!

9.) The Others (2001) — Atmospheric ghost story, minus gore and gimmicks, with a ripping twist.

8.) Jacob’s Ladder (1990 / Director’s Cut) — Tortured Vietnam vet torn between devils and angels; a surreal, cerebral, visual delight.

7.) Poltergeist (1982) — A culturally defining, shocking, Spielbergian pull-out-all-the-stops haunted house story. (Seat Squirming Points.)

6.) The Thing (1982) — Animatronic gore-fest with monstrous images that will linger, and linger, and linger… Antarctica never seemed so claustrophobic.

5.) Silence of the Lambs (1991) — Horror goes mainstream thanks to Hopkins’ Lechter and CSI elements. Perhaps the best, most intelligent, serial killer movie of all time.

4.) The Fly (1986 ) — The gross-out special effects combined with Jeff Goldblum’s terrific performance as a scientist morphing into an insect, make this a polarizing, unforgettable film. (Disturbing Quotient: HIGH.)

3.) Psycho (1960)  — First watched it by myself, late at night, in a near empty five-and-dime theater, under the influence. Scarred me for life.

2.) The Haunting (1963) — Another haunted house classic. No blood. No gore. No special effects. Just a woman trapped in a house and/or in her mind. Psychologically intense! (Sleep Deprivation Points.)

1.) The Wicker Man  (1973 ) — Conceptually disturbing with perhaps one of the best reveals in horror film history. Deserves its cult status. (See my homage HERE.)

Honorable Mentions: The Exorcist, Rosemary’s Baby, Let the Right One In, The Shining, Dawn of the Dead, Alien, and The Ring. So what are some of your favorite horror movies?

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{ 42 comments… add one }
  • Kat Heckenbach October 26, 2012, 6:08 AM

    Silence of the Lambs. for sure. (People always look at me weird when I tell them that’s what my husband and I went out to see on our first date. 😉

    I agree with you on The Fly, too.

    I recently saw Pan’s Labyrinth, and while that’s not technically horror, I think it had some seriously disturbing images and was very well done.

    The Woman in Black was also really good. Fortunately, the movie fixed all the issues the book has. (I found the book boring and not at all creepy, but the movie ramps up the creep factor immensely and makes the story personal to the MC, which the book did not.)

    And I have to throw this one in–for the kiddos–Coraline :).

    • Mike Duran October 26, 2012, 6:24 AM

      I was disturbed (in a bad way, if that’s not oxymoronic) by Pan’s Labyrinth the first time I saw it. It just seemed… sadistic. I saw it again and liked it more. The special effects are superior.

      I also really enjoyed The Woman in Black film. In many ways, it has the same gothic vibe as The Orphanage and The Others.

      And re: Coraline, my favorite in that Tim Burton, stop-animation genre is Corpse Bride. Just loved that! (BTW: I’m seeing Frankenweenie this weekend w/ my grandson, which should be fun.)

      • Kat Heckenbach October 26, 2012, 6:42 AM

        Agreed–Pan’s Labyrinth has some seriously sadistic scenes. And the dude with the eyes in his palms…

        I could not get into Corpse Bride. I don’t know why. I love Nightmare Before Christmas, and obviously Coraline, and I’m looking forward to seeing Frankenweenie. But I tried watching Corpse Bride and found myself drifting. My kids loved it, though :). I’ll have to try watching it again.

        • Katherine Coble October 26, 2012, 12:37 PM

          I have this theory I’m working on that people are either Nightmare Before Christmas people or Corpse Bride people. Because everyone who has seen both that I’ve talked to, without exception, likes one and doesn’t like the other as much, dislikes the other or flat-out hates it. I wanted more than anything to just love ANBC. I love stop-motion, Halloween, and skeletons. The imagery from the film is just gorgeous in places. But I just cannot CANNOT get “into” it fully. But Corpse Bride? I sink into that movie like a warm bath. I can’t explain why, or what the difference is between the two.

          But I really think they’re similar enough to draw the same types of people but just different enough to have slightly different appeal.

  • R.J. Anderson October 26, 2012, 7:10 AM

    I can’t do horror films, period. That being said, if I had to pick a movie that creeped me out to a huge degree without making me want to vomit, and which I think is actually far scarier than PSYCHO (which did nothing for me one way or the other), I’d choose Hitchcock’s THE BIRDS. I mean seriously, just think about it. If all those nice little birds on the telephone wires did decide to gang up on us, we are all toast. There would be no escape. I saw THE BIRDS in my late teens and have never entirely trusted a flock of sparrows since.

    And I was also surprised by how much I enjoyed DEAD AGAIN. Reincarnation-based plots are so not my thing, so I only watched it because I was on a Kenneth Branagh – Emma Thompson kick at the time. But this one ramped up the suspense to a spine-tingling degree and kept me guessing until the very end.

    • Christian October 27, 2012, 10:41 PM

      The Birds is pretty freaky. The only qualm I have with that movie is the incredibly stupid treadmill running. I realise Hitchcock hated location shooting but the alternative wasn’t good.

  • Jim Williams October 26, 2012, 8:05 AM

    Great list. Glad to see Jacob’s Ladder there, one of my all time favorites (great twist). I think The Exorcist belongs in the top ten. Most other “possession” movies are aspiring to be The Exorcist.
    My additions: Invasion of the Body Snatchers (original, with Kevin McCarthy), Evil Dead, Hellraiser, Carrie, Sixth Sense (another great twist).

    • Mike Duran October 26, 2012, 8:22 AM

      I had a hard time keeping The Exorcist off the list. Definitely a classic in the “possession” genre. Have you seen The Exorcism of Emily Rose and The Last Exorcism? They were also good, not on the level of The Exorcis, of course.

      Invasion of the Body Snatchers definitely! The original. Wonder how I missed that one. I read book as part of my research for The Telling. It wasn’t too bad.

      • Renee Joy October 26, 2012, 9:58 AM

        To this day I cringe and have to fight the urge to bolt when I come across a picture of Linda Blair in character. *shudders*

        The Emily Rose one is really good! The movie that scared me as a kid, was Pet Semetary! I had reoccurring nightmares and hated cats for years!

        • Christian October 27, 2012, 10:43 PM

          I’ve never seen The Exorcist and I’m not sure I ever want to do so.

  • Zach October 26, 2012, 8:11 AM

    Cabin in the Woods – go in completely blind if you can.

    • Mike Duran October 26, 2012, 8:23 AM

      Hey, I just saw that last week. Very smart, innovative twist on the subject.

      • xdpaul October 26, 2012, 1:30 PM


        Yep, but not scary. It is more like a movie about horror movies, and, at its deepest theme, about the satanic elites who rule the world, but too academic (in a good way) to also be legitimately scary.

        Rosemary’s Baby basically picked the same theme about power, but made it way more visceral. I think having the subjects be MK-Ultra mind control types was good for the story, but it necessarily hurt the initial sympathy necessary to make the top 10 list. Additionally, the fact that they did great evil to spite evil at the end was clever, but made me happy to see a movie full of bad guys (including “me,” technically) get wiped out. So I enjoyed it, but it didn’t permeate by innards like the champions do. Very fun to think about, though.

        It was more of a horror metaphor. Kind of like how A Clockwork Orange isn’t really ever going to be considered a crime movie.

        The top horror movies have characters you care deeply for, identify with and for whom you appreciate the sacrifice, victory or tragedy they go through. Cabin in the Woods was a brain stimulant with some decent jumps and good visuals.

  • Cindy McCord October 26, 2012, 8:21 AM

    I agree with Poltergeist, The Haunting, The Thing and Silence of the Lambs. Didn’t care for The Others. Had to make myself sit through it and not because I thought it was too creepy.
    I haven’t watched Jacob’s Ladder and The Wicker Man.

    A commercial came on last night for a new horror movie coming out and my husband asked why do people want to watch stuff like that. Told him they are pretty good when they have a lot of gore and killing just for the sake of a body count.

  • D.M. Dutcher October 26, 2012, 12:38 PM

    The Haunting is really good. Have you seen The Innocents, Mike? That one is similar, but I think it’s even more chilling. Governess goes to an old English mansion, where she suspects the two young children there are possessed by the spirits of a servant couple that died there. Really eerie Turn of the Screw style movie.

    The Wicker Man is also good, although I’m not sure it works all the time. (Christopher Lee in drag scene, sorry.) It’s a really good, thoughtful horror film that does deserve it’s cult status and doesn’t rely on shocks or jump scares. It also is honest-Howie isn’t a saint, and the ending is all the more chilling for that.

    The Thing I have a love-hate relationship. It turned horror in the direction of the splatterpunk movement, and made it where many films became an exercise of how skilled your FX man was at making gruesome costumes than how eerie your film was. It also dominated critter design nearly as much as H.R. Giger did with Alien, and I’m not sure it’s a good thing. Still, it’s one tense, nerve-wracking horror film that set standard for the genre.

    The only recent favorite film was the Grudge, mostly because it avoided jump scares, and except for one scene avoided graphic violence while still managing to make me afraid of going into my basement at 3 a.m. to check on the laundry. Other than that, and anime series I’ve just been checking trailers. Not really a fan of found footage movies or saw clones, and they seem to be most of what is made these days.

    • Mike Duran October 26, 2012, 3:59 PM

      No. I haven’t seen The Innocents. Queuing it on Netflix. The Wicker Man is definitely B-grade. I just find its theme transcendent. Also, haven’t seen The Grudge. I’ll check it out.

  • Katherine Coble October 26, 2012, 12:44 PM

    I can’t do horror films very often because they upset my consciousness, which is very much like a weeble in that it is cheery and happy and playful but can tip over easily. Never falls down, but does get wobbly, does my mind. So I try to not poke it too hard too often.

    That said, I’d say the movies that have creeped me out the most are

    The Others

    The Seventh Sign ( Is that the Demi Moore end-times one? That’s the one I mean. Not the Bergman thing.)

    Thief In The Night — for my money there’s nothing worse than those End Times films that were so big in the 70s. It’s why I’m so adamantly against fear marketing even now. I can’t believe my religion scared the plum pudding out of me during my childhood.

    Silence of the Lambs is a favourite of mine, but I just don’t think of it as “horror”. More psychological suspence, I guess.

    Worst horror film ever? Blair Witch Project. I want everyone associated with the making and marketing of that dreck to be put in prison for an extended period of time, during which they will spend their days writing notes of apology to every single person who had to watch that mess.

    • D.M. Dutcher October 26, 2012, 4:01 PM

      A thief in the night is interesting. I keep seeing comments about people being terrified by it, but I watched it as a teen and it seemed campy even then. I wonder if it was because a lot of parents used it more as a scared straight tool for kids too young to handle it, and I chose to watch it (and even then was a vet of other horror films.) Roger Elwood’s book Dwellers though terrified me, so I can understand the stealth horror of some Christian works.

      I don’t have a personal worst horror film, but my vote for worst one period would be Saw. Splatterpunk horror is gross, but Saw mutated it into torture porn in the same way Blair Witch gave us the endless parade of found footage movies. I thank God that the former trend is hopefully spent, and the latter one ends soon.

      • Katherine Coble October 27, 2012, 11:00 AM

        I saw it when I was 8 or 9, I believe. This was back in an era before VCRs (just before; we got our first VCR when I was 10) and movies were a rarer, different experience. At that point I’d only ever seen Disney films and Benji movies.

  • Jenni Noordhoek October 26, 2012, 1:00 PM

    It’s not a movie, but any episode of Doctor Who with the Silence really freaked me out… I was watching them late at night in the dark alone and I suddenly remembered how much I forget things. 0.o Not to mention that they look pretty freaky themselves.

    (I can’t handle real horror. I switch tabs during Supernatural on a regular basis. Buffy doesn’t count, though; I’m all right with that. I like the list of horror movies though… someday I’ll get the nerve to watch one.)

  • xdpaul October 26, 2012, 1:04 PM

    Dude, swap 6 and 4 and your top 5 would be exactly right. In fact, get rid of 6 and replace it with Alien.

    A few outliers: I count Videodrome as horror, so it would have to get in there, and also Night of the Hunter. Really like In the Mouth of Madness even though some people aren’t scared of it one bit. I might even put it ahead of the Thing on some nights. I also can’t neglect Alien or X: The Man With X-Ray Eyes. That last still never fails.

    So mine would have to be:

    10. X: The Man with X-Ray Eyes
    9. In the Mouth of Madness
    8. Night of the Hunter
    7. Videodrome
    6. Alien
    5. Silence of the Lambs
    4. The Thing
    3. Psycho
    2. The Haunting
    1. Wicker Man

    Oh, boy. Look at what I left off: Dracula (Hammer/Lee), Donnie Darko (it counts, trust me), Evil Dead II, Eyes without a Face, Nosferatu, Freaks, American Werewolf in London, Carrie, Night of the Living Dead, Jaws, Halloween, The Shining, Suspira…

    • D.M. Dutcher October 26, 2012, 2:32 PM

      I think every best horror list would have to have one film by David Cronenberg on it. I’d go with The Brood, as it’s one unnerving movie. A woman’s rage spawns little demons to attack everyone she hates. The spawning scene though isn’t for people even with iron stomachs.

      I’d probably add Brian Yuzna to the list: Reanimator, From Beyond, and Society showed him to be a force in B-movie horror. If you are into anime, a lot of modern series have transcended the old-style of Wicked Cityish horror into unusual things, like The Future Diary, Elfen Lied, and When They Cry/Higurashi. All of these I just discuss though, I don’t recommend brothers and sisters in Christ to watch them, as they are pretty intense.

    • Mike Duran October 26, 2012, 4:06 PM

      Haven’t seen your #s 10 and 9. I’ll check them out. I loved Night of the Hunter. That’s a great choice. And Videodrome was definitely bizarre. Donnie Darko is one of my faves. It’s just hard to cast as Horror.

  • xdpaul October 26, 2012, 1:09 PM

    Oh, yes – I second the Innocents – not as better than the Haunting (because of, if nothing else…the…you know what in the you know where) – but certainly as one just hovering outside the top 10. Great ending, too.

  • Jill October 26, 2012, 3:10 PM

    I don’t like horror films, but I did enjoy The Sixth Sense (if you could call that horror). And I–admittedly–love Shaun of the Dead and have seen it numerous times, but that’s a comedy. Oh, and I really liked 28 Days Later. The Orphanage was super-cool, too. Okay, what I’m saying is that I like soft, not-as-frightening horror. My mind is already too filled with darkness and anxiety to need more.

  • Tim George October 26, 2012, 3:41 PM

    Most notable for Silence of the Lambs is the fact Anthony Hopkins won the Oscar with just 17.5 minutes of screen time.

    • Christian October 27, 2012, 10:36 PM

      I still need to see this movie. I’ve heard good things about it.

  • joe October 26, 2012, 5:47 PM

    You forgot the “Saw” movies. Now they are cool.

    • Christian October 27, 2012, 10:28 PM

      They are? I thought they were too much. I’ve only seen the first two though. I’ve no desire to see the remaining movies.

  • Christian October 26, 2012, 6:47 PM

    I didn’t find The Orphanage scary so much as incredibly sad. Also, Pan’s Labyrinth is a fantastic movie but not horror.

    I don’t have a particular order but these are my top 10:

    Psycho (1960)
    A Tale of Two Sisters
    Session 13
    The Ring (remake)
    The Shining
    Shaun of the Dead
    The Thing (1982)
    Rosemary’s Baby
    28 Days Later

    • D.M. Dutcher October 27, 2012, 8:34 AM

      I need to see A Tale of Two Sisters. I keep hearing so many good things about it. Well, for a horror film that is. Session 13 was good, too. I don’t know why, but The Ring did nothing for me. Even the sequels, where they go in to Samara’s real purpose, don’twork for me and feel like a copy of Junji Ito’s Tomie in a way.

      • Christian October 27, 2012, 10:26 PM

        A Tale of Two Sisters is excellent, but I’m a little biased. It’s more horror/drama than pure horror but all the same, it’s chilling. Have you seen Dark Water? That’s also very good. I made the mistake of seeing the remake before the original. Besides one reveal in a key scene, I much preferred the remake and found it terrifying. Concerning The Ring remake, I don’t know what it was about it that scared me so much. When Samara climbed out of the well on TV, it caused me to scream and fall out of my computer chair in fright (yes, really), and the scene with the TV falling into the well had me shaking uncontrollably. As for the original Grudge, it had some very scary scenes but I don’t think it was a particularly good movie.

        • D.M. Dutcher October 28, 2012, 6:33 AM

          I read some of the Dark Water manga, but never had much of a desire to watch it. I really don’t know why the Ring didn’t affect me as much, and I’m still a bit puzzled by it. Maybe the rules of the curse did it, or something. Horror is such a personal taste, after all.

          I’d agree the Grudge isn’t the best movie, but what got me was that they did it slow. Any movie that uses a lot of jump scares tends to annoy me because I don’t like being startled, and I start to try and predict them unconsciously to reduce their impact. But the Grudge did all its horror slow, focusing more on eerie scenes than loud shocking ones, and that kept me in while defusing that tendency in me. The scenes themselves were pretty well done, too.

          • Christian October 30, 2012, 4:06 AM

            You’re right. Scenes like the one where the lady crawled down the stairs and croaked loudly scared the stuffing out of me. It’s an easy sound to make and guaranteed to scare people.

  • Christian October 27, 2012, 10:48 PM

    If anyone’s into video games, there’s an incredibly scary PC game called ‘Amnesia: The Dark Descent’. It’s very Lovecraftian but gets a little bloody/torture-esque towards the end (no violence actually shown).

    • D.M. Dutcher October 28, 2012, 6:40 AM

      If you can track them down, the Fatal Frame games for PS2 and Xbox are pretty scary too.

      • Christian October 30, 2012, 4:08 AM

        I haven’t heard of those and I don’t have either a PS2 or Xbox (I’m more of a PC gamer) but I’ll see if I can check them out on YouTube or something. Thanks

  • Teresa R October 28, 2012, 9:59 PM

    I like The Thing and The Haunting. Here are others I like:
    1. Them! (1954) Man’s encounter with a nest of gigantic irradiated ants

    2. The Evil Dead (1981) Five friends travel to a cabin in the woods, where they unknowingly release flesh-possessing demons

    3. Prophecy (1979) A log company’s waste mutates the environment, creating a giant killer bear-monster

    4. Grizzly (1976) a fifteen foot tall grizzly bear terrorizes a state park

  • Lucas May 21, 2014, 2:27 AM

    I don’t watch a lot of horror, but I love Christian horror!
    The ones I have seen are the ones I will list.
    5. House. Not really scary, but exciting nonetheless.
    4.Arachnophobia. My brother thought this was scary, and yes, there were some frightening scenes that scared even me!
    3.Poltergeist. I don’t know why but I didn’t find this all that scary. What scared me was the demon coming out the TV! And that ties with the next movie.
    2.The Ring. Man this scared me. The empty TV and the video kept me under my covers. I have a TV directly in front of my bed and I kept thinking it would turn on by itself and stop on the picture of the well. Then Samara would pop her head up and come for me!!!!
    1.The Conjuring. Have you seen this Mike, it’s amazing! Scared me the first time, second time not really. I love that it gives God the ultimate power.
    On a side note, what do you think of Christian’s watching horror. I hate slasher and gory films, I’m talking about the psychological ones.

  • edyth August 22, 2015, 10:36 AM

    I loved your list. The first scary movie I remember seeing is Let’s scare Jessica to death. I was a little kid watching with my older cousins and I think I may have peed my bed that night. I don’t like blood and gore movies, I like the psychological thrillers.

  • Dylan Downs September 10, 2015, 5:30 PM

    Not in any order but here are some of my favorites:

    1. Dracula (1958)

    2. The Wicker Man (1973)

    3. Dawn of the Dead (1978)

    4. Zombie (1979)

    5. Cannibal Holocaust (1980)

    6. Fright Night (1985)

    7. Halloween (1978)

    8. Nosferatu: Phantom der Nacht (1979)

    9. American Mary (2012)

    10. Hellraiser (1987)

    Honorable mentions: Brides of Dracula (1960) Dracula: Prince of Darkness (1966), Dracula Has Risen From the Grave (1968), Scars of Dracula (1970), Dracula AD 1972 (1972), The Devil Rides Out (1968), Curse of Frankenstein (1957), Night of the Living Dead (1968), Day of the Dead (1985)

  • Dylan Downs September 10, 2015, 5:33 PM

    I can’t believe I forgot The Evil Dead (1981), Evil Dead 2 (1987), and Army of Darkness (1992)! The 2013 remake Evil Dead was really good too!

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