Top 10 Scariest Films

With Halloween just around the corner I thought I’d put together a list of my favourite horror films. We all love a good scare (well, most of us) and there’s nothing like a good horror film to provoke that spine-tingling, adrenaline-rushing, blood-curdling reaction out of you. Everyone is obviously going to have their own ideas of what they find scary and will also have their own unique reactions to the films that depict those scares. For me the best horror films are those that play with the psychological aspects of fear. They don’t simply resort to jump-scares and bloody imagery as a means of frightening their audiences, they understand what it is beneath the surface that makes people afraid and they go after it. They provide their scares by building an environment of insecurity and dread through atmosphere and tension. They can be subtle and ambiguous or blatant and clear so long as they understand the nature of whatever fear it is they are trying to exploit. Fear is an incredibly complex emotion and it takes a good deal of intellect and skill to understand how to harness and express it in any medium including film. What follows is a list of the 10 films that I have found to be the most terrifying.

 

10. The Haunting (1963)

The Haunting

There are many who hold that what you don’t see in a horror film is always scarier than what you do. No film exemplifies this better than The Haunting, the definitive haunted house movie. Not once do we ever see a ghost in this film and yet the tension and the scares are always present. People are naturally afraid of what they cannot understand or explain and so Robert Wise was able to exploit this fear through ambiguity and uncertainty. We are never sure how much of what is happening is in Nell’s head or how much of it is real. Even when it is clear that something supernatural is at work, or at least appears to be, the ambiguous nature of the threat means that we’re never sure what to expect. Sometimes less really is more and The Haunting is proof of that.

9. Evil Dead II (1982)

Evil Dead II

It shouldn’t even be possible for a film to be both terrifying and hilarious at the same time and yet, somehow, Sam Raimi pulled it off. Even though The Evil Dead is more of a conventional horror and is certainly scary in a more traditional way, for me the second instalment takes the cake due to how depraved and batshit insane it is. Between the tree rape, the fight between Ash and his disembodied hand and the laughing deer head, we’re never sure whether we should be laughing or screaming. Whereas The Haunting succeeds in being scary through restraint and subtlety, Evil Dead II succeeds by doing the exact opposite. The bizarre mixture of masterful slapstick and over-the-top blood and gore was somehow able to blend together to create what is easily the most successful horror-comedy (that I can think of) ever created.

8. Don’t Look Now (1973)

Don't Look Now

Probably the most artistically directed and least conventional horror film on this list, there was a time when Don’t Look Now was more famous for its steamy sex scene than it was for its scares. Today however this film is a horror classic, providing a beautifully haunting essay on terror and dread. The film flirts with supernatural and occult ideas with Venice itself portrayed as an almost otherworldly city, full of strange sights and unsettling people. The ambiguity and vagueness of it all makes for a stunningly creepy atmosphere. On top of it all of course is the overlying fear of loss with the two leading characters broken and traumatised by the death of their young daughter. The pain and suffering they undergo is then stretched to horrific proportions as the film builds up to its terrifying finale.

7. Rosemary’s Baby (1968)

Rosemary's Baby

There’s something about this film that really gets under my skin. Putting the satanic themes aside, the dread and paranoia that Rosemary experiences throughout her disturbing pregnancy is almost unbearable to watch. Watching her struggle to keep her sanity as she loses her ability to distinguish between reality and fiction is like watching a living nightmare. This idea that everyone she knows and trusts are somehow abusing and torturing her without her knowledge and that everything in her life that makes her feel loved and safe might be an illusion is a frightening one. Polanski’s ability to interweave the fearful aspects of the mysterious and the mystical has a petrifying effect as Rosemary descends deeper into madness and fear.

6. Alien (1979)

Alien

The tagline says it all: “In space no one can hear you scream”. The iconic chest-burster scene is of course the moment when the screams are at their loudest and it still manages to get a good jump out of me whenever I watch it. What really makes this film a cinematic horror classic though is the claustrophobia it evokes. Surrounded only be the silent, timeless void of space, these characters are trapped by the dark, mechanical confines of their ship with a silent and deadly beast. The uncertainty of their surroundings builds a palpable source of tension that only grows more and more agonising as the crewmembers become more confined and afraid. Giger’s incredible design of the alien, a terrifying monster with a cold, metallic exterior, plays no small part in heightening the fear in this chilling film.

5. The Thing (1982)

The Thing

Thinking about it now the premise of this film is very similar to that of Alien. Both films depict an unknown life form that terrorises a group in an isolated location from which they cannot escape. However what made The Thing a scarier experience for me is that, as well as having the same sense of claustrophobia as Alien, it also has an added element of paranoia. This being can assume the form of any one of these characters and so we are never sure who we can trust. The moments when the group is (seemingly) alone are ripe with tension as they attempt to discover if everyone really is whoever they appear to be. Much like in Alien, the grotesquely horrifying design of this creature adds just as much to the scares as Carpenter’s expert direction.

4. The Exorcist (1973)

The Exorcist

Probably the most influential horror film to be made in the last 50 years, this story of demonic possession has set the standard for what a modern horror film should be. Depicting a compelling tale of fear, loss and faith and combining it with a forbidding supernatural concept, The Exorcist delivers scares across the spectrum as two priests gather to combat the wrath of the demon-child. Regan provides this film with a fascinatingly scary villain who is as unpredictable as she is menacing. With such daunting moments as Father Merrin’s silhouette emanated by that eerie light, the climax on those hard, fatal steps and of course the crucifix scene, few mainstream horrors have managed to be as frightening or as shocking as this film.*

3. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre

This film is every single kind of fucked up! Watching the teenagers in this film fall victim to Leatherface’s homicidal rampage was scary enough, but what really horrified me was that dinner scene where we see Leatherface and his warped, deranged family in all of their depravity. While I’m all for horror films that dig into the psychological themes of fear and terror, sometimes all a film has to be is completely and utterly terrifying in order to become a staple of its genre. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is a film that is immense and unrelenting in its horror. Not much more needs to be said about this film because it simply is what it is: a frenzied, depraved, insane horror film.

2. The Shining (1980)

The Shining

It wouldn’t be a horror list without some mention of Stephen King and Kubrick’s The Shining remains the scariest adaptation ever made of King’s work. One thing Kubrick always knew how to do well was atmosphere and his use of unsettling music, uncomfortably long takes and creepy imagery made him the perfect candidate to direct what is perhaps cinema’s quintessential horror film. Nicholson’s performance as the violently unhinged Jack Torrance is wonderfully demented in the way Nicholson knows how to do so well and remains one of the craziest performances in any horror film. The film’s scariest moments from the creepy twins to the lady in the bath to the climatic chase in the maze have all become iconic since the film’s release and still scare me out of my wits.

1. The Innocents (1961)

The Innocents

The film absolutely terrifies me to my core every time I watch it. The Capote-penned story of a governess who is given the charge of two delightful children in a house with a tragic and disturbing history is a monument of everything that I love in a horror film. It is dark, ambiguous, subtle, sinister and beautiful. The underlying mystery of this estate, its strange occurrences and whether or not the children know anything about it is immaculately crafted and stupendously executed. The uncertainty surrounding these occurrences, whether there really is something evil at work or if they are merely the fantasies of a chaste governess, is every bit as fascinating as it daunting. This is gothic horror at its finest and there is no other film that frightens me as much as this does. I still get chills whenever I hear that song about the weeping willow.

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Top 10 Superhero Films

After watching Avengers: Age of Ultron and three episodes of Daredevil I’ve found myself in a superhero mood and thought I’d compile this list. The superhero genre has scaled to such incredible heights over the last decade and a half that it is almost hard to believe there was once a time when these kinds of films were not held in high regard. There was actually a time when any film with a superhero was considered a joke and box-office poison. Now superhero films are everywhere. Today the superhero genre is one that audiences are taking seriously and that has seen a lot of success and praise. These films are now being made by talented filmmakers who actually care about the source material and who put in the work and the effort to ensure that the result does them justice. What follows is a list of my 10 personal favourite films within this genre.

 

 10. Watchmen (2009)

Watchmen film

A vastly underrated film in my opinion, I think that the main trouble with Watchmen is that it didn’t really find its audience. Those who had read Alan Moore’s seminal book about an alternate history where superheroes are a driving force in the Cold War were unsure whether it could even be translated to film while those who hadn’t were perhaps put off by their unfamiliarity with the story and the lack of star-power. As someone who has read the book, I think that the film Snyder gave us is the best that any of us could have ever hoped for. I’m scratching my head trying to work out what he could possibly have done differently. His faithfulness to the source material is unquestionable as can be seen in his painstaking recreations of Gibbons’ visuals, the film is in keeping with Moore’s dark and gritty tone and the translation of the story and characters to the big screen is simply astonishing.

 9. X-Men: First Class (2011)

X-Men First Class film

This was a tough call and I’m sure there are a lot of people who prefer X2 or Days of Future Past to this one, but I had to go with First Class. It actually kind of annoys me that this is my favourite of the X-Men films because it barely has any of my favourite X-Men in it. However I had to go with it because it is such a good film. McAvoy and Fassbender are perfectly cast as the younger versions of Professor X and Magneto and the story of their shared past is such a compelling one. In addition it has a great story, the characters who are in it are well-used and the 1960s setting is fantastic. At a time when the X-Men series was struggling, following its two prior failures, Vaughn’s decision to reinvent the franchise by going right back to the beginning was a bold one and it worked out brilliantly. It was smart, it was fun and it saved the franchise. It also has one of the best cameos in any film ever.

8. Batman (1989)

Batman film

This one is a classic. Breaking away from the campy tone that defined the Adam West era, this film was a dark and serious take on the Caped Crusader that depicted him as a conflicted, unhinged vigilante. Michael Keaton’s excellent portrayal of Batman is overshadowed only by Jack Nicholson’s crazed performance as the Joker, by the marvellous production design and by the dark, brooding atmosphere that only Tim Burton could bring. This is the film that transcended superhero films beyond the action genre by providing a psychological insight into one of pop culture’s most famous characters.

7. Unbreakable (2000)

Unbreakable film

The only film on this list not based on a comic book or a graphic novel. Made back before Shyamalan became, well… Shyamalan, Unbreakable is a dark, enthralling film that provides an insightful commentary into this genre. It brought a philosophical element into the discussion on the superhero mythology by asking whether becoming a superhero is a matter of choice or of destiny. It questions what it really means to be a superhero and the sort of implications and ramifications that come with such an idea. Unbreakable provides an intelligent deconstruction of the superhero genre and shows that superheroes films aren’t all about action and thrills.

6. V for Vendetta (2005)

V for Vendetta film

I was surprised to find that this isn’t a film often featured on lists of superhero films. Maybe this is because a lot of people don’t consider V to be a superhero (although if Batman and Daredevil count, surely he counts as well). In any case V for Vendetta is an awesome film about a vigilante who, rather than fighting against a bad guy, chooses to fight against an idea as he takes a stance against an Orwellian totalitarian regime in the name of freedom. Hugo Weaving is impeccably cast as the theatrical, morally ambiguous V in a film that provides a unique portrayal of a superhero whose real power is that of an idea. It is well worth watching, even if it does take a lot of divergences from the original graphic novel.

5. Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)

Guardians of the Galaxy film

More of a sci-fi film than a superhero film but still counts regardless. Guardians of the Galaxy was a risky move on Marvel’s part, considering that only devoted comic book fans were at all familiar with these heroes or the world that they inhabit, and so its monumental success is a testament to the characters that made this film as great as it was. There is not a single weak link amongst the five leads as we see them working with and off each other to make what is an incredibly fun and entertaining film. Groot alone makes this film worth watching. (Incidentally it is now my dream to one day see Rocket Raccoon and Tony Stark meet).

4. Superman (1978)

Superman film

Even though I actually like Man of Steel, this film remains far and away my favourite Superman film and Christopher Reeve remains the quintessential Superman. Back before superhero films showed that they could be intelligent, dark, complex and thought provoking, Superman was a fun, uplifting and exciting film that made us all believe that a man could really fly. This film didn’t need to be dark or gritty to be effective, all it needed was spirit and imagination. The iconic hero, the inspirational John Williams score and the thrilling action have ensured that this film remains a classic that still holds up today.

3. Spider-Man 2 (2004)

Spider-Man 2 film

Back when films like Spider-Man, ­X-Men and Blade were bringing the superhero genre back to the big screen and were still experimenting with the format, this was the film that finally perfected it. It has everything that a fun, exciting superhero film needs. It has an iconic hero, an entertaining villain, excellent action, a great sense of humour, and groundbreaking visual effects. Even though I preferred Marc Webb’s take on Spider-Man to Sam Raimi’s and felt that Andrew Garfield was a better Spider-Man than Tobey Maguire, this film nevertheless remains the best Spider-Man film to date and without question one of the best superhero films ever made.

2. The Avengers (2012)

The Avengers film

This was the film that changed everything. After five films over the course of four years building up to this momentous occasion, The Avengers was the film that finally brought these heroes from their different franchises together for the first time. It marked an important step in the evolution of the superhero genre and it was executed to perfection. Not only did these characters work together incredibly well and complement each other perfectly, but The Avengers is also an excellently scripted, well-directed, action-packed film that pitted the Avengers against a villain who remains the best baddie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Whatever doubts the audience may have had about the idea of a shared universe, this was the film that put an end to them once and for all.

1. The Dark Knight (2008)

The Dark Knight film

I know that picking this film for the number 1 spot may be a bit of a cliché, but that’s how amazing this film really is. Batman is hands-down my favourite superhero and Christian Bale remains my favourite portrayal of him. Heath Ledger’s Joker is not only the best incarnation of that character, he is one of the greatest film villains of all time. Under Nolan’s direction, The Dark Knight is an intelligent film that explores the nature of chaos and provides an insight into the twisted relationship between Batman and the Joker. It is a thrilling film that gets the blood pumping with its intense action and its dark tone. The Dark Knight is one of those rare films that actually lived up to every single expectation that the audience had and is still just as exhilarating to watch today.