The 25 best horror movies to scare you senseless

What scares you? Like, really, really scares you? Maybe it's the idea of a mysterious creature, lurking around the edges of civilisation, ready to pounce the moment your guard is down? Maybe it's the thought that someone might've broken into your home while you were out, and is now hiding under your bed, clutching a knife? Or maybe it's a more insidious, subtle fear the fear that everything and everyone has a secret, and things aren't always what they seem? 

No matter what gives you the creeps, there's a horror movie ready to play on those fears. This list celebrates the 25 greatest the genre has to offer. And that prickling sensation on the back of your neck, the one that says you're being watched? That's nothing. Don't worry about it. 

25. A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) 

The movie: Wes Craven's iconic slasher takes the one place on Earth you're meant to be safest - tucked up under your bed covers - and makes it deeply unsafe by inventing a killer who attacks teenagers in their dreams. The scarred-up, knife-fingered Freddy Krueger (Robert Englund) is one of horrors scariest villains. 

Why it's great: The sweaty, gasping sensation of waking up from a truly scary nightmare is familiar to everyone, so the idea of a monster that actually uses nightmares to kill you in your sleep is a haunting one. Plus the nightmare conceit gave Craven and co. complete freedom to dream up utterly horrible kills.  

24. The Babadook (2014) 

The movie: Already struggling to cope with her difficult child, grieving widow Amelia (Essie Davis) adds to her troubles when she reads a mysterious pop-up book called Mister Babadook. Is there a monster lurking in her house? Or is it just a convenient scapegoat for her own inner demons? 

Why it's great: It's got as much subtext as text. The Babadook is a harrowing tale about depression and grief. And while there are many, many horror movies about mothers and children, this might be the only one that dares portray a mother who can't always quite love her own son. 

23. Ringu (1998)

The movie: Journalist Reiko Asakawa (Nanako Matsushima) is investigating a story about a cursed videotape and in the process, manages not only to watch it herself but to let her ex-husband and young child watch it, too. The idea of a haunted VHS tape is a brilliant one, and the climactic scene where the vengeful ghost finally makes her entrance is pure nightmare fuel. 

Why it's great: The cursed video concept suggests that not only are the characters in the film in danger but that you, the audience at home, are also in line to meet a sticky end. 

22. Cabin In The Woods (2012)

The movie: The generic title is intentional. The Cabin In The Woods is a horror movie about horror movies; right from the beginning, it's clear that something weird is going on as shadowy government types follow a group of kids heading off to, er, a cabin in the woods. Recognising the manipulations that lead to familiar horror tropes is half the fun - the other half starts when those big lift doors open...

Why it's great: It's beyond post-modern. It completely deconstructs the horror genre, taking it apart brick by brick before putting it back together again in a smart new shape.

21. Scream (1996)

The movie: Wes Craven resurrected the slasher genre with this cheekily post-modern effort in the mid-90s. It ticks all the usual boxes, as a teenage girl and her friends are stalked by a masked killer, but these teens grew up watching movies and their ability to remember the rules will make the difference between living and dying. 

Why it's great: Scream works as a straightforward slasher in its own right, so even if you're not enough of a genre nut to spot all the references and homages, it'll still give you the creeps. 

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