20. A Quiet Place (2018)
The movie: Is there anything more terrifying than the idea of bringing up a young family in a world where brutal monstrosities with supernaturally good hearing hunt down the last of humanity? John Krasinski’s first horror - in which he also stars with irl wife Emily Blunt - follows the Abbott family as they silently creep through a truly miserable existence where every single sound could be their last. Playing with movie audio in an entirely new way, A Quiet Place might have a simple premise but this is 90 minutes of sheer muscle-clenching tension.
Why it’s scary: It turns out that humans are loud. Footsteps boom. Food crunches. Doors creak painfully. Exquisite use of sound means that every noise that the family makes feels like an agonising step closer to death. Electric performances from the entire cast - especially young Millicent Simmonds - command you to watch every single frame, holding your breath if necessary. Rarely has a horror director commanded your attention for so long with such blatant disregard for the nails digging into your palms. Watch A Quiet Place. Oh, and turn it up.
Read more: "Please shut the **** up" – These reactions to annoying A Quiet Place moviegoers say it all
19. Rec (2007)
The movie: First off, we’re going to pretend that the English language remake doesn’t exist. Good. Now that’s out of the way, it’s time to wax lyrical about the true terror lurking inside a Barcelona apartment block in this Spanish scarefest. As with the best found footage horror movies, the set-up here is very simple. The crew of a morning TV show is following a team of firefighters when the call comes in about a woman behaving strangely in her apartment. Of course, Angela and her cameraman Pablo excitedly follow the crew of emergency workers into, well, hell.
Why it's scary: Rec ramps up slowly and expertly. You won’t realise just how tense you are until a little too late. Officially this counts as a zombie movie but, like 28 Days Later, this feels like the story of an infection rather than the shuffling horde. This is a claustrophobic nightmare and in its found footage package, painfully realistic and believable. From the fire crew to the residents of the apartment building, the performances are exceptional, meaning that ‘this is only a movie’ part of your brain will constantly struggle with what’s on screen. Prepare to be hiding behind something or someone long before Rec’s gloriously terrifying night vision-hued third act.
18. Halloween (2018)
The movie: One scene in Jamie Lee Curtis’ triumphant return to the slasher genre sums up everything that’s brilliant about 2018’s Halloween. Three teenagers are walking down an autumnal street and talking about Laurie Strode. “Wasn’t it her brother that murdered all those babysitters?,” one asks. “No,” says Laurie’s granddaughter. “He was not her brother, that’s something that people made up.” This one line effortlessly defines Halloween as the official follow up to the 1978 original, deftly mopping away the gore of years of mediocre sequels in one smudge free swoop. It turns out that even after 40 years, Michael Myers still only has one murder on his mind, and in 2018, after years of PTSD after that fateful Halloween night, so does Laurie Strode.
Why it’s scary: Slasher movies have been parodied and steeped in self-referential navel gazing for so long that it’s almost a shock to the system to return to some good old fashioned masked murder. Michael Myers rejoins the killer fray in truly brutal fashion for the definitive Halloween experience but, for all the crunchy death, this isn’t his movie. This slice of horror belongs entirely to Jamie Lee Curtis’ Laurie Strode. A woman stalked and then mentally tortured for decades who has finally decided that enough is enough. It’s this emotional connection that elevates Halloween from a regular slasher to a decades-in-the-making revenge thriller that deftly juggles horror and heart. The Shape is back but he’d better be ready.
17. The Witch (2015)
The movie: Self described as a ‘New England folk tale’ - although it’s more like a fairy tale from hell - Robert Eggers’ terrifying period drama follows a Puritan family after they are ejected from their colony. Screaming ‘don’t do it’ at the screen just doesn’t work as William (Ralph Ineson) takes his wife Katherine (Kate Dickie) and his five children into the deep, dark woods to survive alone on a farm. It’s not spoiling anything to say that it doesn’t go particularly well. Following Thomasin, the eldest daughter of the family played by Anya Taylor Joy in her first credited role, we witness the tense unravelling of a dysfunctional family faced with the horrific prospect of an outside force staring out at them from the trees.
Why it’s scary: It’s Marmite to cinema goers but lose yourself to The Witch and suddenly everything is scary and you can’t put your shaking finger on exactly why. Every perfectly constructed shot of the family attempting to survive in the wilderness is cranked into fear-ville with a constantly surprising hellish score of strings and vocals. This means that when true horror eventually does hit after a torturous slow burn of tension, it’s like Eggers has masterfully wired you in for shocks and you didn’t notice. From the unnerving skip and shrill voices of the young twins to the monstrous goat known only as Black Phillip, there is unique horror lurking in The Witch that doesn’t go away after the credits roll.
16. Psycho (1960)
The movie: Hitchcock's thriller about a murderer lurking in a roadside motel is so much a part of pop culture now it's hard to imagine what it must have been like to watch it on release. Anthony Perkins is wonderful as the vulnerable and frightening Norman; even when you know what happens, he's got a kind of awkward charm that's hard to resist.
Why it's scary: There are at least two moments that would've been completely shocking to contemporary audiences. And yes, they might not be as surprising to today's crowds, it's still possible to watch it now and appreciate the craftsmanship of the film, how carefully it's constructed and how overwhelming its atmosphere of dread.
15. An American Werewolf in London
The movie: David (David Naughton) and Jack (Griffin Dunne) are hiking across Yorkshire when they're attacked by a mysterious creature. Jack is killed, but David is taken to a hospital in London, where he recovers and starts dating a nurse (Jenny Agutter). That's not a happy ending, though, because the creature that attacked the boys was a werewolf, and there's another full moon on the way. Director John Landis is as adept at comedy as he is at horror, and manages to use both to great effect in this movie.
Why it's scary: Well, if the greatest werewolf transformation scene of all time doesn't have you biting your nails, the scene of nazi werewolves definitely will.
14. The Blair Witch Project (1999)
The movie: Ever wondered why no-one’s out camping in the woods these days? It’s not that millennials really need to be within one hundred feet of a charging point at all times, it’s just the fact that a full generation of us saw The Blair Witch Project in our early teens and we just really like to sleep inside now. This, now almost mythical, found footage horror follows three young documentary makers as they journey to Burkittsville in Maryland. Heather, Mike, and Josh start off interviewing the locals about the local legend of The Blair Witch, a particularly nasty tale you’d hope was just to keep children eating their veggies, before heading into the woods where the witch apparently resides. Given that all that’s ever been found are these tapes, it really doesn’t go well for them.
Why it’s scary: What’s waiting for Heather and co in the woods is terrifying enough, as strange noises drift through the trees and they descend into a directionless spiral of madness and anger, but what’s equally scary about The Blair Witch Project is the perfect blurring of reality and fiction. This is Heather Donahue, Michael Williams, and Joshua Leonard. These actors were sent out into the woods and their horrifying ordeal is thanks to the filmmakers insistence on mentally torturing them every night. Released in 1999 and reigniting the popularity of the now horror staple found footage genre, the movie’s marketing even touted it as real. Every wobbly shot, every scream, and every stick figure that the three find are there to tell your brain that these people really went into the woods and never came back. Oh, and the ending is like being punched in the gut by nightmares. Truly incredible horror.
13. Suspiria (1977)
The movie: Dance student Suzy (Jessica Harper) arrives at a prestigious German academy on the same night as one of its students is mysteriously murdered. And as she settles in to her new school, she starts to notice that things aren't quite what they should be especially where the school's director is concerned.
Why it's scary: You don't watch Suspiria for the plot. You watch it because it's a super stylish assault on the senses. Everything from its ornate set design, to its unnatural lighting. to its prog rock soundtrack is intense and bewitching. Dream-logic, nightmare horror film-making at its absolute best.
12. 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 scary: The Babadook is a harrowing tale about depression and grief. And while there are many, many horror movies about mothers and children, this might is one of the few that really plumbs the depths of that relationship, inconvenient truths and more. Working as both a torturous emotional drama and a nerve-shredding horror film, The Babadook will flatten you, however you interpret it.
11. Get Out (2017)
The movie: Mid-20's photographer Chris is driving out to rural New York to meet his girlfriend's parents for the first time, but he's a little nervous. "Do they know I'm black?" he tentatively asks Rose, but she's having none of it: "My Dad would have voted for Obama a third time if he could have!". Phew! What could possibly go wrong?
Why it's scary: Bubbling with resonant social commentary, layered with hard-hitting goosebumps, and sprinkled with uncompromising humour, Get Out is a modern horror masterpiece in every sense of the word. Not content with scaring you just for its 90 minute run-time, director Jordan Peele wants to draw your attention to the real frightening truths rooted deep in the identity politics of contemporary America, and his grand reveal is more horrific than any jump scare could ever hope to be.