19. Suspiria (1977)
The movie: Less a movie and more an assault on your senses, not to mention your stomach, Dario Argento’s Suspiria follows young dancer Suzy as she arrives at a famous ballet school. Unfortunately, she doesn’t heed the girl running in the other direction and finds herself surrounded by horrific murder as young women are picked off artfully one by one. Still a gory cut above the remake, Argento’s original faced multiple cuts around violence on release and was one of the films at the bloody centre of the 1980s video nasty panic. It doesn’t take long to see why.
Why it’s scary: Nothing about Suspiria is easy to experience. Every colour forcing its way into your eyeballs like technicolour violence, every murder intent on you watching each moment in agonising detail from angles only a madman would select, and a soundtrack so disturbing that you’ll feel like you might have accidentally found Hell’s playlist on Spotify. Depraved, stylish, and beautiful, Suspiria is an experience not to be missed. You don’t have to like it, but even after all these years, this is a true nightmare of a horror movie waiting patiently to sneak into your brain.
18. The Descent (2005)
The movie: If there was a dip in caving and bouldering trip attendance back in the mid-noughties, it’s probably the fault of Neil Marshall’s truly terrifying claustrophobic creature feature. Sarah’s friends want to make her feel better after the tragic death of her family so, instead of y’know, buying her some gin, they take her on a caving trip. Unfortunately, the movie wouldn’t be on this list if the six women were there to have a heartwarming, gently comedic adventure where they all grow as people. From the moment this lot lower themselves into the darkness below the Appalachian mountains, it’s very clear that getting back out into the light again isn’t going to be likely.
Why it’s scary: The claustrophobia of The Descent is horribly real. Before you even discover what’s lurking down there - with a night vision reveal so spectacular that it goes down in jump scare history - this cave system is stone horror. The women are experienced explorers but every shot of squeezing through tiny spaces as rubble gently falls, every huge cavern only lit in one tiny corner by their flares, and every step they take further into the abyss is heart racing stuff. And this isn’t an unlikable crew of barely fleshed out American teens, pun intended, these characters and their complex relationships truly matter. This is beautifully gruelling, not to mention empowering, filmmaking. Witness the UK ending of this cult classic and you’ll need more than a cheeky G&T to cheer you up afterwards.
17. It Follows (2015)
The movie: Infection in horror movies is spread in many ways. A bite here, an injection of a transformational virus there. Hell, we’ve even had watching a video tape and having a ghost in real need of some conditioner come and get you seven days later. To add a new spin to things, the grim plodding nasty of It Follows comes to get you if you literally, well, do the nasty. While a 21st century horror about a sexually transmitted horrific curse sounds like it should be driven off a cliff, It Follows is a truly terrifying experience. The horror is real as teenager Jay is plagued by ghosts no one else can see, slowly, endlessly walking towards her unless she ‘passes it on’. Proving just how good Jay’s friends are, they club together to take on the supernatural entity.
Why it’s scary: It Follows isn’t just scary. It’s chilling with jump scares that might mean you’ll need to remove yourself from your ceiling with a spatula. With an unsettlingly brilliant synth score from Disasterpiece - seriously, let’s put that in your headphones all day and see how it feels - Jay’s battle against those following her is shot in a way that never feels like you can settle. Like Jay, we can never relax, and while a scene might look peaceful, it never is. The most effective scares come from the relentlessness of these pursuers, dead-eyed, and unblinking with one mission. It Follows is a modern masterpiece, not to mention an effective one night stand deterrent.
16. An American Werewolf in London (1981)
The movie: Comedy horror is nothing new. The best horror movies have been walking that bloodied tightrope between making us laugh and making us scream for decades. An American Werewolf in London, from legendary comedy director John Landis, is a masterclass in this particular circus trick. David and Jack, two American backpackers - don’t worry, it’ll be one in a minute - find themselves wandering the Yorkshire moors after dark, and instead of staying safe in The Slaughtered Lamb pub, decide to continue their journey. The locals even tell them they’ll be fine if they just stick to the path…
Why it’s scary: When two become one and Jack brutally falls to a mysterious lupine predator on the moors, a bitten David is taken to hospital in London. Regardless about what this says about the NHS’s ability to deal with werewolf wounds, it means that when David sheds his human skin to become a creature of the night, there are plenty of iconic places for him to gorily slaughter his way through. Once you get over the first transformation sequence - a true CGI-free agonising marvel of lengthening bones, hewing muscle and popping joints - this human canine’s tensely directed jaunt through the London Underground will absolutely ruin your late night travel plans. And, while you’ll get to stop to laugh at Jack’s zombified ghost repeatedly rocking up to tell David to end his own life, the horror here is very real as his relationship with his nurse girlfriend threatens to have the heart, quite literally, ripped out of it. A masterwork.
15. Rec (2007)
The movie: First off, we’re going to pretend that the English language remake, Quarantine, 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 all 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 a 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.
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, there's not exactly a happy ending.
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.
13. 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 love or hate time with this divisive movie, 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 just doesn't go away.
12. The Wicker Man (1973)
The movie: If the above image doesn’t strike a sense of menace into your heart, it’s time to mainline Robin Hardy’s folk horror directly into your eyes. No, The Wicker Man isn’t just about reaction gifs and mocking the bee-packed Nicholas Cage remake. If nothing else, watching Edward Woodward’s journey to Summerisle is essential background reading for the 21st century spate of rural scary movies. The ideal accompaniment for the modern nastiness of Ari Aster’s Midsommar or Ben Wheatley’s Kill List, The Wickerman’s appeal is in its sheer terrifying simplicity. Policeman goes to island on the hunt for a missing girl. Policeman discovers all is not what it seems. Oh, and indeed, dear.
Why it’s scary: It’s a horror message that we’re all quite used to by now but humans being the real monsters never seems to get old. The inhabitants of Summerisle might seem somewhat comedic and there are more than a few moments of genuine humour in here, but The Wicker Man is fuel for your trust issues. Why should you truly believe what anyone says? How can you actually go to sleep in a world full of human beings? The fear of the unknown is potent as Woodward’s Neil Howie blunders into a world with its own set of rules and beliefs. And, if you have managed to somehow not know how it ends, the reveal is still absolutely devastating.
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? Everything. Everything can go wrong, Chris. Turn back now. This isn't just going to be slightly socially awkward.
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.