The 25 best horror movies of all time, whether you want garish gore, supernatural spooks, or safer scares

15. The Blair Witch Project (1999)

The movie: There's something nasty in the woods out near Burkittsville. According to the locals, it's either a witch, the ghost of a witch, or a child-murdering hermit, but whatever it is, you probably don't want to run into it after dark. Unless you're Heather (Heather Donahue), a wannabe documentarian, who drags her camera crew out into the woods to make a movie. 

Why it's scary: Unlike many found footage movies, which throw in edits for no reason and forget who's holding the camera, The Blair Witch Project gives you all the creepy feels because the actors really did all the filming themselves. Blair Witch was the found footage film that basically invented modern found footage horror, and as such, uses the genre far, far better than may latter pretenders. That final shot is a killer, too. 

14. 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. 

13. 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. 

12. Dawn of the Dead (1978) 

The movie: Romero's sequel to Night Of The Living Dead sees the living dead causing even more carnage. This time, survivors are holed up in a shopping mall, not just a house, while the world falls apart around them. The larger scale also gives Romero scope to include more gore and more social commentary.

Why it's scary: It's all too easy to imagine that this really might be the way the world ends.  The zombies might be an ever-present, ambient threat, but the very real failings of human nature, and the bleak, quiet, often monotonous creep of the lonely apocalypse make Dawn of the Dead one of the sub-genre's most affecting works. 

11. 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. 

10. The Shining (1980)

The movie: All work and no play makes Jack (Jack Nicholson) into a raving lunatic. The Shining is a story of isolation and terror, and from all accounts director Stanley Kubrick did his best to torment his cast and crew while they were making the film, demanding up to 127 takes of a single scene. The result is a delirious viewing experience that'll make you rethink that skiing holiday.  

Why it's scary: The deliberate pacing and obsessive attention to detail add up to a hypnotic horror that's impossible to look away from. Weird party guests bleeding from the head, elevators that gush blood, creepy twins, an overzealous bathroom break... The Shining has a lot of fantastic imagery, but the masterstroke is that it's all couched in fantastic, claustrophobic, slow-burn psychological menace. 

9. 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. 

8. It Follows (2015) 

The movie: After receiving an unexplained curse through unprotected... *ahem* horizontal jogging, a young girl finds herself relentlessly pursued by a demon. While this entity always pursues her at a walking pace, it can take the form of any human, will never stop tracking her, and is determined to kill once it gets its hands on her. 

Why it's scary: Eschewing grand gestures for more subtle sensory cues, It Follows is a sublime example of how the art of creative restraint can lend itself to some of the most rewarding audience scares imaginable. A instinctively terrifying concept delivered with an underplayed, but heart-stopping, visual wrongness, It Follows was an all-timer the moment it was released. 

7. Halloween (1978)

The movie: Who'd have thought an old Star Trek mask could be so terrifying? Director John Carpenter created a modern classic when he gave his villain a blank white mask a Halloween mask of William Shatner's face to wear while stalking babysitters around the fictional town of Haddonfield, Illinois. The movie created another icon, too, in Jamie-Leigh Curtis, who'd become both a scream queen in her own right, and the template for all final girls to follow.

Why it's scary: Pretty much the original stalk-and-slash, Halloween set standards that have rarely been matched. Carpenter composes his shots to keep you constantly guessing, blending both claustrophobia and fearful exposure, often at the same time, to create a deeply uneasy sense of vulnerability wherever you are and whatever is happening. Also, that soundtrack. There is a reason that pounding doom-synth is still the soundtrack for oppressive horror, and Halloween is that reason. 

6. The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974)

The movie: You can kind of see why the BBFC felt they had to ban this film on its original home release. The story of a group of kids who run into a family of chainsaw-wielding cannibals. including one who wears the peeled-off skin of his victims as a mask, is shockingly violent, with a heavy atmosphere of dread.

Why it's scary: For all the reasons it was originally banned. It's brutal, it's unsettling, and it has an oppressive atmosphere of heat and violence that clings to you like sweat afterwards. And while The Texas Chainsaw massacre's reputation for gore might be overcooked, that's only because its filming and editing makes the whole thing feel so aggressive that you'll wear you saw splatter that never made the screen.