Scary Films 1945-2010

I recently watched Insidious (2010). It’s a well-crafted, uncannily made paranormal thriller and one of the scariest films I’ve ever seen. The shock timing is just exquisite —Insidious relies upon subliminal and suggestive images such as faces in windows, shapes in bedrooms, stategically placed eyes, and strange sounds. Well-timed shock scenes are punctuated with foley sounds such as a door slamming, or orchestrated music using strings or other creepy sounding instruments. Remember Jaws? John Williams successfully denoted the shark’s appearance with the coarse throws of a cello. Insidious pays hommage to classic horror films. It’s been compared to The Exorcist —and for good reason. The demon’s appearance reminds me of the evil entity “Captain Howdy” that appears briefly in The Exorcist. Also look quick at the photographed images of the old hag. Is that the possessed Regan (Linda Blair)?

I’m a fan of suggestive horror. Modern “horror porn” films (e.g. Saw, The Human Centipede and so forth) push the limit. They’re too graphic and vile. I loved The Silence of the Lambs (1991), but Se7en (1995) turns my stomach. It’s repulsive. I think the general decline of horror film started with Clive Barker’s Hellraiser (1987)(which I like). That film unleashes hell —hooks and chains and flayed human skin. It’s too much. Remember Béla Lugosi taking a scalpel to Boris Karloff in Edgar Ulmer’s The Black Cat (1934)? The entire scene was composed in silhouette. It’s a horrifying scene.

Insidious is rated PG-13. There’s very little gore (a bloody handprint). So why does it work as a scary film? It relies upon identifiable horrors -a boy in a coma, the visage of a witch-like hag, demons, ghosts, getting lost in a maze, and a creepy old house. These are themes represented in countless horror films of the past. Scary tricks used in these old films work today. Here my list of the scariest films of all-time:

  • Dead of Night (Hugo the Dummy Story)(1945)
  • The Thing from Another World (1951)
  • Psycho (1960)
  • The Haunting (1963)
  • Night of the Living Dead (1968)
  • The Legend of Boggy Creek (1972)
  • The Exorcist (1973)
  • Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark (1973)
  • The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)
  • Trilogy of Terror (Prey)(1975)
  • Jaws (1975)
  • Halloween (1978)
  • Alien (1979)
  • The Evil Dead (1981)
  • John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982)
  • The Silence of the Lambs (1991)
  • Ringu (1998)
  • The Blair Witch Project (1999)
  • Signs (2002)
  • Paranormal Activity & PA2 (2007 / 2010)
  • Insidious (2010)
  • Dont Be Afraid of the Dark (2011)* Added 8.26.11

9 Responses to “Scary Films 1945-2010”

  1. Great list, Barry. I would want “Carrie” 1976 and “The Omen” 1976 on list, but can’t think of any of the movies you’ve listed that I would want to remove.

  2. The Blogger Says:

    Yes they belong there Stan. The Thing got my nod due to the tense direction and green house door scene. The Hugo story from Dead of Night is just plain creepy. I also like the Afred Hitchcock presents spin on the Ventriloquist horror. The Omen is scary. So is the original Amityville Horror. I probably missed a few Hammer films. I think Horror of Dacula to be the liveliest. Suspiria should be there too…

  3. barry, i agree on the gore-crap-tacular movies. i end up actually laughing more at the scenes. they simply dont scare me. give me mysterious lighting, scary music, and an evil entity you never (or barely) see and hopefully i wont sleep for a week.

    here would be my list. some of the movies are simply because of a few scenes that i will never forget. they are not in any order

    jaws. i kept my eyes open in the shower after seeing this movie the first time. i still don’t like the ocean, or pools, bathtubs, puddles of water in the street after it rains, sitting on the toliet… and what the hell is up with bull sharks. that is just god’s way of saying “HA, whatcha got now bitches?”

    alien. simply brillant. i remember watching the trailer on t.v. on a 12″ black and white zenith tv and freaking out. the scene build up when skerritt was in the ducts searching for the monster, epic.

    the ring/ringu. i only have 3 words to say about ring/ringu…sa-ma-ra “I never sleep.” enough said.

    the grudge/ju-on, i really enjoyed the ghosts (victims) in these movies. Also in the grudge (may have been the sequel), the scene where the one lady looked under the sheets and BAM! Oh also, i throughly enjoyed it when the flash dance chick smacked the frying pan on the one dudes head after pouring the bacon grease on him.

    the sentinel, i think this was a made for tv movie. entrance to hell in a new york apartment. pretty good movie and they had real freaks in it at the end.

    don’t be afaird of the dark (original). enough said. ive made my comments about this movie in the past.

    trilogy of terror. the little voodoo doll could kick chuckie’s ass any day!

    insidious. i should get royalties since the old evil lady is from my childhood and still freaks me out when i think about her.

    amityville horror (original). until i found out it was a total fake, BUT i was able to pick out the real house when visting long island (and it doesnt look like the movie house).

    the shining (original). just the twin girls.

    nightmare on elm street. while they killed freddy for me with 2,563,865 sequels. the original, i thought was made very well.

    pet sematary. the sister with the spinal condition. that was just wrong. google it and watch just that. scares the hell out of you.

    salem’s lot (original). leave james at 15 alone!

    28 days later. they ran way too fast.

    The omem (original). the musical score was haunting. (on a side note on musical score, really anything from john carpenter.)

    hellraiser. i threw away my rubick’s cube after watching this movie.

    I want to add the movie taken for david. daddy, can i go to europe for summer break? all my friends are going… to which our response is NFW.

  4. A couple additonal thoughts. I know these wouldn’t be considered by some other folks. But for when I saw it, “Amityville Horror” scared me. We lived in an old house in IN with trap doors and creaks galore. Even though it was a made for TV movie, another one is “It”. Scared the clown out of me.

    I think the only ones I haven’t seen are “The Dead of Night”, “The Thing from Another World” and “Insideous”. Although I will be seeing “Insideous” soon.

    All are good selections. “Trilogy of Terror” kept me awake looking for mean ass dolls for weeks. “The Blair Witch Project” Still scares me even though I know what’s coming.

  5. This is a GREAT list; I agree with almost every title. I was especially pleased to see Boggy Creek, Blair Witch and DBAOTD included. Just a few I would add: The Changeling, Session 9, The Grudge, The Eye (original) and REC.

  6. Thanks Paul. Boggy Creek scared the hell out of me as a kid. The bathroom scene was scary. I haven’t seen Session 9 or REC. I’ll add those to the list. Have fun.

    • I was probably 12 or 13 when I saw Boggy Creek in the theatre and I still remember that bathroom scene to this day. I didn’t sleep for days after seeing it back then! 🙂 Just thought of another recent film that really gave me chills: the French film “Ils” (“Them”) from 2006.

  7. Randotti lives. (Pseudo-Trilogy of Terror reference)

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