M. Night Shyamalan became an overnight filmmaking sensation with his "I see dead people" sleeper hit, "The Sixth Sense." It was a simple ghost story imparted with supreme confidence — the low-key, gather-round-the-campfire antidote to the artless CG excess of Jan de Bont's horrid adaptation of Shirley Jackson's "The Haunting." When it comes to spinning a good, ghostly yarn, the build's the thing. Setting, characterization, atmosphere...get your audience to hang on every word. Fire the imagination andthenspring the trap. That's what the following filmmakers did in these exquisite tales of the paranormal. Even "Hausu" required setup.
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The greatest of all cinematic ghost stories, and one of the greatest films period, is Kenji Mizoguchi’s fable about an ambitious potter (Masayuki Mori) who is persuaded by the spirit of a deceased noblewoman (Machiko Kyo) to leave his wife and child. He does so for a time, and then upon realizing his folly, he returns home to his family where he unexpectedly encounters another ghost. Mizoguchi’s masterpiece is an exquisitely directed yet profoundly simple meditation on greed and kindness that will resonate so long as men stubbornly succumb to their worst impulses.
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"The Shining" (1980)
Speaking of men succumbing to their worst impulses, here’s the none-too-cheery story of Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson), an author who, seeking isolation as the winter caretaker of the Overlook Hotel, finds madness instead. Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation of Stephen King’s bestseller makes early use of the steadicam to thrust the viewer into the vast emptiness of the hotel, where the ghosts of a previous caretaker’s murdered family await. If you’re making a list of the creepiest specters in film history, no one would argue if you placed the Grady twins right at the top.
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"The Changeling" (1980)
Associated Film Distribution
Peter Medak’s horror classic stars George C. Scott as a grieving widower who moves into a creepy old Victorian mansion that harbors a sinister secret. Unlike its 1980s genre-mates “Poltergeist” or “The Entity," there are no flashy visual effects or grisly scenes of face-shredding terror. Medak hooks the viewer with an atmosphere of quiet menace occasionally punctuated by bumps and creaks and the inexplicable appearance of a toy ball. It’s a masterful haunted house yarn that evidently gives Martin Scorsese nightmares, so proceed with caution!
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"The Sixth Sense" (1999)
Buena Vista Pictures Distribution
What if the ghost in the ghost story doesn’t know he’s a ghost? M. Night Shyamalan’s haymaker of a twist ending turned his third feature into a word-of-mouth blockbuster in the summer of 1999, earning the writer-director comparisons to such master storytellers as Rod Serling and Steven Spielberg. Though the script would’ve worked regardless of casting, the presence of then megastar Bruce Willis completely threw the audience off the scent; no one could’ve guessed that he was one of the dead people haunting Haley Joel Osment’s every waking moment.
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Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s J-horror masterpiece is a deliberately paced nightmare machine of a movie in which ghosts are faintly viewable via webcam. It’s the first haunted internet movie, but it’s so much more than its gimmick; it’s a meditation on loneliness, which posits that the afterlife — neither heaven nor hell — may just be a horrifying loop of agony. And maybe that’s what we deserve. Kurosawa’s contempt for the World Wide Web felt curmudgeonly 18 years ago, but in terms of the communication system’s ironically isolating effect on society, he seems downright prophetic today.
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"The Haunting" (1963)
This is the Cadillac of haunted house movies and arguably still the scariest. Robert Wise is on firein this movie, making skillful use of the widescreen frame (with brand spanking new anamorphic 30mm lenses) to enhance the claustrophobic horror of being stuck in a paranormally distressed mansion. His amazing cast (particularly Julie Harris, Claire Bloom and Russ Tamblyn) sells the largely unseen terror with a broadness that could’ve easily teetered over into parody with the wrong director. Mike Flanagan’s 2018 loose take on Shirley Jackson’s novel for Netflix is well worth checking out, too, but this is how it’s done.
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"The Entity" (1982)
20th Century Fox
The prolific and occasionally brilliant Sidney J. Furie hit a home run with this unnerving account of a single mother (Barbara Hershey) who believes she’s being sexually assaulted by a malevolent spirit. Her psychiatrist (Ron Silver) steadfastly refuses to buy this explanation, but when a team of parapsychologists gets involved, the impossible turns out to be the irrefutable truth. Hershey gives a fierce performance as a woman driven to the brink of madness by the refutation of her victimhood.
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MGM/UA Entertainment Co.
Steven Spielberg staged a great big haunted house movie in the heart of mundane suburbia, and every person who grew up with a fear of thunderstorms or a scary looking tree outside the window or, god forbid, a creepy clown doll has been battling nightmares ever since. Pretty much every childhood phobia is exploited in the Tobe Hooper-directed movie, while the blasé parenting of baby boomers is lightly skewered.
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"A Chinese Ghost Story" (1987)
This gonzo wuxia classic from the glory days of Hong Kong cinema isn’t much in the scares department, but it’s a hugely influential work from the great Tsui Hark that, for whatever reason, isn’t as celebrated as other films of that era. Leslie Cheung plays a hapless debt collector who, while spending the night in a haunted temple, falls in love with a beautiful ghost (Joey Wang) enslaved by the evil Tree Devil. It’s a thrilling film stuffed with wacky ideas and set pieces, most of which work far better than they should (including Wu Ma cast as a master swordsman who raps the “Tao Te Ching”).
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Masaki Kobayashi’s supernatural anthology certainly lives up to its title’s translation (“Ghost Stories”), though probably not in the manner Western audiences expect. The filmmaker’s deliberate, contemplative approach to these stories is formal in the extreme; he’s not telling tales so much as reflecting on their meaning to Japanese culture (where they’re all very well-known). At three hours, it’s a demanding sit for audiences primed to pick up their smartphones every other minute, but if you rid your living room of devices and give yourself over to Kobayashi’s superlative craftsmanship, you’ll find the eerie sights and slithering deep under your skin.
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"Spirited Away" (2001)
Hayao Miyazaki’s enchanting masterwork concerns a young girl’s journey through the spiritual world of a fantastical hot-springs bathhouse. Of the many odd apparitions she meets along the way, the most memorable is a masked ghost known as No-Face, who has a peculiar habit of consuming other characters. Perhaps more than any other work in his impressive oeuvre, “Spirited Away” drifts along to a gentle dream logic; it’s a miraculous film of constant discovery that speaks to something curious and ineffable inside all of us.
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"The Legend of Hell House" (1973)
20th Century Fox
The definitive, gore-and-orgy-packed version of Richard Matheson’s terrifying tome — “the scariest haunted house novel ever written,” according to Stephen King – has yet to be made, but John Hough’s briskly paced take on the material (adapted by Matheson) capably hits most of the horrifying highs. Clive Revill stars as a physicist who hunkers down with a small group of spiritually sensitive individuals in what is reputed to be the most haunted house in the world. They confirm this fairly quickly and spend the rest of the film simply trying to survive. It’s a good movie, but read the book first (preferably during a week when you don’t need much sleep).
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"The Innocents" (1961)
20th Century Fox
Henry James’ subtly chilling “The Turn of the Screw” is such a perfectly unadorned narrative that many filmmakers mistakenly feel the need to amp it up with jump scares or sex. The best adaptation to date is still Jack Clayton’s “The Innocents," which stars Deborah Kerr as the governess charged with the care of two children (Martin Stephens and Pamela Franklin) at what turns out to be a deeply haunted mansion. Clayton provides a little more backstory than is present in James’ novel, but he generally stays true to the narrative that’s been unnerving readers for over a century.
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"The Others" (2001)
Alejandro Amenábar followed up his mesmerizing “Open Your Eyes” with this chilling slow-burn of a ghost story starring Nicole Kidman as a mother of two young children who begins to suspect their house is occupied by apparitional “others." The film’s hook is that the kids are photosensitive, which necessitates that the house remain in a state of candlelit darkness. Amenábar is clearly riffing on “The Turn of the Screw," and his twist ending suggests he might’ve been gunning for a concluding wallop akin to “The Sixth Sense." He doesn’t quite land it, but the mood’s the thing and it’s unremittingly eerie.
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"The Conjuring" (2013)
Two years after scoring a haunted house hit with “Insidious," James Wan doubled down on the genre with this go-for-the-jugular scare-fest based on a real-life paranormal investigation undertaken by Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga). Wan is at the height of his fright-inducing powers, as he places inventive new spins on old chestnuts like the creepy basement and the antique wardrobe. (In this case, it’s not what’s inside but what’s on top.) The blockbuster has inspired not just a franchise but also a horror universe at Warner Bros., but thus far, the returns have been greatly diminished.
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No one expected much from a schmaltzy paranormal romance directed by one-third of the creative team behind “Airplane!” and “The Naked Gun," but Bruce Joel Rubin’s achingly sincere screenplay and the powerfully erotic chemistry generated by Patrick Swayze and Demi Moore transformed this midsummer programmer into the top grossing film of 1990. It’s a clever love story/whodunit combo in which Swayze attempts to solve his own murder from beyond the grave with the help of a crabby medium (Oscar-winner Whoopi Goldberg), and Jerry Zucker balances all of these elements with stunning ease. He gets away with two tear-jerking reunions in the last 20 minutes! Why he decided to quit filmmaking after his follow-up, “First Knight," flopped is a frustrating Hollywood mystery.
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"The Devil's Backbone" (2001)
Guillermo del Toro’s Spanish Civil War ghost story takes place at an orphanage fearful of an uncertain future, symbolized by the massive, unexploded bomb embedded in its courtyard. A new arrival (Fernando Tielve) to the estate is given the bed of a boy who has perished and is said to haunt the orphanage. Del Toro generally opts for the somber, understated tone of “The Innocents” and “The Changeling"; he prefers slow-building dread and the terror of the unseen to easy jolts. He worked a lushly romantic variation on this aesthetic with the hugely underrated “Crimson Peak” (which makes a perfect double feature with Alfred Hitchcock’s “Rebecca”), but “The Devil’s Backbone” leaves the deeper groove. It’s a sad film that resonates all too palpably today as a new generation of traumatized children is separated from their parents.
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"The Frighteners" (1996)
Peter Jackson’s first studio film flopped at the box office, but this restlessly imaginative horror-comedy stands as a worthy companion to “Ghostbusters." Michael J. Fox stars as a paranormally attuned conman who teams with three ghostly accomplices to stage bogus exorcisms. Fox’s skills wind up proving vital when the spirit of a deceased mass murderer begins knocking off the living to up his body count. Jackson careens from juvenile comedy to blood-curdling horror with such abandon that you expect him to eventually literally lose the plot. Instead, he wraps up the film with a brilliantly edited hospital sequence that might be the best thing the Academy Award-filmmaker has ever done.
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What sounded like a lazy “Saturday Night Live” sketch or, worse, a retread of a so-so Bob Hope/Paulette Goddard vehicle wound up being a lightning-in-a-bottle smash that dominated the 1984 box office. The key to the film’s success, aside from Bill Murray being Bill Murray, is that it’s legitimately frightening when it needs to be. Ivan Reitman’s movie opens with a sensational scare in the New York Public Library and scatters a series of massive jumps throughout (courtesy of a crack ILM visual f/x team that included John Bruno and Richard Edlund). Even people who hate horror movies rushed out to see “Ghostbusters." Save for “The Frighteners”, there hasn’t been anything like it since.
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"House on Haunted Hill" (1959)
William Castle’s finest hour and 15 minutes stars Vincent Price in fiendishly fine form as a millionaire who baits five financially struggling schemers with the promise of $10,000 if they can hack it out for one night in a haunted house. Frank Lloyd Wright’s famous Ennis House serves as the exterior for the mansion, which gives the low-budget film a flair it might’ve otherwise lacked. Castle enticed audiences with the “Emergo” gimmick, which involved little more than a skeleton being flung out at the audience during a climactic scene. It worked. The movie was a huge hit and holds up well today with or without a plastic skeleton (as does William Malone’s 1999 remake).
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This wackadoodle horror-comedy melange makes “A Chinese Ghost Story” look like “The Innocents." When the Japanese film studio Toho asked writer-director Nobuhiko Obayashi in the mid-1970s to make a movie akin to “Jaws," he hit up his 12-year-old daughter, Chigumi, for ideas. This is how we were blessed with the story of seven schoolgirls — with names like Gorgeous, Fantasy and Kung Fu — who make the ill-fated mistake of dropping by a carnivorous house. You might say it’s “Little Red Riding Hood” on acid, but, really, it’s a fever dream of a whole lot of stuff on acid. And it’s an exhilaratingly great trip.
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"Carnival of Souls" (1962)
Herts-Lion International Corp.
Herk Harvey’s massively influential ghost story is an early triumph of American independent cinema and a testament as to what a talented director with a unique vision can pull off on a shoestring budget. This tale of a woman who takes a job as an organist in Salt Lake City after mysteriously surviving a car accident in Kansas isn’t terribly suspenseful; the twist ending should be clear to anyone paying attention. But that’s not the point. It’s the dreamlike atmosphere that gradually curdles into a doozy of a nightmare that keeps the viewer transfixed.
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"Personal Shopper" (2016)
The idea of spending most of a film in an empty apartment with a celebrity’s personal shopper might sound positively tedious, but Olivier Assayas’ 2016 triumph turns this premise into a stylishly strange and unconventionally eerie ghost story. Kristen Stewart is spellbinding as a young woman who, when she’s not picking up or returning impossibly glamorous clothing for her supermodel employer, is keen to make contact with the spirit of her recently departed twin brother. As bizarre, unexplained phenomena begin occurring in Stewart’s life, Assayas ratchets up the suspense in wholly unexpected ways.
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"A Ghost Story" (2017)
Casey Affleck plays an actual ghost under a sheet with two eyeholes poked out — just like a child’s Halloween costume — in David Lowery’s unusually moving story of grief and closure...or something along those lines. Lowery sidesteps thematic clarity by turning Affleck’s journey into a time travel story narrative of sorts, at which point you’re wondering if the film is going to turn into a spook-laden riff on “Primer." The film winds up being defiantly inscrutable, but, emotionally, you’re deeply invested. It’s such a wonderfully screwy movie.
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"The Ring" (2002)
The veryrare Hollywood remake that improves on its foreign inspiration, Gore Verbinski’s “The Ring” amps up the terror of Hideo Nakata’s 1998 film by prioritizing mood over narrative coherence (whether that was the intent, and the number of rewrites done on the screenplay would suggest it was not). The Pacific Northwest setting and Samara’s freaky equine influence add two layers of creepiness absent from Nakata’s movie (the ferry scene is incredibly disturbing), while the open-ended conclusion is, thematically, far more intriguing. As for Samara vs. Sadako, they’re both utterly terrifying.
Jeremy Smith is a freelance entertainment writer and the author of "George Clooney: Anatomy of an Actor". His second book, "When It Was Cool", is due out in 2021.
- The Exorcist (1973)
- Hereditary (2018)
- The Conjuring (2013)
- The Shining (1980)
- The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)
- The Ring (2002)
- Halloween (1978)
- Sinister (2012)
One reason we consume horror is to experience stimulation. Exposure to terrifying acts, or even the anticipation of those acts, can stimulate us — both mentally and physically — in opposing ways: negatively (in the form of fear or anxiety) or positively (in the form of excitement or joy).What horror should I watch? ›
- Saw (2004) 7.6/10. 84% Watch at Hulu. ...
- The Birds (1963) 7.6/10. 83% Watch at Peacock. ...
- Shaun of the Dead (2004) 7.9/10. 93% Watch at AmazonPrimeVideo. ...
- A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) 7.4/10. 84% ...
- Evil Dead 2. 7.7/10. 89% ...
- A Quiet Place (2018) 7.5/10. 83% ...
- Paranormal Activity (2007) 6.3/10. 57% ...
- Suspiria (1977) 7.3/10. 83%
- Don't Look Now (1973) ...
- Halloween (1978) ...
- Salo, or the 120 Days of Sodom (1975) ...
- The Shining (1980) ...
- The Exorcist (1973) ...
- The Blair Witch Project (1999) ...
- The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974) Photo : Everett. ...
- Funny Games (1997) Photo : Attitude Films/ Courtesy Everett Collection.
- The Exorcist (1973) ...
- Halloween (1978) ...
- Paranormal Activity (2007) ...
- The Shining (1980) ...
- It Follows (2014)
The results of multiple studies approve that scary scenes advance the level of adrenaline, releasing neurotransmitters in the brain. Faster reaction, better alertness, improved concentration, and a plethora of other advantages can be witnessed as a result of a single movie session.Can horror movies make you smarter? ›
It's a well-known fact that horror films improve brain activity. Several scientific studies found that frightening scenes in horror movies help increase the adrenaline level and release neurotransmitters in the brain. Simple words, watching horror films, people not only look at their monitors.What was the very first horror movie? ›
Just a few years after the first filmmakers emerged in the mid-1890s, Mellies created “Le Manoir du Diable,” sometimes known in English as “The Haunted Castle” or “ The House of the Devil,” in 1898, and it is widely believed to be the first horror movie.Is it healthy to watch horror? ›
Haunted houses and scary movies may actually help reduce stress, lower anxiety. Here's how to have the best experience this Halloween. The fear you overcome from walking through haunted houses and watching classic Michael Myers movies this Halloween could help to lower your stress levels overall.What is the #1 scariest movie on Netflix? ›
- Raw. Year: 2016. Director: Julia Ducournou. ...
- His House. Year: 2020. Director: Remi Weekes. ...
- The Haunting of Hill House. Year: 2018. Director: Mike Flanagan. ...
- Midnight Mass. Year: 2021. Director: Mike Flanagan. ...
- It Follows. Year: 2015. ...
- Creep. Year: 2014. ...
- I'm Thinking of Ending Things. Year: 2020. ...
- Crimson Peak. Year: 2015.
The Haunting in Connecticut 2: Ghosts of Georgia is far and wide the most 'jumpy' horror movie ever made with 32 jump scares to enjoy throughout the film. Set in 1993.What's the top 5 scariest movie on Netflix? ›
- #8. Cam (2018) 93% 53% #8. ...
- #7. Sweetheart (2019) 93% 50% #7. ...
- #6. Pan's Labyrinth (2006) 95% 91% #6. ...
- #5. The Old Ways (2021) 95% 47% #5. ...
- #4. Jaws (1975) 97% 90% #4. ...
- #3. Under the Shadow (2016) 99% 73% #3. ...
- #2. Creep 2 (2017) 100% 72% #2. ...
- #1. His House (2020) 100% 74% #1.
- Insidious (2011)
- The Conjuring (2013)
- Hereditary (2018)
- Terrified (2017)
- It Follows (2014)
- Dashcam (2021)
- A Quiet Place II (2020)
- Paranormal Activity (2007)
Nearly 45 years after its release, John Carpenter's "Halloween" still remains the gold standard for all horror movies.Why is horror so addicting? ›
Ultimately, horror is addictive because it is exciting. The build-up and impact tends to be greater than any other genre and it responds much more to human nature than anything else. It's fun to be scared, to push yourself, and to sometimes have something you are told you can't have."Do horror movies affect heart? ›
These can cause the release of the hormones in the body such as norepinephrine, cortisol, and adrenaline from the autonomic nervous system. You may notice a physiological response from these hormones by way of pupil dilation, increased heart rate, and muscle tension.What do horror movies do to your body? ›
Physical reactions to terrifying images can include sweaty palms, tense muscles, a drop in skin temperature, a spike in blood pressure and an increased heart rate. Although horror movies do not directly impact the brain in a positive way, they can have a desensitization effect.Do horror movies help you sleep? ›
If the content of horror movies doesn't bother you but you're still experiencing insomnia, it might not be the best idea to watch something scary right before bed. That's because all that suspense can increase physiological arousal in your body — the opposite of what helps you feel sleepy, Lindgren says.Do horror movies reduce stress? ›
In one recent study, Clasen found that anxious people might get better at handling their own anxiety by watching scary movies. “There may be a relief in seeking out situations that give you a blast of well-defined fear with a clear source and a crucial element of control,” he explains.Are any horror movies real? ›
Horror films have produced some of the most iconic figures in pop culture. But not all scary movies are completely fictional — some are actually based on real life. For example, "The Conjuring" was based on the real life Perron family.
The psychological horror, The Silence of the Lambs, made history when it became the first, and only, horror film to win Best Picture at the Academy Awards.What is the oldest horror story? ›
The genre was invented by Horace Walpole, whose Castle of Otranto (1765) may be said to have founded the horror story as a legitimate literary form.Who invented horror? ›
Though the film industry began in the early 1800s, the horror genre officially got its start with Georges Méliès in the 1890s.What horror made the most money? ›
|2||The Sixth Sense||$672,806,292|
|3||I Am Legend||$585,349,010|
|4||World War Z||$540,007,876|
- 7/7 The Bear - Annihilation.
- 6/7 Death Angels - A Quiet Place.
- 5/7 The Entity - It Follows.
- 4/7 The Babadook - The Babadook.
- 3/7 The Alien - The Thing.
- 2/7 Xenomorph - Alien.
- 1/7 Pennywise - It.
|Characteristic||Box office revenue in million U.S. dollars|
|The Exorcist (1973)||232.91|
|Get Out (2017)||176.04|
|The Blair Witch Project (1999)||140.54|
Yes, apparently. Scrivner was the lead author of a January 2021 study that found that horror fans were more psychologically resilient during the pandemic, with movies like Contagion serving as a sort of practice simulation for the real thing.Can horror movies cause PTSD? ›
According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, exposure to media, television, movies, or pictures cannot cause PTSD. Symptoms of PTSD are: Re-experiencing the trauma through intrusive distressing recollections of the event, including flashbacks and nightmares.What is the most iconic horror movie scene? ›
1. Head-twist – The Exorcist (William Friedkin, 1973) Hitchcock's shower scene from Psycho may still hold up to this very day, but it's William Friedkin's head-twisting terror in The Exorcist that remains as iconic as it is terrifying.Who is the scariest horror person? ›
Freddy Krueger (65%), Hannibal Lecter (60%), Michael Myers (60%) and Chucky (54%) are the horror villains most Americans find scary.
The Amityville Horror (1979) Arguably the most famous horror film based on horrifying, allegedly real events, The Amityville Horror has spent more than four decades giving audiences a permanent case of night terrors with the story of a young couple and their house in Amityville, New York haunted by violent spirits.Who is the best horror killer? ›
- Death (Final Destination)
- Pennywise the Dancing Clown (It) ...
- Pazuzu (The Exorcist) ...
- Deadites (The Evil Dead) ...
- The Thing (The Thing) ...
- Mister Babadook (The Babadook) ...
- Pinhead (Hellraiser) ...
- Michael Myers. Michael Myers is one of the most popular and enduring slasher movie villains.
- Freddy Krueger. It's hard to argue with Freddy Krueger's track record. ...
- Jason Voorhees. ...
- The Xenomorphs. ...
- Count Dracula. ...
- Leatherface. ...
- Hannibal Lecter. ...
- Pinhead. ...
Yet top of the pile is the legendary Jason Voorhees, with a whopping 170 kills over 12 movies.What is the scariest psychological horror? ›
- Psycho (1960)
- The Shining (1980) ...
- M (1931) ...
- The Silence of the Lambs (1991) ...
- The Sixth Sense (1999) ...
- Misery (1990) ...
- Se7en (1995) ...
- Wait Until Dark (1967) ...
- The Exorcist (1973) ...
- Faces of Death (1978) ...
- Funny Games (1997) ...
- Tetsuo: The Iron Man (1989) Tetsuo: The Iron Man (1989) ...
- Oldboy (2003) Oldboy (2003) ...
- High Tension (2003) High Tension (2003) ...
- Men Behind the Sun (1988) Men Behind the Sun (1988) ...
- Ichi the Killer (2001) Ichi the Killer (2001)
- The Shining by Stephen King. ...
- Dracula by Bram Stoker. ...
- The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson. ...
- Rosemary's Baby by Ira Levin. ...
- The Amityville Horror by Jay Anson. ...
- Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury. ...
- The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde. ...
- Hell House by Richard Matheson.