I love scary movies even when they’re terrible, so this list is neither definitive nor particularly respectable. My only measure of authority on the subject is that I can quote Friday the 13th, Part VI from memory. (“Hit the noise and the cherries!”)
Since I have a high-needs baby at home, I’ve been missing my slashers lately. I know that soon there will come a day when he takes a two-hour nap on his own, or goes to bed at a regular baby time and stays asleep. Until then, all I have are my memories and this list.
(Also, if you’re the kind of person who would complain about SPOILERS, you should know that there are SPOILERS in this post. But I think the newest movie on this list is from 2009-ish — so if I’m spoiling any of these for you in 2014, it’s up to you to take ownership of your disappointment.)
The Descent. Things that are scary: being underground; squeezing through narrow passageways; broken bones sticking through flesh; mutant life forms that want to eat you; mercy-killing your friend with a big rock; losing your husband and baby in a horrific car accident. This movie hits on almost every raw nerve I have! I want to add that the original version I saw had the U.K. ending, which is considerably more disturbing. The U.S. ending is just a cheap “gotcha” jump, because as Gwyneth Paltrow once observed, we Americans are big dummies.
The Birds. There are a lot of Hitchcock movies I love, but not many that truly scare me. I have a really bad case of bird-phobia, so this is the one that does it. (Honorable mention to Perry Mason smoking a cigarette in the dark in Rear Window.) I’m always distracted in the first act, though, by how off-putting the courtship is between Tippi Hedren and Rod Taylor. And poor Suzanne Pleshette, you guys. Ugh.
Hostel: Part II. If you’re the kind of person who gets all pearl-clutchy about “torture porn,” we will probably never be friends. And you might never understand why this movie is so surprisingly good. The fact that there are three women in the lead roles is unusual and awesome, and maybe even… feminist? Or at least egalitarian, since money seems to be the great equalizer. Also, the subplot with the two guys who bid to kill the women was genuinely interesting and made me laugh (intentionally!). All that said, I was like, “THANK GOD” when Heather Matarazzo’s character finally died, because she was the actual most annoying character ever to exist. Including Cousin Oliver.
Drag Me to Hell. I love Sam Raimi, and this movie is why. “But then I thought, ‘Screw it, I’m eating ice cream.'” What else do I need to say? Other than this: Totally makes up for the whole tree-rape thing in Evil Dead.
The Silence of the Lambs. I smuggled this movie out of my parents’ house when I was 13 years old and took it to a friend’s house for a sleepover. When they showed Benjamin Raspail’s head in a jar, I almost fucking died*. I then went on to watch this movie approximately fifty-three times within the next five years. (I actually thought I wanted to be an FBI agent for a while, and then I became a lazy pothead instead. DREAM DEFERRED.)
The Orphanage. This movie is pretty consistently creepy throughout, but the ending. Oh my GOD, the ending. I have never felt worse in my life after watching any movie, and that includes anything and everything Holocaust-themed. I can’t even talk about it — just Google it if you want to know. Or watch it, if you think you can resist the overwhelming urge to make out with an exhaust pipe afterwards. I mean, it’s an intriguing movie to watch, and it succeeded in making me feel the emotion known as “horror,” so it’s on the list. But it’s the only movie on here that I’ve watched just once and will never watch again.
Halloween. First of all, the theme music? Is perfect. Second, so is everything else, because it’s the archetypal horror movie. There’s nothing scarier than that moment of realization when Annie wipes the fog off the inside of her windshield. On the other hand, Lynda and Bob can’t die fast enough. But I get that they had to increase the body count to make the movie work, and so I’ll allow it.
Candyman. This is another movie where the music is so distinctive and evocative. (There was an episode of American Horror Story: Asylum where they lifted this Philip Glass score, and it took me right out of the scene. I was just waiting for the camera to cut to an establishing shot of Cabrini-Green.) Beyond the music, the movie is a landmark in the genre. It’s all about class and race and swarms of bees and urban legends and, most importantly, people getting murdered. The scariest thing you could ever do to me is hide about 20 feet away in a mostly deserted parking lot and say, “Helen. HEL-eeeen…” Try it and I will never forgive you.
Bonus Movie That Is Not Scary At All
The Exorcist. I’m sorry, but no. Maybe it’s because I watched it for the first time in about 2005, when the special effects were laughably dated. Or maybe it’s because my friend billed it as “the scariest movie ever” for way too long, and so it could never live up to the hype. Or maybe it’s just because I’m Catholic, and I know Jesus loves me no matter what? All I know is, this movie was nothing but distractingly bad for me, and I’ve sat through multiple viewings of Sleepaway Camp.
*Or, if you’re going by the book, it’s the head of Raspail’s lover, Klaus. Either way, it ruined me.