The definitive list of the scariest Halloween films of all time
Get behind the sofa before you watch this lot...
Villains wearing masks of human skin, 12 bodies being interlinked to form one organism and a cannibal drinking cups of his victims' blood.
When it comes to horror, we've seen it all. But the trouble with horror films is that they age quickly. Due to advancements in the way films are made, the shock tactics and frights of even five years ago can already seem dated as it becomes harder and harder to scare people.
So, in 2021, which horror films are still truly scary?
What’s the film? Hereditary, 2018
Why's it scary AF? Hereditary has been awarded the coveted title of scariest movie of all time! That's according to GIGACalculator.com, which measured the pulse rates of 150 volunteers who watched a selection of horror movies for the first time. The films were selected via a survey of 2,542 horror fans who named their top 10 scariest films. Hereditary caused pulses to rise to an average of 115 BPM from an average of 60 - 100 BPM.
So what's all the fuss about? A family are grieving a death when they start getting haunted. But is it actually supernatural activity, or is Annie, played by Toni Collette, just struggling with her grief? Hereditary is scary because it gets inside Annie's mind. It explores what kinds of traumas we inherit, looking at the way close family deaths can affect us and our identities while not holding back on shocking moments. In one memorable scene, Annie discovers a decapitated body of a family member in her car and the head on the floor with ants in it. It's not quite the goodbye you'd hope for after a loved one passes away, and it's absolutely terrifying.
What’s the film? Host, 2020
Why's it scary AF? A 2020 study suggested that Host was the scariest film of all time. They conducted a similar study as above, with 250 people of differing ages fitted with heart rate monitors. The horror fans watched 40 of the scariest films, selected via Reddit recommendations and critic’s best of lists.
Host was shot on Zoom during the pandemic and the handmade quality generates real chills. It's about a group of friends taking part in a seance during a virtual video meet up. "The interplay between the actors feels real, as if we were actually watching a group of friends facing supernatural dangers," says The Guardian review.
What’s the film? Saw, 2004
Why it's scary AF? If the jumpy scenes in vintage horrors feel outdated, Saw is the rulebook for how to do them in the 21st century. The first in this series of psychological horror films debuted in 2004 but it still feels fresh. After the eponymous Saw, the franchise has spawned seven sequels. They vary in quality, but the original Saw's creative terror tactics are so shocking they have been dubbed "torture porn" by some critics. In one scene, a man literally saws his own foot off. Slo-mo shots of people being tied up, blooded, in cages, pervade much of the movie. Expect jump after jump, and some of the most gruesome deaths. You'll either love it or hate it.
What’s the film? Halloween, 1978
Why it's scary AF: This is the OG of Halloween films. Halloween has dated, which means its fright scenes can't compete with some of today's horrors - but its fear factor lies elsewhere. In one scene lead character Lynda, played by German-American actor PJ Soles, is killed while still on the phone to her pal Laurie. It's not the sharp camerawork that creates the chill, but the casual style in which Lynda's dispatched while still on the phone. It feels as if this could happen to any of us - if we got a seriously terrifying home invader. (Watch out also for the gratuitous nudity, which hasn't aged as well as the vintage horror moments.)
What’s the film? Human Centipede 2, 2009
Why it's scary AF? Remember Human Centipede, the fucked-up horror where people’s bodies were interlinked? Well this is Human Centipede 2, where a man who watched the initial movie decides to create his own version of the human centipede out of 12 people. Does it sound like film studios are running out of ideas? Never!
Anyway, it may be a bit of a rubbish film, but the images of lead character, Martin, bludgeoning people to death and tying their naked bodies together are genuinely horrifying. So much so, the British Board of Film Classification at first refused to give Human Centipede 2 an 18 Certificate, based on its “sexually violent and potentially obscene” content.
“The minute it started, I just wanted it to be finished," Mark Kermode told BBC Radio 5 Live. "It was nasty, fetished... I just think it's crass," he added.
What’s the film? The Shining, 1980
Why's it scary AF? In The Shining, a man called Jack, played by Jack Nicholson, moves his family to a deserted mountain top hotel when he lands the job as winter caretaker. Much of The Shining comprises of eerie shots of deserted corridors and Nicholson's face, boiling with rage.
All the simmering anger takes its toll: by the film's most famous scene, where Jack breaks down a bathroom door with an axe, you feel for Jack's poor long-suffering wife, quivering with terror and trapped on the other side of that door praying she survives his wrath.
It's all build up to the final "here's Johnny" moment, when the tension is so palpable it's proper turn the telly off and look the other way vibes.
What’s the film? The Silence of the Lambs, 1991
Why's it scary AF? Silence of the Lambs is the only horror to have ever won Best Picture at the Oscars, and 30 years after it was released, the chills still hold up. Firstly, Hopkins' Lecter is cooly terrifying. He plays an understated cannibal murderer, which is definitely scarier than the film resorting to blood and gore. In fact, audiences never see Lecter committing any of his crimes. We just feel as if we are quietly among the horror, as he reels off a list of sayings that'll haunt you in your sleep.
Remember when Lecter greeted Jodie Foster's character, FBI agent Clarice, with a gently creeping "hello, Clarice"? It's spawned a million memes...
Think I'm going to have to rewatch Silence of the Lambs. I need to hear Anthony Lee Hopkin's buttery murderous voice creep down my ear again.
"Hello Clarice." pic.twitter.com/bKlEV1F6X5
— Veinmire (@veinmire) October 21, 2021
Hello, Clarice. pic.twitter.com/WeSVh1fbde
— JoeKoffee (@JoeKoffee) October 27, 2021
Well hello Clarice pic.twitter.com/2oAKL9Q3fX
— Windy101🇨🇦🇺🇸 (@hey_butter) October 23, 2021
What’s the film? The Texas Chainsaw Massacre
Why's it scary AF? Sally investigates claims that her grandfather’s grave has been defaced and ends up discovering a group of terrifying murderers, one of which is Leatherface, who wears human skin as a mask. In one scene, masked killer Leatherface is in pursuit of Sally in a chase which goes on for over five minutes but feels like forever. Him with chainsaw and wearing another human's face, her tripping and stumbling around in the dark as he's in pursuit. As the chainsaw revs, there's the sense there's absolutely no hope she'll survive - we won't ruin things by revealing what happens.
What’s the film? Psycho
Why's it scary AF? Sure, Psycho does a good job of conflating the idea that a murderer with mental health issues also likes to cross-dress, which is not ideal. But aside from the problematic elements, Psycho is also completely chilling.
The Hitchcock classic basically invented the run-down US motel as a horror destination. Sure, it's dated, but the vintage feel - and the film's reputation - makes you feel like you're opening a Pandora's box of terror. You're freaked out way before you've even pressed play.
In terms of the plot, a bank worker on the run arrives at a motel in the middle of the night run by a man called Norman Bates. Before long, Norman's tense and difficult relationship with his mother unfolds. By modern standards, not much actually happens, but Hitchcock was all about suspense, and dark atmospheric shots of the motel are only leading in one direction... to the shower scene.
What’s the film? I Spit On Your Grave
Why's it scary AF? Confident New Yorker, Jennifer, decides to sack off the city and move to the countryside so she can write her book. Sure that’ll go well then... Both the 1978 and the 2011 versions of this story depict Jennifer being violently and sexually abused. This isn't so much scary, but more plain horrific.
Gang rape occurs, and then, to get her revenge, Jennifer bites one of her attacker’s penises off, and he bleeds to death. Squirm. Feminists did more than squirm when the film opened though. They picketed cinemas, conveying the message that “rape is not entertainment.”
Twenty million people still ended up seeing it though on release, according to writer-director Meir Zarchi, speaking in an interview with Fangoria Magazine in 1984.
What’s the film? The Exorcist
Why's it scary AF? Twelve-year-old possessed girl, Regan MacNeil, does more than look scared when she's possessed by the Devil. She masturbates with a holy cross. Religious groups were up in arms at the time, calling the scene blasphemy. But it wasn’t just religious people who found the film shocking: reports of heart attacks in screens occurred in 1973 when the film was released. Reports in the press of demon possessions followed.
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Office of Film and Broadcasting (yes, that’s a thing) also condemned the film as unsuitable for a mainstream audience. To be fair, almost 50 years later, getting frisky with a crucifix still feels pretty out there. And the possession scenes are the pinnacle of what is, overall, a genuinely chilling film. In one of the most stomach-churning scenes, Regan casually twists her head around 180 degrees while sat on her bed, revealing a ghoulish bloodied grin.