1. The Thing (1982) Directed by John Carpenter
A remake of The Thing from Another World (1951), director John Carpenter explores the depth of paranoia within an isolated and subzero environment as an alien takes on the form of its victims causing characters to question who is still human. The most unsettling part of the film is the gradual progression into insanity by Dr. Blair (Wilford Brimley), displaying Carpenter’s mastery of the horror and thriller genre. Though it struggled at the box office upon release, The Thing remains one of the most disturbing films of all time.
2. The Exorcist (1973) Directed by William Friedkin
Movies with a religious theme seem to evoke more powerful responses from people and that is certainly the case in this highly disturbing film about demonic possession. Audiences were physically and spiritually sickened and shaken from what they saw. Controversial and sacrilegious, The Exorcist remains the most viscerally agonizing movie ever made because of its religious connotations and because it places Satan within a 12-year-old girl.
3. The Shining (1980) Directed by Stanley Kubrick
The Shining is probably best know for Jack Nicholson’s line, “Heeereee’s Johnny!” but people have forgotten how eerie and chilling this Kubrick classic truly is. With a haunting score, beautiful Steadicam shots and Jack Nicholson’s descent into madness at its core, The Shining remains one of the most frightening films of all time. Afterall, “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.”
4. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) Directed by Tobe Hooper
The fact this film is based upon “actual events” should be enough to freak people out. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is borderline snuff involving various gruesome murders and intensely disturbing scenes with the Texas based family. The character, Leatherface, epitomizes the common slasher film antagonist, with his bulky physique and use of tools and murder weapons.
5. Psycho (1960) Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
People who have never even seen Psycho know the film’s infamous shower scene. Hitchcock’s use of quick and startling cuts (over 50 in the shower scene), Anthony Perkins’ performance as a fixated mama’s boy and Bernard Herrmann’s shrieking violin score all contribute to make Psycho a classic, chilling film.
6. The Omen (1976) Directed by John Moore
The Omen focuses around a young child named Damien who is the Antichrist and remains one of most disturbing movies of the 70s and all time. The film includes a great performance by Gregory Peck but the haunting music is the most responsible for the creepiness of this film. The Academy agreed and awarded The Omen the Oscar that year for Best Original Score.
7. Halloween (1978) Directed by John Carpenter
Halloween is the epitome of the slasher genre because of its eerie yet simple piano score and the “boogey-man” presence of Michael Myers. It remains one of the most successful independent films of all time and is plagued with numerous Psycho references. Dr. Sam Loomis is named after Janet Leigh’s boyfriend in Psycho and she is the mother of actress Jamie Lee Curtis, the heroine in Halloween.
8. Audition (1999) Directed by Takashi Miike
Relatively unknown by the American moviegoer populace, Audition is a Japanese horror film that focuses on a widowed TV producer auditioning prospective wives. The producer finds a woman who is too good to be true but is daunted by her mysterious past. The climax of the film is when the man finds an ex-lover of the woman’s who is still alive in a garbage bag with his tongue and feet chopped off.
9. Seven (1995) By David Fincher
Few films have had the same chilling psychological impact as this disturbing movie about a serial killer who punishes his victims for their seven deadly sins. Kevin Spacey, Brad Pitt, Morgan Freeman and Gwyneth Paltrow are all at the top of their game in this classic horror thriller, and the twists keep coming culminating to the climactic and heart wrenching final scene.
10. Silence of the Lambs (1991) Directed by Jonathan Demme
Anthony Hopkin’s performance as Hannibal Lecter is what makes Silence of the Lambs one of the most frightening movies of all time. Hopkins brings to life one of film’s greatest icons in any genre, the paradoxically polite cannibal, Dr. Hannibal Lecter. He makes the character so subversive making audiences uncomfortably attracted to him, adding to the film’s chilling atmosphere.