The 20 Scariest Films I Have Ever Seen

Since I have only just returned to the blogosphere, and just in time for Halloween, I’ve decided to publish (a little late, admittedly, so forgive me) a list of the twenty scariest movies I’ve ever seen. Not necessarily horror movies – films of any genre, that have just scared the living hell out of me more than any others. Or, if not scared me, disturbed me. That’s probably a little more accurate. These are the most disturbing films I’ve ever seen.

20: Hotel Monterey (1972)

Absolutely nothing happens in this one-hour experimental film from Chantal Akerman. We see various rooms and hallways of a hotel. The camera is mostly still. There is complete silence on the soundtrack. But then you start to see tiny things out of the corner of your eye. I blinked and rubbed my eyes, unsure if what I was seeing was real or just something my eyes were deceiving me into believing. The complete silence on the soundtrack made what I was seeing even creepier. Emptiness. A hotel void of life. When we do see humans, they’re soulless vessels, vacuous corpses shuffling about silently. And why… why are the elevator doors opening and closing on their own?

19: There Will Be Blood (2007)

Daniel Day-Lewis is a terrifying, overwhelming, disturbing actor when he wants to be. The character of Daniel Plainview is who I think he will be remembered for. Screaming, shouting, drinking, running, murdering… Plainview is the ultimate villain. And every time I watch this film, I am struck with utter terror, a deep fear of this frightening, soulless man. Few actors can match that.

18: Saló, or the 120 Days of Sodom (1975)

Pier Paolo Pasolini always will be one of the most important Italian filmmakers to ever grace this Earth, and it is a damn shame that the film most people seem to remember him for is Saló. While I do think it is a very good movie, it is nowhere near as brilliant as masterpieces such as the amazing Gospel According to Saint Matthew (1964). But Saló, despite its flaws and controversies, is also an important film. A vicious, scathing attack on fascist dictatorship, the film is never subtle and always brilliantly angry and sadistic. Pasolini does not hold back, and the results are spectacular. A festival of violence and degradation that is utterly sickening but also strongly potent. Saló is incredible.

17: Satantango (1994)

Those bells. Those damned bells. Those twisted, warped bells. They are a small touch, but a stunningly effective one. Heard at the start of this seven hour masterpiece but not again until the final sequence, they add a magnificent touch of unease, dread and nightmarish fear to the sad drudgery of this dark, depressing film. Most people remember Satantango for the terrifying sequence in which a young girl tortures and poisons her cat and then herself, but I think a far scarier scene is the film’s final one, in which a drunken doctor rouses from his slumber and hearing the sound of bells, embarks into the cold outside and discovers something very disturbing, which Tarr never clearly explains, but which to me is symbolic of a very horrific event: the beginning of the apocalypse.

16: Psycho (1960)

Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho is widely recognized as a classic horror film, and revisiting it recently, I was pleasantly surprised to discover it is still very horrific. Anthony Perkins gives one of the best villain performances to have ever graced the screen, and even when he is not on screen, we can feel his presence lurking, and that is unnerving.

15: Possession (1981)

It is a real shame that this film isn’t more widely available, because it’s probably one of the best horror movies of all time. It certainly has my absolute favourite acting performance in a horror movie: that of Isabelle Adjani as a young woman whose body and mind is completely invaded by an evil force. Now this may just sound like generic horror fare to you, but Adjani’s performance elevates it to the skies. She gives absolutely everything to the role, and the result is horrific, brutal, terrifying and absolutely shaking. This is an amazing movie that blew my mind, and Adjani is a huge reason for that. You simply have to see it to believe it.

14: Blue Velvet (1986)

“DON’T YOU FUCKING LOOK AT ME!” The “rape” scene in this film alone qualifies it a spot on this list.

13: 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days (2007)

If not one of the scariest, 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days is at least one of the most uncomfortable films I’ve ever watched. Shot in long, painful static takes, the film is purposefully cold, distant, terrifying but also involving and personal. I will never forget it.

12: Last Year at Marienbad (1961)

There is no way I could leave this incredibly creepy, magnificently spooky French classic off my list. Alain Resnais’ second feature film and his best, Last Year at Marienbad is the haunting story of the relationship between a man and a woman who may or may not be dead in a place that may or may not exist. This is the reason some films are called dreamlike. Last Year at Marienbad is a crazy, strange, wondrous dream that always, always gives me shivers.

11: Irreversible (2002)

Notorious now for its graphic, brutal rape scene, Gaspar Noe’s Irreversible is much more than just “that scene.” The repercussions of it, and the events that led to it, are mesmerizing and painful to watch, even moreso as they are presented in reverse order. Not Noe’s best film, but certainly his most well-made and controversial.

10: The Vanishing (1988)

The revelation of this film’s famous twist has to be one of the scariest moments in cinematic history. I’m not exaggerating.

9: The Seventh Continent (1989)

There are many films I urge people to go into knowing as little as possible, but none am I as strongly vocal about in that regard as The Seventh Continent. If you know the film’s stunning third act twist before you watch it, it’s almost completely ruined for you. Michael Haneke’s amazing first film, The Seventh Continent has been criticised for how it refuses to explain the events that take place. Well, I think the film is scarier because it doesn’t explain them. Absolutely brutal and terrifying.

8: Come and See (1985)

If there exists a more powerful film about the loss of childhood innocence in wartime, I haven’t seen it.

7: Lake of Fire (2006)

One of the most underrated documentaries of all time, Tony Kaye’s Lake of Fire is also one of the best. Shot in stark black and white and running two and a half hours, the film presents both sides of the abortion debate in graphic, terrifying detail, and allows the audience to choose their own side. I have never seen a more disturbing, engrossing or powerful documentary, and I don’t think I ever will. Absolutely blew my mind.

6: The Act of Seeing With One’s Own Eyes (1971)

Stan Brakhage’s 30-minute documentary about the goings on inside a hospital morgue remains one of the most disturbing things I will ever see. Brakhage shows us in horrific detail real human corpses being cut up, emptied of organs and blood and embalmed. And to add to the creepy effect, the soundtrack is completely silent. Jonathan Rosenbaum referred to the movie as “one of the most direct confrontations with death ever recorded on film.” And you know what, I couldn’t agree more.

5: World of Glory (1991)

At only fifteen minutes, this is the shortest film on this list but one of the best and one of the most powerful. Though many regard it is a dark comedy, I see it as a horrific scream of terror that deals with the guilt and shame of a man who observed passively as genocide was being committed directly in front of him. The sound of screams at the start of the film and at the end haunt my mind every time I think of the film.

4: I Stand Alone (1998)

Gaspar Noe’s best and most disturbing film. Phillippe Nahon is absolutely chilling as the protagonist The Butcher, a sadistic, twisted anti-hero who rapes, murders and sins repetitively, in the name of “morality” and “justice.” Horrific film I can’t recommend enough.

3: Deliverance (1972)

As my good buddy Alex will tell you, Deliverance has one of the most terrifying scenes in American film history – heck, in film history altogether, and the long second-and-third act recovery from the repercussions of this horrific event are just as exhilarating and stunning as the event itself. One of the greatest films I’ve ever seen.

2: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)

From the foreboding opening moments to the utterly batshit insane final scene, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre remains both the scariest and the best horror movie of all time. So simple in its set-up. So brilliant in its execution. The dinner-table scene is like something out of the worst nightmare one could ever have. This entire film is an example of great, influential, unforgettable horror. I admire it so much.

1: Night and Fog (1955)

The best documentary about the Holocaust. The best documentary about modern history. The best documentary about evil. The best documentary about politics. The best documentary about human greed. The best documentary about human suffering. The best documentary about torture. The best documentary about starvation. The best documentary about death. The best documentary about life. The best documentary.

There. Those are the twenty scariest/most disturbing films I’ve ever seen. What do you think of the choices? Leave a comment below.

Posted on November 2, 2012, in Lists, Movies and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 27 Comments.

  1. Great list, gives me some new films to look up.

    I have heard about Salo but always put off watching it. Maybe I should just to say I’ve seen it.

  2. Fantastic list. Your paragraph on Hotel Monterey makes me want to see it ASAP.

    Love that many of these were on my list as well. Seriously disturbing shit here. The Seventh Continent… christ. Movie paralyzed me.

    I nearly included Lake of Fire as well. Wow. Just wow.

    Night and Fog, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, I Stand Alone… spot on. And thanks for the Deliverance link! Glad we agree there.

  3. Nice list. I’ve seen 7 of these, so I’ve got some homework to do. 😉

  4. Great list, and I really want to see Hotel Monterey now. The presence of Seventh Continent is excellent, and I really can’t thank you enough for recommending it

  5. I’ve seen 8 of these films. The rest I’m eager to see. Hopefully, I’ll do that for next year’s Halloween marathon.

  6. That is a sensational list,Tyler,the kind of list that could only possibly made by you.I’ve only seen half of it,and completely and utterly agree with you on Salo,Possession and The Vanishing.

  7. I saw Night and Fog in July last year and I still haven’t recovered. Nor have I recovered from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre or Blue Velvet, but I saw those last week.

  8. If were talking horror, then The Shining. If were talking disturbing, Eraser Head (saw it years ago and it still gives me the creeps to think about it)

  9. Oh and the Devil’s Backbone is also pretty good horror.

  10. I don’t think I have the nerves to see any of these, though I’m surprised I have seen Blue Velvet! That Last Year at Marienbad does sound intriguing though, and that’s a gorgeous photo you have up there, Tyler.

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