The Ring (American remake) 2002
Do I believe there’s a vhs tape out there that will kill me within 7 days of watching it? No. And yet, this film does make me jumpy and uncomfortably squirmy in a way I cant fully comprehend. Perhaps it is the material contained on that cursed tape, replayed in full during the course of this film (yes, I look away for part of it every time!) Or perhaps its the contorted faces of the victims who died of abject terror when confronted by Samara, that little tv-escaper? I’m not sure, I just know that the sight of that jerky malevolent child crawling out of the screen and into a lounge room to relentlessly pursue her victims as if its inevitable, scares me silly.
The Blair Witch Project 1999
The first time I saw this at the movies I already knew the surrounding hype wasn’t true – the stars were actors and it was a found footage ‘mockumentary’ of sorts, not the last scenes of people who had actually died. The film itself had a slower pace than the horrors I was used to but I was fine with that, it had afforded me a few jumps and nasty little treats such as that bag of ‘offcuts’ left at the foot of the tent. And then the ending came, that basic shot of Mike facing the wall whilst Heather screams at his implacable back, and I haven’t been able to look at screengrabs of that scene without a small shudder. Sometimes the scariest things are the simplest.
The Exorcism of Emily Rose 2005
The time 3am means a lot in this film. Its the time that ‘devilish’ things happen to the people who become involved in the strange case of Emily Rose. Part flashback horror/part courtroom drama/part true story, this possession tale has no easy answers for you and just lets the fine contortionist work of titular star Jennifer Carpenter do the ‘talking’. This one never fails to make me jumpy as the terror just escalates to a fever pitch and I always follow up a viewing with something ‘happy’; but if I find myself aware of the time and its 3am, you can bet I’m anxious until the minutes tick their way over to 4.
The Exorcist 1973
I first watched this on my 16th birthday, and while I tried to act tough with my friends, I took any opportunity to look away, because inside I was terrified. Many years later I attended a new years eve screening in Piccadilly Circus, excited to see the long anticipated directors cut featuring the never-before-seen ‘spider walk’. The scene approached and the tension built and the next thing I knew my hands were covering my eyes as that blood-spewing demon made her horrifying way down the stairs. Yep, I’d been so scared that I’d missed it. Honestly I’m still kicking myself over that one. This film, though I’ve seen it many times now, has lost none of its power and still manages to make me feel like I’ve invited something evil into my home whenever I watch it. Masterful stuff.
Lake Mungo 2008
I missed this when it was first released, but years later I read a list compiled by a fellow film-lover of ‘the scariest horror scenes you’ve never seen’ and this film was number two. I made it my mission to seek it out; and I was not disappointed. This film earnt its place on that list and on mine. The scene in question, a sad and frightening glimpse of our own mortality, the dread of our impending doom; it utterly shocked and haunted me. An undervalued gem, this is a great Aussie horror with the ability to both scare and devastate you. Find it and watch it!
Paranormal Activity 2007
I knew this film would scare me, because the trailers did. I wanted to see it because I’m drawn to what frightens me and because I love horror and this one was getting a lot of hype. I decided to avoid a big screen outing as sitting in the dark with no distractions seemed like too much, so I waited until a friend had a copy and headed to hers to watch it in a more friendly setting. Once I arrived at her house though, she informed me that she’d decided to make it ‘like the cinema’ with all the lights out and no talking. My reputation on the line, I feigned enthusiasm and sat down to watch what would turn out to be the film that scared me as an adult, more than any other. Afterwards, this newly single living-alone horror freak slept with the lights on for 3 nights!
An American Werewolf In London 1981
This is the first horror film I ever watched. I don’t remember being overly scared when I watched it but later, as my sister and I huddled in bed, our parents watched it. The sounds of screams and growls etc scared me far more than when I’d watched it during the day with light streaming in the windows and toys to distract me. After the ‘family massacre’ scene I refused to watch The Muppets again, after the ‘demon through the window scene’ I refused to open my curtains from the front; worst of all, I refused to go pretty much anywhere without my mum or sister for years after this night. I’m sure my mum regretted letting me watch it!
Black Christmas 1974
This was a movie I’d put on to watch with my film school friends Matt and Nathan. We were at Nathans house and he’d fallen asleep on the couch. Matt and I watched it around 4am, stretched on the floor laughing at the funny lines until it got scarier and scarier and we drew silent. The eye through the door hinge imagery is something I will never forget. This one still manages to make me uneasy, even though I watch it nearly every christmas now as a holiday tradition.
Wolf Creek 2005
It takes 45 minutes before anything horrifying happens in this film, that time is spent building the characters and allowing you to enjoy their easy camaraderie and involve yourself in their bright promised future. And then the nightmare starts with screams and wailing heard in the distance, your imagination working overtime to fill in the gaps. The subtlety works here, it tells you just enough, shows you just enough for you to see the magnitude of the true terror awaiting these poor people you’ve come to care about. You watch, knowing its based on true things, that bleak feeling of no escape, it works almost too well. Its a film I cant shake for days afterwards, my mind returning to those screams, that raw fear you can taste like metallic shavings on your tongue.
The Exorcist 3 1990
I don’t remember much about this film, I think it was good. I remember it had George C Scott in it but that’s about it. Except for the two scenes that scared me. This is another film watched with Matt and Nathan in 1996 and I remember afterwards sitting in Matts old VW trying to get Nathan to go inside his house and him being too freaked to get out the car. We were thinking about that old lady crawling across the ceiling like a decrepit spider, and we had worked ourselves into a frenzy. Later, when I was alone, the scene that had scared me even more made its way into my forebrain and never left – the walking statue scene. I cant claim this whole film scared me, because as I said, I barely remember it, but that scene haunts me to this day, 25 years later, and not a month goes by when I don’t recall it at least once and get a chill. Now that’s an effective horror scene!
When A Stranger Calls 1979
Didn’t this film scare everyone? I remember the trailer was just footage of cinema audiences screaming, a surprisingly effective advertisement for horror fans – wanna see something really scary, kids? This one is like seeing your nightmares on the screen – Is there someone in your house? Is there someone in your bed? The answer in this film is Yes. When the most innocuous of actions are made to feel threatening, such as babysitting for that nice couple down the street, dinner with your husband, or going to sleep next to your partner, than nowhere is safe. This one plays into those little ordinary terrors we have, and amps them to 11. “Have you checked the children?”
Honourable mentions –
The Changeling 1980
At The Devils Door (Home) 2014
The Blackcoats Daughter (February) 2015
The Pact 2012
The Descent 2005
28 Days Later 2002