Creepy isn’t the same as scary. Of course horror movies can be scary simply by using loud noises and sudden movements to make their audiences jump, but creepy is harder to pull off. To be effectively creepy, a film needs to establish a certain atmosphere; it needs to draw you in and make you care. It needs to give you something to think about when you’re trying to drop off to sleep at night; to make you wonder whether that creaking noise down the hallway was just the house settling or something lurking in the shadows. Creepy stays with you. It gives you goosebumps.
I love most kinds of horror movies, but creepy films are probably my favorite. Or rather, my least favorite, because they give me nightmares and make me paranoid and afraid to look into mirrors in the dark. But I love ‘em. Here are 81 of the best horror movies (in no particular order) to chill your bones. Enjoy the nightmares.
It Comes At Night (2017)
Though the marketing material was somewhat misleading, featuring the above scary-looking dude (who really isn’t a big part of the film at all), It Comes at Night, from director Trey Edward Shults is a claustrophobic slow-burner that insidiously ramps up the creep factor. Joel Edgerton plays the patriarch of a family holed up in a cabin in the woods to escape an unnamed wide spread virus. But when a man, his wife and their young child arrive seeking shelter his family life is disrupted. A coming-of-age horror with one of the bleakest endings around.
Mr. Jones (2013)
Nobody knows who Mr. Jones is. The artist is a recluse, but his bizarre sculptures have made him world famous. When a documentary maker and his girlfriend stumble across what looks like his workshop, they become obsessed with finding out the truth about Mr. Jones, but the truth isn’t particularly easy to stomach.
One of the most stylishly shot found footage movies you’ll ever see, the makers know the rules of the genre well enough that when they break them, it adds to the story rather than detracting from it. Also, those scarecrows are petrifying.
Under the Shadow (2016)
Set in war-torn Tehran in the late 1980s, Under the Shadow sees a would-be doctor battling the forces of evil for her daughter (and her sanity) even as everyone around her flees to safer ground. The juxtaposition of earthly and unearthly threats makes this a uniquely terrifying film, and Shideh (Narges Rashidi) is a wonderfully complex and sympathetic heroine. Not many films could make a sheet of printed fabric terrifying, but Under the Shadow manages it.
Bella (Diana Wynyard) thinks she’s losing her mind. She keeps losing things, and the lights in her house seem to flicker, even though her husband Paul (Anton Walbrook) tells her he can’t see anything wrong. Plus there are those footsteps upstairs… Just from that description, you might think that Gaslight will turn out to be a haunted house story, but the real explanation for all the weirdness is far more sinister than that. Walbrook does sinister like no-one else.
The Babadook (2014)
A character from a terrifying kids book comes to life to haunt a single mother (Essie Davis) grieving for the loss of her husband in this beautiful, sorrowful meditation on depression and despair. Top-hatted Mr. Babadook with his horrible, terrible grin is of course creepy as all, but Noah Wiseman as her needy and uncontrollable child gives him a run for his money in creepiness.
The Clairvoyant (1934)
Maximus, King Of The Mind Readers (Claude Rains) performs amazing feats of clairvoyance on stage every night in front of adoring audiences. The problem is, it’s fake – the mind-reading is all done through a secret code Maximus has invented to communicate with his assistant wife, Rene (Fay Wray). But one night, he meets Christine (Jane Baxter), and his abilities become real. He really can predict the future. If you’ve already guessed that’ll turn out to be more of a burden than a gift, you’re right. Gorgeously shot, wonderfully acted, this is a creepy delight.
Sleep Tight (2011)
The second Jaume Balaguero film on this list is just as bleak and horrifying as the first: Sleep Tight sees a concierge secretly breaking into the homes of the people he’s supposed to serve to try to make them as miserable as he is. When Cesar (Luis Tosar) finds one tenant is harder to upset than the others, his behaviour escalates until he’s committing unimaginably grotesque crimes against the poor girl. The ending will have you shuddering in your seat.
Lake Mungo (2008)
This strange found footage film from Australia takes the format of a mockumentary focusing on the family of a dead girl who think there are supernatural goings on surround their house. It owes a debt to Twin Peaks in its odd neighborhood vibe, and the twisty plot holds many surprises, as the movie wrong foots the audience time and again. It’s creepy throughout but by the time you finally discover what’s really going on it’s not only terrifying but emotionally devastating too.
Dead of Night (1945)
Probably the best horror anthology ever made, this Ealing Studios production includes five individual stories and one wrap-around narrative. The wrap-around sees a consultant arrive at a country home only to find that he recognizes all of the guests at the house – he’s seen them all in a dream.
Spooked, the guests start recounting their own stories of the uncanny, each more unnerving than the last. Well, except for the one about the golfers, but that one’s just there for light relief before the film hits you with the scariest ventriloquist’s dummy ever committed to film. Just excellent, all round.
One of the most truly harrowing movies of recent years is Hereditary, the feature debut from Ari Aster. Toni Collette stars as a mother trying to hold together her family in the aftermath of a tragedy while around her supernatural goings on begin to escalate.
Hereditary has been called The Exorcist for a new generation, though it’s so much more than that. In fact at times, Hereditary is almost too scary, so oppressive is it’s escalating anguish and dread. This one is pure nightmare fodder.
Nina Forever (2015)
Rob (Cian Barry) can’t get over his ex-girlfriend. Nina (Fiona O’Shaughnessy) died in a car crash, which is bad enough, but when he tentatively begins a relationship with his co-worker, Holly (Abigail Hardingham), he finds himself haunted by Nina. Literally. She materializes in his bed every time he and Holly have sex – she might be dead, but she’s not letting go.
“Creepy” doesn’t feel like a strong enough word to describe this film – “devastating” might do it. It’s a sensitive and horrifying portrayal of grief, with a sense of humour as dark as the inside of your eyelids, and some extremely upsetting gore. Brilliant, but not one for the faint-hearted.
Robin Redbreast (1970)
When she moves away from London to a tiny country cottage, Norah (Anna Cropper) expected the change to be a bit strange, but nowhere near as weird as it ultimately turns out to be. As she gets to know the locals, she finds herself being pushed towards a relationship with karate-loving Rob (Andrew Bradford), and while she’s initially game, she soon discovers that her choices are being made for her. It’s a little bit Wicker Man, a little bit Rosemary’s Baby, and a lot of creepiness.
It Follows (2014)
Inspired by a reccuring nightmare director David Robert Mitchell had in his youth,It Follows is a clever, freaky take on the slasher movie, featuring, well, a sexually transmitted ghost. Maika Monroe plays a young woman haunted by a shape shifting spectre after a sexual encounter who slowly but relentless trails her everywhere – the film plays with the audience expertly, making us guess whether background characters could really be the monster. Ultra modern and highly effective, this one will leave you jumping at shadows long after the credits roll.
The Masque of the Red Death (1964)
A tyrannical landowner is plagued by, well, a literal plague in Roger Corman’s adaptation of an Edgar Allan Poe story. Vincent Price plays the Satanic Prince Prospero, who rules over his village with an iron fist, condemning people to death for the mildest offence and abducting any woman who takes his fancy, but all of his evils come back to haunt him when he throws a masked ball and Death shows up. Fittingly, it’s got the hallucinogenic quality of a fever dream, and the various incarnations of Death are wonderfully creepy.
As Above, So Below (2014)
A group of explorers heads deep into the Paris catacombs, only to find they’ve gone a little too deep and stumbled into an alternate dimension that might actually be Hell. It’s a brilliantly over the top concept, and the way it plays out is incredibly eerie. Yes, it’s found footage, and yes, it’s a little bit on the silly side – it chucks in quotes from Dante and a few too many sad-faced ghosts – but some of the scares along the way are properly frightening. Suspend your disbelief and let it freak you out.
Eleven years ago, Alan (Rory Cochrane) bought an antique mirror… and then died, along with his wife. According to the police, they were murdered by their 10-year-old son. According to their daughter, the mirror is haunted, and something supernatural caused their deaths. Now Tim (Brenton Thwaites) is out of prison, Kaylie (Karen Gillan) wants to prove he was innocent by conducting an experiment on the mirror… But inadvertently puts both of them in danger all over again.
It’s chilling. The way director Mike Flanagan plays with reality, building unbearable uncertainty through camera angles and false memories, makes this film both incredibly scary and impossibly sad.
The Witch (2015)
After being cast out of a New England plantation for not interpreting scripture in the same way as the colony’s elders, a family strikes out alone, and soon discovers how inhospitable their unfamiliar new home country can really be. The Witch is a period piece, and the language is suitably archaic, but don’t let that put you off: it’s a brilliantly chilling portrayal of Puritan life, where belief can mean the difference between life and death, and horror is only ever one failed crop away.
The Amityville Horror (1979)
The Amityville Horror is the haunted house story. If you were only ever going to watch one haunted house movie, it should be this one, because this is the archetypal story: a family moves into a house where horrible murders happened, and then bad things happen to them. It manages a lot of things later imitators didn’t, though, which is that it makes the Lutzes’ decision to buy the house make sense, and also builds the horror slowly, so that they almost don’t notice when the things going wrong in the house switch from annoying issues to outright horror. If you’ve moved house in recent memory, this one’ll hit you where it hurts.
The Conjuring (2013)
If you were only ever going to watch two haunted house movies, the second one should definitely be The Conjuring. James Wan’s ode to ’70s horror has plenty in common with The Amityville Horror, but it also has plenty of ideas of its own – and at least half a dozen moments that’ll make your heart leap into your mouth.
The camerawork, the music, the cute kids stuck in the middle of epic spiritual warfare… it all adds up to a completely terrifying experience. You’ll probably need to sleep with a nightlight for a week afterwards.
The Changeling (1980)
George C Scott stars as Dr. John Russell in this classic ghost story, which is a favorite of The Others director Alejandro Amenabár. Following the tragic demise of his wife and son, Dr. Russell moves into a rambling Victorian mansion to compose music and pick up the pieces of his life. He’s soon being woken by relentless booming sounds coming from the heating system, precisely at 6am every day… Then there’s the old “apparition in the self-filling bath” trick (actually, this may be the first time this happened onscreen, but it sure won’t be the last).
This is one of those movies which hits up all the clichés: people go into the dark, gloomy attic to search for clues, and to the library to look up old news archives on the microfiche; they visit the graveyard, and finally, hold a séance (which is overwhelmingly creepy). The eerie soundtrack and skilful storytelling result in a film which peels back its mysterious layers slowly for a satisfying finish.
The Hallow (2015)
If you go down to the woods today, make sure you don’t steal anything or break anything, or the Hallow will get you. Tree surgeon Adam and his family move into an ancient farmhouse to start sizing up the land for developers and quickly fall afoul of the supernatural creatures lurking in the trees, which turns out to be a really bad idea. This film’s got it all: foreboding mythology, grotesque body horror, and the most amazing line of foreshadowing dialogue you’ll ever hear.
The Uninvited (1944)
A couple of Londoners holidaying in Cornwall stumble across a gorgeous abandoned house on the seafront and immediately decide they want to buy it. The owner, a grumpy old colonel, is happy to sell it to them on the spot, but his granddaughter is reluctant. Turns out the house has got secrets, and, yeah, a ghost. The dialogue in this film is incredible in a very 1940s kind of way, and the tone can occasionally be accused of jolliness, but it’s also got its moments of proper creepiness. Best enjoyed with a glass of sherry.
Crimson Peak (2015)
Director Guillermo del Toro insists that Crimson Peak isn’t a horror film but is, instead, a gothic romance. That doesn’t mean that it isn’t creepy as all get-out, though. When aspiring author Edith Cushing (Mia Wasikowska) meets charming baronet Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston), she falls madly in love and agrees to move back to his ancestral home, Allerdale Hall – aka Crimson Peak. But the house is crumbling and full of ghosts, and Sir Thomas’s sister doesn’t seem terribly friendly, either…
Del Toro’s visual flair is in full effect here, and every frame of this film (even the scary ones) are stunningly beautiful to look at. It’s a treat.
A group of cops answers a call from the middle of nowhere and unwittingly stumble into something that can only be described as ‘a nightmare’ in this skin-crawlingly nasty Turkish horror. Abrasive, aggressive and deliberately difficult, this is the kind of film that burrows deep into your brain, only to resurface later at the worst possible time. Then again, by the time you’re stranded in the middle of nowhere with only dead colleagues and Silent Hill-style monsters for company, you probably don’t need memories of a horror movie to freak you out.
The Haunting (1963)
Not to be confused with the remake of 1999, this retro gem not only features some classic sequences of spooky happenings, but a philosophical take on the paranormal. As John Markway says, “The preternatural is something we don’t have any natural explanation for right now but probably will have someday – the preternatural of one generation becomes the natural of the next. Scientists once laughed at the idea of magnetic attraction; they couldn’t explain it, so they refused to admit it exists.”
Dr. Markway (Richard Johnson) is investigating the mysterious Hill House, whose inhabitants often die in odd circumstances. With him he has Luke (Russ Tamblyn), the cynical heir to the home, the psychic Theo (Claire Bloom, way too cool for school) and Julie Harris as Eleanor, who has some ghosts of her own but figures a free stay in a mansion is as close to a holiday as she’s going to get. Markway is pleased the ladies haven’t done any research into the bad reputation of the house “So much the better. You should be innocent and receptive.” (The old dog.) This is a great, character-driven story with a dry sense of humor, and a mysterious heroine who feels oddly at home with the supernatural.
A cautionary tale about the dangers of cyberbullying, Unfriended achieves the seemingly impossible and manages to make the standard sound effects of everyday computer programs terrifying. The whole story is told through one character’s desktop, so you get to watch as she Skypes with her friends, posts to Facebook, or picks something to listen to on Spotify. The details are fascinating, and it’s kind of brilliant how the filmmakers manage to express so much about a character through her browser bookmarks and the messages she types, but doesn’t send. Once the horror kicks in, though, you’ll be too scared to notice much more of the cleverness.
Jane (Natthaweeranuch Thongmee) is driving back from a wedding with her boyfriend Tun (Ananda Everingham) when she hits a girl – in a panic, they leave the body lying in the road and try to get on with their lives. They start feeling rattled when Tun’s photography is blighted by misty shadows and they both suffer from the odd hallucination which seems to show that their hit and run victim (Achita Sikamana) isn’t resting in peace.
Where would horror films be without photographic dark rooms? Even in the digital age, the dim red light and slowly emerging pictures remain classic tools of terror. Not to mention the room with rows of jars containing pickled animals, and the surprise homage to Psycho. This story has it all. There are also touches of dark humor throughout (the praying mantis is a recurring motif) and one of the most bone-chilling scenes has a hilarious payoff.
Directors Banjong Pisanthanakun and Parkpoom Wongpoom skilfully create real characters and have the ability to communicate some of the most powerful and eloquent moments without dialogue. The mystery deepens as more sinister evidence comes to light and the climax is truly chilling. This is one which will stay with you long after Halloween.
Spider Baby (1967)
The Merrye children live out in the middle of nowhere, with only one another and their family chauffeur, Bruno (Lon Chaney Jr) for company. Which is for the best, because they’re all afflicted with the family curse – a bizarre quirk of genetics that causes members of the Merrye family to begin to de-evolve once they reach a certain age. When some distant relatives come to visit, intending to challenge the kids’ right to stay in the house, things go sour fast. It’s a horror comedy, this one, but if you’re not a little bit creeped out by Virginia (Jill Banner), the Spider Baby of the title, and her spider game, well, good luck to you.
What Lies Beneath (2000)
Robert Zemeckis directs Michelle Pfieffer and Harrison Ford in this glossy supernatural thriller, with predictably high quality results. Clare and Norman Spencer live the perfect life – especially now their daughter has left for college and they’re enjoying empty nest syndrome. But the neighbors are causing some concern – especially when the wife disappears and Claire believes she is trying to communicate with her from “the other side.”
Zemeckis has admitted that this is his homage to Hitchcock, and true to form, the suspense builds deliciously slowly. When Claire starts seeing faces in the bathtub (where else?) she goes to talk it over with a psychiatrist. A session with a Ouija board proves that somebody is trying to contact Claire, and it’s not long before she’s stealing keepsakes from grieving parents and reading books with chapters helpfully entitled “Conjuring the Dead.”
The result is a strong movie whether you’re enjoying the ghost story or the “Yuppies in peril in a beautiful house” aspect of it (and it doesn’t hurt that Michelle looks luminously beautiful).
Cat People (1942)
Serbian immigrant Irena doesn’t have a friend in the world when she meets Oliver. He’s kind and attentive and they soon fall in love, despite Irena’s lack of physical affection. She’s convinced she’s living under a curse that will mean she’ll transform into a panther and kill any man she kisses, and despite seeing a (deeply inappropriate) psychiatrist, she can’t shake her beliefs. Oliver is initially patient but eventually finds himself falling for his much more reasonable colleague, Alice. There’s no way this love triangle can end happily and, well, it doesn’t. Cat People is sad as well as eerie, with an increasingly paranoid atmosphere enhanced by skillful shadow play.
The Nameless (1999)
Five years after her daughter Angela went missing, presumed dead, Claudia starts getting weird phone calls. A female voice claims to be Angela, and begs her mother to save her. A series of weird clues leads Claudia to investigate a weird cult… but when things slot into place too easily, it seems like someone might be luring her into a trap. Thematically, The Nameless is similar to Jaume Balaguero’s later film Darkness; there’s a similar feeling of hopelessness and despair, a creeping horror that doesn’t let up, topped off with a horribly downbeat ending. Brrrr.
Dead End (2003)
The Harrington family are driving home for Christmas when they decide to take a shortcut. Obviously, that turns out to be a bad idea. Picking up a mysterious hitchhiker is an even worse idea. Dead End isn’t a particularly original movie, and it does have a truly awful ending, but there’s something about its characters, its atmosphere, and the way it tells the well-worn story that’s really effective. And creepy, of course.
The Others (2001)
Every ghost story introduces an element of uncertainty: are these things really happening, or are they in your head? Like The Innocents, The Others is partly inspired by Henry James’ novella The Turn Of The Screw. Grace (Nicole Kidman) has turned being neurotic into a fulltime job; her children apparently suffer from a sensitivity to light, which means the gothic mansion they inhabit must be swathed in thick curtains at all times. This makes things difficult for the new servants, who have turned up in a most mysterious manner…
Grace’s daughter has an imaginary playmate called Victor; her insistence that there are “other people” in the house vexes Grace until she begins to hear them, too. A piano playing by itself, shaking chandeliers and some truly traumatic hallucinations add to the panic as Grace questions exactly who she is sharing her home with. The tension builds to almost unbearable heights before a truly haunting ending. An intelligent script with a superb twist, quality acting and an atmospheric set (complete with graveyards, mist and autumn leaves) – what more could you want in a creepy movie?
Night of the Living Dead (1968)
“It is happening, and no one is safe.” Night of the Living Dead features some of the most brilliantly ominous radio broadcasts in all horror. When a group of strangers end up trapped in an isolated farmhouse together after the dead begin to rise, no one is in the mood for making friends, and it’s their own prejudices and stubbornness that leads to their downfall. (Well, that, and the fact that no one realised getting bitten by a ghoul would lead to death and reincarnation. Oops.)
The zombie imagery is some of the most haunting ever committed to film, as vacant-eyed ghouls wander in and out of the shadows, chewing on dismembered body parts as they lurch around, constantly in search of fresh meat…
Say his name five times into a mirror and the Candyman appears. Despite his sweet-sounding name, that’s not something you really want to do: Daniel Robitaille was a murdered artist, stung to death by bees in a racist attack, and so he tends not to be in a good mood when he shows up. Set in an urban tower block, this film demonstrates that horror can strike anywhere, not just in spooky old mansions in the middle of the countryside. It’s gory, grimy, and really quite disturbing.
A child murderer is stalking the streets of Berlin and, as the police seem unable to catch him, tensions run high. In an attempt to stop the nightly police raids, the town’s criminals decide to catch the killer themselves, and a frantic chase begins. Though there’s no actual onscreen violence, Peter Lorre is amazingly creepy as the whistling killer, and there’s a sense of corruption pervading the whole film. (Since both Lorre and Fritz Lang, the director, fled the country in fear of the Nazis soon after the film was made, it’s tempting to speculate on what M might be saying about Germany at the time, which only makes it all the creepier.)
The Blair Witch Project (1999)
An early example of the found footage genre, The Blair Witch Project has been aped and parodied by everyone and their grandma, but there’s something unsettling about it that hasn’t quite gone away. Most of the film is improvised; the actors are really filming the scenes themselves, working from a loose outline of the plot, but without prior knowledge of what half the scares were going to be. That ambiguous ending lets you make up whatever explanation you like for the events of the film, which means whatever the scariest thing you can think of is, that’s what the film is about.
The Orphanage (2007)
Laura (Belén Rueda) is returning to her childhood orphanage with her husband and son in order to open it as a care home for children with disabilities. She’s busy, but still has time to notice that seven year old Simón (Roger Príncep) has found an imaginary friend, Tomas. He might have a sack over his head, but what’s a little creepy mask between pals?
Simón is adopted, so it’s only a little odd when a social worker shows up without an appointment. It’s slightly more odd that she’s snooping around in the shed at night. During a daytime party, Laura has an encounter of her own with a masked child, and then experiences every parent’s nightmare: Simón is missing. What follows is the story of a mother who takes the search for her son to the limits of her sanity. Geraldine Chaplin makes an appearance as the medium who conducts possibly the most spine-tingling of all onscreen séances, and there are some truly terrifying shocks during Laura’s search for the truth.
Director JA Bayona makes every shot count; the movie is visually beautiful as well as fantastically sinister. It’s a bona fide horror film but the ending might make you cry.
Ring isn’t a perfect film. It’s a bit too long and ponderous and there’s a bit too much irrelevant mysticism in there. But in terms of pure creepiness, it’s pretty damned effective. The idea of a cursed videotape was brilliant – who didn’t have zillions of unmarked VHS tapes lying around the house at the time? – and that climactic scene where the image on the screen crossed over into reality is bloodcurdling. Sneaky, too, since it managed to suggest that no one was safe. Especially not you, gentle viewer, because didn’t you just watch that cursed tape, too? An awful lot of people must have breathed a sigh of relief once their own personal seven-day window was over.