We pick the the best horror films of all time

Posted by
Harriet Hall
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What better way to spend a night in than cowering behind a pillow from your television screen?

Just as sometimes we all need to watch a feel-good film, a cheesy rom-com, or to release our emotions over a weepy, there are times when we all need a real fright – just to remind us that things, well, could always be worse.

The power of the horror movie is undeniable. It can revert the most macho person to a shivering wreck, provide a cathartic release of subconscious tensions, even work as an aphrodisiac or, in some cases, provide a bloody (intended) good laugh.

From the downright terrifying, to the sheer spine-chilling, we’ve charted some of our all-time favourite horrors. So if you’re planning a night of Netflix and chill, be sure to consult our list.

Best feminist horror - The Babadook, 2014

If your bedtime stories ever scared you as a child, turn away now. The Babadook is the creepy tale of mysterious book that describes a sinister man – the Babadook – who, once known to you, will never leave until you’re dead. But, much more than that, it is the story of Amelia (Essie Davis), a widower and single mother to a troubled child. The film subverts the usual scary movie formula of the ‘final girl’ – the sexy but not sexual survivor of horror films who is just masculine enough for male viewers to identify with. Instead, Amelia is a multi-faceted feminine woman, whose haunting is inseparable from the inner turmoil she suffers trying to look after her troubled son by herself. “If it’s in a word, or it’s in a look, you can’t get rid of the Babadook…”

Best internet-age horror: Unfriended, 2014

When you’ve grown up glued to a screen at all times, it can be difficult to imagine being scared by anything in the protected bubble of digital life. But what if the danger comes from your computer? When a group of school friends find themselves cyber attacked by an stranger masquerading as their dead best friend, they don’t know how to escape. You might suggest simply switching off your computer and calling it a night, but it’s not that simple for the internet age. Trolls will get their comeuppance. If there’s one thing likely to get you off your laptop this Halloween, this is it. Unfriended is the ultimate horror for the internet age.

Best classic horror: Psycho, 1960

Psycho is the original slasher movie and claims the title of most iconic murder scene in film history. From the master of suspense himself, Hitchcock bought every single edition of the book whilst he was making the film, to ensure nobody knew the twist ending. Likely to put most viewers off taking a shower again for at least a week, or ever visiting a roadside motel, it is a must-see. There’s also a message in there: beware mummy’s boys.

Best sci-fi horror: The Blob, 1958

The synopsis itself might sound ridiculous – a mysterious alien life form that appears as a shapeless blob lands on Earth and proceeds to consume everything in its path – but it’s surprisingly scary and jelly will never look quite as appetising again. It’s also Steve McQueen’s debut leading role (aged only 27), so if you’re not convinced, watch it for that reason alone. Fun fact: A trailer for The Blob features in the drive-in scene in Grease.

Best teen horror: Scream, 1996

“Do you like scary movies?” Never has Drew Barrymore received a creepier phone call. Wes Craven’s postmodern teen horror sees adolescent bitchiness reach a new level. The film is a both a horror and a horror parody, as its meta theme sees characters dissect the rules of scary movies, whilst living them in real life. Everyone’s seen it, but it never gets old. 

Best horror adapted from a book: The Shining, 1980

Never has a truer sentence been uttered than “all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” The Shining is Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece, adapted from Stephen King’s novel of the same name, and shows what psycho behaviour results from the heady mix of isolation and writer’s block. The terrifying twins in the film were inspired by Diane Arbus’ uncanny 1967 photograph of New Jersey sisters, and might make you think again before dressing your children in matching garb. Redrum, redrum, redrum…

Best coming-of-age horror: Carrie, 1976

A coming-of-age film like you’ve never seen before. Another Stephen King adaptation, Carrie sees the disastrous effects of schoolyard bullying and a psycho mother. If you thought your school prom wasn’t the dream event you’d hoped for, this film will help you put that into perspective. Carrie, played by Sissy Spacek unleashes her telekinetic powers for a climactic bloodbath that will haunt your mind for years to come. 

Best animal-based horror: The Birds, 1963

If the bird lady in Home Alone gives you the heebie-jeebies, The Birds will send you over the edge. Hitchcock transforms those pesky Piccadilly Circus pigeons into ruthless killers in this Daphne du Maurier adaptation. Taking place in San Francisco, the film sees a terrifying (and slightly plausible) nightmare unfold when birds begin to attack people in increasing viciousness. Shudder. The film also sees Tipi Hendren’s screen debut. 

Best psychological horror: Rosemary’s Baby, 1968

Roman Polanski’s horror starring Mia Farrow and John Cassavetes is considered a horror masterpiece. If motherhood scares you, this will only serve to cement your fears. When Rosemary becomes mysteriously pregnant, she is convinced her child is the spawn of Satan. It’s the ultimate psychological horror, drawing the viewer in as Rosemary becomes more and more paranoid and unstable. Chilling.

Best chase horror: Duel, 1971

The originator of all creepy chase movies. Jeepers Creepers will give you the jeepers creepers. It was inspired by Duel, along with a spate of others. Directed by Stephen Spielberg, Duel is the realisation of all fears of anyone heading on a road trip. A businessman is endlessly pursued by a faceless, nameless driver of an enormous truck who will not give up. It doesn’t sound much, but the power is in the simplicity, and you’ll be glancing in your rear-view mirror twice as often as before, after watching it. 

Scariest horror: The Exorcist, 1973

Without doubt, one of the scariest films of all time, The Exorcist is the cult horror and the film on which all other demonic possession movies are based. After a teenage girl gets possessed by the devil, her mother desperately attempts to seek help from two priests. The Exorcist is so scary that during filming, the lead actor (14-year-old Linda Blair) was not permitted to film for too long at once, lest she become traumatised. The final product was banned after release and didn’t go back on general sale in the UK until 1999. Also, the ‘c’ word appears several times – which is a rare occurrence.


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Harriet Hall

Harriet Hall is a former Stylist contributor.

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