New Line Cinema
Good scares are hard to find. The horror genre is still innovative, psychologically taxing, and gruesome on its best and worst days, but sometimes it feels like the era of pee-your-pants scary films is behind us. Many older films suffer from lackluster effects that used to be at the cutting edge of technology, while today's horror spoils itself by being too self-referential and buries itself in sequels, stars, and SFX. We've rounded up sixteen movies that will *actually* have you on the edge of your seat, but you might want to spring for an adult diaper before you add these to your queue.
Bryanston Distributing Company
One of the greatest and most controversial horror films of all time, the first Texas Chainsaw Massacre is inarguably the best in the franchise. Exploring the terrors of true insanity, isolation, and unseen gore, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre follows Sally Hardesty, her annoying brother Franklin, and their three friends as they face down a cannibalistic serial killer at their family's former home. Antagonist Leatherface gets his name from a mask made of human skin, if that gives you any indication of what this movie's all about.
Where To Watch: Amazon Prime ($2.99), YouTube ($2.99)
This modern horror film uses old-school techniques to scare the pants off of its viewers, relying on strong performances and cinematic inspiration rather than digital effects to create fulfilling thrills. The Conjuring doesn't try to re-invent the demon-possession horror sub-genre, but that's part of what makes it so effective. Based on the same reports that inspired The Amityville Horror, Vera Farmiga stars as paranormal investigator Lorraine Warren whose travels take her husband and her to a rundown Rhode Island farmhouse where spirits are trying to murder the new inhabitants.
Where To Watch: Netflix, Amazon Prime ($3.99)
While the Saw name has become synonymous with overproduced torture porn, the low-budget first entry in the franchise is a chef-d'oeuvre of intelligent thrills, sadistic crimes, and increasingly high stakes starring The Princess Bride's Cary Elwes in an entirely different type of role. When his character, Dr. Lawrence Gordon, is trapped in the world's most sadistic escape room alongside photographer Adam Stanheight as the Jigsaw Killer tries to get them to appreciate their lives by leading them to their inevitable doom.
Where To Watch: Showtime, Amazon Prime ($3.99), YouTube ($3.99)
Warner Independent Pictures
Funny Games might not have spawned nine sequels and a video game like many of the genre's most beloved films, but this Austrian home invasion flick holds a special place in the memories of horror's biggest fans for its fourth-wall-breaking brutally violent indictment of the enjoyment audiences take in watching other people's worst nightmares come alive. A wealthy Austrian family is tortured by two young men who take them through a series of games designed to break their spirit before killing them. No reason is given for their reign of terror, but it's made clear that we are all complicit in the family's pain.
Where To Watch: Google Play ($2.99), YouTube ($2.99)
Horror pioneer Wes Craven introduced the world to an immensely powerful, violent villain and danger to women in his supernatural slasher film A Nightmare on Elm Street. That's right, Elm Street was Johnny Depp's film debut, but we guess Freddy Kreuger is pretty frightening, too. Get a good night's rest before watching Elm Street for the first time because you may never want to sleep again after seeing this chilling new myth about a serial killer who can only kill you through your dreams.
Unlike, Elm Street, The Strangers is firmly rooted in reality, taking inspiration from the Mansons' Tate Murders, the Keddie Cabin Murders, and a series of break-ins that happened in director Bryan Bertino's neighborhood as a child. There's something about seemingly random home invasions that are just terrifying, and adding creepy makeshift masks only makes it worse. The Strangers relies on jump scares and suspense instead of over-the-top gore to create its sadistic story, which has polarized critics but left a lasting impression on horror fans.
Where To Watch: Starz, Amazon Prime ($3.99), YouTube ($3.99)
Universal Studios may have created the biggest monster movies of yesteryear, but today's new horror classics are largely made by the independent film studios A24 and Blumhouse Pictures. A24's most recent horror triumph is Hereditary, a movie that proved you can cast half of the Naked Brothers Band and still strike fear into the hearts of casual movie-goers everywhere. After her secretive mother's grave is desecrated, Annie Graham and her family become part of a dark mystery. Explaining it any further would give away too much of this fresh, creepy tale.
Where To Watch: Amazon Prime ($2.99), YouTube ($3.99)
It's easy to forget that the first film in the Paranormal Activity franchise was made with only fifteen thousand dollars and a nightmare dream. That tiny budget made the most profitable return on investment of all time with nearly a nearly two-hundred million gross at the box office. Capitalizing on our fears that we can't ever really know the person who is sleeping next to us (and that literally anyone could be watching us while we sleep), Paranormal Activity follows a young couple who set up a camera in their bedroom to try and capture footage of the mysterious goings on in their haunted house.
Where To Watch: Hulu, Amazon Prime ($2.99)
Stephen King loved Hush so much that he compared its place in horror history to genre classics Halloween and Wait Until Dark. Netflix concieved the first fresh take on the slasher film in a *long* time by making our final girl a deaf woman named Maddie and immerses us in her POV as she fights for her life against a masked assailent.
Where To Watch: Netflix
Honestly, we wanted to recommend the original 1998 Japenese horror film Ring on this list, but it's practically impossible to find Ring online. We found a $45 DVD on Amazon and some ~questionable~ pirating websites if you want to see the film that inspired the Hollywood trend of adapting Japenese horror for American audiences, but law-abiding readers won't be disappointed by the 2002 remake The Ring. Anyone who watches a cursed videotape will die in seven days in this dated but still-effective supernatural thriller.
Creep was written by its stars, Patrick Brice and Mark Duplass, directed by Patrick, and produced by Mark alongside Jason Blum, making it a truly independent film whose original team produced an equally upsetting sequel, Creep 2, in 2017. The first film begins as a videographer named Aaron is paid to tape a series of videos for a dying man, Josef, to give to his unborn son. Josef's weird sense of humor becomes increasingly frightening in a film that proves we should listen to that little voice in our head that tells us when something doesn't seem right.
Where To Watch: Netflix, Amazon Prime ($2.99)
Twitter aficionados might not be able to take The Babadook seriously after hilarious memes of the title character as a gay icon spread across the internet in 2017, but the rest of us will find Jennifer Kent's directorial debut properly terrifying. Amelia Vanek's son, Sam, is plagued by visions of a monster that tortures its victims once they learn of its existence. Once Amelia reads a mysterious children's book that appears in her home, she is tormented by the monster's dark wishes.
There are aspects of Insidious that are utterly ridiculous. They're expecting us to be afraid of something called the "further"? What does that make our world, the "nearer"? Still, James Wan made Insidious to prove that he could make an effective horror film without falling back on the gore from Saw that made him famous. James succeeded with this insane film about a young boy who is being used as a conduit for evil spirits from the astral realm.
Legendary film critic Roger Ebert called The Descent the movie he'd been wanting for years in a four star review for the Chicago Sun-Times, while Bloody Disgusting called it one of the scariest films of the '00s. If that's not enough to entice you to see this harrowing, claustrophobic film about six women on a spelunking adventure gone terribly wrong, we don't know what is.
Where To Watch: HBONow, Amazon Prime ($3.99)
Sinister actually owes its existence to another entry from this list, The Ring. Sinister's story came to screenwriter C. Robert Cargill in a nightmare he had after watching the horror classic. Apparently real inspires real, and Sinister earned its own place in horror history, anchored by a strong performance from Ethan Hawke. His character, true-crime writer Ellison Oswalt, discovers a box of grisly snuff films in the attic of his new home, inadvertently putting his family in the crosshairs of a soul-stealing deity.
Where To Watch: Amazon Prime ($3.99), YouTube ($3.99)
While The Exorcist may seem quaint to moviegoers who only know the film from its mediocre Halloween Horror Nights maze and the many, many copycat films that followed its massive success, there's a reason the Library of Congress chose to preserve the horror classic as part of the National Film Registry. It was selected as the first horror film to ever be nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture despite rumors that Warner Bros. had to coerce MPAA boards to drop the film from an X to an R rating, reports of heart attacks and miscarriages ailing audience members, and a scene where its protagonist masturbates with a crucifix. It has been called the best horror film ever made, and audience reactions were so strong that theatres arranged for ambulances to be on-call and provided barf bags. You already know what it's about, but that's only half the story.
Where To Watch: Cinemax, Amazon Prime ($2.99)