These are the movies that keep us up at night. Their images creep into our subconscious and change the way we feel about the dark corners of our lives. Everyone has their own top 10 films that scared them the most. Here's mine. They all succeed, in their own ways, of affecting the audience on a deeply psychological level. Consider these 10, in no particular order, and see if you agree.
Director William Friedkin had the formidable task of translating William Peter Blatty's novel to the screen, and succeeded with flying colors - mostly a sickening green. The film maintains its suspense without getting campy and with its judicious use of startling special effects. The recent re-release with restored footage and enhanced effects make it even better. This is arguably the most frightening film of all time, due in no small part to the claim that it was based on true events. Creepiest scene: Walking down the upstairs hallway toward the bedroom where the demon waits.
Forget the dumb 1999 remake, the original, directed by Robert Wise in 1966, is the truly scary one. Julie Harris effectively portrays the innocent and unstable Eleanor who, along with others, are induced to stay one night in an old mansion that is reputed to be haunted. And indeed it is. The special effects are understated, but stick with you. Creepiest scene: Something's pounding on Eleanor's door and she asks roommate Theo to stop squeezing her had so tightly... but Theo is across the room!
Jacob Singer (Tim Robbins) is a Vietnam vet who seems to be profoundly affected by his nightmarish war experiences. Is it because of some Army experiments? Is Jacob going insane? Or is something else going on? There seem to be demons everywhere, and Jacob doesn't know who to trust. This remarkable film takes us into Jacob's nightmare and we, like him, are kept wondering what is real and what isn't. Creepiest scene: Jacob is on the subway, about to step off the train. He looks down at an ordinary-looking passenger sitting near the door. Was that a tail curling beneath the passenger?
This is still one of the best ghost stories ever made. The film takes the safety and ordinaryness of the American suburb and turns it into a house of horrors. And it all begins with some strange and amusing poltergeist activity in a young family's home, and gets serious when five-year-old Carol Anne disappears. A team of paranormal investigators is called in, but it's a task none of them are quite prepared for. Creepiest scene: A psychic, describing the circumstances of the missing little girl, informs her parents that there are many arms about her, including those of an evil presence... "to her it is just another child, but to us it is... the beast."
Nine-year-old Cole Sear (Haley Joel Osment) always seems disturbed, frightened... and his mother cannot figure out why. He finally confesses to psychiatrist Malcolm Crowe (Bruce Willis) that it's because he sees dead people - everywhere... and they're not always pleasant to look at. Director M. Night Shyamalan is leading the way in bringing back good old-fashioned scary movies in the "Twilight Zone" tradition, without an over-reliance on special effects. The film is cleverly constructed and provides a truly surprising twist at the end. Creepiest scene: Cole has built his own protective tent in his room, but as he approaches it, he knows there might be the ghost of a young girl in there.
Made in 1968 by Roman Polanski, Rosemary's Baby is still creepy on a number of levels: its theme song, Mia Farrow's terrific, neurotic performance, the Dakota apartment building, Ruth Gordon's quirky and funny character, and even a room full of old, naked Satan worshipers. Although she doesn't know it, Rosemary (Farrow) has been chosen by a New York-based coven to be the mother of the Devil himself. But once she suspects that the unthinkable might be true, who's going to believe her? Creepiest scene: Rosemary's dream sequence.
This is one of the first films to take on the subject of The Antichrist as a living person in our time - and in this case, in the form of a small boy, Damien. A switch at birth places the boy (born of a jackal) in the home of the American ambassador to Great Britain (Gregory Peck, who is always great), and therefore in a position to assume future world power. The boy himself, although capable of some unnerving leers, is rather harmless, but the people and forces at work to protect him will stop at nothing. Great, chilling theme by Jerry Goldsmith. Creepiest scene: It's Damien's birthday party, and his nanny decides to prove her loyalty to him... by hanging herself from the roof.
Based on Henry James novel The Turn of the Screw, this 1961 film is a subtle, thriller/ghost story that slowly draws you into its creepy world in Victorian England. Deborah Kerr stars as a governess who is hired to care for an orphaned boy and girl, and soon enough the happy household becomes the setting for strange goings-on. The governess begins to see things - ghosts? - and then learns of the horrible secret past of the house and how it might be affecting - even possessing - the children.
Don't make the mistake of getting the lame 1998 remake of this classic. Alfred Hitchcock's 1960 black-and-white thriller is still the one to see: the performances, the direction and the photography are all far superior. And no one, of course, can possibly match Anthony Perkins' amazing, subtle and creepy performance as Norman Bates. Hitchcock shot the film on a shoestring budget and with no elaborate special effects to speak of - just atmosphere and character. Just about everything about this film is memorable, from the title design to the indelible score by Bernard Herrmann. Creepiest scene: No, not the shower scene - Norman Bates having a nervous conversation with Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) in the company of all those stuffed birds.
Stanley Kubrick wanted to make the definitive horror film from Stephen King's novel, and although it doesn't quite measure up to that ambition, it has its share of shocks, scares and memorably creepy images. On first viewing, Jack Nicholson might be accused of going berzerk in the overacting department, but upon subsequent viewings and later reflection, it's a performance that gets under your skin and sticks with you. Parts of the plot are hokey and Shelly Duvall is dreadful, but there's something about this movie that makes you want to watch it time and again. Creepiest scene: The ghosts of those twin girls in the hallway.