Horror is a particular genre. It’s not just a creeping fear, rather an adrenaline rush of pure shock, excitement, and terror. It’s why scary movies for many people are the ultimate source for fun. While there’s no better time than Halloween to give yourself a fright, we have to ask ourselves– why do we enjoy something that would cause such apparent discomfort?
A recent study indicates that fear has a “sweet spot” that can actually cause pleasure for humans. Researchers from Aarhus University say it’s been long suspected that a physiological arousal plays a role in why people find horror movies and haunted houses so appealing. This arousal would include a quickening pulse and a release of hormones in the frightened person’s brain.
Spirits of former lives are also a major focal point in many horror films, which is surely fascinating to the half of Americans who believe they’ve encountered a ghost from the great beyond. In fact, a recent poll indicates that 63 percent of Americans believe in the paranormal in some form.
Horror films gained increased popularity in the U.S. starting in the 1970s, and over the past five decades filmmakers have flooded the movie industry with the good, the bad, and the ugly.
With thousands of scary movies to choose from, it can be easy to waste hours of your coveted autumn evenings watching garbage, and who’s got time for that?
StudyFinds set out to compile a list of the absolute best horror films to watch this spooky season. For our findings, we visited 10 popular websites to see which horror films are rated the highest. Our list is ranked based on the most fright-inducing scary movies across these sites. Sit back and relax… if you can.
The List: Top 5 Horror Movies Of All-Time, As Ranked By Experts
1. The Exorcist (1973)
The Exorcist is well-respected as one of the greatest horror films of all time, based on the story of a Catholic-sanctioned exorcism of a 12-year-old girl that makes for a literal head-spinning horror movie. “If The Exorcist can still make its original 1973 viewers shudder at the thought of it decades later, there’s clearly something possessing about this film,” Esquire writes.
Many Americans even consider it to be the greatest film of all time in its genre. A recent survey of 2,000 American adults, commissioned by video streaming service Vudu, found that those polled consider The Exorcist to be the most terrifying film ever created.
“The Exorcist is most definitely a horror film: though it may be filled with rigorously examined ideas and wonderfully observed character moments, its primary concern is with shocking, scaring and, yes, horrifying its audience out of their wits – does mainstream cinema contain a more upsetting image than the crucifix scene?” Time Out writes.
2. Halloween (1978)
Halloween is among the top chilling slasher masterpieces that have kept viewers up at night for ages. It may just be a crazy person in a white mask, but that was enough to captivate audiences for years.
“Forget all the masked wannabes and knife-wielding suburban loonies that came after, and marvel at the streamlined power of Carpenter’s film: the gliding camera, the concealing shadows, the single-minded presence of masked villain Michael Myers, as perfect a killer as the shark in Jaws. Almost four decades later, it’s still close to flawless,” Time Out writes.
Halloween is the perfect opportunity to cozy up, break out the popcorn, and learn why this film tops so many critics must-watch films.
“Scary, suspenseful, and viscerally thrilling, Halloween set the standard for modern horror films,” Rotten Tomatoes writes in its critics consensus.
3. Paranormal Activity (2007)
Paranormal Activity is a horror film fan-favorite, especially for those who are keen on ghost films. The story unfolds as a couple moves into a suburban home and learns they are being terrorized by a supernatural presence.
“Paranormal Activity breathed new life into the popular found-footage concept, setting its tale of demonic harassment not in an obviously creepy locale a la The Blair Witch Project, but rather in the bland confines of a Southern California tract home,” Rolling Stone writes. “Never has the unexpected click of a hallway light been so disconcerting.”
The filmmaking and story-telling may be up for debate, but audiences and critics agree that it will scare you senseless.
“Using its low-budget effects and mockumentary method to great result, Paranormal Activity turns a simple haunted house story into 90 minutes of relentless suspense,” Rotten Tomatoes writes in its critics consensus.
4. The Shining (1980)
The Shining is a classic for a reason. A troubled writer heads to a creepy hotel which soon spirals into horrifying scenes of a psychologically twisting narrative.
“Not only does director Stanley Kubrick cripple the senses with effects and imagery (even if you haven’t seen the movie, you know the corridor of blood-gushing nightmares), but he also weaves a tale so rich in symbolism it’s still picked apart today, and so skewed in perception that by the time it’s over, you—like our dull boy—have gone completely mad,” writes Harper’s Bazaar.
Axes in doors, a creepy pair of twins you’ll never forget, and “Red Rum,” what’s not to love?
“Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece of execution and claustrophobia still retains the power to frighten audiences out of their wits,” Time Out writes in its review.
5. It Follows (2014)
It Follows is a more recent addition to the list of movie critics’ most-loved horror films. The metaphorical story takes you through varying perspectives of being tortured by a shapeshifting monster. Sounds fun, right?
“Stylish and striking, this felt like nothing else on the American horror market in 2014, really ushering in the era of what is now called ‘elevated horror.’ Whatever you call it, It Follows is still an unforgettable genre flick,” Vulture writes.
Director David Robert Mitchell won over critics for taking every opportunity possible to serve consistent thrills throughout the movie.
“Throughout, there’s a sense of true, doom-filled inescapability; that no matter where our teen protagonists run, the monster will eventually catch up with them,” Teen Vogue writes. “…Regardless of how you interpret it, It Follows is sure to serve up some serious, and seriously creative, scares.”
- Harper’s Bazaar
- The Wrap
- Rolling Stone
- Teen Vogue
- Rotten Tomatoes
- Empire Online
Note: This article was not paid for nor sponsored. StudyFinds is not connected to nor partnered with any of the brands mentioned and receives no compensation for its recommendations.