Holman’s Halloween Picks: Joe’s Top 40 Most Horrifying Movies, Part I

Without being sidetracked by that seemingly endless debate on how to classify horrors verses psychological thrillers, etc, we are skipping the minutia with a list that combines classic and modern horrors, thrillers of all varieties, and a few other genre-mixers that leave audiences in utter shock and/or complete disbelief.

With so many to choose from, don’t be surprised if your favorite(s) do or don’t appear in this list, which has painstakingly been built and rebuilt, thought and re-thought, and finally (agonizingly) scrambled around to be put together to reflect the most twisted, mind-bending, soul-wrenching experiences observable on film.

Sometimes, it’s the presence of sheer evil that makes us want to curl up like small children. Sometimes, it’s an unfortunate turn of events leading to a nightmare of tragic circumstances. But sometimes, it’s just the desire to see a bloodbath or to feel more in the Halloween spirit by watching doors slam shut while sitting on the couch eating pumpkin candies.

Is it hopelessness that does it for you, feelings of defeat and gut-wrenching despair? Take your pick. Going from least to most, we begin the countdown…

#40. The Creeping Flesh (1972)
Director: Freddie Francis
Starring: Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, Lorna Heilbron
Grade: B- (3 stars)

It has a fair allotment of weaknesses, including just about laughable special affects, but the attention to detail and the performance of Peter Cushing is excellent. This is brilliant stuff, an unnerving tale about a scientist who uncovers a giant, evil humanoid skeleton in Papua, New Guinea. The hideous creature has the ability to come back to life when it gets wet and is the product of some fine writing, with the ability to get “under” your skin. Trailer

#39. The Watcher in the Woods (1980)
Director: John Hough
Starring: Bette Davis, Lynn-Holly Johnson, Kyle Richards
Grade: B+ (3 ½ stars)

Yes, Disney movies can be scary as hell, too. Just ask any one of us 8-year-olds who were scared piss-less while watching this story of a ghostly girl whose spirit is lost to wander in the woods. Trailer

#38. Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)
Director: Don Siegel
Starring: Kevin McCarthy, Dana Wynter and Larry Gates
Grade: A+ (4 stars)

Just the title of this classic says it all. A small-town doctor learns that emotionless alien duplicates are slowly replacing all the people of his town. This is disturbing stuff in all kinds of ways—and it happens to be one of the best films of its decade! Trailer

#37. The Brood (1976)
Director: David Cronenberg
Starring: Oliver Reed, Samantha Eggar
Grade: C+ (2 ½ stars)

It’s slow and the writing doesn’t always congeal the necessary plot components to make watching it any easier, but few movies can turn a stomach like this one—if you can make it to the end. This story about hellish children spawned from the rage of a psychopath is as outrageous as they come. Trailer

#36. Children of the Corn (1984)
Director: Fritz Kiersch
Starring: Peter Horton, Linda Hamilton
Grade: C+ (2 ½ stars)

It’s not all that great a movie and is yet another example of an under-utilized budget, but who can deny that the premise of children with biblical names who murder the grown-ups and take over a community in the name of a consuming, murdering corn god isn’t novel in a menacing, diabolical sort of way? This Stephen King short story originally ran in Penthouse Magazine in 1977 and grew wings and took off, eventually inspiring a movie, and, yes, worthless sequel after worthless sequel. But there’s something to be said for the original. Trailer

#35. The Mist (2007)
Director: Frank Darabont
Starring: Thomas Jane, Marcia Gay Harden, Laurie Holden
Grade: C- (2 stars)

The dialog is problematic, as is the writing and acting. The characters are little more than stunted stereotypes. And while not particularly a good movie, The Mist knows its horror, as it is both horrifying and heartbreaking. If you are a serious horror buff, you shouldn’t let this one pass you by. Trailer

#34. The Birds (1963)
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Starring: Rod Taylor, Tippi Hedren, Suzanne Pleshette
Grade: A- (4 stars)

Imagine that for some unknown reason, all of the world’s birds decided to make it their all to attack humans. That’s the theme in Hitchcock’s classic, The Birds, an amazing work of cinematic creativity and horror. Trailer

#33. Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954)
Director: Jack Arnold
Starring: Richard Carlson, Julie Adams, Richard Denning
Grade: A+ (4 stars)

This groundbreaking sci-fi horror about a team of expeditionists risking their lives in the Amazon to kidnap and study an evolutionary link between fish and land animals wasn’t just an amazing movie for its time; it was superbly choreographed and masterfully directed. The film was released in 3D initially and would go on to become an untamable classic. Trailer

#32. The Omen (1976)
Director: Richard Donner
Starring: Gregory Peck, Lee Remick, Harvey Stephens
Grade: A+ (4 stars)

A prominent politician learns that his son is the long-predicted Antichrist who will rise to power to rule the world, but can he stop him? Watch this 1976 classic and see the great storytelling skills put to work. Trailer

#31. The Haunting (1963)
Director: Robert Wise
Starring: Julie Harris, Claire Bloom, Richard Johnson
Grade: B+ (3 ½ stars)

No, we’re not talking about Jan de Bont’s 1999 film The Haunting (which, by the way, was yet another reminder about how special affects by themselves do not make for a scary movie).

We're talking about the 1963 film The Haunting. It may feel a bit dated as a product of its time, but this remarkable film about an evil house with a history of murder manifests super-high-functioning writing that brings its supernatural element and characters into tight, enjoyable focus.

Continue the Countdown...