Years after I first lost sleep watching scary movies, I revisit the ten films that made me fear horror and see if younger me was right to be afraid.
I have a shocking confession to make. As a kid, I didn’t really like horror movies that much. They would give me nightmares if I watched them at night, and I would just dread being terrified. Obviously, I grew into my love of genre films. Now, as a card carrying adult horror fan, I wanted to go back and see if my views on the nightmare inducing films of my childhood have changed.
So, without further delay, here are the top ten films that sent shivers down my young spine. Are they still scary today?
1. The Witches (1990)
I know this film may not be considered horror necessarily, but stay with me here.
In this film, we meet Luke (Jaden Fisher), and his grandmother (Mai Zetterling) who are going on vacation together. They go to a hotel by the beach, where a conference for the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children is taking place. Luke finds out that the women that are part of this conference are all witches. They are led by the Grand High Witch (Anjelica Huston) who informs the women that their main goal is to turn every child in England into a mouse.
Luke finds himself in trouble when he and a friend he met at the hotel, Bruno (Charlie Potter), are both turned into mice. The boys must find a way to stop the witches and find a cure before they are forced to live as mice forever.
This movie is definitely much goofier than it is scary, but as a kid, the grand high witch was so frightening to watch. The convention scene alone would give me goosebumps, and seeing Anjelica Huston as such a hideous witch made it 10 times creepier. I think Anjelica Huston’s performance deserves more praise, because she truly makes the audience believe she is the grand high witch.
If you want to give your children nightmares, perhaps consider forcing them to watch this movie.
2. Leprechaun (1993)
In this movie, Tori Redding (Jennifer Anniston) is unhappy to spend the summer with her father (John Sanderford) in a rented house. There, they meet Nathan (Ken Olandt), his younger brother, Alex (Robert Hy Gorman), and their friend Ozzie (Mark Holton), who are all helping to repaint the house. After Ozzie accidentally sets free the leprechaun (Warwick Davis), the group are tormented by the leprechaun, who only wants one thing: to know where his gold has been hidden.
Nothing seems to kill the leprechaun for good, which the group finds out after attempting to kill him numerous times, mostly by gunfire. Eventually, however, Alex realizes the one weakness of every leprechaun: a four leaf clover. He shoots the clover down the throat of the leprechaun, which finally seems to kill him.
This is another movie that is far goofier than it is scary. There are several sequences that really add nothing to the plot, along with chase scenes that seem to come from a child’s movie. However, it was clearly popular among horror fans, considering the several sequels it spawned.
Whether you love it or hate it, you cannot deny how utterly creepy the Leprechaun is, and how scared you would be if he showed up one day demanding you give him his pot of gold.
3. Bones (2001)
Brothers Patrick (Khalik Kain) and Bill (Merwin Mondesir), along with their stepsister, Tia (Katherine Isabelle) and their friend, Maurice (Sean Amsing) buy a property that they intend to turn into a nightclub. Unbeknownst to them, this building used to belong to Jimmy Bones (Snoop Dog), a well-known and well-respected man from that area, who died tragically several years prior.
It is revealed that Jimmy Bones was set up and murdered some of the people he trusted the most, including his bodyguard, Shotgun (Ronald Selmour), crooked cop Lupvich (Michael T. Weiss), drug pusher Eddie Mack (Ricky Harris), Pearl (Pam Grier), and Jeremiah “J-bird” (Clifton Powell). Bones’ remains are dug up, and he is resurrected, which the intent of getting revenge towards those that played a hand his murder (except for former lover, Pearl).
This movie may be over the top and campy towards the end, but it does have its moments that are pretty chilling to see. Most of the effects were done practically, which makes me love this film even more. There is one scene in particular in which several arms and bodies that are from the “city of the dead” reach out from the walls, which is probably my favorite scene from the film.
Say what you want about Snoop Dog, but this film shows that he definitely has some great acting ability.
4. Hellraiser (1987)
This modern classic by master of horror Clive Barker is about a man, Frank (Sean Chapman), who buys a mysterious puzzle box. This puzzle box sets from cenobites, lead by the infamous Pinhead (Doug Bradley). These monsters torture and kill Frank, as well as anyone that solves the puzzle box. After Frank is brought back to life by blood slipping through the cracks in the floor, he enlists the help of former lover, Julia (Clare Higgins), to help him kill people so that he can be fully restored.
Although initially hesitant, Julia complies, and even sacrifices her husband, Larry (Andrew Robinson), so that Frank can use his skin. Larry’s daughter, Kirsty (Ashely Laurence) accidentally gets caught up in this mess when she opens up the demonic realm with the puzzle box. The cenobites want to take her with them, but she tells them that Frank escaped. They return to the house, and once they catch Frank again, he is torn apart by hooks. Kirsty does not hesitate to send the cenobites back to hell with the puzzle box.
We cannot deny the impact that this film has had on the horror genre. However, I must say that this film is pretty nasty, and I found myself physically cringing at some of the scenes. Just the fact that Frank stole his brother’s skin and wore it makes my stomach turn a bit. The cenobites were so creepy, I think I remember having nightmares of the chattering one as a kid.
This is not a film I would recommend for those with a weak stomach.
5. Ghost Ship (2002)
In 1962, a ship full of passengers on the SS Antonia Graza are having a fun time. Suddenly, a hand pulls the lever that starts a thin wire cord from a spool. The wire snaps and slices through all of the passengers but one, who is spared due to her short height. 40 years later, a salvage team is tasked with finding this mysterious ship and repairing it.
Once they are on the ship, several unexplainable and paranormal things begin to occur. One of the salvage crew members, Epps (Julianna Margulies), sees the ghost of the little girl from the 1962 cruise, Katie (Emily Browning). Katie reveals to Epps what truly happened on the night that the passengers were mysteriously murdered, and Epps must save her crew members and get off the ship before it is too late.
The last act of this film gets a bit odd and confusing, so I will not even bother to try to describe it here. But the one thing I must give this film credit on is that opening scene. As a kid, seeing those passengers sliced in half traumatized me, because I truly did not see it coming.
If for no other reason, watch this film for the opening sequence… you won’t regret it.
6. The Fly (1986)
In this David Cronenberg remake of the 1958 film, scientist Seth Brundle (Jeff Goldblum) meets journalist Veronica (Geena Davis) at a press event. He takes her back to his place to show him the project that he has been working on. He then reveals to her two telepods that will help with teleportation.
Veronica is impressed with this invention, so she and Seth begin to work together, which leads to them falling in love. The trials are initially successful. But an overeager Seth makes the mistake of testing the teleportation on himself too soon. After a fly accidentally enters the telepod with Seth, he slowly takes on the characteristics of the fly, eventually fully transforming into a human fly himself.
I think this film is the nastiest film on this list. As Seth is transforming into a fly, his appearance becomes more and more grotesque, making it difficult to watch the screen whenever he is there.
This is a unique horror film and another modern horror classic. But as with like Hellraiser, it comes with a word of caution for the squeamish.
7. The Hills Run Red (2009)
In this film, we meet Tyler (Tad Hilgenbrink), a guy who’s obsessed with the fictional horror film The Hills Run Red about a serial killer, Babyface (Raicho Vasilev), who supposedly cut off his face and replaced it with the face of a doll in an attempt to win his father’s love. The film is said to be the most disturbing movie of all time, but it was never released. So, Tyler convinces his best friend, Lalo (Alex Wyndham), and girlfriend, Serena (Janet Montgomery), to come with him to find out the truth behind the film and why it was never released — documenting the journey along the way.
Tyler tracks down the daughter of the missing director, Alexa (Sophie Monk), and enlists her help to get to the original place where the movie was filmed. While it begins as a fun and exciting journey, the group soon realizes just how similar the film and reality actually are.
I remember calling this film the worst movie of all time when I was 12. Now, 11 years later, I can honestly say it is not the worst necessarily, but it is definitely disturbing. It’s flawed but effective. I did really enjoy the format of the opening, which makes it seem like a real life event, similar in tone to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.
If you have an affinity for disturbing slashers, this may be the film for you.
8. Brainscan (1994)
A teenage boy, Michael (Edward Furlong), is a big fan of horror. When his best friend, Kyle (Jamie Marsh), introduces him to a new VR game called Brainscan, Michael initially does not seem impressed. But he ends up purchasing the game. The premise of the game is that you play as a serial killer, so you are meant to think like a killer and act like a killer; just don’t get caught.
What starts out as a fun, harmless, and exciting game, quickly turns into a personal hell for Michael, and he must find a way to prove he is innocent, otherwise there will be consequences.
The thing that scared me the most about Brainscan as a child was The Trickster (played by T. Ryder Smith). I just thought he looked so strange and creepy. Now that I’m older, I can honestly say that The Trickster is much more tame than some other horror characters I have encountered since then.
This film was ahead of its time, and it’s actually kind of scary of how possible this kind of thing seems these days.
9. Dead Silence (2007)
This film follows the character Jamie (Ryan Kwanten), a young man who mysteriously receives a package on his porch one day. His wife, Lisa (Laura Regan), opens the package to find a ventriloquist puppet inside. After Jamie leaves to go pick up dinner for the two of them, Lisa is mysteriously murdered by an unseen figure.
Jamie is the prime suspect of this murder, but he knows he is innocent. So, he becomes obsessed with discovering the truth about the murder and the puppet that mysteriously showed up right before his wife was murdered.
I’m going to be honest, out of all of the films on this list, this was the one I was the most hesitant to revisit. This movie gave me nightmares as a kid, and there was a period where I was terrified of ventriloquist dolls.
The character Mary Shaw (played by Judith Roberts) really made this movie as horrifying as it is, so I would definitely recommend this to anyone wanting a good scare.
10. The Girl Next Door (2007)
This story is told from the viewpoint of David (Daniel Manche, William Atherton as adult David). He tells the story of two sisters, Meg (Blythe Auffarth) and Susan “Susie” (Madeline Taylor), who are forced to live with their Aunt Ruth (Blanche Baker) after their parents are killed in an accident. While Ruth seems like a funny and nice lady to David, Meg and her sister are often the target for much of her abuse and torment.
Things get bad fast when Meg attempts to get help from the police and one of Ruth’s sons sees her doing it. Meg endures much of the torture as a way to protect her sister, and in the end, unfortunately does not survive the abuse that she is forced to endure.
Of all the films here, I think this one is the scariest for me today, simply because it seems the most realistic. It is loosely based on the tragic murder of Sylvia Likens. And if you’re not familiar with Sylvia’s real life horror story, I recommend you read up on it. But be forewarned, it’s very difficult to stomach.
The Girl Next Door is a heartbreaking film and an extremely difficult watch. While it is quite effective at showing the cruelty and horror the young girl was subjected to, you may want to avoid it if you are triggered by graphic depictions of torture, sexual assault, and genital mutilation.