15 Horror Movies That Are Guaranteed to Scare You
Horror movies can serve a lot of different purposes. Whether its end goal is getting us to think about a societal issue or just think to ourselves, “Wow, that was messed up,” a horror movie can do a whole host of different things for us. The best of the best stick in your mind for days, weeks, months afterward — leaving an impression that might never fully go away. Surely, everyone has an experience from childhood wherein you watched a horror movie and were left scathed and terrified, clutching your pillow as your dreams are haunted by the ever-present grasp of various serial killers and paranormal pursuants. Of course, when we’re young, it’s a lot easier to be scared by things that we barely understand.
How hard is it, then, to scare someone once they’re older? Are there even that many movies that are truly “scary”? The answer is a resounding yes. With a genre as over-populated and constantly evolving as horror, the trends and prevailing terrors change drastically over short periods of time. Be that as it may, these 15 movies are certifiable terror-inducers: total body-shakingly horrific bits of genre that will have you hiding under the covers for the rest of the week. Here are 15 horror movies that are guaranteed to scare you.
15 Funny Games
Michael Haneke’s prototypical home invasion thriller is practically designed to terrify the normal, everyday person. As two young men hold a family hostage and torture them via monstrous, sadistic games, the film mines every bit of your humanity for its scares. There is no hint of paranormal intervention or satanic cults that justify these acts of suburban terror — Haneke probably maintains that giving the kidnappers any sort of justification would be a cop-out. Funny Games is a film predicated upon just the concept of terror: of what would be the most terrifying thing to happen to you in the one place you think you’re safe. It’s far scarier than anything that involves ghosts, possessions, or poltergeists.
14 The Descent
Following six women who, when cave diving, discover they must fight against a band of creatures lying deep underground, The Descent will surely reinforce any sort of claustrophobia that you may have. It’s tight, incredibly intense shot compositions and blood-soaked set pieces do a lot of the heavy lifting, but it’s the dedicated performances from the ensemble cast that really sell the terror being depicted on screen. The Descent preys upon very primal fears — of losing agency and being trapped without clear escape — and does so in its own relentless, visceral way. If you have ever had any inclination to cave dive or the like, your dreams may be dashed after watching The Descent.
One of the most well-known films in the New French Extremity movement, Martyrs lives up to its reputation by being one of the most visceral, brutal, and wholly unpleasant films you could watch. You might be wondering why you’d even bother then, if the film is supposed to be so uncomfortable to watch. The answer is incredibly simple: the violence and depravity on-screen is not without purpose. Martyrs has much more high-minded intentions than some direct-to-video torture porn schlock. There is an ultimate message and purpose to Martyrs — one that you will hopefully find rewarding after having lived through the terror and destruction that is committed to film. If you can survive the brutality, you’ll find a film well worth the suffering.
12 Would You Rather
Simple premises can wrought unspeakable terror, which is sort of the name of the game with the film Would You Rather. Centered around a young woman who is invited to a dinner party by her wealthy boss and forced to play a deadly game of “would you rather,” the film utilizes its somewhat demure premise to mine almost casual depravity from its situations. This film’s first kill is one of those that sets the tone of the movie almost immediately, shifting your focus from the unknown to the unknowable. Every person at this dinner is there to try and earn money from the rich host, playing the game as he wishes in order to get ahead in their personal lives. Would You Rather asks the rather simple question of how far someone will go in order to help the ones they love, and does so through simplistic, but brutal kills and moral quandaries. Would You Rather might not have you shaking in your boots, but it will have you doubting the good nature of humanity for a good long while.
Scott Derrickson’s breakout, Ethan Hawke-starring film Sinister was one of those objects of fascination for many horror fans. It featured a really strong premise, horrifying visuals, and a unique voice and vision behind the camera. Derrickson’s depiction of the dissolution of family and obsession with what’s real and fake behind the camera terrified audiences then and now. His use of Super 8mm photography adds to the realness and profound terror of the things that have happened inside the house that serves as the central location of the film. Paired with Hawke’s committed, genuinely unnerved lead performance, Sinister remains one of those reliable films that will never fail to scare the pants off of each person who watches it for the first time.
10 The invisible Man
Coming from the co-creator of Saw and director of sci-fi horror cult classic Upgrade, Leigh Whannell’s take on The Invisible Man is an uncompromising terror. Elizabeth Moss in the lead role is not only an inspired casting choice — cementing her as one of the best modern scream queens we have — but lends the film a pronounced feeling of reality through her down to earth performance. Whannell directs this movie with the precision and prowess of an action technician, but the mindfulness of a horror legend like John Carpenter or Wes Craven. He cements the fantastical premise of an invisible man in the real world by rooting it in trauma and abuse, a choice that could have easily felt exploitative, but manages to come across as thoughtful and reinforces the terror on display. The Invisible Man will make you unsure of whom to trust and if you’re ever truly alone with your thoughts.
Coming from the other co-creator of Saw and director of modern instant classic Malignant, James Wan’s Insidious not only created another long-running, enduring franchise of films (he also created The Conjuring), but crafted a world of unknowable terror. The first film in the franchise is the best of the batch, though, as it’s simplicity of premise and to-the-point visuals help to create an uncompromising bout of horrific paranormal activity. When a married couple move into a new home, their young son suddenly enters a comatose state that allows him to commune with beings in an astral plane. Taken as a whole, each sequence of this film offers enough nightmare fuel to keep your scaredy cat machine running for long after your viewing has ended.
Released after an incredibly quick production period during the heart of the COVID-19 pandemic, 2020’s Host preyed upon the fears we all felt during the raging peak of lockdown. Centering on a group of friends who are hanging out on Zoom and decide to take part in a séance, Host utilizes the paranoia of that uncertain time to offer a whole new brand of horror. The film takes place entirely on computer screens — the place we all had to meet in order to see our loved ones for some time — and turns it into a progenitor of possession and destruction. Clocking in at just under an hour in length, Host knows exactly what it needs to do to be scary: which is to get in and get out, leaving nothing up to question in the meanwhile.
7 The Mist
From classic Stephen King adapter Frank Darabont (who also did The Green Mile and The Shawshank Redemption) comes The Mist — another King novella adaptation. The Mist might not have been one of the more well-known King stories to find itself adapted in the late-2000s, but it was more than enough to result in an absolutely terrifying film adaptation. After a powerful storm displaces the inhabitants of a Maine town, the Drayton family and many of the towns other residents find themselves trapped in a grocery store as a thick fog (filled with unknown creatures) covers the whole of the city. The strongest source of terror is that which you cannot comprehend, which The Mist taps into throughout the whole of its runtime. Each scene is bereft with tension as it builds and builds uncertainty until its explosive ending, leaving audiences thoroughly disquieted and uncomfortable.
Making a huge splash in the fall of 2022, Paramount’s nearly direct-to-streaming horror flick Smile was a big surprise to audiences. Strong test screenings brought the film back from a death sentence on direct to Paramount+, but it was uncertain if the film was going to live up the years strong horror output up to that point. Luckily for us all, Smile was one of the most inventive and visually intense studio horror movies we’d seen in quite some time. When a young woman working at a hospital witnesses a patient’s suicide, she is suddenly haunted by a seemingly paranormal entity that can’t seem to stop smiling at her. Similarities can be drawn to instant classic horror flick It Follows in concept, but Smile approaches its premise in a much more tactile and overt way. What is certainly tactile about Smile is its palpable sense of dread: a feeling that will absolutely stay with you for days after seeing the film.
5 Hell House LLC
One of the more late-period found footage films of the 2010s, Hell House LLC does a lot more with its simplistic premise than most found footage horror films of that time. When a group of young entrepreneurs buy an old hotel, they venture to start up a haunted house to rival even the best of the best. Things don’t quite go as planned once the haunted house opens, however, as an unexplained phenomenon kills all but one member of the haunted house staff. Hell House LLC uses the simple functionality of a found footage film in order to create absolutely horrific scenarios. The scenes inside the haunted house as things start to go awry are among the most unnerving in any found footage horror film in history. It’s one of those films you never quite forget some of the shots from, as the horror of those scenes are burned into your mind.
4 Speak No Evil
A slow-burn movie if there ever was one, Speak No Evil preys upon the horror of the uncertain. A married couple and their young daughter become friends with a fellow family on vacation, of whom they end up visiting at their remote home months later: although things are not quite what they seem. Most of the film is spent being unsure about what the intentions of either party truly are, until the very end where all things become clear. Saving the core twist of the film for you to find out, you can be sure that you’ll be thoroughly disturbed throughout the rest of the week following your viewing of Speak No Evil. It’s a thoroughly disturbing film, unexpectedly so, and one you’ll never forget sitting through.
One of the most confident debuts of 2022, Chloe Okuno’s film Watcher was among the best horror films of the year. The film follows a young actress living in a new town with her boyfriend as she lives in fear of a serial killer preying upon said town and, potentially, stalking her as his next victim. Most of the film is spent unsure if the woman is telling the truth, as those around her don’t believe her story. As much a film about not believing the stories of traumatized women as it is about a crazed killer stalking his next victim, Watcher is an enticing mix of thriller instincts with a sleekness not usually found in films of this ilk. You’ll be left completely unnerved and disturbed by how realistic and grounded this film feels, which may or may not be something you want to feel.
A modern reinterpretation of the 70s horror subgenre of rape revenge films, the simply titled Revenge takes all the archetypes of that poorly aged moniker and flips them on their head. While still dealing with a horrific and uncomfortable premise that is predicated upon sexual assault, the lack of agency usually ingrained in these types of movies is nowhere to be found. Lead actress Matilda Lutz commands her performance with a hard-edged ferocity, never giving the disgusting pigs that violated her an inch at any point in the film. What makes this certain to leave you disquieted is not only the severity of its subject, but the actual pursuit of vengeance that the main character goes on. It’s not a film that attempts to forgive and forget the trespasses against its protagonist; it holds no punches in the slightest.
1 The Void
A much different type of film from the others in this list, The Void approaches a type of horror that is much more in the cosmic realm: intangible and sort of incomprehensible at the end of the day. A group of people are trapped inside of hospital late at night after a swarm of faceless, robed figures surround the building and refuse to allow anyone to leave. The film’s reliance on facets of film production that would be found in the prime of 1980s horror, like practical effects and a synth-based score, embolden its authenticity and tangibility in an otherwise otherworldly premise.
What makes the film even more uncomfortable is the unwavering presence of the robed cultists and there unending dedication to bringing upon the end of the world. The Void is much more of a vibey, mood piece than some of the other entries on this list, but the end of the film brings the visual horror to screen at the end of the day. You’ll be unable to sleep without looking out your window to make sure there’s not a swarm of cultists standing guard.