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Top 10 Scariest Movies
We count down the films that still scare us silly

By Dave McCoy
MSN Movies

Read more: Cinema's Scariest Scenes | Best Monster Movies
Best Vampire Movies | Best Ghost Stories 
Best Werewolves | Asian Horror 101

When Norman Bates, dressed as his mother, ripped open Janet Leigh's shower curtain and knifed her to death in "Psycho," horror movies changed. Along with Leigh's blood, classic horror style and romantic figures like Frankenstein and Dracula went right down the shower drain. The veiled sexuality and hidden violence that dominated most classic horror films suddenly were gleefully dragged into the open, for everyone to exploit. For better or worse, style often became as important as substance, and booming box-office numbers proved that horror was serious business. The shifting times created opportunities for filmmakers to innovate, finding new and terrifying ways to scare the pants off audiences.

The mark of a great horror film is whether it sustains its vision of terror through several generations of increasingly desensitized viewers. Does the movie still make you jump or squirm or sweat or scream? The following efforts do all of the above.

10. "Eraserhead" (1977)
David Lynch's cult classic is the closest thing to being stuck in a nightmare: Not much makes sense, but you get the feeling that nothing is quite right. Lynch employs dinners that walk off the plate, eerie silences that become deafening and an infant that makes Rosemary's baby seem cute and cuddly. So chilling it's damn near unwatchable.

9. "The Exorcist" (1973)
The real terror of "The Exorcist" may not involve Satan and possession, but the helplessness of a parent trying to save a child. Of course, a ton of harrowing special effects and director William Friedkin's somber respect for the supernatural subject matter doesn't hurt either. It's horror for grown-ups.

8. "Halloween" (1978)
John Carpenter's film is blamed for the rash of slasher films that destroyed the genre in the '80s, but "Halloween" possesses a style and intensity that most of its copycats lack. From the opening sequence -- when we see through the eyes of little boy Michael Myers as he stalks and murders his sister -- onward, the film relies on suspense rather than sensationalism. Our fear is caused by what might happen rather than actual events, as Carpenter spends a good amount of time in darkness, making us see things that may or may not be there.

7. "Don't Look Now" (1973)
Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie head to Venice to forget the tragic accidental death of their child. However, it's impossible to forget when the dead child keeps reappearing. Nicolas Roeg's labyrinthine film is rich in dreamlike atmosphere and works on a purely psychological level: It disorients, frustrates and builds to a horrible climax, reminding that tragedy can never be forgotten ... and neither can this film.

6. "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" (1974)
A group of annoying teens make a wrong turn on a road trip through Texas and encounter the most dysfunctional family imaginable. It's a teen exploitation flick shot like a documentary. Wonderfully grim, mean and inhumane, director Tobe Hooper's debut doesn't spill much blood, instead opting to giddily, relentlessly torture and chase its audience (much like Leatherface treats his victims) for 80 minutes. It feels like days.

5. "Nightmare on Elm Street" (1984)
Before dream-killer Freddy Krueger became a quipping pop-culture reference, he represented the most twisted monster unleashed on the public since Halloween's Michael Myers. Seeking vengeance by slicing and dicing the children of the parents who murdered him, Freddy scared the hell out of Cineplex audiences. His on-screen entrance remains terrifying, as does much of director Wes Craven's surreal, smart and shocking masterpiece.

4. "Suspiria" (1977)
"Suspiria" is a full-on sensory assault by Italian horror master Dario Argento, the cinematic equivalent of an anxiety attack. A poor American ballet student arrives in Europe and Argento berates her with weather, grisly murders, a possible coven of witches, his virtuosic camera, and possible the freakiest score ever conceived (by the director himself). The plot barely makes sense, so just let it terrorize you.

3. "Night of the Living Dead" (1968)
A group of kids get trapped inside a farm house by an endless stream of flesh-eating zombies. Sounds silly, but director George Romero takes his simple premise and redefines the genre with a shoestring budget. The amount of sadistic gore, the claustrophobic tension, the rising levels of hysteria and an increasingly deflated awareness that a happy ending is impossible make this a nasty classic. There is no hope here, only suffocating terror.

2. Repulsion (1965)
Director Roman Polanski did more horror afterward, with "Rosemary's Baby" and "The Tenant," but this -- a menacing, nightmarish profile of one woman's descent into madness -- may be his most realized effort. Catherine Denueve embodies sexual repression as a young woman left alone in her apartment -- and to her deluded fantasies -- for the weekend. The film is nearly silent, creating a mounting mood of dread. Try watching it alone with the lights off and see how long you last.

1. "Psycho" (1960)
Alfred Hitchcock's blueprint for contemporary horror: More than just a film, "Psycho" was a cultural slap in the face. Censors wanted to ban it, while screaming audiences couldn't get enough of it. Hitch employs all of his tricks -- shifting audience sympathies, killing off the main character halfway through the film and a ton of macabre humor -- but more importantly he makes the horror internal. Norman Bates isn't a monster in the classic sense; he suggests that the greatest evil can lurk beneath the quietest, most pleasant surface.

Just missed: "The Shining" (1980); "Jaws" (1975); "The Silence of the Lambs" (1991); "Dead Ringers" (1988); "Seconds" (1966); "Audition" (1999)

What are your favorite horror films? Write us at

Dave McCoy is Lead Editor for MSN Movies. He's written for newspapers, magazines, weeklies and on-line publications about movies, TV and music for longer than he cares to admit.

Apr 16, 2012 7:31PM
stupidest top ten ever'..excorcist should be 1 jaws..2 alien 3 amityville horror 4 haloween 5 nightmare on elm st. 6 friday the 13th part 3 7. the shining 8 texas chainsaw 9 evil dead 10.
Oct 31, 2013 2:07PM
Motel Hell should be in everyone's list at some point.
Mar 9, 2014 11:54PM
Awesome List
You must also need to check the Top 10 Horror movies of 21st century
Jan 24, 2014 5:52AM
Good list....But you might also like to check top horror movies of 21st century
Feb 10, 2013 3:17PM
just as Phyllis explained I cannot believe that some people can get paid $6404 in 4 weeks on the internet. did you read this page
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