It's been a while since I did a good "Sunday OT" post and with Halloween quickly approaching, I thought I'd share what I consider to be the most scary movies I've ever seen. Before jumping into the list though, I need to provide a bit of context.
As a child, I was interested in the supernatural, specifically Bigfoot and UFOs. I'm not really sure why (outside of just being young and slightly less mature than I am now), but I read every book I could find on anything related to cryptozoology and UFO sightings. While it was a good deal of junk "science", it was, for the most part, adult level writing, which was probably pretty good for my reading skills as a youth. On the negative side though I can clearly see how it's impacted my fears as an adult.
I'll also point out that I am very much not a fan of gore. I can remember watching Hostel and having to turn away at times. Every aspect of that film, and films like it (Saw for example) just felt wrong to me. I can't stomach it. (Although you're going to see one exception to the rule below.)
I can remember discovering this film around 12 years old or so. Being that I was a huge Bigfoot fanatic at the time, I was naturally also interesting in the Abominable Snowman. I got even more interested when I noticed that one of the main characters was Peter Cushing, AKA Grand Moff Tarkin. I had expected a fairly simple, old style monster movie. What I didn't expect was a movie that put much more of an emphasis on the mood and environment than silly scenes of men in monster suits. The whole idea of a monster film that skipped the monster was incredible to me at the time. The tension I remember feeling was much more heightened because of what they didn't show compared to what they did. I don't want to spoil it, but the ending of this film is creepy as hell. I haven't seen this film since I was 12, and I probably wouldn't enjoy it as much now, but at the time it really opened my mind to what could be done by implication and subtlety compared to special effects.
I'm sure everyone who reads this has scene this film, but pretend for a moment you haven't. If I were to tell you that one of the most chilling scenes in this film involved a tree, you would probably think I was crazy. I've got something of a minor phobia when it comes to storms. Minor isn't probably fair. I get very nervous when lightning is around, even if I'm safe and sound in my home. The storm scene in Poltergeist then is one of the scenes that freaks me out. While there are numerous creepy scenes in the film, I'll also call out the "voice in the TV" scene as pretty intense too. I rewatched this recently and as a parent, it was even more nerve-wracking to watch.
While not necessarily meant to be a horror film, this "supposedly based on true events" story of alien visitation was just plain creepy. Of course, anything with Walken is a good film, the scenes where the aliens seem to be in the same house as him and peering around a corner still sends chills down my spine.
Ok, I know this movie has almost no middle ground for viewers, but for me, especially with my whole Bigfoot-thing, a film set out in the woods with weird crap going on was pretty scary for me. Yes, you had those obnoxious actors, but the scenes at night with the voices just did something for me. (And by something I mean - of course - scare the crap out of me.) I loved the gradual build up and the lack of any real gore. It made the one small bit of gore all the more effective. I know it started the whole found-film genre that Hollywood has decided to go over the top on, but when it first came out it was an interesting change of style.
Speaking of films set out in the woods, I'll also point the scene in the Village where the townspeople stood with their backs to the woods was incredibly scary for me as well.
Ok, since I brought up a Shyamalan film, I might as well bring up the one that is - for me - the most creepy. While the Sixth Sense was a much better film and Unbreakable is - easily - one of the most interesting superhero films - it was Signs that crept me out the most. Just about every scene with an alien in this film freaked me out. The film breaks down pretty bad towards the end, but I still find certain scenes in this film scary.
I love ghost stories, but they almost always take place in familiar territories - old creepy homes, abandoned hospitals, or mental institutions. What really got me with Paranormal Activity was that it took place in suburbia. Hell, it could have been my neighbor's house. It also made excellent use of sound as well. I absolutely love this film. Even watching it again still creeps me out and I know exactly what's going to happen next. I enjoyed PA2 and 3 as well, and may see 4 too. But I think they are pretty much milking this series dry at this point.
To be clear, I'm talking about the original Norwegian version, not the remake. If this film taught me anything it's that Norwegians have some serious eff-ed up films. There are things in this film that are more than a little bit uncomfortable to see, but over all, it's an amazingly well-done film. The ending - again - is an amazing example of what can be done when you don't show the main action but rather show the effects instead.
I'm sure I'll think of more later, but other films I'd add to this list would be:
Alien: For obvious reasons. I rewatched this about a month or so ago and was surprised how quiet the beginning of this film was. So... different from most films. The closest example I can think of is the period in Castaway with no dialog.
The Orphanage: A very different, surprising film.
[Rec]: Another found-footage film, this one contained within a building with a zombie-esque type flavor to it. I'd also recommend the sequel, which took things in a very different direction.
Oh - and I mentioned earlier that I do not like gore. I'm going to make one exception to the rule. The Cabin in the Woods was marketed as a "different" type of horror film. The trailers even tend to give you a big idea of what that twist was. But when you actually see the film, you really begin to realize how different this film is. There were parts of this movie so fun/exciting I almost jumped out of my seat. It's my favorite film of 2012 - even more so than the Avengers. While it definitely had gore, it didn't feel gratuitous.