When I was a snotty little kid, my older sister used to always borrow horror movies from the local video store. Scary movies were all that she watched. Scary movies and Stand By Me and White Fang (on loop — thanks to crushes on River Phoenix and Ethan Hawke).
I grew to like horror films too, but it wasn’t before they caused some serious lifelong trauma. Without further ado, here the 25 that scared me the most (entirely from memory).
Before we begin, note we weren’t very selective with our choices, so not all of these were exactly classics or blockbusters…but probably more interestingly, a lot of these were also comedies, but I guess I was too young to get the jokes. By the way, I have no idea how my parents allowed us to watch them.
25. Fright Night (1985)
Before Twilight, vampires were scary, and none scared me more than the fanged creatures in Fright Night. It’s one of those typically campy 80s films where a teenager is the protagonist and he discovers something amazing but no one believes him. In this case, of course, it’s that his neighbour is a blood sucking vampire. This was pretty much the first horror video that I can remember, and it was because my uncle borrowed it and never returned it (the video store eventually went bust), so we must have watched it half a dozen times. By the way, a remake is due this year.
24. Creepshow (1982)
I remember the poster more than anything else. Directed by George A Romero and written by Stephen King, Creepshow was really a series of short films, but what freaked me out was of course the famous Crypt-Keeper that tied everything together. My favourite story was ‘The Crate’, starring Hal Holbrook and a big, scary monster nicknamed ‘Fluffy’.
23. The Shining (1980)
The Shining is of course a Stanley Kubrick classic and considered one of the best horror films of all time. I must admit, when I was young I actually fell asleep watching it (too slow, I think it was the bar scene), but the moments where I was awake did freak me out, especially after Jack Nicholson lost it and started running around with an axe.
22. Children of the Corn (1984)
There have been about a million sequels, but the original Children of the Corn was the best. There’s always something about children that frightened me, even when I was a child myself. Does that make sense? Maybe it was just the sickle. By the way, that’s 3 Stephen King films in a row, and there’s more to come. What a legend. Oh, and apparently there was a 2009 remake that I’ve never heard of.
21. Gothic (1986)
Really interesting film about a fictional evening featuring a bunch of famous horror writers including Mary Shelley and some guy played by Julian Sands. Another one of those horror films where I didn’t really know what was going on but it still freaked me out. Great poster too, I think it’s the reason why I still remember it after all these years.
20. Graveyard Shift (1990)
Stephen King again, and I remember this one for the giant bats and the giant rats in some kind of undergound factory place. To this day I don’t like bats and rats because of this film, even the small ones.
19. The Fly (1986)
‘Be Afraid. Be Very Afraid.’ And I was. One of my favourites growing up. I loved the mixture of sci-fi and monsters, and when Jeff Goldblum started mutating I started checking my own body out, terrified I was going to turn into a giant mosquito because one had just stung me (and I believe there was a rip-off film that actually took the mosquito concept). I also remember being excited when the sequel with Eric Stoltz came out.
18. Sleepwalkers (1992)
I remember this one better because I was a little older, but it still freaked me out because of all the cats. There’s just something about a lot of cats that make me uncomfortable, especially when they just sit around and stare (which is why I think that cat scene in Let The Right One In all those years later is still ingrained into my brain). The film also helped me develop a crush on Madchen Amick, which is why I started watching Twin Peaks.
17. A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)
The original (not the 2010 remake) was one that actually gave me nightmares. I never dreamed about Fred Krueger, but his burnt face and claws kept giving me nightmares of being trapped in fires and getting attacked by cats (again, the cat theme). I watched most of the sequels as well, but only the original truly scared me.
16. The People Under the Stairs (1991)
I loved this underrated Wes Craven movie about a kid trapped in a house owned by a pair of crazy siblings determined to hunt him down with their ferocious dog, while rumblings from between the walls suggest that there is more to the house than meets the eye. For years after watching this film I was afraid to go anywhere near the basement of any house.
15. Tales from the Dark Side: The Movie (1990)
This was also known as Creepshow 3, but for me this was a culmination of fear from all the Tales from the Dark Side short films I watched over the years. As usual, the film featured the Crypt-Keeper, but my favourite part of it this time was, not unexpectedly, the one called ‘Cat From Hell’. Also a very good first story with Steve Buscemi and Christian Slater. I remember I had a friend over to watch this, and they never came back to our house again after that.
14. House (1986)
No, not the medical drama series or the 2008 horror film. This House is about a real, um, house, a haunted house. I’ve always been terrified of ghosts, and House was one of the films I attribute that fear to. The mangled hand in the poster pressing the doorbell was something that always stood out in my memory.
13. Clownhouse (1989)
If there’s one thing that scares me more than cats, it’s clowns. Even though this was a slasher film with no supernatural elements, the escaped mental patients dressed as clowns scared worse than most ghosts and monsters. From my research I just found out that Sam Rockwell was one of the three brothers in the movie. And did you know an irrational fear of clowns is known as coulrophobia? I think I may have that.
12. Hellraiser (1987)
Few images are more memorable than Hellraiser‘s Pinhead holding the puzzle box on the poster. I still can’t believe I watched this cringeworthy film, which I’m sure was restricted for my age (with all its flying blood and guts). Looking back, I think this was a precursor to torture porn films such as Saw and Hostel.
11. Child’s Play (1988) and Child’s Play 2 (1990)
It wasn’t one of the scariest, but it was one my favourites and one of the most memorable. Cats, clowns and ghosts scared me, but so did dolls, thanks to Chucky. I know in later films Chucky becomes almost a parody, but in the original he was as terrifying as anything I had ever seen. I ended up watching both the original and the sequel multiple times and became a fan of Alex Vincent, the child protagonist who amazingly never acted in another film. Here’s his website for those interested.
10. Poltergeist (1982)
One of the most popular haunting films of all time, and the best and most successful of the series. Two things stood out more than anything else for me — of course, little Heather O’Rourke in front of the static-filled TV declaring ‘They’re here!’ and freakish Zelda Rubinstein as the blobby psychic. Made me afraid to go to the bathroom at night for years. I did not know this at the time, but O’Rourke died four months before the release of the third film in the franchise (at the age of 12), giving life to various urband legends.
9. The Amityville Horror (1979)
This film made me believe my house was haunted for years and frightened me more than others because it was supposedly ‘based on a true story’. When you’re a kid, you just accept such claims at face value. The flies, the upside down crosses, demon pigs and the bleeding walls — I believed it all happened. I remember watching the 2005 remake with Ryan Reynolds and Melissa George when it came out and wondering why it scared me so much, but when I rewatched the original again a couple of years ago I realised it was just wasn’t a very good remake.
8. Candyman (1992)
After watching this film, my sister and I dared each other to look into the mirror and say ‘Candyman’ five times. We never did. Did I mention I don’t like bees?qs]
7. Evil Dead 2 (1987)
Funny that the sequel to this film, Army of Darkness, is now one of my favourite comedic guilty pleasures, but back in the day, Evil Dead 2 (never saw the original) kept me up at night. Demons, possession and crazy trees were all frightening, but it was Bruce Campbell’s arm severing scene that I remembered clearer than anything else.
6. Basket Case (1982)
A weird choice, but for some reason this low budget film has stuck in my mind. It’s about this guy who walks around with a basket carrying his parasitic siamese twin. They were separated at birth but the ‘monster’ didn’t die, and needless to say, it’s crazy and loves to kill people. Go figure.
5. The Omen (1976)
For a while, I was obsessed with this franchise, convinced beyond a shadow of a doubt that Damien was real and that the world was coming to an end. I also checked whether I had ‘666’ on my scalp regularly just in case to make sure I wasn’t the devil’s spawn. Luckily I only had dandruff. And how about the somewhat pointless 2006 remake with the kid that just wasn’t scary at all?]
4. The Haunted (1991)
How about this for another strange choice? This was a TV movie based on the ‘real’ haunting of the Smurl family, and even now, I have a feeling that a lot of the stuff depicted actually happened. The filmmakers went for ‘authenticity’ instead of over-the-top scares, and that actually made it scarier for me. Of all the films on this list, this might have been the one that lingered in my mind the longest after watching it. Youtube has the entire film (in parts) but strangely does not have a trailer, so I’ve posted this Entertainment Tonight segment on it instead.
3. Pet Sematary (1989) and Pet Sematary Two (1992)
Few films have terrified me into the foetal position the way Stephen King’s Pet Sematary has. A sacred American Indian site beyond a cemetery for pets brings the dead back to life, but not surprisingly, they aren’t quite the same when they return….Oh, and the sequel with Edward Furlong was a must-watch for us (my sister developed a crush on him after Terminator 2: Judgment Day). Thanks to the films, I incorrectly spelt ‘cemetery’ for a number of years without realising it. Some scenes from the original actually inspired me to write my first novel, a lame 119-page hand-written zombie horror. It will be burnt before I die.
2. The Exorcist (1973)
An expected choice, I would assume, for anyone who has ever seen this movie, no matter how old they were. Probably the scariest film on this list, and some would argue ever. Linda Blair’s demonic girl remains at the apex of all possessed subjects in the history of film and has probably had a hand in all future possession movies. I actually thought the 2004 prequel, the widely panned Exorcist: The Beginning, was underrated because it still scared the crap out of me.
1. It (1990)
Leave it to Stephen King to create the movie that scared me more than any other in my childhood. Even though It had one of the worst endings (albeit a typical Stephen King ending), this TV mini-series about seven kids (and later adults) who were terrified and had their lives destroyed by a monstrous clown named Pennywise was THE freakiest thing I had ever seen in my young life. The film confirmed my lifelong fear of clowns and my admiration for the genius of Stephen King. Apparently, Warner Bros announced a remake in 2009, set for a 2011 release. Not much more info apart from that for now, but I’ll be keen to see what they make of it.
So there you have it, the 25 films that scared the crap out of me when I was a kid. What are yours?
PS: One film I may have been too afraid to watch was The Serpent and the Rainbow. Just this poster alone scared the crap out of me.
Thanks to Youtube I can now watch the whole film on it!