Top five greatest horror movies ever

By Matt Rooney
A&E Editor

Paranormal Activity
Paranormal Activity

5. “Paranormal Activity”: After the hit that was “The Blair Witch Project,” you would think Hollywood would’ve taken the hint about what would bring modern audiences back to the theaters. But it took 10 years of nothing but Japanese rehashes and teen slasher flicks for that message to get across, and it was worth it.

“Paranormal Activity” used the same low-budget feel to tell a classic haunted house story with fantastic results. Director Oran Peli slowly progressed his movie from almost laughable “Really? That’s it?” moments to “Holy crap, holy crap, holy crap!” by the end almost effortlessly.

On the way we learned to fear the dark psychologically with each nightly encounter just as “Jaws” made audiences fear a shark every time they heard the classic score. It was a tremendous modern horror movie that used classic tricks to make a terrifying at home experience. Although it had spawned a whole found footage craze that some have grown tiresome, “Paranormal Activity” reminded us all why the dark is so frightening: dark, unknown silence.

Freaks
Freaks

4. “Freaks”: Made back in 1932 by Tod Browning (“Dracula”), not many people today have seen, or even heard of, this horror masterpiece. Banned in some countries for its extreme macabre and available only on VHS or stations willing to air it on TV, “Freaks” was a movie about carnival “freaks” (played by actual carnival folk) who plot to kill a woman and the strong man who are conning one of their own wealthy, fellow carnies.

This was a demented, twisted picture solely based on the way it presents the idea of “Who is the real freak, us? Or this woman?” No part in the movie better demonstrates this than the final moments, as the woman tries to escape the carnival folk, crawling through the mud and out of the darkness.

It did not rely on violence to make the audience to squirm, just eerie mood, tone and the characters who inhabit it. It was a remarkable and lasting haunting experience.

Psycho
Psycho

3. “Psycho”: Few horror films (The next two are also part of the list.) have earned the right to be considered not only great in their genres but also among the best movies ever made. “Psycho,” directed by the legendary Alfred Hitchcock, was a marvel of tone, structure and suspense. Hitchcock flawlessly kept audiences on the edge and out of the loop. Accompanied by a classic score, the aura of mystery in the air was constantly, much like the characters, left in a state of paranoia. Famous for its shower scene, the film’s ending was even better. It may have been seen miles away by modern audiences, but it was still both shocking and memorable as Hitchcock always kept more than possibility in the air. That is the definition of a classic.

Exorcist
The Exorcist

2. “The Exorcist”: Visual terror has yet to be matched when compared to the likes of “The Exorcist.” The number of haunting sequences cannot be counted on two hands such as the twisting head, spider-walk and the countless scenes of violence from the possessed little girl.

Infinite nightmares have been had at the hands on film, thanks to horrifying makeup and visuals and director William Friedkin’s knack for moody atmosphere along with one of the most famous scores of all time. One of the biggest movies, well, ever, “The Exorcist” was the first horror movie ever to be nominated for Best Picture as well as nine other Oscars and two wins (Sound, Adapted Screenplay).

Jaws
Jaws

1. “Jaws”: This was one of the greatest movies ever put to film, the grandfather of the summer blockbuster, and the cause for many exclamations of “Oh, hell, no, I’m not going in the water!”

“Jaws” may not have been the first movie to come to mind in the horror category, but it was a monumental achievement in film (released June 1975) that launched the career of Steven Spielberg. Audiences flocked in droves (It was above “The Exorcist” as the most attended horror movie ever.) to see, or better yet, not see a gigantic shark terrorize a small island community. Spielberg, with the help of John Williams’ music, used classic psychological methods to scare audiences into perceiving when one thing was about to happen and only to fall off the boat (pun always intended). Though more shark was supposed to in the film, technical issues plagued the mechanical shark, Bruce (Pixar fans should be smiling right now.). The lack of a shark on-screen contributed to the fear of the unknown and was the film’s most admirable quality.

Inhabited with characters who were well-written and cared for by audiences, “Jaws” won three Oscars (Sound, Editing and Score) and was nominated for Best Picture and started a series of snubs for Spielberg.

Today its name is globally recognized; its music is many people’s ring tone, and its legacy eternal. “Jaws” was in all rights nothing short of a masterpiece.


More Rooney's Reviews

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Paranormal Activity

Freaks trailer from 1932

the Psycho movies

Exorcist

Jaws fan site

Horror Film History