In honor of Halloween, everyone seems to make a list like this. As someone who never passes up a chance to compile a top ten list, of course I had to join in the fun! But rather than a top ten horror film list, I thought I’d broaden it to include films of other genres. Thus, my collection is of the creepiest or most insidiously disturbing films: less about blood and slashers than heart-pounding shock and awe.
10) The Last Wave (1977): The horror of this film comes not from blood or violence or other conventional thrills. Rather, Peter Weir’s feverish aboriginal nightmare of an Australian apocalypse provides psychotropic ambience of the most unsettling kind.
9) Freaks (1932): The creepiest thing about this film is its exploitative use of real dwarfs, midgets, Siamese twins, and other circus freaks… And when the maligned freaks get angry and rebel against the “normals,” watch out…
8) Three Women (1977): Though it’s not a typical horror film (some might even call it a comedy), Robert Altman’s serenely pagan study of identity is remarkably ballsy and deeply disturbing. Sissy Spacek is even creepier here than she is in Carrie.
7) Lost Highway (1997): David Lynch makes sick movies. He’s a twisted, tortured soul. Lost Highway is particularly creepy, however, mainly because of the image of Robert Blake’s ghost-white, alarmingly devilish face.
6) The Hitcher (1986): I haven’t seen the recent remake, but the 1986 original is a heartpounding thrill a minute. C. Thomas Howell plays a teen stalked by a madmen on the highways of the American West… a conventional setup that devolves into uncharted territories of nihilistic despair.
5) The Wicker Man (1973): This British film (not to be confused with the horrible Nicolas Cage remake) about a secluded island in Scotland populated by happy-go-lucky occultists (who like to sing cheerful songs while sacrificing goats) inspired parodies like Hot Fuzz, but it remains one of the most disturbing, shocking films of the 1970s. The last five minutes are unimaginably f*#$%d up.
4) Night of the Living Dead (1968): George Romero’s groundbreaking horror classic terrified audiences back in the already-tense late 60s, and it terrifies even today. The low-budget, black-and-white, “band of survivors in a farmhouse” setup turns into an unrelenting Cold War zombie hysteria by the end.
3) The Exorcist (1973): Demon movies are inherently disturbing, and this one takes the cake. The unrepentantly earnest realism of the film is its most frightening quality, as are the flash-frame images of indescribably scary demon faces (I dare you to pause it on those images!). The subliminal spiritual warfare of this film is intensely terrifying.
2) The Silence of the Lambs (1991): In addition to the indelible horror that is Hannibal Lecter, this film features the most thrilling climax of any film I can think of. The “blackout” moment near the end is quiet nearly unbearable to watch.
1) The Shining (1980): When I first saw this film for the first time, it was quite simply one of the most scarring moments of my young life. But the months of nightmares are worth it in retrospect, as Stanley Kubrick’s film (from a book by Stephen King) remains one of the most compelling, complex, skin-tingling thrillers of all time.
Next Ten: Pyscho, Carrie, Halloween, The Sixth Sense, Rosemary’s Baby, Zodiac, Scream, The Others, The Birds, Alien.