Although I’ve seen hundreds of horror films, I still consider myself something of a novice. The upside of this situation is that there is always a movie I haven’t yet seen, which means there are still hundreds, if not thousands, of films to look forward to seeing for the first time.
After all these years, I’ve managed to figure out what kinds of horror movies truly terrify me. Here are my top three favorites and why they scare(d) the living hell out of me.
1. The Exorcist (1973):
The main reason I can imagine someone wouldn’t find this film frightening is if they were not raised Catholic. Granted, that is a huge percentage of the world’s population, but I am still amazed by how many folks who were raised in the Christian faith that don’t think this movie is that big of a deal. Sure, some of the special effects are dated, but that hasn’t stopped people from being freaked out by newer movies with pitiful CGI. It sounds corny to reduce the film to a battle between good and evil, but that is exactly what it is. Even with the considerably unsettling supernatural trappings, at the heart of The Exorcist there is real human drama and that’s what gets me every time.
2. 28 Days Later (2002):
The first five minutes of this film scared me so much that I seriously considered leaving the theater. I stayed… and the film stayed with me for days afterwards, making me jittery and paranoid even during the daytime. Not only did the film recast the source of the zombie “plague” into a rapidly mutating virus, it is also a pioneer in the realm of digitally shot cinema. Like The Exorcist, the core of 28 Days Later is drama of the human kind: from kind-hearted souls, to would-be cynics, from people trapped within societal expectations, to the truly delusional and dangerous. After all the cinematic additions to the zombie subgenre in subsequent years, this is the movie that still manages to seem relevant, timely, and terrifying.
3. À l’intérieur, a.k.a. Inside (2007):
Most of the gory films I’d seen up until my first viewing of this one were just splatter films that were more gross than genuinely bloodcurdling. À l’intérieur manages to transform its gruesome mise en scene into high art. Like all the best horror films, this one is also about human drama, but what makes it most affecting is that it’s so damn unrelenting in its darkness. It takes place over one evening and mostly one location, making the viewer feel like it’s happening to them as events unfold. Despite the fact that my maternal instincts are almost non-existent, the invasion of the main character’s pregnant body affected me deeply. À l’intérieur’s nihilism feels like a wound that will never heal.