50 Genuinely Creepy Horror Movies
Here are 50 genuinely creepy horror movies that will surely frighten the hell out of you without cheap scares...
Creepy isn’t the same as scary. Horror movies can be scary simply by using loud noises and sudden movements to make their audiences jump; they can play on primal fears and physical reactions to give you a thrill. But creepy is harder to pull off.
To be one of the good horror movies, a film needs to establish a certain atmosphere; it needs to draw you in and make you care. It needs to give you something to think about when you’re trying to drop off to sleep at night; to make you wonder whether that creaking noise down the hallway was just the house settling, or something lurking in the shadows. Creepy stays with you. It gives you goosebumps.
I love most kinds of horror movies, but creepy films are probably my favourite. Or rather, my least favourite, because they give me nightmares and make me paranoid and afraid to look into mirrors in the dark. But I love ‘em. Here are 50 genuinely creepy movies (in no particular order). Enjoy the nightmares.
Cat People (1942)
Serbian immigrant Irena doesn’t have a friend in the world when she meets Oliver. He’s kind and attentive and they soon fall in love, despite Irena’s lack of physical affection. She’s convinced she’s living under a curse that will mean she’ll transform into a panther and kill any man she kisses, and despite seeing a (deeply inappropriate) psychiatrist, she can’t shake her beliefs. Oliver is initially patient but eventually finds himself falling for his much more reasonable colleague, Alice. There’s no way this love triangle can end happily and, well, it doesn’t. Cat People is sad as well as eerie, with an increasingly paranoid atmosphere enhanced by skillful shadow play.
The Nameless (1999)
Five years after her daughter Angela went missing, presumed dead, Claudia starts getting weird phone calls. A female voice claims to be Angela, and begs her mother to save her. A series of weird clues leads Claudia to investigate a weird cult… but when things slot into place too easily, it seems like someone might be luring her into a trap. Thematically, The Nameless is similar to Jaume Balaguero’s later film Darkness; there’s a similar feeling of hopelessness and despair, a creeping horror that doesn’t let up, topped off with a horribly downbeat ending. Brrrr.
Dead End (2003)
The Harrington family are driving home for Christmas when they decide to take a shortcut. Obviously, that turns out to be a bad idea. Picking up a mysterious hitchhiker is an even worse idea. Dead End isn’t a particularly original movie, and it does have a truly awful ending, but there’s something about its characters, its atmosphere, and the way it tells the well-worn story that’s really effective. And creepy, of course.
Night Of The Living Dead (1968)
“It is happening, and no one is safe.” Night Of The Living Dead features some of the most brilliantly ominous radio broadcasts in all horror. When a group of strangers end up trapped in an isolated farmhouse together after the dead begin to rise, no one is in the mood for making friends, and it’s their own prejudices and stubbornness that leads to their downfall. (Well, that, and the fact that no one realised getting bitten by a ghoul would lead to death and reincarnation. Oops.) The zombie imagery is some of the most haunting ever committed to film, as vacant-eyed ghouls wander in and out of the shadows, chewing on dismembered body parts as they lurch around, constantly in search of fresh meat…
Say his name five times into a mirror and the Candyman appears. Despite his sweet-sounding name, that’s not something you really want to do: Daniel Robitaille was a murdered artist, stung to death by bees in a racist attack, and so he tends not to be in a good mood when he shows up. Set in an urban tower block, this film demonstrates that horror can strike anywhere, not just in spooky old mansions in the middle of the countryside. It’s gory, grimy, and really quite disturbing.
A child murderer is stalking the streets of Berlin and, as the police seem unable to catch him, tensions run high. In an attempt to stop the nightly police raids, the town’s criminals decide to catch the killer themselves, and a frantic chase begins. Though there’s no actual onscreen violence, Peter Lorre is amazingly creepy as the whistling killer, and there’s a sense of corruption pervading the whole film. (Since both Lorre and Fritz Lang, the director, fled the country in fear of the Nazis soon after the film was made, it’s tempting to speculate on what M might be saying about Germany at the time, which only makes it all the creepier.)
The Blair Witch Project (1999)
An early example of the found footage genre, The Blair Witch Project has been aped and parodied by everyone and their grandma, but there’s something unsettling about it that hasn’t quite gone away. Most of the film is improvised; the actors are really filming the scenes themselves, working from a loose outline of the plot, but without prior knowledge of what half the scares were going to be. That ambiguous ending lets you make up whatever explanation you like for the events of the film, which means whatever the scariest thing you can think of is, that’s what the film is about.
Ring isn’t a perfect film. It’s a bit too long and ponderous and there’s a bit too much irrelevant mysticism in there. But in terms of pure creepiness, it’s pretty damned effective. The idea of a cursed videotape was brilliant – who didn’t have zillions of unmarked VHS tapes lying around the house at the time? – and that climactic scene where the image on the screen crossed over into reality is bloodcurdling. Sneaky, too, since it managed to suggest that no one was safe. Especially not you, gentle viewer, because didn’t you just watch that cursed tape, too? An awful lot of people must have breathed a sigh of relief once their own personal seven-day window was over.
The Innocents (1961)
Based on Henry James’ The Turn Of The Screw, this film sees a young governess heading out to an isolated old house to take care of two young children who appear to be keeping secrets from her. Their previous governess died, along with another of the house’s servants, but their influence still seems to be lingering about. Or is it? Just like in the original story, it’s possible to read the ghosts either as genuine spectres or as the fevered imaginings of an over-stressed and under-sexed young woman. Either way, though, the film is terrifying.
The Skeleton Key (2005)
In a decaying house on an old plantation, an old man is dying. Caroline is hired as his carer, but although her job should be simple enough, she begins to suspect that something weird is going on - especially when she finds a secret room in the house’s attic filled with spell books and other arcane bits and bobs. Is the old man actually under a spell? Why does he seem so terrified of his wife? And might Caroline herself be in danger? The Skeleton Key is one of those films that’s far better than it has any right to be; it slowly ratchets up the tension to a crazy finale and ends on an incredibly creepy note.
Insidious uses just about every trick in the book to creep out its audience, and for some people, that might seem like overkill. There are lurking monsters around every corner; there’s a child in peril; there are wrong-faced nasties; and there are screeching violins every five minutes. On repeat viewings, the plot doesn’t quite hold up (halfway through, the film switches protagonists, which is baffling) and the comedy relief seems grating rather than funny. But the carnival atmosphere, the nods to silent German Expressionist films, the demon’s bizarre appearance, that dancing ghost... there’s something brilliant about it, nonetheless.
Dark Water (2002)
Part of the initial wave of soggy dead girl movies, Dark Water is occasionally very daft, but still effectively creepy. Yoshimi Matsubara is a divorcee, forced by circumstances to move into a crumbling apartment block with her young daughter, Ikuko. Their new home isn’t in the nicest of areas, but it might be alright if it weren’t for the leaky ceiling – and, um, that creepy little girl lurking in the shadows, the one who’s never there when you take a second look. Directed by Hideo Nakata and based on a book by Koji Suzuki, Dark Water might not be as terrifying as Ring, but it’s still pretty eerie.
A Nightmare On Elm Street (1984)
The effects are dated, and the sequels utterly killed Freddy Krueger’s menace, but the first film is still creepy, in its way. The premise is amazingly disturbing – a dead child molester is attacking children in their dreams – and, combined with some of the deeply weird nightmare imagery in this film, it’s more than enough to give anyone a few sleepless nights. All together now: one, two, Freddy’s coming for you…
Slowly, inexplicably, a small town is taken over by spirals. Some people become obsessed; others are killed, their bodies twisted into impossible positions. Uzumaki is a live action adaptation of the manga of the same name, and it’s incredibly weird. Unspeakably weird. Visually, it’s incredible, although the green filters look less interesting than they used to due to overuse by every horror and sci-fi movie since. Still, most films don’t go to the extremes that Uzumaki does.
The Devil’s Backbone (2001)
Yup, it’s another soggy dead kid movie, but this time the kid is a boy and the action is set in civil war-era Spain. A young boy is sent to a creepy orphanage, where the other boys scare one another by telling stories about the resident ghost, Santi, who was killed when the orphanage was bombed. Written and directed by Guillermo del Toro, this isn’t your average ghost story – it’s a companion piece to Pan’s Labyrinth, but it’s much more of a horror movie than its better known counterpart.
The Vanishing/Spoorloos (1988)
Saskia and Rex are on holiday when Saskia suddenly, inexplicably, disappears. Rex dedicates his time to trying to find her, but to no avail. He can’t move on, can’t live with the uncertainty, so when Saskia’s kidnapper reveals himself and offers to show Rex what happened to her, his curiosity wins out. It’s a simple yet eerie story with an utterly devastating ending.
Takashi Miike’s Audition is more often described as extremely disturbing rather than creepy, but if you can get over that ending (which, let’s be honest, most of us watched through our fingers or from behind a cushion while shouting “NO NO NO NO NO” at the screen), the rest of the film may well creep you out. It starts off slow: a middle-aged man is thinking about dating again, but rather than trying to meet women via traditional methods, he holds a series of fake auditions for a non-existent movie. He meets Asami, a shy dancer, and starts wooing her – but Asami isn’t as sweet and innocent as she seems. Pretty much every character in this movie is an awful person, and the way they treat one another is disturbing on many, many levels.
One Missed Call (2004)
Also directed by Takashi Miike, One Missed Call is a parody of the endless string of soggy dead girl movies made in Japan at the time. But somehow it’s still really creepy. The premise is that, as the title suggests, teenagers are receiving missed calls on their mobile phones. The mystery caller leaves a horrifying voicemail: the sound of the phone’s owner screaming in agony. And since the call came from the person’s own phone, and appears to come from a few days in the future, it’s clearly a sign of impending doom. Sure enough, the kids all die just as the missed call predicted. There’s a nasty little backstory about evil little girls, and a bonkers televised exorcism, and generally, it’s a great film whether you love or loathe stories about scary dead kids.
The Last Man On Earth (1964)
You might’ve thought about how you’d survive the apocalypse, but have you ever stopped to consider whether it’s actually worth doing? In The Last Man On Earth, Vincent Price is the only survivor of a mysterious plague that’s turned the rest of humanity into walking corpses, hungry for his blood. Every day, he tools up and goes out to kill the bloodsuckers; every night, they surround his house and try to kill him. It’s a dismal way to live, and a depressingly eerie film. It’s based on Richard Matheson’s novel I Am Legend – so skip the Will Smith adaptation and watch this instead.
A Tale Of Two Sisters (2003)
Part melodramatic family drama, part psychological horror, A Tale Of Two Sisters is all scary all the time. When a pair of sisters return from a mental hospital, having been traumatised by their mother’s death, they find their new stepmother difficult to adjust to. The nightly visitations from a blood-dripping ghost don’t help, either. But as always in these kinds of films, nothing is what it seems – you might need a second viewing to get your head round the ending.
Night Of The Hunter (1955)
Robert Mitchum might have claimed not to be interested in movies or acting, but he’s great in this. As Harry Powell, a bizarrely religious conman, he’s terrifying, whether he’s preaching about the evils of fornication or chasing the children of his latest victim across the country in an attempt to steal a stash of money he knows they’re hiding. The use of light and shadow in this movie is just stunning; the first time Powell arrives at the Harper house is a particular highlight. Robert Mitchum’s singing voice isn’t half bad, either.