As we approach Halloween, companies have been conducting experiments to determine the scariest films out there, according to data. Participants wear a Fitbit that measures their heart rate while watching a selection of horror movies deemed terrifying to see what literally gets their pulse pounding. 2021’s winner was Rob Savage’s Host, which was proudly featured on the Freaky Found Footage list.
Using BPM is a neat idea to explore the science of fear and something anyone can replicate at home with the right list to work from. And if you don’t have the tech, you can just count how many times you cover your eyes, the old fashioned way. Even better, which of the scares are you most concerned will be waiting for you in your shower later?
Here are five of the most horrifying movies I’ve ever seen (and as this blog suggests, I’ve seen a lot.) How many can you handle?
Writer and director Bryan Bertino bestowed upon me a lifelong phobia of wide shots. To this day I still nervously scan the background in every movie for hidden lurkers. (Mike Flanagan’s The Haunting series nails this, too.) After an awkward proposal rejection, a couple embarks on their planned cabin retreat with a lot more tension than they had bargained for. That becomes the least of their troubles when they are soon surrounded by a group of deranged masked visitors. Transcendentalist Henry David Thoreau may have found the wilderness peaceful but unless you’re transcending into, I don’t know, the afterlife, you probably won’t feel the same after The Strangers.
I’ve never heard anybody cry the way Toni Collette can and sobbing is one of my favorite pastimes, so consider me an expert. Ari Aster‘s harrowing, horrifying directorial debut follows a grieving family that begins to unravel after a series of gruesome tragedies. Every family’s got its own demons, but you may be thankful for yours after watching Hereditary. The dread that it conjures will stay with you long after the last bloodcurdling scream.
If you scare easily and you don’t speak Spanish, you’ll likely have a hard time with Demián Rugna‘s Terrified. You can’t close your eyes when you’re relying on subtitles, after all! Inhabitants of a Buenos Aires neighborhood are tormented by disturbing paranormal events, from whispering drains to corpse-like creatures hiding under the bed. This movie is so sure of its ability to unnerve that it proudly displays one of its most sickening features right on the poster. Don’t say you weren’t warned.
As if The Strangers wasn’t enough, Bertino returns to traumatize audiences with The Dark and the Wicked, which takes place in a similarly rural location, this time on a farm haunted by grief and failure (and a few ghosts, of course.) A family is reunited by the grave condition of its sickly patriarch and one by one, the mother and siblings discover a malevolent presence in the home that aims to consume them all. Hopefully none of you like knitting.
I once went spelunking and experienced what True Dark looks like deep underground with the flashlight shut off. And to my knowledge, I wasn’t near anything that wanted to devour me alive. Not so for these unfortunate cave-divers in The Descent. Writer and director Neil Marshall could render any viewer claustrophobic with the tight spaces these women become trapped in but those crevices seem a lot more compressing when you’re down there with bloodthirsty mutants. Compounded by the weight of painful secrets, the situation depicts the last place you’d ever want to break up with your best friend.
About the Author
Melaina Kris is a lifelong lover of horror and the founder of The Final Girl Reviews. She lives in Chicago where she manages an architecture magazine by daylight.