The Best, Most Terrifying Horror Films to Give You Nightmares This Halloween

Halloween is upon us, and the ghoulish among us have already made our plans to hunker down over the weekend and scare ourselves within an inch of our lives.

Of course, what is blood-curdingly terrifying to one person barely registers to another. The Exorcist, for example, may leave devout Catholics quaking in the aisles, while others find themselves laughing at the various shocking things Linda Blair's character finds herself doing, especially as the key scenes have been (almost literally) spoofed to death.

With that in mind, we asked Newsweek's culture writers to highlight some of their essential horror movies that they find themselves returning to Halloween after Halloween – the ones they love the most, that scare them the most, or that diabolically combination of the two that horror fans look for.

The Descent (2005)

The word "Claustrophobic" is used liberally to describe any horror movie that has a dingy enclosed setting, yet it's actually warranted with The Descent. Focussed on a group of thrill-seeking adrenaline junkies who go spelunking in an uncharted cave network, Neil Marshall's film is unbearably suffocating.

What works so well - apart from the terrific performances and polished screenplay - is that the environment here feels so grounded and real. You never get the impression that you are looking at a soundstage, despite the fact that that is precisely the case (with each scene being comprised of the same handful of rocks rearranged in different layouts). It's excruciatingly cramped and what little illumination you have is provided by feeble head torches.

As the characters get stuck in tight spaces, lose their bearings and suffer terrible injuries, it's hard to imagine a more distressing scenario. And then, at the halfway mark, you find out that there is a way things could get even worse, as it turns out that there is something primordial lurking in the darkness. From there, The Descent morphs into a completely different type of scary movie, but one that is no less terrifying.

REC (2007)

The novelty of found footage was long gone by the late 2000s, and there were vanishingly few examples of the subgenre being done well at the time.

The Spanish zombie-flick REC did manage to distinguish itself by cleverly using the format to immerse you in the narrative, rather than as a crutch or budget-saving technique. Unlike many Blair Witch knockoffs, REC feels totally authentic, with naturalistic performances and set pieces that were planned out in meticulous detail but that look entirely spontaneous.

Of course, REC also happened to arrive at the peak of the zombie craze, giving it yet another reason to feel tad stale. Yet rest assured that, if you are burnt out on shambling corpses and rabid infected, this movie does something unique with the premise, especially when it comes to its utterly nerve-wracking, night-vision filtered denouement.

suspria halloween
Jessica Harper in "Suspiria". The movie has long been considered one of finest horror movies ever made. 20th Century Studios

Suspiria (1977)

Outside of the works of David Lynch, Suspiria is probably the closest that a movie has ever come to successfully distilling the essence of a nightmare. The story operates on surreal dream logic, the geography is disorienting, the expressive use of color is totally unreal, and the rhythmic chanting over the soundtrack makes you feel as though you are plunging into a feverish state of madness.

The whole vibe of Dario Argento's film is uniquely troubling (even in the "safe" downtime moments) and that's without taking into account the bloodcurdling imagery and graphic death scenes. On that note, the sight of a ballet dancer's reanimated corpse emerging out of pitch-black darkness - covered head-to-toe in gory lacerations and cackling maniacally as she paces towards the camera – is up there with the scariest moments in all of cinema.

Luca Guadagnino's 2018 remake has its own merits, but in terms of sheer terror the original Suspiria still reigns (mother) supreme.

- Harrison Abbott

Fright Night (1985)

Fright Night (1985) written and directed by Tom Holland, tells the tale of Charlie Brewster, an awkward teen who discovers his neighbor Jerry Danridge, played by Chris Sarandon, is a blood-sucking fiend.

Unfortunately, as Charlie is a fantasy prone horror fan and Danridge cuts a powerful, handsome and charming figure (everything Charlie isn't), no one believes him. Not his girlfriend, Amy, his best friend "Evil" Ed, or horror host, Peter Vincent - played by Roddy McDowell, giving a performance of a lifetime.

Beginning as "Rear-Window with a vampire" the story shifts to becomes a battle for the very souls of its leads. Fright Night wears its love of classic horror on its sleeve, providing traditional vampire lore with truly monstrous visages, impressive creature work, and gruesome practical effects.

And though it delivers its scares with humor and a knowing wink, the Fright Night doesn't dial back on the horror. Particularly effective are Danridge's visit to Charlie's bedroom, and Vincent's battle with a vampire man-beast that ends with a surprising amount of pathos.

Make no mistake, this is Vincent's film.

The scene in which he discovers Brewster is right about Danridge is played out masterfully, and his journey from washed-up horror host to a confident vampire slayer is tremendous.

Ultimately Fright Night is a slice of '80's gold that remembers horror should be scary, gruesome, and above all else, fun.

- Robert Lea

alien halloween
John Hurt in "Alien". The so-called "chest-burster" scene is among the film's most famous. 20th Century Studios

Alien (1979)

In space, no one can hear you scream and with Alien, no horror can compare with the chestburster scene.

Ridley Scott's 1979 classic Alien is iconic for many reasons and one of them is that it is a perfect horror and sci-fi movie in one.

Sigourney Weaver's Ellen Ripley isn't just any scream queen, she's the last surviving member of the Nostromo in a film so perfectly paced that every jumpscare is effective even after years of rewatching.

The combination of Jerry Goldsmith's haunting score with H.R. Giger's otherworldly aesthetic and unsettling biomechanical surrealism, makes this one of the best horror films of all time.

And while the movie is so much more than John Hurt's horrifying chestburster moment, it should be celebrated for creating the blueprint for the genre's dread and gore for years to come.

Not to mention, the Xenomorph is the single most terrifying monster ever.

- Emma Nolan

Kill List (2011)

Ben Wheatley's debut film is probably not one often picked as the scariest horror film, but it is one that sticks on your mind, a whole decade after first watching it.

The folk horror follows hitmen Jay (Niel Maskell) and Gal (Michael Smiley), who are tasked with killing three people by a shady client. As they fulfil their objective, they start to witness strange happenings which culminates in a rather disturbing climax featuring human sacrifice. The most unsettling image comes when Jay and Gal are chased through an underground tunnel by the nude cultists who are all wearing animal heads.

The camera zooms right in the duo's faces as they are plunged into darkness, with their pursuers coming into frame in terrifying numbers. It's an image that burrows itself into your brain and doesn't ever leave, and will give you nightmares for days afterwards.

- Roxy Simons

Audition (1999)

Audition is the kind of horror film where someone can spoil the plot and yet it can still chill you to your core. Takeshi Miike's "J-horror" masterpiece lulls you into a false sense of security in its first act, when it seems like an offbeat rom-com about a man who holds auditions to find a girlfriend.

What sort of maniac would answer such a call-out? That is the question answered in the second half, in about the most gruesome way possibly (hint: it involves needles and piano wire.)

Even knowing the first half is giving you a false sense of security, you still feel yourself lulled into it every time, only for the movie to shock you all over again with how gnarly it gets, and how quickly it gets there. Plus, unlike many other Japanese horror of the time, we did not get the indignity of an American remake.

Raw (2016)

Though she is only two movies into her career, director Julia Ducournau has already become the finest master of body horror we have had since David Cronenburg.

Her two films Raw and Titane are like metal spikes straight into the central nervous system. The latter has the grisliest moments (you'll never look at a sink the same way again), but the former is the most overall gruesome experience, in which a young girl discovers a taste for cannibalism while attending vet school.

Maybe not one to watch while you're chowing down on your Halloween comedy, there is stuff in Raw that could turn the strongest stomach, and make the most committed carnivore go veggie.

Amour (2012)

Though not technically a horror movie, Michael Haneke's Amour is the most terrifying film of the 21st century.

You know that classic horror trope of a foreign body entering a person, eating them from the inside and changing them into someone you do not recognize? That is what Amour is about, except this time the force is not supernatural or extra-terrestrial. It is dementia, which turns a lively and outgoing woman into a tragic husk across two harrowing hours.

Sure, demons, zombies and vampires can be scary, but ultimately you can rationalize that they are not real. Amour does not give you such an escape hatch. All it does is show how real life can be far more horrifying than anything the movies can offer.

- Samuel Spencer