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Review by
E.C.McMullen Jr.


Greg, a fan of this site, once asked me, "What are your favorite Horror Movies? That is, the Scariest?"

My idea of the Top Ten Scariest Movies has now become the most popular on the Internet, ranking anywhere from #3 to #1 on the top search engines on any given day. It's entirely likely that you even came here after searching Top Ten Scary Movies.

There's a difference though, between what is scary and what is horrifying. People can sit absolutely still in their seats, utterly horrified at what they are seeing. Scary makes you scream. So onward with the Top Ten Horror Movies.

* Denotes those movies that had, at one time, been banned or remain so.

Coming in at both Top Ten Scary and Horrifying, when Phantom of the Opera wasn't makign people leap from their seats, it kept them glued to their chairs in Horror at the cruelty of Erik. Erik is pitable, and there is even a certain amount of sadness at knowing that he is also unredeemable (very similar to the character of Golem in The Lord of the Rings), but he is also far too damaged ini both body and psyche to ever re-enter human society.

Even love cannot save Erik, who can't help but twist it to his own murderous jealousies.

King Kong
2. KING KONG (1933)
Not just the U.S., but the entire world was suffering from the Great Depression. Yet people spent their money in droves to see KING KONG. Everything about Kong was over the top, and audiences, who were repelled by Kong from his first appearance, cheered him when he broke his chains and stormed after the rich people in their feathers and furs.

KING KONG has been imitated twice since then, with far better special effects each time. But the KING KONG of 1976 was utter crap, and the KING KONG of 2005 had nice effects, but was dull and preachy. Nobody has ever figured out how to make a KONG remake that can even match the Horror of the original, let alone surpass it. A tremendous failure on the part of both Kongs was the utterly inexplicable idea of having "The girl" fall in love with Kong. Fay Wray, who played the original girl, Ann Darrow, never loved Kong. She was absolutely terrified of the raging monster (as any sane person would be) and her screams became legendary.

2. HOUSE OF WAX (1953) This was a remake of the Fay Wray movie, MYSTERY OF THE WAX MUSEUM. When audiences saw that movie however, they were expecting Fay Wray to scream, waited for it, and were amused when she did (it was her reputation from her role in KING KONG. Fay Wray was the first Scream Queen). The surprise of HOUSE OF WAX (Besides the fact that it was shot in 3D!!!) is that it was played for droll laughs right up until the time that Vincent Price grabs his victim. She beats against his face, causing his wax visage to break and fall away, revealing the grotesque features beneath. Suddenly all the fun is gone and things are getting damn scary and tense FOR REAL! IN 3D! (The movie was black and white for 3D but originally shot in color). Laughter followed by Fright was a staple of Vincent Price movies. This moment, a call back to PHANTOM OF THE OPERA, so terrified audiences that it has become a standard of horror movies. Vincent Price did it again with his THE ABOMINABLE DR. PHIBES. It was repeated in BENEATH THE PLANET OF THE APES. Remember the face-falling-apart scene in David Cronenberg's remake of THE FLY?

As a side note, I also like the way Warner Bros. enticed you with the magic of 3D. On this poster at the top left, the bold yellow words read, "Beauty and Terror meet in your seat..."

3. PSYCHO (1960)* There's no getting around it, even in today's audience savvy world, when you find someone who has never seen Alfred Hitchcock's classic, there is that moment with "Mother" that makes them leap out of their skin. A movie that, like nearly all horror movies, unnerves the audience with a suggestive "It could happen to YOU" undercurrent. Robert Bloch's first masterpiece in movies.

Read James Futch's brilliant personal account of the PSYCHO movies.

Night of the Living Dead
4. NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (1968)* Some movies build up to the shocks, some movies throw in unexpected shocks, but NIGHT was the first movie I ever saw where the tension begins in the first 5 minutes and Never - Lets - Up. No explanation for why the dead are coming back to life, no exposition at all. It is happening and we have to deal with it. Romero's classic dances on your nerves right to the very last second of film. Incredible.
5. ASYLUM (1972)* Animated killer dolls with human organs inside them; body parts stuffed in bags and still moving; this Peter Cushing Classic so pushed the edge of Horror that it was banned in many countries (it remains banned in Finland). Some scenes which were considered Over-The-Top for their time, are still able to deliver the shocks. Robert Bloch's second movie masterpiece.
Trivia: Robert Block, Vincent Price, and Peter Cushing all died within a year of each other.
The Exorcist
6. THE EXORCIST (1973)* This movie so terrified audiences that some even checked themselves into mental hospitals after seeing it. William Friedkin, the Director, was a bastard to be sure in the handling of his actors. That said, the movie became an all time classic and its all right there on screen. Ellen Burnstyn was tortured by her director during the movie. To make her appear scared or jump he would come up behind her - just out of range of the camera, and fire a gun. During one torturous physical scene, she suffered permanent back injury. Then again, can you think of another Burnstyn movie that will still be remembered a century from now?
7. JAWS (1972) Like THE EXORCIST, this movie so terrified audiences that there were people by the thousands (in letters to newspapers and on talk radio shows) who refused to get more than knee deep in the ocean ever again (it didn't help matters when shortly after these declarations, some people in Florida were attacked by sharks in knee deep water!). My father was a body surfing fiend until he saw this movie. He never swam in the ocean again. This Horror / Scary movie is a tribute to Steven Speilberg, who made this film at the very height of his hunger as a film maker. He has made many other good movies in his career, but none so breathtaking as JAWS.

This movie, in fact, was so damn scary and influential, that it spawned an entire industry of shark hunters - men fighting their fears by killing sharks. In various interviews, they had all seen Jaws and admitted that it had an effect on them (whether this was for real or just an excuse, who knows?). In the late 1970s and on throughout the 1980s, shark hunting became such an epidemic that the authhor of JAWS, Peter Benchley, went on record as saying that he was sorry he ever wrote the book. Peter spent the rest of his days volunteering, working, and supporting various shark preservation efforts world wide.

8. CARRIE (1976) This movie was a career launcher both for Stephen King and Brian DePalma (John Travolta was already hitting his stride with a popular non-horror TV show). DePalma started this movie off as a slow burner, using the Vincent Price tactic of humor and frights, and creeping us out every time we had to deal with Carrie's (Sissy Spacek) house and her Mother (Piper Laurie). The grand finale scene was truly just that and everyone knows that "shock" moment in the movie when it's a good idea to suddenly GRAB your unsuspecting partner and make them shit!
9. ALIEN (1979) Shock after shock had audiences leaping from their seats. From the "Face hugger" scene to the infamous chest burster and beyond, Ridley Scott's amazingly claustrophobic movie did what some would consider the impossible: frightened audiences with a futuristic premise that couldn't possibly ever happen to them. With a creature both hideous and elegant, the world was now formally introduced to the amazing art of H.R. Giger.
10. FINAL DESTINATION (1999) Director and co-writer James Wong created a legend with this movie. Poorly advertised and marketed as a teenie bopper horror movie, audiences thought this was going to be another tired "Hollywood hip" slasher flick and largely avoided it. Now it is being rediscovered on video, which is great. Like CARRIE, fans know of that certain scene that will make you leap out of your seat and shout. It was the only movie I've ever seen that did that to me as an adult. I was not alone, the entire audience shouted or screamed. A true classic in every sense of the word. FINAL DESTINATION rounds out my list of the Top Ten Scariest Movies of all time.

So there you go. Now argue with me.

March 18, 2002:
I just want to say "Thanks!" to all the folks who have wrote me over this list saying how much they agree with my choices. Some have thought of other scary movies they could add, making the list a top fifteen or twenty, but none felt they could argue with my choices.

Am I amazed?

And how: having been in numerous chat rooms and message boards, I am very surprised that no one has criticized my choices. Not that I'm asking for a kick in the ass, you understand. I'm just...surprised is all. Thanks to everyone who wrote to let me know that I'm on the right track here.

Return to Horror Movies

If you can find it, read Susan Kay's remarkably powerful book PHANTOM. It's a must for all who love the original Gaston Leroux novel. Its 10 years later and I still can't get it out of my mind!

"Such a little thing, a kiss . . .
I've lived half a century without knowing what it is to be kissed . . .
My mind has touched the farthest horizons of mortal imagination and reaches ever outward to embrace infinity. There is no knowledge beyond my comprehension, no art or skill upon this entire planet that lies beyond the mastery of my hand. And yet . . .
For as long as I live, no woman will ever look on me in love."
excerpts from
Susan Kay's


Feo Amante's Horror Home Page and feoamante.com are owned and copyright 1997 - 2002 by E.C.McMullen Jr.
All images and text belong to E.C.McMullen Jr. unless otherwise noted.
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