The 50 Scariest Movies Of All Time

From classic jumps to psychological horror, these films might just keep you awake at night

What makes a scary movie scary?

If you glanced at what's come out in the past 20 years, you might think it's the amount of diced body tissue flying around the screen. Horror has always depended on shock value (see: Freaks below), but what really unsettles us hasn't changed much: an ominous sound from around the corner, an indecipherable figure in the distance, a sense of impending doom as somebody opens a door. Gore has its place, but only when it's attached to an idea. Hostel is less a spine-tingling chiller than an endurance test for ick along the lines of E!'s Botched.

In the past few years, though, there's been a refreshing resurgence of old-fashioned craft in horror movies, and some are making profits that would make even Michael Bay envious. The Witch keeps you sweating and guessing until the last few minutes. Don't Breathe adds a fascinating twist to the old things-popping-out-of-the-dark formula. The new It Comes at Night (June 9) unravels its survivalist mystery so carefully that you, too, might start to feel like you're boarded up in a house warding off threats from all sides. People (well, some people) will always want to feel scared, and filmmakers keep inventing ways to screw with their sleep patterns.

Here is one horror aficionado's list of the 50 scariest movies ever made:

Note: The scariest movies are not always the same as the best horror movies (a classification that's fuzzy anyway). And if you're worried about spoilers, don't read the "scariest moments."

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50. 'Blood and Black Lace' (1964)

Director: Mario Bava

In the most stylish horror movie of all time, a masked killer picks off sexy but not always bright models at a fashion house.

Scariest moment: The perverse elegance of a model getting her face burned alive on a hot iron in technicolor.

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49. 'Under the Skin' (2013)

Director: Jonathan Glazer

Scarlett Johansson's alien is sent to earth to lure Scottish men back into her apartment, where they enter a black void.

Scariest moment: When you finally see what happens to the dudes stuck in goo.

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'Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me' (1992)

Director: David Lynch

The prequel movie made after the original run of the show follows Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee) in her last week alive.

Scariest moment: The look on Laura's face as she realizes that her father and Killer Bob are the same person—and that her father is her rapist. For all of its wacko images and sounds (ghost David Bowie, the Red Room, Chris Isaak playing an FBI agent), Fire Walk With Me is a devastating story about family, trauma, and loss.

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47. 'M' (1931)

Director: Fritz Lang

A serial killer who hunts children has caused city-wide panic (all captured in extremely moody German expressionist photography). While police use modern technologies to track him, an underworld of criminals being targeted by raids decides to bring the killer to justice. You can thank M for Seven and all your other favorite serial-killer thrillers that have copied it—which is basically all of them.

Scariest moment: A girl playing with a ball in the street silently disappearing as her mom waits for her to come home for dinner.

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'Scream' (1996)

Director: Wes Craven

The one that set off the trend of postmodern scary movies about scary movies, for better or (probably) worse. Nineties icons (Neve Campbell, Drew Barrymore, David Arquette, Courtney Cox, Rose McGowan) are terrorized by a killer while everyone debates the rules of slasher movies. It was fresh, funny, and genuinely shocking when it came out, and it still holds up.

Scariest moment: Something about Matthew Lillard is just terrifying, but the moment you realize Drew Barrymore isn't going to make it out of this alive is excruciating.

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45. 'Cabin Fever' (2002)

Director: Eli Roth

Roth's first and still by far best movie dishes out Evil Dead-style camp, but it also significantly ups the stakes and cringe factor with a skin-eating disease spreading among drunk assholes (well, except for Rider Strong, who of course plays the nice one) who quickly turn on each other.

Scariest moment: Imagining shaving in the bathtub only to see that your skin is sliding right off with the razor. It's a relatable nightmare.

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44. 'The Lords of Salem' (2012)

Director: Rob Zombie

It's a slow burn, but Zombie's artful take on the Salem witches who now seem to be haunting a recovering drug addict is ominous thanks almost entirely to its meticulous use of sound and set design. And—rarest of all for a movie like this—it has a lot of heart.

Scariest moment: The visions of a witch ritual and bodies heaped in a pile rank up there with anything Stanley Kubrick ever made.

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43. 'Pulse' (2001)

Director: Kiyoshi Kurosawa

People encounter ghosts through their computers and suddenly vanish in this Japanese techno-horror gem that somehow makes the internet even scarier than it already is.

Scariest moment: A man casually hanging himself while in the middle of conversation.

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42. 'The Witches' (1990)

Yes, this Roald Dahl adaptation is ostensibly a movie for kids, but it fucked me up when I watched it over and over on VHS as a child, and I'm still not sure why my mom thought that was okay. Witches all over the world disguise themselves as normal-looking, professional women, but they lure children to their death using sweets.

Scariest moment: Anjelica Huston, head witch in charge, having a full-on heaving, orgasmic reaction to the thought of turning children into mice and stomping on them. This is how you chew scenery.

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41. 'God Told Me To' (1976)

Director: Larry Cohen

An NYPD officer investigates a series of killings, in which the murderers say they were inspired by God, and gets roped into a mythology that is definitely the weirdest thing on this list.

Scariest moment: The scene in which the officer approaches a cult leader in an underground furnace that might as well be hell.

From: Esquire