10. Cabin in the Woods (2012)
This was one of my favorite movies of last year, which is rare for me to say about a horror film. This is a great horror movie, because it understands why I hate most horror movies. Its jump scares are genuinely scary, you care about the characters, there are multiple settings, it utilizes humor while taking itself seriously and above all it is creative. One of those movies that I knew nothing about beforehand and I was very pleasantly surprised by all of the unexpected twists.
9. Gremlins (1984)
A lot of the scary movies I like are comedies or involve humor in some way. That is because comedy can be way more messed up than drama and this classic is a prime example. There are some hilarious gags in this movie but those are also the scariest scenes. The puppeteering and special effects are really impressive and still impressive, these are great movie monsters and they are scary (except Gizmo who is cute and appealing). Many consider this to be a Christmas movie, but it has the most disturbing Christmas scene of all time.
8. Alien (1979)
While the perfect sequel has plenty of scares Aliens is an action movie while this is a horror movie. The space setting is great sci-fi but the alien is pure terror. So many iconic scenes from this, namely the facehugging and chestbursting. There are twists that are common knowledge today, but even if you know the identity of one particular crew member and who makes it out alive they are still effective. Ellen Ripley is one of the best scream queens/action stars of all time and the xenomorph is a great, well-designed movie monster.
7. The Shining (1980)
A horror film by Stanley Kubrick starring Jack Nicholson and based on a novel by Stephen King is bound to be a great horror movie. This is just a great movie and all of the iconic scares hold up. The setting is great and the performances all work. One of the best portrayals of a decent into madness ever filmed.
6. Halloween (1978)
This launched numerous copycats, but despite lesser quality of the many sequels and imitators that followed this is still one of the best horror movies of all time. The score, use of The Reaper, scares and especially Jamie Lee Curtis make this a classic.
5. Scream (1996)
This not only works as a subversion of horror films, but it is a good horror film itself. It is scary, it is iconic and it is clever. You are intrigued by this story and care about these characters. It has a great cast, Neve Campbell in particular gives a great performance. I've watched this several times and always enjoy it.
4. Psycho (1960)
A cinema classic. We all know the iconic moments and the twists, but a great movie doesn't rely on surprises. A great movie can hold your attention across multiple viewings which this one has done for over fifty movies. Great score, the shower scene, the bravery to kill of the lead character halfway through the movie, Anthony Perkins performance. Just perfect.
3. Poltergeist (1982)
I named this the fourth best movie produced by Steven Spielberg. This is a great scary movie because it takes its time to set up the characters and the setting. Once the horror elements finally come we feel the intrusion of this comfortable environment. I also like how gradually and intentionally the eerie interruptions are introduced. As with almost all of these selections it is iconic and influential.
However I have to say that the scariest scene for me is when Craig T. Nelson grabs his boss and screams at him.
2. Misery (1990)
This masterpiece never gets its due. This is from Rob Reiner's era of great movies (the man had a run that also included This is Spinal Tap, Stand by Me, Princess Bride, When Harry Met Sally, A Few Good Men and American President). Great suspense and thrills and an incredible cast of Kathy Bates, James Caan and the late Richard Farnsworth. A movie that is as smart as it is scary. Part of what makes this movie so great is that the two leads are pretty evenly matched. They are both smart and capable in their own ways.
1. The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad (1949)
This is my favorite scary movie, mainly because it isn't a scary movie. It is a package feature with two great shorts that ends with a terrifying scene. Most scary movies dilute themselves by overusing cheap scares. But this movie sets up its atmosphere and character. It has great cartoon gags, which adds to the scares as you are feeling both tension and amusement at once. It is also interesting to note that the Headless Horseman moves realistically while Ichabod is the cartoon character. I have a full review of the film that goes into more detail.