The 9 Most Underrated Horror Movies of All Time
Terrify yourself tonight with nine overlooked horror films that just might scare you to death.
1. Sinister (2012)
Premise: A true-crime writer (Ethan Hawke) moves in to the home of a murdered family to help inspire his next best-selling masterpiece. He discovers a box full of Super-8 films showing a series of families being slaughtered, each more terrifying than the last, and subsequently unleashes a supernatural murderer. On the plus side, he got a really good deal on the house.
Why It’s Scary: Beyond the masterful soundtrack (industrial tools mixed with children’s rhymes), Sinister explores how a disturbing image can’t be unseen. Each reel of film shows a family being murdered in increasingly horrendous ways, and even when you want to look away, you can’t. That being said, if a six-foot Pagan demon haunted me every time I viewed said films, I probably would stop watching them. And furthermore, trying to sell your property following a demonic murder haunting, in today’s market, probably isn’t wise. Bad call, bro.
2. The Woman in Black (2012)
Premise: The beloved Daniel Radcliffe, a.k.a. Harry Potter, is back, this time without magic powers or the good sense to avoid an abandoned mansion in a man-eating marsh. Radcliffe plays a young lawyer charged with caring for the estate of a deceased widow, only to discover neither the estate, or woman’s ghost, take kindly to strangers.
Why It’s Scary: While the plot is a frighteningly predictable, masterful editing pushes this film’s tension to unfathomable heights. For a long time nothing paranormal happens—but when it does, you’re so stressed and worn down, you’ll scream at anything. Throw in some nineteenth-century music boxes and innocent children killing themselves at the hands of an unknown supernatural power, and yup, this film is terrifying.
3. The Exorcism of Emily Rose (2005)
Premise: Part courtroom-drama, part supernatural-thriller, The Exorcism of Emily Rose focuses on the trial of a priest charged with the murder of a “possessed” college girl, Emily Rose (Dexter’s Jennifer Carpenter). Law and Order meets The Exorcist, together at last.
Why It’s Scary: The exorcism is shown through a series of disturbing eye-witness flashbacks, and nothing beats possession to scare the bejesus out of even the most rational person. There is no head-spinning or projectile vomit here. Instead, you get a slow-burn thriller in which a young woman gradually succumbs to horrifying supernatural elements. Oh, and did we mention it was based on a true story? Yeah, you’re sleeping with the lights on after watching this.
If scary stories have you spooked—these explanations will calm your fears.
4. One Hour Photo (2002)
Premise: There’s a good chance you’ve always identified Robin Williams with comedy. Director Mark Romanek saw something more sinister in the famous funny man, dying his hair blond and casting him as Sy Parrish, an unbearably creepy photo technician. When Sy’s fascination with the “idyllic” Yorkin family grows into obsession, the pleasant photo developer becomes a violent stalker, bent on destroying the very people he once idealized.
Why It’s Scary: Williams’ incredible performance reminds us that danger can lurk behind the most familiar faces. Combine that with a job where your name, address, and private memories are on file, and you’ve got one family acquaintance you’re probably not going to invite over for Sunday dinner.
5. The Descent (2005)
Premise: The story of an expedition that goes horribly wrong, and a good reason to never, ever try caving. Six women head underground to explore uncharted passages, lose their way, and find themselves fending off what lives (and feeds) below.
Why It’s Scary: The Descent plays off all the classic real-life fears: being lost underground, trapped in small spaces and plunged into darkness. As the gals descend further into the caves, so too does the audience, and the claustrophobia is palpable. It’s a world where smell, sound, and touch is amplified—think National Geographic meets Golem, set in an environment that most closely resembles chunky cranberry tomato soup. Freud would have a field day with this one.
When the world’s happiest place becomes the spookiest place, it’s still pretty magical.
6. The Exorcist III (1990)
Premise: The third chapter of this demonic possession series picks up fifteen years after the first film, with Lieutenant William Kinderman on the trail of the Gemini serial killer. The Gemini’s claim to fame: carving his mark into the hands of his deceased victims. Suddenly one possessed little girl doesn’t sound so bad, does it?
Why It’s Scary: Played by both Brad Dourif (Chucky from Child’s Play) and a returning Jason Miller (Father Damien Karass), the Gemini unleashes his fury on the city of Georgetown, New York, striking at the people closest to the Lieutenant. Save for a tacky ending forced into the film by the studio, this movie’s mature, paced depiction of horror is truly terrifying. If the first Exorcist left you with nightmares, you won’t be sleeping after this one, either.
7. The Strangers (2008)
Premise: Following a failed marriage proposal, a couple (Liv Tyler and Scott Speedman) decide to spend the night in a remote cabin in the woods. This magical weekend gets even better when several unannounced visitors come calling in the night, and things start to get real stabby, real quick.
Why It’s Scary: It’s a simple concept. What if somebody showed up on your doorstep and wouldn’t leave? What if there was more than one of them, and they wanted in your home to do you harm? It’s this idea that makes The Strangers so terrifying: it could happen to you and your loved ones. If you’re not double checking your locks after this one, you’re probably asking for The Strangers to pay you a visit.
Do you hate scary movies? Here’s the real reason why.
8. Manhunter (1986)
Premise: A prequel to The Silence of the Lambs, Manhunter begins when retired criminal profiler Will Graham (CSI’s William Petersen) is called into service to catch a serial killer, dubbed the Tooth Fairy. Forced to consult the infamous Hannibal Lecter, Graham becomes obsessed with stopping the Tooth Fairy’s rampage, putting him, and his family, squarely in the sights of the killer.
Why It’s Scary: Years before Anthony Hopkins seared Hannibal Lecter into North America’s nightmares, this adaptation brought the infamous cannibal doctor (played here by Brian Cox) to the big screen. Despite being a clear product of the 80s—era (synth lovers rejoice), Brian Cox’s scene-stealing performance as the original Hannibal Lecter make this one unforgettably disturbing film.
9. The Orphanage (2007)
Premise: A Spanish thriller set in an eerily sunny orphanage with an unsettling psychological undertone. A woman returns with her son to her remote childhood mansion, where she opens an orphanage for handicapped children. But everything changes when her little boy begins communicating with an imaginary friend…
Why It’s Scary: The only thing more frightening than vampires, zombies or ghosts, are messed up children. The Orphanage is less focused on spooking than building an unyielding tension, pushing us into the horrifying depths of our own imagination. The film’s slow, subtle tone is punctuated by creaking shutters, slamming doors and the raspy echoes of a child’s whispers. The disturbing things these children say and do, and the repeat appearance of an “invisible” boy, lower us deep into a psychological well of our own creation.
Here are three startling accounts of children who may have been reincarnated.