Back in 2001, when Chad Benefield and I started The Screening Room on our sister station WOMI, we immediately compiled a list of our ten favorite horror movies since Halloween was right around the corner at the time. I've tinkered with it over the years, having re-watched them all, and have arrived at my official 5 Scariest Movies Ever Made.


The fact that most humans now know exactly how this timeless classic plays out and yet can still be affected by it is a testament to the genius of its director, Alfred Hitchcock. On a resume loaded with great movies, this is the best Hitch had to offer. The first time I saw it I was aware of the big twist and still scared the crap out of me. I can only imagine how 1960 audiences reacted to something so grisly as that famous shower scene. No horror film had ever before delivered that kind of a shock. And it was two-fold; the murder itself is shocking, but it's the fact that the film's star, Janet Leigh--a huge name at the time, is killed before the movie is half over. I've heard that Hitchcock wouldn't allow any scenes without Janet Leigh to be shown in the film's trailer. And no one was allowed into the theatre after it started. But back to why this classic shakes us up so. The mind game at work here is brilliant and pervasive. Going in, you think you're just getting another movie about a woman who embezzled money from her company, then WHAM!, it becomes a whole other thing. You're tossed into the world of a lunatic--and Anthony Perkins nails it--with an unspeakably dark background. And since you never saw that shower murder coming, you honestly don't know what to expect next. I can still watch it and be a little unnerved at just how crazy Norman Bates really is. Let's face it, there is nothing supernatural about this story. Anything here could really happen, and we certainly hope and pray that it does not.


I suppose if you closed your eyes and guessed what movies might make this list, "Halloween" would likely pop into your mind. There's a good reason for that. It is one of the most relentless horror movies ever made. And, what do you know, it stars Jamie Lee Curtis, daughter of the aforementioned Janet Leigh. You just know there were great Halloween parties at their place back in the day. Well, this "Halloween" is no party. It's really scary. And it's pretty basic. There's a murderous psychopath--Michael Myers--running loose in an ordinary neighborhood in an ordinary town in Illinois. He butchered his sister when he was a kid, and someone made the mistake of not paying enough attention to security at the insane asylum where he was being housed. So now he's out running around killing anyone he sees, indiscriminately. That's your movie. And it's pretty terrifying. It never lets up. And the characters can run as fast as possible and Myers can amble right along, not in a hurry, and he can still catch them. The scares in this terrific film are enhanced by a ghost white clown mask and a music score that, as far as I'm concerned, is the most horrifying music I have ever heard, "Psycho" violin shrieks notwithstanding. I watch "Halloween" every Halloween and will do so again. Great movie.


It's no accident that Hannibal Lecter is one of the most famous movie "monsters" of all time, by now. The way Anthony Hopkins created the character has left indellible imprints in our minds for twenty years. I had read the Thomas Harris book just before seeing the movie and it was still incredibly disturbing. And that's mainly because the movie followed the book perfectly. Jodie Foster's Clarice Starling gets the case of a lifetime very early on in her FBI career; good Lord, she's still in training. And she has to deal with not one, but two supervillains--Lecter, a cannibal, and Jame Gumm, a demented maniac who skins women so he can become a girl. How sick is this line-up? You almost have dual story lines here, but they do come together. And they do so in an ingenious way as Lecter actually helps Starling learn as much as she, and we, can about this serial killer, Gumm. I love this movie. I can just about quote every line Hannibal Lecter utters. Yeah, that's got me a little worried, too.


It would have made my list anyway, but in 2000, "The Exorcist" was re-released with additional restored footage. This footage includes the now infamous "spider walk" which will make your blood run cold. And that's if it already hasn't run cold and can't get any colder. Just like 1960 audiences had never seen anything like "Psycho," 1973 audiences had NEVER laid eyes on anything remotely close to "The Exorcist." I mean, this wasn't only the fright of the century at the time, it incorporated religion. A young girl, played by Linda Blair, becomes possessed by the devil and her mother, played by Ellen Burstyn, is at a loss about what she should do. She calls in a priest but she needs someone better, someone stronger. She needs the title character. This is great horror, pure and simple. You start thinking no priest or exorcist is going to be able to help. And then you feel the claustrophobia of the girl's bedroom. Watching it again, I noticed how small Regan's --that's the girl's name--room really is. That only adds to the paranoia which adds to the terror. Exorcism movies have come and gone since 1973, but none have even touched the greatness of the original.

#1 - SEVEN

And here we are. The granddaddy of them all, in my humble opinion. Some might call "Seven" a crime drama or a mystery thriller. But how tame. I call 'em like I see 'em. This thing is SCARY! And whatever its genre, it's the scariest movie I have ever seen. Everything here works. The movie is set in an unnamed large American city where it always rains. Always. It opens with Detective William Somerset, played by Morgan Freeman, and his new partner, Detective David Mills, played by Brad Pitt, investigating the gruesome murder of a morbidly obese man who was found face down in a plate of spaghetti, hands and feet bound, sitting at a table in a filthy roach-and-rat-infested apartment. Atmosphere, anyone? It's discovered that the man had been forced to eat until he could literally eat no more and then he was bludgeoned until he ruptured. Sorry, it's hard to sugarcoat this one. Later, another dead body is found in what appears to be a completely unrelated murder: a criminal defense attorney has been stabbed to death, gutted essentially, and left on the floor of his office. But there is a connection, and it's one that Somerset discovers. The word "greed" was written in blood next to the lawyer's body. This prompts the senior detective to revisit the scene of the obese man's murder. Chips from a linoleum floor lead the detective to pull the refrigerator away from the wall where he sees the word "gluttony" written in grease. And, now we have a connection. We have a serial killer who is murdering people based on the Seven Deadly Sins--the other five being sloth, envy, wrath, lust, and pride. And so, an odyssey begins through this hopeless and dark city in an effort to find a madman who offers no insights as to who he's going to kill next. The police have no idea how they are going to catch this man. But throughout the investigation, we bear witness to some of the most disturbing and mind-bending imagery ever committed to film. There's also a shocking finale preceded by something I've never seen in any horror movie or thriller in my lifetime. And it happens with about 30 or more minutes still to go in the film. If you haven't seen it, I just can't reveal it. But it's so shocking, you can't wrap your brain around it. Therefore, you have no idea where the movie is going. And that is unsettling. I saw "Seven" twice in the theatre. The first time, I could not get into my car when it was over. I didn't want to be in an enclosed space. And then I started laughing uncontrollably. Still haven't figured that one out. Unless, of course, I was trying to get what I'd just seen out of my head. And now I know that I never will.