The 25 Scariest DVDs Ever
Joe Bob Briggs
Giant magazine October/November 2005
Director: Roman Polanski (1965)
Forget Chinatown and Rosemary’s Baby, Roman Polanski’s greatest moment is this study of paranoia starring Catherine Deneuve as a sexually repressed schizophrenic who finds herself plunged into sick fantasies of rape and murder as her claustrophobic apartment appears to close in on her. In a true cliffhanger, only in the movie’s final frame do we discover the reasons for her homicidal hatred of men.
By creating an atmosphere in which even the ticking of a clock seems unbearably terrifying, Polanski makes the audience feel that they, too, are psychotic.
Woooah! moment: When Deneuve cuts the head off a rabbit and stuffs it in her purse.
24. Eye of the Needle
Director: Richard Marquand (1981)
One of the most suspenseful films ever made. Donald Sutherland is a ruthless Nazi master spy who intercepts the Allies’ D-Day plans just as he’s identified by MI-5. Escaping England, he ends up shipwrecked on a tiny windswept island off the coast of Scotland where he falls in love (or does he?) with a sexually frustrated Kate Nelligan, whose double amputee husband rejected her. The last half hour is guaranteed to unsettle you. Director Richard Marquand, who died prematurely aged 49, and is best known for Return of the Jedi, made a masterpiece of concise storytelling, in which every scene raises the stakes—and your nerves.
Woooah! moment: When Sutherland’s lover finds out he has murdered her husband, but has to sleep with Sutherland anyway.
23. Dog Soldiers
Director: Neil Marshall (2002)
What is it with the Brits and werewolves? The werewolf was brought back to vicious life in this all-out bloodbath directed by Neil Marshall about British soldiers on a training mission in the Scottish wilderness. Although the film is low budget, there’s nothing cheesy about the seven-foot monsters hunting the special ops guys who are out of ammo, but perfectly willing to duke it out with the toothy giants.
Woooah! moment: When the werewolves surround the warehouse and start breaking in.
22. From Beyond
Director: Stuart Gordon (1986)
Here’s the plot: a couple of scientists like to dress up in slick black leather, turn on a giant green tuning fork and wait for the vibes to enlarge a sex gland in the middle of their foreheads. Unfortunately, the fork also summons an invisible snakefish that starts eating their faces before a protoplasm man jumps out of a closet and bites off their heads. You’ll want to look away during the stump-licking scene—but don’t!
Woooah! moment: The snakefish creatures speak to the chained and exhausted shrink.
21. Invasion of the Body Snatchers
Director: Don Siegel (1956)
This classic centers upon the last two people in a California town who haven’t had their bodies occupied by beings from outer space. The movie’s triumph is the constant creepy feeling that anyone can be turned into a syrupy drone at any moment—and that anyone who falls asleep could become the walking dead.
Woooah! moment: When Kevin McCarthy kisses Dana Wynter and realizes that she’s become a pod person.
Director: Don Cosarelli (1979)
Phantasm is about a grave robber who takes corpses to his crematorium and turns them into killer dwarf-size monks. Don Cosarelli was 24 years old when he produced, directed, wrote, and edited this classic that was rated X four times before finally prevailing with a lower rating. Phantasm is terrifying because it has no logic; it’s like an extended dream that slowly becomes more and more menacing.
Woooah! moment: When the levitating sphere with protruding hooks drills through a victim’s forehead before splattering his brains.
19. I Spit on Your Grave
Director: Meir Zarchi (1978)
Siskel and Ebert used this feminist revenge thriller as an argument for censorship, claiming that it was degrading to women. Originally released, unsuccessfully, as Day of the Woman, this Deliverence-esque film was re-titled and re-released under its current name. Zarchi develops every scene so that you sort of know what’s going to happen, you’re always shocked silly by what really does occur. It also has the ultimate tagline: “This woman just chopped, burned, maimed, and mutilated five men beyond recognition—and no jury in the world would convict her.” Any guy who watches the flick will have trouble walking straight for at least a week afterward.
Woooah! moment: When the rednecks start planning to rape Camille Keaton for yet a fourth time in one 23-minute sequence.
Director: Lamberto Bava (1985)
This Italian gore classic was banned from cable for many years because it may just be the most disgusting movie in history. Director Lamberto Bava, son of the great Mario Bava, of Black Sunday fame, starts with the premise, “What if you went to a horror movie, and some zombies bricked in the theater and started clawing the audience into linguine noodles?” Watch for the classic transformation scene—when a demon crawls out of guy’s back.
Wooah! moment: When you realize that everyone is trapped inside.
17. The Shining
Director: Stanley Kubrick (1980)
Stephen King hated Kubrick’s adaptation of his book about a writer who goes crazy in an abandoned, haunted hotel in the Colorado mountains, while the rest of the world loved it. The story was inspired by an ill-fated vacation King took with his wife and children; he never wanted to return, and neither will you.
Woooah! moment: “Heeeeeeeeeeeeeere’s Johnny!”
Director: Ridley Scott (1979)
In this classic, the Nostromo, a deep space cargo ship, unwittingly brings an insatiable parasite on board, which starts working its way through the crew. Ridley Scott was directing British TV commercials before he made this magnum opus—possibly the only monster movie ever made in which you never really see the monster.
Woooah! moment: When the alien bursts out of John Hurt’s chest.
Director: Vincenzo Natali (1997)
Claustrophobia breeds deadly solutions in this underrated, low-budget Canadian masterpiece. The plot centers on seven people imprisoned in a sort of Rubik’s Cube with thousands of deadly trapped rooms. This suspenseful flick exemplifies the first tenet of horror: Anyone can die at any moment.
Woooah! moment: Without warning, sharp wires slice and dice a man into cubes.
14. The Hills Have Eyes
Director: Wes Craven (1977)
Long before Wes Craven became famous as the inventor of Freddy Krueger, he made this disturbing picture about an all-American family traveling through the desert in the Southwest. They detour into an abandoned nuclear test site and find themselves besieged by atom-bomb-mutated-hippie-cannibals.
Woooah! moment: When the cannibals massacre the family’s two dogs.
Director: John Carpenter (1978)
The movie that brought mindless butchery to the suburbs. Shot in only 21 days on a budget of $300,000, it would become the most successful independent film in history. Halloween launched the career of John Carpenter, whose masterstroke was casting Donald Pleasence to play the obsessed psychiatrist Dr. Sam Loomis. Jamie Lee Curtis, the original scream queen, plays the virginal “final girl” who established the slasher flick rule, “If you have sex, you die.”
Woooah! moment: Jamie Lee Curtis realizes the killer is in the house.
12. The Beyond
Director: Lucio Fulci (1981)
For years this films was considered the horror fan’s horror movie. Using only the thinnest of plots—a woman inherits an abandoned hotel in Louisiana swamp country that contains one of the gateways to Hell—Italian director Fulci fashions some of the creepiest and most grotesque ways to die, including throat-ripping attack dogs, gouged eyes, and flesh eating zombies.
Woooah! moment: The tongue-devouring tarantulas.
Director: Alfred Hitchcock (1963)
Tippi Hedren stalks Rod Taylor to a fishing town on the Cali coast where all hell breaks loose in the form of swarming flocks of voracious, nose-diving, eye-plucking crows. This movie did for crows what Jaws did for sharks.
Woooah! moment: Hedren is trapped in an attic where she is relentlessly attacked by the birds.
10. Evil Dead
Director: Sam Raimi (1983)
Although Dead is full of clichés—visitors to an abandoned cabin find an evil book accompanied by a taped message, (“You will die…one by one we will take you.”) it still manages to raise a frightening question: What if your girlfriend turns zombie on you? (Answer, get a meat cleaver and make like a butcher.) Only the great Bruce Campbell—as the tortured Ash—knows that total dismemberment is the key to his survival.
Woooah! moment: When a woman gets raped by the woods. Not in the woods, by the woods.
9. Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer
Director: John McNaughton (1986)
The only movie ever to get an X rating for “disturbing moral tone.” Henry’s normalcy is scary in of itself: He drives a beat-up green sedan, favors a ratty-looking windbreaker and is fairly clean-cut. But it’s when he calmly explains to his best friend that the way to avoid getting caught is, “Never kill the same way twice, and never kill people you know or have been seen with ,” that we begin to see a truly twisted mind.
Woooah! moment: When Henry chops up a body and put the parts in two suitcases, then places the suitcases on trains going in opposite directions.
Director: Dario Argento (1977)
Dario Argento’s Italian horror classic feels like a bad acid trip through Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland. Jessica Harper is the modern Alice who gets drugged with “wine” that has the consistency of blood. This causes her to get lost inside a German dance academy run by some creepy-looking old ladies who “disappear” every night at 9:30—leaving the innocent little girls in their dorm rooms trying to figure out why giant maggots are dropping from the ceiling.
Woooah! moment: A screaming girl is attacked by two giant eyes.
7. The Fly
Director: David Cronenberg (1986)
David Cronenberg’s gruesome masterpiece, which is a remake of the 1958 version, has a buffed-out Jeff Goldblum trying to woo Geena Davis by transporting stuff around his apartment. His slow transformation into an insect is characterized by the gradual obliteration of his face. We watch him go from Pizza Face, to Cream of Wheat Face, to having no face at all—just an oozing, wire-haired mountain of pus. It makes the melting Nazis at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark seem quaint.
Woooah! moment: When globs of Goldblum’s face begin to fall off.
Director: Clive Barker (1987)
Part vampire movie, part zombie movie, part tribute to Psycho, Barker’s feature directing debut is a journey into new frontiers of fried flesh that’s centered on an unsuspecting couple’s move into a house inhabited by a bloodthirsty creature. Prepare yourself for hooks, blood slurping, fiendish sex romps and spare body parts on parade. Andrew Robinson, best known as the maniac murdered in Dirty Harry, is the good guy here!
Woooah! moment: When Pinhead the demon says, “You summoned us. So we came.”
Director: Takashi Miike (1999)
Japanese superstar director Miike has made flashier and gorier movies, but this multi-award winner is already a modern horror classic. It starts out as a classic Japanese family drama—a man and his son adjusting to the death of the man’s wife—before jumping to deeper and deeper levels of dread, suspicion, and ultimately, the kind of torture even the Gimp couldn’t imagine.
Woooah! moment: When the dream girl-turned-fiancée-from-hell leans over her acupuncture experiment and says, “Kitty kitty kitty.”
4. Night of the Living Dead
Director: George Romero (1968)
As zombies descend upon rural Pennsylvania, several people barricade themselves in a farmhouse and plot to take down the shambling corpses. Night was so terrifying that not only did it spawn sequels—Dawn of the Dead and Day of the Dead—but also a send-up called Return of the Living Dead that itself produced two sequels, followed by a remake of Dawn of the Dead just as Romero was releasing the fourth in the series, Land of the Dead. Confused? Well, the Day of the Dead remake is on the way!
Woooah! moment: When the zombies break through the boarded-up windows.
3. The Exorcist
Director: William Friedkin (1973)
The Exorcist is one of the few horror movies based on a true story. Friedkin took the ghastly material and turned it into an exercise in green puke, spinning heads and unsettling subliminal sound effects. In turn, he made a star out of the young Linda Blair. Unfortunately for moviegoers and the rest of the cast, the movie seemed to curse them. Several cast members died during shooting, and there were reports of widespread hysteria, fainting and at least one miscarriage. No wonder Finland reportedly banned the video.
Woooah! moment: When the foul-mouthed Linda Blair’s head does a 360.
2. The Silence of the Lambs
Director: Jonathan Demme (1991)
Anthony Hopkin’s screen time as Dr. Hannibal Lecter is just 16 minutes, yet he creates one of the most chilling villains in cinema history. This tour de force of unnerving suspense is so perfectly punctuated by Jodie Foster’s jittery reactions to Lecter’s probing mind that the actual killer—Buffalo “It puts the lotion in the basket” Bill—is almost a footnote.
Woooah! moment: Jodie Foster, in Buffalo Bill’s pitch-black lair, swings her gun wildly while Bill watches her through night vision goggles.
1. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre
Director: Tobe Hooper (1974)
Although horror movies had never been short on menacing villains, the chainsaw-wielding Leatherface upped the ante. Long before the L-man hangs a victim on a meat hook, there’s an impending sense of dread as the suburban hippies drive closer to cannibalistic hell. The washed-out look gives this early slasher film a frightening documentary realism.
Woooah! Moment: When the cannibal clan gather for dinner, with hysterical Marilyn Burns as the main course.