17. The Call of Cthulhu
The nephew of an acclaimed professor, recently deceased, finds documents that reveal his uncle’s lifelong obsession with Cthulhu, an underwater deity. A cult has formed around this deity, and they wait for the day he will return to rule over the world. They are convinced that this day is almost here.
The Call of Cthulhu isn’t the first Lovecraft adaptation; his short stories have spawned their own subgenre in novels, movies, comic books, video games and more. However, this film is special because, despite being made in 2005, it’s silent and black and white. That gives it the impression of being made in 1926, the same year that HP Lovecraft wrote the titular story. It was also distributed by the H. P. Lovecraft Historical Society.
Even with a few changes, the film is a faithful adaptation of the original tale. It might not be that scary, but it’s incredibly entertaining, especially if you’re a Lovecraft fan.
16. The Innkeepers
Luke and Claire are young employees at the revered Yankee Pedlar Inn, which is about to close after a hundred years of service. Believed to be one of the “most haunted hotels” in New England, Claire and Luke are determined to discover the truth to this before the Inn closes. As the days pass and the Inn’s closure draws near, weird guests check in. Meanwhile, Claire and Luke start to explain bizarre and supernatural occurrences.
The Innkeepers is an old-fashioned ghost story with interesting characters and a spooky atmosphere. The characters do a lot of exploring into spooky cellars and up the stairs where you’re convinced they’ll encounter something sinister; but the real scares take time to show up.
15. Paranormal Activity
Katie and Micah are a couple who have just moved into a new suburban home. Katie, who believes in the supernatural, is convinced that evil spirits have been following her since she was a child. After several nights of strange occurrences and weird noises, Micah begins to agree. He sets up cameras all over the house so they can capture the spirits. However, this leads to increasingly terrifying events.
Paranormal Activity is responsible for the popularity of found-footage horror films, most of them awful. It’s also become the subject of countless parodies and jokes. Despite this, the movie is still frightening, with the creepy anticipation leading up to a satisfyingly frightening climax.
14. We are Still Here
It’s 1979. After the death of their son, Bobby, Anne and Paul Sacchetti move into a secluded house in a small town to try and move on. Anne immediately suspects that Bobby’s spirit might be with them after a series of events. She invites May and Jacob Lewis, her New Age mysticist friends, to help her communicate with Bobby. But it’s not Bobby they find.
When the movie starts, it hints at being slow-paced. But all that changes in the first 10 minutes, when we first see the demonic presence in the house. From then on, the tension builds and jumps scares increase until the entertaining showdown in the end.
13. Lake Mungo
Sixteen-year-old Alice drowns when swimming with her family. The family soon experiences a series of bizarre supernatural occurrences, with Alice showing up in the background of videos and photos. They get advice from a parapsychologist and a physic, and learn that she was keeping a major secret from them. They head to Lake Mungo to find out what it is.
The film, structured like a documentary, is more than just another “found footage” film; it is mainly made up of family photos, home videos and talking-head interviews. It effectively shows the pain a family goes through after losing a loved one. And it still manages to scare, especially with the reveal at the end.
Ellison Howard is a true-crime writer who is desperate for a bestseller. He discovers a snuff film in his attic, and this leads him to investigate the case. Ellison promptly moves into the house of the victims and brings his family along. However, he soon learns that there’s a supernatural aspect to the mystery and his family might be in danger.
The film builds up to its scares in ways you’d typically expect: creeping around dark spaces with just a flashlight, lights going out etc. However, it will still scare you, even if you see it coming from a mile away. This is partly thanks to director Scott Derrickson taking the time to make the characters relatable.
Mike Enslin is an acclaimed horror writer. He investigates the world’s most notorious haunted houses and graveyards, and his fruitless results have now left him a nonbeliever in the supernatural. Through a postcard, he learns of New York City’s Dolphin Hotel, which has the supposedly haunted “Room 1408”. He decides to check into the room, even though hotel manager Gerald Olin strongly dissuades him from it. Then, in the room, strange things start to happen.
This is among the best (and most faithful) Stephen King adaptations, with great performances from John Cusack and Samuel L. Jackson. The scares are personal to Mike, which makes him question his sanity. It’s tense throughout and leads up to a satisfying climax; even the conclusion doesn’t disappoint. 1408 is Mikael Håfström’s best directorial effort, and that’s not such a bad thing.
10. It Follows
After Jay has sex with her boyfriend Hugh, he abducts her and reveals that she is now the carrier of a sexually transmitted phantom; it will tirelessly pursue her, appearing as either someone she knows or a total stranger, and will kill her if it ever catches her. The only cure is to pass it on to someone else through sex. Jay reveals this to her friends, and after disbelieving her at first, they try to help.
David Robert Mitchell’s second directorial feature is unnerving, creepy and keeps you guessing. Unlike many other horror films, the monster isn’t something with a name, a motive or a tragic backstory. It’s just something that pursues you until it kills you or you pass on the curse to someone else.
9. The Witch
It’s New England in 1630. An English farmer leaves his plantation with his wife and five children to live on an isolated piece of land next to an ominous-looking forest. The crops fail and the youngest son, Samuel, suddenly vanishes when he’s with the eldest sister, Thomasin. As paranoia and suspicion build, the family suspects Thomasin of dabbling in witchcraft.
Robert Eggers’ debut film is a slow-building horror that explores a number of themes, from female sexuality to religious extremism. Its accurate and occasionally frightening portrayal of New England before the 1692 Salem Witch trials is accurate, right down to how the characters speak. And it’s been endorsed by everyone from Stephen King to the nontheist Satanic Temple; the perfect publicity for a film like this.